“Know Thyself”, an aspiration as well as a spiritual maxim, is a phrase in common usage by the time of Plato and Socrates. It is as relevant today as it as ever been since it could be suggested that without such knowledge of ourselves we can never become part of a balanced, productive and creative member of society.
Humanity itself is divided and torn apart by poverty, conflict and fear and these things are in turn powered by ignorance, prejudice greed and avarice. It sometimes seems that self-awareness and hence personal response and responsibility is overwhelmed by the louder and more urgent voices of the various factions within our society
Perhaps if we can acknowledge that “people” and “groups” can be stupid and self-serving, the we can also recognise that individuals can be smart and altruistic. Hence the notion that in order to change the world we simply need to change ourselves, since in truth we can only take responsibility for our own thoughts, attitudes and behaviours.
So how can we get started as well as develop our own introspective awareness?
Here’s a five step system you might like to consider.
1) Keep a journal.
Maintaining a personal, reflective journal helps you track your own thoughts, actions and experiences. Such a journal is more than a “Dear Diary” effort – much more.
Record not only events, but your thoughts, feelings and reactions to them. Make a note of spurious ideas that occur to you; note words and phrases that catch your attention.
Find ways to summarise the things you journal. For example when you review what you have written ask yourself if there is a theme; a key idea; a repeating word or phrase; a colour; a song or a fragrance?
To start with keeping a day-by-day records like these may seem too much of a challenge when you start. To begin with you could choose to note your reflections every two or three days.
What is important is that perhaps once a month, you need to read what you have written during that month and then make some reflective comments about them as a whole.
This journal could also contain references to songs, poems, films and other things that ‘touched’ or ‘inspired’ you,
2) Engage in regular Mindfulness Practice
“Mindfulness” has become bit of a ‘buzz-word’ in recent years with courses, seminars and books being easily discovered on the internet. You could of course take one of these courses or access associated literature. However in essence ‘mindfulness’ is very simple – it is simply about ‘paying attention’ or ‘being present’.
In Mindfulness practice the idea is to learn how to bring your attention and awareness to what is happening ‘within’ yourself.
You can start by paying attention to your breathing. Note the way the air passes through each of your nostrils, how it fills your lungs. Pay attention to what happens when you breathe – how does your body react to each in-breath and each out-breath?
From such simple beginnings you can learn to move your attention to any part of your body. In Mindfulness terms this is called a Body Scan.
Place your attention on your feet, calf’s, thighs, fingers and so on in turn.
The more you practice the more focused and specific this Body Scan can be.
Once you’ve explored the ‘body scan’ learn to pay attention to you thoughts – the inner voice which can be motivating and de-motivating in equal measure.
Use your journal to record your thoughts, feelings and experiences.
Regular practice actually means 25 – 40 minutes per day; but you can build-up to this. The key thing is not to ‘beat-yourself’ up if you miss a planned session or if you set yourself over ambitious targets initially. It is far better to start modestly and create a suitable time and space for you to engage in this work.
3) Reflect upon your personal values, attitudes and beliefs
It is our core beliefs that shape or values and attitudes and these influence our behaviours.
Ask yourself about these core beliefs and how they define who and what you think you are.
Explore how your values; your attitudes to yourself, your nearest and dearest, your friends, Nature and The Cosmos are shaped by your beliefs.
Then reflect upon how you respond to situations in your life. Do your in-the-moment responses to challenges reflect your beliefs and values?
If you can answer ‘yes’ then consider ‘how’.
If you answer ‘no’ then reflect on the ‘what’ you could do differently.
Challenge yourself to examine all of your behaviours that you feel did not get you the results you desired and consider the motivations for these responses.
Again you personal reflective journal will become your note-book, your inspiration and your guide.
4) Challenge Yourself
Challenge yourself to read about, consider and reflect upon beliefs, attitudes and values that are very different to your own. Try to explore other perspectives from the point of view of trying to ‘understand’ if not necessarily agreeing or condoning.
Consider for example, the notion that one persons terrorist is another persons freedom fighter. Such a consideration is not about excusing, but it is about shifting perspectives.
Reflect on your ability to do this. Is any resistance to such an exploration a symptom of your own dogma, prejudice, ignorance? Is such a resistance to such an explanation a response to your emotional reaction, revulsion, fear?
To reiterate this is not about condoning behaviours, but it as about exploring your ability to explore them.
Be open to your own creativity.
Explore the ways in which you are creative and how you can communicate your thoughts and feelings in ways other than conversation. Poetry, music, art, collages, vision-boards, doodles are all means by which you can explore your creative potential.
Remember that such creativity is not necessarily for public consumption, but for self expression.
Try using the artwork of others to inspire your own creative juices.
Some choose to use some form of symbolic deck of cards to enhance their own personal reflections. Considering images and exploring the characters, symbols and ideas in such artwork can be very useful. Note what attracts you to a particular image; what repels you; what excites you – again using your journal to note your considerations.
The same process can be used for the poetry and music of others.
This is a process through which you can start to understand some of those things which have an effect on you; those things which trigger the emotions and motivate your behaviours.
The path to knowing oneself is a path of reflection.