Know Thyself - this
has been repeated too often. We've read this short phrase at many places,
many a times and it has probably existed for thousands of years. But what
does it mean? Does it hold any value, any significance for us? Do we
really know ourselves?
Most of us don't. That is
what is meant by the word "ignorance". We never observe ourselves,
we never look at ourselves as we are. There is a difference between what
one is and what one thinks one is. Most of us don't see ourselves as we
are but rather as what we would like to be or what we think we should be.
Apparently, to look at ourselves directly is very difficult for us. We
cover the up the self by various excuses, ideas and ideals. As it is,
there are various distractions and means of entertainment at our disposal.
At the slightest hint
of a problem or conflict, we run away from it and escape through these
We never actually look at
the problem itself. We never solve our problems but merely escape them. We
follow some ideology, read some book, and begin to identify ourselves with
that. Through that identification, we feel that we are secure. And when
something goes against that, there is conflict, contradiction. Then there is also a
recent development - Positive thinking, which means no matter how
much mess I am in, I must think positive, implying that merely by my
thinking positively - which means not acknowledging the problem, not
looking at it - it will go away. So, we distract ourselves through
positive thinking. Then there is this other thing - "believe in yourself".
This is also quite a recent development - coupled with the idea of success
and self-improvement. I may be completely ignorant, a fool, but I believe
in myself, think positively!
That's exactly what many
of these so-called self-help books tell you to do. To believe in yourself,
to have faith. Faith in what? In something that doesn't actually exist. I
can only have faith in something imaginary because that is what "faith"
implies - believing in something you know nothing about. It is easy to
see that it is merely an escape, a distraction away from what actually is,
meant for merely gratifying and comforting oneself. And most of us deceive
ourselves very easily through all this. Self-deception, apparently is one
of the easiest thing to do.
Seeing all this, and
understanding the urgent necessity to learn about oneself, to know oneself
as one is, what is one to do? Surely, to learn about oneself, one must be
aware of one's reactions, thoughts and feelings. One must be aware of the
words one uses, one's thinking and why one thinks in a particular way, why
one believes in certain things, one's behavior and relationship to others.
One must be aware how one reacts to situations, to ideas, beliefs and
people. One must be aware how one listens to another and how one looks at
another. That means being sensitive, which does not mean that one
becomes emotional, sentimental, which would be a greater foolishness.
understanding oneself, without self-knowledge, there is no real
basis for one's thought. Without self-knowledge, what you think may not be
right. In the vast jungle of
ideas, superstitions, beliefs and points of view, how can one find out
what is true and what is false unless one doesn't start from the starting
point - which is oneself? If one is at all observant, one will see how
there are many beliefs, ideas, opinions and points of view in the world –
each different from and in contradiction with the other. And somehow, one
tends to think that it is normal. As if so many realities are possible; as
if all the point of views can exist simultaneously. Seeing all this and
not knowing what to do, one tries to hold on to something – be it a
belief, ideology or an illusion for the sake of certainty, surety, wherein
one feel comfortable and secure.
There are so many books
and people who try to describe reality or which tell you what to do, how
to think, how to live and so on. Seeing all this and not knowing anything
for oneself, one becomes confused. And in seeking a way out of that
confusion, we make experts and specialists all important. We belittle
ourselves by imitating others. We try to learn about ourselves through
what others have written or said. So, we really don’t learn about
ourselves, but only about what the other thinks, even if one may think
that one is learning or “progressing”. If we look at ourselves
through another, through an intermediary, then we do not look at all. What
we then look at is the image, the idea created in our minds through that
intermediary. By reading some psychologist or a philosopher, I learn about
him and not about myself.
Out of our confusion, we
create authorities and are exploited in one way or the other. Whereas,
when there is intelligence, which can only come into being through
self-knowledge, all the books and specialists become irrelevant and
unimportant. Then you can see on your own and learn on your own, from
everyone and everything. Then we need not depend; need not see through
another that which is right in front of our eyes. Then we can truly
experience life in all its forms because we are free and do not depend on
anyone or anything else. Then we can walk on our own without anyone
guiding us. Then we can truly be a light to ourselves.
important so that you don't create any illusions for yourself. It is
important so that you don't accept any authority and become an imitating
machine. Most of us don't know about ourselves. Most of us depend on
others - books, priests, saviors to tell us what to do and for our
so-called "salvation". Most of us have already built up images of
the world, life and other things - most of which are derived from what we
have been told since generations, from books, education and so on. And we
never question them. Unless one knows about oneself, one can't be related
to others, one can't be aware of the wholeness of life. Unless one doesn't
know oneself, one can't see the false as false and the true as true.
Without self-knowledge, there is no basis for one's thinking, no matter
how clever, intelligent, or knowledgeable one supposes oneself to be.
It is quite an interesting
thing to do. To observe yourself, how you think, act, react and so on. It
is quite a joy to learn about oneself. But one must look at oneself
dispassionately, without getting tangled in the web of introspective
analysis, which is merely a form of condemnation, judgment and control.
Also, as one learns about oneself, one must not be afraid to look at what
one may find. For I may not like it. I may not choose to look at it, to
acknowledge it, to face it. My whole background, accumulated experiences,
may tell me to stay away from it. To see myself as I am is difficult, and
it requires passive awareness and dispassionate observation of oneself.
Most of us are afraid to look. One gets uncomfortable, shrinks from
looking and sometimes the mind reacts most violently. It is afraid to look
at something which is not of its own self, something which it doesn't
already know, something which it can't identify. Identification is a
problem that the mind must resolve when learning about oneself.
Life demands that one be
self-aware for only then can one truly experience relationship in all its
forms, with people, with nature and with the whole of life. To begin to
understand oneself, one must begin with the most fundamental aspect of
oneself, which is thought. In understanding oneself, in learning about
oneself, is implied discipline. There must be a sense of discipline to
learn about the very complex structure of one's own self. To have that
discipline requires initiative. There must be on the part of each of us,
the intention to know ourselves, to understand ourselves as we are and the
world around us.
Let's face it: most
of us don't want to understand ourselves. Self-knowing is an arduous task.
You have to be watchful and observant, not letting your prejudices and
acquired knowledge and tendencies interfere with the learning. It requires
that we give it our energy, as we give to going to office daily or doing
some other similar stuff.
It is totally up to us if
we want to address these things and go into them. It is generally
understood that by reading a book on self-improvement, self-help or by
taking an expert's advice, we can improve, change ourselves or become
better. We think that by following someone else' ideas and opinions, we
can solve our problems. However, without thinking through our own problems
and being self-aware, none of our problems can be solved. Through the
means and methods provided by others we can escape from problems but we
can never understand them.
that each one of us face life as it is and look at our problems directly,
and not through any specialist or book, no matter how great, old or widely
acknowledged. Understanding requires that one be able to stand alone,
without depending upon anybody or anything. As it has been said: self-help
is the greatest help. Yet, it is ironical that even for self-help, we have
to look to others. But self-help means helping yourself, which we can only
do by being aware and by understanding the total process of our minds. For
this, no one can help us but ourselves.
Ashutosh Ghildiyal is a salaried professional based in Mumbai, India.
He was born in Lucknow in 1984, where he completed his schooling. He
completed his graduate studies in New Delhi and his post-graduate
education in Mumbai. He is the author of To Think or Not to Think and
Other stories (Book), various blogs, articles and short stories.