Waking up to who you require letting go of who you imagine yourself to be.Alan Watts
‘Know thyself’ (Latin: nosce te Ipsum or temet nosce) is the famous phrase at the Oracle of Delphi. It’s a call to anyone who wants to flourish that some effort is necessary.
However, in the modern self-help genre, it’s taken to mean knowing your character and personality. That is, find your true self, as opposed to a fake self, an impostor—such a goal I chased after in my youth. The message is ‘Find yourself and live by that.’ That’s how you find success, happiness, wealth and avoid feeling like an impostor.
It’s why there are personality tests of dubious validity; they’re created to provide a template for knowing who you are.
I see it differently; it’s not about knowing who you are as much as it’s finding your limitations. It’s knowledge in a different sense. When we know our limits, we can stop wasting time searching for answers and certainty that will never arrive.
As a Buddhist, I don’t accept an authentic self, a fixed notion of who I am. Therefore I can’t grasp it as it’s constantly changing.
It’s also it is about knowing your habitual tendencies, both mental and behavioural. Like examining an animal’s behaviour, we can do the same with our actions, thoughts, and emotions.
When we’re criticised, what do we do in response mentally? Close up, get angry, lash out? Knowing habits is the first step to changing them.
What happens when our partner or colleague refuses us and asking why are we getting so upset.
When we get upset, say act selfishly, spitefully, harming others. It’s looking at the causes that led up to that behaviour. Our ego makes demands that we want the world to live up to our expectations.
Such knowledge of our limits and behaviour allows us to alter our behaviours towards something more conducive to our happiness and others’.
If To ‘know thyself’ as in my true self makes no sense because we can’t ever be an imposter or be inauthentic. We can’t be anything other than what we are. We are always genuine.
To ask which part of me is the real me is a non sequitur, an open question without an answer because it is all you. Like asking ‘which contributes more to the area of a rectangle, the breadth or the width?’ We are all complex, ever-changing individuals with conflicting desires and values.
We can’t find the true, unchanging core of the self because there’s nothing like that to be discovered.
Letting go of the fixed self opens us up to accept the change and contradictions as people.
You were a different person before you read this post, and you will be subtly different when you finish.
A related idea is finding our’ artistic voice’, distinctive style, and way of expressing ideas. For artists, it’s considered very important yet is the source of much anxiety and confusion. The ‘Artistic voice’ comes with life experience and maturity; nothing else can tell you who you are.
There will be times where you cast aside an old identity aside adopt new rules, new ventures. My life has had these moments. Change is what we are.
To know ourselves is to accept there is no self to know, no fixed identity. Instead, get to know your limits, your habits, aptitudes. Build a life around those not some fixed notions about who you are that you picked up.