So this is who I am
And this is all I know
And I must choose to live
For all that I can give
The spark that makes the power grow
Immortality by Celine Dion (1998)
The ancient Greeks often quoted the maxim, “Know Thyself,” which I have adopted as my own life motto. When I first learnt of it many years ago, I heard it as “Man, know thyself,” attributed to Thales of Miletus in the 7th century BC. I now know that it was inscribed in the forecourt of Apollo’s Temple at Delphi – in Greek (naturally): γνῶθι σεαυτόν, transliterated as gnōthi seauton and meaning “Know Thyself.” So, the word “Man” is probably superfluous.
The quest to know oneself gives rise to the question: “Who Am I?” If you make the statement, I want to know myself, it implies that there are two parties involved: I and Myself. It is important, I believe, to love yourself – not in a narcissistic way, but with true, spiritual, unconditional love. Once again, the inference is that there are two selves.
To clarify this, I will draw on the explanation used by one of my favourite teachers, Dr Sue Morter. According to Dr Sue, it is limiting to ask whether you are the “I “or the “Myself.” It means you are identifying with the mind. Our identity becomes attached to the mind and we think that is who we are. We are compromised in this situation – it means we haven’t yet anchored to our real self and we need to build presence in our central being. She says that we are talking from the mind, and we want to know our soul.
It is easy to get caught up in semantics when we use expressions like authentic self, higher self, inner self etc. It is probably better to think in terms of there being only one self, with lots of different aspects – like strings on a harp. It is only one instrument and we are trying to tune the strings harmoniously and integrate our many aspects which, although diverse, are all part of us and make us uniquely who we are.
Each day I receive Michael J Roads’ inspirational emails called 365 Steps to a Happier More Conscious Life. This week, on February 18th, he posted on the theme: ‘Mind always serves, never commands.’ In it, Michael writes, “Those on their spiritual path often get the
idea that they have to defeat the mind, but this is not so. When your relationship with yourself is truly based in Love, and Self is Realised, mind is no longer in opposition. And you know that it never was!
Paul Brunton is an author whom I admire and respect, and one of the many volumes of his that I have on my bookshelf is titled, Discover Yourself. I remember that from his very early works, written in the 1930s after he began his Search in Secret India, he advised his followers to keep asking, Who am I? It is not merely a rhetorical question; one needs to focus on the word ‘I’ and follow the enquiry right down the rabbit hole until they reach a place deep inside.
Brunton says that mind is the knower, the ‘seeing agent’ in you. Some get confused when they reach the threshold of the mysterious ‘Witness-Self,’ because they believe that the mind and its contents are one. I will quote just a few paragraphs from this book:
“The best way to effect your purpose now is as follows: It must, of course, immediately succeed the logical impasse which the meditation has reached. Throw aside all further analysis, for you have reached the critical and decisive stage; cease all discriminative and discursive thought; and make you final prayerful repetition of the silent question, Who am I? Pause for a while in meditative, musing reverie without attempting to supply the answer. In short, you should simply question your inner self and then prevent your thinking intellect from working on the question.
“After that, attention must dive deeper inwards, persistently trailing that elusive sense of “I.” Having dissociated the latter from material and mental limitations, you must prepare yourself to follow it into the great silence that is back of the intellect; that is, to retreat into a realm that transcends intellect.
“Intense inner concentration must act to reduce the number of your thoughts until the entire intellect is condensed to a single thought, which is none other than the thought, “I.” Then this final thought should be pressed to yield the secret of its source.”
In my next couple of blogs, I intend to ask: Do I, or should I, identify with archetypes and stereotypes? The very next question I will pose is: Do I have a spiritual name?