Who am I? That question today is not so hard to answer. I am _____________ fill in the blank with what appears on your Driver’s License, Passport, Library Card, or other I.D. you may carry. That is “who” you are. The deeper question, the question that goes uninvestigated by too many is: What am I? Of course the knee-jerk answer is (for us Earthlings anyway); “I am a human being.” And while being accurate, this answer falls far short of providing us with adequate information about ourselves. Information we need in order to understand how to successfully navigate our lives.
If we were cars and we needed to what we are in order to know how to take care of ourselves, simply knowing “I am a car.” won’t make it. There are too many different models, makes, engines, maintenance/fuel/oil requirements. We would need to know exactly what type of car am I to know what our needs are. And when it comes to human beings the variations are as numerous as there are people. Of course when we begin analyzing our individual make-up we find that we actually share almost all, if not all, of our characteristics and traits with others. We can think of these characteristics and traits as being components. However, our specific genetic heritage along with our developed tastes and interests all go together to produce a unique constellation of components; a unique individual! In other words while none of our components themselves may be unique, the collection, the constellation of components that goes into each and every one of us is.
The task we face, all of us, if we ever want to be in harmony with ourselves (and with others), is to genuinely know ourselves. Until we know ourselves we can’t really be true to ourselves, can we? So how do we do that?
Introspection is essential, however, we can also learn much about ourselves via the research in psychology, sociology, anthropology, physiology, history, basically any discipline that studies human behavior and/or make-up. So it’s not just about looking inside ourselves. Sometimes we can rely upon authoritative sources to know about aspects of ourselves. Sometimes outside sources can explain to us how to interpret what it is we find when we look inside. And sometimes outside sources can tell us the best ways to care for what is inside us; to care for ourselves.
One thing is certain, something history has shown time and time again and is still showing us: if we don’t know ourselves, we can be led around like cattle by someone with the understanding, the will, and the means to control our external environment. We can be conditioned to knee-jerk responses to specific symbols (visual cues, words, tunes). We can be conditioned to essentially ignore what is going on inside ourselves, to believe it is extraneous, juvenile, irrelevant, counter-productive. The question is; counter-productive to what? To having a happy life or to being a pawn in someone else’s agenda?
Knowing ourselves isn’t easy. Oh, it’s easy enough to become enamored of some external stimuli; money, fame, beauty, or??? And then we might say; “I’m all about _________” (fill in the blank). But that isn’t really knowing ourself. That is having our imagination captured by something outside ourselves. To some extent we are all “stimulus freaks”. If we see a lot of stimuli, excitement associated with some external thing or activity, most of us are going to be drawn to it at some time or another. However, using one extreme example; meth can certainly provide a lot of stimulation, rush. But ardently pursuing it is neither really knowing nor caring for ourselves. However, if we recognize that we crave meth, that can be a first step which can point a direction which, if we pursue it, may lead us to learn some potentially valuable things about ourselves. A lot of things can be like that; sports, music, movies, video games, any external thing or activity. Even interpersonal relationships can be somewhat like this depending upon the quality of the relationship. But if we simply recognize we have a craving and mindlessly pursue it, we are often left empty, in pain, wondering what went wrong.
Getting to genuinely know ourselves is a profound journey. There are two (arbitrarily delineating them) areas we need to be in touch with to know ourselves; the spiritual and the organic. I divide them as such because, within the U.S. culture anyway, these aspects of our being are most commonly presented as being seperate. Yet, at least while we are incarnate, they are integral aspects of an interactive whole. I think these areas, comprising the whole of ourselves, may always hold new avenues of exploration. It is a journey that can be highly rewarding. I would say it is the most difficult and highly rewarding journey we can undertake. On it we can find authentic meaning and purpose. And there are difficulties, at times the journey may lead us to feel alienated from others, to feel alienated from our culture and things we used to take for granted. It may even lead us to temporarily feel alienated from ourselves. However, as we gain more knowledge, more insight into what we really are, the journey also leads us to discover reliable “landmarks”, values, realizations that keep us centered in life oriented, sustaining truths. And the journey gives us keys to connect with others in more authentic and meaningful ways.
We learn that, in a lot of basic ways, we are the same as everyone else on Earth (and probably elsewhere). Also we learn about the joys of having our own unique perspectives and gifts to share. It is a journey I highly recommend, but no matter, in reality it is the journey we all are on. The only question is whether or not we realize it and therefore are directly experiencing it as such.
Finally, when we do really know ourselves, then we can know what it is we want to add our energies to. What can truly, sustainably, benefit us in terms of the world which we are all contributing to creating.