Socrates said that “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom” (Latin translation – Nosce te ipsum ac fias qui es“; however, this is easier said than sensed.
For nearly 2 years, many of us who were living through the Covid 19 pandemic in the land of lockdown had to retreat to our homes and, by extension, retreat into ourselves. Having this time gives us an opportunity to reflect on how, and who, we are and ultimately begin to understand the meaning of ‘know thyself’.
So how are we? Do we have what we need and want? Do we understand what makes us feel sad, scared, happy, angry, or grounded? For some, it raised the question ‘Have you ever been a stranger to yourself?’ Socrates believed that true wisdom is knowing what you do not know.
And who are we? ‘To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” Isolation, whether self-imposed or externally enforced, takes us to these existential concerns; identity, who we are in relation to others, and that which is more than us? Is the way we are thinking, communicating, and behaving, in accordance with who we are?
Many of these questions are normally answered and influenced by the opinions of others however, whilst being semi-cocooned from our normal social life, we are experiencing a lessening impact from others.
This in turn allows us to look inward for our own answers, a chance to confront our own values and desires, uninfluenced by society at large.
How would we truly like to express what we think and feel? How would we truly like to work or play?
“Let yourself be drawn by the stronger pull of that which you truly love.” — Rumi
We are urged to conform to society for the greater good of the community, but this can be to our detriment; when we are encouraged to blindly emulate others rather than endorse ourselves.
It can become easy for us to fall into a trap where we think that our present daily reality is under our control when in fact much of our sense of self is shaped by external and past experiences outside of our direct control.
“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson
How To Know Thyself & Find Out How & Who We Are
Our life experience, aided by self-reflection, fuels the process of self-knowledge.
However, sometimes we need help in getting to know ourselves; perhaps we have not experienced the requisite endorsement in our formative years, from carers or our community, and we need the help and support of a therapist.
One of the greatest gifts that therapy and counselling approaches offer is the rare opportunity to be truly yourself in relation to another. There is a chance to practice this; listening to your own inner voice out loud, feeling the difference, and having it accepted – unconditionally – by the therapist.
This takes courage, but from this, we can learn to connect with ourselves and others in a more authentic way and learn how to deal with uncertainty in an uncertain world. In some ways, this is what Socrates meant when he said ‘To know thyself’, and have that self-accepted by another because it is sustenance for the soul.
“It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the love and courage to pay the price. One has to abandon altogether the search for security and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover.” — Morris West
Isolation can be a harsh lesson, whether visited upon us or not, but it can also bring rewards; a chance to be with ourselves in a different way, and for our own selfhood.
Aristotle too knew a thing or two when he said ‘Knowing thyself is the beginning of all wisdom‘, philosophy aside, it requires an act of becoming acquainted with your past, while also learning and remembering not to be bound or limited by it.
‘Know Thyself And Become Who You Are’ Author – Jennifer Burn: Therapeutic Counsellor