Know Thyself

A Sunday Gathering Message by Andy Pakula

Be at peace with your own soul,
Then heaven and earth will be at peace with you.
Enter eagerly into the treasure
house that is within you,
And you will see the things that are in heaven;
For there is but one single entry to them both.
The ladder that leads to the Kingdom in hidden within your soul...
Dive into yourself and
in your soul you will discover
The stairs by which to ascend.
— Saint Isaac of Nineveh

Over the past few months, I have made it a goal to meet with as many New Unity people as possible. So far, I've had twenty-eight of deep one-hour long one-to-one conversations. These have been conversations where both participants shared openly about who we are - what our journey has been - what our longings and angers and sorrows are - and what we hope for in our futures.

It’s been an amazing experience and hope to meet with every person involved with this community.

The funny thing is that I thought one-to-ones would be wonderful because of what I would learn about each of you. That has been astounding, but what I didn't expect is how much I would learn about me.

In each conversation, I had to consider who I am. I had to consider what made me who I am. I had to consider why I've done what I've done. I've had to consider where I want my life to go and how I hope to evolve from here. And I had to put all of that in words again and again - each time testing myself about whether my words from previous conversations were true enough.

In the story we heard earlier - The Snake of Dreams - the farmer’s actions were influenced by the mood of the kingdom around him. When the kingdom was full of treachery, he was treacherous. When there was anger around him, he was filled with anger, and when there was generosity in the air, he too acted out of a generous impulse.

As I spoke in each one-to-one, I shared how, as a child, when there was homophobia around me, I was homophobic and when racism was in the hearts of people close to me, it was in mine too. And I recounted how, in retrospect, many of the other decisions I have made in my life were not truly mine. They were not made by what I might call myself.

In ancient Greece, the Greek words for "know thyself" were inscribed at the temple of Apollo. These words were established wisdom well before the time of Plato. They date back at least 25 centuries.

Wise people from almost every land and and every time have assured us of the wisdom of self-knowledge. Lao Tsu - the ancient chinese philosopher said that “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.”

You can find similar words in the Bible, the Qu’ran, the Upanishads and more of the world’s scriptures. They have been spoken by philosophers and writers and teachers. Mystics like St. Isaac of Nineveh tell us this is the path to heaven. Many others have gone further to say that what some may call God is, in fact, within us all.

"Keep calm and know thyself"

"Keep calm and know thyself"

ComIng To Know oneself Is a path toward growth and toward becoming Fully Human.

Self-knowledge frees us from the negative influences around us. Through our growing understanding of why we are so pulled toward things that harm us or cause us to harm others, these forces dissipate.

And most of all, knowing ourselves means liberation from the negative messages we all carry. Once we recognise these demons within us, they begin to lose their power over us. Self-knowledge gives us the opportunity to grow and to become fully human.

So, know thyself. Everyone has said to do it - the command is there in almost every source of wisdom. But this knowledge does not come easily. For me, the path to growing self-knowledge has been very gradual and very slow. It has not been steady, but has happened by jumps after long periods without change.

And - perhaps explaining a large part of why we don’t know ourselves better - the jumps have never been comfortable.

Comfortable times don't push us to know anything more than that we like to be comfortable. When our health is good, we feel loved, our jobs are secure, and all seems well, we are like boats sailing on a smooth sea. It is only what the waters are rough and the winds howl that we begin to learn more about the craft in which we travel and are continually creating. In comfortable times, our demons remain placid and our assumptions remain unexamined.

The shock of a diagnosis, the loss of a job, a relationship, the eruption of a conflict that makes us fiercely uncomfortable - these are the times we have the opportunity to know ourselves. These can also be the times when the weaknesses of our boats threaten to sink us - when we lash out in anger at others or even at ourselves. The extent to which we make the storms of our lives into opportunities determines our path to knowing - and therefore growing - ourselves.

There is another question to be addressed here. What is this self that we come to know? Is there a self to know after all?

...the more I know myself with honesty and humility - with every step toward seeing and accepting myself as I am - the more I am changed. And with this knowledge, aspects of my being that are hard and defensive and fearful fall away in layers - one after another.

Bernard Berenson was a 20th century art historian who sought self-knowledge - who sought to find this true self - and he asked in frustration “...who is the real I, where does he hide from ME? I know who he is not, but how and what and if at all HE is, I have never discovered although for more than seventy years I have been looking for him.”

Eight centuries ago, the Sufi Mystic Rumi demanded - and we can hear his confusion: “Who am I in the midst of all this thought traffic?”

Who indeed? Are you the same person who you were before birth in your mother’s womb? The same person you were when you threw your food all over the floor or first used the toilet? Are you the same person who engaged in that first kiss, who was teased in school or teased others? Are you the person who was responsible for your most laudable deed or the one to blame for your worst?

We have a sense of constancy of self through all the memories we hold. I know that if we can remember it happening to “me” than it was I, me, this self that was involved.

And yet we also know that - despite the memories of these events in our lives - we are not the same person through all of these years. Would you do everything the same now as you did before? Most likely not - you are not the same person.

Each of us is a changing, evolving self.

Philosophers, psychologists, and religious people have wrestled with the notion of the self for millennia. Hinduism posits a self - Atman - that, with enlightenment, is revealed to be one and the same as the ineffable God, Brahman. The Buddhists say there is no self. The Christians speak of an eternal soul.

There is no resolution to the many different perspectives on self - certainly not here today or from me.

What I have learned, though, is that the more I know myself with honesty and humility - with every step toward seeing and accepting myself as I am - the more I am changed. And with this knowledge, aspects of my being that are hard and defensive and fearful fall away in layers - one after another.

What is at the core of this long process of peeling and exploration? My feeling is that deep within - shrouded by the many barriers that fear erects to protect us - is connection. It is the potential for deep and true oneness together. Some call this God. Some call it wholeness. Some call it truth.

I have come to know it simply as the goal of my life - the potential to become ever more loving, compassionate, and giving.

I wish you rough waters in your journey. I wish you vision and acceptance.

Know thyself.