Know Thyself

Know Thyself
by Anton Channing on 2008-05-13 22:08:32
tags: alan watts, apollo, comfort, dance, delphi, journey, know, knowledge, music, oracle, self

gnothi seauton

So read the inscription in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, according to the travelogue writer Pausanias. But what did it mean? The Temple of Delphi was of course built at the location of the famous Delphic Oracle. So it could be an instruction of purification before entering the holy place, or perhaps a promise of what it would deliver.

However, whether or not we can learn what it meant to the ancient Greeks, especially those that inscribed it, it remains a phrase that relates well to my own recent thoughts and journey of self discovery. I consider journey a misleading term when discussing self discovery as it implies a start point where one doesn't know oneself, followed by a journey, with a destination at the end where one does know oneself, and from there on in you live life as an enlightened being.

I don't believe we ever reach that destination, or perhaps we can briefly but then the destination itself moves. To really know ourselves, we would have to know not just who we are now, and who we were in the past, but also who we are going to be in the future. With no room for error this can prove a difficult task indeed. Even if we gain flashes of understanding in moments of heightened awareness, it is likely that perspective becomes blurred or lost completely when we are carrying out our daily routines and habits. We become comfortable with who we are in the present, and forget to move on. Our mental and spiritual needs have moved on with time. We think we know ourselves, but our knowing is a knowing of a previous self we have moved on from.

In my recent article Sorcery and Comfort I describe this comfort trap, and how in order to progress we must constantly push ourselves beyond our comfort zone. How else would we know that we now liked something we once disliked? This is a part of why I felt comparing the process of knowing ourselves to a journey with a definite destination or end point could be misleading. Instead it is more like an explorer discovering the remains of a lost civilisation overgrown by jungle. Excavating it all will probably take his lifetime, so the enjoyment of it for the explorer is not the end point of total discovery, but enjoying each treasure as it is unearthed.

To take the first treasure and then think we have finished, is to throw away the vast hoard that awaits us if only we continue with our task. Of couse, the opposite extreme would be to neglect to appreciate the treasures as they are unearthed. To constantly live a life of toil and discomfort, presumably hoping for some reward at the end, not realising the treasures we unearth along the way are our reward.

Now I've written this I'm reminded of an Alan Watts video from YouTube I recently came across on someones blog. Sorry, I can't remember whose, but I've found the video again on YouTube and am embedding it below. I think this says it more simply, and makes it sound a lot more fun than I did in my attempt. It is a failing of mine that I make things sound so serious when I write about them.

Music and Life - Alan Watts