Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Know Thyself

A couple of months ago I posted a quote on this blog; it dealt with knowledge of the past and of the future and somebody asked me "what if you want to know who you are now?". Well, that's a bloody good question; one of those questions humans have been working on for ages and quite frankly I don't know whether there is only one way to do this, nor indeed whether this target is achievable in "just" one lifetime.
DelphoiThe oracle of Delphi has been known to provide wise insights to Ancient Greeks on a range of matters of interest to them. At the entrance of the temple of Delphi, there was an invitation and perhaps a warning for visitors: "know thyself". That sentence can be interpreted in many different ways:

  1. the oracle was willing to handle all sorts of questions except those dealing with the bottomless pit of the (sometimes troubled) human soul, perhaps a warning to psychologists, analysts and psychotherapists of our times

  2. knowledge of oneself was considered a basic prerequisite for visitors to be able to deal with the impacts of the revelations made by the oracle, perhaps a warning to those of us who are on a quest to accumulate knowledge, expertise and experience (evolution may also stem from shedding knowledge, habits, fears, "truths", values, rules, obligations...)

  3. the endeavour was considered as the boldest that a mortal could undertake, definitely an interesting insight for all those who think of walking their personal path and perhaps living their own personal legend as Coelho might put it

The challenge of self-knowledge is huge both because in our universe change is the only constant (and that applies to our souls, minds and bodies) and because there is a large chunk of who we are that can actually escapes the span of attention of our conscient selves. Carl Gustav Jung left an invaluable legacy of wisdom with his work on the self, the inconscious, the social ego and the shadow, which I am currently studying as part of my personal R&D.
MonbourquetteI personally used some of the concepts Jung studied and in particular methods presented by Jean Monbourquette in a great book I recommend to anyone interested in the discovery of herself. I must warn you though: if you do it properly the results may rock you a bit, so make sure you have someone to guide you or to support you in case of weakness. And there is no shame in weakness; in fact strength lies within weakness, a wisdom present in the words and thoughts of many great thinkers.
Now to use my NLP skills a bit, let me see whether the goal of achieving self-knwoledge is a "good objective" to pursue for me, that is an objective that is compliant with the conditions of proper formulation of objectives:

  1. positive formulation: "I want to know who I am now" - that will do it

  2. under my control: I feel it is, even though I know I will not achieve it in one day

  3. can be tested: by drawing a diagram showing the different aspects of myself and listing the attributes of my social self as well as those of my shadowy side I will be able to test my current knowledge of myself

  4. in context: here and now, all contexts of my life

  5. ecology: I don't see any disadvantage in achieving this goal, but to be frank there is no way I can know whether there is any; it's a leap of faith.

  6. ultimate objective: harmony, evolution, growth

  7. price to pay: I will spend time to investigate, invest energy in facing my fears (see the prayer of the Bene Gesserit of Dune) and devote attention to the subtle messages of my unconscious part

  8. coherence for me: knowledge of myself is definitely in line with who I want to be in the life

  9. does the achievement of the goal eliminate the problem? - what was the problem agin? No, just kidding. For me it definitely does and I don't see any other more suitable, elegant or short way to do it: I don't want to spend the rest of my life with someone I don't know, and who I am spending most time with but my self?

So, yes, this is an objective for me. Actually I think it is a fundamental prerequisite for just about every single aspect of my life, whether it is dealing with people at work, hopefully someday raising children, perhaps coaching individuals to the achievement of their full personal potential, writing, painting, meditating or "simply" being a citizen of the universe. And I do think it is a path to personal harmony, even though there may be a few quite intense moments of unexpected discovery... But then again, if everything that happens was to fall in the "expected" category, life would not be quite as exciting to live. Enjoy your path, whatever you choose to let it be.


  1. Hi Alex
    With great interest I read your article 'Know Thyself'. Very true.
    In fact I just applied your NLP structure of finding a good objective to my own 'little' project of building up a winery.
    Surprise, surprise, it seems all logical. I published my results on my own brand new blog (in German) under

  2. When I see a statement like "I want to know who I am now", I always wonder wether it will result in the right question. Or whether it will end up in one of those questions for which the answer is 39.
    I would argue that now, that now being a moment long past by the time anyone will read this comment, you are a complex entity that is faced with a chaos of possibilities. In the same way that now (a little after the first now) you are another complex entity faced with a chaos of possibilities that are most likely slightly different and yet the same (guess that is what chaos is all about).
    Hence the choices will be determining who I am now, and now and now again.
    To quote something someone I know once told me "it is not so much the goal that counts, but rather the road travelled to achieve the goal". I would even add to that that if during those travels the goal changes, it is of little importance, as long as one doesn't get lost along the way.
    And so also I believe John Lenon said something like "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans". In other words life, which I believe (that being a personal opinion) to be rather determining in defining who I am WILL happen, no matter what I think of it.
    So to close my argument I want to challenge the Oracle, and tell her "Where are you going today".

  3. Mike, your last sentence sounds very much like the slogan of a large producer of software bugs that come wrapped in fancy software... Very surprising.
    And by the way, your question is a lot about an objective and not too much about the path itself. Whenever you show up in Brussels or anyplace I will be, I will buy the beers and invite your for a discussion on this most interesting topic :-)

  4. Unlinke the software producer, I am not proposing to lead the way or to even accompany anybody on their way, I am merely proposing a question, which I could have put as a statement for that manner: "Know thy way", which is probably less laden with notions of objectives.
    The interesting philosophical question that remains of course is whether there is a path without an objective, or if in that case there is just a point in time with a chaos of possibilities.
    As you well know I would be delighted to discuss this in further depth around a beer or any other manner of spirituous beverage.
    Cheers, and as some pointy eared people say "Live long, and prosper!"