“Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” – Aristotle (4th Century BC)
Let me begin by briefly turning the tablet of time back almost three thousand years to Ancient Greece, where the Temple of Apollo was located (the ruined remains are still in existence). Here, the oracle of Delphi, the mouthpiece for the god Apollo, was consulted prior to pivotal decisions throughout the ancient classical world. Her word was sacred and considered to be channeled directly from the Divine.
Entering the Temple, one would be accompanied by an attendant as they passed through the columned western facade into an open anteroom, where on the wall was inscribed the gold-leafed Delphic commandment: “Know thyself”. The voice of Apollo spoke directly to each and every person, who entered these hallowed halls, with an unshakeable, unique use of only two words.
Consider you stepped into what was, at that time, perceived as the center of the world and the first sage advice you received was to “Know thyself”. You might ask yourself: What exactly does this curt counsel mean? Or why of all the Divine demands possible in the world would I be counseled to know myself? The answer to the latter question might be because the Ancients were unanimous with regards to the extreme difficulty required to truly understand the mystery and meaning contained within this commandment.
History reveals that Thales, one of the legendary Seven Sages of Greece (7th Century BC) and possibly one of the authors of the historical inscription, was asked: “What is difficult?”
“To know oneself,” he replied.
“And what is easy?”
“To give advice to another.”
Several centuries later, Xenophone’s memoir on his mentor Socrates in 399 BC revealed the following dialogue:
“Tell me, Euthydemos, have you ever been to Delphi?” asked Socrates.
“Yes, certainly – twice.”
“Then did you notice somewhere on the temple the inscription ‘Know thyself’?”
“I did,” replied Euthydemos.
“And did you try to consider who you were?” asked Socrates.
Fast forward from Ancient Greece to Now, and I ask you: Have you tried to consider who you truly are? In the past, I would not have entertained Socrates’ line of questioning, which is probably why I never remotely considered the Truth of whom I referred to when I say my ‘self’ (thyself). I was of the solid opinion I could easily identify my ‘self’ with a flash of memorable photos, a family tree, an academic report card, an elevator pitch of egoic achievements, a zodiac sign, a physical self-assessment, a religious attachment, and a political party affiliation. Sound familiar? All are identifiers that originated as attachments to thoughts and feelings of who I thought I was. In short, I was only what the voice-in-the-head said I was. If you’re saying to yourself ‘what voice-in-the-head?’ That one!
Oh, to realize how ignorant I truly was. (Ignorance, in spiritual parlance, is the inability to truly know thyself.) It is humbling to recognize my ignorance centered around the mistaken belief that the identity I thought of my ‘self’ was in reality the one and only unlimited or infinite Self. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, nor did I ever even think to ask to know.
So allow me to provide a useful distinction between ‘self’ and ‘Self’ – both of which are considered to be the myself or the sense of self whenever we say or think ‘I’. The ‘self’ (I spell with a small ‘s’) exists in the realm of form as the physical person or the limited and located personality. In this realm, I am Pat Croce, 66 y/o white male, and usually identified as a serial entrepreneur, former Philadelphia 76ers CEO, and all of the other biographical baloney. In Truth, up until six years ago, that is exactly who I thought I was. It was not until I had a lightning bolt of awakening that I delved deeply into this ‘self’ via investigative self-inquiry. Through numerous spiritual retreats, readings, teachings, and experiential revelations, I am now able to recognize this version of myself exists only as a bundle of thoughts, sensations and perceptions rooted in memory, imagination, and habits, and fueled by fears, desires, expectations, and conditioned urges. This common identity of self is referred to as the ‘ego’ or separate self. It is how most of us believe and feel ourselves to be. It is within this identity as an apparent personal existence where all the problems, suffering, and unease arise – and are externalized into the world.
On the other hand, the ‘Self’ (I spell with a capital ‘S’) is ever-present in the realm of the formless as a limitless, thoughtless, imperturbable aware Presence. In this realm, I am. That’s it! No qualifications, validations, or descriptions. No Pat Croce! This Self is the inner sense or feeling of ‘I’ or ‘me’ that I and you have experienced our entire life, such as whenever you looked into the mirror. Whether you were 5, 25, 45, or 65 years old, the ‘I’ or ‘I am’ looking into the mirror has always been felt as this same, ageless, indescribable conscious Presence. The tricky part, however, is to know thyself and differentiate between the changeless, spirit-like Self (the universal ‘I am’) looking into the mirror and the person-like self (the identifiable ‘I am this or that’) seen in the mirror that has morphed and changed with the passage of years.
Just imagine for a moment if we all recognized the true essence of our Self; if we deeply adhered to the prophetic prescription to ‘Know Thyself’. Imagine how different the world would unfold. Imagine the peace, harmony, and happiness that would pervade across aisles of all apparently different identities. This knowledge does not preclude us from being a colorful personality. On the contrary, knowing first and foremost that the ‘I’ or Self that ‘I am’ is the SAME ‘I’ or Self as the seemingly other is (we are all the same ‘I am’) allows the game of life to continue to be played, but with less suffering, prejudice, and animosity. Every action, reaction, and relationship is then infused with and informed by the peace and happiness of Thyself (Thy Godly Self).