Essays by Boris Matthews
Dissatisfaction with oneself and one's lot in life can signal the beginning of change for the better. Loss of interest, lack of energy, dread of the same-old same-old, mind-numbing routine--people often loosely say they are depressed when they feel these .emotions. And indeed, these emotions may indicate depression, but they may also tell us that we are bored, that our sense of direction has disappeared, that we are at a time in life when we need to take stock of what we have been doing; that who others tell us we are no longer. fits us, .and it is time to find out more completely who we really are.
"Who are you?" If you answer by saying your name? By telling what work you do? Do you ever say to yourself, "I wish I knew!"
A large part of who we believe we are comes from other people, from what they tell us we 'are. They (or some of them!)' may see us accurately: "You're a good [fill in the blank]" "'You do [fill in the blank] well." While we may agree with, what they say, sometimes we feel there is something missing-perhaps something we can't quite put our finger on. "Name, rank, and serial number" are accurate but incomplete. And how do we go about completing our sense of who we really are?
"Know thyself' is one of the oldest pieces of good advice, but also one of the most demanding. Knowing ourselves demands that we pay attention to what interests us, what suits us, and to those tasks and situations and challenges that we have to deal with even though they neither interest nor especially suit us, and/or regularly trip us up.
What interests us should be a no-brainer. Interest is more than curiosity. Something that interests us "invites us," "calls out to us," "lures us." Where we experience genuine interest, there is resonance between us and "it," whatever "it" may be. In other words, what interests us gives direction and rouses us to follow.
What suits us tells us something about the "fit" between ourselves and an activity,' a situation, a course of action. A good fit gives a sense of satisfaction. We feel comfortable. It is as though we were made for those "good-fit" activities, situations, and courses of action.
It takes some courage to follow our interests and, as much as possible, to say "no" to what doesn't suit us, especially when others have told us who we are and we have believed them. What will they think of us if we don't fulfill their expectations? What will be the consequences if we make different choices, if we act in a new way, if our "yes" and our "no" comes from what interests and suits us rather than from what we're "supposed to" say and think? Do I have enough courage to be real? Do I have enough courage to grow into my authentic self?
We also need courage and honesty to deal with tasks and situations and demands that neither interest nor suit us, for which we have only limited energy and ability, and that sometimes--or, maybe of:ten show us at our less-than-best. Without honesty, we pretend. that we are better than we are. (Unfortunately, some people pretend they are worse than they are, but that's another story.) When we pretend we are better than we are, we often see our shortcomings only in other people. Then what goes wrong in our life is "their fault." Courage is the strength to be honest, to face not only our lack of skill and ability, but equally to acknowledge and deal with the imperfect, even shabbby, sides our our personality.
Following what interests me and what suits me sounds pretty good, but why should I deal with this other stuff for which I have neither interest nor ability? Why should I make myself miserable taking an inventory of my flaws and shortcomings? And then working on them?
The answer to this question has several parts. The most important part has to do with, the peace that. comes with self-knowledge and self-acceptance: This is what I am, warts and beauty spots and all. I have found a way to live in the "outer" world, and have found away to relate to the "inner" world. I other words, I am adapted to the place and time in which I live as well as to what emerges from the background of my consciousness: my thoughts and feelings and dreams.
Two sources supply the information we need to develop self-knowledge and self-acceptance. One source is our success in finding our place in the world--our adaptation to the world in which we live. The other source is what goes on in our minds and bodies, our adaptation to what goes in the background of our day-time, focused consciousness.
How well are we adapted to the world around us? Do we get along well with others? Are we able to use our skills and abilities in a satisfying way? Do we repeatedly have conflicts? Do we feel as though we are lost in a jungle? Do we not know "how the world works"? In our society, "success in life" often appears equal to an adequate adaptation to the world, frequently measured in terms of income and status. But many people who seems to be successful don't really know themselves. They are not well adapted to the events and influences that operated in the background of their consciousness. Eventually those background forces interfere with their outward adaptation.
What goes on in the back ground of our consciousness--our minds, feelings, and bodies--tells us about an "inner" world. Emotional turmoil, for example, signals conflict: somewhere the "fit" is not good. Physical symptoms--frequent headaches, chronic upset stomach, grinding our teeth--are the body's way of telling us that something is wrong with the way we are living. Dreams show us what we are not consciously attending to, as well as often suggest new life possibilities we had never thought of.
Knowing ourselves means optimal adaptation to both the "outer" and the "inner" worlds. Self knowledge of this sort can lead to self-acceptance: These are my strengths and weaknesses, my successes and my failings. Knowledge and acceptance of myself leads to greater knowledge and acceptance of other people as well.
As long as we
are not living accordance with where and what we are, and consciously
choosing what we do, how we act, the way in which we respond, we are puppets
to forces outside and inside ourselves. We must be able to choose for
ourselves, and this means growing in consciousness. We recognize outward
pressures, coercion, and manipulation for what they are. We recognize the
"inner" coercion of habit, conditioning, fascination, fear, and obligation.
Knowing ourselves, we can chose what to do, what to engage, how to act, how
And the greatest reward of knowing oneself is freedom