That is what was inscribed on the arch at the oracle of Delphi.
What relevance does this pronouncement have for us today?
Socrates passed on the admonition to “know thyself” in the teaching: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” (see Plato’s Apology, for example) Socrates claim is not that he has all the answers, but that, having examined himself and found he is ignorant in many ways, he leads a more responsible life than those who think they know the absolute truth.
In the movie The Matrix, the oracle also has these words above the door to her kitchen, where she meets Neo, the main character. The implication in this setting is: If you examine your life carefully, you will see your mission and purpose. It turns out Neo is “The One” they’ve all been waiting for to save the human race from “the machines.” However, he doesn’t understand that at first. All he needs to know, the oracle tells him, is that he will at some point have to choose between saving himself and saving his teacher, Morpheus. “Knowing himself” as “The One” starts with his seizing the opportunity to “know himself” as the one who is to save Morpheus. Suddenly the directionless hacker’s life has purpose. Gradually he begins to “know himself” as “The One” in more ways than one.
To see the relevance of the oracular pronouncement “Know Thyself” for us today, let’s establish two premisses:
- There is nothing but “The One.” It is not as if there is all of time and all of the universe, but then beyond that there are other times and other universes. When we speak of “The One,” we speak of all times and all universes: the whole shebang, nothing excluded, not even God. Neo (like you and I, as we’ll see) is “The One” in the sense that he can alter the universe.
- To “Know Thyself” is to know that you are “The One.” You may well shy away from believing yourself to be “The One” in the sense that you are all the things that exist, or that you are omnipotent, omniscient, or the one who is to save the human race. Good. So far you’re following Socrates advice, as well you should. Nevertheless you ARE “The One” in two important senses:
a) You are like a drop of water in the ocean of conscious being. You are an aspect of the body of intelligence extending from time immemorial into eternity. If we were to do a thorough enough study of any drop in the ocean (where it came from, what it is made up of, where it is going to), we’d ultimately become acquainted with the whole ocean, not to mention the sky and land through which water moves. Likewise, “If you reach deeply into yourself, your are reaching into the essence of mankind. When you do this you will be led into the generating depth of consciousness that is common to the whole of mankind, and that has the whole of mankind enfolded in it.” (Joseph Jaworski, quoting physicist David Bohm, in Synchronicity, p. 80.) Bohm called this the holographic principle, and said that “knowing thyself” gives you information about the “Implicate Order” of all things.
b) You are also, like Neo, “The One” whose sacred duty starts with a simple act, like changing your child’s diapers, or mowing your mother’s lawn. You are “The One” who sees the underlying problem in the office and will point it out in empowering terms. You are “The One” who saw that piece of newspaper blow into the neighborhood early this morning, and will put it in the trash where it belongs. You are “The One” who will turn your marriage around by apologizing or forgiving and empowering your spouse unconditionally. In the same way that Neo did not understand at first the full implications of being “The One,” you will not either. Nevertheless like him you will gradually begin to “know thyself” and your life’s purpose by applying yourself fully in every appropriate moment.
Here are three practical ways “knowing thyself” as “The One” will make a difference for you today. Don’t worry, you do not have to drink hemlock like Socrates.
“Knowing thyself” as “The One” helps you pick your battles, as they say, which is extremely important when you’ve got too much to do and think about and take care. Stop and take a moment to get a deeper sense of the relevance of any one of these demands to you in your life. See yourself as “The One,” the connection among things. From the serenity of such reflection, you can tell if your involvement is really necessary or appropriate in a given instance. You must simply relax and ask yourself: Is this really mine to take on? Observing yourself as your true purpose in the grand scheme of things shows you whether this is a moment in which to apply yourself or stay detached.
“Knowing thyself” as “The One” also helps you engage the support you need. Trying to get others to do what you want can be tough; that’s because they’re already doing what they want for themselves. Human beings only change their course of action when there’s something bigger and better in store if we were to do so. If it weren’t for God and country, many of us wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning; we’d just watch television and order take-out food.
Doug was struggling for months to get a project off the ground. He’d invented a line of products that play on tourists’ impressions of local landmarks in famous spots. Then suddenly he started making connections with agencies and distributors and stores; he had all sorts of new ideas for promotions, and he’d written an inspiring marketing piece. “What happened?” I asked. “I figured out what it’s all about. I want to promote better international relations through these products, and I’ve decided to give 10% of the profits to charities that are making a difference in international relations.”
Beatrice was trying very hard to convince her family to exercise and not spend money on junk food, but she was not having much luck. They just resisted her. Then one night at dinner, she asked her husband and her sons how important they considered the family’s physical health. “Most important,” they said. “It’s in the interest of our health that I want to work out together, and for you to save your money for better things than chips and soda.” They got the message and changed their habits, because she was “knowing herself” as “The One,” as the purpose of health.
Lastly, “knowing thyself” as “The One” allows you to relax. Most of our stress is from working against our true nature. You’re stressed out because you really need more time than you’ve got to complete the project. Your job is a huge source of stress because it’s not what you really want to do. You’re Saturday morning was nothing but stress because you felt obligated to do a favor for a
friend. Once you see yourself as “The One” whose sacred duty it is to be YOU–to fulfill YOUR purpose–then not only do you win the support you need and pick appropriate “battles,” but you also experience an internal peace like no other. After all, you are no longer struggling to fit your round self into square holes. Many people report having the experience synchronicities when consciously aligning personal agendas with the grander scheme of things (coincidences, revelations, telepathy). You witness the grander scheme of things in the present. Relax and be your truest self.
Of course “thinking outside the box”–such that you “know thyself” better–is a rich subject in itself. I offer you this link, which we take you directly to an Ezines article entitled “The Science of Self-Care.” I published this article to assist you in examining those blindspots that have prevented you from “knowing yourself” fully and taking the care of that self properly. Enjoy!