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Know Thyself

By David Lintner

It is reported that the words "Know Thyself" were inscribed over the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi. Unfortunately there is no clear record of the instruction that led to the prescribed awareness. There are clues, however, to be found in the major spiritual traditions of the world. And those clues all seem to suggest that if you were to look into the face of God, what you would see is your own reflection staring back at you.

This makes sense to me when I think about the struggles I’ve had searching for a glimpse of Ultimate Reality. When I’d ask the question, "God, who are you?" there seemed to be an answer from the great Silence that said, "Who are YOU?" Know yourself.

Fear of knowing self is a great barrier that many of us must cross in order to probe the deep inside. We are afraid of our own shadow. That’s an interesting cliché, "afraid of your own shadow." It seems like a phrase designed to intimidate while it trivializes.

And yet, in Jungian psychology, the Shadow Self is the place where, as children, we shoved all the desires and thoughts we feared would separate us from the ones we needed the most. It is a powerful place, and the Shadow Self posts fearsome guards at its doors to keep us from going there. It is an unconscious place, a place where the devils reside.

Religious traditions are rife with demons and devils, and many people externalize them, making them something outside the self, waiting to jump out of closets, or other dark places. Satan is seen in more than one religion as the Great Evil personified, who waits to rip the soul from your body and drag you to hell for an eternity of agony and torment.

The great Hindu goddess Kali is sometimes portrayed as a fearsome figure, a necklace of heads hanging around her neck, and a belt of severed arms around her waist. She holds a sword in one hand, and a severed head in the other, while her tongue drips blood. Many people use this seemingly gory image to scare themselves witless. And yet, she is sweetness and love to the initiate.

The demons and devils are images we create within ourselves. They clothe themselves in the guise of a poor body image, low self esteem, the fear of taking action because of the hidden image of failure we keep hidden away. These are the ultimate primate fears—the fear of rejection, and with it, abandonment and death.

Yet it is the shadow place that holds greatest promise for many people, for in its depths is the repressed power that can lead one to liberation. Knowledge of the Self, beyond the curtain of fear, beyond the illusions of self image, unlocks the energy of the universe.

The door to the Self is guarded by our emotions, because our emotions are the experience the body uses to create its sense of reality.

If you were to draw a line down the middle of a piece of notebook paper, and write the "positive" emotions you feel most often on one side, and the "negative" emotions you experience most often on the other side, you’d be well on a the way to having a road map of your reality.

You’d need a few instructions for interpreting them, but basically you’d have the core information about how you experience the world.

Your emotions are the way you know if the world is the way it is supposed to be for you or not. If the way you experience the world matches your idea of the way things should be for you, you feel good. If not, you feel bad. And you spend most of your waking hours concerned about making the world match the way you think it should be.

The wisdom of the East talks about the folly of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, recognizing that these pursuits are unending. The world does not sustain itself in the same manner over time, and as circumstances change, so will our experience of our reality map being matched or mismatched.

Unfortunately, many people do not have a conscious grasp of their desired world. They react to their world, without knowing what it is that makes them feel miserable, or how to change course to make their inner reality a matter of choice.

How much of daily life is motivated by fear? Fear of how other people will or will not react, fear about who will like us or not, fear about personal performance, fear of failure.

The underlying cause of stress is fear of unwanted, unconsciously perceived disastrous consequences. Fear of the inevitable. Fear of death. It is a road we all travel, and we all end up at the same destination. And since we know where we’re all headed, what have we got to lose? We fear we’ll lose our selves. Perhaps that’s exactly what we need to lose. I don’t know for sure.
It is a struggle, sometimes, to know what level of existence to plug into especially when life demands attention from simple day-to-day activities, in satisfying the need for relationships and making a living.

And yet, when I am the happiest, when my emotions let me know that my inner and outer reality are aligned, I have been looking deeply into the night sky, and remember where I came from, and who I am. I shed the identity of self with body and personality (can we ever be free of it?) and experience my self as a drop in the ocean, and as the ocean in the drop.

If the admonition "Know Thyself" is a reality in my awareness, it is in my profound sense of awe and wonder at the vastness of it all, and that in this moment in time I am conscious and aware. It is not in knowing my patterns and inclinations, the powers masquerading as demons in my shadow self, but in the stars which gave us birth, and which have become aware in us.

I look into the night sky and see the face of God. God is awake and aware, in us, as us.

Copyright © 2002 David F. Lintner

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