‘Know Thyself’ – these were the words inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, made famous for its Oracle in ancient times.
After attending an intense, yet powerful, personal development weekend recently, where I confronted some initially scary inner terrain, I am reminded of the wisdom contained in this inscription.
As with many great thinkers from history, Socrates was also on to it. His motto was ‘Know Thyself’. For him this meant, gaining knowledge or understanding of oneself was an integral part of becoming a better person. He believed that concern for the welfare of your soul is inextricably linked to the desire for knowledge and wisdom.
It takes courage to enquire into the workings of oneself. But the peace and sense of enlightenment (in that you feel lighter, less burdened) that comes with a deep inner shift and a moment of great truth, is most rewarding. There is something profound and beautiful and enlivening when you connect with a real and deeply felt emotion that most likely has been buried for a long time. There is a deep sense of relief and validation of your own experience. What makes it even more worthwhile is not only does one gain greater self understanding and resolution through the experience, but I believe one also then has a greater capacity for understanding and empathy for those dealing with similar experiences. So it increases your capacity to connect in relationships.
One learns by studying oneself: particularly the feelings that influence our thoughts and motivate our actions
Knowing yourself requires self awareness and a curiosity to understand why you are the way you are. Why do I feel like …. when this …. happens? Clearly emotional discomfort can spark this enquiry too. It’s not comfortable to be sitting with internal experiences of fear/anxiety, saddness/depression, helplessness, guilt, shame, anger/frustration, confusion etc. (the list goes on) for any length of time. But these sensations, if used as an opportunity to gain further self understanding, can be the gateway to gaining Knowledge of Oneself.
Current day inner distress often leads to unresolved early experiences – experiences where, for what ever reason, you may have not been able to express a primary emotion. You may have learnt that it wasn’t ok or safe to do so. These can then create maladaptive ways of responding that are quite unconscious to us, less we go on some form of inquiry. They are also the things that interfere with the quality of our relationships and the ability we have to create a life that is purposeful and meaningful to us. They interfere with our inner happiness and sense of calm and contentment.
To unravel and expose underlying causes to maladaptive emotions and behaviour is no easy feat. In 1750 Benjamin Franklin articulated this beautifully. He observed: ‘There are three things extremely hard – steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.’
Hence the importance of doing personal development work with the guidance and loving support of someone who is able and willing to journey to where you need to go, believing in your capacity to make sense of your experience and inner terrain.
Things to consider when choosing a therapist:
- The therapist needs to have the qualifications that show they have put the time and dedication into learning their skills, and they have done, and continue to do, their own personal work
- You need to feel comfortable, accepted and safe in their presence – confident that you can trust them
- They have a warm, down to earth manner that you can relate to with ease
- You feel their interest, care and engagement – they are tuned in to you and you feel they are really with you
- You have a sense that they believe in you and they encourage you to access your own resources
- They hold ethical principles in terms of boundaries and confidentiality
- They use their own intuition and resources to take you deeper into your inquiry
- They care for your wellbeing at all times
- They are working with you to help you move towards your established therapeutic goals
Good therapy helps people to process and complete whatever wounds they have harboured.
To end I leave you with another inscription found at the Oracle of Delphi:
‘If you do not find within yourself that which you seek, neither will you find it outside yourself. If you ignore the wonders of your own house, how do you expect to find other wonders? In you is hidden the treasure of treasures. Know thyself, and you will know the universe and the gods.’