“Most men will not swim before they are able to.” – Hermann Hesse (Steppenwolf)
In my years of Self-Exploration and teaching something has become very clear to me; only people who have grown frustrated, dissatisfied, disappointed or spiritually disenchanted enough with their lives and society will seek to explore alternatives to change or transform their lives, embarking on spiritual journeys.
Most people, if they find themselves content with the way things are, will not venture to explore the depths of the ocean and learn to swim. However, sometimes people fall into the water by accident, as was the case with Buddha for example, who grew up sheltered in an illusory world free of death, illness and aging until one day he encountered all three; motivating him to renounce his perfect, wealthy lifestyle in search for answers and spiritual fulfillment.
The process of Self-Discovery towards Self-Understanding is a very difficult and perilous one; we risk losing all the false beliefs and habits that compose our identity.
Who Are You?
Leave the children alone, and don’t try to keep them from coming to Me, because the kingdom of heaven is made up of people like this. ~ Jesus of Nazareth (Matthew 19:14)
“Who am I?” This is the question you venture to answer when you begin your journey of Self-Exploration, or your search to “Know Thyself”.
All of us have been brought up through a process of “socialization”, that is, the cultural social conditioning that has influenced what we believe and perceive. We are born with the innocence of children, but slowly, we are taught that we have a name, a nationality, a religion, that certain ambitions and habits are respected and admired by our parents, teachers and peers so we should strive towards attaining them.
As we grow older and learn to speak, these sounds in our head known as “thoughts” begin to pop up. A simple stroll around the park, for instance, presents an unsocialized child with the sound and sight of birds. The parents, feeling they are helping their child, tell him that this bird is called a “Crow” and the other is called a “Kookaburra”. Thus, little by little, the child’s sense of awe and fascination is replaced with thoughts and words that cloud the experience. Instead of focusing on the beauty of sights and sounds, the mind focuses on labeling and classification.
Through socialization we are taught a variety of social expectations, values, beliefs and thoughts, which give rise to a variety of feelings within us. These include sympathies and antipathies, love, hatred, expectations, attachments, patriotism, habits, tastes, ambitions, convictions, memories and all sorts of things that begin to form our “identity”. This process contributes to us losing perspective of who we really are, causing us to focus on all the changing, relative and ephemeral qualities in our lives.
We also develop a false sense of free will, of freedom that makes us feel content and in control of our lives. Yet our behavior is guided by our beliefs, and our beliefs are often unconscious. When I ask someone “why do you support *insert sports team*?” often I’m met with an “I don’t know” until eventually I uncover their decision is based on either their parents or friends influence, cultural background or ethnic heritage; all of which they had no choice or control over in the first place.
Exploring our depths, our inner selves by observing and inquiring, will slowly rid us of the many false beliefs we once held so dear. When we embark on the journey of self-discovery, we start seeing through our false identities, as well as the ambitions we once were ready to live and die for. Slowly we find that all of these things prove to be quite meaningless and slowly we begin our spiritual awakening.
Fighting Fire with Fire
All instruction is but a finger pointing to the moon; and those whose gaze is fixed upon the pointing finger will never see beyond. Even let him catch sight of the moon, and still he cannot see its beauty. ~ Zen Saying
The moment you begin to search, you’ll start feeling an immense sense of emptiness in many of the discoveries you make. A lot of what you once thought was important proves to be quite pointless, and you develop a feeling of seeing too deep and too much.
The truth is, our minds cannot handle uncertainty, we struggle with the immense inner voids we come across in our journeys, the feelings of being lost. Our minds need to cling to something. We need hope, we need to believe in something. But until we complete our Involutionary Journey, we won’t be able to feel the totality of our inner selves.
So where do we begin? At first we need a starting point to begin our quest of Self-Discovery, a stepping stone to cross the river. Books, workshops, meditation, online articles, tests, documentaries all offer mediums to find information that we might identify with. A lot of LonerWolf’s content, for example, is dedicated to writing about different types of people and lifestyles, and of helping us to identify with these different “labels”. This website is one way of assisting those who are interested, in finding more about themselves and also spreading awareness to those who don’t understand themselves and other people. This is one of the greatest tools of Self-Discovery; the internet’s ability to make us aware that there are more people out there like us, and to assist us in the process, helping us to develop self-love and acceptance in the process.
But these labels are just the beginning of the journey, and reveal only a small aspect of ourselves, piquing our curiosity to explore more, to see what else can be uncovered. To a mind that identifies itself with thoughts, we must search for other thoughts or words to identify with.
Most people aren’t very interested in Self-Exploration unless it provides some solace to their problems, and many of these labels do that. They come at the cost, though, of people clinging to them as a definite end rather than a means towards greater discoveries. It’s important to remember this: no person falls entirely into a “label” 100%, everyone has different degrees and different qualities to them.
In our journey of self-discovery, it’s also important to be aware that labels can hinder the growth of a person. When we label ourselves something fixed, finite and static (as is the nature of dead words), then it does not allow for us to change or to grow. I have observed people who have labelled themselves as “Introverted” growing to enjoy more extroverted activities through time, in essence, developing more “ambiverted” qualities. I’ve helped people identify as “Bisexuals” who also later developed “Pansexual” attractions, as well as Old Souls who felt they weren’t because they enjoyed gossip and social gatherings.
Belief in labels can also influence your behavior, limiting what you think you can and can’t do based on what that label specifies. Many people feel empowered by the labels they attribute to themselves, but the difference amongst those who pursue the path of Involution is that there’s much greater power in feeling limitless, unbounded and unconfined.
Labels, words, thoughts – they are all very limiting to the power that is available to those who are willing to, through their senses, experience it. A Taoist parable might illustrate this well:
Lao-tzu once told his disciple, “he who knows, cannot say. He who says, cannot know“. His disciple then asked him to explain what he meant by that. Lao-tzu said, “have you ever smelled a rose?” The disciple acknowledged that he had. Lao-tzu replied, “Ok, so you know the smell. Now describe it.“
The word “Rose” is a label, all we can do is try to describe its smell with associations by dissecting it and explaining through comparisons that “it’s a bit like this, mixed with a bit of that”. But we can never fully encapsulate what a rose really smells like. So if we can’t label something as simple as the smell of a rose, how are we to label something as complex as a human being?
I Am . . .
The more you Self-Explore and Self-Discover, the more you’ll move down the path of Self-Understanding. But whenever you make the mistake of thinking you have arrived at the conclusion of “I found myself! I know who I am!” Ask yourself this, “Who is it that knows? There would have to be two people within me to know myself: the ‘Self’ and the ‘Knower’ of that self.“