Whenever I begin one of my workshops, classes or retreats I always get a big laugh when I say : “You are all here because you think of yourself as someone committed to pursuing deep psychological and spiritual healing. You sincerely believe that you want to become more conscious and more whole. You’ve spent a lot of money to get here and set aside a great deal of time. And are quite convinced that you are actually highly motivated to do this work.
And yet… there is some part of you that is JUST as committed to making sure you NEVER wake up. This often hidden aspect of you is not interested in doing this work AT ALL. And will try to resist and sabotage and distract you from becoming more conscious every chance it gets.”
In the movie the Matrix the sign above the Oracle’s door when Neo went to see her for guidance was Know Thyself which apparently came from the Original Oracle of the Greeks. These words are another version of the Shakesperean admonition of To Thine Own Self Be True.
So this idea that knowing yourself is a GOOD thing is not something that just appeared with the New Age. It’s a tried and true concept that has been around for awhile.
But it’s apparently not any easier to accomplish than it was for Neo in l999 and thousands of years ago when the Delphic Oracle tried to get people in line. Its something people know that they probably SHOULD try and figure out but it’s still not particularly popular as an actual practice.
In one of my most recent workshops I overheard one of my students at lunch saying to another participant : “I’ve learned more about myself in the last three days of this retreat than I ever really wanted to know.” Which is pretty much the way most of us feel about really seeing ourselves clearly.
So there’s two questions I want to explore here. Why IS it a good thing to know yourself? And why do we resist that knowing every freaking step of the way?
There’s a few different levels of self knowledge. The first level is what my husband Tim calls the I Like Pizza version of yourself. This is the knowing that happens on a relatively superficial level. It’s related to our likes and dislikes and is focused on what allows us to feel a sense of pleasure and comfort. Which isn’t a bad thing. We need to know how to create happiness through experiences of ease and solace. Giving yourself things that make you happy is an act of self love. It’s how you care for your inner child and allows you to feel like all is right in the world…. Even if only for the few moments it takes to savor that piece of pizza.
But we generally don’t have to dig too deep to identify the I Like Pizza parts of our personality. We know we like the color blue or prefer action movies over complex dramas or would rather spend our vacations at a Club Med where everything is taken care of for us instead of working our asses off climbing Mount Everest.
We can spend our whole lives simply enjoying the things we like and never doing anything that we don’t like. At least when it comes to food, movie and vacation choices.
But right underneath I Like Pizza there’s a second layer that many people don’t pay that much attention to because it requires some effort to get there. I Like Pizza is pretty automatic. We put pizza in our mouth and get an immediate YUM response. We do the same thing with Brussels Sprouts and get just as an immediate YUCK and that’s the end of the discussion. Case closed. The verdict is in. The jury is unanimous. Pizza for the win. Brussels Sprouts are banned forever never to be heard from again.
Another word for this kind of knee jerk response is the term unconscious. We don’t know why we prefer pizza over brussels sprouts. We just know that we do. We are not conscious of anything other than the preference itself. If someone asked us WHY we liked pizza more than Brussells sprouts we would look at them quizzically like they had grown two heads. The question makes NO sense to the part of us that is running on automatic pilot.
Why is not relevant here. But the next layer down IS the Why layer. And this is where things get interesting. And where we have to dig. Get curious. Ask some questions. And effectively begin to explore ourselves on a WHOLE other level.
This is the first step away from accidental awareness to the beginning of consciousness. Or truly knowing ourselves.
The I Like Pizza part of our being is not too fond of those questions. Because I Like Pizza doesn’t really want to wake up and become aware. I Like Pizza’s primary motivation is comfort. But waking up is inherently an uncomfortable proposition.
Again, comfort is not a BAD thing. But if you only stay at the comfort level you will actually miss out on a LOT of very cool and interesting life experiences.
So you go to the why level, asking why do I like Pizza and not brussels sprouts? Now the first reaction might be DUH… because pizza tastes WAY better than Brussels Sprouts, dumbass.
But if you dig a little bit deeper you might begin to notice some things that aren’t apparent on the more superficial level. You might begin to notice that when you eat pizza it actually makes you feel kind of spaced out and groggy. And that eating Brussels Sprouts gives you more energy and a greater sense of clarity. And that what you actually like when you say you like pizza isn’t so much the TASTE of pizza but the drug like effect of pizza. That you like being numbed out and half asleep because then you don’t have to feel certain emotions like anger or hatred or shame that are lurking in the deeper recesses of your psyche. And that eating Brussel Sprouts means you’re more likely to feel those things simply because you’re more awake and alive.
But asking and ANSWERING the why now means you’re faced with a whole other set of questions and choices. Such as…. Do you really WANT to be that alive? What does it mean for your life to uncork all of those painful, messy feelings? How important IS it to know yourself all the way down? Do you really NEED that much psychological, emotional and spiritual clarity in your life?
If the answer is nah… I’m good. Then go back to eating pizza. But if this next set of questions intrigues you and leaves you wanting something deeper, something MORE then you’ve got some work to do. And a whole adventure awaits you.
Now none of this deeper stuff may be true for you. Pizza might be your jam simply because the combo of cheese and tomato sauce and hot, crunchy bread crusts makes your mouth swoon with salivating delight. And Brussels Sprouts taste like … Brussels Sprouts. And that’s that.
But it certainly never hurts to ask.