The Ancient Greek aphorism ‘know thyself’, or the Latin version Temet Nosce - thine own self know, is a relatively familiar term, appearing even in the Matrix movie, and it was originally inscribed at the front of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
To hear those words evokes both mystery and allure; most of us have a natural intuitive respect for the adage even if we don’t fully grasp the profound potential such an invitation has to offer the individual.
In the comfortable modern materialistic lifestyle, especially in the west, it’s easy to overlook the significance of this ancient wisdom; there’s a great deal out there to distract ourselves, and yet perhaps more than ever, it is a responsibility, if undertaken, that best addresses the problems in the world.
Issues such as climate change, including what to do with all the plastic, and the loss of wildlife all over the world, and not just in faraway places, has now thankfully entered the mainstream consciousness. For too long these concerns have been kept on the fringe and ignored or debunked in the hopes that these problems would just solve themselves.
Capitalism has been a prime driving factor, and although it appeared to offer the individual the most freedom, it is becoming obvious now that there are some negative effects we need to address. Our world is now less about the pursuit of democracy and more about the threat of plutocracy - a world ruled by the powerful, and the powerful are those with the most money; those that control the banks and own the corporations. There’s no escaping from the fact that we live in a corporatised world, and in a world whose meaning is based solely on making money and an ever-expanding market. This is why even now we are losing invaluable rainforest to palm plantations and industrial meat production.
As individuals we are bombarded with signals from a very early age; advertising increasingly targets young children and uses young children to sell products. Billion-dollar industries thrive on selling us their idea of who and what we should be. Some of us may still think that the idea of social engineering belongs in a dystopian novel, but it has been with us for decades.
It is precisely because we don’t know ourselves that corporations and governments can so easily manipulate our thoughts, feelings, and desires. I think one of the greatest illusions we have is the idea that we have free-will. I think it’s more accurate to say we have a will, but to assume it is free is another thing altogether; there is much scientific understanding now that strongly indicates that most of our actions are not free-will actions at all; we make choices but they are never independent ones. Every choice depends on a lot of biological, social and personal conditions that we cannot determine for ourselves; our eating choices, relationship attractions, and even political leanings have much to do with genes, biochemistry, gender, family background, the culture of origin, etc.
We live on the threshold of artificial intelligence (AI) and it will soon be possible for corporations to know more about you than you know about yourself; soon they will have the data on a great deal of personal behaviour and be able to manipulate the masses even more than at present.
If personal freedom matters, then now more than ever, we need to cultivate self-knowledge; on our current cultural trajectory, we are going to have to know ourselves more than the corporations with AI do, otherwise we won’t be able to discern when we are being manipulated or not.
To accept the invitation to ‘know thyself’ is to undertake a change in life orientation; it's to engage life at a wholly new level, one that opens one up to new levels of meaning. Anyone can begin at any time, and many already have begun, and we can all help each other.
So how do we get to know ourselves?
The Self-Realisation Path begins with a shift in consciousness, which in Tarot is marked by the movement from key 7 The Chariot attributed to Cancer, to key 8 Strength attributed to Leo. In terms of individuation we enter a development cycle represented by The Chariot when we are teenagers, where we learn to navigate an increasingly larger social arena, and develop a viable persona in order to interact successfully with others. The Chariot archetype represents many things on different levels, but in the material world it represents our social vehicle, our social masks and the business of getting somewhere in the world. The movement to Key 8 occurs when at some point in life we yearn for something more than the rat race; something more than work, family and friends. For some this moment occurs early in life, while for others more commonly it occurs during a mid-life crisis. Key 8 is typically symbolised by a woman in white gently holding closed the jaws of a lion, and it represents a time when our attention is drawn to quelling the base human impulses through a growing connection with the Higher-Self. The quest to Know Thyself reaches a new level of commitment with Key 9 The Hermit, where we are ready to withdraw from normal life to some degree and dive deeper into self inquiry and self-development; to be in the world but not of the world. Since there are 21 Keys in the Major Arcana in Tarot, the path of the Hermit is still a long way away from completion.
The quest for something more, typically requires us to go within, and to start paying serious attention to whatever is going on in our inner world, and coincides with an interest in methods and techniques such as meditation and mindfulness, psychotherapy, philosophy and sometimes a direct desire for a spiritual life. The centre of gravity shifts from outer material gains, whether social or financial, toward the cultivation of inner wellbeing and greater life meaning. This transition has its challenges, until the ego nature is tamed. Until this happens, participants are vulnerable to delusions, where the quest for greater meaning is hijacked by the ego to feed identity and separation. For example an individual can have the appearance of being on the spiritual path, and yet in fact be simply 'wearing' a spiritual lifestyle as an identity; the seeking is still on the outside and there is no inner work occurring at all. This is quite apparent in the Law of Attraction Movement, where individuals grab hold of metaphysical knowledge as a means to further inherently selfish ends: to manifest all manner of material gains to satisfy false desires.
I have seen something similar in the Reiki Movement, where individuals acquire Reiki Master status over a few weekend workshops, and then launch their own Reiki training business, without any inner work whatsoever and almost no personal experience of the healing journey. Appearances can be initially deceptive, and for those trapped in these kinds of illusions, usually some kind of crisis will manifest to help them awaken to reality.
In general however the transition to the path of Self-realisation involves a shift away from linear intellect alone, toward a more integrated perception of reality using intuition, which over time opens the way for expanded connection with the Living Matrix, and spiritual experiences involving spirit guides, angels, and inter-dimensionals, through a gradual awakening to the hidden aspects of the universe.
The main purpose of the Self-Realisation path is to release social conditioning, and to clear up unresolved patterns of the past, including trauma, in order to reconnect with nature, and to discover and actualise our own innate potential as human-beings. Along the way, we become more mature, wise and compassionate, and reorientate toward values based on natural law, become less materialistic, less selfish, and more willing to take a humble place in the grand scheme of things for the welfare of all beings in all worlds.
There are many tools we can use to help us on this path of development, here below are a few worth consideration:
Meditation as a means to calm a restless mind, to make space for true insight and perception.
Tarot study as a means to learn about the metaphysical universe. Tarot practise cultivates right-brain intuitive perception, teaches us how to engage symbols, and acts as a mirror of the psyche for greater self-understanding. The use of Oracle cards can be a worthwhile entry level for some, to get familiar with simpler symbols, but they usually lack the metaphysical foundation of tarot, and their capacity as a mirror is often less nuanced.
Yoga: there is a great deal of useful knowledge contained within the Eastern philosophical spiritual systems for those drawn to it. There is a lot more to yoga than the physical exercises known as asana.
I-Ching: The book of changes can also be a useful study for those attracted, finding a good translation can be helpful, and there are some more westernised versions which although diluted can be worthwhile. The study of the I-Ching and its underlying philosophy offers useful approaches to the ego and how to align with the inner sage/higher self.
Astrology as a means to understanding personal karmic dynamics, the evolutionary intent of the soul, the lessons we have come here to learn, and to more deeply understand how to meet our spiritual mandate for this life. Anyone seriously committed to self-realisation should in my view have an intimate understanding of their own birth chart and be relatively fluent in astrological language and symbology.
Therapeutic process: invariably all of us need to engage healing processes in order to optimise our potential. Sometimes this will require us to work with a trusted therapist.
Psychological awareness: in my view it is essential that we have a solid understanding of basic psychology; we should know what we mean by ego, Self, persona, and shadow etc and we should also understand issues such as projection, transference and counter transference. Those entering self-realisation through the New Age often lack this knowledge and are vulnerable to psychological traps as a result.
Connection with nature: cultivating a mindful connection with nature is an essential low cost facet of self-realisation. Bill Plotkin explains in great detail, the profound benefits to consciousness, a respectful relationship with nature can provide, in his book Nature and the Human Soul. He highlights how invaluable alone time without others in the wilderness is, in relation to self-awareness and psychological health.
Soulcraft: purification practices, prayer, altar work, exercise, sacred space, medicine wheel, Tarot meditation, contemplation, drumming, chanting and so on, all play their part in a lifestyle that supports awakening.
Shadow work and descent journeys: descent (a border crossing into Mystery) is part of a healthy awakening process often rejected, unrecognised or avoided that involves reconnecting with the soul. The book Soulcraft is a practical guide book for those interested in understanding this in more depth. Shadow work involving excavation into the deeper recesses of the psyche to uncover hidden trauma and pain, as well as lost gifts, is also an area of spiritual work often misunderstood and avoided especially in New Age circles.
Dream Work: paying attention to our dreams, writing them down, listening to them, immersing in their symbolic language as a means to communicating with the soul. Dream analysis can be a powerful ally in healing to wholeness, made all the easier when we become more symbolically literate.