“Human beings were not chiefly different but chiefly alike”Edith Hamilton
Knowing ourselves means knowing what makes us human. It means knowing the different potential characters within us, and it enables us to draw out what is the best in us. This is also what is best in everybody. Our capacities for courage, for kindness, for empathy and for patience are amongst what we all share. We all share within us the capacity for what makes life best. By knowing yourself, we learn that we share the same humanity no matter what is our sex, race, or sexual orientation. As human beings, we share a common humanity. We have much more in common than we have that makes us different.
Knowing our human Psyche
A simple method for knowing yourself is to use the classical concept of the Psyche as being our head, our heart and our guts. The word Psyche is used to refer to the full human mind in its widest sense. Using this approach, our heart creates the thoughts that make up the story and the picture of the world that we use. Our head conditions the thoughts coming from our hearts (and the thoughts coming from others) and carries out reasoning within the boundaries of these stories and pictures. And our guts provide the light and energy for our Psyche. In short, our Psyche can produce thoughts, it can rationalise and it can produce energy.
Our thoughts are made up of our intuition, our reflection, our forethought, our imagination for reality and our minds-eye.
Our rational thinking is the rationalisations we make in our heads. The function of our heads is to condition the mental pictures and stories that come from our thoughts and from the thoughts and rationalisations of others.
Our guts are our fire, our source of light and energy in our Psyche. From our guts we get our fire in our belly, our passions, our drive, our animal spirits, our impulse and our instinct (our gut instinct).
“Educating the head without educating the heart is no education at all”Aristotle
This is distinctly different from modern education. Modern education has a brain-centric approach. But we know that the brain gets its blood from our heart. We know that when we experience fear and panic (when our hearts are shrinking back) we lose much of our access to our minds. This reduces the potential power of our Psyche. We know that when we are courageous (when our hearts open and expand), we open up new potential in our world, and our heads can see new logic and rational thinking open up. Einstein highlighted this. He said, “the intuitive mind [our heart] is a sacred gift and the rational mind [our head] is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift”. Let’s not forget our instinct. This missing from modern education. Learning to use our gut instinct, and not forgetting to use it, can be a powerful friend. We mostly know, from experience, that when we are in a good place (with our hearts in a good place), our gut instinct is very helpful, while when we are not in a good place, our instinct can often be a wrong approach.
Just as each of us is human, each of us has a heart. This is something we all have in common. It is when our hearts become different that we see the world differently. As Dale Carnegie put it, “two men looked out from the prison bars, one saw mud, the other saw stars”. When we see the world, we only see it within the frame of the story and picture created by our hearts. This is the simple reason why we need to educate our heart to help us achieve our full potential.
Similarly, we all have guts, our inner fire, providing light and energy for our Psyche. When we are happy, full of life, with optimistic energy and we look at nature, nature usually looks happy too. When we have a low or dark mood and we look at nature, we usually see the same in nature. Emerson probably put it best, “Nature always wears the color of the spirit”. Becoming self aware of our guts, that is our passions, our impulses and our instincts, and the impact they have on how we are and how we see the world, enables us to make allowances for how we are, enabling us to we see the world closer to the way it is. This opens up a psychological potential that many people never see in their lives.
“The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself”Thales
Knowing yourself, whilst it is the most powerful thing you can learn to do, it is also one of the most difficult you can do. It is not for the faint-hearted or those looking for easy answers. Also, true education can also initially be a somewhat isolating experience because it involves stepping back from our lives to create a better picture of them. It takes time and requires patience. But in the long run, you’ll be better and happier for it and better able to achieve your dreams.