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The Heart of Who We Are

Updated: Apr 17

True wisdom, power, and fulfillment come from the journey of self-discovery, where we find the Divine.

Many of us hold the belief that we understand ourselves better than anyone else could. We trust that our identity, lifestyle, and overall existence reflect our true selves, and that we genuinely embody the personas we project out to the world.

However, this perception of "knowing ourselves" and living our life as our real self is not usually true. Not unless we have taken the time to explore our past and worked to uncover who we are without the norms and pressures society has subtly pushed on us that ultimately cause us to conform to expectations.

From our home environment, which is influenced by our family's expectations for us, to the demands of school that tell us we need to succeed and follow a conventional path, our unique and one-of-a-kind spirit is put at risk of being eroded away without us noticing it's even happened.
Once again, bringing the underlying issue to the surface, do we truly know who we are at our core, or have we lost our essence along the way?

The process of self-knowledge can be described as a journey of uncovering the deeper truth of who we are, moving past the superficial identities tied to our job, social status, or even our personality. Knowing ourselves is understanding our true being beyond the physical, emotional, and mental layers that we typically identify with.

What does it truly mean to know ourselves?
By understanding different belief systems' interpretations, we can uncover unique perspectives on self-knowledge, highlighting common themes that help us understand our true nature.

Beliefs about Knowing Ourselves

Religious Beliefs

  • Buddhism teaches the concept of Anatta or no-self, which relates to our true self as being an ever-changing part of the whole.

  • Hinduism presents the Atman, the inner self or soul, as identical with Brahman, the universal principle.

  • Christianity emphasizes the soul's salvation and relationship with God, seeing ourselves as a reflection of God's image.

  • Islam relates knowing who we are to being deeply intertwined with knowing and understanding the nature of God (Allah), believing that we are created in the best of molds (Qur'an 95:4)

  • Sikhism emphasizes the importance of living an honest life, viewing the self as inherently divine when aligned with the will of God.

  • Taoism advocates for living in harmony with the Tao, emphasize effortless action (Wu Wei) and simplicity as pathways to understanding the true nature of self and the universe.

  • Shinto focuses on the sacredness of nature and ancestral spirits, suggesting a worldview in which the self is deeply interconnected with the natural and spiritual worlds.

Philosophical Perspectives

  • Existentialism explores our true self as emphasizing personal responsibility and freedom.

  • Phenomenology believes that through careful and unprejudiced examination of experiences we can uncover the structures of consciousness and gain insight into our authentic selves and the essence of being.

  • Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a way to overcome destructive emotions and a way to stay true to our purpose and ourselves.

  • Dualist philosophy believes that to know our true self, we must understand how our mind (or soul) and body are separate but work together, shaping who we are.

Psychological Approaches

  • Freudian Psychology suggests that knowing ourselves involves uncovering the hidden parts of our mind, such as unconscious desires and repressed memories, which influence our thoughts and behaviors without us realizing it.

  • Jungian Psychology says that to know ourselves, we need to explore not just our conscious thoughts and feelings, but also the deeper, universal aspects of our mind that we share with all humans.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and modern psychology focuses on understanding and modifying our thought patterns and behaviors to understand who we are.

  • Humanistic Psychology emphasizes personal growth and self-actualization, seeing the self as a being with the potential for inner fulfillment and creativity.

  • Transpersonal Psychology believes that to truly know ourselves, we need to explore beyond our individual ego and connect with broader spiritual aspects of existence, which can reveal deeper truths about who we are.

  • Positive Psychology emphasizes understanding our true self by focusing on our strengths, virtues, and potential for growth, rather than only fixing weaknesses or patterns. It encourages self-awareness, self-acceptance, and the building up of positive qualities.

Scientific Views

  • Neuroscience examines the brain's mechanisms underlying consciousness, emotions, and self-awareness.

  • Quantum Physics has introduced concepts like entanglement and non-locality, which some interpret as having implications for understanding consciousness and who we are.

  • Evolutionary Psychology considers how aspects of human psychology and behavior are shaped by evolutionary pressures over time.

  • Cognitive Science views knowing our true self as understanding the complex interplay between our thoughts, emotions, perceptions, and behaviors. It involves studying how the mind processes information, forms beliefs, and constructs our sense of identity, drawing insights from psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and philosophy to illuminate the nature of human consciousness and self-awareness.

  • Complex Systems Theory suggests that knowing our true self involves recognizing that we are part of intricate networks of interconnected elements, where small changes can lead to big effects.

  • Psychoneuroimmunology examines how the mind influences physical health, particularly the immune system, suggesting a complex interplay between consciousness, belief, and bodily health.

Hermetic and Esoteric Traditions

  • Hermeticism teaches that knowing ourselves involves understanding the interconnectedness of the universe and recognizing that we are microcosms reflecting the macrocosm. It emphasizes self-discovery through introspection, seeking harmony with universal principles, and aligning with divine wisdom to unlock our true potential.

  • Alchemy seeks the transformation of the self (and materials) through processes symbolizing spiritual purification and enlightenment.

  • Kabbalah explores the nature of God, the universe, and our soul through mystical and esoteric teachings.

  • Gnosticism emphasizes esoteric knowledge as the path to spiritual enlightenment, viewing the material world as a deviation (but still a part of) the Divine and highlighting the importance of self-awareness and the discovery of divine elements within.

  • Rosicrucianism teaches that knowing ourselves involves exploring the hidden depths of our being and understanding our connection to the Divine. It emphasizes spiritual awakening, inner transformation, and the pursuit of wisdom to uncover our true nature and purpose in the universe.

  • Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, teaches that knowing ourselves involves transcending the ego and experiencing a deep connection with the Divine. It emphasizes practices such as meditation, prayer, and self-reflection to unveil the innermost reality of our soul and attain union with God.

Ancient Beliefs

  • Platonism and Neoplatonism offer views on the world of forms or ideals, with the soul's journey towards the Good or the One.

  • Socratic Philosophy emphasizes self-examination and questioning as a means to knowing oneself. It suggests that by critically reflecting on our beliefs, values, and actions, we can gain insight into our true nature and live a more examined and fulfilling life or "Know oneself".

  • Epicureanism advocates for a life of moderate pleasure and knowledge as the means to attain tranquility and freedom from fear, focusing on the self's relationship with desires and the material world.

  • Pythagoreanism teaches that knowing ourselves involves understanding the harmony and order of the universe, which is reflected within us. It emphasizes self-reflection, intellectual inquiry, and living in accordance with universal principles to achieve inner balance and spiritual enlightenment.

The Principle of Self-Awareness

At the heart of many belief systems lies the fundamental principle: that knowing ourselves is not just a matter of introspection, but a journey of connection—to the Divine, to the physical world around us, and to each other. Whether through prayer, meditation, or philosophical reflection, we seek to uncover deeper truths about who we truly are and our place in the world. Along the way, we come across common themes like the ones found above from different belief systems that show the importance of self-reflection, the pursuit of wisdom, and the overcoming of our ego.

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