Letter 52: Self-knowledge versus self-obsession

We have seen that self-knowledge is the outcome from‘watching the thoughts’. But the use of self-consciousness in this way with its concentration on the‘demons’ and the wiles of the ‘ego’ carries an in-built risk. It is easy for a genuine search for self-knowledge to transform itself into self-obsession. We get so fascinated by identifying our ‘unmet’ survival needs and the way these ‘wounds’ have led to ‘demons’ that control our behaviour, that we forget the real reason why we are doing this, our quest for our true self in Christ and the Divine Reality it links us to. We are then like the centipede in the following story: ‘The centipede was capable of running very fast. One day it was asked, ‘How can you keep all your feet under control, never getting them crossed, never stumbling? At such speed too! And with what leg do you actually start to run?’ The centipede began to think and found he did not know. He went on thinking, trying to find out, but to no avail. He was rooted to the spot, still busy thinking ‘how?’ and incapable of moving!’

Self-consciousness can become the greatest barrier to progress on the spiritual path, when we use this ability in a restricted way: instead of it being a consciousness of the whole self, we limit and narrowly focus it on the surface part of our whole being, the ‘ego’ , and not even the whole ‘ego’ but mainly its wounded part. We do need to do this initially, as we have seen in discussing the various forms of ‘mindfulness’. But the reason for doing that is to become truly self-aware, self-conscious in the best sense of the word, aware of the whole ’self’, which includes our surface self, the ‘ego’. We transcend in this way the ‘ego’ and enable integration to take place between the ‘ego’ and the rest of our being. We retain the wisdom of the ‘ego’, but an ‘ego’ that now can see the wider picture – an ‘ego’ that is an integral part of the whole, no longer separated off and isolated. By being alienated from our own deeper level of consciousness, we are really also alienated from others, creation as a whole and the Divine Source we are linked to. On becoming whole we lose this sense of isolation and feel totally part of the inter-connected web of life.

This true self-knowledge is the opposite of self-obsession. It is not self-knowledge for its own sake, but as a way to get in touch with your real ‘self’, permeated and supported by the Divine Reality: “the reality we call God has first to be discovered in the human heart; moreover I cannot come to know God unless I know myself.” says Meister Eckhart, making a clear link between the psychological and the spiritual.

Self-knowledge goes hand in hand with realising your full potential – something all main religions and wisdom traditions encourage. In Christianity we hear Jesus say: ‘I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it in all abundance.’ (John 10, 10) How few people really listen to Jesus’ deep teaching and let it transform their life!

Without true self-knowledge we are prisoners of our needs and drives. Only self-knowledge leads to true freedom: we then can respond purely to the needs of a given situation without ego-centric expectations and without hidden agendas. It allows us to use all of our resources, including our intuitive faculties and tap into Cosmic Love and Wisdom. We will then act out of concern for the needs of others, and in doing so, we also have our own needs met.

Kim Nataraja