Self Concept, Self Awareness
beware the man behind the mask, he hides the truth behind the mask
It is said that a major purpose of life is to learn, and also that we never stop learning.
In most human societies learning is institutionalized from a very early age in the form of compulsory schooling. In developed countries formal education can eat up the best part of two decades of an individual's life.
Furthermore, we are constantly reminded that we live in the information age or knowledge economy. Multiple TV channels, cell phones, the Internet... These days we need to continue absorbing knowledge just to survive.
One of the main rules of witchcraft is "know thyself", but for all the knowledge that surrounds us how many of us can claim to REALLY know ourselves?
It might seem like a no-brainer; after all we ARE ourselves, so how can we not know what makes us tick? But very often human beings function on autopilot. Our decisions are conditioned by our upbringing, our peers, the expectations of others...
It can be easier to get a university degree than to really get to know yourself. There is something within us that resists being analyzed. That's why it's always more appealing to watch TV, go for a beer, paint the kitchen etc. than actually start digging into what makes us tick.
And yet self realization is the most important knowledge of all. With it we can make sure we're making decisions that are right for us. Without it we almost certainly fail to fulfill our true potential or overlook pathways that will yield most satisfaction.
Personality and Character
In the quest for self realization it is important to distinguish between personality and character.
Character is the underlying, constant and true nature of our incarnate soul. It is little changed by experience.
Personality is the face, or mask, we show to the world. It varies not only with time and experience, but also according to our circumstances. For example you adopt different personalities with your partner, your children, at work, with friends, etc. Given the complexity of modern life the number could be many. This shouldn’t mean we are shallow, or schizoid, rather each mask worn should be a different viewport to the same underlying character.
Introspection simply involves taking time out to consider, observe, and analyze ourselves and what makes us tick. Some "headings" to look at are our likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, introversion-extraversion etc.
Introspection is best carried out when we are relaxed and at ease. Find a time and space where you will not be disturbed. Sit down with a pad of paper. Maybe put some soothing music on. It may be helpful to practice relaxation and/or meditation techniques prior to introspection.
As mentioned above, the mind may resist introspection and try wandering off in every other direction. If this happens simply let the distractions go, and guide yourself gently but firmly back to the task in hand.
Human beings are changeable creatures. We have good days, bad days, happy days, sad days, lively days, lazy days... It follows that what we learn from introspection on one day may differ from what would arise at another time. We therefore need to carry out the process a number of times under different circumstances. We will find that some themes recur whereas others cancel each other out. It is the recurring features that define us for the duration of our incarnation.
Keeping a diary that records not only scheduled activities but also moods, feelings, brainwaves etc can be an invaluable tool in uncovering the true self.
Psychometric tests seek to measure the immeasurable, ie those various nebulous personality traits and characteristics that define “us”.
So complex is Spirit incarnate that it cannot really be reduced to numbers on scales. However, taken alongside other methods of analysis it can provide an added dimension to self-understanding, either to provide starting points or themes for subjective introspection, or to confirm (or challenge) the findings of such introspection.
Fortunately the Web spoils us for choice of free psychometric evaluations, here are just a few:
- Your Real Star Sign (a short online test that reveals which of the Astrological signs most closely matches your character)
- The Enneagram Institute
Gain insight into your unconscious with this free Word Association test.
WARNING Don’t rely on psychometric tests alone in the acquisition of self-knowledge. Take several tests and compare results. Don’t blindly accept results; always assess them in the light of existing self-knowledge.
Astrology, Numerology, Divination
Regardless of whether or not you believe in astrology, numerology etc, it is worthwhile obtaining readings from one or more divinatory systems. The very fact that such systems have survived across the centuries suggests they might just have something to offer. But even if they don't they will serve the valuable role of providing something to measure yourself against. If you look at the interpretation of your birth chart and disagree with just about every point you are i) thinking about yourself, and ii) gaining knowledge as you assess yourself against the reading.
The world of dreams may provide insights to the true self lying behind the facade of conscious civility. Get into the habit of recording dreams as soon as you awake. Keep a dream diary in which you write down everything that comes to mind on waking. Don’t try to censor your words. Indicate the “vividness” of the dream together with any that provoked especially strong emotions.
Wait a few days before re-reading the dreams you have written. Recurring dreams, themes and patterns as well as those associated with especially strong feelings should be given particular weight in your analysis.
For more on dreams, see Dream Meanings.
Views of Others
Oh wad some power the giftie gie us To see oursel's as others see us! Rabbie Burns
It can be very enlightening to gain the benefit of the opinion of others. But we must first overcome the embarrassment of asking, "what kind of person do you honestly think I am", and our observers must overcome the embarrassment of being totally honest.
Short of "bugging" our friends to discover what they say behind our backs, the best people to ask are those closest to us. True partners - or soul mates - can easily be frank without fear of hurting the other's feelings.
It is important to canvass the views of a wide circle since we tend to show a (slightly) different face depending on circumstance and situation, though through better self-knowledge such differences should diminish.
The less close the person the more they will hold back on the whole truth, but nevertheless they can still provide some valuable, and previously unnoticed, insights.
Nature or Nurture
The question of whether our character is born with us or created by our upbringing is age old. The truth is that it’s a bit of both. We are unique souls on the earth to fulfill a specific purpose and are given a definite character to allow us to learn the lessons and gain the experiences we need.
However, as we go through life we are receptive to, and changed by, the things we experience. As such our characters are also influenced. In the early years when our experience is near zero, experience makes a major impact on the self. As our body of experience builds, so we are less influenced by new inputs. Nevertheless, we continue to change ever so slightly throughout our lives.
The Need for Review
As mentioned above our personality continues to change subtly throughout our lives. We are also subject to ever-changing circumstances. Goals and directions decided in the past may no longer be applicable today. Because of this it is beneficial to carry out periodic reviews both of character, purpose and major activities in the pursuit of that purpose.
How often such review is conducted is a matter for the individual. It should not be so frequent that one spends more time navel-gazing than actually doing, but should not be so infrequent as to be of no use. It would be no bad thing to match the rhythm of nature by conducting such review annually, and a good time for many may be the lull between Christmas and New Year, especially as this is traditionally a time for renewal and the making of resolutions.
Self-realization does not come easy. It’s as though the mind tries to shield the underlying nature of the underlying nature of the soul.
True self realization can take a lifetime to acquire, but such acquisition is worth the effort because it ensures we make best use of that precious and finite gift that is life itself. We are each of us unique. What others tell us is right and best may be so for them, but not necessarily for us. Without knowledge our life path is determined by guesswork and the winds of chance, with it we make informed choices for ourselves.