342. Know Thyself

October 9, 2014

When was the last time you heard that ancient Greek adage? The last time you tried to follow it? The last time you gave up because you weren’t clear how to go about it? Welcome to the club of strangers to ourselves.

Everything I’ve learned about my mind is due to trial and error. That, and my emotions, are what I pay attention to. My perceptions are often in error. I see and hear things that aren’t there. I’ve seen a trash bag by the side of the road as a dying crow; snow on the Rocky Mountains as a line of clouds; a cartwheel display of aurora borealis as a procession of snakes, wolves, spiders, eels, and fingers climbing to the zenith overhead when what I was looking at was a stream of flaring lights in the sky climbing the spokes from treetops to the top of the sky.

In each case, I tried to account for the difference between what I saw and what I eventually realized I was looking at. I know a woman who saw a giant rhinoceros waiting on a mound of snow at the end of her driveway. Everyone sees faces and figures in tile floors and stained walls. Dr. Rorschach based his familiar test on that familiar phenomenon. When I have such an experience, I try to figure what my mind was doing in turning one sensory experience into another. If I keep at it long enough, I learn a good deal about the workings of my mind.

Too, keeping track of what gives me joy and what sorrow teaches me a lot about how I make sense out of my world of engagements. Successful engagements make me happy; engagements that don’t pan out make me sad or angry. When I commit myself to a course of planning and action, fulfillment gives me satisfaction, being thwarted makes me frustrated. My mind seems to talk to me in the intimate language of emotion. It’s not the world that has that effect on me; it’s my mind trying to do its thing. That is, guide me to make a response appropriate to the situation I find myself in.

Knowing yourself, it turns out, is wholly up to you. It’s a gift you make to yourself so you don’t blame the world for the workings of your own mind. So you take full responsibility for being yourself, psychic warts and all. I strongly recommend sticking to anything that causes you to doubt your own sanity. You’re probably not crazy, just not up-to-date on the tremendous difficulty your mind has in just getting you through the day.

I find nothing as rewarding as knowing my own mind. If you can stick with such a project, you’ll know what it means to take responsibility for your own mind, and act more effectively and appropriately in the world to boot. Believe me, it’s truly worth the effort.

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