Gnothi Seauton – Know Thyself, were the words inscribed above the entrance to the temple of Apollo at Delphi, site of the sacred Oracle in ancient Greece.
Most visitors would pass through that entrance without noticing the words and without understanding the translation and deeper meaning.
These words, and the instruction from these words can be truly transformational when understood.
But like the visitors to the temple, we miss what is sometimes right in in front of us, and when it comes to the phrase Know Thyself we can learn so much from it.
Especially when it comes to seeking happiness.
Do you feel you are constantly chasing happiness? Do you experience feelings of unease, frustration, boredom, anxiety, of unhappiness?
Do you look to material possessions to try and make you happy? Do you always look to the future for some kind of salvation, or perhaps you look to the past, reflecting on how happy you used to be?
The current disease (dis-ease) of the western world is that we are in a constant state of ‘wanting’, and it would appear many humans are never happy.
The common mistake that people then make is to look for something on the external level of form to make them happy; that next holiday, that promotion, that guy/girl, that new outfit, the bigger house, the new car.
Alcohol, drugs, social media, sex, obsessive exercise, eating are other methods also used to try and make us happy, to fill that void.
It never gets filled though and so you are left forever seeking.
So how do you fill that void and find happiness?
The state of ‘wanting’ is essentially the state you are in when you are seeking happiness.
Wanting is an expression of lack, of inadequacy, of not enough and is therefore a sign that you are being run by your mind, or more accurately being run by your ‘ego’ as it is called spiritually.
The ego is the incessant noise we experience as thought throughout the day. It is our thoughts, or actually our identification with thoughts that make up the ego.
These thoughts aren’t the truth, they are not who we are, they are stories we tell ourselves and believe, mostly negative. And it is these thoughts that make us look for things to satisfy us, or to quieten/distract us from the noise – constantly making us try and fill that void.
Unfortunately, incessant thinking and ego is ‘normal’ in today’s world and our thoughts are not only our thoughts but are also taken from the collective thoughts of humanity. And in a world engulfed in consumerism, comparing and fear, it is a very fragile collective state to be in.
It is a state which arises from a lack of acknowledgement to the present moment.
So the secret that eludes so many is to understand that you actually already have happiness and that the source of true happiness is presence and is available to you right now.
To get an initial experience of this then do a quick exercise. Sit quietly with your feet firmly on the ground and your hands on your lap. Close your eyes. Then simply wait for thoughts to come in. All your job is, is to be aware of these thoughts, not to judge them, fight them, or let them carry you away on the train of thought, but to simply observe them.
This is awareness of presence, and maybe the first time in your life you have experienced it – and with practise and by being aware as often as possible to these thoughts during the day – that is presence. Do this and make the present moment – presence – the primary focus of your life.
It has been explained by some spiritual teachers that the blue of the sky is happiness/peace and that clouds are our egoic thoughts, some darker than others. But the blue is always there, it is just about clearing the clouds – the thoughts that don’t serve us.
This is to Know Thyself, which is to know who you are beyond thought. And it is by knowing this, by abiding in this place that you create space, space in the stream of thinking and space for real joy to come in.
This incidentally doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the material things in life, of course you can. You can experience joy in the new house, joy in being the best in your field, finding a great romantic partner, a new pair of trainers, of course you can – but you will no longer be under the false illusion that these ‘things’ will provide your happiness – and you will enjoy them even more!
So to ‘Know Thyself’ is to be aware of your egoic thoughts of lack and wanting and to therefore experience presence.
This will take practise, because to find an awakened way of living is a daily task for the rest of our lives. It is very much worth it though and when we continue to experience it, we realise that our ego, the insecure, mind made self which is an entity made up of always ‘wanting’ and ‘never enough’, isn’t who we are. We awaken.
So how do you find happiness then? Don’t even try. True happiness will find you when you choose to abide in the present moment, when you get the inside right.
And when you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place!
Sources: The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle. No-mind, Fraser Collins