imaginings of self

I wonder whether William Shakespeare had any idea that the images he created with words would go on to become integral parts of western culture and the ways we see the world. Case in point: “This above all; to thine own self be true.”

Authenticity is the watchword of our times and yet in our relentless promotion of being true to ourselves we often skim over the essential process of figuring out who we really are.  Or as Michel de Montaigne points out, “Every one rushes elsewhere and into the future, because no one wants to face one’s own inner self.”

Getting to know ourselves is a crazy, beautiful adventure that is guaranteed to be unpleasant and seemingly impossible at times. Benjamin Franklin said that there are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self. Solomon described the human heart as deceptive and unknowable. If we take into consideration that as humans we are soul, spirit and body it makes this endless journey of discovery even more complex, as Gilbert K. Chesterton said, “One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star.”

In my opinion being that self which one truly is, to borrow Soren Kierkegaard’s formulation, takes a great deal of courage coupled with the awareness that along the way there are habits, perspectives and fault lines that will need to be overcome if we are to walk in the freedom of who we were created to be. Aristotle said, “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.” Another piece of wisdom that I take with me on this journey comes courtesy of Toni Morrison: “Freeing yourself is one thing; claiming ownership of that freed self is another.”

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