I am a little all over the place today. One part exhausted and sad, one part full of hope and gratitude. I think this is pretty common, this mixture of emotions and the contemplation of which emotion to indulge. I started down this embattled path a few months ago and now, as the rain lifts and the city begins to dry out, I feel the sun on my shoulders for the first time in a long time.
Outside the Temple to Apollo at Delphi is the ancient Greek inscription, “Know thyself.” Over the centuries, people have argued as to the meaning of those simple words. Some believe it is a warning to those who enter the temple that they should know their place in society, specifically that they are not gods. Others think it is an intellectual pursuit, the idea that the meaning of life is to decipher one’s own existence. Both sound equally plausible in the light of AA.
I don’t know what I take it to mean. I’ve been pondering it for a few weeks now. Hubris, excessive pride, is said to be the only sin unpardonable by God. The reason for this is simultaneously deceptively complex and beautifully simple, a mandala of the mind. If one has the pride of a God, the belief that one is God, in command of one’s own life, then one cannot also possess the humility to ask forgiveness. And God, seemingly, does not grant forgiveness to those who do not seek it. The warning at Delphi, if a warning it may be, reminds people that they are not in control of their own lives.
But it is the other “Know thyself” that I keep thinking about. I am continually astonished that the longer I stay sober, the less confident I am that I have any real idea of who I am. My brother gave me a book some years ago, Moviegoer by Walker Percy. In the beginning, the main character is getting dressed in the morning. As he picks up his belonging off his dresser to place in his pockets, he starts to question what they say about him. His questioning continues as he boards the bus. He wonders if the other people on the bus know themselves and their beliefs or if they simply go along, never pausing long enough to ask. “What is the nature of the search? you ask. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”
So, as the dusk of the day wraps in around me, that’s where I am, caught in the awkward space between confusion and hope. I know there are questions. I know I have internal struggles. I have no answers. But I do know I am happy that I am sober. I am equally thrilled that being sober allows me the opportunity to even ask the questions and feel the emotions that for years I numbed. So, if the journey of life is to know I am not God and that I have no real control on my existence, then so be it. And if the meaning of life is continued growth and understanding of just who I am as an individual… well, then at least the subject matter is one that I like.
4 thoughts on “Know Thyself”
Stuck in the everydayness of life. I am there and trying desperately to free myself so I can know myself. Thanks for this thought-provoking post.
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Thank you for reading. You sit on my side of the church.