“Know thyself”

Recently our eldest son asked if I had “The Sacred Enneagram” by Christopher L. Heuertz. I didn’t and thought that Joel wanted it so I researched it and discovered a wonderful enneagram jewel; so I bought it for him, Thomas and our house. I sense God’s grace when our boys recommend…books, music, good Irish whiskey…children are indeed our greatest teachers.

This little exchange got me thinking again of the wisdom of the Enneagram and reminded me of Jerome Wagner’s little book “The Enneagram Spectrum of Personality Styles”. I often say that it’s the most positive book on the Enneagram I’ve read over the 30 some years I’ve been aware of this interesting way of understanding personalities. I found a wonderful article by Wagner online that I hight recommend. https://tinyurl.com/ybx7qgnw 

As I listened with the ear of my heart – the phrase “know thyself” came to mind. Self-awareness / mindfulness are similar but they may be more modern ways of framing it. In Phaedrus, Socrates says, that “people make themselves appear ridiculous when they are trying to know obscure things before they know themselves.” Aristotle once said, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” In her Interior Castle – Teresa of Avila (1515-82) holds the paradox of the incomprehensibility of knowing one’s soul and the loss of not trying.

Teresa of Avila “I began to think of the soul as if it were a castle made of a single diamond or of very crystal in which there are many rooms just as in Heaven there are many mansions[…]Now if this is so —and it is— there is no point in our fatiguing ourselves in attempting to comprehend the beauty of this castle; for, though it is His creature, and there is therefore as much difference between it and God as between creature and Creator, the very fact that His Majesty says it is made in His image means that we can hardly form any conception of the soul’s great dignity and beauty. It is no small pity, and should cause us no little shame, that, through our own fault, we do not understand ourselves, or know who we are. Would it not be a sign of great ignorance, my daughters, if a person were asked who he was, and could not say, and had no idea who his father or his mother was, or form what he came? Though that is great stupidity, our own is incomparably greater if we make no attempt to discover what we are, and only know that we are living in these bodies, and have a vague idea, because we have heard it and because our Faith tells us, that we possess souls. As to what good qualities there may be in our souls, or Who dwells within them , or how precious they are —those are things which we seldom consider and so we trouble little about carefully preserving the soul’s beauty.” page 41-42

Bence Nanay is a professor of philosophy at the University of Antwerp and Senior Research Associate at the University of Cambridge and the author of “Aesthetics as Philosophy of Perception “(2016). He writes “ ‘know thyself’ is not just silly advice: it’s actively dangerous. Knowing thyself is an obstacle to acknowledging and making peace with constantly changing values.”   https://tinyurl.com/yawd5qz7  Maybe, but IMHO knowing that we are constantly changing can be helpful personal knowledge.

Let me close these random thoughts with some from Meister Ekhardt (1260-1328), one of the greatest of Christian mystics. He writes (forgive the sexist pronouns) “To get at the core of God at his greatest, one must first get into the core of himself at his least, for no one can know God who has not first known himself. Go to the depths of the soul, the secret place of the Most High, to the roots, to the heights; for all that God can do is focused there.” Is this what Jesus meant by saying “the Kingdom of God is among / within us”?  

I’m not sure I can yet fully accept Ekhardt’s statements or understand what Jesus was teaching, but something about their words sounds right and brings hope to my soul and heart. Maybe that’s why St. Benedict said “listen with the ear of your heart”.


About gsmurphy1

Husband, father, son, brother, listener, seeker, encourager, pilgrim, stained glass artist
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