By Roland Watson
This series examines the subject of self-knowledge. I want to begin with a quote from Socrates, who lived in ancient Greece, and who was one of the most profound thinkers in all of human history. He said: "An unexamined life is not worth living."
This is a famous and powerful quote, but you might ask a simple question after you hear it, which is: Why? Why is an unexamined life not worth living? Why can't I just live? Why do I have to spend a lot of time thinking about it, about my life and myself?
In the series of articles on behavioral form, I answered this question. I said that you need to look at your life, and figure out when you are being brainwashed and working to meet the needs of society, versus when you are exercising your free will to satisfy your own unique desires.
If you don't answer this question, it is guaranteed that you will be led by society, like a sheep to slaughter. You will not have any real free will, or control over your life.
This isn't a choice. You have to try to understand yourself, and to do this you have to analyze yourself. You have to ask yourself such questions as how much you are swayed by public opinion, and how much freedom you have, real freedom, over the seconds, minutes and hours of your life.
You should also ask your friends, or professional counselors, for frank personal appraisals.
Self-examination is such a broad subject that - once again - it is difficult to know where to begin. Is there any way that you can approach it that is systematic, and which will lead you to deep insights?
This series of articles is going to present just such an approach. It comprises four quizzes, or exercises, which you can use in your quest for self-knowledge. There are no grading sheets, though, and the responsibility to complete them is solely your own. Also, while the exercises, and other forms of psychological analysis and counseling, can assist you, the voyage of self-discovery will always be an intensely personal effort.
Exercise 1 - Analyze the forms of your life
The first exercise is to summarize the most important forms in your life, the forms that have been your strongest influences, particularly those from your early childhood. And, if you want to make the most of the exercise, you should write your thoughts down in a journal. Committing your ideas to paper forces you to refine them in a way that is not required for simple imagination.
For this exercise, you should also include genetic as well as social influences. Three of the most important forms, after all, are your gender, skin color and sexual orientation.
Next, you should appraise whether the different behavioral forms in your life were good or bad, and why. For bad forms - negative influences - you want to understand the extent to which you were determined by them, versus how you were able to fight off their conditioning with your free will.
For the actual exercise, you can do all of this by considering how you relate to:
- Your parents, siblings and relatives
- Your friends and lovers
- The schools that you went you to
- Employers you have had, including your specific bosses
- The organized religion or religions that dominate your culture
- The media, including Internet-based social media
- Conventional lifestyle goals
- And, of course, yourself.
For the last, what is your self-image? Do you think you are a good person? How often have you been bad? Do you like who you are?
Please do not underestimate the difficulty of this exercise. You are a highly complex individual. Understanding yourself will be a lifelong task.
Exercise 2 - Explore your memory
A second way to look at behavioral form is to recognize that since it affects, perhaps even dominates, your life, it will also shape and mark your memory. One approach you can use to understand yourself better, then, is to explore your memory: to recall, systematically, different events from your life, including your best and worst experiences. Again, it is an excellent idea to write your memories down in a journal, as well as your thoughts about them.
A few ways to review your life include by year; by other structural periods, such as changing homes, or schools, or jobs; and by events, including participation is major activities like travel, and also any severe illnesses or accidents that you have had.
Here is a list of a number of subjects that you might want to think about. First, for positive experiences:
- What is the best thing that ever happened to you?
- Your greatest achievement
- Other accomplishments that you have made, and also your personal strengths
- All long-distance and international travel
- The first fight that you won
- Your first kiss, sex, and love
- Your best romantic experiences
- All the people you have loved
- Old friends you have not seen in years
- All moments of bliss and exaltation
And, for negative experiences:
- What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?
- Your greatest fear
- Your worst failures and weaknesses
- The first fight that you lost
- Your worst romantic experiences
- All severe personal injuries and illnesses
- All relatives and good friends who have passed away
- All close encounters with death
Also, you should do more than just review your life. You should question your memories. Why was something your greatest achievement, or one of your worst failures?
The impact of the negative
As you do this, you should pay particular attention to bad memories, as the experiences that they reflect play a crucial role in your development.
Here is a quote from the article, The Process of Individuation - this means the process of developing into a unique individual - by M. L. von Franz, which was included in the book, Man and His Symbols, edited by Carl Jung.
"The actual process of individuation ... begins with a wounding of the personality and the suffering that accompanies it."
In other words, your life is heavily shaped by your negative experiences.
On a more positive note, this is similar to the idea that to be a great artist, requires great suffering.
This is an excellent time to consider behavioral form. What was the form of a particular situation, of one of your life's defining moments, and why did you act, or react, the way that you did?
Finally, and in conclusion, working your memories like this will have many benefits. It will be your own "form analysis" of your life, and it should increase the cohesiveness of your self-view and also improve your confidence.
In the next article, I will help you explore your conditioning even more, by asking a simple question: Are you brainwashed?