There are many ways of getting to know oneself; of achieving some self-development; of approaching as near as one possibly can a sense of integration as a human being. There are many activities we can engage in, but self-awareness and self-reflection is certainly a sine qua non. I will list here possible ways of engaging in self-development or in "soul- making" as the poet John Keats put it nearly 200 years ago: "Call the world if you please 'The vale of soul-making.'(Letter to George and Georgiana Keats, 21 April (1819), in H. E. Rollins (ed.) Letters of John Keats (1958) vol.2). These items are in no order of importance, but are randomly enumerated as they spring into my mind.
1. Engage in meditation exercises. These involve listening to the body and to the mind or more correctly listening to the body and emptying the mind. Self-knowledge accrues gentle over the years of practice.
2. Having said the first point, I am reminded of that ancient piece of advice from Roman times that it is important to develop a "mens sana in corpore sano" which translates as "a healthy mind in a healthy body." We need to exercise our bodies as well as our minds. Hence it is very important to take plenty of exercise.
3. Cultivate a garden. Plants flowers and care for them.
4. Do some D.I.Y.
5. Listen to music - all types, indeed. However, choose pieces that suit your mood. If you're stressed out listen to some type of "chill out" music. There is a plethora of CDs available for relaxation.
6. Do Tai Chi or Falun Gong or Falun Dafa
7. Cultivate as many friends as possible. I deliberately choose the verb "cultivate" as all relationships need to be cared for. I try to meet as many friends as possible. Tomorrow I'm meeting a friend from back in 1977 - in fact she appears in the photograph in my last post. Once a month my brother and I meet three and sometimes four lads we knew from school way back in the 1970s.
8. Read good literature. I've always been a fan of literature and end up buying more books than I'm physically able to read. I always have at least four or five books going at the same time: a novel, a biography or autobiography, a philosophy book, a psychology book, a book of poems. We cannot experience everything first hand, so reading widens the expanse of our emotional base. I've been reading snippets from Umberto Eco's book of essays and lectures on literature. here is how he sums up the importance of literature: "Stories...also teach us how to die. I believe that one of the principle functions of literature lies in these lessons about fate and death. Perhaps there are others, but for the moment none spring to mind." (Umberto Eco, On Literature, Harcourt Books 2002, 15)
9. Go to loads of films and dramas. Experience what the Aristotle called "Katharsis" or the purging of your emotions at great drama.
10. Above all listen to your friends. A true friend will tell you the "truth in love." That is an excellent way of getting to know yourself.
11. Be as creative as you can in everything you do. Don't think vertically. Think laterally. Read Edward de Bono - he is excellent on creative thinking as is Tony Buzan. I have read many of their books.
12. Sometimes pain is unavoidable. Live it, be in it, go with it - don't fight it. I know that's easier said than done. However, if you read a lot about pain and suffering you will come across thoughts on the feelings of a certain type of euphoria associated with pain. Yes, take the medicines the Doctor advises, but go with the flow of the energy. Don't always flee away from pain or painful situations. Again suffering to re-quote Keats can be "soul-making."
13. Visit your relatives and friends who are in hospital. I find this a really enriching experience.
14. Visit anyone you know who is in prison. I've only done it once, but it is a blessed experience.
15. Tell your friends that you love them. That's important. I often do.
16. Waste time with others when you can - and paradox of paradoxes, you will find that the time was not wasted after all.
17. Keep a daily journal. Write down how you are feeling at that particular time.
18. Write poems or songs if you are musical.
19. Read poems out loud. Enjoy the fall of the words on your outer as well as your "inner" ear.
20. Learn to embrace all your emotions. It's okay to get angry and even to shout on occasions when you are annoyed. It's brilliant to laugh and joke! It's also healing to weep. Learn to let your tears flow when they wish to do so.
21. Always "eye-ball" a person you are talking with.
22. Smile as often as you can.
23. Learn to hug as many people as you possible can.
24. Learn to cook. Enjoy good food. Invite your friends over.
25. Reach out to other people. Like the flower bud in the petal there will come a time when it's bloody impossible to stay locked forever in yourself. Reach out. There will always be a hand that will grasp yours back! Try it. Trust your heart. Trust life. Above all trust yourself.
26. Read books on self-development and psychology and even psychiatry.
27. Attend courses on self-development.
28. Attend a good therapist. Everyone needs one. It's just that some of us are too unaware and some too lazy to bother.
29. Write down your dreams. They are magical. I have been keeping a dream diary for twenty years now. They have revealed a wealth of wisdom to me about my unconscious needs and hurts. They have been a brilliant source of healing for my soul. Immediately after writing this post I will write accounts of two dreams I had recently. Doing this, or even telling another about your dream is what's called "honouring the dream." Try it. It works. You'll reap great rewards in terms of self-knowledge.
30. Keep a blog. It's good fun. I love it.
Obviously, there is so much more that could be said. These 30 points are random. Through using combinations of them you will get a handle on the mystery that is your very self. Good luck and good prospecting. There's gold in "dem dar" hills!!
The above is a picture I scanned into my computer recently. It shows me with some friends on the top of the Sugar Loaf, Summer 1978. Only 30 years ago. No reward for guessing which is me!