Know Thyself

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A beggar was in the habit of sitting on the side of the road. He had been doing so for the past thirty years. One day, a stranger passed him by. The beggar stretched out his hat and muttered to the man: “Give me some of your loose change.” 

The man said to the beggar: “I have nothing to give you, but what is that thing you are sitting on?” 

The beggar replied: “It is nothing. It is just an old box that I have been using as a seat for a long time.” 

The man asked: “Have you looked inside?” 

The beggars shrugged: “No. Why should I? There’s nothing in it.” “Look inside,” the man urged. 

The beggar thought about it and then he got up and lifted the lid. To his astonishment, the box was full of gold. 

You need to look inside the “box” that is yourself. You possess a great treasure inside. You are special person, a unique and honoured creation, distinct from everyone else. You should not stretch out your hand to others and neglect the great treasures that you possess within. 

Your identity is ruined by begging others and belittling yourself before them. It not only affects your public identity, but also how you see yourself. 

Like Sufyān b. `Uyaynāh said: “Whoever knows himself is at ease.” Those who are at peace with themselves live easier lives. 

Yahyā b. Mu`ādh al-Rāzī said: “Whoever knows himself, knows his Lord.” This is because knowing yourself is a step on the path of faith. 

This is why Allah says: “And on the Earth are signs for the certain in faith. And in yourselves. Then will you not see?” [Sūrah al-Dhāriyāt: 20-21] 

People who do not know themselves are more likely to fall into self-deception. The solution is to observe yourself critically and carefully. As Socrates said: “Know thyself.” 

There is a man I met for the first time when he was seventy years old. I think he is one of the few people who can justly be described as mature, who truly knows himself. 

He did not just possess the experience of living through seventy years. He truly had seventy years of accumulated experience. He knew his strengths and weaknesses and he could assess other people’s strengths and weaknesses with equal ease. He understood life and knew what to expect. The veil had been lifted from his eyes and he saw things as they really are. 

Hakeem’s Story 

He was a sweet little innocent boy, the joy of his father’s life. The child learned his own name in stages. The first thing he realized was that a specific combination of sounds his parents uttered referred specifically to him. In this way, he began to make the connection between the name and his identity. 

Sometimes, he would speak about himself in the third person and say things like: “Hakeem is hungry.” or “Hakeem is scared.” 

He learned the magic word “I” and then moved onto expressing ownership, as if the things he possessed were an extension of himself. 

When he grows older, he will learn the difference between male and female and then his awareness will expand to differences of appearance, nationality, lineage, religion and family background. 

He will see himself as a man, a person with a white complexion, an Arab, a merchant or a teacher, as being tall or as being heavy-set. 

This identity will not be something fixed and immutable. It will be something that can be bettered or worsened depending on the people among whom he lives, like his parents, family, friends, and colleagues. 

But right now, the child simply tries to possess every desirable thing, without realizing how other people relate to those things and that they also have a desire to possess. It may be that the things he wants are theirs already. 

As he grows, his ego grows with him, but he becomes proficient at concealing it. But when he says things like: “We went” and “We came” and “We travelled”, he betrays that ego, that hidden “I”, within him. 

He enjoys the love and attention that others give him. He likes being the center of attention. He enjoys the letters he receives. He is concerned with those who oppose and rival him. He is concerned about being alone. 

Nietzsche said: “Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called ‘Ego’.” 

His own self is the text. Everyone else is in the margins. 

Who am I? 

How do you define yourself in that little box called your personal profile? Does it really express who you are? Does it show you to be an optimist? A pessimist? Depressed? Confused? Creative? Awakened dreams… injuries… a friend at night… tears… A shattered mass of feelings. 

The pen compels you to confront yourself. How do you express who you are in writing? 

Jābir knocked on Prophet Muhammad’s door to speak with him about his father’s debt. The Prophet asked “Who is at the door?” 

Jābir replied: “It is me” 

Upon hearing this, the Prophet simply repeated the word “me, me”. Jābir understood that the Prophet disliked the way he had answered.” [Sahīh al-Bukhārī and Sahīh Muslim

The phrase “It is me” does not inform. It is different than saying “I am Buraydah” or “I am Umm Hāni’”. 

Ibn al-Jawzī mentions that the reason the answer “It is me” was disliked was because it implied a kind of arrogance. It was as if he was saying: “I am the one who does not need to mention his name.” Though we can be sure that this was not what Jābir meant, we can learn the lesson from it all the same. 

Consider the following that goes into your personal profile:
1. Your given name and family name. Some people live under conditions where they have to conceal their real names. 

2. Your ideological, geographical, and family identities. This is the dominant factor that sometimes secretly dictates how we react to things. These identities give us a sense of pride in achievements we did not have to make any effort to attain. 

3. Your work experience, education, and achievements. Are you an extraordinary individual, or just a regular person? Or are you really unexceptional? 

4. The values that you believe in. When a person reads what you write here and then looks at your posts, your tweets, and your comments, will they find you to be true to your values? 

5. Your skills. Are you an artist, a poet, a storyteller? Know Thyself

6. Your feelings about things. 

7. Your physical and psychological characteristics. 

8. Your photo.
Can you be truly objective in filling out this single page of information? 

Put a check or an “X” next to each of the following statements:
- I am forgiving of others but they are not forgiving of me. 
- I have had to bear what ordinary people could not bear. 
- I have suffered through difficult circumstances. 
- I feel that I bear the brunt of my family’s burdens. 
- I have the right, and I defeat my opponent. 
- Everyone around me likes me. 
- I am a self-made individual. No one else helped me to be the person I am. 
- Those who are senior to me come to me for advice. 
- I am always the focus of attention in any gathering or meeting.

What is most important is to know your ideas, desires, sentiments, ambitions, and motivations. The greatest obstacle to self-awareness and spiritual growth is the wall known as “ego”. 

What if all of my motivations, inquiries, research, and ambitions in life are merely to serve myself, even though I present them as being for the sake of Allah, my country, or the general good? 

Awareness dissolves the ego but also preserves it. In the conscious awareness there is scope for peace with oneself and with others, by seeing things as they truly are. It allows you to truly know yourself with all your defects, silliness, and superficiality, as well as your dignity and responsibility. 

Awareness allows you to look at yourself from above and face yourself. It is just like how a loving mother knows that her small child will not understand the lesson by being told, but only through repeated experience, making mistakes, and being supported with love, acceptance, and respect. 

When we collide with reality, the veil is lifted. We will see everything that is embarrassing and depressing, all the misguided ideas, and every unwanted criticism. We will see the preacher who is eager for fame, the wealthy man who is in desperate need, and the poor man who is well off. We will see the strongest of people to have the direst need for love, care, and understanding.

Sheikh Salman al-Oadah

Source: 30, 2014)