There’s a saying in Arabic:
من عرف نفسه فقد عرف ربه
Roughly it translates into, “whosoever knows himself, will know his Lord.” This is a mystic saying and it is probably rooted in Christian mysticism. Whatever the origin of the saying, the first part is essential to life nevertheless. I really cannot speak for God, so I don’t know if someone who knows himself will actually know anything aside from himself. What I do know is that knowing yourself is very useful in knowing how to navigate the world. The notion that God created man in His own image is something I cannot speak of because I really don’t know. What I know is that those who are proponents of that idea argue that since man is imbued with the characteristics of God, the journey within is also the journey to God. That’s the assertion. My assertion is very simply, “I don’t speak of that which I don’t know” or as the Holy Book says, “Do not say about God that which you don’t know…” For my part, I will explore the importance of being authentic in life and being supremely honest with yourself. There are layers of lying that we typically engage in and the worst of lies are the lies we tell ourselves. Here I will detail why it is important not to lie to yourself or to others (where it can be helped).
The distance between knowledge and ignorance is the extent to which you are able to admit things to yourself. There’s no way you can gain knowledge of the self if you cannot admit where you’ve gone wrong. The clearest sign of spiritual development in people is when they are able to say, “I made a mistake and I was wrong..” I don’t mean saying that to other people. Perhaps it will be detrimental in certain toxic societies to admit your wrong doings. At the very least, however, you need to be able to admit that to yourself. Development happens when you are able to admit your mistakes and you are able to not commit those same mistakes again. You need to vow that you are not to repeat what you’ve done and then you need to stick to it. God accepts true repentance, we are told, for those who truly repent vow to change their sinful ways. In religion things are expressed in terms of sin, which in modern non religious terms refers to detrimental actions that will ruin your lives and relationships. Forgiveness in religious terms translates into, being able to continue without the guilt of what has passed. For those who can admit to having committed a mistake or having wronged others, there is always forgiveness- the ability for self transformation.
The conscience is a highly evolved vehicle and when truly activated through the lens of truthfulness you’ll find that the primordial self (the self in its original state) knows very well the difference between right and wrong. According to a narration of the noble Prophet Muhammad (May God’s peace and blessing be on him) one who does not possess a conscience should do as he pleases. Many commentators have said this relates to the primordial goodness (Islam) of people and that they truly know the truth but that it is covered up by rust upon the heart. When this rust is polished off, they will see clearly what will once again make them whole. It’s not an easy journey to truly discover yourself because the indoctrination we suffer throughout our lives taints our natural disposition- in a sense- to reach self actualization.
In order to truly be authentic one must be prepared to forgo preconceived notions of almost everything. In one example of this I observed something very interesting. My experience of this is subjective, of course and partly informed by my own narrative. Nevertheless, one day in conversation with a woman who sat across from me mostly uncovered, but not in a way that is a typical in her culture, I saw her unconsciously cover her legs when another man walked into the vicinity. She did it hurriedly and instinctively. I noticed that but didn’t bother to say anything. In previous conversations with the same woman, she insisted that not being able to dress in that exact same way, was to be considered wholly oppressive. Of course, being Muslim, I didn’t have the same opinion but I was willing to listen and understand her point of view. I realized, however, that primordially she actually understood the concept of nakedness and her own sexuallity in relation to men, or specifically that particular man she covered her legs for. I understood a lot by that, she didn’t know it happened. The point is, the notion that one must be free to walk around naked was overridden by the presence of a guy whom she didn’t feel was to look at her legs at that moment. It was subconscious but it was there. In similar fashion, we know a lot more in our subconscious minds than in our conscious minds, if only we were prepared to listen to it and not the naggings of our intellectual selves that are conditioned by ideas of what society ought to be like or what freedoms people ought to have. In the book, “Moral Animal” by Robert Wright he asserts that there is a relationship between dress and sexual violence against women. He argues that while the relationship might be awkward it can’t go unacknowledged. I don’t think it needs to be stated academically that in the instance of many men, nakedness of women has sexual connotations. One only needs to look at the amount of pornography that is consumed mostly by men. Since men know this instinctively, it really isn’t difficult for them to understand.
It usually is harder for women to understand because while men are sexualized by women, it is often not as visually driven as happens in the reverse. Regardless of acknowledgements herein, of course, men who offer women untoward sexual attention should not be excused for such behavior. The irony is that men- women like- and who offer women sexual attention, aren’t doing anything wrong. That makes the issue a bit thorny and one can easily misjudge a situation. The better thing is not to sexualize women at all, and then you probably would need to not possess much of a sexuality. Rather than all this, it is better to be authentic and know what you are and how you feel and act accordingly- whatever that might be. Self awareness can save us from a lot of trouble. It isn’t fair on men for some women to feel they have the right to try and attract sexual attention and then persecute men for giving it to them- if they happen to be the wrong men. I personally, just avoid looking at half naked women altogether. I look at faces and I reserve my sexuality for the inner sanctom of my home- thus Muhammad taught. Besides, a sexually unconscious woman will ruin the life of a deeply conscious man. If authenticity is what you’re after, you have to figure out your own sexuality- both men and women.
Sexual awareness is part of self awareness, but we aren’t only sexual beings. One needs to also be aware of things like greed, impulsiveness and arrogance. No one is without both good and bad qualities. Also, some bad qualities in certain circumstances are good, and some good qualities in certain circumstances are bad. For example, humility in the face of an arrogant person is akin to bowing down to him. There should be no humility in the face of arrogance. Acting on impulse is usually bad because you may do something that you will later on regret when you actually take the time to think things through. However, acting on impulse in a safe environment and with people you are allowed to enjoy impulsive behavior with is a good thing. Your own family and close friends are allowed to experience that side of you and you can rest assured that it will not be harmful to do so. Not everyone is a friend, not all people are safe to be with, and not everyone needs to know everything about you. Hence, part of authentic living is knowing the various facets of yourself and choosing where and when to exercise the level of vulnerability you will allow yourself to have with people. You don’t tell a stranger your secrets because well, he or she is a stranger. You learn to navigate the world safely by knowing who you are and knowing where your boundaries lie. You also learn to know with whom you can have less boundaries and with whom you need more boundaries with. You learn to protect your relationships by keeping sacred the space that is reserved for intimates and allowing access to the space that isn’t. Finally, remember that you are complex, so is everyone else. The more you know yourself, the more you know others. That’s the saying I would go for. Again, the more you know yourself, the more you know others.