Self-Awareness: My Introduction

The life which is not examined is not worth living.
– Plato
I believe in the sun even when it does not shine.
I believe in love even when I do not feel it.
I believe in God even when He is silent.
– inscription on the walls of a cellar
in Cologne, Germany, where Jews hid from the Nazis

While my first step on the journey of conscious evolution involved coming to an awareness of being interconnected with others and all of creation, my next step was to learn more about my own inner life. My first real learnings in this came through two sources. One was books, and the other was being encouraged to learn more about my own preferences through personality assessments (systems), particularly the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and the Enneagram.

I see a great value in personality assessments, not only because they help us to increase our own self awareness, but also because they help tremendously with interpersonal relationships. They do so by helping us understand our own choices and behaviors, and at the same time teaching us the diverse ways in which we all approach situations. Undoubtedly, they are not “rocket science” and can lead to the danger of stereotyping people with certain labels. That said, when done together with others they have great practical value in providing common language and concepts through which to explore differences.

As for learning more about my inner life through books, that really began in the early 1980’s when I somehow got hold of a book called, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere: A Search for God through Awareness of the True Self, by James Finley (1980). Thomas Merton was a journalist who left behind his professional career to become a Catholic monk. His passion for writing continued, however, and his books on contemplative spirituality, written in the 1960’s, are now classics.

Merton's Palace of NowhereFinley’s book was my first introduction Merton’s idea that we live out our lives in a struggle between two inner selves. Merton called one of these two selves the “false self” (sometimes equated with the “ego”). The other self Merton called the “true self ” (sometimes referred to as the “Self,” since it is the self within us that is greater than our own ego).

At the point that I read Finley’s book, I was near 30 years of age and had lived long enough to recognize the two dynamics Merton was trying to describe in my own life and actions. As I read the book, I became overjoyed to discover concepts and a language with which to understand my life experience. An observation by Finley is helpful here:

Merton leads us along a journey to God in which the self that begins the journey is not the self that arrives. The self that begins is the self that we thought ourselves to be. It is this self that dies along the way until in the end “no one” is left. This “no one” is our true self. It is the self that stands prior to all this is this or that. It is the self in God, the self bigger than death yet born of death (p. 17).

Who I Am Is Love

By that time in my life, I had also had experiences that convinced me of the great power of “love” to overcome our human shortcomings. Several years later, I heard people talking about making “a fundamental option for the poor.” In hearing about that, I decided I needed to alter that phrase and state my own commitment as “a fundamental option to do the loving thing.” Here are a few more comments from Merton that help me in sustaining this commitment:

To say I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love……Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name (p. 102).

This reality of “love” is for me now the reality of “relationship,” “connectedness,” “belonging” that stems from the vision of who we are in our Universe. When I am truly being self-aware, I am aware that I am a self in love, a self in relationship. That means that all my work toward self-awareness and personal skill-building for interrelationship is “holy” work. It extends far beyond acquiring “communication skills” to a recognition of a deeper reality. As Finley puts it:

A wife tells her husband, “I love you” not to communicate a previously unknown, logical, verifiable piece of information, but rather to articulate what it is that binds her to her spouse….The “I love you” finds its power in its ability to express the wife’s communion with her husband (p. 122).

Organizational Expressions of Love

From an organizational perspective, this deeper reality of “communion” plays itself out in the culture, behaviors, and policies unique to each organization. From this perspective of communion, personnel policies come to be understood as much more than mere words/laws for restriction and punishment. They are articulations of  our expectations and assumptions around how we wish to be in communion with one another – and again, are sacred in the way they point to the deeper mystery within the reality of our coming together and our relatedness.

As for the personality assessments, I am happy to share that my Myers Briggs type is INFP. I have learned to adjust my interactions with others in a way that allows me the space I need as an introvert type. I also have discovered how to accommodate for my lack of focus on detail by bringing others onto my team who are good at it.

On the Enneagram system, I am in the “Five” space — as if you could not tell that by having read all the way to here! This will become even more evident as you read more reflections posted on this site.

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To read the introduction to my next current Click Here

Finley, J. (1980) Merton’s palace of nowhere: A search for god through awareness of the true self. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press.

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