Self-knowledge is elusive. Just when you think you know who you are, something surprises you! A strong emotional reaction seems to come from nowhere. A forgotten part of yourself pops up in a dream. You find yourself thinking exactly the opposite of the way you used to think about some subject.
The sheer complexity of the human soul makes genuine self-knowledge a real accomplishment! We are a jumble of attitudes, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors. Caught up in the constant demands of life, it’s hard to get the big picture of who we really are. One moment you feel like you are a certain person with clearly defined values, plans, and ways of acting in the world—an hour later you may feel like you are someone else. This is the human condition. But of course we don't want to glorify confusion. Sincere "self-examination" is the key!
Self-examination is the key element to finding meaning and purpose in life. And in this world it is a central challenge! I have found that self-examination entails two poles. On the one hand is the inner life of reflection, self-analysis, and meditation. On the other hand is the life of relationship to the outer world and service. The study of "self" is looking both inward and outward. Our true nature can be discovered by looking within, but the outward search is also important.
The spiritual life is one of "connections" and relationships. In fact one of the reasons why we are here on this planet is companionship. That impulse for companionship is not merely with the Creator, it is for relationships with each other and even the Earth. You can sometimes see a reflection of your self, living through the words and deeds of someone else, or through your experiences with nature; walking in the forest, weeding your garden, sitting by the ocean. You may feel a presence that seems to communicate with you through the beauty and power of nature. That presence is something you recognize to be yourself, not your ordinary self but something that seems to come from a deeper and more genuine place within you. The same thing may happen in relation to another person. A friend will say something profound to you, something that speaks to the deepest levels where you are struggling, yet that friend won’t realize what wisdom has come out of their mouth! For just a moment it is as if that friend were acting as a channel, as a mouth-piece, for the higher-self to communicate with your normal consciousness.
Your true self also reveals itself through interpersonal relationships. Think of the time when you reached out to help someone simply because you cared. There was no ulterior motive. You expected nothing back from that individual. In that single act of service, you probably discovered something about yourself. You awakened to a side of who you are that is easily forgotten or ignorant in the modern competitive world. That moment could never be created solely by inward study!
The way that we come to know who we really are is a twofold pathway. Without a doubt methods such as self-analysis, dream interpretation, and meditation are invaluable. And the other side of the coin is just as crucial. Through involvement in material life, through relationship and service, we also come to know ourselves! Soul to Soul!