Self- awareness: 10 ways to Know ThySelf

Know Thyself

This saying was inscribed in antiquity at the Greek oracle of Delphi, the Sanctuary of Apollo which dates back to around the 10th century BCE.  The Oracles were priestesses skilled in divination, prophecy and precognition.  The word "oracle" means "to speak."  Oracles were all over Greece, Asia Minor and Africa, but the most famous were The Pythia, the priestesses of Apollo at Delphi, on the slopes of Mount Parnassus.  For 1000 years, their advice was sought on matters mundane and stately.  The Oracles, in a trance induced by gas fumes from a fissure beneath their seat in the inner sanctum, received information from Apollo and spoke answers to the querent.  The Pythia were hugely influential in their day and even have been attributed with shaping modern civilization.  The Pythia divined Socrates as the wisest, and because of this, Socrates dedicated his life to knowledge, founding philosophy.  The saying, "Know Thyself" is often mistakenly attributed to him.  With the rise of Christianity, the weakening of Greece, a series of earthquakes that changed the fault lines and also perhaps, as Plutarch, one of the last priests of Delphi postulated, the loss of dedication to the mastery of the oracle, by 4 CE, Delphi, Zeus's navel of the world, fell into ruins.  It is only in the last century that the remains of this important site have been unearthed.

What was lost from our modern civilization in our quest for earthly knowledge, in our strivings for sensory understanding?  Socrates' search for knowledge superceded and overtook the dependence on knowledge from the Divine realms.  The human Earthly experience alone was considered. Yet Socrates himself claimed that his great intellect came from knowing that he was ignorant.  His habit of questioning the wisdom of everyone and everything eventually got on everyone's nerves and he was put to death.  "Nothing in Excess" was also inscribed at Delphi.  Socrates perhaps took this line of questioning too far.
I know only one thing–that I know nothing.

The saying Know Thyself, is a mind stopper because it begs the question, Who is the Self?

Rudolf Steiner often wrote of the four-fold human.  These four, fully-formed bodies are the physical, soul (etheric) spirit (astral), and ego (I) bodies.  He further describes 3 more higher bodies that are rudimentary, or not fully formed and accessible by most humans: Manas, Buddhi and Atma. Thus, our mineral earthly body, and also including our three other fully formed bodies- soul, spirit and ego- contain just a small part of our sensory and supersensory capabilities that are available to the seven-fold human.  These other senses and capabilities are just as natural to us, yet are undeveloped, unpracticed, or unmastered, as Plutarch might say.
Truth is, we never bring our real and inmost Ego with us from the spiritual world into the physical and earthly; we leave it in the spiritual world. Before we came down into earthly life it was in the spiritual world, and it is there again between our falling asleep and our awakening. It stays there always, and if by day — in the present form of human consciousness — we call ourselves an ‘I,’ this word is but an indication of something which is not here in the physical world at all; it only has its picture in this world.
We do not see ourselves aright if we say: ‘Here am I, this robust and real man, standing upon Earth; here am I with my inmost being.’ We only see ourselves aright if we say: ‘Our true being is in the spiritual world, and what is here of us on Earth is but a picture — an image of our true being.’ It is entirely true if we regard what is here on Earth, not as the real man himself, but as the picture of the real man.
Rudolf Steiner, Man as a picture of the Living Spirit

The Vedic inquiry of negation, or neti, neti, नेति नेति, "not this, not that" is a practice that negates any identification that is not Atman.  What is Atman?
Atman is the spiritual life principle of the universe, especially when regarded as inherent in the real self of the individual.
Oxford Dictionary

Vishnu Devanand in his book, Meditation and Mantras: An Authoritative Text, writes, "One attains union with the Absolute by denying the body, name, form, intellect, senses and all limiting adjuncts and discovers what remains, the true "I" alone." Baba Muktananda of the Siddha Yoga lineage presented this line of inquiry as:
I am not this body, 
I am not these senses,
I am not this mind that identifies with this body and these senses.

And continues to include "I am not a human and I am not a physical being" and so on.   He writes:
Even when you realize the Self, the ego doesn't leave you; it stays. But the quality of the ego changes.  Before you realize the Self, you identify with whatever you have and whatever you are.  You think, I am a woman, I have children, I have a husband, I am a writer.  Once you realize the Self, you experience: I am the Truth, I am the Self, I am happiness, I have merged into God.  So the quality of ego changes once you have realized the Self.
Baba Muktananda

Sutra 16 of the Pratyabhijñā-hrdayam translated in The Splendor of Recognition states:
The state of liberation while living is the unwavering experience of oneness with Consciousness even while one perceives the body and so on, [a state that ensures] the attainment of the bliss of Consciousness.
The ego body and intellect do play powerful and essential roles in the attainment of the higher states of awareness, meaning self-awareness is obtained by the intellect choosing to recognize, interpret and act on the emotional and physical bodies, a power of the navel chakra. For it is in and through self-awareness, the self-reflective "I" that one obtains Manas. This shifts the astral body, our feelings, instincts and impulses.  Greater self-awareness is Buddhi, which leads to changes in the etheric body, the life force.   Complete awareness of the Self is Atma, oneness with Consciousness.  Atman can change the very nature of the physical body, as state achieved by enlightened beings.

Sutra 16 matches the first belief, or statement, of Science of Mind principles, written by Ernest Holmes:
We believe in God, the Living Spirit Almighty; one, indestructible, absolute and self-existent cause. This One manifests Itself in and through all creation but is not absorbed by Its creation. The manifest universe is the body of God; it is the logical and necessary outcome of the infinite self-knowingness of God.
In this lesson, we find wisdom in ignorance, teaching senses beyond our four-fold form and perceptions. Admit to knowing nothing (the last of the inscriptions of Delphi was "Surety brings ruin") and trust in the Universe to guide you. So'ham.


Affirmation:  I know God
Chakra engaged: Navel/ Solar plexus

Activity 1- Tell a story of Universal Consciousness

This story comes from one of the earliest texts dating in written form to about 200 CE, The Panchatantra.  Attributed to the  Brahmin Vishnusharman from Kashmir the stories likely existed orally for much longer.  Reading The Panchatantra, you quickly find the roots of many of our folk tales, including Aesop's fables, Kahlili wa Dimnah, the Jataka tales (told by Buddha in 400 CE) and other classics. It had spread and been re-printed throughout the world of books by 1000 CE, including Persia, Arabia, Syria and Europe.  The word "panchatantra" means five books.  These five books use animals to teach nīti, the wise virtues of life.
On Vishnusharman, shrewdly gleaning All worldly wisdom's inner meaning, In these five books the charm compresses Of all such books the world possesses.
Introduction in The Panchatantra

The story of the Hunter and the Doves (or Pigeons) at first glance is a story of strength in unity, but a closer consideration may open to the possibilities described by Ernest Holmes in the core beliefs of religious science, that of all the manifest Universe as One body of God.  Only in our confusion and dualistic thinking, the false identification with the individual self, do we fall into a trap, which in essence is our suffering and the death of our spirit.

Read and listen to this tale here on Stories to Grow By.  The second half of this recording from Elderberry Tales contains moralistic interpretation which children do not really appreciate and it is not necessary for this lesson.  In other versions of this same story, and specifically told by the Buddha, the doves escape numerous times from the hunter, only to finally get caught when their quarreling leads to dissension and disorganization.

The Tortoise and the Hare is also originally a Panchatantra tale.  Like most tales from this book, it was revised by others, including Aesop.  This version called The Turtle and the Hare by Janaka Stagnaro from his book Silent Ripples and reprinted here on Science of Mind Child contains a surprising answer to the age old riddle, how the turtle wins the race.  Here's a teaser: the turtle replies,
"I AM the Center."

Activity 2- The improv game

Improv can take on many forms, but almost always it is recognized as acting, and in coordinated support of the others, the other actors in the play.  Undoubtedly, it is always also play.  There are many fun ways to introduce improv to children, and they usually take to it really quickly.  Likely, they are already doing it in their own play with one another. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Tell an improvised story- take turns making up a story together, building scene upon scene.
  • Even more fun, invite the children to act out an improvised story.  For story prompts, select a random picture from a book or magazine, or have several children be the narrators in the first example, while other children are the actors. Make sure there is an audience of adults to watch.
  • Two players face each other and the first tells a story with their face, creating emotion, without words or using only gibberish.  The second player mirrors the first.  Then players switch roles.
  • Draw a picture together.
  • For more ideas, see ChildFun and KidsActivities.
Any drama or group acting invites children to take on roles other then their "real" persona.  This simple play is not only fun but it invites children to empathize and to recognize the many selves which exist within them.  Because we all have the ability to jump in and out of story lines quite naturally suggests that we are the directors in our own plays, and ultimately, that we have control and ownership through self-awareness to our emotional responses and feelings. This means that others and outside situations don't cause emotional and even physical responses, that these arise from within and are self-manifested.  This is the first path to understanding Manas.

For more insight, see Rev. David Hayward's deeply moving interpretation of great acting, inspired by Ralph Richardson's comment on using 3 levels of consciousness.   Its clear that acting is a powerful and playful skill in the mastering of self- awareness.  David's 3-minute talk begins about 1 hour into this YouTube video and May 31, 2020 Sunday program from the Center for Spiritual Awakening.

Activity 3-  Name the players in your persona game

Who are the players that make up you?  How many masks do you wear?  With loving acceptance, invite your child to list and identify all of their personas (or identifications).  This is a self-reflective exercise more appropriate for children over 9.   Give each of them names.  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Child
  • Student (good/bad)
  • Imp/ Mischief maker
  • Daughter/ Son
  • Big/ Little Sister/Brother
  • Helper
  • Rule enforcer/ police/ Protector/ Guardian
  • Daydreamer
  • Silly/Goofy/Giggly
  • Loner/outcast (no one understands me)
  • Ugly/ Beautiful
  • Athlete
Make masks to depict some of these personas.  They need not be drawn as the child's actual face, but can be drawn with the feeling quality of that persona.  Perhaps this means they have a color not like human skin, or they have lots of eyes, or even horns.  Here is a free mask paper template or create masks with paper mache and paint.  Also see Katie Berggren's idea to create easy paperboard masks with kids.

Then invite your child to act out one of their roles.  They can put on their mask to act out their identity to really get into their character.  How would they dress up this character for Halloween?

Again, this activity invites separation from identification with these roles while at the same time allowing them to exist.  None of these roles are bad or good, they are just roles we act out in the play of life.

Activity 4-  Neti, neti, not this, not that

Now that you've recognized your identities, or personas, you can play with the Vedic negation practice of neti, neti, not this, not that.  Hold up each mask and ask, "Is this you?", or more appropriately, "Does this mask describe all that you are?"  You will quickly see that you and your child are not any of the labels you or society have.  This then leads the mind to ask, if not this, than what?  Quite naturally also, when you lay down the masks, the names and identities, it doesn't feel diminishing, but the opposite, in fact.  One can feel deeply into the life force of all of creation.  Invite your child to sit with that expansive feeling and hold it as long as they can.  Close your eyes. Also, invite them to revisit it anytime they want.

Activity 5: Greet the sun as a daily practice

Being in nature consistently recalls the expansive feeling of all of creation.  And that is why being in nature feels really good.  A good practice to start your day and to share with your family is to greet the sun.  You can do this in your own way and in whatever form feels good.  Simply face the East at dawn.  If you have your coffee with you, share some with Mother Earth.  It is incredibly uplifting to speak to the Sun in this practice, or to sing or dance.  This morning ritual is cross-cultural and ancient and when we partake of it, we link in with all of our ancestors as well as the elements and all of creation.  We take a deep dive into Oneness, and this feeds us deeply.

Greeting the sun is a modeling practice.  Do it and your children will follow.  For inspiration, although there are many, I offer and highly recommend the book, The Way to Start the Day, by Byrd Baylor and the Navajo morning song, Wendayaho.  The latter we often sing to start our class at the Center for Spiritual Awakening.  Find more songs to greet the day in Activity 10.

Wendayaho by Sudha

Activity 6 - Listen deeply, all the world is singing

The Aztecs were great poets of enigma in their native language Náhuatl. They have a saying to speak about creation which is strange in reading - at first:
All of you was singing
n our pre-history, and for many peoples of the world still, the experience of understanding the animals, plants and elements is truth and factual.  But this riddle says more than just hearing the Universe sing.  It says, All of YOU which means to me that all we know and sense are aspects of ourselves, the Self.
One of our greatest fears is to eat the wildness of the world. Our mothers intuitively understood something essential: the green is poisonous to civilization. If we eat the wild, it begins to work inside us, altering us, changing us. Soon, if we eat too much, we will no longer fit the suit that has been made for us. Our hair will begin to grow long and ragged. Our gait and how we hold our body will change. A wild light begins to gleam in our eyes. Our words start to sound strange, nonlinear, emotional. Unpractical. Poetic. Once we have tasted this wildness, we begin to hunger for a food long denied us, and the more we eat of it the more we will awaken. 
Stephen Harrod Buhner, The Secret Teachings of Plants: The Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature

To listen deeply to nature we must tap into our inborn natural ability to understand the Earth.  For this we depend on our senses, of which we now know of 54 (defined here by Micheal Cohen) and on our major nerve centers: the gut, the heart, the skin and the brain.  The heart is especially responsive to stimuli. It is the electromagnetic center of the body, and the seat of our emotional selves, which current research suggests governs the thinking and impulses of the brain. The heart’s electromagnetic field is 5,000 times stronger than the brain and it is organically capable of brain-like function. The heart sends more signals to the brain than the brain to the heart. Emotional processing, sensory experience, memory and derivation of meaning from events and reasoning are instructed from the heart.  Also, the heart produces 5 major hormones that impact function on the brain and body (see current research from the Heart Math Institute, and also The Subtle Body by Cindi Dale).  

What does the heart have to do with listening to the Universe?  

Researcher and author of The Secret Teachings of Plants, Stephen Harrod Buhner, writes that heart cells amplify incoming signals and can perceive them.  Yes, we listen with our feelings.  Sometimes this is called intuition, but it really is just our natural state. We respond similarly with our gut and skin to stimuli and sense these messages with our emotional response (See The Gut: our second brain).  Fascinatingly, there are 10X more bacterial cells in the gut than human cells (Source). These play an enormous role in dictating our gut sense, our moods and our mental acuity. Twenty percent of the human population carries the Toxoplasma gondii parasite, and just as in studies with mice, those carrying this parasite tend to be riskier and are more likely to be entrepreneurs (research from Peter and Stefanie Johnson, husband and wife professors at CU Boulder). So other species even determine your personality. Proof again that we are experts at listening to other species.

What catches your attention, opens this light of your awareness, evokes your interest or empathy, hold you rapt with its beauty?  Does your mind jump to an image or memory? It is communicating with you and you’d be wise to pay attention.  Fungi Perfecti founder and innovator of mushroom as medicinals and bioremediators, Paul Stamets, says that fungi are sentient and have taught him how to use them.  Indigenous plant medicine and farming itself was born of this type of listening.

Introduce this to yourself and your child simply by reading the book The Other Way to Listen by Byrd Baylor or telling the Zuni tale, The Grasshopper's Song, found in Native American Gardening by Michael Caduto and Joseph Bruchac.  In the latter story which I tell often to children, the grasshopper only gifts his garden song to the boy who will listen, and in doing so, the boy is able to teach all the people how to grow their own food.

The Grasshopper's Song, a Zuni tale told for you from me

Activity 7-  Embrace not knowing

I have said often in these past few years that I am living in "I don't know."  I have given my mind a break from trying to figure everything out.  I remember well my mantra as a kid and on into my adult years, a driving, pushing, demanding, "Think, think, think!."  U.S. culture, the educational paradigm in which I was raised, values the brain, really to the exclusion of all other of the bodies major nerve centers.  While I excelled in school and in standard tests and other arbitrary human constructs that rate intelligence, I often had the image of myself as a disembodied head, and most certainly sensed my disconnection not only with other humans but with everything.  When I became a mother, I not only questioned the values and importance of the dominant educational system, but also of Western thought almost in its entirety.
I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.
John 5:33

In this activity, I invite you to also give your brain a break from figuring it all out.  Consider that your thoughts are not coming from you, but seeding in you from Universal Intelligence.  In fact, the very notion that the thoughts in our mind are created by us alone is a very recent one, perhaps only the last 2000 years, and this certainly isn't panglobal, but only in some cultures- mostly those giving rise to what we consider Western thought.  It is not hard to imagine that Universal Mind, Universal Intelligence has all the answers.  Not only that, but these thoughts, ideas and answers are delivered in perfect timing for the highest good of All.

For example, the contents for this post, like all the rest, were delivered to me over the course of the week by conversations, assigned reading or books randomly picked up, songs heard, and of course, inner musings. They were all delivered in perfect timing for the writing of this content.

Thinking is overrated. So rest and relax in I don't know, not needing to know all the answers, and trusting fully in the Universe to deliver the answers to you as you need them. When you trust in this way, you may notice that you need not worry about what is to come simply because you now have faith that you will have the answers you need when you need them.  You can focus on the present.  You can be present.

How does this teach children?

When children are worried or scared, gently remind them of what is happening right now, in the present moment.  Let them know it is OK not to know what to do tomorrow, or in a social situation, or for something they are scared to try.  I often find myself saying the well worn phrase, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."  Many times those bridges never appear or we fly right over them barely noticing.  I also instill in them the trust to know what to say or do in a situation and to not concern the present with matters of the future. Because they are always held and guided, God will give them all the answers in perfect timing. I teach them to release.  Moreover, I model this in my own life for them. When we release our worries, it gives us so much more time for play. For more on releasing with children, see Release and Let Go.

Activity 8 - So Ham

I invite you to chant together the mantra, So'ham, which is Sanskrit for "I am that". I use this one more than any other.  It is a circular breathing chant.  Internally say So on the in-breath, Ham on the out-breath.  It is also good for the restless thinking that causes insomnia.

Utpaladeva (AD 900-950), teacher of Abhinavagupta, was a philosopher-theologian of the Pratyabhijna school of Tantric Shaivism and composed the Īśvara-pratyabhijñā-kārikās, or 'Stanzas on the Recognition of [Oneself as] the Lord'.  In it, he writes of So'ham:
A person who feels like this- [So'ham] "I Am He," all this is my own exuberant luxury, my own splendor- goes on feeling himself as none other then the Almighty God, even while a multitude of thoughts are still going on [in his mind].

So'Ham mantra

You can also pair this mantra with handwork like I do here in my video from Wisdom is Mantra.

See also the Adi Shakti mantra in Celestial Communication, which beautifully fits with this post.

Activity 9: Affirmative Prayer for Self-awareness

There is only One
One expansive, luminous, powerful life force that moves in and through all of creation
This One is God and it has been called by many more names
This One is also my name, being me now
It lives in me and in everything I see
All the beauty I see is me
All the happiness I feel is me
All nature is me
The sky, the sun, the Earth, the birds, the rocks, the insects and trees are all me
I sing with love for all of creation
Creation sings with love for me
We are One
I need to do Nothing, be Nothing, know Nothing
The One life force of all creation, God, guides me and sings to me always
I release and let go of doing, being and knowing.
I rest in the loving arms of God
I am so treasured
I am ecstatic with joy
Thank you God.
Thank you Universe.
And so it is.

Activity 10: A song of blessing

Sing together to awaken your playful spirit and Divine Understanding.  

May the long time sun shine upon you
All love surround you
And the pure pure light within you
Guide your way home

"Long Time Sun" by Snatam Kaur

Related Posts


Thank you to my teachers, Dr. Bill Little and Rev. David Hayward.


To find more information about the titles listed in this post, see the Recommendations page.

Images are free for commercial use from Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons.  Thank you to the following image artists:

Storm - Felix Mittermeier
Collier priestess of Delphi - By John Collier - Art Gallery of South Australia. US Public Domain
La Mort de Socrates - François-Xavier Fabre / Public domain hangs in the Museum of Art and History in Geneva Switzerland
Meditation - Okan Caliskan
Doves at sunset -  Gerhard Gellinger
Persona Mask - John Hain


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  1. Beautifully presented and written. I love the Native American name for the aspect of the Divine that our mind can never grasp as The Great Mystery. I constantly remind my students when they are doing math that it is okay not to know the answer, but to sit in the Unknowing. And wait. Work it out. Relax. It is hard for many, for most. It is so much more comfortable when we know.


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