“Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” – St. Augustine
The road to happiness and fulfillment is inextricably linked with that of self-discovery. It is only through self-discovery that we can find out the aspects of life that our truly important to us, where we are deficient in our character, and how we can better relate to those around us. Yet, this is a cause that few people choose to undertake, and the result is often dissatisfaction or a sense of feeling lost.
An Ever-lasting Assumption
There seems to be an enduring assumption among people that simply because you are you, you must completely know yourself by default. However, the reality is just the opposite: discovering your own true essence can be one of the most difficult aspects of life. This undertaking forces us to be completely honest with ourselves, to open up the wounds of the past, to accept our shortcomings, and even to confront the fears that all people wonder about.
However, once you start on the journey, you will often find that you will discover truths that extend past yourself. Many thinkers have believed that the essence of learning temperance and virtue is through self-discovery. This is because temperance is believed to be true self-government; it is the journey into the deepest recesses of the soul and the will to improve whatever is discovered. And once this journey is undertaken, a person can truly appreciate the new richness of their life. “He that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city.”
Discovering the Self
Ben Franklin once made a list of 13 virtues that were most important to him and charted every time he violated one of them. He once said: ”I was surprised to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined, but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish.”
He recognized that his process of betterment and self-discovery would never be complete, and that no one could ever be perfect, but that, “by the endeavor, [I am] a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.” I think Ben Franklin turned out alright.
Discovering the self can only come through honest reflection and meditation. People often fear being alone – not because of danger – but because of the loneliness of having to confront themselves. There is no honesty of the soul like spending time in quiet solitude. Try meditating or reflecting for a small part of the week or the day, and consider thoughts or events have had a significant impact on you (especially those you normally neglect), aspects of yourself that you would like to improve, or even those that you already admire.
“I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can’t find anybody who can tell me what they want.” – Mark Twain
Discover what you are truly passionate about, and take a step – even a small step – to pursue it or learn about it in some way.
Finally, never stop being your own biggest fan. The road of life is tough enough on its own, so if you’re working toward self-improvement, keep rooting for yourself and the difficult-but-rewarding path you’ve chosen to walk. You’ll be that much better for it when you come out on the other side.
“The greatest explorer on this earth never takes voyages as long as those of the man who descends to the depth of his heart.” And even the longest of journeys begin with a single step. Here’s to going for number one.
The Divinity of Human Wonder
I was recently reading The Art of Prudence by Baltasar Gracian and The Crown of Individuality by William George Jordan; both present wonderful ideas, sagacious perspectives and inspirational passages on fulfilling living. But it wasn’t just the readings themselves that were making me think; I had the realization that these books – written over 400 and 100 years ago respectively – still have unusually relevant applications to contemporary living. Moreover, I started recalling observations of these same patterns in many, many other similar (and even much older) readings that I’ve done throughout my life. This led me to consider the nature of human issues and the human spirit.
I wondered how it’s possible; how is it possible that the same social issues, governmental issues, and individual issues persist regardless of location or time period? I’ve come to honestly believe that human problems are timeless – truly timeless – that they will extend, manifested in one form or another, for as long as we do. Philosophers believe that all issues that regard the human being come down to three questions: “What is real? What am I? How should I live my life?” And it remains curiously interesting how the same set of answers to these questions seem to appear and reappear throughout time. And it’s marvelous because there are no right or wrong answers to these questions; just strong beliefs, persisting traditions, sound arguments, and an enduring human spirit that desperately desires to get closer to the truth.
The Wonder of Wonder
It’s interesting to entertain the thought that as we go about our daily lives, dealing with the successes and challenges of our personal stories, there is an overarching sentiment, an enduring feeling that persists among all people. This feeling – although explored more by some than others – is the wondering of why and how we got here, and what we should do now that we’re here to stay. It’s ever reassuring that there continue to be timeless parts of life that bind all people to one greater consciousness.
One aspect of this bond is our limited time in this world; another is the unspeakable feeling of being overcome and ensnared by the beautiful moments of life; and yet another – is eternal wonder. That wondering, and that search for knowledge, is what keeps us close to the infinite, keeps us close to God as some would say. So that when we ask ourselves these persisting questions – or try to answer them – or when we need to be rescued from the darker moments of the answers not seeming to be in our grasp, we can rest assured knowing that we’re not alone…and never were. And what could be more wonderful than that? I will always hold eternal appreciation for Gracian, Jordan and the countless others who dedicate their lives to embarking on a path that has no end.
“God is happiest when man wonders.”