“Know thyself” I see as not merely a psychological contemplative exercise. I think it may also mean coming to know one’s physical incarnation too, one’s biological body-mind, and how one’s ego may express itself in the phenomenal world.
For me, in recent years I have come to be aware that this body has some qualities that affect its energy levels, mental clarity, and even moods. I hope you will allow me to be vulnerable with you for a moment, and expose some of my weaknesses, my wounds.
For one, I have discovered that my body has six homozygous mutations in significant genes that control and express the methylation cycle. “I” didn’t do anything to get these mutations; I was born with them. They are in my DNA, and I know about it thanks to 23andMe.
What does this mean? It means that my body does not manufacture or metabolize (or is severely limited) certain biochemicals in my metabolism, some of which include neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and others like methionine. Practically, this means that I can feel great one day, quite literally on “cloud nine” or heaven, and not so great the next, or quite literally in hell. It can express as depression, or bipolar mood swings.
I don’t know all of the implications yet, but just knowing that my body has this condition helps me when “I’m” feeling down or broken. It is not “me” that is down, but rather this body and mind. My brain may be bathing in neurochemicals that cause it to feel that way. “I” didn’t cause it, it is just happening; it is reality in the present moment. And when “I’m” high, I simply enjoy it, and allow it in equanimity, knowing it will not last. It is not permanent. It’s not “me” that is high, but the way this body-mind is being expressed right now.
In another way, perhaps related, I have discovered that my body does not do well in the mornings. It can take some time before my body and mind naturally wake up fully. This is not laziness, but rather it seems to be something related to my biochemistry and genes. I’ve learned, also through 23andMe research, that I am not a morning person, something which confirms my experience.
According to their research of over 70,000 people, those with my particular set of 450 genetic markers wake up on average at the far late end of the mornings, making me much more of a night person. It’s almost impossible to be less of a morning person, or more of a night person. So if I don’t have energy in the mornings, its not because “I’m” not trying, or am idle, slothful, slack, it’s literally because this body-mind doesn’t have energy in the mornings. It is not firing on all cylinders yet.
This may have a relationship to the first point above; my body has perhaps not metabolized the proper biochemicals overnight for a get-up-and-go morning, and so it takes a while to get all the gears moving. Coffee seems to help quite a bit to jump start my body and brain, something which I was ironically forbidden to experience while I was a Mormon because of its religious prohibition. It actually helps me wake up, in many ways.
On the other hand, I have noticed that often I have the most clear thinking in the mornings, before my mind has been inundated by the worries of the world, before my thinking has been clogged by the information of the day. This may simply be the way the ego-mind works. In the mornings, before our social media feeds have inserted the deluge of the news of the day into our psyches, we are more “empty” and free of that thinking, and so can see more clearly the way things are, without our consciousness being clouded or veiled by thoughts. (This is perhaps why retreats work well too to unplug, cleanse the mind, scrub it clean of worldly thoughts, purify the mind, and reboot our perceptions of Reality/God). And so I sometimes do my best writing in the mornings, soon after waking, and either before or after my morning meditation.
Knowing one’s self, I perceive, is knowing one’s full self/Self, what one is at the deepest levels, both biological, physiological, psychological, spiritual, physical, metaphysical, and every other -ical. Once we know our Self, we will know why we are the way we are, and what we are in this world, and we will stop blaming ourself or others for how we are. We will stop projecting our suffering elsewhere. We will fully accept this divine incarnation that we are, this divine imperfection, knowing it is perfect as it is, that it is actually how the Divine its Self is manifesting its Self right here and right now. We will stop feeling the need to perfect that which is already perfect. In the words of Jesus, we will simply “Be perfect.” That doesn’t mean we will stop caring for the body-mind, but rather that we will care for it properly all the more, because we will recognize it as a manifestation of the Divine. We will care for it the way that God Loves it by being It.
As Richard Rohr says, “Divine perfection is always imperfection.” While God may be perfect in its essence, it is always imperfect in its expression, and that is paradoxically Perfect too (full, complete, whole). Imperfection is the only way the Divine can manifest its Self, how it can incarnate “in the flesh,” in materiality. The Christ always has wounds. They are your wounds and mine.