"Direct your eye right inward, and you'll find a thousand regions in your mind yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be expert in home-cosmography".
Im habitually stunned. Shocked. I find it very hard to understand-- just how little most people know themselves. Most, in fact, seem to go to great lengths to AVOID self knowledge. They avoid silence. They avoid solitude.
Given a moments peace and quiet.. they immediately reach for the TV or radio. No wonder they are such easy marks for bosses and advertisers. No wonder the mass of Americans gobble up the propaganda.
Most people, it seems, equate "reading" with reflection. Being well read, they believe, equates with self knowledge, intelligence, and originality. They parrot other people's words and consider themselves wise.
Of course we all do this.. and reading does indeed have many benefits (thus my frequent Thoreau quotes, for example).
But this is not self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is an inward.. not an outward journey. Typically, it is a word-less journey... an exploration of images, sensations, emotions, sounds.
There are many means of exploring oneself. The simplest is to sit quietly and observe one's thoughts. This is what zen folks call "mindfulness meditation". Its not as easy as it sounds. Give it a try.. if you are like most people you'll be astounded by the following: how rushed and almost random your thoughts are, how thoughts seem to arise out of "nowhere" and return again to "nowhere", how little conscious control you have over these "random" thoughts, and how difficult it is to observe quietly without trying to assert control.
Another method is vipassana meditation. Here, the focus is on bodily sensations, rather than thoughts. The meditator scans the body.. noticing, but not judging or reacting to, pain, pleasure, warmth, cold, vibrations, etc....
Then there are shamanic methods. Using various plant entheogens, the neo-shaman explores beyond-ordinary states of consciousness.. from the sensory, to the "cellular", to the "atomic", to the "energetic-quantum". Strange visions may occur. Encounters with "alien" intelligences. Or pure immersion in form, energy, wordless, immediate reality (or realities).
Back towards the everyday levels of consciousness... a daily journal is a good method. Pour out thoughts and feelings as fast as they come... watch as they evolve from day to day, year to year. A blog, in fact, can serve this purpose.
Of course, the most serious approach is to employ all of the above.. and more as they are discovered. Whatever the method, keep firmly fixed in your mind the following questions:
What/Who, EXACTLY, am "I"?
What is the nature of "myself"? What makes "me", me?
Where do "I" stop, and "everything else" start?
What is "real"? What is "not real"?
Where do my thoughts, ideas, beliefs "come from"?
Reading and other mediated/communicated forms of knowledge are highly valuable. But they are only valuable when combined with copious direct experiences of inward exploration. Without self-knowledge, we have no basis whatsoever for evaluating mediated knowledge.
Self-knowledge... direct experience... always takes primacy.
So turn off that damn TV. And the radio. Close the book. Throw away the magazines and newspapers. And for a while, turn off the computer too.
Dare to delve inward.. in silence. Alone. No guide. No teacher. No one to explain, evaluate, or interpret your experiences.
No one but you.
"Take your wisdom from your own experience.... " (Kerouac)