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We are a universe within a universe, a microcosm in the deep recesses of a macrocosm, and an eternal soul in a body of mortal flesh; there is much to learn from within.

Bulleh Shah, a thought-provoking Muslim Sufi poet and a Punjabi philosopher of the 17th century, in his famous verses said, “Oh mortal, you have read a thousand books, but never read your own self; you enter mosques and temples, and yet you have not entered your own self”. The mystic poet affirms the perpetual existential crisis faced by humans.

We rightly search for happiness and completeness in religion, philosophy, and areas like metaphysics, and yet we do not completely explore the realities within our own being.

The profundity in the verses of the humanist poet has relevance not only for mystics and philosophers, but also for humanity at large. The awareness of the self and of our existence is essential for a complete living experience – for spiritual awakening as well as worldly success. Most of us spend our time with little thought to questions like who we are and why we are here.

We tend to feel that existential questions are the domain of philosophers and poets, and that ordinary people have little responsibility for figuring out the deeper meanings of life. We tend to limit our existence to our professions and relationships, and the social roles we play. We ignore the abundant energy that lives within us and is exclusive to us.

The specific space and time in which we exist is ours to inhabit and possess. We ourselves are most capable to understand our mind and emotions and, consequently, find solutions to our problems. We may do so by thinking through and being attentive and aware of the undercurrents in our own emotions and of those around us as well as the energies that are operating in our surroundings. The journey of finding the self is about observing our lives, analysing our feelings, listening to our inner voice, and knowing our aspirations well.

In our quest for a better understanding of the self, it is further helpful that we are not only aware of our own feelings but also of our responses to those feelings. Behavioural economists argue that it is the awareness of our cognitive biases which help us overcome them by making us conscious of the responses our brain and body may have to varying experiences. It involves an assessment of our strengths and limitations to understand the unique being that inhabits our self.

Individuals may self-reflect in different ways. Perhaps it can be the scrutiny of our conduct by our parents that pushes us to internalise a daily routine of setting aside a few minutes, may be in the late hours of the quiet night after dinner, to reflect on ourselves. It is not a mere reflection on the immediate, but also on the larger perspectives influencing life. One can try to assess one’s progress in learning about different aspects, recognising the improvements, and identifying areas needing further attention. One may reflect on the incidents of the day and on experiences, both good and bad.

Monitoring ourselves hinges on an ongoing process of self-evaluation. Closely related to self-evaluation is the concept of self-introspection, which is an examination of our thoughts, perceptions, capabilities and desires. It helps ascertain how we may feel in different circumstances and identify areas of strength and of social and emotional weaknesses. The process is likely to lead to the development of an understanding of our needs, desires, capabilities and things that make us tick.

Ray Dalio is founder of the world’s largest hedge fund firm, Bridgewater Associates. The Fund manages a mammoth $150 billion. He alluded to the centrality of self-awareness for worldly success during a recent TV appearance. Dalio, who currently has an impressive net worth of about $20 billion, said that the fastest path to success starts with knowing your weaknesses “because if you don’t know your weaknesses, you can’t get around them” – the message is to strengthen self-awareness for worldly success. More sharply, while we all have our weaknesses, it’s prudent to figure out our key challenges especially those that may be our main obstacle in succeeding to achieve our life aspirations.

Not understanding our desires and capabilities can lead to a life that feels incomplete with repercussions for both us and society. Operating at a sub-optimal level in our relationships, careers and decisions limits the experience of human emotions. The expanse of our sensations and the bounds to which the human mind can function are often left only partially exploited. The contribution we can make to society, country and the global human fraternity is curtailed and rendered less effective.

Sustained, small steps to improve ourselves are the most effective instrument for transforming ourselves into most efficient beings. This helps lead to a complete and more fulfilling life – a life every human being sincerely deserves. We can strive to further strengthen our individual, precious personality by developing greater originality and uniqueness in our being. An easy approach to being better is to find people who are experts in their areas and seek guidance from them – a colleague, a relative, a coach, or, in the time of digital connectivity, numerous online courses (some are even available for free) are there to help. The idea is to be more self-aware today than we were yesterday and use that to our advantage.

Email: khaqanhnajeeb@gmail.com

Dr Khaqan Hassan Najeeb, "Self-awareness," The News. 2021-09-21.
Keywords: Social sciences , Human fraternity , Civil society , Human rights , Religion , Philosophy , Development , Ray Dalio , Bulleh Shah , Pakistan