Circumstance, Meaning, Virtue

Willing to Understand

“A human being has so many skins inside, covering the depths of the heart. We know so many things, but we don’t know ourselves! Why, thirty or forty skins or hides, as thick and hard as an ox’s or bear’s, cover the soul. Go into your own ground and learn to know yourself there.”

Meister Eckhart (1260-1328)


There is so much about the world we don’t understand.

It’s bizarre when we think about it; existing in this world and understanding so little. But at least it is outside of us. It can get really overwhelming when we consider how little we understand about ourselves. We are with ourselves all the time. We exist within ourselves, function from within ourselves; so the thought that there is possibly quite a lot we neither know or understand about ourselves, is alarming.

If we pay close attention, we can often see glimpses into these parts of ourselves that we are not acquainted with.

For example, when we react in an unexpected way to something. Someone says something and we react intensely. We snap back aggressively, bearing teeth. In the same second, we’re taken aback. It was instantaneous, we didn’t think about it, it just happened that way. And all of a sudden, this hidden chasm within us is momentarily exposed. We cannot explain why we reacted the way we did, so we are faced with the reality that we do not understand an element of what controls our behaviour. There are mechanics within us, driving our behaviour and actions and not all of its elements are known to us.

Paying close attention to the activities of our feelings, thoughts and behaviour is the only point of access to this unknown realm.

By increasing our self-awareness we notice those moments when we are driven by an unidentified source. Every time we pay attention and question why, how or where to our own feelings, thoughts and behaviours, we begin to unearth another mystery within ourselves. When we fail to take note and investigate, a significant part of us remains hidden in the shadows. Pay attention to yourself, to the same extent you would a person you were cautious of. It takes some modesty to admit that we aren’t so ‘enlightened’; we think and do things, sometimes very significant things, and we don’t know why. But it pays to be humble, and to question if our self-knowledge is as expansive as we might first think.

Léon Spilliaert, 1907, Silhouet van de schilder
Léon Spilliaert, 1907, Silhouet van de schilder
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