The month of January was named for the Roman god Janus--god of gates and doors, as well as the god of beginnings. He is a most peculiar god, having 2 faces: one looking forward and another looking back. This is supposed to depict the god looking at both the past and the future at the same time. It’s always wise to get one’s bearings by contemplating on things past before regarding things future, yes? Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan... Janus has everything pretty much covered.
Or does he? There is one direction where Janus isnt looking: Inward. Looking inward is a lost pursuit these days. We’ve all got work to do, bills to pay, dreams to chase... Who has time? And looking inward? That is probably the most unproductive thing a anybody can do!
“Know thyself,” Socrates said. An unexamined life is not worth living. But why would we need to? Things happen and we react. Our past shaped us, probably even more so than our genes did, and there is nothing we can do to change the past. Our self is just a sum total of all our past experiences and memories.
And besides, exactly how does one look inward? How does one ever truly know onself? Can we trust our own perceptions of who we truly are? On our own? Without our biases or our most-of-the-time skewed image of who we truly are? More often than not, if we even deign to try to be honest with ourselves about who we are, we’re wrong.
Eastern philosophy makes a big thing about knowing oneself as one truly is, without opinions, without biases, without sensory input of any kind. “He who knows others is wise; he who knows oneself is enlightened.” So says the Tao. But it takes years of training to achieve this so-called enlightenment. Supposedly, after sensory input and the tyranny of memory is set aside, all that the adept is left with is the self, the pure consciousness of one’s consciousness without any content. Right. I’ll take your word for it, Swami Banananda.
There is an easier way. A way available to every one of us. And that is knowing ourselves through the eyes of others. A meeting of our own perceptions of who we are melded with the perceptions of someone we trust. Someone we love. Think of your eyes: Your eyes see everything that is visible. Everything, that is, except your eyes. The quickest way to shatter our own illusions about who we really are is by interacting with others; sharing who we are with others. Easier said that done. We’re naturally protective of who we are. Or rather who we think we are. We tend to share with others who tend to reinforce our own image of ourselves no matter how fictitious this image is. Such is our nature. It takes an almost heroic step to give yourself over to somebody, to trust that somebody with ourselves. You might not like what you see reflected in that person’s eyes, but at least you’ll know. And knowing, in the immortal words of G.I. Joe, is half the battle. We’re not prisoners of our past. We’re not robots whose thoughts and actions are constrained by our programming. We’re humans. We’re free. We can change despite of the conditioning ingrained in us in our walk through life. If that person you chose to share with truly cares about you, who you really are doesn’t matter as much as who you can become. Knowing who you are now is but a springboard to better things.
We were built that way, I guess. To need others. The fullness of our humanity can only come to fruition as part of something bigger than ourselves.
(Schmaltz originally written for the ersatz company newsletter, January 2004.)