Know Thyself, Part III: Challenge

Although the classic wisdom, “know thyself” sounds simple, it’s not easy. It’s not easy being human and it’s certainly not easy learning the truth about yourself, so challenge is part and parcel of gaining wisdom and wellness. Challenge is Part III of the Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide.

As the wise Eastern sage, the Buddha said, life is suffering, and this is the reality most people would rather not accept nor grapple with. The problem of facing our own anxieties, depression and pain, and the truth that life is hard and that we are limited directly opposes our modern cultural values that promote only happiness, comfort, and pleasure.

“What is needed, rather than running away or controlling or suppressing or any other resistance, is understanding fear; that means, watch it, learn about it, come directly into contact with it. We are to learn about fear, not how to escape from it.”

—Jiddu Krishnamurti

In the first-world, we are educated to avoid voluntarily challenging ourselves or confronting our dis-eases head on. We are encouraged to use hacks and short cuts to avoid the deep learning approach that requires real challenge and real change.

We are given pills and “easy,” quick ways out and away from facing any discomfort rather than nourishing and nurturing our own bodies and minds which takes attention, time, sacrifice and effort to cultivate. Prevention is hard work and sometimes without immediate payoff, so we are conditioned instead to live a life of pleasure without sacrifice. We stay ignorant about the negative effects of our choices and actions because they exist in some far off future that doesn’t seem immediately threatening. (Think Global Warming)

Materialist and consumerist values coupled with technological progress aggressively sell an intentional avoidance of difficulty. The messages of advertisers are to feel no pain, or to pretend, or that we are not good enough as we are. The system is designed as a race— to hurry up and acquire the latest and greatest, playing on our deepest fears of feeling left out of the group or alienated. We are not taught that to grapple with problems and work persistently to solve them defines the best in us. We miss out on the fulfillment and meaningfulness of building our character and spirit. And we wonder why we are sick.

Through technological and other forms of manipulation, advertisers, politicians, media and other organizations steal our attention away from our inner worlds, capitalize on our lack of self-mastery, and divert us from knowing ourselves and our truth. All of this blocks our ability to grow stronger, develop grit and resilience, and invite failure as a way to learn, evolve, and thrive.  

We are continually seduced by constant distractions that play on our irrationality, desires, and emotions, and we are socially conditioned to pay attention to those who are “in the know” to tell us how to live our lives, rather than turning inward to trust ourselves. It’s time to stop listening to others and listen to ourselves through intentional and deliberate introspection. We have to stop and make time to know who we really are rather than who we have allowed ourselves to be conditioned to be.

The Classic Wisdom for the Modern Human Self Study Guide encourages you to face challenges and limits to grow wiser and more well, enabling you to be your own best authority and trusted advocate of yourself. In the modern world, facing challenge to know thyself is both an act of self-defense against cultural conditioning and necessary for positive self actualization.

What only seems ironic in this modern world of constant dopamine hits from excessive immersion in gaming or social media, moving beyond one’s comfort zone to voluntarily face fear and challenge is the antidote to suffering more and suffering unnecessarily. It’s simple. If we humans don’t use our muscles, they atrophy. By paying close attention to fear and exercising courage, we become both brave and more confident about exercising it in our future endeavors. Helicopter parents rob their children of actualizing when they create safe spaces, hover, and prevent failure. Again, we wonder why anxiety and illness continue to rise among young people.

If we take a small risk, succeed, and we survive the trauma, we are more likely to try and try again. If we burn ourselves once, if we fail and fall, we learn quickly to figure out other paths and possibilities for succeeding the next time. Our fear and weakness lessen, our confidence and faith in our own good judgment and abilities grow. We find out what we are like and what we are made of.

When we make sacrifices that may hurt today, we are more likely to be rewarded with more freedom tomorrow. Such small and great character-building actions using one’s carefully directed attention and self-awareness developed in the first two parts of the Self-Study Guide program are practices that lead to developing discipline and grit in the third part.

None of this: developing courage, discipline, and seeking the truth of you is easy. It requires hard work, pain, and struggle but discipline leads to freedom-— and just think about the amount of freedom and independence that comes from good health and wellness.

“Always do what you are afraid to do.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Taking “baby steps” through the trial and error of learning is growing, and growing is thriving, and thriving is wellness. Modern psychologists have used the technique of exposure therapy to effectively treat severe phobias, but it is a tool available to all of us for developing wellness regardless of the severity or scale of our fears.  

If we remain hidden in our self-constructed safe spaces, buffered from danger or risk and other opportunities for learning more about ourselves and the world, protected from oppression all the while maintaining the mentality of the vulnerable, helpless victim, we become dependent on others to shield us and thus remain weak and static. We can’t be certain of whether or not what comes from the external is good for us because we don’t really know what we are made of.

Because we haven’t risen to the challenges that enable us to build our character and our constitution, we really don’t know who we are and that causes even more doubt and trepidation. We lack trust and confidence in ourselves, so our personal growth, wellness, and well-being remains in the hands of others, and we are forced to trust their power and their moral character instead of our own. Thus, we are more likely to be oppressed, manipulated, and victimized.

Avoiding difficulty, whether difficult truths, discomfort, or exposure to risk by making ourselves vulnerableresults in a failure to cope. Poor health is far more threatening and damaging than facing challenge in the first place.

Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone

When you avoid discomfort, distract yourself, pretend, or run away from pain– one of your greatest teachers, you lose the opportunity to actualize your potential and build your resilience. Like unused muscles, your mind, body, and spirit remain static and weak thus causing additional unnecessary suffering.

When you learn to grapple with challenge, voluntarily through practice, you’ll build character and confidence. You will learn more about what you are made of and who you really are, so that when the unexpected tragedies of life hit, as they inevitably will, you will be the stability and comfort for yourself and others, thus minimizing any unnecessary, additional suffering. You’ll be the hero of your own life story.

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