5 Paths to Self-knowing

  1. The Root of Life
  2. 5 Paths to Self-knowing
  3. The Heart of Compassion
  4. Expressing your Truth
  5. Insight — Outsight
  6. The Energy of Balance

Self-Knowing is about self-acceptance, clarity of mind, AND clear and direct action.

The Zen of Letting Go

self knowing

This is the seventh of our new series of articles on The Zen of Letting Go, with side references to bodywork, breathwork, and energy (especially sexual energy) work.

As is usual with this series, I want to talk about what lies beneath each of the individual Chakras.

You’ve likely noticed by now that I’m giving you an overview of life and living itself, and am using the Chakras only as a framework. If you want more Chakra specific data, you can read articles on our main site.

Anyway, what I want to remind you of is this: all work is individual work.

Last week, we looked at relationships—and the biggest problem most folk have with them is they can’t get the other person to cooperate or behave. In other words, “Sally’s” internal process is, “I’m uncomfortable and unfulfilled in my relationship.” Her mind gets hold of the “uncomfortable” feeling, looks around, and says, “It’s him! He’s not doing (fill in the blank…) right!” I’ve watched this kind of process with hundreds of clients over the last almost 3 decades, and never once has thinking like this caused anything to change.

What causes change is what happens when I change how I am relating


Not wait for the “other” to change. Not blame the other. Not manipulate the other. Change happens when I change. Period.

So, how I relate to anyone is all about me. It’s like playing tennis. No matter what my opponent hits across the net, the only thing that matters (to my score) is what I hit back. Imagine how lame it would be for someone to be standing there, yelling at his opponent: “It’s not fair! You’re hitting the ball so I can’t hit it back! You must not love me!” Yet, this expectation is prevalent in relationships.

It is not the job of the world, or others, to cooperate with you.

It’s your job to shift, rapidly and elegantly, to “hit the ball back,” no matter what’s lobbed your way. Thus, the people who excel at relationships are those who are entirely self-responsible. For their words, actions, and communication. They have made it their job to figure out their side of things.

Way back in 1999 (the first year of our e‑zine, “Into the Centre,” I mentioned the book Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson.

To set the scene: The main character is a computer programmer named (get this!) Hiro Protagonist. Two other characters of note are his former girlfriend, Juanita, and a 15 year old pizza delivery girl, Y.T., (who rides an atomic powered skateboard — you REALLY do have to read this book …) Anyway, Hiro hooks up with his ex girlfriend (who is also a coder,) and they try to stop a plot to control the world through the use of language (which is why I’m so interested in the book in the first place.) Hiro’s talking to Y.T. about Juanita. He’s hoping they’re going to get back together. We pick it up on page 409.

Y.T. says, “Did you hook up with your old girlfriend yet?”
“No, but I have high hopes for that. Assuming I can stay alive.”
“High hopes for what?”
“Our relationship.”
“Why?” she asks. “What’s changed between then and now?”
This is one of those utterly simple and obvious questions that is irritating because Hiro’s not sure of the answer.
“Well, I think I figured out what she’s doing — why she came here.”
Another simple and obvious question. “So, I feel like I understand her now.”
“You do?”
Yeah, well, sort of.”
“And is that supposed to be a good thing?”
“Well, sure.”
“Hiro, you are such a geek. She’s a woman, you’re a dude. You’re not supposed to understand her. That’s not what she’s after.”
“Well, what is she after, do you suppose …?”
“She doesn’t want you to understand her. She knows that’s impossible. She just wants you to understand yourself. Everything else is negotiable.” ”

Read that last line. memorize it. ‘Nuf said.

The 3rd Chakra is about Self-knowing

I usually say self-esteem, but that one is misunderstood to mean selfish, so let’s stick to self-knowing. Again, it’s all about you—figuring out you.

Developmentally, this happens after the first 2 stages. As I’ve written, The first thing is groundedness—knowing that there is safety. Second, I must learn how to “attach” to others, in order to get fed, changed, cuddled, etc.

Once I have figured that out, I begin the process of discovering myself as a separate being.


You see infants playing with parts of themselves with total focus. It’s that moment, for example, when her hands stop waving about spasmodically, and her head looks at an object, and she reaches out and grasps it. In that moment, synapses connect, and “hands, akimbo” becomes “my hands, under my control.” At this point our tribes, thrilled we’ve figured it out, rush in with, “Yes! That’s you! You, are, well… you! See! There’s you, in the mirror!”

Of course, what’s in the mirror is NOT me, but we’ll leave that for another day.

We’re taught to identify ourselves as the “stuff” going on inside the flesh suit, and also the suit itself , although most adults wish we’d focus on the head and the heart, and leave the “suit-ness” mostly alone. We’re also taught that we are special and unique. Leading to the line,

You are special and unique, just like everyone else.”

Modern parents, in many cases, are “guilty” of pushing this to an extreme, expecting that their kids will never get hurt, that no one will ever look at their precious kid cross-eyed, etc. All we get is kids who are incredibly entitled, and think they are in charge of the household. We reap what we sow. This kind of thinking, at some level, is where 95% of the population is stuck.

To go back to what I said, above, thinking you are special and that the world should change to keep you happy is the “mental illness” we fight against daily.

The third stage, self-knowing, actually revolves around learning to see into yourself, and love yourself deeply. Paradoxically, 2nd Chakra relating is only possible when there is an actual person doing the relating. In OSHOs book, Tarot in the Spirit of Zen: The Game of Life--
, we read:

The word intimacy comes from the Latin root, intimum. Intimum means your interiority, your inmost core. Unless you have something there, you can’t be intimate with anybody. You can’t allow intimum, intimacy, because the other person will see the hole, the wound, and the pus oozing out of it. He will see that you don’t know who you are, that you are a madman, that you don’t know where you were going, that you have not even heard your own song, that your life is a chaos, it is not a cosmos. Hence the fear of intimacy. Even lovers rarely become intimate. The genital orgasm is not all that there is in intimacy. It is just the periphery of it; intimacy can exist with it, can exist without it. …

Love is the goal, and once the goal is clear you start growing an inter richness. The wound disappears and becomes a lotus; the wound is transformed into a lotus. This is the miracle of love, the magic of love. Love is the greatest alchemical force in the world. Those who know how to use it can reach the highest peak. …

There is no way to be certain about another—first be certain about yourself. And the person who is certain about himself is certain about the whole world. Page 16 to 17

Thus, as we’ve been saying, all of the work, all of the deep and intimate work of our lives, is personal work—learning to know and love ourselves, and then being willing to let our selves be intimate—to be fully and deeply seen. This begins, metaphorically, with the 3rd Chakra work of self-knowing.

Here are some target areas for self-knowing

1. Self-knowing is not a popularity contest


The majority of my clients are waiting for approval. Some didn’t get it as kids, some got too much, but most think there is some external standard they “should” be living up to. I see it when people ask questions about life, parenting, relating, on Facebook, of all places . The answers they get tend to fit the culture, and almost never challenge the underlying assumptions. (Except when I write back… 😉 )

Others want to live their passion, and are waiting for permission–from parents, friends, spouses, etc. “What if “they” don’t approve?” And I look, and see a little kid, stuck in an adult body, running ahead 10 steps, then looking back to make sure mommy is still in sight.

Others have begun the exploration of their internal theatre, and are unwilling to risk putting it all out there. “What if they don’t like it?”

It’s important that you DO have a couple of people around you whose views you trust—(I call this the “intimate circle…”) I can think of about 5 or so in my life, Darbella being #1 on my list.

This is not to say you “blindly follow.” (I’m going to use the singular “person” here, but mean “small group of intimates.”) Once you have found “someone” you trust, open up to that person and then shut up and listen.

Oh. It’s important to remember that this person is almost never a relative, as in, “No one ever got enlightened in their family.” The job of parents is NOT to hatch “BFFs.” It’s to create independent, free-thinking adults who go out and live their lives, making a difference.

So, the key is to sit with yourself for a bit (or several decades…) and get to know yourself, and to be in dialog with a few trusted others, to share and to receive feedback. And here’s a hint: if you don’t trust your significant other with this data, what’s your excuse for sticking around?

Open yourself to all of that juicy, shadowy stuff buried deep, and kept (by you!) out of reach. Dig in there (likely with the help of a therapist / bodyworker) and bring it out. Stop waiting, and waiting, and be yourself.

2. Self-knowing seldom fits the status quo

shadow work

To really know yourself is to enter (as I just said) that shadowy (Jung’s “Shadow”) world of the not-politically-correct. Our tribes conspire to keep us from straying too far from the cultural norm. They apply pressure all though our growing years—pressure us to fit in, to not make waves, to look for external approval—all the things that get us safely to adulthood. We do need to learn the rules, after all.

However, being a true adult requires a big leap. We take what we’ve learned, and explore its relevance NOW, as an adult. For example, looking for approval makes sense when we are 5. Not so much at 25. Expecting rescue when we fall is normal at 2, not so much at 22. Expecting unconditional love at 3 is OK, not so much at 30.

The price of self-knowing is separation from the masses. People who have written about this or taught it (including me!) figure that 5% of the population actually gets this sufficiently to risk the wrath of the status quo. And this wrath, for most, is nothing more than benign neglect! People don’t understand you, and can’t control you, so they ignore you! They can’t, for the life of them, understand why you’re not blaming others, whining, being miserable, trying to get ahead by stepping on others, etc.

Staying cocooned in the status quo seems safe, but ultimately nothing much happens, and then you die. Stepping out of tribal expectations means enacting your specialness. And yes, you are unique and special — in that only you can bring your gifts and talents to the world. Just like everyone else. 5% do, 95% stuff it.

Stop stuffing it!

3. Self-knowing is honest


Avoidance mode is epidemic. What do we avoid? Well, anything we pre-judge as negative.

The Buddha began his road to enlightenment by discovering that the outcome of life, for all of us (short of a fatal accident) is, old age, sickness and death. Many have trouble with that one. The great insight is that this is the future for yourself and everyone you see.

Now, one option is to get all depressed, and scream, “It isn’t fair!” Guess what? Nothing has changed. The other, 5% option, is to stop waiting for things to get better some day, stop waiting for a fantasy person or career to rescue you, and to live right now as fully and completely as you can. You have no discernible future, but you surely have right now.

Resistance to self-knowing is always about judging that what I imagine ought to be happening is “better than, and fairer than” what is actually happening, AND THEN just siting there, waiting for things to change. Many, many people I know have detailed fantasies about how things ought to be, and are pissing their days away, expecting a miracle.

On the other hand, shifting pretty much anything in the here and now,means that you have a chance at a different future. We are not powerless. We are lazy. We want things to come easily, with no criticism. Or, we’re fixated on something we believe happened in the past, and won’t change until the past is undone. Nonsense, but there it is.

I can choose to do something right now, or I can wait (and remember–thinking about changing is not changing — it’s mental masturbation…) for rescue, for approval, for “the canvas to paint itself…” Honesty is all about exploring the depths, and then selling tickets!

4. Self-knowing is self-acceptance

this is it

I like to say that the way to begin is to set things at “zero,” and start from there. In other words, to drop all of the self-judgement and self-recrimination, and accept that things are, and you are, as it and you are, right now.

When Darbella and I were working with the injured workers, this was our starting place. Most came there saying, “I wish I felt like I did before the accident.” Thinking like this was the cause of their suffering, their misery. Sure, I guess we’d all say it would be “nice” if they hadn’t been injured, but so what? Feeling sorry for ourselves (or others) changes precisely nothing. How you are right now is neither right / wrong, nor good /bad. It’s just how you are, right now.

You can stay as you are (the choice of 95%) and whine about it, or you can start where you are and begin to shift actual behaviours. In the case of our injured workers, they shifted their language into self-responsible language, (“I am choosing to feel…” as opposed to “You make me feel…” etc.) began to meditate, stretch and do Qi Gong, and showed up at a weekly group as opposed to hiding in their room. In other words, they took “where they were,” accepted it as “true,” and then acted differently.

ALL of who you are and how you are is the essence of you. Beating up on yourself for your supposed “flaws” changes nothing (as does beating up on other for theirs!) Rather, without judgement, we look at who and where we are, keep doing the things that get us what we choose, and changing things that keep us stuck.

5. Self-knowing is freedom

You can’t be you if you think someone else knows better than you what you ought to be doing. Ultimately, it’s all about your choices. Freedom comes from exercising free will. This is not licence to dominate or imprison others in your games. It’s acceptance of total self-responsibility.

Freedom comes when I know that everyone else is off the hook for how my life is going. I am were I am precisely and only because of my choices to date. I can, at any time, do something else. Or, I can choose to stay stuck where I am.

Freedom is knowing this, and choosing well.

Next week, vocation and the heart!

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So, how does this week’s article sit with you? What questions do you have? Leave a comment or question!

About the Author: Wayne C. Allen is the web\‘s Simple Zen Guy. Wayne was a Private Practice Counsellor in Ontario until June of 2013. Wayne is the author of five books, the latest being The. Best. Relationship. Ever. See: –The Phoenix Centre Press

7 thoughts on “5 Paths to Self-knowing”

  1. As a new member, thanks for your wisdom Wayne. I am a recent member also to NA (Narcotics Anonymous). It’s been a rough year, being a pill popping mom who “stuffed” for way too long. I find your words follow the principles of AA and NA. There is something to be said for a program that has helped millions live better/cleaner lives.
    Regarding your “5 Paths to Self-Knowing”, how would one look and feel through the shadows of one’s self? This process of looking deeply, how is that done, what actions does one take?

  2. I look forward to your posts and love when I get a little gem of insight to think about for the day or week or whatever.

    Resistance to self-knowing is always about judging that what I imagine ought to be happening is “better than, and fairer than” what is actually happening

    Separating myself from the masses to define and realize who I am sometimes causes me anxiety. There is a balance I am aware of, to be ‘part of’ and ‘separate from’ Ahhh the process of individuation—it is a challenge to be part of the 5%

    • Hi there,
      Thanks for your comments, and for liking the posts!
      I think that the key is to remember to fix our language: “I am doing “x” to define myself, AND and choosing to cause myself anxiety…” Typically when we make this correction (out loud is best!) it’s not long until I ask, “And do I need to continue to choose that?”
      Wisdom is playing the game when playing the game is necessary, and simply laughing and walking away the rest of the time!
      Please, continue to enjoy the walk!


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