Life, it seems, has a way of pushing us into a relentless pursuit of everything we want but not enough of what we need.
We do more of what is expected of us.
When Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains,” he spoke to the idea that understanding one’s existence means recognising societal influences and constraints.
True freedom and self-understanding, he thought, come from breaking free from these chains and discovering the essence of your true being.
Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously said, “Become who you are.” To understand your existence, you must go beyond societal norms and expectations.
Embrace both your conscious and sub-conscious self.
In our pursuit of a good life in the morning world, we are forced to disregard self-awareness and self-understanding.
But they are essential to real self-awakening.
Socrates, a foundational figure in Western philosophy, famously said, “Know thyself.” He also said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
He believed self-examination and introspection were essential for a virtuous and meaningful life. Understanding one’s own existence and values was central to his philosophical approach.
To know oneself is to understand one’s existence deeply. It’s a noble and fulfilling pursuit that adds depth and meaning to your life.
Understanding your existence means delving into your curiosities, fears, values, and place in the world.
It’s about asking yourself big questions like, “Why do I do what I do?” and “What impact do I want to make?”
When you do this, you’re not just going through the motions of life; you’re actively shaping the trajectory of your life.
It’s also about acknowledging your flaws and vulnerabilities because they are essential to who you are.
Exploring who you are, why you’re here, and what your purpose holds the power to transform your life in ways you can’t even imagine.
You need self-understanding:
- To live a more meaningful and fulfilling life based on your values and goals. It helps you make choices aligned with what is important to you.
- To connect with others on a deeper level. And build stronger and more meaningful relationships.
- To make sense of the world around you and feel more connected to it.
Everything changes when you know what you genuinely want from life. Self-awareness is like peeling back the layers of your consciousness. Each layer reveals a new facet of your existence, a deeper understanding of your motivations, fears, and aspirations.
Existentialist philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus emphasised the immense value of individual freedom and personal responsibility.
They argued that life gains meaning when we confront the absurdity of existence and make authentic choices. To do so, we must first understand our own existence and the inherent human condition.
Camus thought the only way to confront the absurdity of life is to immerse yourself in it. He suggested life’s meaning is discovered through active engagement and reflection.
“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion,” Camus said.
Understanding our existence is a personal quest that challenges us to look beyond the superficial and embrace our profound truths.
It gives us wisdom to navigate life’s complexities with purpose, clarity, and a profound sense of fulfilment. It also leads to self-enlightenment and fosters a profound connection with the world and people around you.
Daoist philosophy, rooted in ancient Chinese thought, emphasizes living in harmony with the Dao (Tao), often described as the “way” or “path.”
To achieve this harmony, we are are encouraged to cultivate self-awareness, simplicity, and a deep understanding of our own nature.
“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment,” Chinese Taoist and first philosopher of Daoism said.
In Buddhism, the concept of “self-realisation” is crucial.
The goal is to achieve enlightenment and liberation from suffering by understanding the nature of your mind and ego. Self-understanding is seen as a path to spiritual awakening and inner peace.
Understanding yourself is an ongoing process.
Self-knowledge is not so much a possession as a journey
Process philosophers like Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne argue that existence is a continuous process of becoming.
They encouraged us to recognise our interconnectedness with the world and the ongoing, dynamic nature of reality.
I keep discovering new layers of my personality. You won’t figure yourself out in a single year. Not even in a decade.
We keep evolving.
It’s okay to change — a sign of growth and resilience. But you must be in control of the change process.
Take control of your personal evolution
“Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards,” philosopher Søren Kierkegaard said.
Kierkegaard’s quote underscores the idea that self-understanding is an ongoing, reflective process.
We can only truly comprehend our existence by looking back at our experiences and choices, but we must continue to live and shape our future.
Reflecting on our past experiences and choices gives us valuable insights into who we are and where we’ve come from.
It’s the rearview mirror of our life.
However, it’s important to remember that you can only shape the future. We can’t change the past, but we can make choices today that influence the direction we’re headed.
So, while learning from the past is essential, it’s equally vital to keep moving forward. Make decisions that align with your values and aspirations, and ultimately create the life you want.
“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes,” says psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung.
Understanding your existence empowers you to overcome challenges and setbacks with resilience.
It’s a solid foundation to weather the many obstacles of life.
You can draw upon your inner strengths and convictions to navigate difficult times and emerge stronger on the other side.