On Sunday there was a guy sitting in front of me that was obviously a visitor. I love seeing these people in our congregations because they add variety and interest to what is often the same stale mix. (No offense to my ward family.) He had a beard and a darker complexion. I thought he looked Middle Eastern. He had on some nice jeans and a casual shirt. He didn’t seem to have come with anyone.
During the opening song, I sang mostly soprano because a sister I love was sitting behind me singing alto beautifully and it was nice to harmonize. I put extra effort into phrasing and vowel pronunciation. I just started MCO practices again and so I had had a refresher on good singing and was putting it to use. After the hymn the bearded man turned around and said in a thickly accented voice, “My God bless and protect your singing voice!” I was surprised and flattered.
After the meeting I spoke to him and he said a curious thing. He said, “Remember, the first commandment of God is to honor Adam.” This was news to me. I had always thought that the first commandment of God was to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart. Seeing my skeptical expression, he elaborated saying that it was not literal, that we were to honor the Adam in us.
I have been pondering that interaction for several days. Jung taught about a phenomenon called “synchronicity” which I haven’t studied much about yet. The basic (very basic) idea is that things happen for a reason and that when you are working hard to improve yourself and your life, help will come in unexpected ways. I think that this swarthy gentleman was supposed to say what he said, and that it was meant to emphasize the thread of understanding that I have been weaving about the self and God.
Jung understood the profound difficulty of studying the human psyche. It’s like trying to study a microscope while using the microscope to do the studying. We are fairly competent at studying lower order creatures on this Earth, but the study of ourselves, our morality, our motivations, our core needs and desires; we are still cavemen drawing stick figures in the dirt. Self knowledge begins by knowing that you know nothing.
Have you ever thought that you don’t really know what you look like? Even mirror images or selfies reverse the image. What we see is also usually a stagnant image that is often posed and inorganic. My husband and children probably know a lot more about what I look like than I do. That goes for the psyche as well. Often we don’t know nearly as much about ourselves as we think we do.
There have been numberless multitudes of human beings that have lived on this planet since Adam and Eve, and yet each of us repeats the same patterns of behavior; birth, development, often parenthood, and finally death. It’s like reinventing the wheel over and over for eternity. Often parents and grandparents are able to pass on useful traditions and helpful maxims and morals to their posterity; but there is so much more that we can do.
Imagine for a moment what Adam must know. I believe that once we leave this world, we watch with our spiritual eyes as our descendants go through their mortal experience. Adam, having experienced mortality himself would have first hand experience, and then also the opportunity to witness his countless descendants experience mortality. Compare his knowledge about us and our current challenges contrasted pwith the pathetic lack of knowledge that we have about ourselves. We are not mortal beings, we are eternal beings. Do we honor the Adam that is in us? Do we seek to know ourselves as we are, and resist the urge to see ourselves as the flat two dimensional image on our cell phone screen?
I have heard the argument that there is no point to this quest for self-knowledge. It won’t put bread on your table, get your chores done, or fill your 401K. Why do it? It’s hard work! The response I have to that is that it is the only way to keep the first great commandment of God.
My thickly accented friend at church said that the first commandment was to honor Adam, or the Adam within us. The Savior said the first commandment is to love God. They are the same thing. Think about it. How do we love God? We’ve never seen him, we don’t understand him, and he is pretty much unknowable. Kind of like the Self. In fact, we are told in scripture that we are created in the image of God. (A lightbulb should be popping up over your head about now.) We can only love God if we know him. We can only know him if we study the one who was created in his image. That would be you. The Self.
One way that I have found nuggets of self-knowledge is by keeping a dream journal. In our dreams we are uninhibited by the social constraints that force us to mask our true selves. We are free to engage in all kinds of crazy behavior. My dream self has jumped off of buildings, murdered people, possessed a pet lion and a pet tiger, worked in a prison, worked as a secret agent, married many different men, had sex with many different men, given birth to babies I’ve never seen in real life. Each one of these dreams tells me a little about myself and who I am underneath the layers of other’s expectations and my own masks of self-protection.
Drawing mandalas is another path to self-knowledge. A couple of days ago I was drawing a mandala and taking videos periodically to document my process. I plan to do a post on here with the videos and pictures since several of my friends on Facebook expressed interest in making them. During this process I saw something unexpected. I saw a repeating pattern of birds in my mandala. Then I saw sunrises, trees, mountains and wind. Gradually the mandala took shape in my mind. It is going to be something of an image of direction, new beginnings, facing challenges, and fostering hope in eternity. As I drew, I found that what I thought were birds were actually butterflies. I have also had two dreams of butterflies in the past month, so that is a powerful symbol of metamorphosis that is consistently coming to my conscious mind.
This mandala has taught me a lot about myself and how I see the world. Nature is very important to me and being in the city all the time is hard for me. Trees, butterflies, flowers, and mountains fill me with joy and soothe my anxiety. I need connection with nature, which makes winter harder for me emotionally than other times of the year. I must prioritize some time each day to get out of the house and away from the city, even if it is only at the park or something. I need to make time to go out in the garden and get my hands deep in the soil and in contact with living things. During my meditation, it would be useful for me to visualize mountains. Little things like that will help my mental health just as well or better than taking another pill. I will post a picture of my mandala when it is finished as well as the video of my process.
Another thing that has helped me develop self-knowledge is to revisit my childhood. Children don’t wear masks. Children are their true selves and that is one of the things I love about them. They have not yet learned to be polite, project a false image, and conform to the expectations of society. Because of this, your childhood can tell you a lot about yourself.
As I child I lived in the country. I loved to play in the water, ride my bike, explore new places, and have adventures. I liked to spend a lot of my time alone or with only one or two friends. I spent a lot of time reading, dreaming, and imagining adventures. This tells me that I have an active imagination, an introverted type of psyche, and a thirst for novelty. I engage in risky behavior at times. It also tells me, again, that I have a need for nature. I have a curious disposition and a ready intellect, but I am unmotivated by social pressure and competition. If something is difficult or boring, I will avoid it which can limit me in my achievements. I crave novelty which makes habitual behaviors distasteful.
With this self-knowledge I can anticipate what career options would work best for me, where I am likely to feel bored and under-stimulated verses where I would thrive. I would probably enjoy working in a nursery and teaching gardening classes. I might like being a children’s swim instructor. I might enjoy a career as a flight attendant because of the novelty of new people and places. It helps me to have a close friend and mentor to help encourage me to do hard things and push through boring tasks to accomplish more than I would do on my own.
Anyway, to the man who sat in front of me in sacrament meeting, thank you for your insight. I hope that I can always keep God’s first commandment to love the Self by honoring Adam and discovering God. I hope that as I share my journey with you that you might find self-knowledge that can enrich your life. God bless!