The initial thought of having greater self-knowledge can bring with it what I call the dark attic effect. Venture up there and turn on the light and who knows what you’ll uncover. Imagine all the dust and nests and hidden creatures lurking in the darkness. Reason enough to avoid climbing into the attic in the first place, right?
But then nothing changes. The darkness, and what thrives in it, remains.
The deterrent to self-knowledge can be the thought that if we look inward and honestly examine our own mentality, who knows what disturbing things we’ll encounter. We all want to be our best, but is self-knowledge a wise path toward that goal?
Experience suggests that it is. But it doesn’t have to be dark. In fact, it can be enlightening.
During a time in the 1980’s I was self-employed and earning a modest living, but didn’t feel I was advancing as much as I wanted to. I felt stuck. I sensed there was a level to achieve in my life that would be more fulfilling but I didn’t know what more it would take to get there. I didn’t want to change careers, yet I felt strongly the need to grow.
What came to mind one day was an article written by Mary Baker Eddy that described three stages of growth: self-knowledge, humility and love. The article was ‘The Way’ and a particular line in it struck a chord with me: “Mental darkness is senseless error, neither intelligence nor power, and its victim is responsible for its supposititious presence.”
Really? I was responsible? That was an eye-opener. I’d been yearning to understand what was missing in my life and assumed it was something I didn’t already have. If, as the author said, I was responsible for this state of thought, what more was needed to enlighten my darkness?
I found out the next weekend at a business conference for a volunteer organization. The man chairing the conference and conducting the main meeting was a successful businessman who had agreed to provide, voluntarily, what guidance and assistance he could to the attendees. He simply wanted to be of service.
His compassionate greeting as we entered the hall and the sincere and instructive conversations he had with each of us throughout the day were unlike most transactions I’d encountered. He was extraordinarily humble, unselfish, and tireless, and clearly enjoyed the satisfaction of helping others. And there was plenty of that going on.
On the three-hour drive home I kept trying to nail down what it was about his manner that far-exceeded a merely professional presentation. Whatever quality that animated him I wanted to nail down and develop for myself.
A few moments later a word came to mind, and not one that I’d conjured up. In fact, when the word grace popped into my thought I wasn’t sure why. What I was certain of was that at that same moment the longing to know how I could grow had been met. The mental darkness vanished.
Grace, I realized, was a quality I’d overlooked. It includes humility, patience, and unselfishness, and I felt it was precisely what I needed to cultivate.
Turn the clock way ahead and today my growth in grace continues. I wish I could say I exude it every moment of every day, but admittedly I have a ways to go. Thanks to that businessman, though, I was given a contemporary example of grace in action, and a deeper sense that it’s an inexhaustible quality from a divine source and therefore always available to enlighten and enrich our lives.
I can’t say this growth has made me gung-ho about attic cleaning projects. But self-knowledge is a very different story. As a first step to spiritual growth and a happier, healthier and unselfish life, it leads the to-do list.
Bottom line: self-knowledge isn’t about a dispiriting encounter with mental darkness. It’s about awakening to the always-available antidote for it.