Thales, an engineer by trade, was the first of the seven sages of Ancient Greece. Thales is known as the first Greek philosopher, mathematician and scientist.
When asked what was the most difficult thing, Thales replied, “To know thyself.”
When asked what was easiest, he replied, “To give advice.”
If I were to sum up my time in the novitiate so far, I would say that it has been a time of self-discovery and self-knowledge. I’ve come to know this through prayer, through being placed in different situations and environments and through being given various challenges. Knowing how I tend to respond in different situations has helped me to understand myself a bit more. This self-knowledge helps my prayer, since I learn what makes me “tick”, what upsets me, what energises me, my personal style and where my natural gifts and talents lie. It has helped me in the way I approach tasks and people. The community life of the novitiate certainly tests my ability to develop friendships with people of different backgrounds and ages.
Self-Knowledge and God
Self knowledge for me, isn’t done on a purely mental level, but I try to allow God to enter and reveal things that are in the depths of my heart and personality. The Examen is a simple Ignatian prayer which helps a person develop a spiritual sensitivity to the way God approaches, invites, and calls them. In the Novitiate, we make the Examen twice a day.
It has 5 simple points:
- Recalling that one is in the presence of God
- Thanking God for all the blessings one has received
- Examining how one has lived his day
- Asking God for forgiveness
- Resolution and offering a prayer of hopeful recommitment
Someone is free to structure the Examen in a way that is most helpful to them. There is no right way to do it. The basic rule is: Go wherever God draws you. It is “being with God.” It helps me to focus on consciousness of God, not necessarily on my sins and mistakes.
Self knowledge comes also from our Apostolates and placements, where we learn the extent of our talents and limitations and identify areas for growth.
While we grow spiritually, we grow mentally and physically also, and I’ve recognised recently that if I neglect one, the others seem to suffer. Some courses done externally with the other novices have helped to deepen my mental self-knowledge even more. Two personality tests done I’ve done so far in the novitiate are the Enneagram of personality, and the Myers- Briggs test. Self knowledge allows me to at least try to be aware of myself, since change can only be possible if I’m aware that I need to change.
The Spiritual exercises were for me the biggest tool on my journey of self-discovery. For me, during the Exercises, Jesus became a real person and not an abstract historical figure. I got to learn a lot about myself and the way I communicate with God and the way he tries to communicate with me.
To end, I’ll share this quote I came across on the internet by Rumi – a 13th century Persian poet, Islamic jurist, and theologian.
“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself. –Rumi ”
We can’t give what we don’t have, so I’m conscious that before I try to share the Gospel I had better know it well, know myself and confront my own unbelief. The road to self-knowledge is a never-ending one, but it’s one which I feel is totally worth travelling.