Self-awareness, self-knowledge

What does it mean to be self-aware, to be self-knowing?

I associate self-awareness and self-knowledge with ‘emotional intelligence’ - one’s capacity to be aware of one’s own (or another’s) emotional and cognitive states, one’s conditioning.

I was recently looking through some early-ish writings of Krishnamurti’s (The World Within, written around the same time he composed Commentaries on Living), and I was struck by how often he talks about the importance of self-awareness and self-knowledge.

He writes,

Self-knowledge is not based on any formula; but through constant awareness of our thoughts and feelings, of actions and reactions, and of all the opposites that lie within us, comes self-knowledge.

That is, self-awareness with respect to any and all habitual thinking and feeling that arises in relationship, society, politics and religion. Another word for these habits of thought and feeling is of course ‘conditioning’.

K also talks a lot about ‘thinking-feeling through’ every thought and feeling that arises:

To think-out, feel-out, there must be self-awareness, and this awareness is cut short through judgement… As each thought-feeling arises, follow it out, think-feel it out… Thus with each thought-feeling, when extensively thought out, felt out, awareness becomes expansive, inclusive.

So self-awareness is a matter of ‘moving with’, or ‘living through’ (from the inside as it were), our thoughts and feelings (our conditioning) as they arise: to unearth them, expose them, and perhaps dissolve them in the light of awareness.

One of the things that was at the back of my mind in looking at this topic of self-awareness and self-knowledge is that we all have some variety of limitation.

I don’t mean the inevitable limitations that come with being a body-brain (limited in space and time). I mean unnecessary limitations that are the product of habit, of our social and emotional (and intellectual) conditioning.

An example (I could have picked anything) might be the habit of being impatient, or of being quickly irritated in certain situations.

Self-awareness, as I understand it, is to become aware of this limitation as it expresses itself in daily life, so that it doesn’t react in the darkness of complete unawareness - and so has an opportunity to show itself, show its roots, if we are able to think-feel it through in the way K was suggesting.

Each brain is ‘conditioned’ differently. No one size fits all, etc. So we are alone in this discovery, no authority, no traditional paths to trod? The brain has listened and heard that it is ‘limited’ and that that limitation is preventing it from the realization of its potential. A potential that can blossom by understanding totally its own limitations (conditioning).

Ironically it’s not adding to the brain’s knowledge that can realize its potential but ‘emptying’ it of the habitual channels that have formed since childhood, as K put it: being “as nothing”.

This is true up to a point, but there are clearly underlying patterns of conditioning that we all share (to one degree or another), right? We all know what it means to be jealous or afraid or lonely or sad. We all struggle to balance our responsibilities to friends and family, our work commitments, and our leisure. We all have to face the fact that human civilisation is on a destructive path, with dangers everywhere (from climate change, AI, ‘misinformation technology’, terrorism, etc). And we all have to live with the facts of transience and death. - So there is room for sharing this conditioning (with each other), for seeing that it is really not so very personal after all: for seeing our shared humanity.

Yes. Self-knowledge here means ‘seeing’ rather than accumulating knowledge - seeing and exposing and emptying all being one movement. So this means that what hasn’t been seen (completely) is not emptied - which is why self-awareness (where it exists) is an ongoing process of daily seeing: of daily learning through seeing. Having a beginner’s mind.

What is Self? What is knowledge?

Both sides in the current holy war are acutely aware of their anger at each other’s actions and yet they apparently lack any intelligence that this manifestation of anger sows the seeds for generations to come of mutual distrust.

Can the delusion of claiming to be right be shown any more clearly?

1 Like

Is this true? Self-awareness of an emotional state like anger - emotional intelligence or sensitivity with respect to anger - doesn’t imply acting it out. Anger has many roots, of which hurt and fear, as well as the impression of abstract ideas, play the key roles.

Acting out anger is the primary means of not “feeling out, thinking out” (as per K) this reaction. It is contrary to what has been pointed out in the OP.

Self-awareness (or emotional intelligence) is rather to see this complex structure of what we call ‘anger’ from within, rather than blindly act it out (which is merely externalisation, avoidance). It is also awareness to the consequences of one’s acting out on the other person.

Are the majority of people in war situations self-aware of their anger in this way? - No they aren’t. This is why wars exist.

In this context (the context of the OP and the extracts from K) ‘self’ means one’s psychological conditioning, and the word ‘knowledge’ (here) indicates the awareness of it.

This strikes me as an intellectual response to a current situation.

It is very clear to me that there is no self-awareness in that situation.

It seems more like a reaction of survival.

I think there is some miscommunication here Wim? Maybe @danmcderm can step in and help out if he understands your post?

The OP (original post) is on the topic of self-awareness and self-knowledge. This primarily concerns our own reactions and habits; what it means to be self-aware of ourselves in this way (‘feeling out’ and ‘thinking out’ our reactions, as K was suggesting).

Your post (as I understand it) was about the war in Gaza and Israel (between Hamas and the IDF). You were replying to a statement of mine in which I had said that self-awareness means to be aware of one’s affective and cognitive states (a statement that seems to be uncontroversial): you then said that the people engaged in the present war are “acutely aware of their anger” while yet “lack[ing] any intelligence”.

I took your statement to mean that you believe people involved in acts of vengeance are self-aware of their anger (in the sense explained by the OP).

I responded to this by questioning whether people acting out of revenge and hatred are truthfully “aware” of anger (in the sense of being self-aware of their anger), or are merely acting blindly out of conditioned responses and emotional reactivity.

I did not intend to have a discussion about what it means to process grief and rage in a situation like Gaza and Israel - that is quite far away from my own reality. But if you want to discuss that we can do so?

If the brain is ‘conditioned’ to view itself as belonging to a nationality or religion etc, it is predisposed to become violent if that country or belief is felt to be under threat. The body will run or fight to protect itself and its ‘closest’ but to fight and kill for a ‘nation’ or a ‘religious system’ is to be lost in the ‘darkness of division’? Can a sane, non-violent, cooperative society emerge from ignorance?

Yes, this is clearly so.

But I’m still not clear on the connection between the ethnic warfare in Gaza and the topic everyday self-awareness (though obviously they can be connected)? Are you (and Wim) pointing out that how we identify ourselves (with religious beliefs, with national or ethnic markers) in daily life is a crucial aspect of self-knowledge, self-awareness?

I.e. are we aware of our racial inheritance, the collective unconscious background that has been put together by our grandparents, our great, great grandparents, and handed down - that then projects itself in daily life (as prejudice, judgements, suspicion, etc)?

Is this what you and Wim are asking?

Yes I think so but it seems superficial if the awareness doesn’t include the self itself, the ‘me and mine’? If we are agreed on the need for a brain that is silent, empty, free of any center or limits…then there has to be an awareness of the ‘me’ that wants, seeks, longs, desires, hopes to become other than it is at any moment? The ‘noise’ it makes by wanting to escape from the ‘noise’. Self awareness is to see its attempts to move, to escape (improve?) its own creation?

I agree - but isn’t how we identify ourselves with religious beliefs, national/ethnic markers, part of the ‘me’ and ‘mine’?

Isn’t the sense of self built out of all these ghosts and whisperings of culture and blood-ancestors, whose conscious and unconscious creations we unwittingly continue on through our habitual reactions?

That is, all psychological conditioning contributes to the sense of ‘me’. The self and psychological conditioning are the same entity, no?

Yes I guess it’s the “sense of me” the ‘thinker’ that I’m getting at, needs to be included in awareness? Albeit ‘illusory’, this ‘me’ sense is very strong? Rarely comes into question? Yet it is the one who ‘suffers’ when things don’t go as desired? The brain has been habituated to its presence? Its ‘occupancy’?

Ooooo I like that: We are all possessed by an ‘I’ entity. Meditation as exorcism? Or befriend your possessor, feed your demon?

I have a feeling we’ve talked about this before Dan, but are you making a distinction between the movement of reaction, habit, (psychological) conditioning, etc, - and a separate sense of ‘me’?

I don’t feel that there is any difference between these things. A reaction of anger or jealousy or hurt is ‘me’. The identification one might have with being British or French or American is ‘me’.

There is no ‘me’ in the absence of psychological conditioning, so there’s no need to reify the ‘self’ as though it were something different from the psychological movement of thought, feeling, reaction and memory (which is what I take self-awareness to be concerned with).

Do you see this differently?

Yes I think so. To put it simply: being unaware while thinking, that the ‘thinker is the thought’? That there is no ‘you’ thinking, only thought?

This mental ‘trickery’ has lasted for thousands of years because it’s not easily seen through!

Just to be clear Dan, are you suggesting that psychological conditioning and the ‘me’ are separate movements?

I don’t quite get your meaning here (how it is connected with the question of the ‘me’ being separate from psychological conditioning)?

You are saying that one is generally not aware that

whenever there is (psychological) thinking, the thinking and the ‘thinker’ (purportedly doing the thinking) are in fact the same movement: ergo, there is only thinking.

Similarly, whenever there is a reaction (like anger), the reacting and the ‘reactor’ (purportedly doing the reacting) are the same movement: so there is only reacting (as anger) taking place.

How does this connect with what you are saying about the separation between psychological conditioning (which includes thoughts and reactions/feelings) and the ‘me’?

This is a reference to the Tibetan practice of Chöd. But even more generally there is surely value in having a friendly attitude to challenging emotions or mental states like anger, jealousy, longing or unhappiness.

By ‘feeding’ here I interpret it to mean a nonjudgemental ‘feeling out’ of such problematic states, so that they can be fully exposed to the light of awareness.