Tag Archives: self-knowledge

Is There One “Best” Type of Temperament? Or Tendency?

thomasmerton“Temperament does not predestine one man to sanctity and another to reprobation. All temperaments can serve as the material for ruin or for salvation…It does not matter how poor or how difficult a temperament we may be endowed with. If we make good use of what we have, if we make it serve our good desires, we can do better than another who merely serves his temperament instead of making it serve him.”

–Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

This passage from Merton caught my attention, because of my Four Tendencies framework for personality.

In that framework, I divide all of humanity into four types: Upholder, Questioner, Obliger, and Rebel. (Want to find out what you are? The Quiz is here. Almost 500,000 people have taken it.) Continue reading

Recovering a Lost World, Just in Time 


A common trait in every civilization known to us is now fast disappearing. This trait is the thirst for knowing the self. Most people have read that the ancient Greeks pursued the goal of “Know thyself,” but they do not realize that self-inquiry also stood at the very center of the great spiritual traditions in India, China, and the Judeo-Christian world. Today, a need to know thyself–in other words, to answer the question, “Who am I?”–by no means stands at the heart of civilization either East or West.

We have learned to accept, passively or with eager enthusiasm, some guiding principles that erode the entire value of self-inquiry. Among these principles are the following:

  • The only true knowledge is factual and data driven.
  • Science trumps all previous forms of knowledge.
  • The greatest knowers of reality are scientists.
  • So-called spiritual knowledge doesn’t exist–such claims were part of a world riddled with superstitions and myths.
  • To look inward is a waste of time, since real knowledge of the mind will be revealed completely by studying the brain.

In one way or another these principles are the foundation of modern secular society. In many quarters a broad brush is applied to all spirituality as merely pre-scientific mumbo-jumbo, and the past is looked upon as one thing only: the benighted precursor to the advent of science. So be it.  In the face of secularism, no one can claim that the institutions which exist as repositories of spirit, mainly organized religion, are tending upward. Their decline is inevitable and speeding up–so most educated observers believe.

But a funny thing happened on the way to absolute secularism. Science ran into two questions that to date have proved seriously unsolvable. The first is “What is the universe made of?” The second is “What is the biological basis of consciousness?” Both are objective questions about external facts, so it would be surprising–even revolutionary–if they eventually led us back to the inner world and the all but lost thirst for self-inquiry.

Most people do not realize that these two questions are the greatest mysteries in science, because it is assumed that a) the universe is made of atoms and subatomic particles, and b) the brain produces the mind, or consciousness. Yet if we look without rose-tinted glasses at these assumptions, they have no scientific foundation. Of course atoms and subatomic particles exist, but they are not the ultimate things that make up the universe. Solid, substantial matter vanished with the quantum revolution over a century ago, and contemporary physics stands baffled at the threshold of a world that precedes and underlies the quantum world. From this unknown domain emerged the big bang, and at this very instant every subatomic particle winks in and out of the same region. Continue reading

Are You Clutter-Blind? Or Do You Know Someone Who Is?

4494987374_36e21d0849_bOne thing that continues to surprise me about the nature of good habits and happiness is the degree to which, for most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. More, really, than it should.

In the context of life of a happy life, something like a crowded coat closet or an overflowing in-box seems trivial—and it is trivial—and yet I find that I get a disproportionate charge of energy and good cheer from clearing clutter.

An orderly environment makes me feel more in control of my life, and if this is an illusion, it’s a helpful illusion.

Many people feel that way, and even people who thrive on a little chaos tend to have a limit, and enjoy orderliness to some degree.

Oblivious to Clutter

However, there’s a group of people who seem oblivious to clutter. They don’t appear to see it at all. Just as some people are color-blind, these folks are clutter-blind.

“Clutter-blind” doesn’t apply to the people who can stand to see dirty dishes scattered around, because they know if they wait, a spouse will collect the dishes — perhaps complaining all the while; see these crucial facts about shared work.

The fact is, very often, people in a couple or in a group have different levels of tolerance for clutter, and the ones with the least tolerance end up doing the most tidying, and the ones with more tolerance end up doing less. Again, this is a problem of shared work. However, in most cases, the messier ones would eventually cave and do some clutter-clearing, too. They want to be in environments that are reasonably orderly (though others might disagree by what is “reasonable”).

But some people don’t seem to register clutter, ever. A friend told me, “My husband never notices anything. As an experiment, when we got back from a trip, I left a suitcase full of his dirty clothes right in front of the front door, so he’d have to step over it to get in the house. I wanted to see how long he’d put up with it.  After a month, I called off the experiment and dealt with the suitcase myself.”

Have you found anything that works?

Continue reading

Don’t Fall for the Common Habits Myth that Stops People from Making Successful Change.

2559017400_7c7b63f206_zPeople often ask me, “Why do we struggle so hard to change our habits–why do we so often fail?

There are a few reasons, but there’s one big one — a popular myth about habits that leads people astray. It makes them accuse themselves of being lazy, self-indulgent, and lacking in will-power. It causes them to fail.

What is this myth? It’s the myth that there’s a magic, one-size-fits-all solution for habit change.

You’re read the headline: “The habits that successful people follow each morning!” “Follow these 3 secret habits of millionaires! “The one habit you must follow if you want to get ahead!” “The five habits of all highly creative people!”

But here’s what I’ve discovered. And you know this, too — because it’s perfectly obvious from looking at the world around us. Continue reading

How Well Do You Know Yourself? Take This Quiz

[365] 093A key–perhaps the key–to a happy life is self-knowledge, because as the Fifth Splendid Truth holds, I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature. In my own case, I’ve found that the more my life reflects my real interests, values, and temperament, the happier I become.

But it’s very hard to know ourselves; it’s easy to be distracted by the way we wish we were, or think we ought to be, or what others think we should be, until we lose sight of what is actually true. There’s a sadness to self-knowledge.

As Christopher Alexander observed: “It is hard, so terribly hard, to please yourself. Far from being the easy thing that it sounds like, it is almost the hardest thing in the world, because we are not always comfortable with that true self that lies deep within us.”

Here is a list of questions meant to help you think about yourself, your daily habits, your nature, and your interests. There are no right or wrong answers; they’re fodder for reflection:

  1. If something is forbidden, do you want it less or more?
  2. Is there an area of your life where you feel out of control? Especially in control?
  3. If you unexpectedly had a completely free afternoon, what would you do with that time?
  4. Are you comfortable or uncomfortable in a disorderly environment?
  5. How much time do you spend looking for things you can’t find?
  6. Are you motivated by competition?
  7. Fill in the blank: “I really wish I could make consistent progress on my project to _______.”
  8. Do you find it easier to do things for other people than to do things for yourself?
  9. Whom do you envy? Why?
  10. What do you lie about? For instance, a friend told me he’d been telling people that he walked to work, when in fact he almost never does.
  11. What did you do for fun when you were ten years old? Do you still do that activity–or would you like to do it?
  12. Do you work constantly? Or think you should be working?
  13. Do you embrace rules or flout rules?
  14. Do you keep New Year’s resolutions?
  15. Do you work well under pressure? Deadlines?
  16. What would your perfect day look like?
  17. How much TV do you watch in a week (and yes, this includes computer time spent watching videos, movies, YouTube)?
  18. Are you a morning person or a night person?
  19. What’s more satisfying to you: saving time or saving money?
  20. Do you like to be in the spotlight?
  21. Is your life “on hold” in any aspect? Until you finish your thesis, get married, lose weight, move?
  22. What would you do if you had more energy?
  23. If you suddenly had an extra room in your house, what would you do with it?
  24. What people and activities energize you? Make you feel depleted? For instance, as an under-buyer, I very much dislike shopping.
  25. Is it hard for you to get rid of things that you no longer need or want?
  26. On a typical night, what time do you go to bed? How many hours of sleep do you get?
  27. If at the end of the year, you had accomplished one thing, what is the one accomplishment that would make the biggest difference to your happiness?
  28. Is there an activity that you love to do–yet somehow never seem actually to do it?

The process of answering these questions is meant to help spur ideas for possible change. I often find that once I start paying attention to an area of my life, it becomes natural and easy to make helpful alterations in my everyday habits.

Here’s a final question for you: What questions would you add to this list, to help other people know themselves better? It’s so important, and so elusive.


Photo credit: Corie Howell

Losing Your Ego, Losing Your Halo

Why do we give away our essence and exchange the original for a copy?   The answer is complex, nuanced, and case-specific, but here’s a bird’s-eye view of the problem.  You see, the brain translates life into information.  Some of the information that we receive has nothing to do with us.  We either ignore it or file it away for future use.  But some of the information feels personally relevant.  So, we examine it and hoard what’s useful.  The information that we keep becomes our ego, our self-concept.

Over time, we get used to this information about us and begin to identify with it.  For example, you get a few As in a graduate-level math class and you feel tempted to conclude: “I am a math whiz.”  Or, say, you grow up in a coal-mining town, identifying with its ethos of honesty and hard work, and then run for a political office as “a son of a coal-miner,” on a mandate of what-you-see-is-what-you-get transparency.  One way or another, we all – up to a point – wrap ourselves in our informational and autobiographical resumes like togas until they cake on like second skin.  But life, nevertheless, continues.  Things change.  And new informational inputs eventually challenge our self-concept; you finally get a B on a math test and your self-coronated math-whiz title suddenly needs a revision; or a sensation-hungry tabloid finally data-mines something shady on the goody-too-shoes, what-you-see-is-what-you-get son-of-a-coal-miner and another political ascent nosedives.

One way or another, we all lose our info-halo (informational halo), our ego-halo.  

Our usual way of dealing with information we don’t like is to ignore it, to question its validity, to question the validity of its source, or to counter it with other information.  We get pretty stressed out trying to protect the old information about who and what we are.  We go to bat protecting our image, our reputation, our self-view, our ego while all along forgetting that what we’re protecting is just information.  We lose sight of a rather basic fact that we, ourselves, are not the information that we are protecting.

The point isn’t about disregarding or dismissing negative information.  Chances are you already have these information-filtering self-defense skills.  There is a different path, the path of dis-identifying from information altogether.  What you have here is an opportunity to draw a boundary between you and the information about you.  Once you latch on to a certain set of ideas about who and what you are, you end up identifying with this information.  And as this information becomes your identity, you lose sight of your essential self.  Identity detox isn’t the dry-cleaning of identity.  It’s not a reputation mop-up.  It’s not a do-it-yourself image-management project or a self-esteem tune-up.  Identity detox is a process of liberating you (your essential self) from the information about you (from your informational ego).

Adapted from Lotus Effect (Pavel Somov, 2010)



photo by: makelessnoise

10 Steps To Finding Out What You Want

Step #1 Don’t tell me what you are not – tell me what you are. Don’t tell me what you let go of – tell me what you embrace. Don’t tell me what you need to get over – tell me what you are expressing. Don’t tell me what you need to fix or change – tell me what you are creating. Don’t focus on what you are not – focus on what you are.

Step #2 Choose. Do not wait for God, universe, spirit, purpose, destiny, authorities or society to do it for you.

Step #3 Be present to what you are creating, right now. Before you learn how to create what you want, realize how you created what you have.

Step #4 Find out who you are. You are your body, you are your soul, you are your life. Include everything, and everything becomes an expression of you. Exclude it – and it becomes an expression of your trauma.

Step #5 Include death into your life. Death is wonderful, it is a graduation, a transition, as much as birth. What’s there to be sad about? What’s there to grieve about?

Step #6 Travel far. When your background changes you see what is only you, in sharp relief.

Step #7 Believe what you say you believe.

Step #8 Don’t lie. Not to yourself, not to others. Never.

Step #9 Go find out what you want, don’t wait until it finds you.

Step #10 Consider the possibility of your future being entirely different than your past.

PHOTO (cc): Flickr /  Alex Dram

Soul Memory


If soul is collection of desires, memories, and concepts, then what about the cellular memories throughout the body. Since soul is not a physical/material thing  then how does it retain information. Is the information retained in the soul different from the whole evolutionary information retained in the DNA of each cell?


Memory is our ability to recall stored knowledge and experience. As such, memory is a function of consciousness and is not restricted to the cells of the physical body. Consciousness is the substratum for all creation, from the most abstract and refined awareness at the core of our being, to our dense physical bodies. Our memories are stored in the different media of consciousness at different levels of creation. In the physical body we could say memory is stored in the physical cells  of the individual. However, no one has really come up with a comprehensive explanation for how that would work. At the soul level, memory functions in a non-localized field–what Rupert Sheldrake calls morphogenetic fields. Information is still recorded at this abstract level of existence, in the medium of what Sanskrit calls chitta or ‘mind stuff’.  Exactly how memory is stored  in the non-local domain of consciousness, nobody knows for sure either. At the deepest level of consciousness memory is self-knowledge. Here you remember your true divine status in eternal bliss consciousness. In this experience, memory of the self is the same thing as active cognition of the self.




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Everyday Grace in the Supermarket: Abundance Truly Is Everywhere

I want to share a quick story with you about something that happened at Trader Joe’s grocery store yesterday.

Lately, I’ve been teaching a monthlong mentoring program for the men entitled The Metamorphosis Program.

We keep a certain amount of material in the course secret for two reasons: it works better when it comes at you as a surprise; and mystery makes the course look cool.

Kidding aside, I do want to share with you one thing that I teach in the course.  Namely, the answer to the question, “Who are you really?”

One of the three answers I suggest is “You are a conduit for the abundance of the universe.”

If you’re sufficiently confused by that answer to be thinking, “Umm, English please, doc,” then you’re on the right track.

Allow me to illustrate by continuing the story.  If you’ve ever been to Trader Joe’s here in the US, one of their nifty features is that they always have a ‘freebie corner’ where they’re giving away free samples.

Most of the time it’s something that I don’t eat, but on this particular afternoon, they had samples of a chicken tikka masala.  And it smelled gooood.

So I stood in line, and right behind me was a mother with her toddler sitting right in the shopping cart.  The kid was getting a little antsy about the food, and mom was doing her best to calm him down.

My turn came, and the Trader Joe’s lady handed me my small plate with the free sample.  And, seeing how I was not in a hurry, I handed it to the mom: “Here you go.”

The mom totally lit up with a heartfelt ‘thank you’ that I felt in my bones, all out of proportion to the gesture . A few seconds later I had my plate (delicious, by the way) and we were both on our merry shopping way again.

Now it’s not like I donated a zillion bucks to cure malaria here and Pope Benedict is going to fast-track my application to sainthood (which would actually require that I die first, so really – no thanks).  I just passed on a free sample to someone who was behind me in line, who would have gotten it anyway in about 30 seconds.

But the reaction I got was all out of proportion to the deed – and it made *my* day.  And perhaps made her feel good, too.

Now this story is a perfect demonstration of your being a conduit for the abundance of the universe.  Let me explain.

The chicken sample was not really mine.  It was a free sample to begin with.  So I never really owned it.

By giving it away, I wasn’t losing anything, because I knew there was more of that where it came from.

And, lo and behold, when I gave it away, more did come my way, with interest: the mom & kid’s gratitude, and the little warming of my heart.

Well, guess what, boys and girls: that’s true of any kind of possession and giving in life.

You think you own stuff?  Think again.  You’re born naked and you leave the same way.  Can’t take it with you, chief. And if the economic crisis of the past year has taught us anything, it’s “easy come, easy go.”

You can’t own stuff.  But stuff can definitely own you.

Even if you had paid for the chicken, what makes it ‘yours’?

So the next time you’re thinking ‘my car’, ‘my house’, ‘my boyfriend’, ‘my girlfriend’, as if somehow there’s a stamp of ownership burning your name on that thing, you may wish to reconsider.

Because when abundance comes your way, you know that it’s just like that free sample – the bounty of the universe presenting itself to you through sheer luck.

Just as it would be silly to get too possessive of that morsel of free food once it lands in your hand – “this is my chicken now” – it would be equally silly to get hung up on any of your so-called possessions.

There is no fortune made on this earth, not one, that didn’t have to do with crazy, insane luck.  So there’s no point in getting too attached or proud about what came to you through near-miraculous accident.

By realizing that you are a perpetual conduit for this abundance — a pipeline for the bounty of the universe — you keep yourself from gumming up the works and getting in the way of your own access to abundance.

Because the abundance is infinite!  There’s far more stuff than you could consume in 10,000 lifetimes.

We’re not saying that you should make like Diogenes and give away all your earthly possessions and wear a barrel.  And by all means, protect your garden fruit from the varmints.

Just don’t get *hung up* on stuff so much that its loss can make you unhappier than its presence can make you happy.

I always find it funny when people on the road (including myself) won’t let somebody in who’s trying to merge.

What, like we’re going to run out of road or something?  Or you might get somewhere 4.3 seconds sooner?

There’s plenty of road to go around.

Now some of you who are reading this may be in tough spots right now.

And what I would say to you is act as if you really are a conduit for abundance.  Don’t let this temporary state get in the way of your generosity, your open-heartedness, your openmindedness.

Get the wheel of giving turning, in whatever small way you can, and the wheel will inevitably come back to you.  As my pastor likes to say, you can only have what you give away.

So start giving away more of that which you’d like to have! (’Cause if you’re giving something away, it must mean you have lots of it, right?  Twisted logic, but kinda true.)

And those of you who are not experiencing privation but are still feeling constricted – let’s get you re-started here.

Start by smiling at passersby.  Then work up from there.

One of the most eloquent passages on giving comes from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet:

“Then said a rich man, ‘Speak to us of Giving.’
And he answered:
‘You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.

For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow?
And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand as he follows the pilgrims to the holy city?

And what is fear of need but need itself?
Is not dread of thirst when your well is full the thirst that is unquenchable?

There are those who give little of the much which they have – and they give it for recognition and their hidden desire makes their gifts unwholesome.

And there are those who have little and give it all.
These are the believers in life and the bounty of life, and their coffer is never empty.

There are those who give with joy, and that joy is their reward.
And there are those who give with pain, and that pain is their baptism.
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy,
And there are those who give and know not pain in giving, nor do they seek joy, nor give with mindfulness of virtue;
They give as in yonder valley the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space.

Through the hands of such as these God speaks, and from behind their eyes he smiles upon the earth.’”

And that’s everyday grace, my friends.  Resolve to give of yourself daily and practice being what you really are – a conduit for abundance.  The rest will take care of itself.

The power is within you
Dr Alex

PS: Want to practice some giving right now that ain’t gonna cost you anything?  Forward this message to someone whom you think would benefit from it.

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