Episode 14: Know Thyself Transcript
Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we learn to love silence, and not just because the Philosopher Princess makes our eyes roll into the back of our heads when she starts waxing poetic.
The podcast in which we dust off and polish up an oft-maligned little character trait we might have let become tarnished over the years: the virtue of Curiosity.
The podcast in which we parse through thoughts about destiny and self and otherness that big thinkers have been arguing about for years, in order to understand why curiosity about ourselves and our ability to consider our own lives–that is, where we come from, our past, our families and our cultures–is absolutely essential to living our Ideal Lives.
This week’s episode is going to be a little bit different, because this week I have a very, very special guest. Since we are going to be tackling a historically-dense topic about which, while I have tons of unproven theories, I am not perfectly credible, I figured that I would introduce you to the podcast’s secret weapon: the Philosopher Princess’ faithful companion, the real-life philosopher Prince.
That’s right, today you are going to discover that handsome devil who my smokin’ hot grandma shockingly claimed tried to French kiss her when they first met…the one who I have been making out to sound like Pépé Le Pew…the ever patient father to my scalawags… my charming, indulgent French husband.
But before he comes for a visit to Wonderland, I want to explain why we are going on a philosophical tangent today.
Throughout our time together, since the very first episode of this podcast, I have been doing my best to spread around my own homemade brand of fairy dust to remind you that you are unique and wonderful and you make this world a better place.
I’ve been trying, with enthusiastic waves of my magic wand, to get you thinking about what your Ideal Life looks like, and, most importantly, what kind of person you are in your Ideal Life. We’ve looked at it from a bunch of different angles–that is, what talents have you always possessed but might have let get away from you? What activities do you do that make time pass super quickly? How do you want to be remembered by the people you love?
If those are the positive angles, we have also, on purpose, taken off our rose colored glasses and started studying the things that irritate us, the things that feel like rocks in our shoes and that have clear and obvious origins. We even talked about how to make headway with those things.
We also talked about how unresolved pain from earlier seasons of our life can cast a shadow over our present in ways that can seem difficult to define until we do the hard work of tracing back those triggers. This is something best done with professional mental health support, a trained ear to listen as you unpack painful memories and seek out healthy ways to bring healing.
If all those first thirteen episodes didn’t do enough to convince you that you are one of the most fascinating human beings on the face of the earth, then I can only believe one thing: You haven’t spent enough time being curious about yourself.
Next week, we are going to start a new series of episodes. Our goal will be to take the categories of the Ideal Life Exercise one by one, each one of those seductive little circles on the Venn Diagrams of our lives, (oh…don’t be shocked. I have a thing for Venn Diagrams. My husband knows about this and for more than twenty years, he’s been willing to accept this as part of our relationship. I don’t call him indulgent for nothing!)
I digress. We are going to examine those categories; we’re going to start asking questions about them; start taking their temperature; start taking a hard, realistic look at our current situation and our current circumstances and being willing to give our active, enthusiastic consent to where we are today; after which, we can start imagining where we want to go from here and what small steps we can take immediately to help us get there.
We are going to talk about how developing good habits and routines can help make more space in our lives…headspace and heartspace, one of those terms being a real one, the other one something I invented, I’ll let you guess which one is which.. .
Also, we’ll talk about how living more simply and with less stuff can actually help us redistribute how we use our time, so that we might actually feel like we have more of it. And remember, time is that precious, incompressible resource that we have established as the one thing in our lives that we must guard jealously, because, argue, beg, borrow or steal, we ain’t gonna get a minute more than what is allotted for us.
But all that starts next week. Before we take-off on this of exciting, life-extending adventure, we all need to get on the same page about something:
We all need to learn how to spend time alone with our thoughts.
So in this week’s episode, I, along with my indulgent, charming Philosopher husband, want to encourage you to start being curious about yourself, and most of all, encourage you to set aside a certain moment of the day, every single day to be alone with your thoughts.
In the feedback I have gotten from some of you, I find that many of you are still resistant to the idea of getting up early to have some time alone to cross the big, scary, raging waters of self-reflection.
If you are new to the podcast…well, first of all, welcome! I am so glad you are here! To catch you up I have been advocating for setting your alarm for fifteen minutes before anyone else in your house gets up–and to preciously guard those minutes for yourself.
I have suggested, even, that you prepare for those few minutes the night before, the way you might have done before going to a high school dance: treating those fifteen minutes you will have all to yourself as a time you will spend with an honored guest.
To get ready, I suggested that you prepare your coffeemaker the night before and set up your space, whether it is a couch or a desk or your table with a blanket, or a sweater, a notebook, your favorite pen and a box of tissues. I don’t want you wasting a second of those precious fifteen minutes of your day looking around for the things you are going to need.
This process of getting everything ready in advance is called Mise en Place, and it is something we will be talking about at length in next season. It is a gamechanger in so, so many ways.
Since the start of the podcast, LiElla, your wicked stepsister and I have been giving you homework…thought experiments to perform, memories to explore, prompts to answer.
What I have learned, though, is that for some of you, the idea of any time alone with your thoughts is terrifying. Since I am a functional introvert, this has never been a problem for me. I love to be alone. But I realize that I may have taken this superpower for self-reflection for granted–which is why I called in the big guns today.
But before I introduce you to the Philosopher Prince, I want to start by asking you one question: When was the last time you were completely alone? If you are the mother of young babies and toddlers, the answer can be startling: you might genuinely not remember. Babies and toddlers have a way of taking up all the oxygen in a room, and because they need us all the time, we can’t even get away from them to go to the bathroom, let alone to take 5 or 10 minutes to think.
I hear you, mama. And remember, that is exactly why I started setting my alarm for 15 minutes before anyone else in my house woke up, which at the time, was 4:00AM. Is it unfair, when the only thing we really want is to sleep five more minutes? Yes, it feels unfair.
But the cost of letting ourselves…letting our identity and our dreams and sparkle slip away is so great…losing ourselves doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over weeks and weeks and months and months of living in the urgency and stress of caring for little people, or caring for others.
Our work as mothers, spouses, employees…these are critically important and you will never hear me say the contrary. But allowing ourselves to consistently ignore ourselves, ignore our dreams and ignore what makes us feel alive as individuals, can cause us to end up on paths that we don’t recognize, that we don’t enjoy, that leave us feeling empty and numb.
One day, sooner or later, that numbness catches up to us. For many people, it manifests itself through depression, or grief, or a midlife crisis. If we haven’t learned how to examine our hearts, examine our thoughts, examine our past; question our feelings, question our upbringing, question our preconceived notions; articulate our desires, articulate our discomforts, articulate the word “no”, then we will end up in therapy, or with a long string of broken relationships, career hardships and unresolved conflicts.
We don’t lose ourselves overnight, and we won’t find ourselves overnight, either.
So when I ask, when was the last time you were completely alone, I want you to understand that I have great compassion for where you are in your life right now. I understand about urgency and about feeling overwhelmed. But I would argue, humbly, that a few minutes completely alone with your thoughts can help reduce the adrenaline of urgency and the cortisol of being overwhelmed.
You see, if you take a few minutes to examine your thoughts and triggers, you can prepare for them…and this can help you to find solutions to them that seem unimaginable when you are in the heat of the moment. Solutions to small problems can add up to significant progress over time, and this can make our lives so much more joyful.
Getting started on this journey can be hard and scary. To develop any new habit, we need to know our “why”. Why is it that we are doing this ostensibly unpleasant and repetitive new thing every. Single. Day.
Well, let me suggest one very good reason: Because you need to fall in love with yourself.
Transition: Know Yourself
I’ve been arguing since the start of this podcast that know one knows you as well as you know you. No one is better placed to love you, because you know what it would take for you to feel loved.
Back in Episode 7, called My Intentional Valentine, I waxed philosophical about falling in love. At one point, I made this rash pronouncement: Respect for oneself, is the ultimate form of self-love. Once we respect ourselves, we will start making decisions that are good for us.
That didn’t come out of nowhere, of course. I had a whole tralala that went before it that went something like this:
I said that when we start to fall in love, we become infatuated. Our thoughts are always with the person we love. I suggested that perhaps, you try, if only for a little bit, being infatuated with yourself. View yourself as someone intriguing, worthy of all your thought, all your extra time, all your affection. Not forever. For a little bit.
Be madly in love with yourself for a little bit. Infatuation, I argued, grows into swoon. Swoon grows into admiration. Admiration grows into respect.
And, if you remember, respect is how we start making good decisions for ourselves. But we have to start somewhere.
I’ve been saying all this for weeks, but I never stopped to consider that this idea might sound crazy to some people. Being in love with yourself? Who has time for that?
But here is my honest to goodness hot take on the subject: you need to make time. We always find time for the things we want to do…which, for many of us, can simply be scrolling through social media endlessly, or bingewatching a TV show. If there is time for those things, then there must be a little fifteen minute window we can dedicate to falling in love with ourselves.
Our relationship with ourselves will be the longest one we have in our lives. Cultivating a loving, kind, respectful relationship with ourselves is critical, because it impacts all our other relationships. Loving ourselves is a prerequisite to following the Golden Rule, which says, to love others as we love ourselves. And if you will follow my logic on this: if we don’t love ourselves, we cannot possibly follow the golden rule.
Falling in love with ourselves
So. Speaking of logic, let me introduce you to my special guest.
I met him, and this is no joke, at a bus stop in the southern French city of Montpellier in 1997, twenty years to the day before our first child was born. I was just eighteen, he was…not eighteen. Is that right, mon chéri?
That’s right, ma chérie.
And why were you in Montpellier in 1997?
Study, exam to be a teacher, yadayada…
And you had written your thesis on Logic. A little something that made me very very interested in knowing you better.
I think we had several conversations about Venn Diagrams at the time, too.
You spoke my Love Language, what can I say?
As you know, chéri, this episode we are talking about getting to know ourselves, which is why I asked you to come wax philosophical with me today. But just to catch you up, I was sharing with my listeners that I firmly believe that unless we have a warm, friendly, affectionate, loving relationship with ourselves, there is no earthly way that we can ever follow the Golden Rule…
That’s what you said?
What? Is there something wrong with that?
No, but I don’t think it’s true that you can’t follow the Golden Rule if you don’t love yourself. You can still act out of interest for others, even if you are full of self-loathing.
Hmmm. I agree with that. Wait…the Golden Rule is the one that says you should love others as you love yourself, right?
No, that idea is in the Bible. In the Bible it says you should “love your neighbor as yourself.” The Golden Rule says you should “Do unto others as you would have them do to you.”
That’s right…oooh…that’s a subtle difference, but an important one.
So what you are saying is that we can act in a way consistent with how we want to be treated, regardless of how we feel about ourselves.
And you are saying that to truly love others as we love ourselves presupposes that we love ourselves.
Exactly. All right. We’re singing from the same hymnbook now. And I totally agree with what you said–we can act kindly towards others even if we don’t love ourselves. But I don’t think that it is necessarily sustainable.
We all do it, though. I mean, guilt is a huge driver of human behavior.
And guilt is definitely not love. Oooofff. Guilt. That’s a big enough subject to tackle another day…But why were we talking about this? Ahh! Right. Falling in love.
So. Tell me what you remember about the first few months that we getting to know each other.
We went to the zoo a lot.
Hey, it was free. And it was a nice place for a walk!
And we played Mastermind…
The logic game with the colored dots? Oh my goodness, we did that for hours at a time. Days at a time.
What about you? What do you remember?
I remember that we talked, like all the time. We shared our stories, ideas and …theories… I had a theory for everything.
You still do.
Of course I do! So…I have a theory that one very important, critical element to falling in love with someone is simply that we spend time with them, getting to know them. Not necessarily doing a lot. Just…spending time.
I can’t argue with that theory.
Good! I was hoping that I wouldn’t be saying anything terribly controversial! Tell me, mon chéri: if we were to take this theory of falling in love with oneself, that in order to fall in love we need to spend time, getting to know the object of our affection…. Is there anything in the philosophical literature that would come support my theory?
Well, Socrates is famous for saying
(Whispering) Ladies, just know, I edited out an audible eye roll.
Nothing, nothing, chéri. Please, go on. Socrates once said…
Connais-toi toi-même. Know thyself.
Okay? Does he tell us how?
That would be too easy…what he’s talking about here is how important it is to strip away our superstitions and our preconceived ideas. He’s talking about being humble and that there is very little that we actually know…He is famous for saying: One thing I know is that I don’t know anything… “Know Thyself” is a call to humility.
Freud then took that phrase and put a new twist on it…Know Thyself means dig into your past, know your childhood…this will help you figure out where your self-loathing, or other problems, might come from.
So it is Freud that made this idea popular
Freud is the one who says that we must take our past seriously. To the point of saying, that, were you to take this knowing yourself seriously, you might avoid some of what you are going through today–feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, etc…
I have, perhaps naively, been saying to my listeners that I believe that they exist for a reason, and that I believe that there is a plan for their lives. Is there anything out there that could support this?
Well, Jean-Paul Sartre said that there is no “essence” to life…he was very much opposed to this point of view. He believed that our life is what we make it to be. Anything else would presuppose a “true self”, and idea that he did not support.
But…I mean, let’s take Gigi for example.
Yes. Gigi. Gigi, for example, had an outsized influence on all her children and grandchildren…I mean, our youngest scalawag, who is one of her great-grandchildren, he never met her…he was born long after she died, but he has a way of speaking sometimes that I SWEAR sounds exactly like her. How is that possible if he never met her? He has never even lived in the same country she did!
There is a body of thought that discusses genetic predisposition to certain character traits. I suppose a way of speaking could be one of those. But, not to mention that our parents, in the case of our little Mister Sunshine, we started writing his story for him before he got a chance to pick up a pen…
Or that permanent marker that he uses as a sword sometimes.
Touché. And our parents, or we, as parents, do write in permanent marker. We can unintentionally leave scars on those we love that can be permanent.
All right…So Freud suggests that our childhoods hold the keys to much of who we end up. So if we want to take Socrates and his famous “Know thyself” doctrine under advisement, spending some time thinking about our childhoods would be a good way start.
Sure would. A lot of people turn to therapy to help them with this.
In last week’s episode we talked at length about Legacy…and actually, Gigi, is an interesting tie-in here: the Legacy that those who went before us left us can be a fascinating clue as to how we ended up the way we are…this would be true in both good and bad ways.
Oh, yes. And understanding where people come from–and by people, I mean, the people who had influence over us as we were growing up–knowing the context in which they were raised, why they may have behaved towards us the way they did…well, it might not excuse their behavior, but it does explain it.
Knowledge is power. And knowing why can help us be more compassionate and maybe even help us forgive…which is something we talked about a few episodes ago, too. What other ways are there to “Know Ourselves”.
The German Philosopher Hegel writes about being conscious of ourselves…There are two ways of getting to know ourselves: the theoretical, the “sit down and write” approach, but that we also discover ourselves when we do things, taking initiatives, getting out of our comfort zone.
What’s interesting with Hegel is that he says we are in a dialectic, that is, constant progression of seasons: we need to get to the bottom of one issue, come to a resolution, and then we can move on and address another.
Like the idea LiElla talked about last week, Closing the Casket: that we need to close one season and transition to the next.
There’s a nice quote from St Exupéry…
who wrote “The Little Prince”,
Yes…this was a work called ‘Terre des hommes”, called Wind, Sand and Stars in English. He says “The earth teaches us more about ourselves than books, because she resists us. Man discovers himself when he measures himself against obstacles. The trials of our lives, and time, reveal us to ourselves.”
There is one notion that I like a lot, it’s the idea of the “Blueprint”, or the “Universal Core.”
What is that?
It’s the idea that there exists a kind of schematic drawing of what our life is to look like, and that we are given a certain amount of materials to build what is found on that blueprint.
I love that idea! But I bet Sartre would hate it.
Oh definitely. Well, we don’t necessarily have to agree with Sartre. It’s just interesting to know what he said.
But, with this idea of a blueprint, then aren’t we necessarily entering into a discussion of destiny…and isn’t that a little bit of a leap of faith?
Naturally…Just to oppose Sartre even further, there is the idea that humans were created in the image of God.
But people throughout history have struggled with a sense of futility and have turned to faith as a way to bring meaning to their lives. Conversations about faith and purpose and predestination are as old as time itself.
So…wait…You’ve got me thinking here. Your “Blueprint” idea, that we have tools and materials to build our lives according to a blueprint, and my theory about the “Bags of Gold…” that was a theory based on the idea that each one of us was given a certain amount of treasure, time, and talent to invest throughout our lives…they are remarkably similar.
The problem with both theories, though, is that in neither case do we know what the final picture looks like.
If we did, it would make it so much easier to draw a straight line from here to there. We could avoid all the drama and discomfort and just get directly to the good stuff.
But many of the character traits we need in order to accomplish great things are forged through difficulties. Like…remember what John Locke said?
John Locke the philosopher?
No! John Locke on LOST. He took the example of the butterfly, who has to struggle to get out of his cocoon. If someone were to cut the cocoon open to help the butterfly out, that butterfly could not fly. It is the struggle to get out of the cocoon that strengthens the butterflies wings, so that when he is finally free of the cocoon that he can fly.
Well, I can obviously not argue with an example taken from LOST. And the image is beautiful, because I think that we all can agree that there are hardships in our lives that have made us stronger.
What I totally love about that illustration is that…while we, the outside observer, know that a caterpillar will become a butterfly, it is unclear if that fuzzy little caterpillar knows what his destiny is. Which brings the Blueprint-slash-Bags of Gold theory full circle. It’s a leap of faith.
Reflecting on those hardships and gaining perspective on them is exactly what Hegel would have us do…
But I think what we are saying here is that, while getting to know ourselves, which is the first step in falling in love with ourselves, can feel like a struggle for some of us. And that’s okay. It’s okay to need professional help. But keeping our eyes on what we hope to be…not just some creepy crawly caterpillar, but on that lovely, elegant butterfly…will hopefully sustain us as we work through some of the discomfort.
Thank you, mon chéri, for taking the time to talk through these ideas and theories with me.
Wicked Stepsister: Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it won’t kill you.
LiElla Kelly, Death Doula and this podcast’s Wicked Stepsister, is here again this week to help put some of your objections on this subject to rest, too. LiElla, the floor is all yours!
Curiosity killed the cat. Oh my, that poor kitty. Fortunately, we are not cats…but we are curious. Our inquisitive nature starts young. Where did the dinosaurs go? Why did swear words get invented if we’re not allowed to say them? Why can’t we see our eyes? Why don’t crabs have eyebrows? Curiosity helps us to learn about the world we live in and our place in it. As we grow, our curiosity leads us to ask bigger questions like, What happens when we die? Or how will I be remembered? It’s also at least partially responsible the popularity of Doctor Pimple Popper. But curiosity can help us to discover so much more than the fainting goats of YouTube. Curiosity can help us to engage with ourselves and strengthen our relationships with others. Curiosity is an exceptionally versatile quality.
In his book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, Bessel van der Kolk writes:
“Neuroscience research shows that the only way we can change the way we feel is by becoming aware of our inner experience and learning to befriend what is going inside ourselves…Once you start approaching your body with curiosity rather than with fear, everything shifts.”
Have you ever considered that curiosity could be such a valuable tool, that it could change everything?
We all desire to feel safe in our own bodies. If we have control over just one thing, shouldn’t it be ourselves, our own bodies? But what if that isn’t the case? What if you’ve lost your sense of self? What if your body has become the enemy? What if your body is no longer a safe place?
Here an example of what I’m talking about. A young woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. She is treated aggressively. Her hair falls out. Her body is scarred by mastectomy. She’s been poked, prodded, tested, scanned. She grows numb to the seemingly endless medical procedures as if it’s not her body anymore. She looks in the mirror and doesn’t recognize the figure in the reflection. She finds it difficult to reconcile the person she is, or used to be, with the body that she finds herself in. It becomes easier to separate emotionally from that battered body. There are many reasons why this can happen; terminal illness, injury, abuse, trauma…all of these things may lead us to separating ourselves emotionally from our bodies.
Situations such as these could not only make you uncomfortable in your own skin but also have the potential to suck the joy right out of your life. It would be easy to give up and give in, surrendering to grief over what has been lost and the anticipation of the losses you’ll face in the future.
This is where curiosity can become a game changer. Research shows that curious people are happier people. They tend to report higher levels of positive emotions, lower levels of anxiety, more satisfaction with life, and greater psychological well-being. Curiosity is inquisitive, an adventure seeker, always looking to explore. It can help us to engage or maybe re-engage with ourselves and build our relationships with others. But a word of warning, don’t confuse curiosity with intrusion. Intrusion is unwelcome and prying, more like an interrogation. Whereas, curiosity is explorative, gentle.
Augustine of Hippo, (little side note, he’s the Patron Saint of Brewers), wrote way back, around the year 400, “People go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.”
Get curious about yourself. Take time to observe what you’re feeling physically and emotionally? What is happening in the person sized world you live in? What makes you feel safe? What makes you feel unsafe? How do those feelings impact your actions? How does what you’re feeling influence how you interact with others? What’s working? What isn’t working? Which things are fixed and unchangeable? Which things can you adjust?
O LiElla! You have such a gift for this. Thank you for getting us thinking.
I am going to link to LiElla’s work in the show notes. You will find so many fascinating resources on her social media…I was absolutely intrigued recently to learn that it is illegal in the United States to have a Viking Burial–something that I would never have known were it not for LiElla. Also, sidenote, this fact left me rather sad, because that just seems like such a romantic way to be sent off…
But I digress. Go check out her blog, too, www.leavingwellmt.com. LiElla always says that talking about death will not kill you. Reading about it won’t either.
Conclusion/ Introduction to The Ideal Life Series
Starting next week we are going to be getting curious about ourselves, in an in-depth, category by category way. I’ll take you step by step through the process of asking yourself four little questions, which will help you get a baseline for where you are today. This is critical, because remember, we want to give enthusiastic consent to our lives as they are today.
For next week, please dig out your “In my Ideal Life I am person who…” statements, as well as the virtues and values that you identified as being ones that you want people to remember you by. Set your alarm for fifteen minutes before anyone else gets up. Please get into this habit.
Falling in love with yourself might just depend on it.
A special thank you to Mr. Charming Fields, the Philosopher Prince for dropping by Wonderland today. If you have philosophy-related questions that you have been looking for a thoughtful, non-judgy answer to, I would be delighted to pass those on to him.
If you have ideas about how you can set aside time to do this exercise, or a story about how you make it work, I would love to hear about it. You can reach out to me by email, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on social media, @lilyfieldschallenge on Instagram. You can also follow the show on Instagram and Facebook at @singwithyourfeet.
You will find links to LiElla’s work in the show notes. She is an amazing resource, and I am so thankful to her for sharing her knowledge and experiences with us.
I want to give a great big thank you to Seven Production in Mulhouse France for the use of the song, “La Joie” as the intro and outro to the show, and very special thank you to Matt Kugler for his vocal stylings.
Well, this is your fairy godmother signing off. And remember, it is never too late to start singing with your feet.
Talking Points: To Know, Know, Know You, is to Love Love Love You; Prince Charming visits Wonderland; Curiosity Killed the Cat
If you have a philosophy question that you would like to put to Charming Fields, the Philosopher Prince, he’s here for it. Drop a line to Lily, email@example.com, with “Philosophy Question” in the title. If it’s a question that he can answer, I’ll see to it that he gets some pod-time to answer it for you!
LiElla Kelly, Death Doula, can be reached via her website, https://leavingwellmt.com or on social media as @leaving.well.death.doula.
The Leaving Well Virtual Death Café will take place on April 30, 2022. We’ll get you all the details on the podcast and on our socials media. Just save the date!!
Our private Facebook group, You Are Not Done Sparkling Yet (https://www.facebook.com/groups/309886354511956) is available to give you a place to get some encouragement and support as you navigate the pursuit of your Ideal Life.
You can reach Lily on Instagram, @lilyfieldschallenge, on Facebook as Lily Fields, or by email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow the show, @singwithyour feet. There will be a few fun behind-the-scenes things to share
Special thanks to Seven Production in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outro to the show. Check them out here: https://7prod.fr. Also, a great big thank you to Claude Ekwe who wrote that slappin’ number, and to the indomitable Matt Kugler for his vocal stylings.