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A journey to self-discovery

invisible businessman with hat

It is always possible to limit one’s knowledge of the principles that constitute any given philosophy, spiritual thought, religion or psychological theory to a purely theoretical level. This approach sometimes suffices to help give a general direction to one’s life and provide a reassuring framework by lending meaning to one’s experiences. To set into motion a genuine process of change in oneself it is however necessary to enter the practical realm of spirituality, namely, the process of perfection of the soul. But where to begin? What exactly should one do? The point here is not to put into practice religious rituals or to apply predefined moral prescriptions. In fact, spiritual work begins with a self-discovery. The first step is to observe oneself, as if from the outside, to carefully analyse oneself, and to “accurately assess [one’s] own attributes, positive qualities, strong points, flaws, weak points, etc.”[1]. This approach requires a good amount of sincerity as it involves acknowledging and confronting one’s faults. It also requires a minimum of self-confidence in order not to lose hope in the face of one’s weaknesses. Finally, it is essential to keep in mind that this inventory of our personality must be done in the context of the process of spiritual perfection. In other words, the criteria with which we would measure our strengths and weaknesses and our qualities and faults should not be dictated by social trends but by ethical and spiritual values. For example, an introverted or reserved personality can appear, socially speaking, as a weak point, whereas it is neither a fault nor a quality spiritually speaking. It can even be an asset, as introverted people often have a greater capacity for self-analysis.

I took a moment myself to take on this journey to self-discovery. After careful consideration I came up with the following list: strong points => I am enthusiastic, helpful and professional; weak points => I am easily intimidated, easily get angry and hold grudges. Next, I tried to analyse these points using the criteria referred to above and to refine the list. I am truly very enthusiastic, but is enthusiasm always a strength? It can be an asset when it manifests itself for a positive cause, but it can also manifest itself for a neutral or even immoral cause. Being enthusiastic about salsa dancing, for example, is neutral in terms of ethics and spirituality. Being enthusiastic about drawing up an ingenious plan to swindle someone is obviously negative. Consequently, being enthusiastic is one of my character traits, but it is a strength only in so far as I direct it toward good causes. Further self-observation is thus necessary to determine when and how enthusiasm manifests itself within me, whether or not the object of my enthusiasm is positive and how I can possibly channel my enthusiasm toward positive things. This could be a good place to start acting.

Let’s move on to kindness now. It is undeniably a moral quality. The issue will then be to determine, through self-analysis, whether my kindness really comes from the heart or whether it comes, for example, from a desire to be noticed or to ingratiate myself with my boss. I will have to ask myself: am I kind to everyone? Am I kind to people whose opinion I am indifferent to? Is my kindness disinterested? Am I mostly kind to people I fear?

It seems obvious that a self-portrait will inevitably be subjective. There are, however, a number of ways to gain some “objectivity”. One of them is, as mentioned above, to analyse this self-portrait and confront it to facts by observing oneself in action. It can also be very helpful to listen to what people who know us well have to say about us, and to take recurrent criticisms and compliments into consideration. In any event, this first phase of self-analysis is only a starting point. If we were to compare ourselves to a huge castle, we would at this point merely be describing the door.

And you? What are your strengths and weaknesses, ethical qualities, faults; character traits that can turn out to be assets or obstacles in your spiritual progress? To help you begin, here is a medley of character traits from which you can choose, with as much honesty with yourself as possible, those points that best correspond to you.

Courage, empathy, jealousy, selfishness, willpower, self-control, common sense, greed, pessimism, reserve, aggressiveness, dynamism, sincerity, sensitivity, dishonesty with oneself, naivety, scheming, boastfulness, patience, addiction, tolerance, laziness, neurosis, kindness, faith, dignity, individualism, miserliness, trustworthiness, slander, dishonesty, grudge, honesty, egocentrism, mockery, pushiness, introversion, perseverance, nosiness, cheerfulness, kindness, compassion, envy, flexibility, authoritarianism, touchiness, generosity, recognition, autonomy, earnestness, deviousness, sociability, stability of mood or moodiness, intelligence, attention to others, hospitality, self-denial, lack of willpower, lust, love of power, indulgence, suggestibility, show-off, discretion, open-mindedness, cowardice, respect of others, organisational skills… feel free to complete the list!

[1] ^Bahram Elahi, The Path of Perfection, (Paraview Inc., 2005), 212.

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  1. Linda Oct 01, 2013 1:39 am 1

    Me through my lens => Kind, brave, honest, reserved, orderly
    Me as seen by others => Kiss up, careless, insensitive, antisocial, OCD

    What is wrong with this picture?!!!

  2. k Oct 01, 2013 4:29 pm 2

    Very interesting article and thanks.
    I reflected a bit after reading the article, especially the end, and “figured out” that:
    For example, jealousy is simply bad, and not something that one can use for a “good cause”. But jealousy is not creational and it is from the misuse of free-will. But for example being introvert may (or is) a creational character, and it is in these cases that one can direct the character for a good or bad cause.

  3. FA Oct 01, 2013 6:42 pm 3

    Thank you so much for this practical approach to discovering ourselves. Usually, psychoanalysts charge thousands of dollars to just get to this point (while sometimes we end up even more confused if they don’t know what they are doing).

    You have given us a great starting point. I hope that I can start analyzing my intentions through my actions (maybe trying to concentrate on one per month)… Any suggestions will be appreciated since this seems to be the real key to knowing ourselves.

  4. Emily Oct 02, 2013 3:33 am 4

    This was a great exercise on self reflection from a wholesome perspective (seeing both the positive and the negative). I took your suggested list above and circled everything that I thought applied to me. When I tallied up the score, I found 11 negatives and 4 positives.

    This made me think and ask myself, if I viewed myself negatively since I had managed to find 11 weak points and only 4 positive (and yes, pessimism was one of the traits I circled), or on the other hand, maybe I have a great sense of self awareness and self knowledge if I think there are 11 negative traits that need to be improved upon!?

    Any thoughts?


  5. Maryam Oct 02, 2013 6:31 am 5

    This is such a great article as it helps us dig into ourselves and find our weaknesses and strengths, first step on the path of perfection.
    But now I’m wondering as a somewhat beginner, once we list our weaknesses, how many should we start to work on at the beginning? When do we know it is time to move on to the next?

  6. Haleh Oct 02, 2013 9:54 am 6

    Surprisingly (or maybe not) all the adjectives can fit when I analyze myself. The most difficult thing is to know up to what point I shall be kind, hospitable, or tolerant (to name a few). There are always other people involved. I try to be hospitable to a guest and then I realize that I put a lot of pressure on my daughter. I believe that I am trying to be tolerant and after a while my husband tells me that I should have talked about things that annoyed me instead of naively tolerating them. Getting to know oneself seems impossible. The key is to think of God with every step and do what at the moment seems God-like (the thing that is usually the most difficult to do).

  7. A. Oct 02, 2013 10:44 pm 7

    If I am not mistaken, most of the character traits listed above become manifest when we interact with other people. But sometimes we have flaws which do not show at all during these interactions. For instance, one of my problems is pride. Despite the fact it can show through being sensitive and resentful, it also manifests itself in more subtle ways, such as in my relation with the Source.

    The way this happens is as follows: when something positive happens to me, such as the possibility of helping someone in need, instead of thanking the Source for His grace and generosity to offer me this possibility, I seek to identify those actions/efforts that I undertook, telling myself that you don’t get something for nothing and hence that it was through my own efforts that I had gained the right to do a good deed.

    I used to justify this thought process by telling myself that if I could identify those actions/efforts that led to the possibility of doing a good deed, then I could repeat them. Obviously, this all comes from pride. One must forget one’s efforts/actions in order not to puff up with pride. Also, telling oneself that « as a result of certain specific actions/deeds God has granted us a grace » is disregarding the fact that many times we are not even aware of our own actions, intentions or thoughts, let alone having knowledge of our spiritual account, or of the decisions taken in the another world regarding our destinies.

  8. A. Oct 02, 2013 10:45 pm 8

    @FA >Any suggestions will be appreciated since this seems to be the real key to knowing ourselves.

    One important way to get to know our strengths and weaknesses is to ask our close friends/family what they think of us

  9. a.m. Oct 03, 2013 10:04 pm 9

    I started my day reading this interesting article and ever since I have been trying to assess myself objectively as the author stated.

    I realized quickly that the truth is more complex and it is almost impossible to claim with certainty that I have a certain character trait such as being brave. I could be brave in terms of not being afraid of animals but I am very fearful when I’m supposed to give a speech. My braveness is dependent on context, time, place, mood and so many other factors.

    I am also by nature an introvert person. When it comes to spirituality it can be positive and negative depending on the situation. Let’s assume that one day at work a group of colleagues get together and talk bad about a person. Not being invited to this gathering as a result of being an introvert will be a blessing from a spiritual point of view. However, in a different situation, as a result of being an introvert I will not get promoted just because I have not interacted with management people and I don’t have the social skills to manage other people.

    I have also realized that from time to time I feel jealous in certain situations. To understand it better I must analyze how, why, when and where and to what degree my jealousy is manifesting itself in each situation. Is it about power, wealth, good looks, better jobs? Is it mostly at work or with family members and close friends? Does it happen every day or only once in a while? Is the level so bad that I cannot focus on my work anymore?

    I have also realized that in order to improve myself and walk toward perfection I need willpower, determination and enthusiasm. Oftentimes I know about my weaknesses but feel powerless because temptations are too strong. If anybody has good advice on how to acquire these traits I would be very grateful.

  10. YE Oct 07, 2013 6:52 am 10

    @ Maryam: “But now I’m wondering as a somewhat beginner, once we list our weaknesses, how many should we start to work on at the beginning? When do we know it is time to move on to the next?”

    With regards to how to start, in Chapter 37 of “The Path of Perfection”, under “How to fight against the imperious self”, Dr. Elahi explains:

    “In practice, we must first fight against the character flaws or psychospiritual weak points that are more prominent.” He also adds “Fighting against the imperious self (character flaws or psychospiritual weak points) is a long process and requires a great deal of persistence.”

  11. pzlz Oct 09, 2013 7:10 am 11

    Thank you @a.m. for sharing your analysis. It made a lot of sense and helped me see how a single character can have a multitude of facets. As for willpower, determination and enthusiasm, I can’t give you advice because I am in the same boat as you. I wish there was a silver bullet out there. It always puzzles me how we truly believe and encourage our kids to pursue what they love and give it their very best, and yet we’ve found what we love but are not giving it our very best. I am also asking for help, any suggestions is greatly appreciated.

  12. A. Oct 12, 2013 6:54 am 12

    @ I need willpower, determination and enthusiasm. Oftentimes I know about my weaknesses but feel powerless because temptations are too strong. If anybody has good advice on how to acquire these traits I would be very grateful.

    @I am also asking for help, any suggestions is greatly appreciated

    Regarding enthusiasm (=motivation) I can certainly say, because I have tested it these last few days, that increasing the number of moments of attention to God during any given day allows to capture more metacausal energy and boosts motivation.

    As a test (just as a test) I tried to do very frequent prayers these last few days and the results have simply been amazing: you feel much better, full of love and motivation and especially you see much, much more how your imperious self tries to reason you into acting anti-ethically. I am shocked to see how many negative thoughts are simply invisible to us unless we practice very frequent moments of attention to the Source.

    For instance, a couple of days ago I was a little bit in a hurry and my wife called me. As soon as I heard her voice I told myself “oh here she goes again with some gossip stories about her colleagues at work! I have no time for this.” So, when she asked me whether I had 2 minutes I replied quite coldly “only if it is important”.

    An hour of so later, during a moment of attention to the Source, I became aware (or rather, I was made aware) that my thoughts and reaction were dictated by my imperious self and also that I was being unfair since my wife does not gossip that much. Without that moment of attention, the influence of my imperious self would have gone completely unnoticed.

  13. yocto Oct 12, 2013 3:59 pm 13

    This is a call for action! A timely reminder as I was contemplating setting up new resolutions for the year, as if it was telling me: “Get ready, role up your sleeves and take a deeper dive into this territory you think you know so well, find your assets and plan on strengthening them, acknowledge your deficits, flaws and weak points and plan on turning them into assets, something you may not have done before!” I was in these thoughts for a day or two when I heard Arun Gandhi (grandson of Mahatma Gandhi) on the radio talking about how he was guided by his grandfather to control his aggression. Arun was saying that he had a lot of anger as a teenager growing up in South Africa toward those who were hostile to him because of the color of his skin to the point that his parents decided to send him to india to live with his grandfather for a while thinking maybe he could learn something from him. The first lesson the great Gandhi taught his grandson was how to understand his anger, and how to channel that energy into positive action! He told him “Anger is not bad, it’s a very good thing, it enables us to do many things, what is bad is the way we abuse anger” and suggested that he should look at anger as electricity and learn to use it intelligently and constructively. He told him don’t act on it, don’t say anything and go and write it in a journal with the intention to find a solution. Of course this wasn’t new to me. I had heard it before, many times, louder and clearer, in Ostad’s teachings. But the coincidence of reading this article, hearing Gandhi’s method, and my quest for planning new resolutions made me think and I had this epiphany of some sort. I never would have thought of any of my flaws as assets. Laziness? gossiping? procrastination? How in the world can you use those negative emotions and impulses to your benefit? I abuse them all the time and no matter how much I plan, most of the time defeat is the default. So why not turn them all against my Imperious Self?! I am lazy, why shouldn’t I be lazy in watching TV?! I gossip, why don’t I gossip about my ugly Imperious Self? I procrastinate all the time, why not procrastinate some of my materialistic and often useless daily activities such as spending long hours on social networking sites or watching TV? How about turning them against each other! Yes I should tell my gossipy self “eh… not now…I’ll do it later… I’ll gossip tomorrow…” lol…!

  14. pzlz Oct 15, 2013 5:00 am 14

    Very nice @A. very helpful suggestion indeed. Frequent prayer may be the key. Yesterday I actually noticed this sentence in the article on negligence: “… as long as we humbly and sincerely ask for divine help, divine energy will inevitably come and strengthen our will.” I have to admit that I have been trying to do a quality prayer once a day. I think that my Imperious Self (IS) was tricking me by saying one “quality” prayer is enough, and I don’t need more (what a sneaky shameless IS). Obviously I was missing something here. Thanks! I’ll do it and will report back if the experiment is a success. Yay!

  15. Juneone Oct 16, 2013 2:21 pm 15

    @yocto this is such good thinking. Thank you for sharing your thought process,

  16. MN Oct 16, 2013 6:17 pm 16

    I started doing my self-analysis with the character traits mentioned in the article and going down the list I saw that the majority of them are character traits I criticize others for. Meaning that those are exactly the points I myself have to work on since I am the one with the problem and not the other person, but of course it’s always easier to point out others faults rather than your own. For example laziness: I am very good at giving “motivational” speeches to others and pushing (<– yet another point) them to get things done etc. But when it comes to my own life I get lazy easily; I lose motivation and move on to something else and therefore don't get most things done. The same goes with patience, sincerity and moodiness. And I agree with @A. that getting feedback from your close friends, especially your family, does help too. Because the same character traits I don't like in others were pointed out to me as traits I need to work on. I need to prioritize and make a list of practical exercises that relate to these character traits and next time I am about to point out one of these character flaws in someone else, I need to pause and look at myself and try to see what it is that I am doing wrong. And of course we can't fight any of our character flaws without asking for divine help every step of the way.

  17. pzlz Dec 20, 2013 4:36 pm 17

    @A. I’ve added one more attention time to my daily schedule a month ago . It has made wonders… I have been a bit more attentive to what goes around me, how other people feel and what their needs are, what makes them happy. I’ve become a bit less selfish, and a lot more motivated… it has made wonders… Thanks!

  18. A.A Feb 07, 2014 8:53 pm 18

    I made a list of my traits – as perceived by myself and by others.
    Funny that I was recently told I am selfish. And only in the last 6 months of self-reflection, have I really realized just how selfish I am. I am actually shocked at my own ignorance – that I didn’t notice this blatant flaw years ago.

    I also noticed how some character flaws may lead to and worsen other flaws. For example, my pessimism often leads to hopelessness, lack of faith, laziness, and easily giving up, and loss of will power/motivation.

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