Skip to content

The Possibility of Self-Knowledge

June 2, 2009

People frequently talk about the possibility of self-knowledge. Numerous books have been written on the subject, and one sees it brought up on Internet discussion groups about this or that teaching or teacher. Yet, when you look closely, you see that the subject of self-knowledge is often presented in an abstract, disembodied way, as though thinking about the inner and outer dimensions of one’s being is more important than actually experiencing them.

My own experience of self-knowledge, or what I often call direct self-knowing, includes not only my many sometimes “messy” manifestations of sensing, feeling, thinking, and behaving, as well as what I can observe of the relationships among them, but also, and behind all these manifestations, presence itself. Sensations, feelings, thoughts, and actions are continually changing, but the presence, the light, in which they are experienced (when they are actually experienced first-hand) seems somehow to be changeless. For me, direct self-knowing is intimately related to the changeless presence that lies at the heart of being.

A couple of years ago, I included on one of my websites the following experience of direct knowing—an experience that has visited me in many different forms over these past years. Perhaps this experience can help convey what I mean:

“It’s 6:30 AM. I’ve just woken up. The first sensations of my body are relaxed and comfortable as the visual remnants of my last dreams vanish. Thoughts in the form of questions and ‘shoulds’ begin to arise: what’s happening with the war in Iraq?; I should get up and go to the other room to meditate; I should get the paper and read it. The arthritic pains I have lived with for the past 20 years begin to enter my awareness. I sense the habitual urge to get up and get moving. Perhaps that will help. Somehow I close my eyes instead and allow my attention to move deeper inward, toward the unknown center without losing awareness of the thoughts, feelings, and sensations on the periphery. I touch something that I can only call Being—a subtle, pervasive, energetic sense of I Am, without being anything in particular. This energetic sense of I Am is both very familiar and very new. A direct knowing that I cannot objectify in any way. Somehow I know that that is what I am. And with it comes a new sense of freedom.”

Lao TsuNow, of course, this is just one of many possible ways to describe the essentially indescribable experience of direct knowing. Lao Tsu said: “The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth. The named is the mother of ten thousand things.” Once we start naming “things,” which, of course, is an inevitable aspect of being human, thought takes over and “things” seem to multiply and become more complex. There is obviously great power in naming things. The world we see around us, with all of its many tremendous problems and contradictions, is very much the result of this power. We find ourselves seduced by constant naming, judging, analyzing, and so on, by “taking sides,” and easily forget that it is from the “nameless” that all things arise, from the silent ground of being that Max Picard refers to when he says “In every moment of time, man through silence can be with the origin of all things” (The World of Silence).

To free ourselves from the power of this seduction, however, what is necessary is to allow our attention to move, to expand, in two directions at once: toward the periphery in which naming is the norm, and toward the center, toward the nameless silence and stillness that makes the experience of all things possible. We don’t have to try to rid ourselves of the tendency to name things, which for most of us would be a futile endeavor; we only have to be present to it. It is presence, the inner welcoming of impressions of what is, that brings with it the self-knowledge, the direct knowing, that many of us wish for.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. walt permalink
    June 2, 2009 6:49 pm

    Pleased and excited to find your blog! Your information is always of the finest quality.

    We may have met, briefly, long ago: I lived in SF, was taking tai chi from Kuo and was connected to the Institute on St. Elmo St. by way of Mr. Yate’s group. In both those settings I talked with a man who looked like you. If so, hello again! If not, hello now!

    Thanks so much for sharing yourself here, and of course, for your fine books and work.

    • June 2, 2009 8:07 pm

      Walt, without seeing a picture of you and knowing your full name I cannot be certain if we met or not, although I also took tai chi classes with Kuo Lin Ying (correct spelling?) and was at St. Elmo then and for many years thereafter. So it is likely we did meet. Anyway, I appreciate your comments. Feel free to write me at any of my email addresses on this or my other websites.

  2. Kat permalink
    June 9, 2009 5:09 pm

    Hello Dennis,

    I just listened to your radio interview this morning. It was helpful, informative, and I enjoyed the many daily life examples/stories you shared with us. Thanks!

    It’s been a couple of years since accidently running into your book at the local library…now I’ve purchased it and it is in my “healing library” here at home. “Free Your Breath, Free You Life” has been read and referenced so many times it has become like a favorite comfortable flannel shirt. It never ceases to bring something new and fun to play with each time it gets opened. It may sound odd, but this book sort of guides me as to what lessons to look at and to practice.

    I know nothing of qi gong, except a very brief short one time class long ago at a local book store in the neighborhood…. so … but breath work has always fascinated me(spent a lot of time practicing Kundalini Yoga) and actually helped the healing process in my own experience (four years ago after having a brain tumor removed). Though I admit for the longest time practicing yoga, learning meditation techniques at a local temple did not do much experience wise, guess it was the way I practiced, back then.

    Thanks again for writing the books you’ve written, I’ve been waiting to check out the Tao of Breath from the library, it’s must be good, as it’s been on hold status forever! One question, how does your recent book differ from the previous ones? Is it for a more advanced practioner or student? Or, is it as user friendly as your other books?

    Warm regards

    • June 10, 2009 2:39 pm


      You’re welcome! I appreciate your comments.

      My new book, “Breathe Into Being,” is even more “user friendly” than my previous ones (only 115 pages), and is meant for anyone who is interested in breath and awakening.

      With warm wishes,


  3. walt permalink
    June 10, 2009 1:30 pm

    And I’ll add another question, too, if you don’t mind. In one of your other posts, you mentioned Liangong Qigong. I did the usual Amazon/Google bit, and watched some YouTube videos, so I got the idea. It is very similar to what I practice now, but looks more complete.

    Do you have a favorite reference for a DVD that teaches that style?

  4. June 10, 2009 2:41 pm

    The closest I have found is the Video “Liangong in 18 Forms,” Wen-Mei Yu. (Unique Publications Video).

  5. June 12, 2009 7:53 am

    Just stumbled on to your blog. I must say I am impressed. You have many profound thoughts sprinkled across your posts.

    I myself have had experiences — both intentionally and unintentionally induced — that took me to a inner sense of silence, peace, and quiet happiness. I have had “peak experiences” and perceived a sense of sense that is difficult to access. But, I can see that I have never experienced the world and its ultimate energetic source at the depth you describe in your posts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: