Why Introspection Matters – Free Ebook

Knowing yourself sounds like a good idea but it can be hard to see quite why it should matter so much there are some clues in an old story about a lion with a sore paw a traditional folktale known as Androcles and the Lion the earliest version of the story comes from the ancient Roman philosopher Aulus Gellius and has been adapted and retold ever since one version goes like this once long ago there was a Barbary lion nine feet long with a splendid dark mane who lived in a forested foothills of the Atlas mountains in what is today Algeria usually the lion kept far from human settlements but one year in spring he started approaching the villages at night roaring and snarling menacingly in the dark the villagers were terrified they put extra guards on the gates and sent out heavily armed hunting parties to try to kill him It happened around this time that a shepherd boy named Androcles followed his sheep far into the high mountain pastures one cold evening he sought shelter in a cave he had just lit a candle and was setting his blanket on the ground when to his horror he saw the ferocious beast staring at him at first he was terrified the lion looked as if it might be about to pounce on him and rip him to pieces but Androcles notice something there was a thorn deeply embedded in one of the lion’s front paws and a huge tear was running down his noble face the creature wasn’t murderous it was in agony so instead of trying to flee or defend himself with his dagger the boy’s fear changed to pity Androcles approached the lion stroked his mane and then gently and reassuringly extracted the thorn from the paw and wrapped it in a strip of cloth torn from his own blanket the lion licked the boy’s hand and became his friend many years later Androcles got into trouble with the authorities he was shipped to Rome taken to the Colosseum and thrown before a lion to be devoured in public for the pleasure of the people and the emperor but when the lion saw Androcles he became quiet and went forward and lowered his head in a bow it was the same Barbary lion Androcles had taken pity on as a boy the emperor pardoned Androcles and he and his lion lived together in Rome and they used to go for walks together through the streets with the lion peaceable and contented led only on a slender leash the fable can be usefully be read as an allegory about self-knowledge the lion is in terrible pain but has no capacity to understand what is hurting him exactly and how he might put it right in his blind distress he acts in horrifically aggressive and threatening ways he makes blood-curdling noises and frightens everyone the lion is all of us when we lack insight into our own distress the thorn is a troubling, maddening element of our inner lives a fear a biting worry a regret a sense of guilt a feeling of humiliation a strained hope or agonized disappointment that rumbles away powerfully but just out of range of our standard view of ourselves but there’s potentially another Androcles-like side of us able calmly to see past the fury to what the problem really is and then calm our untargeted anger and help us find constructive solutions however it’s not always easy some of the following can happen when we try to locate the stubborn thorn we make the wrong diagnosis of what’s upsetting us we’re in no doubt we’re in pain but we don’t correctly attribute the source of the distress we lash out innocents usually the kindest people around us perhaps we start to get tetchy around our partners we accuse them of being dull and obsessed with domestic trivia and not as much fun as they once were but the thorn might in fact lie elsewhere entirely maybe there’s a lovely new colleague at work and awkwardly we’ve developed a sort of crush on them we don’t even admit to ourselves that something so unexpected and challenging might be upsetting us we don’t know where to look for the thorn but others close to us who are kind, forgiving and easy targets for our frustration end up taking the blame nevertheless another option is that we try to ignore the pain when the paw hurts too much in ways we don’t grasp it’s tempting to try to numb our distress we search out an anesthetic that can reduce the discomfort but fails to address it’s causes we might take to drinking playing nonstop game of solitaire watching porn or working obsessively the thorn is still firmly lodged in place but we notice it less and yet the numbing move extracts a high price it eats away at our time undermines our self respect or leads to debilitating symptoms we might not be able to sleep insomnia often being traceable to the turbulent impact of issues we haven’t paid proper attention to during the day or finally we might apply the wrong medicine we might come up with unfounded confused schemes to solve a pain we don’t understand we may take to blaming our partner the city we live in the government or our employer rifling through a cabinet of cures we might pick a journey to the desert or a quick divorce we decide to quit our jobs or sack someone it can be hard not to inflict severe pain on ourselves or others when we don’t have an accurate handle on our agonies fortunately there’s almost always information to hand about what is really wrong our stream of consciousness contains a reservoir of muddled hints about our woes which need to be gathered and decoded the art of living is to a large measure dependent on an ability to locate our thorns accurately and in good time so that we will not forever be condemned to suffer our symptoms and terrify strangers with our roars

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