by Eléjha-zé Gengan
Self-reflection, a trip to our inner-self to achieve well-being and the overlooked importance it holds.
Once long ago, there was a nine-foot-long Barbary lion with a splendid dark mane. The lion lived in the forested foothills of the Appalachians, a place that is known as Algeria today. Usually, the lion kept far away from any human settlements. However, one year in spring, he started approaching a village at night. Roaring and snarling menacingly in the dark. The villagers were terrified, so they assigned extra guards at the gates and sent out heavily-armed hunting parties to kill him.
One cold evening, a shepherd boy named Androcles, who followed his sheep into the high mountain pastures, sought shelter in a cave. He was preparing a fire when, to his horror, he saw the ferocious beast staring at him.
At first, he was terrified. The lion looked as if should he decide to pounce, he could rip Androcles to pieces, but he noticed something. There was a thorn deeply embedded in one of the lion's front paws. A huge tear running down his noble face.
The creature wasn’t murderous. His actions were merely a response to his agony. Instead of Androcles fleeing or defending himself with his dagger, his fear quickly changed to pity.
He approached the lion, stroked his mane, and then gently and reassuringly extracted the thorn from the paw, wrapping the paw in a strip of cloth torn from his own clothes.
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 and taken to the colosseum. He was thrown before a lion to be devoured in public for the pleasure of the people. However, when the lion saw Androcles he became quiet and went forward, lowering his head in a bow. It was the same lion Androcles had taken pity on as a boy.
The Emperor pardoned and released the two. Androcles and his lion lived together in Rome. They went on walks together through the streets, the lion content and at peace, led only by a slender leash.
The earliest version of the traditional folktale known as Androcles and The Lion comes from an ancient Roman philosopher and has been adapted and retold over centuries.
Self-reflection can be defined as the examination of one’s own conscious thoughts and feelings. In psychology, it is seen as the process of reflection and relies exclusively on the observation of one’s mental state. If one looks at it in a spiritual context, it can refer to the examination of one’s soul.
Human self-reflection is identified as the capacity we as humans have to exercise introspection and our willingness to learn more about our fundamental nature, purpose and essence. It invariably leads to an inquiry into the human condition and the essence of humankind as a whole.
The fable of Androcles and The Lion can be read and seen as an allegory about self-knowledge. The lion, being in terrible pain and having neither an understanding of what is hurting him nor knowing in which manner he could go about resolving his pain.
In this state of blind distress, he frightens everyone. The lion can symbolically be seen as us, human beings, lacking insight into our own distress.
The thorn is seen as a troubling, maddening element in our lives whether it be fear, worry, regret, sense guilt, a feeling of humiliation, a strain of hope or agonized disappointment rumbling away powerfully. Powerful enough that it appears just out of range of our standard view of ourselves.
Androcles potentially could be seen as another side of us. The side having the ability to calmly see past the fury and identify what the problem really is, thus using this ability to calm unidentified anger and focusing on finding a constructive solution to it.
However, it isn’t that easy.
Some of the following can happen when one tries to locate the stubborn thorn:
- Making the wrong diagnosis of what upsets us is an easy mistake with a lot of learning-curves.
- Lashing out at the innocent becomes uncontrollable when in a state of undeniable pain and failure to correctly attribute the source of the distress. It is usually the ones around us that are directly affected by our unresolved inner conflict. We push them away or accuse them of becoming obsessed with the domestic trivia, not bearing in mind that the thorn might in fact lie elsewhere entirely.
- Perhaps the act of growing a liking towards an individual and not understanding the root cause of your feelings. It is unexpected and challenging and can be upsetting at times. Getting trapped in a state of confusion and perhaps panic as you’re simply unable to locate the thorn. Sadly, whilst trapped, the kind and forgiving ones close to us become easy targets for our frustrations and end up taking the blame regardless of their own actions.
- The pain is ignored entirely, especially in times where the figurative 'paw' hurts the most. The unfamiliarity of the situation, whatever it may be, makes it all the more tempting to numb the distress. We embark on the hunt for an anaesthetic that will merely reduce the discomfort but fail to address the cause.
The thorn still firmly lodged in place becomes less noticeable, yet this numbing move comes with a high price. It eats at our time. Undermines self-respect and leads to debilitating symptoms. A symptom such as an inability to sleep, often being traceable to the turbulent impact of issues that haven’t been paid proper attention to during the day.
- Finally, applying the wrong ’medicine’. Coming up with unfounded and confusing schemes to solve a pain that is not understood. Riffling through a cabinet of cures despite how impulsive they may be. It can be hard not to inflict severe pain on ourselves or others when we don’t have an accurate handle on our own agonies.
Fortunately, there is almost always information on how our stream of consciousness contains a reservoir of muddled hints about our lives, which is gathered and decoded.
The art of living is to a large measure dependent on our ability to locate our thorns accurately and in good time so that we will not be forever condemned to suffer our symptoms and terrify strangers with our roars.
At this present time, we’ve all been placed in a state of uncertainty. We’re in a place where we’re left with our thoughts and we’re unable to escape ourselves. It does, however, provide us with an opportunity to cross our own personal borders and start the journey of getting to know ourselves.
Below are a few articles not only discussing the importance of self-reflection but providing one with ways in which one can go about it:
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This ability isn’t learned overnight. It is a gradual process of growth in which we see our reality through different windows. Asking ourselves challenging questions that will open our minds. Helping us question everything that surrounds us, even ourselves.
Self-reflection can act as an engine of personal growth; a journey for which we all have a ticket. And yet, as strange as it may seem, we don’t make good use of it.