Compass: The Context


In this article, a definitive look at what philosophers, theologians, psychologists, and scientists throughout history have thought regarding knowing yourself and the impact that knowing yourself has on your well-being.

Knowing Yourself

A compass is an instrument for helping you figure out in which direction you need to head. That’s what this mantra is all about – beginning this practice of establishing your life compass. In short, knowing yourself. Or as we’ll refer to it going forward, self-awareness. 

This month is only the beginning, but determining this will eventually help you make clearer decisions, be more confident, feel more independent, and ultimately, love yourself more.


The term somatics was first coined by Thomas Hanna in 1970 to describe using movement and relaxation to increase bodily awareness. That may make it a fairly new invention, but it greatly draws its practices from Eastern philosophy and healing practices, including tai chi and qi gong.

50 years later, somatics in the west is more popular than ever. Somatic therapy and somatic psychotherapy are used to address the physical effects of trauma and anxiety, including muscle tension, digestive problems, trouble sleeping, chronic pain, and respiratory problems.

In a 2017 study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, it was shown that increasing awareness of your posture and movements may reduce unwanted emotions and promote a more positive emotional experience. According to a 2016 study, somatics can reduce chronic pain.

But you don’t need to experience chronic pain to get value out of somatics. Somatics is simply a way to better connect the mind and the body, allowing for you to be more informed about your emotional state and ultimately give you more control over how you react to it.


Journaling is immensely valuable. You would be hard-pressed to find someone in the field who disagrees with that statement. Studies have found journaling to be valuable in all sorts of ways, including reducing depression and anxiety, improving overall immune function and reducing your risk of illness, helping cultivate gratitude, and improving memory function.

While all of the above benefits are fantastic, perhaps the most important reason to journal regularly is simply to give yourself a chance to reflect back on your life and your decisions on a regular basis. Doing so is crucial to living a mindful life.

Work View and Life View

The exercise of thinking through your work and life views is meant to round out the establishing of your compass. Before you can move forward into more satisfying work and/or life roles, you must first establish your own baseline. These prompts are intended to do just that.

Modern Philosophy, Psychology, & Science

Modern science and psychology recognize the importance of self-awareness and self-reflection for personal growth and well-being. Psychological theories such as self-determination theory and positive psychology emphasize the importance of understanding one's own needs and values and cultivating a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Neuroscience research has also shown that self-awareness is associated with better emotional regulation and decision-making (Farb et al., 2013). Additionally, modern science has explored the relationship between physical and psychological well-being, highlighting the importance of practices such as meditation and mindfulness for promoting mental and physical health.

Modern philosophy, particularly existentialism, emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and personal responsibility for creating a meaningful life. Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote, "Man is condemned to be free… [he] is responsible for everything he does" (Existentialism Is a Humanism). According to existentialists, individuals must recognize their freedom and accept the responsibility that comes with it, including the responsibility to create their own values and to choose their own path in life. By doing so, individuals can achieve a sense of authenticity and fulfillment.

Axial Philosophies Overall

The Axial Philosophies emphasized the importance of self-awareness and introspection as a path to personal growth and well-being. Philosophers such as Confucius and Buddha stressed the importance of self-reflection and self-improvement, while the Stoics encouraged individuals to cultivate self-awareness and emotional resilience. The Axial Philosophies also emphasized the interconnectedness of individuals and the world around them, highlighting the importance of understanding one's place in the larger scheme of things.

Confucianism & Daoism

Confucianism emphasizes the importance of self-reflection and self-improvement as a path to personal growth and societal harmony. Confucius encouraged individuals to cultivate a sense of inner balance and to strive for moral excellence through continuous self-reflection and self-correction. Daoism also emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and introspection, but with a focus on aligning oneself with the natural flow of the universe. The Daoist concept of wu wei encourages individuals to let go of their attachments and desires, and to live in harmony with the natural world.

Hinduism & Buddhism

Hinduism emphasizes self-realization and the pursuit of knowledge as a means of attaining inner peace and fulfillment. The concept of Atman, or the individual soul, is central to Hindu philosophy, and the goal of self-realization involves understanding one's true nature as a manifestation of the divine. Practices such as yoga and meditation are used to cultivate self-awareness and connect with the divine, leading to a sense of inner harmony and well-being.

In Hinduism, self-realization involves understanding one's true nature as a manifestation of the divine, leading to a sense of inner harmony and well-being. Buddhism, on the other hand, emphasizes the impermanence and interconnectedness of all things and encourages the cultivation of mindfulness and compassion to attain enlightenment and inner peace. Both religions view self-knowledge as a path to spiritual growth and well-being.

Traditional Western Philosophy & Stoics

Traditional Western philosophy and the Stoics stress the importance of self-knowledge for well-being. Socrates' famous maxim, "know thyself," exemplifies this emphasis, which is also evident in the Stoic belief that self-awareness enables individuals to live in accordance with nature and to develop wisdom and virtue. According to Stoic philosopher Epictetus, "If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters… Don't wish to seem knowledgeable if you aren't, and if someone asks you something about which you aren't knowledgeable, don't pretend to know something. Instead, confess your ignorance, and the other person will do you no harm, because it was only your own opinion that you hurt" (Enchiridion 13). By acknowledging their limitations, individuals can cultivate humility, which is central to Stoic ethics.

Christianity, Judaism, Islam

Christianity teaches that self-knowledge is essential for spiritual growth and well-being. According to the Bible, individuals must examine themselves to understand their own faults and limitations and to seek forgiveness and redemption. This self-examination is necessary to develop humility, which is a virtue central to Christian ethics. Additionally, Christianity emphasizes the importance of knowing one's purpose in life, which involves understanding one's unique talents and abilities and using them to serve others and to fulfill God's plan. As the Apostle Paul wrote, "For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10, NIV).

Like Christianity, Judaism emphasizes the importance of self-reflection and self-improvement. The Talmud teaches that "knowing oneself" is a fundamental principle of wisdom, and that the study of Torah is necessary for self-discovery and spiritual growth. Unlike Christianity, however, Judaism does not focus on a personal relationship with God or on the concept of original sin. Instead, Judaism emphasizes the importance of following God's commandments and living a life of ethical and moral responsibility. While both religions share common themes of self-knowledge and self-improvement, their distinct beliefs and practices reflect their different historical and cultural contexts.

Like Christianity and Judaism, Islam stresses the importance of self-knowledge and self-improvement. Muslims believe that self-reflection and self-awareness are essential for spiritual growth and that individuals must strive to align their will with the will of Allah. Islam also shares with Judaism a strong emphasis on the importance of following God's commandments and living a life of moral responsibility. However, Islam differs from both Judaism and Christianity in its rejection of the concept of original sin and in its emphasis on the unity and transcendence of Allah.

Further Reading

The relaxation daily practice in this mantra is just the beginning. If you’re intrigued about somatics and wish to learn more, check out the many resources available from Strozzi Institute, a leading provider of somatic training. While there are many great directions to go for somatics education, Strozzi’s focus on somatics for self growth and leadership makes them our choice. 


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