De Profundis: The final mystery is oneself

Recently I was re-reading Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, a moving letter from prison that looks at spirituality and faith from the depths of despair and degradation.

This particular quote stood out for me, especially the notion that we do not know ourselves very well.

“But with the dynamic forces of life, and those in whom those dynamic forces become incarnate, it is different. People whose desire is solely for self-realisation never know where they are going. They can’t know. In one sense of the word it is of course necessary, as the Greek oracle said, to know oneself: that is the first achievement of knowledge. But to recognise that the soul of a man is unknowable, is the ultimate achievement of wisdom.

The final mystery is oneself. When one has weighed the sun in the balance, and measured the steps of the moon, and mapped out the seven heavens star by star, there still remains oneself. Who can calculate the orbit of his own soul?

When the son went out to look for his father’s asses, he did not know that a man of God was waiting for him with the very chrism of coronation, and that his own soul was already the soul of a king.”

Oscar Wilde – De Profundis

It seems, as we move into the interesting year of 2012, that this is a good time to turn our efforts towards understanding ourselves more fully. And, along with that, to discover how to accept ourselves as we are, both flawed and fabulous in parts.

I have come to suspect that our good relations with others hinge more upon our own understanding and acceptance of our own self than upon any other thing.

Hopefully we are not fated to suffer – as did Wilde (or Verlaine or Prince Kropotkin) – similar trials to achieve clarity and understanding.