by Jennie Lee
(Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal.)
There is no denying that we live in a time and a culture that is focused on self. "Selfies" have become a global phenomenon, and social media fosters a fixation on me, me, and more me. Posturing to appear as "all that" goes on incessantly and often drives people to a level of self-absorption that generates a contrary outcome to its intent, because although focused on self, we end up farther away from an authentic understanding of who we truly are. It is time to look in the mirror in a different way.
Self-reflection, or introspection, as a spiritual practice has been around for thousands of years. It is a core tenent of the ancient yogic teachings found in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, called Swadhyaya in Sanskrit. Introspection encompasses a study of one's self from the personality level to the soul level, as well as a study of the unified field of consciousness, or Ultimate Self, that is embodied in each one of us in a unique way.
Stop Hiding Behind the Mask of False Self
Rather than giving time and energy to appearing as someone valuable, loveable, and necessary, actually become that person through the art of introspection. Take a break from external validation-seeking. Instead of sending images of self out into the world with the hope of gaining "likes" and "comments," open to the inner experience of your authentic self and develop a life according to your highest aspirations.
Some prompts in three categories—body, mind, and spirit—will get you underway.
- Do I get enough exercise and sunlight daily for optimal health?
- Do I eat nourishing foods and drink enough water for my body's vital functioning?
- Do I create balance in my day for work, rest, play, etc.?
- Do I use free time constructively, creatively, and in service to my family, friends, and community?
- Do I perform my duties with enthusiasm, good will, and efficiency?
- Am I kind and thoughtful toward colleagues, family, friends, and strangers alike?
- Am I truthful and positive, avoiding criticism and gossip?
- Do I strive to hold a positive, loving attitude in all circumstances?
- Do I cater to my moods, or practice evenmindedness?
- Am I consistent with my chosen spiritual practice (church, meditation, prayer, etc.)?
- Do I practice silence regularly to allow my senses to turn inward rather than always outward?
- Do I embody soul qualities such as generosity, patience, enthusiasm, empathy, devotion, self-control, integrity, loyalty, and peace?
- Do I give attention to that which I believe to be a Higher Power than my self?
Create an Ongoing Practice
By considering the predominant nature of your thoughts, actions, and intentions, you start to see a clear reflection of your inner self. Are you living according to the highest principles you know? What is your life producing? Are you repressing any part of yourself? Do you like what you are becoming?
Analyze these questions neutrally, without judgment. They are not meant to create an inferiority, nor a superiority, complex. And do not expect perfection. Just offer a continuous effort and results of greater clarity and peace will naturally follow.
"Truly scrutinize your life. Find out what it really amounts to; then takes steps to make it all it ought to be. Change your consciousness; that is what is really necessary," writes Paramahansa Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi.
Next, contemplate your greatest aspirations and dreams. Stop blaming anyone else for your circumstances. Accept what is and be accountable for any change that needs to occur. You get clearer and stronger as a result of tests. So, be grateful for them instead of resentful. Self-confidence is nourished when you tackle a difficulty and see that in fact you are capable of deep personal growth and change. Don't expect to be challenge-free! Trials are a part of life, showing us what lies within us that needs to be brought to a higher level of consciousness.
Consider any negative habits or character flaws you would like to overcome, such as being weak-willed, self-absorbed, or pessimistic. Then make a list of the qualities needed to counteract these shortcomings. For instance, if you notice that you are driven by unhealthy habits and have difficulty employing willpower, you will need to cultivate self-control. Choose just one quality to practice for a month and integrate it in every aspect of your life—in diet, in relationships, in speech, in exercise. Search for quotations that support this quality and keep them handy to inspire you. Write your own affirmations about being in the desired state of self-control now. Become a careful witness of your repetitive patterns of thought and behavior. Keep a log of the times you succeed in being self-controlled to foster a positive example of success. And practice compassion and patience in the times you fall short of your goal.
A wonderful time to practice daily introspection is in the evening before sleeping. Take a few deep breaths to quiet the mind and relax the body. Then review the day mentally.
Self-reflection helps us to become better humans. As we self-improve we are a positive influence to others and we focus less on getting "liked." We draw closer to the expression of our true nature as an essential part of the Universe, and lasting happiness follows.
Article originally published in The Llewellyn Journal. Copyright Llewellyn Worldwide, 2016. All rights reserved.