To know oneself is a humbling job – not always pretty – and a lifetime commitment is required.
People spend years in therapy – self-reflecting, analyzing and trying to understand who they are and why they are here. There are many levels to self-observation and awareness. First we must assess and take responsibility for our thoughts and actions, our reactivity and unconscious habits, and our fears and doubts. Hopefully we learn to do this with some measure of humor and without judgment. By observing our beliefs, behaviors, and desires with objectivity, we discover whether they are life affirming or not. By refusing to hide from what is within, we prepare the way for the deeper levels of introspection that the Yoga Sutras teach.
The specific sutra on Swadhaya (or introspection) tells us that as we look within, we are actually studying “the Divine” and by doing so we will be “guided to the Supreme Self.”
“Sacred study of the Divine through scripture, nature, and introspection (Swadhaya) guides us to the Supreme Self.”
We are assured over and over throughout the sutras that our true “Self” is spiritual, ever new joy, ever radiant light and unlimited in nature. It is only because we see through a limited frame of reference that we think we are small, separate human beings defined by our personalities and roles in life. It is a magnificent new paradigm to stop identifying ourselves as someone’s mother, father, wife or husband and start knowing ourselves as soul - complete, worthy, valuable, loving and loveable. This soul level knowing enables us to do whatever we do with creativity and freedom.
In fact, all the outer and inner practices of yoga help us help us shift our perception of self as ‘limited human’ to Supreme Self or part of Divine creation. From the most basic use of asana (posture) to liberate the flow of energy in the body, to the discipline of pratyahara (quieting the senses) to enter the stillness of meditation, yoga gives us tools to live with intention, purpose and awareness of Divinity seeking expression through our individual lives.
Of course, until we reach enlightenment, we will inevitably face new challenges and wonder, “Is this all there is to life - struggle and suffering peppered with momentary pleasure and relief?”
Again and again, we can return to our yoga practices - focusing on controlling our prana or life force through conscious breathing, being mindful of our thought, speech and action, and cultivating more inner stillness through meditation. We must surrender negative self concepts and choose instead the clarity, perspective, and calm of Supreme Self. Whether we received a sense of our value and worth from our human families or not, when we see ourselves as a unique part of the Divine Creation, we realize our innate worth and goodness. As we experience more of our true nature, we realize our purpose for being. From this place of purpose we move through life with joy and the ability to effect positive change in the world around us.
This article is part of an ongoing series on the yamas and niyamas. For the full 10-part series click on each link below: