Do you know yourself? Do you know what makes you angry, happy, jealous, childlike, childish, worried or even dreamy?
What does it take to know ourselves? It isn’t that hard to be honest. Out of fear of the unknown we often avoid looking within. It takes a great deal of courage and honesty but the rewards are immense. Imagine living with someone 24/7 but not knowing them. Well, wakey wakey, you’re living with yourself 24/7.
Most of our reactions, thought patterns and tendencies have an underlying root cause and is probably due to excess baggage. Other than with His grace and His posts I am not sure how I came up with a method for self contemplation but the good news is that I use it on a regular basis and it never fails to yield results if we are willing to face the truth. The path of self-purification requires us to look deeply within and self-contemplation is the tool to get there. It goes without saying though that one pointed concentration, to some extent is required for this process but if we wish to work towards our transformation, we gotta do what we gotta do, right? The question which then arises is “How do we contemplate on ourselves?”
Self-contemplation: Two tips and some steps
Tip 1. Focus on one tendency at a time.
Choose one aspect of yourself which you would like to change or know more about.
In this case we are referring to a specific feeling, reaction or emotion. At the root of any of these are tendencies of the mind. Do you feel horrible after you’ve had a fit of rage? Or perhaps there is one person in particular who brings out the worst in you or maybe you are a shopping addict. Whether it is your tendency to be lazy, to lie, to be secretive, whatever it may be, the good news is that you can get to the root of it and transform that aspect of yourself.
Tip 2. Pick an easy tendency or behaviour initially.
One step at a time does the trick.
I would recommend refraining from tackling tendencies which have a biological aspect to them, such as lust or hanger (anger associated with hunger;)). Lust is probably the hardest one to tackle because it has biological aspect to it in addition to the conditioning around sexual thoughts. Hence, if anger or attachment or resentment affect you pick one of those to start your contemplation journey. Why? Because if you manage to overcome one tendency, it will give you strength to face the harder ones too.
The process of self-contemplation
It’s easy to get lost in the middle of the process. Yes, I feel sad, what now? Yes, I am attached to someone, where do I go from here? These may be common questions, but it isn’t that hard to look within. I didn’t initially plan to have 5 steps, but it seems to have rounded up quite nicely. As you explore the 5 steps of self-analysis below you’ll notice what a fountain we hold within us.
1. Observe yourself over a period of one week.
The first week isn’t about transformation as the idea is to familiarise yourself with your own mind, reactions, behaviour and coping mechanisms. Be mindful and observe which emotion or tendency most commonly arises within you whenever you are pushed out of your comfort zone. The idea is to be honest with yourself. And the best thing about this process is that you don’t have to tell anyone about it and when someone tells you that you look upset, you can just do an eye roll and yell ‘I know!’ in your mind. Sounds good, right? Alright jokes aside. What’s next?
2. Reflect on what triggers that emotion or behaviour. Why? Tell me why!
So, you have observed yourself, you know how you behave and are now familiar with the emotions you experience in undesirable situations. Now it’s time to reflect about the ‘why’.
If it’s anger, is it because people disagree with you or things get out of your control or is it because you expect too much from yourself, etc. I explored this self-reflection based on Swami’s post titled ‘Excess Baggage’. The table is an absolute gem, so is the post and the book He quotes from.
In essence, most of our emotions, reactions, and behaviour, more or less arise due to similar reasons. The need for control, the need for acceptance or fear of rejection, the need to be right, etc., each of which is due to past conditioning.
3. Compare your undesirable behaviour to a pleasant outcome in similar situations.
What am I talking about? It’s simple. Let’s say someone’s full-time job is to annoy you. Yes, there are such people. Or perhaps a specific cousin pushes you on edge every time you meet her. Whenever she asks you questions about yourself or your life, you feel irritated and would rather run away. Why do they annoy you so much?
That is an undesirable situation with an unpleasant outcome (i.e. you feel uncomfortable and the outcome is almost always that you take their leave in anger).
Now, compare this to a pleasant outcome (and situation). Imagine someone who you love and enjoy spending time with, it could be your best friend, your boyfriend, your parents or your siblings. Whenever they ask you a question, about whatever it may be, you are always in a peaceful state of mind and rarely get irritated. Is it them or is it you? Well, I have bad news. It’s you! But it also means that there is hope.
In self-contemplation, enquire and keep asking yourself questions about the root cause of your behaviour. Perhaps that cousin irritates you because you live by the principle of truth, and cannot lie to her, yet you cannot share everything with her because of some limitations, superstitions or maybe she would not respect your privacy. Losing control of a situation often gives rise to irritation.
If it is resentment or attachment, just contemplate on why you are attached or greedy etc. it will require utmost honesty towards yourself. Are you attached because you have a fear of loneliness? Or are you greedy because you are scared of losing everything? Or perhaps you are conditioned to believe that a person who is materially successful is widely accepted in society and you crave acceptance? What’s the truth? Only you’d know!
So, based on the tendency you chose, a constant self-interrogation to reach the root cause of that feeling is essential. And as you have noticed, persistence, honesty and courage are non-negotiable.Once the wisdom about the root cause dawns on you, it becomes experiential knowledge and the rest is a piece of cake! Chocolate or vanilla, make your choice.
4. Whenever that ‘tendency’ rises, be mindful before reacting.
Respond instead of reacting. In other words, just pause if you can, before acting. Make wise choices and stay in control of the situation. If you are susceptible to road rage, wilfully and mindfully choose to leave plenty of time to deal with traffic. Or if you get too attached to people, spend time in your own company, it will ease your need for attachment. And so on.
Once, I went through this self-analysis as someone close to me constantly brought up feelings of irritation. However, it was not always the case. Like a determined little chick, I decided to look within and ask myself why this specific person would irritate me on certain days. Lo and behold, it was not their fault. I discovered that it was because I try to live by the principle of truth (with exceptions:)). Due to one reason or another, I often had to refrain myself from telling this person everything, and because I cannot lie, my natural response was that of irritation. Why? It’s simple! The situation went out of control and whenever we lose control, we use our conditioned coping mechanism. Since that wisdom dawned on me, I worked on an antidote to this problem and when the situation repeated itself, I’d have a mindful response which would rarely irritate me. Easy peasy! The magic of self-analysis for you!
5. You may fail. You will be confused. Do not give up.
Allow the wisdom to arise from within and act accordingly. You will still fail and may forget the knowledge after a couple of days.
That’s okay. You may fail 90 times on the second day. You may overcome it completely on the 6th and 7th day and then you may fail 300 times on the 8th day. It’s perfectly fine. You just keep going. When it is going bad, comfort yourself that you will keep trying and when it is good, know that turbulent days will come.
At the end of the day, it is all a game. Let’s play with life and paint the canvas of our personality with the colours we wish. Who we are doesn’t have to be eternal. We can change. We must change but for that we ought to know ourselves first. Trust me it isn’t that scary. We have to live with ourselves all the time, hence self-observation is key. If we don’t even know what triggers our mood swings or what makes us happy or what we love, it is rather silly to expect others to know. They might just bring us B&J cookie dough ice-cream when we are really craving for Belgian chocolate brownie flavour:) Now, that would be a tragedy, wouldn’t it?
On an even lighter note, I posted a quote on Wildr some time back and it is very relevant to this post, so I’m sharing it here too:
“The sign of true spiritual progress is that the things which irritated you years ago no longer bother you now. Many other things bother you instead!”
What about you, do you have any self-contemplation tips to add? Please go ahead and share ‘em, everyone’s looking. Err I mean no one’s looking…
If you are attempting self-contemplation after reading this post and get stuck in the process, feel free to post your experience and query in the Q&A forum. We’ll happily help you dig! And oh remember to take it easy!