Mother Nature, in the role of a stern mother, has sent us to our rooms! The government may call it “shelter in place,” but from another angle you can see that we are being asked to quit running around and do some serious thinking: How are we treating Mother Earth? How are we treating each other? How are we treating ourselves?
Introspection is the need of the hour. In a spiritual context, it means the sincere examination of our thoughts, feelings, words, actions, and motivations in order to keep them uplifted and beneficial. Similar to the niyama svadhyaya from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, introspection implies that we study scriptures and other trusted sources of wisdom to align our hearts and minds with spiritual values. Only then can we take enlightened action.
We have the unique opportunity, while we are sheltering, to make substantive changes within ourselves. It’s not enough to make donations or join a demonstration—we also need to look deeply into our minds and patterns to understand how we may have contributed to the errors of our culture.
A regular meditation practice supports that intention by cultivating an ability to consciously focus our attention in one direction and thus stand apart from our habitual train of thought. Observing the contents of our minds enables us to be less identified with our thinking, thus freeing us from simply trusting and acting on the deep-seated beliefs and ideas ingrained in us from our culture. We can begin to think, speak, and act with a more universal purpose in mind.
Why is introspection important? Researchers have shown that we think more than 50,000 thoughts per day, of which more than half are negative and more than 90 percent are just repeats from the day before. Just like in your computer, where there are programs working in the background, in our minds there are subconscious programs at work—often to our detriment.
Introspection and svadhyaya are honorable practices found in nearly every faith. Here are a few examples: Devout Jains engage in a process of repentance for any wrongdoings of their daily life, and remind themselves to refrain from repeating them. In Hinduism, introspection, or self-inquiry, is encouraged in schools such as Advaita Vedanta, in order to realize one’s own true nature. In Christianity, introspection leads to noetic understanding: a process to access information not available through rational or discursive thought.
How can we begin an introspection practice?
- Find a quiet space—a place without distractions—and quiet your mind.
- Ask yourself some open-ended questions:
- Am I using my time wisely?
- What am I taking for granted?
- What worries me most? What am I afraid of?
- Am I holding onto something I need to let go of?
- When did I last push the boundaries of my comfort zone?
- If my body could talk, it would say…
- What is life asking of me?
- Self-observe and try not to judge yourself
- Take notes and reflect on them
Our sincere wish is for us to seize this opportunity and use it wisely to further our spiritual growth and actively work to bring about lasting change. Let us find time to educate ourselves and expose the ways we unintentionally contribute to injustice and inequity. Let us open our minds to the needs of others, free our hearts from selfishness, and apply spiritual teachings to our lives in practical ways that transform our culture and bring healing to us all.
About the Authors:
Swami Divyananda is one of Integral Yoga’s senior monastics and foremost teachers. Over the years she has served as the director of the Integral Yoga Institutes in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Coimbatore, India, and as the Ashram Manager of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville in Virginia. In addition to teaching at these centers, she has taught Yoga and meditation on special retreats, in corporations and universities, at the Commonwealth Cancer Center and for the Dr. Dean Ornish Heart Disease Programs. Swami Divyananda served for eleven years at the Integral Yoga Institute in Coimbatore, South India and continues to lead pilgrimage tours through India.