Self-study, or svadhyana, is about knowing our true identity. It requires us to look at what’s happening inside. The world and others reflect back to us what we are seeing, not what is actually there. In other words, people and events don’t disappoint us, our models of reality do. And therein lies the power of unexamined beliefs. This guideline asks that we begin to notice what we are saying to ourselves about the moment, others, ourselves and life.
We can’t be afraid to look. The world is full of pain but it’s also filled with goodness. In countries that are still growing and developing, the old, the sick, the dying and the hungry are not shut like they are in the West. But the “privilege” of turning a blind eye to suffering comes at a cost. It turns us away from ourselves. Self-study invites us not to shut off from the unpleasant parts of ourselves. Instead, it asks us to dig deep and see with kindness and compassion. We must be willing to look at the darkness that lies within, while feeding the greatness.
As we unpack the boxes of our belief system, strong and often painful emotions can be released in the process. This is due, in large part, to the ego. The ego often gets a bad rap when, yet we wouldn’t exist without it. What’s important for us to remember is that the ego takes ownership of a neutral experience by making it “mine” and then colors is from the box of past experience. Not unlike returning from a trip, where we take each item from the suitcase. We have to look at each box and hidden emotions of experience that led to each layer of protective wrapping around ourselves.
The journey of self-study is not straight, smooth or like anything you think it should be. In fact, having a preconceived notion of how it should look is often what thwarts the process. We can take a cue from Buddhist, who remind us to have beginner’s mind – to know that we don’t know. It is this humbling stance that opens the door to learning. Self-inquiry is not to be confused with self-help, self-analysis or any other hyphenated self in which we are trying to fix what we perceive as broken.
Invoking our inner witness is a compassionate way to watch the shenanigans of the ego without identifying with it. The profoundness of this watching is that we begin to know ourselves as something different than who we thought we were. It is the ability to watch that begins to bring healing to our lives. Knowing that we aren’t who we thought we were begins to open up the possibility of knowing our true self.
As you might guess, meditation is an important aspect of self-study. It is where we grow the witness. Reading sacred texts and inspirational biographies are other practices that bring us closer to our true identity. Engaging curiosity and a beginner’s mind also helps us step outside our neatly wrapped boxes. Shifting our attention within, the unchecked belief systems begin to gently unravel and we become free to be who we were meant to be.
Next up, rounding out the Yamas and Niyamas, is surrender. The last of the Yoga Sutras.
Beams of gratitude to Deborah Adele for her wisdom and inspiration.