by Sister Usha
Nowadays most people who are seeking to live more meaningful and fulfilling lives understand how much they can benefit from daily meditation and the study of uplifting books. But they may not fully realize how introspection — or self-analysis — also can help them progress in all aspects of their existence, especially in attaining their spiritual goals. In fact, Paramahansa Yogananda once said, “True self-analysis is the greatest art of progress.”
Just as you set aside time to take a shower and eat your meals and get some exercise, introspection does all three of these things for your soul! You cleanse yourself of unconstructive thoughts, feed and nourish your spirit, and exercise your right to be victor over your bad habits.
Our lives so often feel like we’re on a treadmill: it is too easy to get caught up in the constant demands of our work, our family, our many activities, and lose sight of our ideals. Without regular introspection, we may go through an entire lifetime without realizing our full potential and repeat the same old mistakes again and again — becoming what Paramahansaji refers to as “psychological antiques.” Remember, you don’t have to be who you have always been; you can be a “new” you, a reflection of the Divine. Every day you can shed your old skin and see yourself becoming who you’ve always wanted to be: peaceful, wise, joyful, loving, and loved.
Practicing introspection is simple and easy — just take a few minutes each day to look honestly at yourself, going through the day’s events and your interactions with others, and taking note of how you reacted in all of those various situations. The goal is to determine what are the areas where you could improve — that is, to identify the attitudes and habits that are holding you back from expressing the full potential of your soul, or preventing you from being your best self.
As soon as you learn to think introspectively you change right then and there....Even the desire to be good — to correct yourself — means you have changed.
One of the first and most important keys to effective introspection is: concentrate on the positive. It requires courage to introspect! You are taking an honest look at yourself and your habitual mental and emotional patterns, and sometimes what you see will not be to your liking. People have often told me that the greatest challenge they encounter when they start introspecting is to feel overwhelmed by all they have to face and want to change in themselves. So what can you do to avoid feelings of discouragement? Paramahansaji gives a simple key: rather than focusing on the imperfections you have detected in yourself, concentrate on the positive, good qualities that you wish to manifest. Say you find you often become angry; don’t waste time brooding on it or condemning yourself for it. Remind yourself that in essence you are the perfect soul, and immediately cast out the anger (or other distressing quality) and say, “That’s not who I am.” Then affirm the opposite good quality: calmness, forgiveness, self-control, etc., telling yourself “This is me. This is what I am.”
This process can be divided into four stages:
1. first you observe the negative quality or behavior you want to change;
2. then you resolve how you are going to change, identifying the positive quality or behavior you are going to adopt;
3. then you let go of the negative trait or habit — and any associated feelings of guilt and regret for mistakes you have made — viewing them as something belonging to the past;
4. and lastly you affirm the opposite, positive quality to supplant the negative trait you are freeing yourself from, going forward in the consciousness of your new freedom and changed being.
Though it’s not always easy to put these steps into perfect practice, with repeated efforts you are sure to succeed in creating positive patterns in your life — and you’ll find this process is a very freeing experience.
Paramahansaji assures us that even the mere act of becoming aware of our imperfections is in itself a meaningful step forward:
“As soon as you learn to think introspectively you change right then and there. You have dissociated yourself from your faults and recognized them instead of pretending they do not exist. In that instant a change takes place. Even the desire to be good — to correct yourself — means you have changed.”
Quite an encouraging thought! May it spur us all to undertake the heroic task of changing ourselves!
Next time we’ll look at some more keys to effectively making introspection part of our daily lives.
(This is the first part of a two-part series.)