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Fundamentals of Self-Knowledge
When beginning a practice of self-knowledge and self-love, our initial practice often centers on a basic focus, such as becoming aware of our breath, pausing our inner dialogue for a second at a time, or noticing the sensations in our body. This is a foundation we come back to again and again as our practice deepens.
As we expand our commitment to the habit of self-knowledge, several fundamental aspects of our mental, emotional, and spiritual health begin to emerge.
1. The Subconscious
This fundamental building block to understanding and healing is tricky by nature. Time and again, as we meditate, we will notice thoughts, sensations, beliefs that seem obvious, i.e. “I’m just uncomfortable sitting still because I am impatient. Meditation is too hard for me.” If we are willing to breathe through our discomfort and continue to observe what comes up, there is often a subconscious reason for our resistance under the surface, i.e. “I’m uncomfortable because I don’t deserve this time. I should focus on other people.”
This is just one example of the in nite ways our underlying challenges and beliefs about ourselves, and the world, influence us. When beginning a self-knowledge or personal healing journey, it is helpful to practice recognizing these hidden mental traps as they arise.
Duality is a word that encompasses many practical, as well as spiritual, concepts that affect us daily. Part of the human psyche, for reasons of survival and basic understanding of reality, divides the world into the concept of “self” and “other”. This division is also the seed of being able to perceive opposites such as black/white, good/bad, angel/devil, and pleasurable/painful.
While this part of being human gives rise to all kinds of wonderful experiences, including creative inspiration, healthy choice between good and bad consequences, and joyful desire, it can also have a shadow side. Un- controlled desires and addictions, fear of dif cult sensations, and choice paralysis can also be associated with this fundamental aspect of the spiritual and emotional journey.
3. Self Definition
Understanding who we are and where we each t in the world is a major part of sustainable happiness. The ability to compassionately examine and sort through the roles we play in our lives, the self-protective faces and vulnerable honesty we employ, is an aspect of the self-knowledge practice that often takes time to develop. Sometimes the beliefs, behaviors and relationships that we cling to for validation are what we think the world wants from us, but not our most authentic expression.
Our authentic self is vulnerable, but also incredibly powerful. When we know ourselves and let our true inner experience show, we start to experience empowerment. I call this “power in” instead of “power over”.
I also call this fundamental building block forgiveness, because forgiveness is the end result of healthy emotional processing. In the spiritual dialogue, emotional processing is not about what you say to your loved one when they hurt you, talking incessantly in therapy, or how much red paint you can splash on a canvass. These examples are all tools for emotional processing, and can be metaphors for the inner movement we invite through self-knowledge. Emotional processing requires us to allow ourselves to deeply feel our emotions, with- out believing or getting caught in the story. This process involves a great deal of compassion and dispassio
No spiritual journey could be complete without learning how to healthfully process emotions. Some teachers or spiritual paths try to gloss over this part of the process, because emotional discomfort is, well, uncomfortable. Big or small, emotions have power in our psyches and in our lives. We must learn to observe and feel in order to release the control emotional pain has on our lives.
After recognizing our subconscious patterns, our relationship to the world, our sense of self, and our healthy emotional state, it’s time to recognize the picture these puzzle pieces form: our gift to the world. My students often imagine that by the time they reach this step, they will be confronted with a terrifying reality. We believe we will either have a destiny so grand that we will never live up to it, or we are doomed by our stars to some small and sti ing purpose as a cog in some great machine. Reality is usually far more unique to the individual, somewhere between these extremes.
It is also, consistently, incredibly joyful.
Spiritual voice can be literal, as in the cases of some who realize they want to sing or preach or write, but it can also be the way we choose to let our actions speak for us. Spiritual voice can be founding a company, leaving a job, being gentler with our loved ones, even taking up a hobby. The key to this fundamental of self-knowl- edge is learning to understand our fears, blocks, and special gifts, to listen to our inner wisdom, and then take action which honors that wisdom.
How to we get clear and stay clear? How do we tell the difference between fantasy and inner wisdom, between emotion and drama, between ego and anima? Through the practice of observing, and eventually being able to quiet the mind, we gain the answers to these questions.
There are subtle differences in the sensations of true, untrue, and partially true thoughts. When we begin the spiritual path, we are often dealing with strong emotions and external challenges; these are the big rocks and mountains in our way, and these are easy to recognize. As we learn more and make healthier choices, the deep, subtle issues in our journey become more urgent. Metaphorically, we must begin to look at the map, as well as the stones under our feet. As we continue along, we recognize more and more of the patterns, the effects of certain thoughts and actions...we begin to truly understand ourselves. This is discernment.
The subtlest and most powerful fundamental of self-knowledge is the fully aware connection to something bigger. This sense of connection can be described through quantum physics, sociology, or religion, but the personal experience of it is unique to each healthy mind.
Many people have a rebellious relationship to this sense of connection. Having had religion shoved down their throats at some point, they want nothing to do with it. For others, the can envision themselves only as a pathetic supplicant to some punitive and powerful gure...not exactly an inspiring sensation. Spiritual connec- tion, in its truest form, has nothing to do with the language or visual aids our conscious mind uses to de ne it. It is a lived experience, as easily felt with a stranger at the grocery checkout or a passing moth, as in a great cathedral or at the eyepiece of the Hubble Telescope.
As a meditation teacher and spiritual coach, I would encourage each of you, on reading this, to remember two spiritual truths.
First: You are your own teacher. You absolutely have the courage, the self-love, and the wisdom to guide yourself on the path of self-knowledge. I hope you never let self-doubt win the inner argument.
Second: It is okay to ask for support. While each of us contains all the potential of joy and connection within us, it is often amazingly helpful reach out. You are not alone, and someone who has been where you may have some helpful maps to share. If you are struggling, if you are curious, if you are hearing an inner call to go deeper, please reach out to me or to a mentor or professional you trust, who can guide and support you in the journey.
Article by Amira Suliman 4/4/17