Nirodhaḥ Yoga Blog
How Can I Know Myself Better?
Pleasure is not the goal of man, but knowledge. Pleasure and happiness come to an end. It is a mistake to suppose that pleasure is the goal."
- Swami Vivekananda
Turning inward can be an uncomfortable experience. It's so easy to get lost in the outer world, whether that’s the myriad electronic distractions we have at our fingertips, desire for/protectiveness over material things, or even the thoughts and feelings of others.
The outward view affords us thoughts of pleasure (“I’d love to have..,” “when I get it, I will…,” “I can’t wait until…”) but orients us to moments that don’t exist yet. Our own present moment seems poorer in relief.
When the fixation on outer things is negative (“I wish I still…,” “I can’t believe they said…,” “why does this always happen to me?”), it is easier to transform the pain and fear into anger and/or sadness, directed at someone or something else. Or even worse, ourselves.
We limit ourselves this way. Rather than directing the full force of our discriminative faculties (Viveka in Sanskrit) onto the areas in which we have control - spoiler, the only domain we have control over is ourselves - we dilute it by judging and recriminating things wholly out of our power to influence.
To be clear, I am not suggesting that using our energy to enact some needed change is at all wrong. Yet I do believe that using the sacred, inner time we spend with ourselves to discuss or argue or beg about the outer world is counterproductive. It leads not to Viveka but to a dialectic.
We discuss the validity of one another’s opinions in a dialectic. That is not necessarily bad but it's not enough. We must also develop discernment about ourselves. We need to investigate our place within our shared reality and develop knowledge about the nature of Truth.
Sometimes, well-intentioned people have created a horrible mess out of a challenging predicament. They may earnestly try to solve the problem. But without humbling themselves to this process of inner discernment, they aren’t able to see that their ego - not the best interests of their community - is driving the movement forward. That’s where we all fall into trouble.
I had a realization a few years ago that hit me like a ton of bricks. Like many, I’ve struggled with feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem during my life.
Discussing how we identify ourselves with our egos in my first yoga teacher training, I realized that identifying with one’s ego isn’t only for narcissists and people with an overstimulated sense of self-worth. We also identify with our ego when we see ourselves as “less than” or unworthy.
Our ego is constantly telling us, “I am you. You are me. What I do, you do too. When I go, so do you.” But it’s a lie.
If we identify ourselves with our ego, when we do good things, we are good. When we do bad things, we are bad.
There is a chant in Sanskrit that says “Lead us from the unreal to the real. Lead us from the darkness to the light.” What is real? Only that which never changes. The rest is ephemeral.
The phenomena that we observe with our senses will all cease to exist one day. Truth always has and always will exist unchanged.
Our ego can get us into all sorts of issues and adventures. And it’s constantly changing its opinion of ourselves, others, and the world around us. Therefore, it is not the Truth.
But who even hears the ego chattering away like a fool? The inner witness. The inner witness, or light, never changes. It just neutrally observes as things change, without changing itself.
Think about a newborn baby. We love babies because they’re pure witnesses. They don’t worry about politics, or the economy, or even what so-and-so said on The Tonight Show.
They don’t identify with the moments past or to come. They don’t think, “boy, I cry a lot. I must be depressed.” Or “I eat so much, I’m going to get fat.”
They laugh when something’s funny. Cry when something’s uncomfortable. Sleep when they are tired. When the moment passes, they drop those emotions and become the pure witness again. They are like a clear crystal, refracting whatever light is passing through.
Of course as adults (or even possibly, parents of these little witnesses), we have to conduct ourselves in this outer world to thrive. That’s where the tricky part is. Applying Viveka among all the changing, outer world, non-truths around us. How can we learn to experience the joy of non-duality within our phenomenal dual world?
By turning to that inner light through meditation. When we get better acquainted with the witness in silence, it gets easier to discriminate between what is real and what isn’t.
Then, we won’t be as bothered by dualities (gain vs. loss, happy vs. sad, evil vs. saintly) because we know eventually they will all pass but the inner light remains.
I promise you, whatever demons you find when turning within are nowhere near as annoying as your ego on a bad day. Go deep.
In the spirit of Viveka, I offer you this mantra to lead you into meditation.
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Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...
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