A Field Guide to Life – The Practice of Self-Knowledge

by Brad on February 12, 2013

This installment of A Field Guide to Life invites you to get to know yourself – deeply. We’ve been taught to look for our answers in the outer world, yet the real ones live inside us. This set of practices challenges you to “go inside” and find the fire of your own personal truth.

 

Practices for Self-Knowledge

“And is it not a dream which none of you remember having dreamt that builded this city and fashioned all there is in it? Could you but see the tides of that breath you would cease to see all else, and if you could hear the whispering of the dream you would hear no other sound. The veil that clouds your eyes will be lifted by the hands that wove it.”     – Kahlil Gibran

As the words above elegantly suggest, everything you’ve ever achieved in life came from your own energy and intention. Yet up until now, you may have little conscious awareness of either your energy or your intention, or indeed how much power they offer you to manifest the extraordinary. The only obstacle between you and your dream is the [unconscious] thought that you can’t have it.

The path beyond this trap is as close as the practices that follow. In-depth awareness of your ways of speaking, thinking, seeing and believing changes your ways of speaking, thinking, seeing and believing. It’s just that simple.  With practices of silence, simplicity and self-care now in place (they are in place, right?), it’s time to discover your inner self. You do that by interrupting unconscious thought processes and introducing conscious ones. These practices offer the disturbance your mind needs in order to see anew.

17150525When you see yourself and your world clearly and objectively, you’ll discover that any obstacles you face arose not from life’s facts and events, but from the story, or interpretation, you created about those facts and events. These practices offer ways to understand your thinking and open you to a deeper sense of self-knowing. By now, you’ve probably rekindled a sense of curiosity about life. Only as adults have we come to see curiosity as either childish (as if we shouldn’t be so curious anymore), or reserved for the external world (scientific curiosity). Neither is true. Learning and self-inquiry are life-long pursuits. Directing your energy inward is simply the next phase of the journey. Self-observation opens dramatic new perspectives and possibilities of a world far bigger than you have ever believed possible. Get curious. 

Many people doubt that observing your thinking can change your thinking. In general, many doubt that awareness itself can change much of anything. As a way of experiencing the power of self-awareness, stop now for 10 seconds and observe your breathing. Don’t try to change it or judge it; just notice. If you’re like most, your breathing changed – most likely it became deeper and more rhythmic (despite direction to not change anything). Change happened naturally, without effort. Your body’s wisdom knows what’s healthy for you, and accommodates naturally. Just think; if you could be aware of your breathing 24/7, how healthfully might you breathe? Similarly, if you could be aware of your thinking 24/7, imagine the power you would have to guide life toward your dreams. You can.

Get to know your thinking:

  • Observe your thoughts: If you’re not consciously aware of your thinking, it’s nearly certain life is driven by an incessant flow of unconscious, outdated messages you think is thinking. Only by interrupting this flow can you get to know your own truth. By noticing your thoughts, you reconstruct life’s meaning from fragments that have gone unnoticed until now. Contrary to belief, slowing down isn’t about doing less. It’s about not missing so damned much. Opportunity shows up in the present; that’s the moment you miss while the mind is filled with unconscious thoughts, and you’re racing to get to the next moment. Stop what you’re doing several times a day. During a few moments of quiet reflection, replay in your mind thoughts you’ve had since the last time you stopped. Listen to what they tell you. Don’t try to change them. Just notice. That’s it; simple. Just become a student of your own thinking. With this most powerful of regular self-observation practices, you will (1) come to know your thoughts, (2) hear subtle messages of your inner truth, (3) see that only your thoughts determine your experience of reality, (4) distinguish life’s events from the interpretation of those events you made up in your mind, (5) release judgment from your life (as you notice you created it to begin with), (6) see life from a broader perspective, thereby creating a bigger world, instantly, (7) make new choices naturally and easily (simply because you now can), (8) consciously shift from having thoughts to having a relationship with thoughts, (9) become so observant that you’ll start to see things as they occur. This one practice is key to your personal transformation.
  • Observe your life as a movie: A great way to notice thoughts is to trace them over the course of a lifetime. Tonight you’ll be the audience at a movie you’ve starred in for years, yet don’t know very well. It’s difficult to see life objectively while  lost in its details, so here’s a chance to see life from a perspective of observer. First, create quiet time and space for yourself, with no distractions. Sit quietly; allow your mind to go calm. Begin to re-play your life story best you can remember. Do this exercise several times over many days or weeks. Each replay fills in more blanks as experiences and feelings of your life come back to you. Go back as far as you can; see your life as a full-length movie. Notice times, places, people, events, feelings, the relationships among them. Notice the significance you attach to some things (and not to others), how you weave a story about life, different from the simple facts and events. Continuing to explore your memories, notice judgments you make – about yourself, others, how you live. For now, don’t ‘judge the judgments;’ this is about learning, seeing clearly. As observer of your life, you will notice things you missed while in the role of star. You may see themes superimposed on life’s events, recurring patterns in the events of life. Patterns, more so than events, teach you about yourself and your choices. Ask yourself what common aspects unite the patterns you observe, and what might be different if you “knew” that the stuff of life was part of a larger pattern. It matters less that you “like” what you see than you “see what is real.”
  • Observe your body’s wisdom: Your body stores in cellular memory all of your life experiences, thoughts and feelings, building a story of who you are. The body doesn’t label things as good/bad, or spin stories about what happened; it just stores memories. Being aware of your body teaches you about yourself in a way that your rational mind denies or represses. With awareness, you can release stored memories that today don’t serve you well. Sit comfortably; close your eyes; allow your body and mind to go calm. Notice how it feels to be aware of your body. From your toes to the crown of your head, bring awareness to each body part, and observe sensations. Tighten each muscle as you go, then release it. You may notice places your body has stored its memories for years, now showing up as back pain, tightness, or perhaps long term conditions or diseases. Listening to your body offers a direct channel into your inner truth, unencumbered by the interpretive spin added by your rational mind. 
  • Observe your breathing: Return for a moment to the exercise above on observing your breathing. Regular observation of your breathing creates phenomenal benefit, not only for self-awareness, but for health and well-being. Sit quietly and focus your attention on your breathing. Just notice. No need to change anything. Do this many times a day, perhaps in combination with other practices. No matter what you’re doing, you always have the capability and the energy to be more aware of your breathing.
  • Observe your belief system: After some experience with “observe your thoughts” above, you can begin to examine the belief system that underlies your thinking. Courtesy of your unconscious mind, you’ve become your beliefs. This creates a limit to the possibility you experience, however. Observation allows you to see now-unconscious beliefs, thereby making them conscious. During quiet time for noticing your thoughts, stop and examine each thought closely. For example, you may think, “I want to love my work, but there’s no way to make a living doing what I love.”  Then stop; ask what old belief may be lurking under the thought. You might discover you’d always been told life is hard, work is harder, fun comes only “after work.” You may decide that this belief no longer has the power to control your choices. Doing this practice regularly opens you to discovery of a host of potentially life-constraining beliefs.
  • Observe your definition of truth: How do you know what you know? What constitutes truth? What evidence do you need for something to be true? For things you know as true, discover how you know. Don’t stop questioning until you do. Once you know, ask yourself what other way of knowing might be possible if you were to see this same thing from a different perspective. What possibility might open that was either invisible or unavailable with previously-unconscious ways of knowing? I include this practice because how we’ve come to see truth in our society has the potential to lead down dead-end streets; becoming consciously aware of knowing helps you reframe your life in more meaningful ways. This is not about telling you what is true, or what to think or believe. It’s about you becoming keenly aware of what truth means to you, and how you arrived at it.

 

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