Introspection is a wonderful tool available to a spiritual aspirant. When done right, it can lead quite directly to deeply peaceful states.
The intellect has long been celebrated in modern society and this is especially true of the current generation. We judge people based on their IQ, their opinions and their academic qualification. The intellect has been reduced to a tool that serves the ego and consequently, introspection is an exercise in the same direction.
What is Introspection?
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines introspection as “a reflective looking inward : an examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings“. It takes us in two directions – one can either examine one’s thoughts, or one’s feelings. The former is much more popular. And a much bigger waste of time.
Introspection on Thoughts
The ego is nothing but a set of mental structures which we use to construct or define our identity. Whenever something happens that disturbs or challenges this identity, it gives rise to unpleasant feelings. In a bid to avoid facing these feelings, the mind starts moving in circles, giving rise to thought after thought, theory after theory. Any mental introspection therefore gives rise to transient theories which support the current illusion we are witnessing.
This is not to say that happy moments are any different. Pleasant feelings arise when the identity is reinforced, and in such a case the mind runs in circles in a bid to make this state permanent, coming up with theories and ways to extend this feeling.
So in either case, mental introspection is futile because it tries to consider permanent something that is ever-changing.
Introspection on Feelings
On the other hand if we simply look inward, something that can be equated to pratyahara, the fifth step on the eight-fold journey in Ashtanga yoga, we slowly learn to rest in the realisation that everything is impermanent.
Instead of running with the mind, if we turn our attention to the feelings in our heart and sensations in our body, introspection becomes free from the shackles of the mind. Initially it might be helpful to label what we are feeling – ‘I am feeling angry/ sad/ rejected’ or ‘there is a tightness in my chest/ throbbing in my knee’ but with practice one experiences these things deeply enough that no word can do justice to what we are experiencing.
The mind is a wonderful, extremely powerful tool. It is what separates man from all the other beings through the capacity to rationalise, plan and analyse. However, most of us have lived a life where it is not us who controls the mind, but the mind is controlling us, revolving around pointless topics and leaving us with no energy for productive activity.
Introspecting on one’s feelings lifts the veil of the mind-created stories from our eyes and brings us a clearer version of reality. A focus on feelings also helps us bypass the analytical mind and tackles restlessness at its root cause, thereby eliminating the deep-seated, subconscious fear of feelings – which is really the secret to lasting peace.