Svadyaya is the contemplation of oneself.
What do we contemplate? Mysteries, the unknown.
We wonder: what is it? Where? And then when we find it, ourselves, our center, we still have questions to contemplate: now that I am here, where else could I be? What do I have, and do I want it, love it, need it, can’t stand it?
The mystery is why we are mysterious to ourselves. The mastery is to realize who we are: the graduation from self contemplation to self realization.
The pandemic has given us ample time to realize that we are destined to live with ourselves for the rest of our lives. For some of us, this inspires change, inner revolutions with visible transformations in body, mind, lifestyle. We’ve all seen how easy it is to down ourselves in what is not-ourselves: other people (virtually and otherwise), others’ ideas (books, Netflix, news), sounds (constantly streaming music). It’s all energy outside ourselves, and we busy our minds categorizing what we like, what we don’t, what is good, what is bad, without seeing the all-encompassing truth that we look beyond ourselves to avoid looking within ourselves.
So when we do look at ourselves, we are often surprised. We become accustomed to our mirror reflections, flipped right to left, and to our profile photos, artfully angled, filtered. We split ourselves into parts of a whole, so that it becomes possible to feel inner conflict. We can flirt between self obsession and self avoidance, self care and self ignorance, or do it all together: repressing some aspects of ourselves while indulging and expressing others.
The interesting questions then become: what is hidden? How do we reveal it?
The most amusing way to learn yourself is through stalking yourself as a hunter would a prey, or a secret admirer would the beloved. Watch yourself when you are unused to being seen; listen to your words, the music you choose; feel the texture of your skin, the clothes that you are drawn to. Do all of this without feelings or value decisions, just curiosity.
When you watch your actions, you see who you are. When you see the direction of your attention, you learn what you care about. When you learn the repetitive thoughts underlying your speech, you understand your innermost beliefs.
Habits are the most revealing actions, the hardest to change, and also the most definitive. From the inside, they feel like inevitabilities. From the outside, they form the substance of your life.
The revolution, the aim of yoga, is to awaken from the haze of unknowing and use self-knowledge to step out of self-obsession and into self-realization. (Patanjali and ancient yogis did not have any other #yogagoals.)
Most of us do this gradually, over the course of a lifetime, or painfully, usually within intimate relationships. Bit by bit, we get glimpses of inwards clarity, we observe gradual shifts in habits and lifestyle in response to outside pressures and environmental changes. There can be sudden changes: career, moving houses, new family. Sometimes we raise our own bar. And still, there is a persistent regression to the mean: your persona, the set points for body, for mood, for intelligence.
Sometimes we are split open, awoken, woke. Then there is no return to self-denial, self- repression, and there is no longer a need for self-contemplation. The veil is lifted, and you see the light that you are: unfiltered, pure, and strong.