Saturday, 3 December 2016

The Art of Introspection

The best teacher is the Self, your own essence. Even when you have the luxury of a great master teaching you or an amazing book that answers all the questions, you will need the Self because without it nothing can be known. Ultimately, one needs to get the direct experience pointed towards by the teachings, and the Self is the ultimate receiver of those experiences. In the end, the teachers and books are merely forms of Self, just appearances.

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Once you are loaded with information and questions, its time to come back to the Self and ask for the experience. The way to do this is commonly known as introspection or self-observation. Some people may like to call it a meditation or direct knowing. We will stick with the term introspection because I think its the least ambiguous of all.

Introspection, as you know, is seeing within. What do we mean by “within”? For those who are identified with a body, it may mean something inside the body, maybe in the head somewhere. And they may try to get a feeling or sensation or a vision etc. For those identified with the mind, they will try to find a thought or memory or logic of it all. Many will close the eyes and wait for something to happen while staring at the darkness behind the eyelids. But “within” does not mean any of that.

It simply means withdrawing the attention from objects, mental or physical, and remaining just aware, be present. Not paying exclusive attention to anything, it is like zooming out, widening of awareness. Awareness of nothing in particular, just waiting with a mild curiosity. You ask the question when you are established in this state and just experience openly and directly. The analysis comes later, once you mentally note what you just came to know. The analysis takes time and involves logic, knowing takes no time. After you analyse, more questions may appear, which is ok, just repeat the introspection with new question.

An example

Lets demo it by a simple example. Put a red apple or tomato in front of you. Create an intention of knowing the answer to the question – what is before me?

Now clear your mind of any thoughts except with that intention as a background. Focus on nothing in particular with the tomato in the field of vision. Zoom out your attention and relax it. Be very aware and open. Switch to plain awareness mode, where you are just aware, doing nothing and thinking nothing.

You will be made aware of a shape and a colour. Now the mind jumps back in. You are made aware of the thoughts of - red, a name – “tomato”, fruit, dinner and sweet-sour taste. Ask - how do you know that what is before you is all of these labels, and you will be made aware of memory and past experiences with tomatoes. You just experienced conditioning and impressions. Note that these are not in front of you, they are activities of mind, so its not the answer to the question of what is before me.

Clear the mind of conditioned thoughts and you will be back to shape and colour. Ask yourself, is there a tomato or just red colour and a round-ish shape? Since you have already rejected the idea of a tomato as conditioning and memory, the answer you get this time is – there is a round shape with red colour. You have just experienced qualia or qualities. Note that this is all you can experience.

Now ask, is there really quality out there or is it only an experience of qualia? You will find that the qualia and their experience is one and the same thing, there cannot be a red without the experience of red. You need to be brutally honest here and accept what is, rather than bringing in a thousand beliefs to explain it away. So the answer is that there is an experience, namely that of red and round.

Now ask how do you know it is red and round? This time the mind may bring up memories of red and round objects, but you will find that even after you discard those memories, the red and round remains, it is not dependent on memories or past experiences. So you do not know it via memories. It is a pure experience, it would be exactly the same if you looked at it for the very first time in your life.

Now you can ask, is that experience happening before me or somewhere else? Well, the obvious answer you should get is that experiences do not have a location, they happen and are witnessed. Objects and events have a location, not experiences. Try to deny that or refute that. You will fail, which means your answer stands firmly. So its not before you, or behind you, the experience is consciousness of it, there is nothing else to an experience. In other words the experience and consciousness of it are identical.

You have just witnessed the unity of objects and consciousness. This is the classic experience of not-two, aka oneness or Yoga – the union. There is only consciousness , aka the Self. Here ends this introspection. We will go through some more such exercises in coming articles.

Try it as many times as you like, with different questions, objects, even mental objects and see what you get in the end. You don’t need to accept the conclusion I arrived at above, it can be some other conclusion. Discuss it with your teacher, ask why you are getting something else.

Tips and tricks

The beauty of introspection is that it can be done anywhere and anytime. It hardly takes any time. The answers are instantaneous. It doesn’t require much education, skills or a million dollar lab to get the answers. So its not a surprise that introspection is being used since thousands of years successfully, and the results are amazing.

However, it is not recommended that you do it when your survival is at risk, such as while driving or working with machines etc. It works best when you have nothing else to do. If you are not devoted to a path, you will seldom find free time to sit down and introspect. This is not because such people have very important things to do, its because they are always distracted by something or the other. They are busy serving their master, the Ego with whatever it demands, and obviously, it leaves no time for introspection which is a tremendously boring job for an Ego, it doesn’t satisfy any of its demands. Such people cannot sit silently even for a minute and want everything instantly without much effort.

Ironically, introspection takes no effort at all and is instantaneous. But your Ego wants something great and with bells and whistles, fireworks and what not. And this must arrive at your convenience and must come in a laziest possible way. Ego assigns it the lowest priority and expects the greatest teacher in the world to come and serve you while you feast on popcorns. Knowledge can wait, often for years, but the smallest of the desire or distraction must be fulfilled now. I guess you get the point, if you can relate to that, you are in firm grip of Ego and must do some groundwork before you can begin any kind of introspection. Read the previous articles on distractions and Egoic tendencies in order to get rid of them as fast as possible.

When you are free from Egoic tendencies and distractions, your mind will be peaceful enough to see the answers, which comes in the form of direct and clear knowing. It is not a booming voice from the blue, its very subtle and silent. It is prior to the mind. Mind engages after the knowing has taken place and organizes it into an understanding.

Use logic and critical thinking to understand the direct experience. Many people simply evaluate the experience in terms of their pet beliefs and assumptions. Needless to say that it all goes downhill from there. You will recognize the beliefs by their uncertainty, they do not stand on the firm ground of direct experience. The success of introspection totally depends on your ability to stay clear of beliefs. Read past articles on beliefs to get rid of them.

Once the experience is understood and is certain, new questions arise. It may sound futile, but that's how you progress, its a good sign. Questions stop only when the knowledge is complete, which is your goal here, so let them come. Questions may lead to a restless mind, and that is because you are not waiting for answers and go on asking random questions and assuming some random answers. A question must not become a distraction, it should be such that it takes you closer to the answer. If it makes you lose your way, its not the right question.

Avoid people around you when you introspect. It is not a brainstorming session, it is a communion with the Self, others are not invited. It is not loud thinking and so need not be told to others. It should involve very less thinking, or none most of the time. When the answers are self evident, thinking is of no use. If you find that you always need someone to bounce off your introspection on, you are in the grip of habitual reactions. Some people need others in order to even think, the thoughts come as reactions to others, else they do not know what to think and usually fall asleep when there is no one around to push them into thinking. Well, such people need some major groundwork.

Find a quiet place, a closed room perhaps, but its not a necessity. Find a good sitting posture and seat. It should not make you fall asleep or make you too uncomfortable to concentrate on the introspection. You should not be too hungry or too full. Sit only after bodily needs and sleep etc. are out of the way. Such preparation is needed only initially, or only when one is under the firm grip of Ego and finds it difficult to sit peacefully or to even question. Once you have tasted real introspection, it can be done even in a crowded bus full of school children.

It helps to quieten the mind a bit and to say an affirmation etc. It helps to invoke a teacher or someone you respect highly, someone who is your ideal. This puts you in a receiving mode and the hold of the Ego is loosened. It is not necessary to use Sanskrit verses, or secret mantras or flowery language of any sort. Just bring that thought into the mind, an image etc. Just remember, that’s all. It should not take more than a second.

If these tips sound like typical yogic meditation guidelines, then it is not a coincidence. This is a time tested way to know. What I'm sharing here is general knowledge, nothing new. However, I'm putting it under a solid context. It is always best to know what you are doing and why, what will you achieve out of it, how, and what is your purpose, goal.

I'll state it again. The acts that resemble rituals are of no use by themselves. These are tricks to remove the stupid hurdles your body, mind and Ego places between you and introspection. If you are free from hurdles, just skip to the chase. Introspection is there for only one purpose - to directly experience whatever that comes up as a response to your query. It is not only a mental task, it is knowing, a seeing. The mind comes in the scene only after the experience is witnessed. You can analyse, dissect and do logical and critical thinking after that. Simply experiencing is ok, but not very useful if you wish to cultivate and embody the knowledge you gain this way. If you do not think about it, it vanishes from memory within a day. The experiences are nothing extraordinary, an untrained person won't even notice them, and so they fail to impress upon memory. However, there are exceptions, sometimes the experience is profound and life changing. I seldom get such extraordinary stuff, and this is the norm. So you are doing just fine if you don’t see any fireworks or deities showering flowers on you as soon as you start introspecting.


Newbies do fall into some pits while trying to master the art of introspection. I did too. So let me write about what not to do. First thing to note, it is not magic. It is nothing special, nothing extraordinary. It is less interesting than your shopping list. This is because the Self is detached, not interested and not uninterested. You as an individual taking up introspection make no difference for it, nor is it indifferent. The joy comes because of evaporating ignorance, you feel nice, you know and hence find happiness and freedom. Note that the Self is not separate from the individual, it is playing a game, to put it metaphorically.

In the end, you will find that your whole existence including this life, every second of it, happens on a canvas of extraordinary. The ordinary happens in extraordinary, not the other way round.

If you find no joy or light and your answers don't make any sense, go and meet an experienced teacher, but in case you don't have any, ask anyone who has mastered introspection. Many students, when they get no answers, simply stop the practice. Its a big mistake. Its an art, and just like any other art, it can take some time, unless you are naturally gifted. However, if it is taking months and years, you are doing something wrong.
The preparations are just to arrive at receiving mode or introspection mode. They should not become rituals. If you find yourself spending half an hour doing this or that before you even ask a question, there is something wrong here.

Like I said, introspection is not magic. Nothing magical happens, it is simple witnessing whatever is here and now. It is a big mistake to ask for a winning lottery number or for your missing car keys. Joking apart, some people do seriously try to introspect about which job to take, which business to engage in or whom to marry etc. It is Ego in action. It has turned enquiry into an Egoic act of fulfilling survival needs. Needless to say, you will get no answers. If you think you are getting something, then either you are deluded or a real occult master. Either way, you failed to grasp the very point of introspection, which is - to remove all ignorance. It is not a divination tool or supernatural gimmick. It is just a mental tool that provides knowledge which is natural and is super.

Do not enter into trance states while introspecting. Remain alert and attentive. Fully focused on here and now. Trance or other mental states are for other purposes, useful for exploring extraordinary phenomena, but nothing to do with the Self. If you have a tendency to enter trance, try walking meditation or do it in a group. If you find that you are spaced out, fuzzy and foggy and start seeing stuff or hearing voices or seem to float, you have left introspection and have fallen into an altered state. Forget about knowing anything here, all you will encounter is - more contents, more phenomena, somewhat entertaining or scary but totally useless. This is called an ungrounded state. Return to the more firm terra, the ordinary waking and alert state. If you still find it difficult to remain present, try some grounding practices.

You may encounter some odd bodily sensations or sensory events, like noises or lights. It simply means you have lost your ground. The Mind cooks up all kinds of stuff when it doesn’t get the usual sensory perception and thoughts. Introspection demands that you suspend the thoughts and defocus from perceiving for a while. One can overdo it, and the result is zoning out, ungrounded-ness. If you encounter this situation, keep your introspection very short and quick, just a few seconds. Practice being alert while the mental silence lasts. Although most of us have exactly opposite difficulty - the mind remains noisy and behaves like a monkey, but there are some people for whom the reverse is possible, they fall into trance very quickly and effortlessly. The key is to balance, don't overdo.

That said, it is possible to introspect on non-physical and occult stuff just as easily. However, expect the same answers. The Self is always the same, whatever the kind of experience is.

You may find that the experience and knowledge, if any, fades quickly, one returns to the ordinary state of ignorance within minutes. The solution is to repeat and to document it. Write whatever you learnt from an introspection in brief, act on it. Think about it and share it with like minded people afterwards. This will help to make it permanent and more solid.

Lastly, people expect miracles from something as simple as introspection. The only miracle that happens is - you become free from bondage of ignorance. You don't gain anything, you lose ignorance and beliefs. It won't give you supernatural experiences or powers. You won't see anything special, you will see the plain truth, no bells no whistles no fireworks. You won't become a saint overnight and you won't become "enlightened", whatever that means. It does destroy the darkness of ignorance, but stay clear of lofty titles. It is the tendency of the Ego to embellish itself with trophies and crowns.

Once you see things as they are directly, as certain and self evident, the long and tedious task of cultivation begins. The seeing must be transformed into a lifestyle that incorporates it, else its of no use. It may all sound like totally repulsive and unromantic, but that's how the Ego sees it all. You expect it to be extraordinary and special with you in the centre, in the limelight, bowing to all who are applauding you. This is the Ego talking. Expect exactly opposite. You as a person, will be reduced to nothing, you will feel small and humble. This is how a wise man is and this indicates the success of introspection.

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