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The Joy and Pain of Self Study

I have been reflecting lately on how a change in oneself occurs. I have always believed that people could make drastic changes in themselves, even before I had evidence of it. When someone would speak of one of their more negative characteristics or something they did not like about their own way of thinking or personality but then state, “that’s just the way I am” I would think to myself, why give up on yourself so quickly? If there is something that you don’t feel is right within yourself, why not change it? I would ask myself the same hard questions but I wasn’t sure how to make the change, because just willing yourself to change something that has been hardwired or programmed into you most of your life isn’t as easy as just flipping a switch, at least not for most of us. It isn’t as easy as reading a self -help book and then just changing your mind. It is a process.

I began this process a bit unknowingly when I began to practice yoga. I say unknowingly because that isn’t why I came to yoga. Originally I came to yoga to stretch my body and maybe undo some damage I had done to it years of strenuous workouts. Over a period of time I noticed subtle changes in the way I was thinking, the way I was processing the world around me and I liked those changes. At first, I noticed I was a bit calmer, a little more patient, and slower to react to things that would typically trigger me to anger or frustration. The funny part was I wasn’t sure at first why, but the timing lined up with me taking up more regular yoga practice.

It wasn’t until I was in Yoga Teacher Training (round 2) that I realized how transformational this ancient practice could be, and not just on my physical body. Self-study is one of the basic practices of yoga, known as Svadhyaya. I began to implement Svadhyaya into my life, like reading my own book about me. Studying my thoughts, my actions and reactions, my emotions, my programming. I started to ask myself questions like, “Who told you that?” “Is that really true?” “Where did you learn that?” “Why do you believe that?” “Is that how you want to be?” “If that part of you didn’t exist, what would you replace it with?” The answers were sometimes a hard pill to swallow. I realized that I wasn’t thinking for myself and I wasn’t living authentically to who I am at my core. I was living mostly for others and for the world. It was freeing and at the same time incredibly scary and oftentimes lonely.

As I write this I have been on this journey of self-discovery for about two years, I believe it will be ongoing, and I have learned to really enjoy the process. As you begin to become more aware of your thoughts and emotions and really take inventory of truth vs. bullshit you begin to look for opportunities for life to throw at you another moment where you can shine that light of awareness into another dark corner of yourself that you weren’t even aware was there. You begin to understand that no matter how hard it may be to face your demons, when you do, and you eradicate them, you are better, stronger, happier on the other side. You become less fearful and more tenacious about self-study.

I want to make a point here regarding “truth”. I believe, and it is taught in yoga philosophy, that there are certain truths that are eternal and apply to all, those are known as Sanatana Dharma. Then there are your truths, these are the truths that make you who you are and make us all individuals. When it comes to personal truths, mine are not better than yours. One doesn’t cancel the other, and we should learn to respect each other’s truths, not tear each other down and compete to be right, because on most issues there isn’t a universal right and when there is it is Sanatana Dharma. Interestingly the eternal truths are the common threads you see weaved into all the major religions of the world, although they may be expressed in different ways they are there and when studied you see that they all point back to love. Love your higher being, your highest self, your earthly self, your neighbor, and your enemy. LOVE.

The most beautiful thing can happen when you enter self-study and begin to deconstruct your programming and find your truth and live it. You feel increasingly more freedom, more joy, and greater self-love.

I never knew self-love before, I knew self-loathing. I never knew standing in my truth, I knew standing in someone else’s shadow. I never knew true joy, I knew moments of situational happiness.

It is the hardest thing I have ever done. Some of my relationships have changed or even left, and that is sad, but it is also okay. Sometimes the people in relationship with me go through moments of uncertainty and discomfort as they witness me transforming before their eyes and wonder what it means for them, for us. The ones who stay, are the ones who truly love you, who whether they agree with your truth that you uncovered or not, they see the light in your eyes, another veil of heaviness lifted, the spark of joy you lit within your soul and they stay because it makes you more beautiful, more authentic, and more alive.

I say the process is like peeling an onion. Layer after layer, with stinging and tears you peel back what’s been put on you and you reveal what was underneath the whole time. You ask the hard questions and you don’t rush the answers. You process and process until the answer you seek is found in a sense of quiet peace, and you know you have arrived at your truth. And you do it over and over again, creating more light and less darkness until you actually start to radiate that light out. Your truth becomes light, your light becomes love, and your love can change the world.

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