In the realm of spirituality, self-awareness is one of the hallmarks of the “enlightened” individual. We meditate, we “check in”, we “tune in”, we “get in touch” and look within. This is all wonderful, but something has been percolating on the edges of my understanding that has me questioning the extreme focus (in many spiritual paths) on going inward. At what point does self-awareness become self-absorption? If the outer world arises from our inner experience doesn’t the outer world also deserve our undivided focus and presence as well?
Cultivating an awareness of ones inner workings is not only valuable but essential (I believe) to live a rich, deep and authentic life… not to mention essential for real and lasting relationships, but I am seeing that it can also allow the focus on growth and self-awareness to become too extreme, resulting in the opposite of why we do this in the first place. Instead of becoming more expanded I have found myself, at times, growing more anxious and more doubtful. The feeling is like having found a gem under one rock I have now proceeded to obsessively NEED to turn over any and every rock I can see in my path and maybe even some rocks in the paths of others that aren’t even mine to turn over! This leaves me with a frantic and fearful feeling that if I don’t keep digging, if I don't keep turning those rocks that I will miss something essential and <gasp> not be the amazing enlightened being I wish (with all my heart and soul) to be.
Amazing the paradoxes of life, eh? It seems that even the most altruistic and sincere pursuit (to live an aware life full of joy, uplifting yourself and others) can turn dark if over done and focused on to excess. In the over absorption with what is happening internally, I have been missing the amazing world around me and losing sight of how many gifts are already present. These gifts aren’t under rocks or in my navel, but all around me at all times! In the love absolutely pouring out of the gaze of my mate, in the appreciation of my students, in the overwhelming love and support of my family and friends, in the beauty of nature in the amazing places I get to visit and even in the simple pleasure of just getting to live in a strong and healthy body. At times like this I am ashamed of having ever, even for a moment, felt like what I am or have isn’t enough. Yet, I know that this is just part and parcel of the balance of life. In allowing myself to let go of extremes I must also let go of the need to always have clarity of sight as well.
Back to the question, How do we know when to go inward for connection and learning and when would it actually serve us better to take in the outside, external world? For myself I can see that when I am spending too much time working internally on my “issues” and that work creates more stress then breakthrough, perhaps it is time to lay the subject to rest for a time. To be clear, internal work is intense and needs diligence, but if that work takes up so much emotional space that I find myself not able to focus on other things for extended periods of time, then that is a clear indication that self awareness has crossed over to self absorption. This is when it may be time to just shake it off! Go for a walk. Hoop, dance or in any other way enjoy my body and the incredible world live in. If we are physical beings in this physical world and not just spiritual beings, doesn’t that mean that the external world holds just as many insights, gifts and opportunity for enlightenment as the internal world? One fun game that my Dad gave me years ago is to go through your day as if you were lucid dreaming. What wonder there is when life is approached this way! Every butterfly that crosses your path is a dream symbol of transformation and each moment is rich with the feeling of connection.
Speaking of… Ha! I am going to go enjoy beautiful Bondi Beach (that I have been gazing at while I write this), smile at strangers, pet dogs, dig my toes in the sand, gaze at the incredible blue of the sky and later, hoop with some fun new Aussie friends.
Anah aka Hoopalicious