Think about the most important relationship in your life. Is it with your spouse or your sweetheart? Your mother or your child? A best friend from kindergarten or a sangha you’ve formed in adulthood?
While any of these connections may drive deep joy for your life, the most important relationship we will ever have is one of which we are granted a life-long warranty: the relationship we have with ourselves.
Svadhyaya, sanskrit for ‘self-study’ is the fourth niyama asking us to observe our life from a non-judgemental point of view. This practice of self discovery allows us to deepen our relationship within and conversely strengthen our relationships with others.
If Jim Rohn’s quote, “You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with” speaks truth about our friends and colleagues, the same equation applies to the thoughts and actions we execute on a daily basis. We sift through thousands of thoughts each day, holding onto few with greater emotion, in which these loaded concepts form our beliefs. To develop the self-studying practice of svadhyaya, we must first be willing to observe our thoughts and the beliefs we have about ourselves, our external relationships, and the greater world around us.
A simple tool for self-reflection is the journaling technique of “brain-dumping”. Best performed during the first and last hour that you are awake, this process allows a way of accessing what’s going on inside, so you can let it out in a safe and productive way.
The moment you wake up or just as you are going to sleep, whip out a pen and paper to write down everything that comes to mind. Your dreams. Your lunch. Work projects. Cat memes. There is no wrong thing to write, as as thoughts are just a way of consciousness expressing itself.
Keep in mind that what’s on your mind is just that - a thought. Whether what you write holds positive, negative or neutral connotations, take a look at your list and try reading it from an outsider’s point of view. Overtime, these lists may reflect patterns that will raise your awareness, thus practicing self-study.
When we understand ourselves, we gain the emotional intelligence to connect to the world on a deeper level. Self-study is fundamentally simple, but takes diligence and compassion to witness ourselves in a profound way.
With any relationship, whether romantic, professional or social, the connection begins when we open up and get to know one another. The same goes for the relationship we have within. That is, get know yourself then get to love yourself.