Meaning and Importance of Swadhyaya: Self-study
November 24, 2014
Here at YOGASCAPES, we love practicing with other yogis and we’re also always looking for practices to add to our personal routines. It’s easy to ask, “Why should we pursue self-study? Why is it important to carve out time for independent exploration of self and practice?” Donna Farhi says “the soul tends to be lured by those activities that will best illuminate it” and each of us have a unique path in our practice. We will all process teachings differently and benefit from having the time and space to let these processes develop. In this piece from Soleil Ciel Yoga, Donna recognizes how difficult self-study can seem and shows why it’s key to the yogi lifestyle.
Any activity that cultivates self-reflective consciousness can be considered swadhyaya. The soul tends to be lured by those activities that will best illuminate it. Because people are so different in their proclivities, one person may be drawn to write, while another will discover herself through painting or athletics. Another person may come to know himself through mastering an instrument, or through service at a hospice. Still another may learn hidden aspects of herself through the practice of meditation. The form that this self-study takes is inconsequential. Whatever the practice, as long as there is an intention to know yourself through it, and the commitment to see the process through, almost any activity can become an opportunity for learning about yourself. Swadhyaya means staying with our process through thick and thin because it’s usually when the going gets rough that we have the greatest opportunity to learn about ourselves.
While self-study uncovers our strengths, authentic swadhyaya also ruthlessly uncovers our weakness, foibles, addictions, habit patterns, and negative tendencies. This isn’t always the most cheering news. The worst thing we can do at these times is give ourselves the double whammy of both uncovering a soft spot and beating ourselves up for what we perceive as a fatal flaw. At these times, it’s important actually to welcome and accept our limitations. When we welcome a limitation, we can get close enough to ourselves to see the roots of our anger, impatience, or self-loathing. We can have a little compassion, for the forces and conditions that molded our behaviors and beliefs, and in so doing develop more skill in handling, containing, and redirecting previously self-destructive tendencies. The degree to which we can do this for ourselves is the degree to which we will be tolerant of other people’s weaknesses and flaws.
Self-study is a big task.
Self-study also can become psychically incestuous when the same self that may be confused and fragmented attempts to see itself. This is why it can be so helpful (not to mention expedient) to secure the help of a mentor, teacher, or close friend to support your self-study. If you’ve ever said that someone “just doesn’t see himself” and watched him enact the same self-destructive behaviors again and again, just consider how likely it is that you too are blind to your own faults. A skillful mentor, and that can be anyone from a wise aunt to a therapist to a bona fide guru, can find loving ways to help you see yourself as you really are.