Svadhyaya | How We Can Heal Through the Power of Witnessing

Happy Spring, my lovelies! It is finally starting to feel like spring here in Iceland, and we celebrated the first day of summer this past week, which is a national holiday carried over from the Viking calendar when they only had two seasons, winter and summer. I hope wherever you are, you're feeling the warmth of the longer, more sunny days.

Today, we're going to dive into the ninth tenant of the yama and niyama series - Svadhyaya. Svadhyaya, while a very interesting and fun word to say, means self-study in Sanskrit. Svadhyaya is all about getting to know our divine self and understand all the "boxes," or layers, we've created around ourselves through our belief systems, sense of wrong and right, and the stories we tell ourselves about the world. Through the process of learning about ourselves and understanding our layers, we create a pathway to freedom.

Know yourself so well that you will grow into your wholeness and greatness.
— C.L.

Just like the process and complexity of self-study, there are many components that make up Svadhyaya and its practice. So, let's take a deeper look into these layers and how they shape our practice of coming to know our inner divine self.

Projections and Reactions
One way that we can easily identify areas that we should spend some time with is paying attention to moments when we project or react in a big way to something in our lives. These moments give us an insight into the layers we've built up.

Out layers often get formed early in life as young children. We're taught from our culture and the adults around us what is wrong or right, what we "should" do, and what factors form our belief system. We also gather further layers throughout life through the experiences we have. All these build up around our true self and shape how we see the world and all the experiences we have in it.

Because all of us have layers built up, each of us is living in our own version of our universe. Reality is seen in a million different ways depending on who is viewing it and the layers they have that shape their lens. 

Tracing our Reactions Back
Oftentimes, when we become irritated with someone or an experience, see something as unjust, or lash out at others, these are moments when we are projecting our layers. Have you ever heard the saying, "the way someone treats you is more of a reflection of their thoughts about themselves rather than their thoughts about you"? Well, the same is true about how you react to what others do.

When something causes disharmony or upheaval, these are moments to examine our beliefs and attempt to unpack our layers. We tend to blame the world and others in it for our upset feelings or for the disharmony we feel, but this is just a projection of something that is going on inside us. Often, these feelings are tied to something that might be painful or difficult to look at, so it's much easier to blame the outside world for our discomfort. 

As an example, I noticed a couple years ago that when others were loud in public or someone played music loudly, I became incredibly angry and uncomfortable. I would always blame the person causing the noise for my discomfort and label them as being inconsiderate, rude, and selfish. These beliefs would cause me a lot of disharmony and sometimes lead to feeling incredibly furious. When I decided to look at what was going on inside me that was leading me to feel so bothered by others, turning the focus from the outside word to my inner world, I realized that I was taught as a child to be quiet in public. I received the message from a young age that being loud in public was disruptive and rude to those around me. Because, of this belief, any time someone around me was being loud, I viewed them as not following my belief system and social moral code. Since this was so ingrained, it seemed obvious to me that they were intentionally being rude and wanted to disrupt others. However, what I came to realize is that their inner beliefs, their social code of conduct, and their layers are very likely not the same as mine. Being loud might actually be a normal part of their culture. While I still get angry from others being loud, it's much less so and I can understand that it has to do with my beliefs rather than them being intentionally rude.

The truth behind these moments, is that those that drive us the most crazy or disrupt our day are those that have the greatest potential to teach us about our layers that make up our view of the world.

We are happy when people/things conform and unhappy when they don’t. People and events don’t disappoint us, our models of reality do. It is my model of reality that determines my happiness and disappointments.
— Anthony de Mello

Open Our Hearts to Witness
When we are able to open ourselves up with compassion, to distance ourselves from our layers, and begin to examine them for what they are rather than our true selves, we begin to learn, grow, and move closer to freedom in this life. Through separating our true self from all the layers allows the process of witnessing to begin.

Knowing that we aren’t who we thought we were begins to open up the possibility of knowing our true self.
— Deborah Adele

This is a powerful process that allows us to watch our thoughts and reactions, identify the stories we tell ourselves, watch the reactions of the ego rather than identify with it, and heal ourselves from the inside.

The things that we shut ourselves off from and look away are those that are asking the most for our attention. Often, things such as death, illness, and violence are too much for us to bear, so we turn a blind eye and pretend that it's not right in front of us, happening every day. These might remind us of our own mortality, the death of someone close to us, that we might ourselves become victim to violence, or possibly that we ourselves are capable of "bad" things. These are really painful to acknowledge, so it becomes a defense to turn them off. 

Rather, Svadhyaya asks us to open up our hearts to these moments with kindness and compassion, knowing that what we try to deny will unconsciously overcme us and only grow stronger. All of us are capable of "good" and "bad." We all will make mistakes throughout our lives, some that will hurt those we care about most. The challenge is for us to not deny either the good or bad, but rather work to look at both while feeding the greatness within us.

Ways to begin to practice Svadhyaya and separate our true self from our layers is to practice meditation and bring our curiosity. Meditation allows us to sit in silence and turn our attention inward. Through mediation, we grow our ability to witness, can begin to understand all our layers, and seek out the core of who we really are. This process will require us to ignite our curiosity in order to explore our inner workings. We will need to bring out our beginner's mindset and get comfortable with the understanding that we do not know. Curiosity will allow us to step outside our neatly wrapped up layers and seek out the true divine self underneath all those.

For the coming week, use the following exercises to practice exploring your own self-study.

- Notice when you project or react in big ways to the world around you. Identify what bothers you most. These are going to be the aspects that will shine a light on your layers and help you get started in the process of unpacking all the stories you've created.

- Take responsibility for your own reactions and allow others to take responsibility for their own. Remember that our reactions are far more about our own inner world rather than others' actions.

- Grow your power to witness. Practice meditating this week and use a beginner's mind to start understanding your layers and become closer to your true self.

- Begin to unwrap your layers. Take all the information you've gathered from the above exercises and start to explore your layers. What are the beliefs you carry; what went into creating those; what stories do you tell yourself about how the world "should" be? 

Hope these are helpful and that you have a fabulous week. Next Monday will be our last post of the yama and niyama series, so keep an eye out for that.

With love and light,