The power of the witness

This week we turn our attention toward the fourth of the five niyamas (personal practices), Svadhyaya, also known as self-study. Svadhyaya is an invitation to look at ourselves honestly and objectively, and then set an intention to release the negative qualities and reinforce the positive. As you reflect, you may ask yourself questions such as: In what situations do I react, and why? How much of my response is automatic? What are my habitual tendencies?

The key to self-study is self-observation through the lens of the witness. As the witness, we are able to watch our thoughts, feelings, and beliefs and recognize that we are more than this. We are what lies underneath. Psychologist Tara Brach describes this as being the ocean, not just the waves. The waves are our thoughts and emotions; they are part of us, but we are much more. The practice is to remember we are the whole ocean.

Tapas, which we explored last week, naturally leads to Svadhyaya, as we observe changes happening and adjust our behavior to maintain our desired goals. Engaging in self-study from the stance of the witness prevents us from getting stuck in perfectionism.

Keeping a beginner’s mind can be helpful here. It is from this place that we can observe ourselves from a place of curiosity, learning and revelation. You might think of it as unpeeling an onion, one layer at a time. Self-reflective practices such as journaling, meditation, and spiritual reading can help to illuminate those places where we get stuck in habitual patterns, or untrue stories we tell ourselves.

If you are curious about applying the concept of Svadhyaya to your self-care practice, for the next week notice what you project onto others. These projections are things you are unwilling or unable to acknowledge in yourself. Can you find the opportunity to grow into full responsibility for yourself?

Join me next week as we unpack the final jewel, Ishvara-Pranidhana, surrender.