Being introspective is something I find incredibly beneficial. Asking myself questions, expanding my knowledge and understanding of myself, gaining a hold on my perspectives – or sometimes letting them go.
When I have a purpose for my delving, it’s generally a healthy experience. I start to understand why and how I feel about things. I get to know how I want to react to things innately and from there begin the process of how I want to react to things that’s inline with the person I want to be.
I don’t think alone I have ever completely changed my point of view; these moments of inner learning are usually triggered by a conversation, event, or even reading something that profoundly affects me. It comes from a place of curiosity, growth, and often times necessity.
But generally, my mind is not a peaceful place to be. It isn’t always emotionally safe to get too involved in my thoughts or feelings. Sometimes it can even be harmful to try and figure out the rhyme or reason to why I feel or act certain ways. As much as my experiences have shaped me, it can be difficult to remember that owning these memories doesn’t mean owning those feelings anymore.
I spent 90% of my life with undiagnosed, untreated anxiety and about 25% of it with severe depression. It’s safe to say that over this time, the way I innately and automatically see things isn’t positive. My first instinct is to be offended, afraid, or angry. I’ve had to learn how to take my initial reaction and let it not be my first impression; how to analyze a situation, person, sentence, and my own feelings within the time I have to also react.
This can be exhausting. On good days, when I’m distracted and feeling energetic, it’s become more natural for me to go through this thought process. On bad days, I become consumed by the why’s and how’s of things. This is where introspection gets sticky.
For me, the key is to go in with an open heart and mind. When I try to understand myself to defend a feeling, then all of my reasoning and thoughts circle around manipulating my understanding to support it.
But introspection is not about validation. It’s not about trying to own the way you are feeling, or give your experiences purpose in who you are now. Introspection is about coming to terms with the way you do feel, how to enhance or let go, how to understand what makes you who and what you are at this point in your life. Something that deeply affected you a year ago may not have as much merit now; you do not need to hold onto feelings that are no longer relevant or true to have the experience continue to be valid and true.
The manipulation of yourself is not your true self. Eckhart Tolle put it beautifully “Boredom, anger, sadness, or fear are not ‘yours,’ not personal. They are conditions of the human mind. They come and go. Nothing that comes and goes is you.” The way you feel about your experiences is not your experiences. This will change and grow as you do, and these emotions will never be yours to own. They will come, go, develop, and weaken at their own will because a feeling is not a whole testament of an experience. A feeling is not at the whim of it’s owner because it has none.
You do not have to forget how you feel; have felt. I think it is important to hold onto the knowledge of these emotions as they are a part of your past selfs experience. The actions, thoughts, and understandings around these emotions are still valid while the emotion itself may lay dormant. It is also, though, okay to forget how we feel. If there is no knowledge, understanding, or purpose behind them then they are rendered obsolete. Sometimes we grow out of our experiences – that’s okay.
The danger of introspection is often not the act of looking into yourself, but what is done with what is found. There are times we “remember” to feel guilty, or sad, or angry. That in trying to find an explanation, purpose, or motivation we instead find excuses and false reasoning. Introspection is about understanding, not remembering. It is about learning, not inflicting.
Learning about yourself can be an emotional experience. But what is the experience or the emotion worth if it isn’t true or relevant to who you are now? What is the purpose of rehashing lessons learned to not learn or grow from them, but simply re-immerse yourself in them? Introspection is by nature the act of looking within ourselves to observe our thoughts and feelings, but if we do not own things like anger and sadness (as we do the memories of things that have made us angry and sad) then what is the merit in immersing ourselves in these emotions?
The difficulty is distance. In not immersing ourselves, but observing ourselves. In not coming close enough to change our memories or experiences, but let ourselves now be changed and be aware for the future. In keeping the things that are close to the heart close, and the things that have sunk stay lowered. It is not our job to change the priority of experiences, to feel pride or shame and let that colour our observance.
The danger of delving into ones own mind is not that we don’t know what we will find, but that we don’t always know what we’re going to do with our understanding. That we wander within ourselves without purpose and get lost in old battlefields, love, and insecurities. That we lose sight of the real present and mistake it for the present our minds create from the past. We take too much, or leave too little, and become twice as burdened by things we already carry by rehashing with no purpose.
The danger is diving too deep without enough to endure the depths. That we have to dig out what was long buried to be able to climb out again, leaving things that do not serve us too close to the surface.
Be careful. Be aware. Be open. Have purpose, and be grounded in the truth of now because the truth of the past has no where to anchor anymore.
Written by Forest Greenwell