Over the past few years, in almost all the Indian Psychology Workshops that we organize here in Pondicherry, there is one particular topic that remains quite a favourite! We call it the preparation of our personalized toolbox. Unlike the normal mechanical toolbox, this particular one contains psychological tools and techniques that we can apply on ourselves when we decide to lead a more conscious life. Techniques such as self-observation, silencing the mind, calming the emotions, learning to surrender, cultivating equanimity, nurturing gratitude and many such others are part of the self-development process.
Amongst them my personal favourite since years has been the process of self-observation. To me this is one of the best ways to know myself. Through self-observation the constant effort is to try and become as conscious as I can about what I do, why I do it and how I do it. Given that one of the founding principles of Indian psychology is “atmanam viddhi” or “Know thyself”, I feel self-observation is the very first step in that direction.
One can start self-observation at any given time, in any given situation. The whole idea is to be able to take some distance from being totally involved in the situation and simply observe it being unfolded. It is like the agency has suddenly split into two, one still does the action while the other simply watches! So I am not any longer completely lost in the action… part of me begins to witness it instead. Through the years this technique has helped me identify many interesting psychological patterns in myself. And with time I have learnt not only to observe but to also control and once in a while even master a certain pattern.
One such pattern that I have identified within myself is what happens post an emotional outburst or a vital explosion. It is a 5-stage process that I go through almost every time I have an emotional upheaval. So, for example, I have an argument with my husband and instead of being a small, casual disagreement it somehow turns out to be a full-fledged war! Before I know it a lot has been said and done that could easily have been avoided! Throughout this nasty episode a part of me simply watches the drama unfold and it recognizes the following stages.
- It begins with an uncontrollable anger that takes over. The negative energy simply clouds my entire being. The rational mind, the kind heart, the plain commonsense — they all refuse to work! I simply become the anger! This anger is then either expressed in words or actions, which consequently worsens the situation.
- After the wave of anger has passed a sense of depression comes in. I spend time feeling utterly miserable. Self-pity is at its most effective. My vital takes immense pleasure in imagining situations where I am the victim.
- This is followed by regret. But not a regret for the anger, depression or the bad behaviour but rather a regret about the state of my current circumstances. I will end up comparing my life to all the other “happier and luckier” people I know. Basically I end up regretting all the life choices I have made up until now!
- After this comes a complete giving up on myself followed by a sense of failure. I begin to feel miserable because I have failed myself, and more importantly failed the Highest Ideals I have set for myself. A feeling of remorse creeps in and I ask myself why couldn’t I have stopped the anger in the very first instant. Why couldn’t I have chosen the path of Light?
- After I have exhausted all of these negative feelings, I finally start looking back at the incident and how it played out. And then slowly realizations start dawning on me. I begin to see all those stages where I could have kept calm and saved the situation. A sense of clarity creeps in and the whole outburst seems childish and unnecessary. Very often after this it is far easier to apologize and to accept my weaknesses.
Practicing self-observation has made me aware of many such patterns that appear so often in my day-to-day life. The more I recognize these various patterns the easier it gets for me to predict and control their influence on me. It also leads to a gradual understanding of these unpredictable and uncontrollable reactions and responses. This knowledge about myself has helped me greatly to lead a more conscious and harmonious life. Self-observation has definitely been one of the most effective self-development techniques I use.