This week we will look at the fourth niyama, Svadyaya, which means, ‘Self-Study.’ The niyamas make up the second limb of yoga, which describe the wise practices that support our progress on the path.
Self-Study refers to looking into our personality-self, or ego structure, as well as our waking up to our deeper self or True Nature, which is consciousness itself. All spiritual traditions, and some depth psychologies recognize this Deeper Self but call it different names: Soul, Atman, Pure Consciousness, True Nature, Christ Consciousness, No-Self, the Self. That pure essence that is so easy to see in an infant’s eyes is what we’re talking about. After a while, we lose touch with our Essential Self, and take ourselves to be the more limited, personality-bound ego. So Self-Study includes both an understanding of and a working through our personality issues in order to access and remember the more Essential Self that we truly are. The idea is that our Essential Self is merely covered over. We don’t improve ourselves to become Essential. We get in touch with that which obscures this Essential Nature, and the True Self shines through.
Here is how Mukunda Stiles translates Patanjali’s sutra on svadyaya (II, 44):
From self-study comes communion with one’s chosen personal deity.
Svadyaya is supported by meditation practice, where we take the time to sit or walk or lie and dis-identify with our discursive minds. Through meditation we get tastes of a more spacious and open awareness. Svadyaya is also supported through reading and contemplating sacred scriptures and other books that point us towards our depths. Whatever spiritual tradition we come from, we can find such texts. If we do not come from any tradition, we can explore the yogic texts or any of the writings of contemporary spiritual teachers. Here are some suggestions to get started:
The Bhagavad Gita or Yoga Sutras of Patanjali translated by Ecknath Easwaran
The Unfolding Now and Diamond Heart, Book I by A.H. Almaas
The work of Jack Kornfield or Pema Chodron
Touching Enlightenment: Finding Realization in the Body by Reginald Ray
Audio through www.dharmaocean.org
The work of Father Thomas Keating
If we don’t take the time to explore our deeper Selves, it is likely we will continue living mechanically through our conditioning, and feeling that something essential is lacking in our lives. We will likely try to cover up that pain and distract ourselves through addictions of all kinds to substances, food, television, over-work, etc. This is certainly true of the majority of people in our culture. The yogic path, like any genuine spiritual path is an up-hill journey. Growth takes effort, and human evolution will always be ahead of what our culture at large is revealing. That means, it will always be easy to let the stream of popular culture carry us away from ourselves.
The yogis pointed us in a different direction. We can devote time each day to quieting the mind, reading sacred texts or listening to teachings to awaken our Self-knowing. The hour before bed is an especially good time for these kinds of activities but anytime will do. And it doesn’t have to be an hour. Ten minutes of such practice done consistently will change us; for when we have glimpses of our deeper nature, we will be more likely to open up and work through the conditioning that blocks access to this deeper nature. Spiritual teachers and psychotherapists who have a spiritual orientation and conscious community are great if not essential, to support this work. One of my clients wrote to me today to say that I remind him,“this is a journey of self-care and growth and I am totally worthy of those efforts.”
Leave your comments below.