Whoah. We’re getting all theoretical today ….

Ask Havi
Right. Usually the Ask Havi questions are oriented around some sort of how. As in “How do I do this thing?” or “How do I stop doing this thing?”. Occasionally it’s more of a “What do you think about x, y or z?”

But it’s not often that I get to talk theory, which is really my secret love. *rubs hands together and cackles fiendishly*

Most people don’t dig theory. Or think they don’t. So give today’s conversation a chance and I’ll see what I can do to fun it up.

Because oh hooray, we’re putting our conceptual-thinking boots on and stepping into some content.

Here’s the awesome, awesome question and it comes from Ankesh Kothari over at NonToxin.com (which, by the way, is a super-interesting site).

I think your goal of helping people relate to themselves better and become their own best friends is awesome.

Could I ask you a question?  What do you do if someone tries to be too inquisitive about themselves and their personalities and what makes them tick?

As one of my heroes – Roy H. Williams – says: “Introspection, like every other medicine, is beneficial in small doses. Consumed in quantity, it is a deadly poison.”  How do you help people find their own limits and pace of growth?

Or is that never a problem with your methods?

The question behind the question.

Basically what’s being asked here is: How much introspection is too much?

This is absolutely a valid question. If you’re working on your own process, you’ve probably wondered this too.

And god knows we’ve all met that person who recently started therapy and just will not shut up about her process, her parents and every single thing that anyone has ever said to her…

On the other hand, we want to be especially careful with this kind of question because sometimes the asking itself can trigger crippling doses of guilt, worry and doubt.

You know how it goes, anyone working on his personal process will at a certain point begin to wonder, “Hmm. Am I not in fact being a bit of a self-centered jerk by spending so much time with my stuff? And how do I avoid this?”

So I’m thinking that it’s important we get that part out of the way first: the fear of being a selfish jerk and/or of having other people think you’re a selfish jerk.

Because otherwise, it’s easy to get so caught up in the emotional stuff around the question that we can’t fully engage in the “How much introspection is too much, really?” discussion.

So let’s start with a closer look at the fear (whether your own or someone else’s) that introspection will turn you into a self-centered jerk.

In this context I really want to share a related (frustrating, confusing, annoying) conversation I used to have way too often.

The most annoying conversation ever.

Person I happened to be conversing with: So you’re a yoga person, huh?
Me: That is correct.
PIHTBCW: Dude. Can you stick your leg behind your head right now?
Me: Uh … probably. But that’s not really what I mean by yoga.
Me: Well, I think of yoga as basically being the science of learning how to like yourself. It’s a conscious, methodical, systematic approach to learning who you are and how you function so you can do things differently.
PIHTBCW: Oh. Don’t you think that’s kind of self-centered and egotistical?
Me: Huh?
PIHTBCW: Why do you care so much about yourself?
Me: Oh, I guess I wasn’t clear. It’s like this: the process of learning about your “stuff” so you can resolve it is the thing that lets you become a kind, compassionate person who can care deeply about others. It’s like, through learning to stop hating on yourself, you find this ability to give love to everyone.
Me: Yeah, I’m not there yet either. [Muttering under breath: Because I kind of want to kick you in the shins right now.]

Okay, so that was a long time ago (BNVC — before Nonviolent Communication) and I don’t certainly want to kick anyone in the shins at the moment.

But it is important to talk to the misconception that self-work — by virtue of being about the self — is self-centered, narcissistic and/or dangerous.

Ankesh (who, unlike the type of person I was referencing above, is always fun to talk with) is asking something slightly different, but it runs along the same theme. Can you take introspection too far, and — if so — what can happen?

The truth about introspection.

Introspection seems like spending a lot of time with yourself, but the thing is: it’s not about yourself, it’s about the Self. You know? Something bigger.

Think about it like this. Introspection follows a natural process. If you observe the chain, it looks something like this.

Introspection –> insight –> flickering of awareness or understanding –> self-knowledge –> compassion –> big, crazy, amazing stuff like universal knowledge … and love. Love!

That’s the key point about introspection. If you do it consciously and intentionally, it will give you the tools that will naturally turn you into the kind of person who deeply desires — and is capable of — giving to others. And interacting with others with compassion and love.

The type of deep self reflection brought on by intentionally choosing to turn inward will help you become the kind of person who turns outward more easily. It will also help you be a lot more focused, giving and intentional when you shine outward or whatever.

Yes, I said shine. Sorry about that. Rephrase as you like.

The Dalai Lama? Not a selfish jerk. Not a waster of time. Someone who dedicates intentional time and energy to self-awareness and processing.

But aside from the danger of people thinking you’re self-involved or even becoming self-involved, there’s also the danger in introspection of going too deep into the scary and the hard.

How do you know if you’re doing it “too much”?

Of course when we talk about going inward, you want to really go inward and not just spin your wheels.

That’s the difference between truly being introspective as opposed to being that annoying person who can’t stop talking about what he’s doing in therapy or at his um, Introspectionists Anonymous meetings.

And you want to make sure that you’re safe, protected and supported while spending this intentional time inside.

Here are the points I want to make about that, and I hope, Ankesh, that you find this useful in terms of your question (it’s a big conversation and it really deserves more than I could possibly give it in one little post).

1. Balance is key.
Balance is one of the most important concepts in self-work, and balance is intimately related to trust.

You could even say that balance comes by way of trust. You get there through working on your stuff. Keeping an end goal (compassion, unity, understanding, etc) in mind. Trusting that you are not that person.

Balance between spending intentional time going inward and also making sure that you’re not harming yourself in any way (see next two points).

2. Recognize that introspection brings power.
People fear introspection (yours and their own) because of that power. Sometimes they fear you because you’re in it.

Protect yourself. Be careful about the types of people you choose to include in your process of self-work and self-learning.

3. Practice active self-care.
Sometimes in the self-work practice (i.e. working on your “stuff”), you will learn things about yourself that are pretty unpleasant and even kind of depressing.

You will recognize patterns that contain immeasurable sadness. You will uncover old hurts that can be overwhelming. So while you’re spending this time going inward, you want to make sure that you are safe and supported while in the process.

Journal about your discoveries. Find a mentor or a teacher or a coach. Even a trusted friend. Someone should be in it with you.

Ground your practice. You want to work with the body and with themes of stability, safety and support, not just meditation and insight.

In fact, there’s actually an idea in the yoga world that you really don’t want to do meditation before the age of twenty-five because of the potential danger involved in exploring that stuff before your conception of yourself is fully formed.

Whatever, you can agree or disagree, but the point is still: take care of yourself, and make sure you’re getting what you need to help you through the process.

4. Your relationship with yourself is a reflection of your relationship with others.
So the more you work on yourself, the easier it is to improve (and maybe even heal) your interactions with everyone you come into contact with.

Harmony with yourself means harmony with everyone (and everything) around you. Which means all sorts of “good for the world, good for the planet” things. So the right kind of introspection will always lead to better things for all of us.

The truth about introspection.

And if we’re already in theory, I suppose I can quote poetry too. Alexander Pope, baby:

A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring.

Self-knowledge is only problematic when it is shallow. When self-reflecting isn’t reflecting the true self (the cool internal state of knowing and being that’s inside of you) but reflecting back stucknesses and judgments.

Spend time only on the surface and you won’t get very far. It’s about being willing to spend some deep, intentional time with yourself.

In other words, building and maintaining an active, intentional, ongoing practice of self-work and self-learning — AND focusing on ways to ground yourself so that you can keep yourself supported in the process.

It definitely doesn’t have to be about getting lost in the hard, the scary, the self-involved, the guilt, or any of the other bits of stuckification that are floating around inside.

It can be about the good stuff like safety and comfort and compassion and learning and love.

From this angle, I’m convinced that introspection — when it’s conscious and supportive — is pretty much always the thing that will give you everything you need to know. And make you a more compassionate person. And a happier person.

So hmm … too much introspection? I don’t actually think that’s possible. But yeah, only if you’re doing it right.

Love the question. Love it. And yay for Ankesh who gave me a seriously fun topic to ponder for my morning walk.

The Fluent Self