Whoah. We’re getting all theoretical today ….
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?
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.
That is an awesome question, Ankesh. And an even awesomer answer, Havi.
I like the balance thing you bring up. If I go a month without exercising, I start feeling kind of bad. My body knows it needs something. In the same way, if I go too long without introspection, something just pops up in my mind like, “What the heck am I doing?” Time to rethink.
I was a monk for a number of years, meditating over 5 hours a day with a group in a remote ashram. There was a balance in that lifestyle too, even though there was a lot of introspection. I never went “too” deep though.
When my grandmother needed me, I left the ashram and found a different balance of activity and introspection and meditation. In fact, even after she died, I have continued to live a more active life and enjoy its flavor of balance.
The funny thing about finding balance in introspection is that only I can find the right mix for me, and it definitely keeps changing as I go.
Thank You Havi for an excellent post. Helps a lot.
Especially the part about self knowledge being problematic when its shallow. Loved the Alexander Pope quote.
Brings the Japanese engineers solution to mind. I think it was Taichi Ohno – the father of lean manufacturing and just in time management and things like that – who said that to get to the heart of any issue, ask “why” 5 times. Go deep.
And also – maybe the reason for zen koans to be soo cryptic is because it forces thinkers to go deep. There are no shallow answers and easy morals with koans. Maybe they were onto something.
Ankesh Kotharis last blog post..How Napoleon Bonaparte Built an Empire
@Todd – Love it. What a great point, that balance is both individual and ever-changing.
So true. It’s not like you reach this one perfect point and boom, you’re balanced. It’s something you’re always coming back to and readjusting or even altering completely.
@Ankesh – Right on. I was just reading about lean manufacturing because we talked about it so much at Michael Port’s Beyond Booked Solid seminar this week.
Love the idea about koans being ambivalent to require depth. It’s also a bit like the talmudic way of circling around a question and generating more questions, operating under the assumption that there is never the “one right answer”, just more ways to interact with the learning.
This post is brilliant and wonderful and makes me happy every time I read it. (I’m up to about 6 so far.)
Each time, I try to think of something constructive to say, but all I’ve got is SQUEEEEEEE!!!!!!!
Sixth time’s the charm, here goes.
It’s like we’re all dancing around this big thing, this big thing of introspection and self-work and self-love and Love and oneness and connection with self and others, and we (and NVC) come at it from the communication side, and you come at it from the habits side, and other people come at it from a law of attraction side, and other people come at it from a business side, and still other people come at it from a health and wellness side, but we’re all dancing around the same big thing. And that thing is that you have to know yourself before you can do awesome stuff.
More power to ya. More power to us all. (:
Paces last blog post..becoming an expert (part one)
What a cool question, and what a great answer!
I think what’s important about going deep inside is not to get lost or stuck. When you’re looking at emotions and fears and beliefs, really looking at them honestly, they can suck you in – and all of a sudden, there you are in the whirlwind again.
There’s this subtle shift sideways that lets you look at them more objectively; that asks what it is the feelings have to tell you; that questions whether the beliefs are true. You’re still going deep, but you’re holding it all much more lightly, much less intensely – you’re not (as I tend to do, so please note this is written from a great deal of personal experience as well as from helping others with it!) squashing the life out of it all, pulling up the personal-growth plant to see if its roots have developed since the last time (five minutes ago?) you looked.
As you say, Havi, it’s so important to keep grounded, keep an external perspective at the same time as you’re looking inward – keep remembering who and what we all really are.
Thanks for the question, Ankesh, and thanks for the answer, Havi!
your blog post is great, I love it! You summed it up perfectly and so clearly!
Three things come into my mind:
(1) The thing about BEING PATIENT. Stuff comes up and wants to be seen. It caused trouble BECAUSE I didn’t look at it. So now the stuff is happy I looked at it by going deeper, shining light on it. If I am impatient and want to push it right away again, saying, “I am over it now already”, my stuff maybe doesn’t get as much intention as it wants to have and will cause trouble in some other way again. Also being IMPATIENT is a sign of not TRUSTING the process. Then TRUST is maybe the next thing I want to work on….
(2) Start with the small things, too. Don’t go for the big stuff always. Do little stuff-steps, one at a time, and probably you will reduce the big-stuff-thing already! Small, daily stuff now often relates to bigger more scary stuff in the past. So by working on the small things now, bigger stuff is healed already in small steps.
(3) If you want to make the whole process a little bit more playfull and fun, you can do parts of it together with a trusted friend. I have a really good friend, and instead of telling us over and over problems (do I have any? 😉 we do direktly some nice techniques together. So an idea is to work through the small stuff things over a coffee in your favorite restaurant. She is an “The Work” expert of Byron Katie, and we do it in the cafe, posing us the 4 questions. I am practicing another technique “Chinese Quantum Method” for a while now (energy work), which I am doing for her. So it becomes fun to do it and to help each other. Also doing the process work for someone else – I am learning so much of it. But this is a different topic. And really, it becomes less scary to pose questions over a cup of tea in your favorite restaurant. And it is better then talking again and again about stuff that bothers you, it draws down the relationship with your friend. When you work on it, you lift the spirits of the friendship as well!
Sandras last blog post..The two frogs
Ha! A long, introspective look at introspection. I love it!
What I take from this — and tell me if I’m wrong — is that it is okay, and in fact perfectly healthy to be introspective, as long as you don’t foist your introspection on other people. Sort of like dream analysis: try to understand what your dreams mean, but don’t bother giving your friends a blow-by-blow account of what happened in your dream…
And, of course, you can’t love others until you love yourself.
I think creative types are by nature introspective. There is no real way to avoid it. There are dangers to it, and you touched on a few: triggering self-doubt, etc. Perhaps the trick is to find effective methods of introspection, so that you get the benefits without triggering the down side.
Perhaps yoga is that trick.
I find that a night alone with a bottle (or two) of wine and a few good movies does the trick too. Lately though I’ve also found it is hard to shake off the after-effects of that “introspection” the next day…
@Sandra I love “The Work” of Byron Katie. I discovered it over a year ago and it helped me a lot. The four questions (and turnaround) she uses cut right through my stressful beliefs and leave me feeling free almost every time. Good stuff.
I like your point of doing whatever form of introspection you like with a trusted friend. It sure helps keep a perspective sometimes.
@Todd Thank you! we are just using her work. And I like it because it is with the body too. It is not just posing questions in your mind, we always ask each other how it feels in the body, if this feeling changed. If I am feeling this openess in my heart area afterwards I know it worked, trusting the process, trusting, that the energy is shifting. And: I don’t have to understand with my MIND how this works.
I think it is so so interesting, that you were meditating for such a long time and now found the balance in your daily life. I like this very much. Many people I know go the other way round.
About the “keeping the perspective”: I think there is a natural security thing inside us (sorry, my English -I am German) which protects us from getting too deep on our own, if we are not ready for it. Which is a big gift. I did and helped with family constellations (role play) and I found out that there are things which wants to be seen but wait for such a safe environment. Otherwise it would be too big. It is one of the most effective ways to remove blockages to your true Self as it goes to the root of the problem. Once the stuff is seen it doesn’t have to cause trouble anymore, it dissolves and is gone, the whole energy shifts.
But also, if you are doing some process work, it doesn’t matter what, if you are doing it with a friend or with a group of good minded people the healing energy is so immense, it is such a joy. The good intentions of everyone helping are a healing in itself.
The people I know engaged in conscious process work, who take responsibility for themselves (!!!!) are so so very happy people, and can enjoy life so much!!!!!
What a perfect question for where I am right now. That same question has been rolling around in my head and never quite formed until I read this post.
I tend to be a very internal, introspective person. That’s good in that I can figure out pretty quickly why I’m doing things. But it’s bad in that I tend to crawl inside myself and shut the rest of the world out. Not that I don’t like the rest of the world. Heck, right now, I like the rest of the world better than I like myself…but that’s why we do this whole introspection thing, isn’t it?
My focus lately has been on balance. That really hit home, Havi. I need to be social and involved in activities outside my own head. But I also need to work on loving myself and being more “in the moment.” My goal is to be a happy, healthy, compassionate soul.
You are a huge help in that process, Havi. Thank you.
I’ve been thinking a great deal about what everyone has written here, and still percolating with some of it.
Mainly what I’m processing at the moment is how immensely grateful I am. The thoughtful, insightful remarks that get shared by everyone who reads this blog are so inspiring.
There are so many of these online mini-communities where the conversation is either not very nice or not very interesting. The level of compassion and thinking that happens here (in what I think of as the orbit of the Fluent Self work) just blows me away.
Some day we really will have to all have a deeper version of this conversation in real time with an enormous pot of tea, but right now am just enjoying listening to all of you being smart and interesting! Mwah!
What can we say, you inspire us, Havi. I love that perfect strangers can share so meaningfully. It seems the deeper we go the easier it is to see how much we’re all the same.