On Introspection

Beyond myself, somewhere,

I wait for my arrival.

—Ocativo Paz

I’ve always been an introspective sort. My mother occasionally likes to remind me of the time I spent as a child perched on the edge of my bed, reading whatever material I could get my hands on and subsequently reflecting on those readings for hours. “I’m thinking,” I am told, was my response when asked why I was sitting, legs folded, staring, seemingly, into space. The ruminations of an amateur philosopher, perhaps. Exercises for the imagination. Or, even, the humblest beginnings of a lifelong journey into and through the self.

I have no idea what I was thinking about.

abstract smoking lady in the dark

While my eight-year-old self surely lacked the capacity for serious self-reflection, the more mature mind that, I like to think, evolved as a result of that early intellectual activity, understands the value of the time each of us spends exploring our inner worlds. To be sure, it is the process that fascinates me. The spiritual and psychological evolution of the individual over time, and most importantly, the ways in which we ourselves can gain command over that progression. In an effort to enhance my understanding of, and maximize my time in conducting, my own introspective exercises, I recently read psychoanalyst, Karen Horney’s (pronounced “horn-eye”) Self-Analysis. (This is the third of her books I’ve read in it’s entirety, and I recommend it to anyone interested in her work or in the topic, generally.)

Of course, serious self-analysis is not an activity I can undertake for prolonged periods of time. It can be tiring and can quickly become counterproductive if one does not know when to call it quits. I also prefer not to get caught up in my own head for too long. I’d much rather be out in the world, experiencing, seeking, and interacting. That said, there are times when being introspective is not only warranted, but extremely beneficial. Even for those who are not naturally inclined to undertake this kind of work.

This post is designed to be a collection of observations resulting from a lifetime’s worth of introspection. I don’t consider it a guide to self-analysis, but, I do hope it contains some thought-provoking and/or useful insights into such practices—or at least exposes the benefits. From someone who has been charting her own self-directed evolution for a very long time. Here are some observations I’ve made about introspection.

You are already more.

At some point in the last five years or so, I made the subtle, yet important, shift from viewing my life as a journey of continual self-improvement to believing that my highest aim should be to bring into being that which I already am. To actualize. Yes. The more I chipped away at what I saw as flaws, compulsions, and dependencies, the more ardently I worked at fixing what I believed were (and are) the sources of my pain, the more harmonious my relationship with myself and others became. The more I began to believe that there was an entire world that existed within me—a vastness—that exists within each of us. That I am at once connected to something much greater than myself and utterly alone. And the more I began thinking that I didn’t need to be better. That I didn’t need to be more. That it was possible I was already enough. I had, perhaps, been too caught up in my own suffering to see it. There is something immensely freeing about the recognition of solitude.

You’re afraid.

I used to fancy myself to be a great deal more complex than I actually am. Indeed, there was a time when I attributed the vast majority of my attitudes, feelings, and behaviors to a web of factors that was almost entirely beyond my control. Silly girl. The older I get, however, and the more practiced I become at self-analysis and self-correction, the simpler, in some ways, that web appears. The more keenly I can discern between emotions and motivations. The better, I believe, I am able to sense the truth about myself. Whether I want to admit that truth or not.

hand puppet Pierrette

One of the hardest facts I have had to admit to myself (because if introspection is to be at all effective, we have to admit difficult truths as we uncover them) is that I am afraid. A lot. Like, most of the time. I hate thinking of myself as someone who constantly moves between fears, but that appears to be an overwhelming truth of my existence. Although, I also like to think that I occasionally oscillate between fear and pleasure. I do. I think we all do.

It has taken me a long time to be able to recognize fear’s many disguises:

“It’s not the right time.”

“It doesn’t feel right.”

“It’s too complicated.”

“There are too many other variables involved.”

“I don’t know enough yet.”

“I’m not ready.”

Of course, I can only speak for myself here, but I can tell you, unhesitatingly, that each and every time one of these phrases comes out of my mouth, fear is behind it. I have also learned to identify some of fear’s subtler manifestations, like disgust, certain kinds of shyness, anger that’s often out of proportion to the offense, or an unfounded resistance to a particular idea, person, or set of circumstances.

I have  additionally learned that I seem to lack the ability to lie convincingly to myself. (Or, maybe that’s a lie.) It seems there is a part of me that always knows. That quietly whispers. That discriminates. And evaluates. That can see straight through to the heart of the most complex and troubling behaviors and emotions and lay the truth of my own frailty before my eyes with utter disregard for my feelings. Bummer. On the other hand, I view that capacity as a source of tremendous freedom, if I am to find it.

image of dame and oval frame

You can be what you imagine.

I am still testing this idea—that I can be what I imagine. But, I am wholly convinced as I write these words they are stating a universal truth. To be clear, I am well aware that I cannot become whatever and whomever I desire. I have limits. Even at the edges of my imagination. But, within those limits, how best can I utilize my creative capacities to shape who I will become? At some point in the not-so-distant past, this lifelong introspective journey of mine has become less about correcting my flaws and fixing what’s broken within me and a whole lot more about casting a vibrant, loving, uplifting vision for my future. I work on that daily. In my mind, I make her—my future self—I hold her in my sights, and I strive to become her. Glaring imperfections and all.

8 thoughts on “On Introspection

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