Although self-study may include reading certain inner life books or listening to lectures on self-transformation, these materials, as encouraging and informative as they may be, are really only preparational tools; they have their place. After all, if you were going to climb a mountain, you would want expert advice on the proper equipment to use, and you would want instruction from others who had climbed that mountain before you. From their past painful experiences, you might be able to save a few of your own! Or so the thinking goes. All of this instruction, however, cannot raise you one inch above the valley floor to bring you any closer to the mountain top. There is only one way to reach the peak: you, yourself, must make the climb.
In the same way, self-study is personal, individual work that sincere seekers must do for themselves. Far more intricate and at least as rigorous as trying to scale a real mountain, self-study asks us to begin with:
• Honestly observing ourselves as often as possible during the day to see the truth of what is actually directing our life in those moments
• Actively meeting each moment of life with a wish to understand our inner condition instead of looking for ways to justify it
• Living from a new center of gravity in ourselves: where our one prevailing wish is to see those truths about our daily experiences which might serve to change us, instead of trying to explain away our experiences in an effort to protect what we hope is true
• Taking small but definite steps into some personally challenging condition instead of mechanically avoiding it — just to see if any psychological fear ever tells us the truth
• Suspending negative emotional reactions long enough to learn something about their real inner origin instead of leaping to correct the outer causes these dark states always blame.
Real self-study begins with becoming aware of just how unaware we really are. Bit by bit, a day at a time, it begins to dawn on us that we are generally lost in a fog of thought. But even as our aim to be self-studying reveals the fact of this inner fog, what comes with it is a whole new clarity about our inner condition; for now we can also see that the many things we’ve done that were thoughtlessly cruel or self-harming, we did only because we had been caught up in this same dazed state. Perhaps most important of all, we begin to learn that a larger world awaits us if we could but remember that reaching it requires staying awake enough to leave our smaller one behind.
Beginning to see that we’re actually lost in thought all day is a valuable signal to us. It’s equivalent to the doctor’s diagnosis that is the necessary first step toward achieving a cure. We should never be discouraged by any discovery our self-study shows us. To be aware that we have been unaware is the beginning of real awareness. When increasing this kind of self-knowledge is our top priority, there can never be failure, but only new opportunities for growth. As we become increasingly aware of how we cause our own difficulties in our sleep state, we gain a new impetus to discover more about ourselves, to want something more from ourselves. And when this kind of inner wish is made sincerely and asked often enough, Reality itself steps in to make it come true.