Letting Go with Guy Finley

What is self-study? Let’s start by seeing what self-study is not. 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 you the truth
• Being willing to step outside the point of view of some temporary sense of self to see that it may be more short-sighted than first glance reported
• 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.

For someone who is new to these ideas, these broad forms of self-study may sound not all that difficult to do. Actually, for an awake man or woman they are as natural “to do” spiritually as breathing is physically, but here we run into an interesting finding.

Most people believe that if they are physically awake, they are psychically awake as well. Perhaps they’ll admit that until they’ve had their first cup of coffee in the morning they may not be too alert, but the rest of the time, they believe, they’re fully conscious. However, this isn’t the case! A trick of the mind keeps the deception going. Here’s how it works. As soon as it’s pointed out to us that we are not aware of ourselves, a lower self sneaks in and snaps us into a kind of momentary wakefulness, wherein it’s easy to believe we’ve been aware the entire time! But this sort of self-awareness only lasts as long as the momentary challenge that produced it. For example, if someone were to ask you right now, “Are you aware of yourself?” you would become aware in the moment and think that you always had been. But you were not, and in a few moments more you will forget this, and fall out of self-awareness once more. We would do well to consider carefully the words of Goethe, which serve both to remind and warn us: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

Here’s another important thing to know. Nobody begins self-study as an “A” student. In fact, real self-study begins with becoming aware of just how unaware we really are. Don’t let this last thought throw you! It’s wise to see where our wisdom was only an assumption. This allows real wisdom, real self-knowledge, to grow. And this explains why some of our most important first lessons come when we set an exercise for ourselves, and later see that we altogether forgot about it. For example, when we realize, with a shock, that although we may have set a simple goal to watch out for a certain negative reaction in ourselves, many hours, or even days may have gone by without even one moment of seeing ourselves sink under its influence. Or perhaps we had decided to work on some small exercise in self-awareness at our place of employment. Maybe it was something as simple as just knowing our own facial expression when meeting with certain people for business. Now we’re back home, sitting in our easy chair, when we suddenly remember we had dozens of face-wrenching encounters all day long and never remembered our exercise even once!

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. We start to see that in this peculiar psychic sleep our priorities have been set by self-serving goals that have only brought much frustration, or, at best, some temporary pleasure. 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.