Self-Reflection in Times of Disruption
The Corona crisis has turned our world completely upside down. For some of us this change has been very stressful, and perhaps it still is. For others, things may only have changed in a milder way. Still, we all experience the impact of this unprecedented situation, in which nothing is as it was before. We are even locked out of our satsang centers, our ‘safe havens’ until just a few months ago.
Naturally, we have all felt disrupted by the drastic changes around us. At the same time, many of us have been able to gradually find a new balance in working (mostly) at home and family life, and created acceptable alternatives for social and other leisure activities.
Meanwhile, we might have asked ourselves in which way this global crisis directly affects our responsibilities. What does ‘being a good citizen’ mean in times like these? And what does it mean to be a good satsangi? Should we find any alternative for seva, now we are not allowed to do seva in our centers anymore? Should we try to spend more time on our daily meditation?
We have to reflect on this. We have heard Baba Ji say this so many times in satsang. And these are not mere words; it is actually a call to action. But we also know this is one of the hardest things to do: to really get through to what is being said in satsang, or to what we read in the books. Fortunately, we have more than words at our disposal to reflect on. After all, the path we are trying to follow is a very practical one. In Essential Sant Mat we read:
The path of Sant Mat is in essence a commitment to regular meditation of at least two and a half hours each day under the guidance of a true teacher. This commitment is built on a way of life which combines all normal social, occupational, and family responsibilities with that period of regular, private, daily meditation.1
It is exactly the above-mentioned combination that prompts us to the same question over and over again: how can I be a good satsangi, given the circumstances I’ve found myself in? Actually, grappling with this question on a daily basis is an important practical basis of the path of Sant Mat, even in our regular lives, when there is no worldwide crisis going on.
Our personal situation is constantly changing, so adapting our daily routine of meditation to changing circumstances in work, family life or social obligations has become an integral part of our life as satsangis. Molding our lives along the way is not so much a by-product of walking this path, but rather something that defines us as satsangis.
Looking at it from this perspective, we could understand this worldwide crisis as another situation in our lives to reflect on – provided of course we are not completely preoccupied with our current health or financial concerns. After all, this major change of routine provides an excellent opportunity for reflection. Instead of going through our days almost thoughtlessly, we are now constantly adjusting and learning what works best for us. Reflecting means deliberately pausing and considering what all this means for us. In an explorative approach we might ask ourselves questions like: What is the actual impact of this crisis on my life? What do all the drastic measures really mean to me? What do I experience as most disrupting?
Self-reflection can be defined as a process of serious thoughts about one’s character and actions or a means to observe and analyze oneself in order to grow as a person. The more we make self-reflection a strictly personal process, the more we may indeed learn from it and grow as a person – presumably an important aim to most of us.
So how can we do this? How can we put this process of self-reflection at the service of our desire to become a better person?
Firstly, we could try not to approach that self-reflection too philosophically or intellectually. Instead we could choose a more practical approach, focused for instance on the above-mentioned combination of the worldly aspects of our lives and the formal meditation time that we somehow need to fit in our daily routines.
Secondly, we should look out for an all-too moralistic approach. Starting from preconceived notions of what we think a good life should look like might not necessarily help us grow as a person. If it were that simple, we would probably all be much better persons by now. In this respect, our feeling of belonging to the global satsangi community, however comfortable that may be right now, could even be a pitfall when it comes to reflecting. Naturally, we may now, more than ever, feel connected with our fellow satsangis around the world, who are also shut off from their centers and looking for meaningful alternatives to shape their lives. Perhaps we even feel inspired by specific ways they are coping with this. At the same time, we are still all individuals. We live our own lives, with our own individual responsibilities, in our own respective countries. The fact that everyone is currently experiencing the same worldwide disruption does not change that. So, to make our reflection process more worthwhile, we might like to remind ourselves that the process of self-reflection is still, as any aspect of the Sant Mat path, a very personal matter indeed.
Bearing the two above-mentioned directives in mind, reflecting on the disruptive situation we are currently in might lead to an interesting and engaging endeavor. Not in the least because the Sant Mat framework for that reflection process, as well known as it may be to us, is at the same time very open-ended:
So long as these four principles – the vegetarian diet, avoiding alcohol and drugs, living a clean moral life and practicing daily meditation – are adhered to, disciples around the world live, dress and do as they wish. The master has nothing against singing, dancing, family life, fashion, sports, work and business, charity, holidays, rock music, study and research, going to the movies or belonging to a religion. He only asks that we bear in mind the primary goal of human life so that we never compromise our principles and never neglect our daily meditation.2
So, as long as we keep an open mind and do not restrict ourselves in advance, there is so much that we can learn about ourselves by closely evaluating how we are doing in this extraordinary situation.
The key is to keep asking questions to ourselves, and not being content with our own answers too soon. Questions like: ‘Ok, I miss some of my activities, but what is it that I really miss? And how does the alternative meet that need?’ Or: ‘What is the best way for me to fill the extra time now that I can’t travel? What inspires me? What seems to be more of a distraction?’ And: ‘Which are aspects of my new routine that I would like to continue when things go back to (the new) normal?’
The variety of questions we can ask ourselves is almost endless. And the more open-ended our approach in self-reflection, the more we will be able to actually learn from it.
A helpful criterion might be whether what we are doing brings us closer to or further from our meditation. As satsangis we are always searching for balance in terms of combining our worldly and spiritual duties.
Balance means recognizing, out of our many interests, what our real needs are, and then rearranging our priorities to reflect those needs.3
In this Corona crisis many of our choices that have led to our – perhaps laboriously obtained – balance need to be re-evaluated. It is like a major reset for all of us. Naturally, we all long to return back to normal – or the new normal at least. Meanwhile, we could also realize that this unique time will – hopefully – never return. So we might want to make use of this once in a lifetime opportunity. Which also includes: simply reflect on it to find out what this really means for us as a satsangi.
- Essential Sant Mat, p. 13
- Essential Sant Mat, p. 16
- Spiritual Primer, p. 5