September 30, 2018
Over the last year I have had plenty of time for self-reflection. I’ve been less mobile due to a car accident that was both a blessing and a curse. The mixed blessings are that I lost a car I loved, but I have a great new car with every safety feature known to man. I am more aware than ever of how fragile life is. I have been forced to slow down a bit. I must at times be a burden to those closest to me, though not once have they allowed me to feel that.
Let’s first explore the primary downside during this year of greater self-reflection, because I want to leave you with the full impact of the upside.
As a result of self-reflection I noticed I have felt more self-absorbed than usual. Self-absorption is vastly different from self-reflection. It is a preoccupation with one’s own emotions, interests or situation. When I catch myself lost in self-absorption I end up feeling rather gloomy. Or anxious. Or depressed.
My theory is that self-absorption dulls positive emotions and exacerbates mental, emotional and physical pain.
There is actually nothing that renders self-absorption helpful. Google it. It is one of a variety of precursors to depression, anxiety, and a range of personality disorders, not to mention its role in intensifying pain.
On the other hand, the upside and the gift of self-reflection is that I can see when I’m engaged in being self-absorbed and do something about it.
Here are three antidotes to excessive self-absorption that have been compelling guides for me through this last year.
EXPAND YOUR AWARENESS
The following quote was an epiphany. When I remember it, I am transformed from an unimaginative, repetitious lump into an active, vibrant human being who interacts positively with the people I love, exploring what interests me, and supporting the interests of others. Here’s the quote:
“If your pain is one of ten things you are aware of, then it constitutes a tenth of your total awareness. Expand your awareness to a hundred things, however, and your pain is only a hundredth of your awareness.”
Let that sink in. You’re diluting the pain by adding things you love, or that interest you, or that inspire you to explore further. How does it get any better than that?
ASK THREE QUESTIONS
Naikan is a Japanese word developed by Yoshimoto Ishin. It means ‘inside looking” or “introspection”. It is a method of self-reflection that helps us understand ourselves and our relationships with others.
There are three Naikan questions which are meant to be explored at the end of each day as you look back on your interactions with yourself, with others, and with your environment.
Question 1: What did I receive from others?
Question 2: What did I give to others?
Question 3: How did I harm others?
These questions can be explored in terms of your entire day, or they can help you delve further into a challenging relationship or situation.
When I ask myself what did I receive from others today, I am reminded that I always seem to receive way more than I give. Air, water, food and shelter make that clear from the get-go. Add all the myriad gestures and kindnesses from people in the world I inhabit, and I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my condition, including the pain that has allowed me to be more self-reflective.
When I ask myself what I gave to others, I am humbled. Most important, I am reminded to offer more tomorrow. Nothing can compare with all the blessings I enjoy.
When I ask myself how did I harm others, I notice the small omissions of my time, energy or kindness, all of which occur when I’m lost in self-absorption. With this question I am again humbled and grateful for the opportunity to do it a little differently next time.
SHARE THE HAPPINESS
This is another quote that inspired me this year:
Happiness is not happiness unless it is shared. For happiness is the one thing in all the world that comes to us only at the moment we give it, and is likewise increased by being given away.
–Clark Strand, “The Wisdom of Frogs”.
It’s amazing to me what happens when I find something to be grateful for and share it as it bubbles up in me.
The trick to finding happiness is sometimes as simple as remembering to open your eyes and purposefully look to see what you have, rather than what you don’t have. The feeling that arises comes out through your pores and you really don’t have to put it into words — people can see it in your face.
Self-reflection and reliance on these three tools have been antidotes to the self-absorption to which I easily succumb, as well as having a positive impact on reducing the intensity and extent of my experience of physical pain. There are many other tools available to help you better manage the discomforts you may be experiencing, whether they be emotional, or physical. You know the drill. If these don’t help, google for more ideas!
If I had to pick just one of these ideas, I encourage you to consider asking the three Naikan questions at the end of each day. Question number 3 has been especially fruitful for me. Please comment and let us in on your reactions.