Paramhansa Yogananda said that meditation is the “jet plane route to Self-realization.” Meditation, however, must be balanced with selfless service, for most of us cannot spend all of our time in meditation. Divine Mother (as Yogananda used to refer to God) knows this and has arranged it so the many lessons we need to learn are offered to us in our daily lives. However, it is our responsibility to be aware enough to recognize these lessons and change ourselves as needed. This can only be done through daily introspection—that is, watching one’s thoughts and actions. Introspection literally means, “looking within.”
“Life is a school,” Yogananda said, “and the value of all life experiences is to instruct and entertain.” He also likened life to a cosmic motion picture. Each day we behold different scenes and each day has a different lesson to teach us. “We are meant to learn the lesson by concentrating on the supreme purpose of human existence: to begin to know who and what we really are.”
This is why it is recommended that you begin the practice of daily introspection and journal writing. In this way you can more formally recognize and analyze life’s lessons.
Yogananda highly recommends this practice. He said, “You should record your thoughts and aspirations daily. At the end of each day you should mentally review all the lessons Divine Mother has given you. Everyone should learn to analyze himself dispassionately. Find out what you are—not what you imagine yourself to be—because you want to make yourself what you ought to be. In true self-analysis is the greatest art of progress.”
Here are a few basic guidelines for keeping a spiritual journal:
1) First obtain one. A simple notebook with blank pages is fine. Any diary or Daily Journal type book will do.
2) Yogananda said: “At the end of each day you should sit down for a few minutes and review the day.” Say to yourself, “In the battlefield of today’s life, who won—my good or my negative tendencies? What have I learned? What have I seen? Am I more joyful today than I was yesterday? If not, what can I do to change that?”
3) Very important: Do not focus on the bad things. True introspection is not dwelling on the darkness of our bad habits. Try instead to turn on the light through affirmations and by realizing who you really are—a radiant, joyful soul and a beloved child of God! All the things that you seem to be doing wrong are simply the debris of bad habits—they are not your true self! It is OK to say, “Well, I blew it that time, but I will never say ‘I have failed.’ I will only say, ‘I have not yet succeeded!’”
4) Let your journal writing take the form of a letter. Write as to a trusted and loving friend, never as to a stern and belligerent judge. There is no proper form or format. Write, as Yogananda says, “in the language of your heart.”
5) Try keeping a sadhana chart on which you list the amounts of time spent in practices such as meditation, energization, chanting, prayer, etc. But remember that quality rather than quantity is most important, and quality simply comes from the sincerity of your daily efforts.
6) Many lessons will be learned through encounters with those around you. If you feel inharmony or negativity towards someone or some situation, that is a very good indication that a wonderful lesson for you is involved. Scrutinizing our reactions to others is a great way to learn about ourselves. Try to record the instances during the day when you have had a strong reaction to someone or some situation, and then find on paper what you can learn about yourself from it.
7) Write down the names of people who need your healing prayers—healing of body, mind, emotions, or of the spirit (which we all need—Yogananda said there is really only one disease—spiritual ignorance).
8) Be creative and joyful in your writing. Draw pictures or diagrams to illustrate your ideas. Work on your journal out in nature, in the forest, or at the beach. Ask God or your higher Self to guide you in this and all spiritual practices. And try not to get overextended. A few lines at the close of each day is often better than pages and pages, a more seldom practice. It is far better to focus on one attitude and really penetrate it than to scatter your mind into too many directions. “First fight the battles you have a good chance of winning,” Yogananda says, “then you will become strong and you can win them all!”
9) Make a time of silent meditation a daily habit for yourself. Even if you are a beginner at meditation, strive for at least five minutes a day. Anyone, no matter how busy, can meditate for five minutes, which is infinitely better than none at all! Your soul loves to meditate, and you will very soon be wanting to meditate longer. Pray and then still the mind as completely as possible in order to be receptive to Divine guidance. Keep a little pad and paper in your meditation spot to jot down your inspirations at the close of your meditation.
10) Store your completed spiritual journals in a safe, private place, then reread them months or years later. This will help you to gauge your spiritual growth. If you persevere with your spiritual life through prayer, meditation, service, yoga, or any personal growth techniques, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your life will change for the better on all levels.
May we all be blessed, as we strive to know our true higher Selves through introspection!