Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes. ~ C.G. Jung
There are two kinds of people in this world: the Introspective person, and the Extrospective person.
The Extrospective person directs their mental focus outwards, understanding the processes of the external world. This is the opposite function of the Introspective person, who directs their mental focus inwards, making sense of the inner world and all its workings in relation to the external world, focusing on thoughts and feelings. Now ask yourself, which one are you? It may be hard for you to answer definitely at first, so here’s a question: do you prefer to see yourself as a Scientist or a Lawyer? The answer you give to this question says a lot about how you perceive yourself and the world.
Introspective people can be seen as the Scientists. A Scientist begins with an observation, then moves on to research, and finally experimentation. The Scientist begins with the inner, and moves to the outer. If you chose a Lawyer on the other hand, you are most likely an Extrospective person, beginning with an external conclusion, then working backwards developing all kinds of theories and explanation to validate that pre-decided conclusion. The Lawyer begins with the outer, and moves towards the surface of the inner.
Many of us don’t like dealing with our inner worlds. We don’t like being introspective and questioning of ourselves, our motives, our decisions and our actions. Unfortunately, this creates a false, illusory sense of self worth, as we’re unable to truly understand ourselves, warts and all. In order to develop introspection, we must first be aware of ourselves and the world around us (yet this too is rarely the case).
Introspection, a powerful virtue of Solitude, awakens our minds, heart and spirits.
Introspection of Thoughts and Feelings
A major source of unhappiness in our lives is our inability to practice introspection, and to identify the nature and causes of our emotions through self-reflection. Experiencing an emotion without practicing any introspection reveals nothing about reality – you only know that an external factor makes you sense an internal feeling, which is pretty much the same insight an animal has. Not very insightful, is it?
Unless we’re capable of being honest with ourselves and relentless in the identification of our inner states, we’ll never be able to discover what we’re feeling. We’ll also never be able to discover the origins of those feelings and whether those feelings are an objectively wise response to the reality of the situation (or an erroneous response of dealing with the situation), or a dangerous false perception of the situation. In order to behave as wise as we possibly can, we must examine the emotions and beliefs that govern our behavior. Without introspection, it is possible to live a life of self-deception.
To determine our actions and reactions solely on emotions is the most harmful and negligent response a human being can produce. Introspection considers the context of a situation to base our decision in reality. It examines the causes and motives of our feelings and the consequences an emotion will produce if we act on it. We must use our emotions and passions as the sails to our existential boat, but our examination and reason as the rudder to guide them.
This is a good chance to ask yourself again whether you are an Introspective or Extrospective person. If you found yourself in a situation that required you to act, would you think “What is it I know? And how do I know this?”, or would you inquire “What is it I feel? And why do I feel this?”. If you thought you would ask the first questions, you function in an Extrospective way, if you believed that you would ask the second set of questions, you are most likely an Introspective person. What a relief!
The Only Way Out, Is In
“But if these years have taught me anything it is this: you can never run away. Not ever. The only way out is in.” ~ Junot Díaz (The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao)
As you slowly become introspective of your internal reactions to the external world, you begin to feel your life is somewhat unreal, as if you had been acting out a drama. This drama is formed over an entire lifetime of education, training, culture and tradition that is taught through your socialization – of which is not your natural state.
You can’t cut off your chains unless you can see them first, you cant desire escape from your external reactive prison unless you’re aware you’re inside one in the first place. Only after finding the freedom of knowing your true self through introspection, can you decide where you want to go. Unfortunately, the majority of people in our world function in an Extrospective way, always asking “how” and turning to the external world for answers, rather than asking “why” and searching the internal world.
Perhaps an anecdote of Sufi sage Mullah Nasreddin will help illustrate this difficulty well:
One day, the villagers saw Mullah Nasruddin out in the street searching frantically for something.
“What are you searching for, Mullah?” They inquired.
“I’ve lost the key to my house.” replied Mullah.
“We’ll help you look,” they said.
After some time searching for the key, they asked Mullah: “Where exactly did you drop it?”
Mullah pointed towards his dark unlit house: “Over there, in my house.”
All the villagers laughed, they remarked: “We knew you were a bit crazy but this is simply ridiculous. Why are you searching for your keys out here if you lost them in your house!”
Mullah responded: “Because there is more light out here than inside my house. Isn’t that what you’re all are doing? Trying to solve your internal problems with external solutions…”
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Peace is Every Step ~ by Thich Nhat Hanh
As a Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh offers some salient pearls of insight and wisdom for the wary and bombarded person wanting to connect to themselves again, and practice mindfulness and introspection. Find out more about this book here.
This article is part of The Virtues of Solitude series.
You can read the previous article on Awareness here.
Look out for the fifth article on the virtue of Appreciation here.