From Yoga Sadhana Panorama, Volume Seven, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Self-discovery begins with self-observation, which changes into self-awareness, which changes into self-discovery, which later on changes into self-realization. Observation, awareness, discovery and realization – these are the stages described in yoga.

How do we go about observation? There is an innate potential of mind, which in Sanskrit is known as chitta, and this potential or this aspect of mind is continuously observing, witnessing, seeing and absorbing, retaining information that it receives through the senses. Now, if we are able to observe the impressions that have been received by the senses and by the mind in our life and analyse them, then awareness grows in the course of time.

I will give you one example. At night, when we go to sleep, let us not just think about the problems that we have faced, things that we need to do tomorrow or the day after to morrow, or our aims and ambitions. Let us, for ten minutes only, observe the events of the day from morning, the time when we got up, until the time we actually went to bed. I have experimented with this system and it has helped me tremendously. Remember: ‘I woke up at such-and-such time, my first movement was . . . , the first thing that I saw was . . . , the first thing that I heard was . . . , Try to remember it. Then how you got out of your bed, and went about your daily routine.

When I practise, I see everything happening in the eyes of my mind like a movie, as if the entire proceedings of the day has been recorded. I had my breakfast, this is what I ate, this was the taste, then I spoke to this person, I communicated with that person, I was dressed like this, I changed my clothes, I read the newspaper, I looked at some papers, I looked at some files, then I spoke to this or that person. Then I went to the office, and not only ‘went to the office’, but I got in the car and this was the route that I took and these were the things that I saw. I mean, every moment has to be re-lived.

After a week, you will see a great difference in your perceptions and insight. If you find that there are times when you come under stress or become stressed , and you react to situations or circumstances or people, even those reactions will be controlled eventually.

I am not talking of minute to minute self-observation of what is happening now – like I am moving my arms, I am looking at you, the lights are on, people are outside, there are different sounds everywhere. No. That would be too much dissipation of awareness, and maybe we could do it for a few minutes, but not for long. I am only asking that you practise for ten minutes, remembering, observing things that have happened to you from the time you woke up until the time you got into bed to sleep.

This will develop an unconscious awareness of your activities, your interactions, your behaviour, your thoughts, your expressions, and in the course of time, you will find yourself holding back and not reacting instinctively, negatively, to situations, people or events as you would have previously. Instead, an inner awareness, a warning goes on, ‘Hey, you are committing the same mistakes that you made in the past – hold it’. Use your better judgment, and you will find that your total life-pattern changes. It all begins to happen at an unconscious level, then later on it begins to manifest. This awareness will develop and develop and develop until it becomes a process of self-discovery: this is my nature, my prakriti, this is my action and the area of my activity, this is how I approach people, this is how I receive information, and so forth.

You will come to know the subtle aspects of yourself and as you come to know them, you will realize your own nature. You will improve those expressions of your nature, and improving the expressions of the nature is known as self-discovery.

1995, Delhi, India