Arrived in Sweden yesterday. The silence is deafening, the stillness makes me restless, but it’s the ideal setting to hear the unheard. Though we live in times of chronic movement, we must pause for thought, reflect, and carefully examine our desires and motivations. In a society where life’s success factors tend to be external and tangible ones, such ‘soul-searching’ doesn’t come naturally. Nevertheless, however alien and awkward it may feel, we must make that investment. Walks in nature, personal journals, meaningful exchanges with trusted confidants, and regular sessions in sacred space; all tried and tested ways to begin exploring the inner world. That said, take heed not to veer to the other extreme. Internal development and practical activity go hand-in-hand. Introspection which does not factor in rigorous practice and spiritual discipline can end up being sentimental and emotional. So what’s the balance? How often should we introspect? What should we be observing? How do we measure progress? The process of introspection, it seems, also needs some structure.
Imagine a patient who is being guided back to good health. The ward nurses dutifully do the daily routine checks. They ensure the diet is followed, the medication is taken, the bodily faculties are functioning appropriately, and cleanliness is maintained. Their daily checks are tangible and quantifiable, often a tick-box exercise. Simple and straightforward, but nevertheless essential. Then, once in a week, the consultant doctor comes in and conducts a deeper analysis. He checks all the records, scans the system, analyses the progress, calls upon his medical experience, and prescribes whether an overall change of direction is needed. He may change the treatment, call for an operation, or issue a discharge – whatever helps the patient to stay (or get back) on track.
It’s clear that both types of analysis are essential.
Similarly, in the spiritual journey, our day-to-day reflection is primarily based upon tangible and quantifiable aspects of spiritual discipline. Is my environment supportive to spiritual development? Have I factored in appropriate time for my daily practices? How distracted am I during my meditation? Daily reflection focuses on the quantity and quality of our external activities, checking that they are being conducted with due care and attention. Then, at regular intervals, we delve a little deeper. Is my character improving? Am I growing in my devotion and sincerity? What is the quality of my relationships? Such questions have to be asked after a period of break, allowing time for the spiritual practices to work their magic. There are good days and bad days so daily reflection on these things may not give us an accurate picture of where we are at. Such things are perceptible over a longer period of time.
So a quiet week in Sweden to kick-start the internal dialogue… It pays to slow down, so we can eventually go further and faster.