Self-Reflection: Spiritual Practice or Navel Gazing Narcissism?
Throughout my life I have intentionally engaged in reflective practices. Although most people see me as an extrovert, I actually spend significant amounts of time in quiet solitude and reflection. I enjoy writing and painting as methods of self-exploration, and these require extended periods of quiet, solitary time. Exploring my inner self is one of my favorite things to do, not because I delight in thinking about and admiring myself, but because I want to understand myself better. I am actually quite critical of myself (something I am working on), but it’s true that my paintings and writings are often a reflection of me, my thoughts, my emotions. A man I was involved with once accused me of being a “navel gazing narcissist”. That idea impacted me deeply and riddled me with self-doubt. The last thing I wanted to be was a self-absorbed narcissist.
I find that people, namely men in heterosexual relationships, are often inconvenienced when women spend any amount of time taking care of themselves and pursuing things that bring them joy, especially if it does not involve them. The younger me sacrificed her wants and desires much too often in order to satisfy someone else’s expectations and needs. Women are often taught that any amount of time pursuing personal interests and self-care is “selfish”.
The time I spend on personal reflection is not only time well spent, it is necessary for my well being and it makes me a better person. By observing my thoughts and behaviors with equanimity, I am able to better understand my motivations and tendencies. Developing self-awareness is important to me because I want to have a positive impact on others. I also want to understand my purpose. I recognize that I am a spec in the universe, but I am not insignificant. However small, I have a role to play, and I have the opportunity to touch people’s lives daily. Our existence is interconnected. Everything we do and say has a ripple effect, and I care about doing my best so that my impact and contributions have a positive effect on others. That doesn’t mean I always do, but it is always my intention.
We go through life checking off boxes, unconsciously completing tasks, engaged in our daily routine. Without self-reflection we might lose track of why we are doing all these things. If we take time to reflect we might discover that some of what we are doing doesn’t serve us well, that some of what we are doing no longer makes sense, or that we are not in alignment with how we want to live our lives. Making these discoveries can be scary because we are then in a position to make a different choice, and change tends to trigger our fear. But what is the alternative? Without self-reflection, we become stuck in our patterns. Without change, there is no growth. What if making a change led to greater fulfillment? Psychological fear is something we create, and something we can overcome. Once we move past that barrier, there are rewards on the other side.
Self-reflection is an investment in myself. It is the most important thing I can do for my personal growth and wellbeing. It helps me be in a better position to help others, and that is to a great extent my purpose. And when I am aligned with my purpose, I feel greater peace and happiness.