It’s rare that I incorporate quotes into my teaching or turn to them for inspiration. Taking a few words out of context never feels sincere to me, and I shy away from oversimplifying concepts. And in practical terms, memorization is not my strong suit and I’m likely to laughably misquote someone. Despite all that, a quote that struck a chord with me several years ago and continues to cause me to pause is “The highest spiritual practice is self-observation without judgment” (Swami Kripalu). I come back to this quote often, not so much because it rings loudly true to me, but because I always want to respond with “Really? Is it?”
I don’t know if it’s True, as in the absolute Highest practice, but it might be, and I do know that it’s incredibly powerful. Practicing self-observation without judgment is challenging for me. But, when I choose to practice it on my mat, and especially these days in the parenting of my baby daughter, it is a valuable reframe for me. When I find myself struggling or my mind spinning on how to fix something, I can pause and ask myself what it might look like to observe what’s happening without labelling it good or bad or qualifying it in any way. This creates an opportunity to pause and allow more ease. In that moment of stepping back and observing, inevitably compassion rises to the surface and objective sight provides equanimity. When I waste energy on judgment, there is less energy available to take in what is. When I judge my practice, myself, or my parenting, I limit what I can see. I limit taking in the whole of what is and start only seeing the parts, especially those parts I don’t believe are good enough. Even if I judge the way I am doing things to be excellent, I limit the potential for those things to be more or different; through judgement I limit expansion. If I am concerned about what my practice should look like, I miss out on celebrating what my practice does look like. When I get lost in my parenting “failures,” I can no longer see my relationship with my daughter as a beautiful, messy journey that two imperfect beings are navigating together. When I judge or over-analyze myself as a mother, I slip into grasping for control rather than surrendering to the fact that I can only control so much.
Self-observation without judgment. Is it the highest spiritual practice? I don’t know. What I do know is that it gives me a chance quiet my ego, an opportunity to allow for more, and a moment to humbly and joyfully say, “I don’t have the answer and maybe I don’t need to have it.” That gives me peace. And that, for me, is worth practicing.