I always say in my class that being super flexible, being able to get into the splits or controlled enough to hold a handstand/crow pose won't make you a better person. Advanced poses are not an express lane to enlightenment. I know plenty of jerks who can do the most eye pleasing things with their bodies, yet, they are still jerks. The real path to enlightenment is to use our practice as a mirror so that we can constantly observe ourselves, to better ourselves.
Every time we step onto that yoga mat, we are seeing who we are - if we are paying attention. All of our habits, beliefs and tendencies will show up here. Perhaps it's our negative self talk, our self frustration, perhaps we are judging the others in the room, maybe we see that we are constantly pushing ourselves to a point of exhaustion, or maybe we don't push ourselves at all. There is so much important information going on in every breath we take, to what's going on in our heads, our body and in our hearts. Svadyaya is saying - pay attention!
Some have said that the purpose of this life time is to learn, to figure out this humanness and to evolve into the best version of ourselves as possible. That's what nature does anyways. When a little green shoot bursts through its seedling shell, it doesn't play shy or stay small. That little seedling will begin to grow as tall as it possibly can given it's circumstances and it's one objective is to live it's life to it's fullest potential possible. To do this, it too has to learn. Do you know that a tree will form its branches and its trunk with the currents of the wind that pass it regularly, that all plants will grow in the direction of the sun so they can get better photosynthesis. If even these 'less conscious' beings can study themselves and their environment to prosper and evolve to their highest potential, it is even more imperative that us 'super conscious' beings do so too.
We can start by seeing everything as a lesson, because it truly is. Even the most heart braking of moments will have something so valuable, so enriching weaved through it, we just couldn't be the same without having that experience. Just think for a moment of all you have learned through your hardships, and how those difficulties made you grow and improve in some way or another.
Joseph Campbell writes about this as the 'Hero's Journey'. Through his lifetime of studying fables, mythology and folklore he realised that it is always really the same story in the end, and it is precisely the story of being human. We get called to some great adventure (and usually that is pretty terrifying or we are very reluctant to step up to the cause), then we cross the threshold of what is familiar ( we step outside of our comfort zone). There is a period of learning and training ( sometimes this is seen by the knowledge passed by a wise elder or the wisdom that comes from falling in love), the hero then begins to really know themselves, get's comfortable in their own skin. Then there is the failure, it seems like the hero will be defeated usually by some sort of 'evil' or crisis, BUT - there is always a victory of some kind in the end and the hero overcomes their challenge and something is gained. The reward is not the end however, the reward in itself is the transformation of the hero and how their conquer effects their community/ family/ tribe. The hero's journey involves the one, but it affects all.
What Joseph Campbell has realised was this is the story of our path of maturation and evolution, just played out again and again in different storylines and through different characters. It is also our story, and this isn't just a once in a lifetime story, we go through this cycle over and over again, even many times in one day! Gosh it is exhausting to be a super hero. Phew.
My point here with all of this, is would it still be a hero's journey if the hero never went through that training period? If they never took the advise from that wise man, owl, fairy what ever it may have been - if there wasn't a point of self realisation in the story where suddenly, and usually when the character is at a low point, there wasn't a big AHA! moment, would the hero have become the 'hero'?
Self study is taking time for self inquiry. When we truly understand ourselves, we truly begin to understand the world for;
"We don't see the world as it is, we see the world as we are". - Anaïs Nin
I believe enlightenment is Self - realisation. When we truly understand ourselves, our behaviours, our thoughts, our desires, our triggers, our scars and wounds then we can influence our actions, our energies our legacies and our impact on the people and the world around us. We are able to grow to our fullest potential and bask in all of that light up there.
May you always look in the mirror my friends.