Nothing is more important than knowing what is happening inside. Not that you are like a doctor checking in on his patient. The point is to learn who you really are, and since the self changes over time, who you really are is dynamic, shifting, and constantly renewing itself.
That's how the self naturally grows and evolves. When the opposite happens and the self stagnates, becomes boring, and loses interest, it has been starved of attention. One advantage that the East has over the West is that in the East the self is the source of creativity, intelligence and bliss, and these qualities grow the more you pay attention. This is the process of waking up, and it remains interesting for a lifetime - if you have a real goal in mind. In the West, the self is considered a problem, leading to egotism, self indulgence, or personal demons no one would enjoy meeting.
Both images are true, but they exist at different levels. The negative aspects are psychological, which is a shallower level than the true self, which is calm, peaceful, wise, and joyful. Getting past your demons and finding your true self is the very essence of a quest. What gave the East its advantage is that the quest has been mapped out accurately for thousands of years in the great wisdom traditions rooted in India.
But it's not necessary to "go Eastern" in order to seek your true self. You only need to be interested in what's happening inside and to keep paying attention. In other words, it's just a matter of getting back into balance, paying as much attention to the inner world as you do to the outer. External rewards will still be there. You aren't asked to become so self absorbed that you forget the outside world of family, friends, and career. As the noted spiritual teacher J. Krishnamurti put it, you can experience the timeless and still catch the train. Missing the train home from work doesn't mean you're spiritual; it means you've gotten lost in a private dream.
As a quick indicator of how much of your attention goes outward and how much goes inward, look at the following two lists. Roughly estimate how many hours you devote to each time.
List A: External, the world "out there"FamilyFriendsCareer School, higher educationStatusWealthProperty and possessionsPoliticsHobbiesExercise, going to the gymGoing to the moviesHaving sexInternet and social mediaVideo gamesTelevisionTravelService organisationsCharity
List B: Internal, the world "in here"MeditationContemplationPrayerSelf reflectionStress managementReading spiritual material, poems and inspirational literaturePsychotherapyPersonal growthIntimacyBonding with someone else empathically, or out of compassionAppreciation and gratitude, toward yourself and othersExploring the world's wisdom traditionsTaking a period of silenceChurch attendanceGoing on a spiritual retreat
Most people would favor externals 4 to 1 or even 10 to 1 over their inner life - and that's up from 20 years ago. Consciousness is on the rise, and most of us realise the value of meditation and stress management, even if time hasn't been set aside to pay attention to them. I'm not suggesting that there's an ideal ratio to aim for; the inner life isn't precisely measured in hours, and certain externals, like a close family, enrich your inner life. For now, just be aware of these two lists and how much you participate in them.
Deepak Chopra will be appearing with Wayne Dyer and other Hay House authors at the Melbourne I Can Do It! 2013. For more details visit: www.hayhouse.com.au.
Deepak Chopra is a world leader in holistic medicine and popular forms of spirituality