How we can be introspective and why it’s important
We can never know what others are thinking and why they choose to do the things they do. Their actions are a product of their experiences. As an individual being, we don’t have access to their experiences. We only have access to our own. These experiences are the ones we can reflect on. Through reflection we can begin to identify our thought processes. Since these thought processes manifest themselves in our behaviour, we might eventually be able to shape our behaviour through careful introspection.
Which thought processes should we be wary of? The big three are our passions, our thoughtlessness and our dissatisfaction. Sometimes our actions are misguided by emotional extremes. These are actions arising out of passion. Other times our actions are misguided by thoughtlessness. We didn’t think about the consequences of our actions. Last but not least, our actions are misguided by dissatisfaction. We incorrectly believe that quelling our desire will bring us happiness.
What else can be the object of our introspection? We can learn to observe beauty. There is beauty in nature. This is the coincidental beauty of our universe. There is also incidental beauty. This arises from the things that human’s have created. People who are just like us came together to create some incredible things.
Finally, we can also introspect about mankind’s inadvertent callousness. In our ignorance we have created some incredibly destructive things. These we created out of ignorance rather than malice. Why is it important to attribute this to ignorance rather than malice? Because malice implies intent. Intent implies intention. Once we think something is intentional, we attribute blame. If unchecked, this can turn into hatred. And hatred can be incredibly destructive.
Nothing is more wretched than a man who traverses everything in a round, and pries into the things beneath the earth, as the poet says, and seeks by conjecture what is in the minds of his neighbours, without perceiving that it is sufficient to attend to the daemon within him, and to reverence it sincerely. And reverence of the daemon consists in keeping it pure from passion and thoughtlessness, and dissatisfaction with what comes from gods and men. For the things from the gods merit veneration for their excellence; and the things from men should be dear to us by reason of kinship; and sometimes even, in a manner, they move our pity by reason of men’s ignorance of good and bad; this defect being not less than that which deprives us of the power of distinguishing things that are white and black. — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 2, Meditation 13
The full text of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations is available here.