One of the things that separates humans from other species is our capacity for self-reflection.
We don’t need to blindly react to stimuli in the same way every single time. Instead, we can learn from our mistakes, take advantage of our strengths, and structure our lives in ways conducive to bettering ourselves.
Many spiritual traditions have specific methods that are used in this process of self-reflection. Exposing ourselves to these various methods can be illuminating, and different methods have their own advantages and disadvantages. Each person will surely vibe better with some methods than for others.
For that reason, it is prudent to educate ourselves in these various methods and see which ones work best. If you find a method that works for you, continue to use it repeatedly in order to grow as an individual.
A method that I have found to be quite comprehensive is a form of Kabbalistic self-reflection. It may or may not work for you, but I would suggest giving it a shot.
Keep in mind that there is no requirement to be Jewish, or to believe in any of the spiritual symbols involved. That being said, a brief overview of the relevant parts will help understand the method coming later.
One of the primary symbols in Kabbalah is the Tree of Life, which represents the foundation of creation. It is made up of ten elements (eleven really, but then things get complicated), called sefirot, which can be thought of almost as amino acids making up the DNA of the Tree of Life.
Then ten are keter (crown), chochma (wisdom), binah (understanding), chesed (lovingkindness), gevorah (strength), tiferet (beauty), netzach (triumph/dominance), hod (grandeur/empathy), yesod (foundation), and malkhut (sovereignty).
In Kabbalah, every individual is said to be their own miniature Tree of Life. The different sefirot represent traits of ours, and we each harmonize them differently. This would determine, say, our strengths and weaknesses, personal idiosyncrasies, and the like.
Each of the sefirot is paired with another, just like adenine always pairs with thymine and guanine pairs with cytosine. For instance, netzach pairs with hod, and they form a kind of continuum that we are constantly balancing. The confidence and domineering nature of netzach counters the more yielding nature of hod, but both have their positives and negatives. The interrelationships between the various sefirot are far more complicated than I’ve presented here, of course, so feel free to do your own research if you are curious.
For our purposes in this article, we will focus on seven of these sefirot: tiferet, yesod, gevorah, chesed, netzach, hod, and malkhut, which represents the result of everything happening with the other six. Combinations of these seven lower sefirot can explain everything that happens in our minds in this physical universe, and the others are related to higher, spiritual universes.
There are 49 days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuot. Those days are called the Counting of the Omer. Each of these seven weeks represents one of the sefirot, as does each day of the week. Therefore, each of those 49 days can be defined by two sefirot. These pairs will form the basis of our method of self-reflection.
A Kabbalistic Method of Self-Reflection
That 49 day period of the Counting of the Omer is used by Kabbalists to prepare themselves for Shavuot, which is when the Jewish people received the Torah. Since this moment was such a formative one for Jews, self-reflection and betterment is seen as important prep work.
You, of course, don’t need to use this method during that specific period. There will be 49 tasks, and it is convenient to do them over any 49 day period, but you can extend it or do it more quickly depending on your personal needs and constraints.
What are these 49 tasks that make up the heart of this method, then? The key is to meditate on questions relating to the various combinations of sefirot.
For instance, the first one would be chesed of chesed. On this day, you would explore the source or “heart" of your generosity. What motivates you to give to others? How does it feel when you give? When you don’t give?
The second day would be gevorah of chesed, or how you restrain your generosity. What makes you say “no" to giving? In what ways do you hold yourself back from giving? When is it appropriate, and when isn’t it? Are you trying to protect yourself from something when you stop yourself from giving?
Third would be tiferet of chesed, or compassion within generosity. Do you feel compassion when you give or don’t give? How might you foster additional compassion within yourself?
Fourth is netzach of chesed, or confidence of generosity. When you give, is it from a place of confidence, or do you feel pressured into giving? Do you feel regret after being generous? Are there strings attached to your gifts? Do you feel a need to be viewed or labeled as a generous person?
On this goes for 49 days. The questions you might ponder on these days are not set in stone; there are plenty of ways to interpret these combinations. What is important is to look at each of these values and analyze how you are doing on them from many different perspectives.
Generalizing The System
I recognize that most people will not utilize the specific, Kabbalistic sefirot. That is totally okay! You can quite easily design your own version of this, maintaining the methodology, while personalizing it to suit your own values (go here to help you find your personal values).
Perhaps your values are honesty, friendship, courage, truth, and family.
It’s not obvious how each combination of these would lend itself to self-reflection, so you are more than welcome to skip some troublesome ones or add in your own flair. But for many of these combinations, there are some clear questions you can ask yourself.
For instance, honesty and friendship. Have you been completely honest with your friends? If not, why not?
Or for courage and honesty: Do you tell people the truth, even when you are afraid to do so? If you don’t, what specifically makes you lose your courage to be honest with people?
Personally, I think this is a cool method of self-reflection that really gets to the core of what is important to you. What do you think?