Often people get the idea in many spiritual traditions that an isolated life of meditation is the way to find their self. And while heading off to the cave for a week or two isn't a bad idea, ultimately a meditative approach to living most of our life in the real world is far more helpful. The main reason is that the real world offers relationships.
Relationships are like mirrors: They help us see things, like our true face, that we would ordinarily be unable to see without one. And different relationships mirror different things. Some have us take on certain postures, others cause us to breathe differently. A relationship with one person might make you tense and breathe shallow, and another relationship will relax you and help you breathe deeply.
It can also go much deeper than that. Certain repressed behaviors might never find release until they find the right relationship to mirror back the behavior.
And sometimes it takes a combination of mirrors/relationships to see more about our self; like going into a multi-mirrored dressing room that enables you to see yourself from every side. And there you might discover how hunched forward your shoulders are or how skinny or fat you really are or that someone stuck a "kick me" sign on your back.
In yoga we find that by changing our posture through various exercises all sorts of negative tendencies and unconscious habits can be brought out. We find time and again that changing our shape can change our whole self-view as well as our view of the world.
And this can go much deeper. You can take all these same angles as symbols for ways to discover your ego or personality quirks and issues. By taking your yoga off the mat and into the real world, you can begin to act and respond within various relationships in an observational manner.
If you watch your postures just as you would do while on the yoga mat, you'll find that each relationship presents you with a variety of mirrors to take a better look at your behaviors and the conditioning throughout your life that causes those behaviors. This doesn't work, however, if you don't recognize that every relationship presents you with a mirror or you don't think to observe yourself within that mirror.
WILLIAM BRASHEAR is a Yoga Psychologist and owner of Cincinnati Yoga School in Blue Ash. He's been practicing progressive meditation since 1988 and gives lectures and instruction locally and internationally. Contact him at Will@cincyoga.com.