Spirituality and Self-Awareness
At my Shabbos meal last week, a question was asked about women's spiritual growth and whether, despite the fact that women do not have the mitzvah (commandment) to learn Torah the way men do, it is necessary to do such learning, such as going to shiurim (classes) and doing textual study.
Then yesterday I came across the following question in the Avodah e-mail list (which I was informed about by my rarely-commenting friend, who frequents my other blog more often than this one):
Is emotional or psychological self-awareness (and I would also include being in touch with one's emotional/feelings/etc.) considered a good middah (character trait) to be acquired like humility, faith, not being angry, jealous, resentful, or envious, etc.?
Or could it be considered like a preparation, a hechsher for working on a middah, like a hechsher mitzvah?
Or, as a third option, it could be seen a valuable in making a person into a better or happier person. And with self-awareness, one can better be an ovaid hashem (servant of G-d).
I know many people who have self-awareness, but haven't used it to be better people, but, on the contrary, have used it to justify their bad middos.
On the other hand, I have met people who lack self-awareness, but this has not stopped them from working on their middos, and being very good people.
The reason I find these two questions related is because of what I feel is the answer (though my answer is really a personal one, I can't speak for anyone else).
To answer my Shabbos host's question about women's spirituality and learning, I answered that I felt that a lot of my spiritual growth comes through the process of self-awareness. I admit that I don't often manage to go to shiurim or learn Torah with anyone. I'll also admit that my spiritual level is not where I would like it to be at the moment. But I honestly don't think that one determines the other. At least not for me.
I told my host that I feel like my spirituality is really enhanced by taking personal stock in my life and seeing what areas I want to work. And actively working on those areas. It could be possible that the area I could choose to work on would be in learning more Torah (and increasing my Jewish knowledge is something that I think is important and do try to make some time for) but when it comes to my relationship with G-d and my spiritual level, I think I am more impacted by working on being a stronger person, by connecting with G-d through my attempts to follow His mitzvos and to really care about following those mitzvos.
And to answer the question from the Avodah list, I think self-awareness, while not necessarily a middah (character trait) in and of itself, is a process that is necessary for a person to accomplish personal or spiritual growth. In reference to the Avodah question, I also think that one can be very self-aware but not use it in a beneficial manner. But the process of first identifying and then working on those things that one sees are lacking can absolutely lead to a greater spiritual level and connection with G-d.
In regards to the final part of the question about whether self-awareness is necessary, and the fact that there are those who are not self-aware but are very good people, I think that self-awareness is part of a package and more important for some than others and a person can definitely do good deeds without necessarily being self-aware. But I think that someone who is not self-aware is going to miss something, just as someone who is self-aware but uses the awareness as a crutch to not make change is going to miss something. As in most things, the package deal is the optimal experience. I guess I've got a lot of work to do.