Scrupulousness (wara’) is to fully honour your wholeness by avoiding what is harmful to your soul. That means working through paralyzing guilt, destructive anger, overextending yourself and overexerting your body as well as other habits and behaviours that no longer serve you, and choosing to follow your inner guidance about what is the best thing for you in any given moment.
The first step to scrupulousness is to tune into the voice of your inner guide, what in yoga we call the “inner guru.” For many women, placing your hands on your lower abdomen and asking your womb what to do in any given moment can help you tune into this inner voice of wisdom. Another part of your body to do this with (for men and women) is your heart. Both these areas represent organs of discernment and true perception in spiritual traditions around the world.
You can usually discern the voice of your inner guide from the voice of the anxious or imposing mind by recognizing that the mind will always try to justify its choices, while the voice of the inner guide speaks with certainty without needing to justify itself.
Of course, correct discernment in no way guarantees correct action. As a beloved teacher of mine says, “We all know what to do to be healthy. We just don’t do it!”
This is where scrupulousness comes in. Like any muscle, you have to train yourself to be scrupulous, to continue to make the best choice for yourself in any given moment no matter how hard it may be to follow through and no matter how much your brain justifies the less beneficial alternatives.
Here is an exercise. Is there something you could be doing right now to benefit your overall health and wellbeing instead of surfing the internet? Is your mind trying to justify your time online right now? Take a deep breath and place your hands on your heart/womb. Ask it what you should do now to take care of yourself. See what comes up.
Sometimes your brain will try to intervene with a list of “should”s or to-do’s: “You should be doing your work.” “You should wash the dishes.” “You should make that call to the bank.”
But your inner guru knows better, and usually the voice from your heart/womb will tell you simpler things like: “Take a breath,” “Hug your pet,” or “Cook yourself a nice meal, even if you are alone tonight.” These are small healing practices that your body knows you need more than you do. These small actions evolve into lifelong self-healing habits. With the guidance of your inner guru, you will begin to naturally tend towards and seek out what is good for you in the long term rather than chasing after short-term gratification (which can only lead to disillusion).
Over time, as you get more scrupulous and more discerning, you will find yourself naturally implementing healthier habits and behaviours and tending towards greater balance in your life. That is because the body possesses great wisdom as to what it needs because above all it wants to be healthy. It is our minds and our internalized social conditioning that get in the way of our natural state of homeostasis.
Today, as you step on to your yoga mat, close your eyes and ask your body what it needs from your practice today and what it feels safe doing. Then listen. Whatever your body seems to want, do it. After every asana, ask your body again and again, “What do you need?” As you call to mind a particular asana, ask your body, “Does this feel safe for you right now?” And be scrupulous. Give your body the reins today, let it tell you what is ok and what isn’t. See if your practice allows the voice of your inner guru to get stronger. See if you can better distinguish now between the voice of your mind and the voice of your inner wisdom. Place your hands on your heart/womb if you need the voice to be clearer. And when your body feels it has received the yoga it needs for today, stop and go into savasana.
Try to allow your inner guru more input on the choices you make in your day-to-day. Does your inner guide have anything to say about your eating choices today? About your to-do list? About who to speak to and who to avoid? What happens when you follow your inner guidance for a while? What happens when you repeatedly ignore it?
Our next stop on the path is Expansion and Contraction, twin states of the heart that parallel the rhythm of the universe.
See my introduction to this series: The Sufi Journey through Yoga.