My inner wounds from betrayal trauma were still fresh as I sat in my therapists office sobbing and on my second or third box of kleenex since I had arrived twenty minutes earlier. Every once in a while a noise that resembled a wounded animal would escape my mouth and it would startle me enough that I would forget temporarily what it was I was crying about. My therapist, God bless him, let this cycle of sob, grab ten tissues, make random animal noise, and then repeat go on for quite a while before he finally looked at me and said "I think you need to do some navel-gazing".
I remember thinking to myself that maybe I wasn't the craziest one in the room. I had never heard of this word before and assumed he meant I either needed to go stand in the produce section of the grocery store and admire some oranges or lift my shirt and stare at my belly button.
Navel-gazing comes from the Greek word omphaloskepsis; omphalos (navel) and skepsis (looking or examining). I wasn't too far off in thinking that my therapist wanted me to stare at my belly button because when using the word in an esoteric sense, it literally means to stare at the navel. Granted, it is done as an aid to meditation and not simply lifting the ol' shirt and examining your innie or outie but I'll explain this another day. For now, I'll stick with what he actually meant by telling me to do some gazing of the navel; self-reflection and introspection.
Merriam-Webster defines navel-gazing as useless or excessive self-contemplation with synonyms such as egocentric, self-absorption, and narcissism. Sounds pretty disparaging and quite contradictory compared to how it is used amongst monks, yogis, and philosophers in it's esoteric sense.
Logic told me that if I wasn't supposed to be staring at the hole in my belly nor turning into the narcissist I left there must be some kind of happy medium in this navel-gazing I was supposed to be doing and there is; using it as a positive tool for earnest introspection of myself.
Buddah claimed in the Nyanaponika Thera that the only way to overcome grief is to practice mindfulness. Pertaining to navel-gazing this would be focusing on your body, your feelings, the state of your mind, and what your mind has perceived, discovered, or learned and doing all of this almost selfishly.
Introspection and self-awareness are essential to helping one heal but like most things in life there is a right and a wrong way to go about it. You can't ruminate on how sad you are, your woes in life, and all of the things that have caused your pain and you also can't become obsessive about trying to figure out who you really are. The more you force yourself to become self-aware and reflect you will find it has an opposite effect and you will remain stagnant, gaining no more insight than when you began.
To reap the full rewards of introspection and self-awareness you must always keep in mind that unless you question the validity of the emotions and insights that are being conjured up from your navel-gazing, the perceptions of Self can be distorted and hinder your growth. The ultimate goal of looking inward during grief or any type of self-growth is to obtain a better understanding of your purpose in life, a clearer understanding of what you need for your overall happiness & well-being, and come to a place of total acceptance of your Self.
I'm sure you have found that a lot of things in life don't make sense. You should see this as a challenge and you should accept this challenge, even more so when you can't make sense of your own experiences and Self. Although grief is a universal experience it is unique to each individual, thus making it a distinct individual challenge. As individual as it is, humans still have their own opinions and beliefs about it and this can create a self-stigma; the unpleasant attitudes one can encounter from the outside world. This stigma can cause one to feel a loss of control over Self and can result in the individual being tempted to resent themselves or the situations they find themselves in. This can fester into a dark monster inside of you if you don't face the uncomfortable vulnerabilities of being a unique human and learning to love and understand this unique human you are.
Along with society's perceptions and opinions on how one should react and respond in times of grief, technology and the convenience of having things instantly at our finger tips have also aided in one's inability to become self-aware; we've gotten away from truly pondering the meaning of life and our own purpose. We have stopped asking hard questions and we have stopped looking within ourselves for the answers. We don't know who we are anymore unless google or society tells us. Deep, meaningful introspection can help us see ourselves clearly through rose colored glasses. Navel-gazing literally forces you to live in the now and become one with your thoughts. You can start opening up and unpacking the thoughts and beliefs in your mind and discovering who you are.
Your emotional well-being is just as important as your physical well-being when facing tumultuous times and this requires you sorting things out within to create a healthy balance. When you spend time with yourself really contemplating things, your mind can clear, feelings will emerge, and insights will be gleaned. All of this will ultimately pay off in a big way for the rest of your life.
Don't let the negative definition of Merriam-Webster deter you from spending some time with yourself when it's needed. Sometimes it's okay to be self-absorbed.
Regardless of if you need to heal, I think it would do all of us good to maybe grab an orange, stare at our belly buttons, unplug from the world for a while, start unpacking those boxes in our minds, and spend some time reflecting on who we are. Ask the hard questions, ponder the meaning of life and become self-aware. Out of the silence can come true wisdom.