Ancient Greek Ancient Spiritual Practices of the Sun Blog Retrospection

Examination of the Day — A Pythagorean Retrospection Practice

A depiction of Pythagoras teaching a class. Image by Internet Archive Book Images [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons.

The Golden Verses are a collection of 71 maxims which give guidance and instruction on ways to live a more meaningful and spiritual life that is connected with the Divine. Though its origins are unknown, this text is widely attributed to the renowned Greek sage and philosopher Pythagoras,1 whose knowledge conveyed principles of the Religion of the Sun.

The text emphasizes the importance of living in an upright way within and without, explaining that one should act and speak justly, treating others with respect and understanding, and to overcome and “vanquish” passions such as anger, sloth, and gluttony. The text explains that one should “do that which will not afflict thee afterwards, nor oblige thee to repentance.”2

Lines 40-46 of The Golden Verses describe a retrospection practice that can be done at the end of each day where one examines all of their “actions of the day.” The text explains that one should look into where they have “done amiss,” and if they have done something wrong, they should feel remorse for it (explained as “reprimanding” oneself in this translation, and described as feeling remorse or repentance in another translation).3 Similarly, the text mentions that if one has done good, to rejoice.

The text goes on to say that one should meditate on and practise this upright way of being, because it will put one “in the way of divine virtue.”

Never suffer sleep to close thy eyelids, after thy going to bed,
Till thou hast examined by thy reason all thy actions of the day.
Wherein have I done amiss? What have I done? What have I omitted that I ought to have done?
If in this examination thou find that thou hast done amiss, reprimand thyself severely for it;
And if thou hast done any good, rejoice.
Practise thoroughly all these things; meditate on them well; thou oughtest to love them with all thy heart.
Tis they that will put thee in the way of divine virtue.

~The Golden Verses, 40-46, Selected and arranged by Florence M. Firth4


Please note, more practice excerpts will be added as and when we find them. While we recommend the practice in this excerpt, featuring a passage from a text does not mean we can vouch for the entire contents of a text.

Jenny Resnick, Jordan Resnick, and Justin Norris, contributed research and writing to this article.


  1. The Golden Verses of Pythagoras.” Selected and arranged by Florence M. Firth, Index. Accessed April 19, 2018. http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/gvp/index.htm.  

  2. “THE GOLDEN VERSES OF PYTHAGORAS.” Selected and arranged by Florence M. Firth, Line 29. Accessed April 19, 2018. http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/gvp/gvp03.htm.  

  3.  “The Golden Verses of Pythagoras.” Universal Theosophy. 1707. Translated by Nicholas Rowe. Accessed April 23, 2018. http://www.universaltheosophy.com/sacred-texts/golden-verses-of-pythagoras/.  

  4. “THE GOLDEN VERSES OF PYTHAGORAS.” Florence M. Firth, Lines 40-46.   

About the author

Vida Norris

Vida Norris is a writer and researcher who contributes to the SpiritualSun.com. With a background in permaculture design and landscaping, Vida has a deep interest in the ancient civilizations who practiced the Religion of the Sun and how they lived sustainably and with seemingly higher consciousness and interest in spirituality. She explores ancient sacred sites and pores over ancient texts, with the hope of bringing back the relevance of the Religion of the Sun to those interested in spirituality today.

32 Comments

  • This is really inspiring, just the way the practice has been written, very simple and just a few lines, but it speaks deeply within me, waking up someone within who wants to learn and understand more about myself in this way.

    I picked up the practice of retrospection again some time ago, having learnt about it in the past but a period passed where I didn’t practice it. Since I started practicing it again I feel like I’m able to see and learn much more about what was going on within myself during the day, spotting subtle underlying currents and patterns, and kind of crystallize the understanding in the mind.

    Sometimes it feels like my divine mother is even helping me to see and learn about important things within myself and it makes me so grateful that just by doing this little effort of looking at my day and sometimes not even doing it so well there is a response and so much is given in return when I didn’t expect it.

    The end of the text is interesting, ‘…thou oughtest to love them with all thy heart. Tis they that will put thee in the way of divine virtue.’ To find a wholehearted love towards my spiritual practice. Not have it as a chore which will lead to doing it half-heartedly at best… but recognize that this is really the way for me to reach the divine and for them to reach down to me, the only way for me to progress, the only way that does me good.

    Thank you Vida!

    • Laura I can really relate to what you say about this practice helping you to see more about what’s going on during the day. I also find that it’s one of the key practices that help me to feel more internally connected and doing it regularly can help me get into a better momentum with an inner ‘thread’. It seems that a continuous study can only be achieved when this practice is set as a keystone, otherwise the attempts to look within become too scattered.

      Thanks for sharing this passage Vida, it is very helpful to hear this fresh (though ancient) angle on retrospection.
      The ‘rejoice when you have done good’ was encouraging to hear for me too. I actually remember a someone saying something similar once and it was really helpful – they said not to just beat yourself up, but look for the moments of those genuine attempts to do good and to connect to the spiritual. I think that person saw that it’s so common for this practice to slip into an ego-battle, where the chastising doesn’t come from a genuine remorse of the essence but from the way egos within can also just make us feel defeated when we see our bad behaviour.

      When I’ve been in a good flow with this practice (which this excerpt and reading peoples’ comments has encouraged me to do again!) I have had times arise of such a clear dialogue with my divine mother that it then also helps me to feel her guidance during the day. Then looking back over the ‘film’ I can see these times when I’ve ‘been with her’, when I’ve been ‘good’ – partly as they are such a breath of fresh air and so markedly different. That does give rise to an inner happiness, partly because there’s this huge gratitude that I can feel her guidance in my life and also because honestly, those times are also rare to behold, and good behaviour a precious thing to witness. Even the trying of the essence is a precious thing to witness.
      This practice really is one of the best ways to increase the feeling of internal guidance, to keep hold of a sense of a thread with the work, to find internal honesty, and to remember dreams! Without it so much passes, and the huge learning within events just stays on the surface.

      Thank again for bringing these timeless words of encouragement and guidance. 🙂

      • Yes Ella – I agree that retrospection on our day is an important practice. Without the constant effort to study ourselves, it’s so easy to miss valuable details of our behaviour that we need to change.

    • Yes, I agree Laura – spiritual practices are really such valuable tools, which can really benefit us and lift our inner state. So it’s a pity that when we get into lower states, they may sometimes seem like a chore.

      I’ve noticed some of this resistance recently – such as fighting egos that want to trick me into thinking the practices don’t work, or I’m too busy to make time for a practice. But having persisted, I’ve often found my inner state has been so much clearer afterwards, which is a real reward in itself.

      I think that having that daily routine of spiritual practice is so important, as with it, we can build a much greater inner strength and momentum to fight lower emotions. By doing this, we gain a lot, as it makes our whole way of living so much more enjoyable, in the sense of having a feeling of peacefulness within, rather than being burdened by lower emotions.

  • Thanks for this Vida. I also found the point about recognising the good deeds of the day interesting. It seems like this is a good practice for taking account of everything. It reminds me of how a business owner counts the money earned and spent each day.

    • I like that analogy Kelly – it’s true someone who looks after their business would do such a thing, so naturally, one who’s looking after oneself would “take an inventory of themselves” then with this practice in a similar manner. Thanks for bringing that up!

    • Good analogy Kelly. Under this analogy, one can count every day if did internally steps in front or back.
      Is the cashier plus or minus?

    • Yes, that’s a good analogy Kelly. With that daily “balance check”, we can get a clearer perspective on how well we’re actually following spiritual principles within our lives and which areas we need to work on.

  • It is interesting to read texts where a spiritual teacher describes ways to reach “divine virtue”. They are still very relevant today.

    The first lines, from what I understood, reveal the resolution one needs to have to attain this divine virtue. Like another way of prompting the disciples to be serious about what they are trying to achieve and not take it lightly.
    He could have said at any other point during the day but it seems the time before going to bed is treated as very important.

  • It was good to do this practice earlier this evening. It gave a chance to remember the good and the bad, and gives more hope that I will do better in both regards tomorrow. Thanks for posting the practice.

  • Very nicely written this very practical practice. It would be nice to read the Golden Verses and see how conveys principles of the Religion of the Sun.

    And what said:
    “And if thou hast done any good, rejoice”
    It’s something new for me, makes sense and the picture more complete.

    Thanks Vida and team!

    • That line really resonated with me too Fotis. I sometimes find it hard to want to do a retrospection, especially when I can quickly call to mind many moments during the day that I had ‘done amiss’ with certain inner states or actions. But when I read this part of the passage, I was inspired to make it a goal to work harder at it so that when I go to do the retrospection at night I have more ‘good’ to see there and it’s been quite motivating.

      • Thank you for posting this practice Vida, and like you I find it hard for the same reasons.

        For me what stood out was how he explained to do this reflection as it seems that its very serious, very alive and very honest approach involved in it.

        It’s hard to look at the things within myself that are causing the problems in my life, as I can feel so personal about it, but when I am able to actually have a look at the causes it helps me a great deal to break from that way of being. It’s also interesting to see how much time was actually lived consciously and what was the driving factor of the day.

        So last night after reading this post, though it was very late at night I took heed of what Pythagorus said and didn’t suffer sleep before reviewing my day, I saw how things that had gone amiss in the afternoon had begun with a worry very early in the morning, and its repetitious nature throughout the day shaped and shifted my goals and intentions considerably leading to carelessness.

        I was surprised to see how that all unfolded and also began to capture how it has repeated over my lifetime, and shaped my personality to what it is today. I was also able to see it again this morning and its like now being able to begin to see the stains on the window instead of just looking out through a stained window, if that makes sense?

        I definitely found that the approach of seriousness and sternness of how Pythagoras explained it was helpful, as its so easy to find excuses and reasons and they really put an end or at least a limit on being able to see things as they really are and come to some understanding about the situation and how I am as a person.

        Thanks Vida, glad you found it and posted it here.

        • Thanks Layla for sharing honestly, I found it really helpful to read your reflections.

          I have recognized these thoughts in my mind, I know how my day went and what were the big things that went wrong, not really wanting to look at them more closely, and I don’t think I’ll get any more information through retrospection. But like you said you were surprised to see what you saw, sometimes it’s like something is highlighted for me that I was only vaguely aware of during the day, and then this whole psychological pattern emerges in the practice that I wasn’t able to see clearly before. Even without big revelations, I always find it helpful to do when I manage to.

          • I’m exactly the same Laura, and this post by Vida pushed me to not just read but to do and also the way Pythagoras had explained it so well, like a father figure explaining it with strict importance but with care as well.

            And I think there’s something you’ve captured there in what you said Laura which is the sense of sincerity we need to have towards learning and towards truly wanting to change. Our sincerity is a serious question, as it makes such a difference to how we actually use our time and our lifetime. We see this sincerity in all the teachings of the great spiritual teachers, as they know our spiritual condition more than we do. Sometimes I feel that my efforts are reflected in Michaelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b4/Michelangelo_-_Creation_of_Adam.jpg , where God is reaching out to Adam with all his might and power and Adam is poised there with a sense of indifference and passivity, its like Adam is devoid of action in his repose and facial expression and yet seemingly interested by his looking towards God.

            A good point to act upon Laura, so thank you very much!

          • Thanks Layla. Yes I know what you mean, I also thought it was like a father speaking to us, with sternness and love.

            That’s really interesting how you described your understanding of Michelangelo’s painting. Funnily enough, just a few days ago I spent an hour somewhere where this painting was hung on the wall and I kept looking at it, and of course I’ve seen it before too, but it’s never hit me what you just shared about it. How wonderful to see it this way, giving such an apt teaching about the human condition. It seems like he could even grab hold of God’s hand if he just tried and strained a bit harder! I wonder whether if this painting was done today, how would Adam look like, would he even be paying any attention to God whatsoever…

            Thank you also for the reminder about sincerity. It came up also in the latest post about the Mother Goddess and it’s a really good reminder, to search my heart harder, shake off the cold indifference, reach towards my divine parents, try better to change.

        • Almost sounds like you’re describing my day yesterday Layla 🙂

          What I also saw in my retrospection exercise was that after getting ready and such in the morning that there was a point where I should’ve set my focus clearly for the day, but on that day didn’t do this properly. So this left me vulnerable so to speak and indeed when I had to start some intellectual work and planning I got lost. My mind was occupied with those things, but underneath it it was actually emotions (worries and such) that had taken a hold and were in a way determining my focus or centre of gravity.
          When something would trigger my self remembrance (popping up above the surface for a moment) I’d realise I didn’t properly have the strong connection to the moment and even though I would try to stay present, the reality was that the current of underlying emotions already had a strong momentum and would pull me back down quickly.

          I knew that just resurfacing occasionally (and every time with that feeling of guilty conscience to it) wouldn’t suffice and is not the same as living my day while consciously learning. Only in the afternoon when I made an extra effort to hold on to those moments of remembrance could I start putting a full stop to things.

          It felt very good to see in the evening where things had gone wrong, as well as seeing the actual specifics of the ego states.

          • I know what you mean Karim, its at those times you get to see the strength and pull of that inner state like worry has, as it continues to pull us back into it and like you said you do have a weaker connection to being in the moment/ reality because of it. There’s a lot of learning however that can come from reviewing these types of experiences, as someone once said ‘you can’t resist evil’, as its not enough to say we won’t do that again if we don’t know what it was that took place, why, when, how etc. That struggle is more than important, its vital, but most times I find that I want things to go well which is really lost valuable time, as I forget that the struggle between light and darkness is the learning ground, the classroom, the experience in which we gain self knowledge in action.

          • That’s an insightful observation about Michelangelo’s painting Layla and a situation that seems just as true today as it was then. Or perhaps even more relevant these days, due to the rampant materialism within the world.

            It’s good that you were able to gain ground with the retrospection practice, in order to see the specific details of the “stains on the window”, rather than just being aware that the window was dirty, but not being able to distinguish one blemish from another. By gaining the new understanding that you reached, a much better level of progress can be made in removing those small details and regaining a sense of clarity within.

          • I’m glad you were able to regain some ground after the afternoon’s efforts Karim. Well done in persisting and I wish you a lot of strength in making further progress!

      • Good luck in working to achieve those good actions Vida and in learning more about the inner states that are in opposition to them. Thanks very much for posting this article. It is a good reminder to make this important practice a staple within our daily lives.

  • I love to read these sayings that have been made by the great sages throughout history. There is such wisdom in these simple words.

    A great reminder to practise this daily, as we cannot change what we do not see.

    Thanks Vida.

  • Thanks Vida for putting this up. The last few weeks been trying to do the retrospection of the day when going to bed although more then half the time I would forget to do it. Hopefully this post will help with the remembrance to do it.

    • Good luck with it Rich!

      What I found very cool to notice was when I’d studied a certain situation or interactions the night before as much as I could. Then the next day when that situation came up I was very eager, almost excited, to see what new things I could see.

      A bit like reading about, I don’t know, an interesting rare bird or new car technology in an article and then happening to come across it in real life. You recognize some things you already read, yet there’s also new insights to be added from observing the ‘live’ situation.

      Like Belsebuub has mentioned, I believe, in his work on self knowledge that it helps gear one’s mind more towards self observation and learning.

      I’ve seen how this complimenting combo of ‘daytime study + evening homework’ can raise our level to a very good standard of learning and it becomes very pleasant. Yet I’ve often seen that when I let my evening homework slide or drop it altogether, then my ability and inclination to observe during the day also becomes weaker.

      • Those are good observations Karim. It’s great to develop that enthusiasm to observe within, to learn and change.

  • How nice to see this topic brought up now. It is very unpleasant to make the same mistakes and follow patterns of failure again and again. Making big efforts in some circumstances or parts of the day, yet shooting oneself in the foot and bringing oneself down again and again in others. It reaches a point where not only the need to change this is felt, but also the wish to do so. So today in particular I feel need to examine my day very carefully. Using careful self-observation from the start to catch where things deviate from the inner stronghold of being conscious and clear. Which feels very much like what this text describes, though carrying it out while it’s happening during the day. This has already provided me with some gems that I’d like to use as a springboard at the start of the practice, when doing this retrospective practice this evening.

    Reading some more of the lines in the text it seems to present some very sensible advice. I know that some of that advice might have seen simple, plain and a bit boring to me in the past. But I see now (like I mentioned about shooting oneself in the foot) that if we follow such advice and bring this order to our lives, then from such a stable place and while retaining our whole energy, we can direct ourselves to higher plateaus. It’s from such platforms that things that seem ‘more interesting’ can start to happen and grow.

    Thank you Vida for sharing this excerpt, which shows how this is a pretty universal and ancient practice that anyone can hugely benefit from. Even on days where I felt I lost myself completely, doing this in the evening felt I could salvage at least some learning from that day.

    • I had a similar impression that you describe, ‘I know that some of that advice might have seem simple, plain and boring to me in the past. But I see now (…) that if we follow such advice and bring this order to our lives, then from such a stable place and while retaining our whole energy, we can direct ourselves to higher plateaus.’

      The impression that through the focusing on the details described in the excerpt it is possible to move forward spiritually was very obvious when I read the post and did the practice. I might go so far as to liken this to the humble door of progress.

    • I can relate to what you described Karim. It’s one thing to realise that we need to change persistent mistakes, but then it reaches a point where we really need to make a profound effort to implement this change.

      We don’t gain anything by allowing ourselves to be dragged down into the grip of lower emotions and yet it can take a big effort to come out of them, once they have got a hold on us, and getting over the intital obstacles to create a momentum can be difficult. It’s similar to if we have a lorry speeding down a hill out of control. It can take a lot of effort to slow the vehicle down and bring it to a standstill and then a further effort to start pushing it back up the hill again. But once we get the momentum going, it is much easier to keep moving forwards and upwards. Seeing that progress can be rewarding, which then provides an even greater motivation to continue building up the momentum and not allowing ourselves to slip back downwards again.

      I wish you every success in gaining further clarity and boosting the consciousness within.

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