There are many ways to meditation; many ways to bring you to the fullness of this present moment. Self observation is one of these ways. Requiring bravery, compassion and patience to understand ourselves and gain greater self awareness. So how do we practice self observation, without analytical annihilation?
“The ability to observe without evaluating is the highest form of intelligence.” - Jiddu Krishnamurti
Self observation is a process of gazing at the self without judgement, leaving thoughts of disapproval and labels of good and bad at the door and watching the full self, in its most miniscule movements and grandest feelings, with honest awareness.
It is, first and foremost, a neutral gaze. Where the eye turns inwards on itself and watches the internal movement of sensations and feelings. It observes the flow of thoughts, noticing when they are fluid and when they catch, stick and repeat.
This is a practice of watching without digging or excavating through the inner happenings, or seeking out sources and clues of inner meaning. Self observation is a spaciousness. An opening within, where you witness all as it is being. No desire to change, manipulate or participate in what you find. It is you, simply sitting with yourself.
What makes it different from other ways of meditation?
One of the differences between self observation and other forms of meditation, is that we aren't asking our thoughts to subside. We aren't re-directing our attention elsewhere, ignoring them or pushing them away. We're saying, "there is space for all of you here" allowing everything to come up yet watching it as it does without going into any of the stories that arise. It definitely is a practice.
And it really is a paradox of doing nothing, with the entirety of your presence. So simple, yet sometimes incredibly difficult depending on the circumstances of our inner and outer worlds. Non judgement may be there as an intention for the practice, but acceptance will come as a natural by-product of the observation itself. For as you watch the myriad of different thoughts, feelings and occurrences within the body, you see there are so many things happening within which the mind can attach to if it chooses. And you may just notice within the process, what your mind tends to attach to, and that which it allows to float by. As a natural result of this practice, you will find that this new relationship between your awareness and your mind creates a space where you start to choose that which you focus on; that which serves your highest good.
How to practice?
We can be in states of self observation during practices like yoga, tai chi, mindful walking, drawing and more. However, a seated meditation practice, that allows you to really sit with your state of being with full presence, can be very helpful in the beginning. Set a timer for 20 minutes, close your eyes or lower your gaze, and observe your inner world. Settle in with a compassionate observation of your state of being in the moment that you neither try to control, analyse, judge, dismiss or change. For the change is always happening, and we simply have to watch the shifts and transitions occur.
It is like watching a great lake. You can observe the happenings in and around the lake, sometimes the movement of fish, or the appearance of birds. But without the need to catch the fish and birds, to wish there to be more or less. Just to watch the changing of the scene, as it is, as it changes. The same is done internally. Nothing does not belong, nothing is too big or too small. And nothing needs to be evaluated or rationalised or even understood. Allowing the thinking mind to rest, and opening to the intuitive sensory world within is both a practice and a journey that is continually happening yet we don't usually tap into. But we can bring our awareness to it at anytime, in any moment.
Through a dedicated practice, you'll eventually be able to bring this level of presence increasingly into your daily activities. Your understanding of yourself, your habits, patterns, triggers and reactions will increase. And this compassionate understanding of yourself, will hopefully extend to those around you, as empathy for our own and others complexities grows. Slowly the way we relate to everybody and everything will be done with a little more self awareness and clarity.
“Self-observation is the first step of inner unfolding.” - Amit Ray
Self observation as meditation can work like an untangling of knots. As your awareness of your inner workings grow, slowly the knots untangle, through the power of your presence. There is no great effort that needs to be made. You are the great witness, turning your inner eye back on itself, observing your own inner flowering.
And it doesn't then mean that you become ambivalent to the world, moving through it as a zombie without feeling the subtleties that make up the magic of this existence. It means the distance between perception and action become shorter, as Jiddu Krishnamurti puts it. Greater self awareness means a stronger relationship with our intuition, as we are better able to decipher the patterns of the mind from our intuitive feelings.
A moment to moment return to observe the self, places the ego as the servant of the feeling self - the heart, the intuitive mind, the knowing. As Robin Sharma said, "the mind is wonderful servant, but a terrible master."