There are few givens in the journey towards enlightenment—whether we see this as religious enlightenment, spiritual progress, growth of consciousness or in the secular terms of personal development. However, here is one: unless we can develop our inner Observer we will lack the self-awareness and self-perception necessary to make much progress along our individual path.
What, or who, is our inner Observer?
Our Observer is that part of ourselves that stands aside from the tide of thoughts, feelings and sensations that swirls through us in every moment and observes them from a place of neutral detachment.
The average, unawake person has little or no ability to observe their own thoughts, feelings and actions after an event, let alone as they occur. They are too immersed in the huge amounts of sense data they’re receiving to be capable of detached observation.
Watch a crowd at a sports game and you’ll see what I mean. They are all swept up in the visceral excitement of the game, the rollercoaster of winning and losing. They may support this team or that, but what they are really experiencing is the thrill of the game’s drama as first one side of fans then the other experiences the highs and lows of going ahead or falling behind. How much self-observation is going on here? None. Throw in the large amounts of noise, food and alcohol that are typical at such events and you can see that even if one did want to engage in self-reflection, this is a pretty hard time to do it.
Yet even in the intimate surroundings of a heart-to-heart talk most people struggle to observe themselves. Here, they are caught in a similar dynamic to the sports game, except that instead of counting goals or points scored the currency is emotional gains and losses within their relationship. The discussion may get pretty heated. The more heated it gets, the more is at stake in the relationship, the more the ability for detached observation disappears in the rising emotional static of the discussion → argument → breakup → makeup loop.
When we tire of these games, of the endless circular arguments, the offended pride, the fake rationalisations, the unnecessary fallouts, the sheer emotional irresponsibility of it all, it’s time to develop our inner Observer.
Be warned: your Observer will generally tell you things about yourself that you don’t want to hear. A friend of mine, on hearing that quiet whisper, is prone to say, “That’s really inconvenient.”
But be warned: your Observer will generally tell you things about yourself that you don’t want to hear. A friend of mine, on hearing that quiet whisper, is prone to say, “That’s really inconvenient.” And inconvenient it is, because what our Observer says about us requires us to take responsibility—often painfully—for the hurt places within ourselves that we mistakenly project onto (i.e. blame on) others.
Like most things on the path of inner growth, developing our Observer self is simple in theory but challenging in practice. It starts by recognising whenever we have an experience of life—any experience—that is not emotionally satisfying, and taking responsibility for that less-than-satisfactory moment.
By taking responsibility, I don’t mean accepting the blame. You cannot develop inner detachment and observation as well as playing the ‘blame game’ of finding someone (usually someone other than ourselves) to pin your unhappy moments on. If you want to change them, you must accept that something in you either acted or reacted to create that unhappiness. Only by discovering the trigger for this discontent inside your unconscious can you eliminate it from your life.
So start noticing when discontent arises and ask, “Why did I do that? Why did I respond like that? Why did I think that? Why did I feel like that?” If your questions are sincere, you will start getting answers. You may find that at first you can’t do this in real time (as the painful moment occurs). You will only be able to do it after an event. But persevere—and over time you will notice your ability to observe yourself starting to grow until you get real time feedback from your Observer self, giving you precise insights into the parts of yourself that need healing to further you along your journey of growth.