In ‘Tight Connection to My Heart’, Bob Dylan sings: “What looks large from a distance / Close up ain’t never that big.” Dylan, one of the greatest philosophers of our age, puts his finger—more accurately, his distinctive rasping vocal—on a key facet of life. We’re in a process that we’re too close to see.

No escape

In Judging precludes understanding, I wrote:

We cannot escape from systems. As Lynne Tillman says in Men and Apparitions, “No escape from patterns and systems, no exits. Nothing, and no one, resides outside a system; that’s the way it is.”

This presents a problem, because the system we’re most deeply embedded in is our own life. Quite simply, we can’t understand our own lives because we’re ‘too close to the coalface’. We’re too busy trying to meet our physical and emotional needs—too busy judging.

Our life seems to consist of moment-to-moment, seemingly random events that eventually form the tapestry of our existence. Technically, we’re inside a system and there’s a sentient process guiding us from beginning to end.

A conscious process

What defines the process as sentient is that it consistently and demonstrably responds to conscious inputs.

You’re too close to see that you’re inside a sentient process that consistently and demonstrably responds to conscious inputs.

Let’s assume you have an unconscious issue with not doing what you say. (I’ve written about this in Do what you say, say what you do) In the moment that you promise to do something, you don’t see that you won’t do it. What you also fail to notice is that situations crop up in your life where others fail to do what they say, and it really annoys you.

Someone else not doing what they said they would isn’t what annoys you. What annoys you is they are mirroring back to you your own dysfunctional behaviour.

If you consistently changed your behaviour to ‘do what you say, say what you do’—this is the conscious input into the process—two changes would happen.

Firstly, and obviously, your own behaviour becomes more cohesive. Secondly, and less obviously, those instances where others let you down fade out of your life and cease to bother you.

This may sound flaky or miraculous but it is neither. It’s simply how the process responds to inputs. Apply any of the evolutionary principles I’ve documented on this site and you’ll notice the same phenomenon.

Most of us aren’t aware of this process simply because we’re too close to it.

Inner observer

The key to understanding our own lives while our noses are ‘pressed to the grindstone’ is our inner Observer. This is the part of us that watches our own life unfold without judgment.

As a patriarchal society, we’ve been conditioned to judge everything as good or bad. While we’re immersed in the moment, that’s what draws our attention—is this a good or bad experience? Is it OK to enjoy this? Or is there something shameful here that I need to ward off?

This constant judging clouds our capacity to observe ourselves and see how the moment-to-moment pieces fit together to create the jigsaw puzzle of our lives.

Developing this capacity is an essential personal development skill. You’ll find some tips on doing this in How to develop your ‘inner observer’.

Surrender to the process

The more we observe, the more we see the underlying process.

The more we practice applying inputs and seeing consistent improvements in outputs, the more we accept that evolutionary principles are at work—and the more we relax.

And the more we relax, the more we surrender to the process.

The more we surrender, the more it feels we’re on an escalator taking us where we need to go. Sometimes where we need to go is through excruciating pain—yet it’s precisely those experiences that yield the greatest growth and, ultimately, the greatest growth.

Image: escalator by Nick Harris on Flickr