• December 7, 2016

    When you talk about observation of self, you refer mostly to observing our physical manifestations such as posture, gesture and tone of voice. Is it also useful to observe our thinking?

    This is not something I recommend because it too easily leads to subjective introspection and more thinking, which is not observing. You can try it and see for yourself. There are forms of meditation which facilitate an awareness of the thinking process…shamatha/vipashyana…but these practices are performed sitting on a cushion. Our aim in work on self is to observe in real time while living our lives. We expose ourselves for observation most fully in the course of our ordinary activities.

    But if you are looking for more to observe, you could consider observing your state and then working with it, what Sufis call muhasibi, from the Arabic word hasib, “to reckon”.

    Do you mean states such as fear or anger?

    Yes, provided you do not become too analytical. Naming your state can easily lead to analysis, which runs counter to work in the present. The ancient Sufis actually proposed something much simpler. They observed in themselves that there were two main sensation-states which needed to be distinguished…contraction and expansion, or as they would say, Qabid and Basit. Qabid is the state of constriction which is characteristic of fear, anger, guilt, shame and self-criticism. This state expresses limitation and the boundaries of the self. Basit is the state which includes openness, generosity, expansiveness and euphoria. Both are sensations but they have different effects. Each has its own difficulties and its own opportunities. You may have a natural inclination to prefer one state over another but do not assume that makes it better or preferable.

    For Qabid, release from contraction is needed. The recommendation is to invite the sensation of remorse. For Basit, sobriety is needed, so invite the sensation of thankfulness. These ‘prescriptions’ are homeopathics; they are similar to the state they modify, not opposite to them. Opposites are antagonistic and the result is that both antagonists are strengthened. Instead, move in the same direction as your state but with knowledge of the means by which it can be shifted and transformed.

    To have success in this exercise, you must know your state but also you must know the sensations that are homeopathics. It you know them well enough, perhaps you can then invite them into your experience. This is practical alchemy. It’s efficacy is proved by trial, not by theory.

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