Q: Why put such emphasis on observation of self? It doesn’t change anything.
A: It doesn’t change anything quickly but impartial observation of self is the best way I know to change myself and my relationship to life. We are tied up in knots. Strands of habit wired into the muscles, constantly repeated mechanical reactions and fixed self-images prevent insight, limit capacity and drain our higher energies, making it impossible to do the work of a real human being.
We are heavily programmed and we must de-program so we can see and feel clearly. This does not mean changing the program. De-programming cannot be accomplished by the one who is programmed. So I delegate the task to attention.
Analysis doesn’t untie the knots unless it triggers impartial attention. So, aim for impartial attention by observing self objectively…physical expressions of self. You will be dealing with the past because all the unresolved problems of the past are with you presently, whether you think about them or not, and they are expressed in the behavior you observe.
Q: You seem to suggest that attention is a kind of conditioning eraser.
A: Yes, it’s like that. Habits of behavior and thought are patterns of neurons in the nervous system. The linked patterns are held together with subtle energy we call sensitive energy, the energy of sensation. Patterns can be slowly dissolved by application of a higher energy which clears the energy field. That higher energy is attention. To work, it must be impartial. Why? Impartial attention means attention that is not channeled through, or directed by, the thinker who pretends to inhabit my headbrain. Headbrain attention is too weak to erase my conditioning. I must learn to trust the work to attention.
September 22, 2021
Q: Why put such emphasis on observation of self? It doesn’t change anything.
July 27, 2019
One of the insights of this work form is that humans are largely repetitive and predictable, stimulated by externals. The challenge is to see this without judging or justifying, simply as fact and then perhaps with compassion. Ordinary struggle against habits—trying to prevent reactions because they are ‘wrong’, or defending them as ‘right’—does not seem to change them or lead to greater freedom.
What does it mean to find freedom from the mechanical? Does it not mean that what we do can be done not as a habitual reaction but as an expression of love, compassion and joy? Perhaps freedom is not so much doing different things as it is doing things differently, making use of daily life to reveal the good in us. Preparing a meal, having a conversation face-to-face—these are the acts that have the potential to be liberated from our mechanical tendencies, where freedom can be found.
July 3, 2019
In our work, there is great emphasis on impartial observation of self. What is observed? Sensations, emotions, gestures of hands, face and voice, behaviors that arise habitually in reaction to what happens around us.
This is not metaphysical, not observation of thinking but rather knowing my physical reactions, neither judging nor justifying them.
As with any endeavor, this can become habituated too. I tend to observe the same things again and again. Of course, there is truth to this…we are repetitious creatures, creatures of habit. But perhaps it is also true that I need to look for the unexpected, the unknown states that escape attention.
Could I suggest that you look for the sensation/emotion of covetousness? In my view, it is one of the strongest and most consequential of inner conditions but it is no longer commonly part of our vocabulary and moral compass as it once was as the 10th commandment of Moses.
There seem to be two dimensions of this state. One is that I may be covetous, I want something that belongs to another…a skill, a possession, a relationship…it could be anything that brings enjoyment to another. Coveting is not simply wanting something for its own sake but also being willing to take from another…it is envy not only of the thing itself but also the enjoyment of it by another. In fact, the one who covets is governed by wanting what others have, not by inwardly searching for what is of value to himself. It is a kind of short cut to satisfaction that tries to mimic what others have discovered and achieved.
The other dimension is experienced by the one whose possessions are coveted. A common reaction is to sense that something I have is causing another to be aware of what they do not have. Was my enjoyment too obvious? Can I diminish or hide my enjoyment, even deny it, so that others will not want what I have?
It may be that covetousness is not part of your experience, in either dimension. Can you find out?
November 10, 2018
Am I free to proceed with my wishes and obligations? Or am I limited and constrained at every turn, leaving me frustrated and unfulfilled?
Of course nothing ever proceeds according to plan. Success depends upon the ability to manoeuvre. The glorious sensation of being unimpeded comes not mostly from external circumstances but more so from a lack of internal resistance and dissent.
When I cannot proceed with my intentions, I need to see and think differently, without criticism and distress. But what I tend to do is re-enforce or create obstacles which are mostly in the software of my thinking and habitual reactions rather than in the circumstances themselves. Why? Observing the sensations in me will tell the tale. Am I looking for excuses to quit and fail; wanting sympathy; hoping to draw attention to myself; indulging in the mechanical pleasure of emotional reactions; enjoying the momentary excitement of agitation? These behaviours almost always serve a narrative…a story about me and an image I hold of myself.
Unwinding the narrative opens up space, providing the room to manoeuvre.
Can I see the limiting mechanisms objectively, not judging, blaming or defending? If so, perhaps I can learn to step lightly around obstacles and move with the possibilities revealed to me in the present.
August 12, 2018
It seems to me that I keep doing something until I have had enough. This happened today. There’s this thing I do that I know is a useless distraction but I have done it for years (no, I’m not going to tell you what it is). Today, I did it and observed myself as I did so, as I usually do. And I saw that it was a stupid vestige of my past, a habit, and that I had had enough.
Yes, observation of self is objective, impartial, free of judgment. But the conclusion is sometimes a kind of disgust that says “that’s enough”. I can’t make myself go there, but when it happens, I can be thankful. What is unworthy falls away in time because it is created by time. Attention wears away the impulse but body/mind seems to complete the change with a sensation of rejection and disgust. Enough is enough.
January 24, 2018
A group member writes:
I remember: Early in life I adopted specific postures, gestures and ways of speaking to express and interpret my world. These came about through mimicry and necessity, shaped by my nature and predispositions. Mostly I am so inside of these habits that I cannot see how I appear from the outside. They are me and I am them. There is no separation. It is all part of my identity. Different roles that I have taken on have perhaps altered these slightly to suit societal expectations but I would say that my identity was determined at a very young age.
I watch my new born granddaughter look out from eyes which cannot see as we see, where nothing is familiar, nothing is recognizable except the warmth and compassion that she is held. Yet her being is overwhelmingly present. Watching her over the last several months discover herself, the possibility of movement, the slow and steady occupation of her body, fingers, toes, arms, legs and torso. Her struggle with gravity. And then taking that body out into the world. Where everything is a wonder. Somewhere in this journey, surprisingly quickly, a personality takes shape. Underlying this personality is the being who first arrived, naked and without the imprint of all of us who claim her as our own.
Does that being continue to live in us throughout our life? Can we return to our being?
It seems to me that if I could describe the essence of being it would be all perception and sensation. There would be a newness to everything, a wonder. Of course we cannot eliminate our experience, but perhaps it could cease to be a blindfold to what is here now.