Inner  Frontier
Fourth Way Spiritual Practice


Inner Work

For the week of October 28, 2019

Self-Observation Transformed

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There are two kinds of self-observation. The first is the one this term is generally taken to mean: attention to and noticing our thoughts, emotions, and body in order to learn about ourselves, to know our self and how all our parts function. Sometimes this is put as collecting snapshots of our inner world to understand our self better, to break up the illusions we have about our self and see our self clearly. In this approach, the self to be observed is our personality, our automatic, reactive, self-referential patterns of thought and emotion.

This kind of self-observation has great psychological value, if done well, which means impartially, i.e., without judgment and self-criticism, without directly interfering with what we observe in ourselves. Such practice can help extricate us from all sorts of identifications. It can help us diminish or even avoid some of the harmful and destructive ways of acting and being that are ingrained into our mind and heart, because the very act of seeing changes what is seen. Watching our thoughts, for example, gradually moves them toward silence and us toward peace.

Knowing oneself can decrease the hold of egoism and self-centeredness, because we begin to see through those illusions, through the lies we tell ourselves about ourselves. Furthermore, self-observation, if done not just with impartiality but with self-compassion, can help heal some of the deep-seated wounds and fissures of our psyche. We see and hold ourselves under a loving, forgiving gaze of kindness, regardless of what we see.

In terms of inner energies, this mode of self-observation works primarily through the sensitive energy, which puts us in touch with the meaning of our thoughts and the feeling of our emotions. Much of our inner world operates on the automatic energy. So this mode of practice engages the sensitive energy to give us access to the content of all those self-generating, automatic thoughts and emotions. More deeply, true seeing and impartiality in self-observation come when we let go back into ourselves and open to the conscious energy. Then we are able to see the passing inner show without falling into it and getting carried away, and without rejecting it, shaping it, or pushing it away. We just see and, in that seeing, attain a measure of freedom.

There is a second and even deeper type of self-observation that goes beyond psychology and has great spiritual value. The first type of self-observation can exacerbate certain spiritual roadblocks. Specifically, in such self-observation, we tend to distinguish between the observer and the observed, so that we practice being the observer, the watcher who sees our thoughts and emotions. This attitude strengthens a false dichotomy in us, an illusory separation and separateness.

In the second type of self-observation, we instead widen our awareness to let it include everything. We become the context of our inner world. In this there is no separation between observer and observed, between the seer and the seen. There is just the seeing. We learn to open, to be, just be. We do not feel ourselves as or make ourselves into a separate entity, an isolated center of experience. Rather, there is no center, or the center is everywhere. The self and the observing merge into one being, one awareness, fully within the conscious energy. Here self-observation transforms into self-remembering, into presence.

Letting go of our inner separation in this way is a step toward the great letting go of our outer separateness, in other words, a step toward love. The deeper we go into ourselves, the more wide open we become. Our true self, our I, our real I is like that: open, unencumbered, not separate, not standing apart observing the world, not standing here observing myself over there. We are in this world together and the world is in us. Our ordinary sense of I and me evaporates, loses its meaning, its hold. Now it is us. Now we are whole, we are complete, we are truly free.

For this week, please practice self-observation.


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