A very, very long time ago, man became consciously aware of thought. Man noticed that there were two perspectives inherent within him/her. There was the direct experiencing of the world and there was the observation of the experiencing. Mankind began to call the direct experiencer the body or ego and the observer of the experience the soul or consciousness. And just like that, spiritual practice was born. The body will die, but the soul lives on. In the most ancient spiritual traditions all around the globe, one of the very first spiritual practices was the practice of becoming aware of the observer (the souls’ perspective). In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find one spiritual tradition that does not include some form of spiritual practice that involves becoming aware of the observer self. That is because it works. It has worked for centuries and it still works today. In order to understand what I mean by the ‘observer self’, consider that when you have an experience; say you’re in the middle of a disagreement with someone, you can be completely in the experience where you are fully immersed in the feelings of anger and the thoughts about the experience (thoughts like “you’re such an idiot”) are very real. But you could conversely be observing the argument and your reactions to the argument. When you do this, instead of being fully immersed in 1st person perspective in the argument and being the anger or the thoughts, you could simply watch them as if from 3rd person perspective. When you do this, you are not fully immersed in the experience. You are watching yourself being immersed in the experience instead. This is a practice in detachment. Detachment from what is occurring (which is different than escapism), can allow us to remain fully conscious so that we may chose to respond instead of react to situations that occur. It also helps allows us to transcend the limited perspective of the direct experience so that we are more objective instead of subjective relative to our life experiences. I will tell you that when people seek to spend all their time in this objective perspective, it is not a sign of enlightenment. It is because they have resistance to the subjective experience. They are afraid to fully feel. But that being said, it is a very important skill to develop, because people, who spend all their time in the subjective perspective, do not have awareness of themselves from an objective point of view. They are cut off from the conscious awareness of their own consciousness and divinity. So in my opinion, we should develop both skills so that we can choose which perspective to take on. Seeing as how most people are already adept at the 1st person perspective of the subjective way of living, the thing that must be practiced is the third person, objective way of living. They must learn to become the observer. The best way to do this is to add a mindfulness meditation to your repertoire. To do this meditation, find a comfortable space and watch your breath. You want to go into meditation the same way each time if you can. This becomes a positive trigger for your mind to focus down to business. If you were to use the observation of your breath every time for example, your mind will form an association between watching the breath and meditation and so it will slow itself and change it’s frequency quickly like a conditioned response. After a time, I want you to focus and become awake to the present moment by beginning to simply observe your external reality and begin to label things as you observe them. For example, if I hear the highway in the distance, I might internally say to myself “Hearing the highway”. If I smell grass, I might say “Smelling grass”. If I feel a pain in my arm, I might say “Feeling pain in the arm”. My objective is just to notice.
Then, I turn my concentration to my own thoughts. My objective is simply to watch my thoughts, to become aware of them. I do not need to change them. I am not judging them as good or bad. I am simply noticing them and labeling them. For example, if I notice myself thinking, “This is stupid” I might say, “Thinking a negative thought”. If I notice myself thinking, “This feels so good “ I might say “Thinking a Positive thought”. Or I can label what kind of thinking it is that I am observing. For example, if I notice myself think, “He’s such an idiot” I might say, “Judgment” or “Blaming”. I want to remain dis-identified with the thoughts themselves and simply watch them pop up and name them for what they are. Doing this affirms the idea that “I see you” to our Ego self. Then, after a time, switch your concentration to your internal world. Again, simply observe this internal reality and being to label things as you observe them. I can pay attention to sensations for example “burning in the solar plexus” or “tingling in the fingers” or “tightness in the forehead”. I may also notice emotions. I can label these as well. For example I can say “anger” or “despair” or “joy”.
If you watch your mind wander during this exercise, that is ok, you can observe that too. Just say, “mind wandering” and bring your attention back to what you were focused on before. You can maintain this exercise for as long as you want. And when you are ready, you can bring your attention back to the breath and observe the in breath and out breath for a time until you are ready to come back to subjective reality. Even though you can maintain this mindfulness practice for as long as you want, I suggest beginning with ten minutes and then, when you are comfortable with that amount of mindfulness; you can extend the time for as long as you want. It is hard for a mind that is not practiced at mindfulness meditation to remain focused for longer than ten minutes to begin with. The aim is to no longer be identified with the things you’re experiencing, the thoughts you are thinking, or the emotions you are feeling for a time. You’re just observing them and letting them be there. You want to experience the relief of being outside your subjective experience instead of immersed in it. In the future, your mindfulness practice can take place in silence. By silence I mean no talking inside with the mind and no talking outside with the mouth…. No commentary, just observing in a state of non-judgment; just noticing everything that is occurring or being perceived in your now.
What you will notice is that just like working a muscle, you will begin to become more objective in your every day perspective. Your level of mindfulness will increase. Your ability to observe will be honed, like a skill that you can use any time you wish. It will start to be easy to be mindful not just in meditation but even in your day-to-day life. It is particularly helpful when you are in the midst of a conflict to be able to become mindful enough to be objective about whatever you are experiencing. It allows you to be conscious about the choices you are making and the ways you are responding to your life, to yourself and to others. By becoming mindful, you ensure that you are not just sleep walking through like, you are awake to life. You can see life through the eyes of your ego and also through the eyes of your eternal self.