The Watchful Eye: Our Observer Self

One of the pre­req­ui­sites for trans­form­ing con­scious­ness is the devel­op­ment of our innate human capac­ity to see our­selves and the world around us with non-judgmental attach­ment. Devel­op­ing our inner eye is crit­i­cal because con­scious­ness is the heal­ing sol­vent for all of life’s painful dilem­mas. Con­scious­ness can only come about when we are able to step back enough to allow for per­spec­tive. This is when we are able to tap into the wit­ness­ing aspect of self – allow­ing us to see our painful life sit­u­a­tions from the “heal­ing dis­tance” that allows choice and there­fore change. This wit­ness­ing aspect of our being is called the Observer-self. The Observer is a nec­es­sary mem­ber of our inter­nal per­sonal growth and sup­port team.

The abil­ity to watch our­selves is what sep­a­rates human con­scious­ness from that of the ani­mal and plant king­doms. All humans have the capac­ity for this kind of “self” con­scious­ness. Being gifted with this abil­ity for con­scious­ness accel­er­ates the human capac­ity for evo­lu­tion. It is our pri­mary tool for increas­ing aware­ness. Unfor­tu­nately, most of us have not been encour­aged to develop our inter­nal observer func­tion, which like any mus­cle, must be strength­ened through prac­tice and use. Self-reflection is part of the Observer-self’s abil­i­ties. At first, we reflect back on what we said, thought or did to see what that can tell us about our­selves. Then we begin to watch our­selves while we are think­ing, feel­ing and doing. The chal­lenge is to wit­ness with­out judg­ment for judg­ment causes us to steer away from what we are see­ing in our­selves thus return­ing us to a state of blind unconsciousness.

We have two lev­els of Observer-self. The less-refined ver­sion is seen through the eyes of ego. We all know this observer func­tion well; it is our inter­nal critic with rigid demands and expec­ta­tions as learned in child­hood from intractable care­givers. As a result we have learned to see our­selves and oth­ers through the eyes of harsh judg­ment: “I can’t believe that I(you)(said, thought or did) that!” … “What’s wrong with me(you)?” … “I’m(You’re) an idiot!” … These are com­mon thought and spo­ken responses of the crit­i­cal observer-self as seen through the eyes of ego. We call this style of observ­ing our inter­nal critic or judge. The good news is that this self debas­ing aspect IS an early stage of devel­op­ing our Observer Self — the bad news is that is is not a stage of devel­op­ment that takes us very far in the way of self aware­ness and accep­tance. In spite of what we may believe, crit­i­cism and judg­ment do not fos­ter growth or change. As a mat­ter of fact they have the oppo­site affect. The human ten­dency is to cover up or hide the parts of our­selves that we have judged negatively.

Inevitably, denial rides hard and fast on the coat­tails of judg­ment. Here is how it works. When we decide that some­thing is wrong or bad about us, we expe­ri­ence angst and repul­sion towards our­selves . The auto­matic way humans han­dle this kind of self-derision is to shut down or ignore what­ever it is that we have judged as unac­cept­able; we sim­ply push it into the uncon­scious where we can pre­tend it does not exist. That would be fine if it worked, but these “defects” don’t just go away sim­ply because we ignore them. As a mat­ter of fact, denial makes the sit­u­a­tion worse because these attrib­utes are more likely to be acted out uncon­sciously in inap­pro­pri­ate and often destruc­tive ways. This means we must learn to wit­ness what may be at times hard real­i­ties about our­selves with some degree of detach­ment. This brings us to second-level Observer-self, which is the abil­ity to observe with non-judgmental detach­ment. We achieve this as we gain the abil­ity to step back far enough from the inter­nal critic to see the big­ger pic­ture. Only then can we achieve the art of see­ing our­selves through the Soul’s eyes.

The Soul is not attached to label­ing what it sees as right or wrong, good or bad. It sim­ply wit­nesses, with­out bias, what is. Rather than stum­bling over the ego’s “should’s” and “should-not’s,” the Soul is inter­ested in the lessons con­tained within any given sit­u­a­tion for the pur­pose of per­sonal evo­lu­tion. “What can I learn from this,” it asks. This is the kind of “see­ing” that best fos­ters per­sonal growth.

We do not auto­mat­i­cally arrive at this level of unbi­ased observation.

The first step is to begin to notice our crit­i­cal and judg­men­tal level of see­ing. As we become aware of judg­ing our­selves in neg­a­tive ways, we will prob­a­bly find we auto­mat­i­cally begin to berate our­selves for being so self-judgmental. Now we are judg­ing the judge. This is a nat­ural pro­gres­sion in the process of attain­ing Soul vision. We sim­ply need to notice how it is that we turn our critic on our judg­men­tal selves. The trick is to keep step­ping back from judg­ment through the obser­va­tion process until we finally reach that place of being able to sim­ply watch our­selves with­out the need to crit­i­cize or belit­tle what we see. Then we have attained the high­est level of Observer-self, that of view­ing our­selves through the eyes of the Soul. From this place we are able to shine the light of con­scious­ness on our thoughts, feel­ings and behav­ior. We are able to notice, rather than crit­i­cize, what tran­spires as a result and con­se­quence of these acts and emo­tions and decide to act dif­fer­ently. This, in a nut­shell, is the process of trans­for­ma­tion. It is as if we have been stum­bling around in utter dark­ness in the same room our whole lives and finally find the light switch. Turn­ing the light on we are able to see exactly what we’ve been trip­ping over all this time. Instead of cel­e­brat­ing that we can finally see, we tend to berate our­selves instead for liv­ing in such dis­ar­ray. “Look at this mess,” we might say, or “What a dis­as­ter I am … I must be really stu­pid, (inad­e­quate, defec­tive, bad etc.) to live like this.”

This is the nat­ural reac­tion when we first bring con­scious­ness to our inter­nal chaos. We become aware of our issues and defects but rather than being able to rejoice in our new­found con­scious­ness, we com­plain and berate our­selves instead for the tur­moil and mess that we see. As a result of such self-condemnation we are eas­ily drawn back into uncon­scious­ness. We go back to liv­ing in the dark­ness. We find it eas­ier to deny and go uncon­scious even if we are mis­er­able, than to feel the pain of self-condemnation.

A Sufi story fits here about the man des­per­ately search­ing for some­thing lost under a street light. Along comes a stranger and asks for what he is search­ing. The man tells him, “I am search­ing for my keys.” So the stranger kneels beside him and joins in the search. After some time of search­ing dili­gently with no luck, the stranger asks the man, “Now exactly where were you when you lost your keys?” And the man replies, “I was in my house over there.” The star­tled stranger then asks, “If you were in your house when you lost your keys, then why in the world are you out here search­ing under this street lamp?” To which the man responds, “Why, because it’s dark in there, and I can’t see. At least there is light out here under the street lamp!” This story is rel­e­vant to us all. We would much pre­fer to look out­side our­selves, even though what is lost can only be found by going into our scary and unknown inter­nal dark­ness. We might not like what we have to see if we look inside our­selves. It might be messy, con­fus­ing and chaotic, or it may not fit the image of who we think we need to be. No, it is eas­ier to look for our answers out­side of us in the form of quick fixes and exter­nal suc­cess, or numb our­selves to what is miss­ing, than to face the cav­ernous inner dark­ness. The only prob­lem with this approach is that it doesn’t work. We must go into the inner dark­ness in order to find our authen­tic selves. As we pro­ceed, let’s remind our­selves to use only the flash­light of con­scious­ness, rather than the sledge ham­mer of judg­ment, for the pur­pose of dis­cov­er­ing our­selves. As you read the fol­low­ing pages, prac­tice mov­ing into your Soul vision when­ever you hear the voice of your critic. Rather than see­ing your­self through the ego vested eyes of your inter­nal judge, step back until you arrive at that place inside you that sees with­out judg­ment. It is through the act of notic­ing your­self being judg­men­tal that you can remove your­self from it. Every time you notice what you are doing or telling your­self , you have suc­cess­fully taken a step back. Next, sim­ply notice what you are telling your­self about that. If you are judg­ing your­self for being crit­i­cal, notice that and step back again. Keep doing this until you’ve reached a place of being able to set judg­ment and crit­i­cism aside. Con­tinue to prac­tice tap­ping into this level of Observer-self until it becomes the Impar­tial Wit­ness you need it to be to bring about change. Detached and objec­tive, the Observer-self is a ready essen­tial for the jour­ney ahead.


  1. Aaron V says

    WOW!! The real­ity for­mula is bril­liant!! Where did you come up with that?? I’ve been study­ing a lot in the way of mindfulness/being the observer and the ben­e­fits thereof and it’s been an enjoy­able jour­ney. =) I must say though, the way you worded that for­mula is beau­ti­fully sim­ple and sim­ply beau­ti­ful!!
    I would love to know it’s ori­gins and who/what influ­enced you to deliver such a masterpiece.


  2. Lynne says

    Cindy, you cer­tainly do have a dark story about you, huh?

    Lis­ten to the things you tell your­self all day long:

    I’m depressed and can’t feel bet­ter.“
    “I am stuck and can’t get free.“
    “I am a shadow of a human being that is meant to live in the dark, suf­fer­ing from the lack of light that is being held from me because I am so depressed and unworthy.”

    Here’s the Real­ity For­mula:
    When we believe what we think we will feel and act as if it is true, and when we feel and act as if what we believe is true, we will act in ways that bring us the evi­dence that proves us right.

    If you are ready to ques­tion your unhappy story, then free­dom and light and peace is avail­able. But as long as you believe them, how do you feel? How do you act? HOw do you treat your­self, believ­ing those thoughts?

    These are impor­tant ques­tions to ask self …

    I rec­om­mend Byron Katie’s web­site: — there you can down­load a One-Belief-At-A-Time work­sheet which will instruct you in how to ques­tion your dark, lonely, scary story.

  3. Cindy says

    Once again I am stum­bling.
    I suf­fer from depres­sion that has been a place of self inflicted ego war­fare. It has been 25 years of strug­gle and only within the last 2 years have I found the wis­dom that you are teach­ing, to be THE spir­i­tual path of Light.
    How ever, even though I under­stand my core neg­a­tive beliefs, I am unable to sus­tain a observer self that is for­wardly mov­ing me.
    I sink into the dark thoughts and just cant get free.
    I am doing all the “right” things to be in con­trol of my thoughts( daily reflec­tion) and man­age the depres­sive state ( med­ica­tion and ther­apy).
    I just cant seem to break free.
    Isn’t it pos­si­ble that some of us just ARE the very shad­ows that you describe.
    Isn’t it pos­si­ble that there are the peo­ple who can find the deep Higher Self, and then there are peo­ple like me, lost in shadow.
    Even though I have all the tools and abil­ity to reach some sort of Light, maybe I am just meant to be in the shad­ows so that oth­ers may learn from me. I become the shadow mir­ror for them to find focus in them­selves that is of the Light.
    Over­com­ing the depres­sion is a con­stant bat­tle with lit­tle left of me to find a higher Light or higher Self within.
    It is a lonely and very painful place to be. My only peace is through help­ing other. That peace is fleet­ing and there is noth­ing left to give myself. I just don’t know how.

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