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, “Because it’s dark in there, and I can’t see well. At least there is light out here under the street lamp so I search here although it is not where I last saw them!”
This story is relevant to us all. We would much prefer to look outside ourselves, for ways to treat the symptoms of our self- perceived problem … even though what is lost can only be found by going into the unknown internal darkness where symbolism lights the way. We might not like what we see when we look inside ourselves. It might be messy, confusing and chaotic, or it may not fit the image of who we think we should be. We more often than not opt for ways to treat the uncomfortable symptoms we attribute to “the problem” rather than to look deeper for the “gift” awaiting to be revealed. It is easier to look for our answers outside of ourselves in the form of quick remedies (by numbing ourselves with alcohol, for instance), or by covering up the discomfort we feel with put on smiles of efficiency and self competence, or by striving for external success, than to face the cavernous inner darkness of self-criticism, and self hatred for who we've come to believe we are. If it only worked! But instead, we sledge hammer ourselves over and over with guilt, remorse, and terrible criticism of ourselves which NEVER works. The answers we seek for peace, and inner self-acceptance can only be found by confronting the inner darkness, for it is there that we find our authentic selves. As we proceed to move inward by accepting what we find with compassion and inner kindness, we learn to use the tools of the Observer as a flashlight that lights up the darkness with consciousness, Rather than using the sledge hammer of self-judgment, criticism, and negative self -reflection for the purpose of discovering ourselves, we choose instead the route to greater self-acceptance, and self-forgiveness. This is the way of Love that is Reality – the rest is merely unhappy story. Learning the difference between the Love that Reality is and our painful story about Reality is the stuff of compassion for ourselves and others.
We commit ourselves to choosing inner kindness through the daily practice of seeing ourselves according to our Soul vision, instead of automatically believing the disparaging story told by our inner critic. This means that, rather than seeing ourselves through the ego-invested eyes of our internal judge, we step back instead into that part of us that sees without self-condemnation or negative judgment. It is through the act of noticing when we are being judgmental , and therefore lacking in self forgiveness, that we are able to remove ourselves from it. Every time we notice we are telling ourselves self-deprecating stories about who we are, what we can expect from others, or what we can and cannot have in life, we step back instead into the role of the observer who sees no problem, but come instead to see only opportunities for self-revelation, self-refinement, and interpersonal growth instead. If we are judging ourselves, for instance, for being critical, we notice it, without making it a “bad thing” and we take another step back to gain a better look, by asking ourselves questions like, “why do I need this on my path? What is this happening revealing to me about my relationship with myself?” etc. And each question allows us to take another step back from the need to react, and allows us to set aside old judgments, negative self-talk and criticism.
This tapping into the Observer daily until it becomes the Impartial Witness in us that is attuned to a life that is for us, never at, or against us, eventually brings about a complete transformation in us … we become kinder, more forgiving, and less judgmental of ourselves and others. Self-acceptance and self-forgiveness take over where once only judgment and self-denigration ruled.
Detached from the need to personalize what we see or turn it in on ourselves, we refine the Observer instead for the essential journey of learning to love and accept ourselves right now, right where we are, remembering that it is progress not perfection we are here to attain. 😉 That we are here to learn from our imperfections, our “dis” graces, and our stumbles and bumbles on the road to Truth and Reality. May you find it so!