In his book, Waking Up, Charles Tart points out that most people, especially in the West, aren’t taught self-observation skills at an early age. What if we had spent as much time learning how to observe ourselves as we spent learning how to read?
I’m a fanatical reader, so I don’t say this lightly, but maybe self-observation skills are even more valuable than reading skills. In many ways, reading helps open up the outer world to us, but self-observation opens up our own inner world—which is no less vast, really.
These are a few things Tart has to say about self-observation.
It’s all grist for the mill
In its most general form, the practice of self-observation is simply a matter of paying attention to everything, noticing whatever happens, being open-mindedly curious about all that is going on. This everything will almost always be a mixture of perceptions of external events and your internal reactions to them. You should drop all a priori beliefs about what you should be interested in, what is important and not important. Whatever is is an appropriate focus for observation.
THREE WAYS TO PAY ATTENTION
This open-minded attention must be more than just intellectual attention. Remember that we are three-brained beings. Thus the attention we should strive to pay to our world and our selves is an emotional attention and a body attention as well as an intellectual attention.
Above all, be curious
The practice of self-observation…is the practice of being curious, along with a commitment to do your best to observe and learn whatever is there, regardless of your preferences or fears.
I have to keep reminding myself to stay curious about what is going on around me and within me. And also to stay curious about my own actions and reactions. It’s so much harder for me to get sucked into the drama, the compulsions, and the autopilot behavior when I’m able to maintain an attitude of curiosity about everything that’s happening.
My usual modus operandi is probably the same as everyone else’s. I operate on the assumption that there’s a way things should be and when things are going the way they should be going, all’s well. But more often than not, things do not go the way I think they should. And people do not behave the way I think they should. Even I don’t behave the way I think I should. And don’t get me started on the weather!
As an 8, when things are not going as I expect them to go, my resistance kicks in. That’s a perfect opportunity to wake up and pay attention. When I’m able to do that, I feel much lighter and more expansive. When I don’t or can’t do it, I dig myself deeper into my resistance. No good ever comes of that.
What kicks in for you when things aren’t going your way?
If I want to use the moments when my expectations rub up against the edge of reality to wake up, I have to have the intention to do so.
The practice of self-observation begins with a desire and resolution on your part: “I want to know what really is, regardless of how I prefer things to be.”
As I’ve remarked elsewhere, self-observation is not for wimps. It isn’t easy to let go of our preconceived ideas about how the world should work. It’s hard to give up having a temper tantrum when we don’t get our way. Growing up can be painful at times.
If you diligently practice self-observation, you will see much that his painful and much that is joyful, but seeing more of reality will turn out to be highly preferable to living in fantasy. You will begin creating “something” in yourself, a quality, a function, a skill, akin to learning how the controls of your automated airliner work. And you will be pleasantly surprised at how much more there is to life.