Self-Observation - The Ultimate Guide
Updated: Sep 4
In this post I would like to conclude the topic of self observation taking as reference a recent book I have read titled "Self-Observation - The Awakening Of Conscience" by Red Hawk. This post, together with my two previous posts about self-observation, are the most practical ones that can help you in transforming your life. I hope you can make the best out of this series.
- G.I.Gurdjeff -
In my previous posts "Self-Observation - Part 1" and "Self- Observation - Part 2" I have extensively discussed about the technique of self observation that I have initially learnt by attending a 10 days Vipassana retreat (see my post "The Vipassana Meditation Technique") and that I have implemented over the years with some personal contemplation that led me to profound insights that have changed my whole life.
Among all the techniques tested so far, I consider self observation the most powerful one: it is accessible to everyone, it is free, it has no side-effects, it can be done any time during the day, it does not require any equipment, it does not require any teacher or book (once learnt) and it has the power to transform you in a completely different being.
During these years I have wolfed down many different books covering enlightenment and spirituality and the one I will use today as a reference is, in my opinion, a real little gem due to its practicality. It does not get lost in too much theory about what awakening entails, it does not use too much of the terminology I have often encountered in other spiritual books: it gets right to the point about what you must do to transform yourself. Even though I believe you will get the most out of this book by having already done some contemplation about yourself and the reality you live into, I think it can be beneficial for anyone interested in the topic. It is a little book that should be read two, three, four time especially after having done some inner work: deeper your understanding of reality is, more wisdom will be revealed to you by reading it.
This little book contains a lot of wisdom that summaries the work of two fundamental figures in this field, G.I. Gurdjieff and P.D. Ouspensky, that have done a tremendous work in revealing how most of humans live in a condition of slavery. Not the kind of slavery present thousands of years ago when humans where chained and forced to exhausting hours of work by others without any type of reward. Much worse than that.
Here we are talking about a form of slavery that concerns all of us, a form of slavery that goes unnoticed by the most and that therefore is more difficult to get rid of. Being chained in a prison with no given food represents a condition easily understood to be something that is going to make you go through a lot of suffering if no action is taken, but when the same amount of suffering is caused by something you do and not by something that is done to you, things get trickier. In one case, you can immediately point the finger externally, indicating the culprit of your own suffering outside you but in the other case you need to be mature enough to realize that the only responsible for your own suffering is you, and not many people have the strength to notice it.
As I have already discussed in my other two posts, you can benefit from practicing self observation only if you know from where to observe. It is not the mind that has to observe, it is not any inner voice that has to observe. The place from where observation must take place is Consciousness, that is, your true nature and the reason why it must be so will be clear in a moment. Consciousness can also be described as Presence: "something" that is not a thing, that does not have any objective quality but that does exist and is, for the matter, the only "thing" in existence. Once it is clear where to stand from, self observation can take place.
So let's start discussing some important points the author makes in his book in order for you to start today changing your life in better.
The first important point stressed across the book is that humans behave as machines. We all are mechanical creatures, creature of habits and a deep awakening has to take place to awake from this nightmare that causes us so many issues. By believing to be a physical human being, by identifying our self with the biological machine, we are bound to suffer. The biological machine, in order to survive, has learnt over the years specific mental, emotional and physical patterns that run constantly over the day to cope with possible threats present during the day. The intellectual, emotional and physical centers are all interconnected in order to respond as quickly as possible as soon as a certain situation appears.
This is good, this is how the biological machine survives but the problem is that what we truly are is not the biological machine, we just learnt to identify with it. As I said in other posts, such as "The Illusion Explained", what we are is Consciousness, that had to fall into the illusion of believing to be a physical individual in order to actively participate in its own creation, the world. By doing so, it had to identify with the body and the mind and this is the situation most of humans find themselves: they believe to be a physical human and when asked "who are you?", they point to their body or their mind or to something else. However, what we are cannot be pointed because it is not an object of any kind.
Before a person awakes to its true nature, before it realizes that it has never been a human being and that the biological machine is "only" a vehicle used by you, Consciousness, to move around, that person cannot do otherwise than believing to be a body living in a physical world and sharing its limitations and modes of functioning. This single belief becomes the most powerful and asphyxiating prison in existence because makes impossible realizing to be in prison. How the heck can you set you free from something you consider to be your existential condition?
Believing to be your body implies that you fully identify yourself to be whatever emotion, thought, feeling, sensation is arising within this structure. Any time fear appears, you are fear. Any time joy appears, you are joy. Any time a negative thought appears, you are it and so on. It is like living in a rollercoaster my friend. Exciting yes, but quite stressing in the long run. This situation leaves you no movement of freedom, it is a cage with no exit door. But by stepping back and realizing that you are That which is aware of all those movements, you set you free forever, you become the observer of anything previously thought to be yourself.
What was considered to be the subject of observation, becomes an object that can be observed.
From this position, self observation becomes the privileged place from where real transformation can take place, because those emotional, intellectual and physical patterns that were running 24/7 no stop can be now observed, they can be revealed to be "an automatic, unconscious, mechanical and habitual response" as the author says and as such they can be destroyed or changed at your will. This new perspective upgrades you as the master of anything happening in your life, not anymore the slave.
By taking responsibility of anything happening in your body, by being in charge of any movement, thought and emotion arising within you, you will not need anymore to react violently, to blame others and to curse the world: you will understand that those reactions represent patterns unconsciously created by you years ago, needed to protect the biological machine with which you were identified with but that now are useless since you know who you truly are. The defensive position has no reason to take place anymore once you are awake. You will still take care of your vehicle the best you can in order to keep experiencing life in this "physical" form, but the relationship with it will be changed.
The biological machine, that is, the body and the mind, is impermanent, it will die. You, Consciousness , will not and that changes EVERYTHING.
The author continues saying that the only task you are asked to do is to observe and this very simple act of observation will change the human machine: new patterns will be formed and old ones will disappear. The simple act of self-observation has the power to change the thing (thought, emotion, feeling) observed. Those existing patterns have been fed with a lot of energy over the years and they will keep sucking up any drop of energy you give them any time you fall into identification, getting stronger and stronger. However, from now on, what you need to do is to stand firmly, with full awareness, anytime a pattern or an habitual reaction is on the verge of manifesting and stop the feeding cycle.
By simply observing the habitual response without identification, you stop giving energy to that specific pattern that will get weaker and it will eventually disappear. At the same time, that energy that before was used to feed the biological machine will be used to feed your true nature that is going to get stronger and stronger and with time you will become a different being, an alien for the most. Your way of talking will change, your way of walking will change, your way of living life will change.
How to observe?
1) Without judgment. That is why it is important that observation does not come from the mind, because mind, as soon as a negative emotion or thought appear, as soon as it catches the same habitual behavior repeating itself over and over, it will judge. And by judging, the energy that is keeping that mechanical habit alive will feed it more and more. The act of judging implies identification with that pattern and unconsciously we make it stronger. On that contrary, we need to stand firmly, as Presence, and simply observe those patterns appearing and disappearing, without giving them any energy, any importance, any reaction. In this way "what goes unfed weakens, what gets fed grows" as the author says .
2) Without changing what is observed. If you want to change anything about any dysfunctional emotional or intellectual patterns within you, it means you are labeling it as bad or wrong. This Work has nothing to do with what you should or not should do. This Work simply asks you to accept that you are at the moment a dysfunctional machine, run by unconscious patters and that you have no way to change anything but observing. The rest will be fixed by higher forces.
This last point is really important to grasp and trust me even though it seems easy, it is incredibly hard to put in practice. You need to notice that before any action, there is always a thought and an emotional reaction within your body that culminates in any action. There is always an intellectual-emotional cycle that makes you doing a certain action thousand of time, like a trigger. Let's say that your habitual reaction when someone beeps you in the car because you have not noticed the green light is to yell back at him. Or, let's say you are used to eat sweet food and mechanically you gulp down 50 biscuits per day. These are examples of unconscious, habitual, mechanical reactions that seem to be triggered by an external event but in reality they are triggered by you, that is, by specific intellectual-emotional cycles created by and present within you over the years.
Before those actions could take place, a mechanical thought and an emotional rush have raised within your body that led you to the same habitual reactions through the identification with the biological machine. Be aware of that. If you could someone break those cycles, the habitual reaction would disappear even in presence of the same external stimulus. The culprit is you, not others. You are the creator of your own cycles.
What the Work asks you to do is to not react, to not move, to not complete the "thought-emotion-reaction" cycle. It asks you to stand in this emotional rush firmly, trying to change nothing, trying not to interfere with any emotional reaction is happening in the body, without judging you in having those thoughts or emotions, without suppressing them but simply observe them. This Work asks you to stand in the pain and let the energy that is feeding those reactions get weaker to feed instead your true Being. "The human biological machine is a transformational apparatus, it knows what to do with the energy if I do not interfere, nothing is wasted" the author says.
Failure is a big part of this Work, trust me. You will catch yourself repeating the same patterns over and over even when you just remembered to stand as Presence. The emotional-intellectual circle has an incredible power that will challenge you immensely. Each pattern (we have hundreds of them) will create negative thoughts, negative emotions, even physical pain sometimes to make you desist. It knows really well you weakness, it knows your most intimate fears and it will use any trick at disposal to make you identify with those patterns and to get an emotional, intellectual or physical reaction to get fed.
The authors lists which tricks are used by the emotional-intellectual center to keep you in prison, to make you react. It calls them buffers, that is, mechanisms that are stealing the energy to keep those patterns alive. The first one is blaming others (not-me), then justification (me-but), then self pity (poor-me/victim), and finally guilty (bad-me), the latter being the most powerful instrument of control and manipulation of behavior. Become aware of these mechanisms in keeping alive any of your habits.
Each pattern is like a little devil living within you that will fight you back to death before getting purified with some holy water, that is, observation. Each devil needs energy to stay alive, it needs you failing over and over into the same reaction in order to keep you enslave. Trust me, even by knowing all this, you will still curse others in the car or swallowing 50 or even 60 biscuits per day, due to the frustration in realization how weak you are.
Once you react, you have lost the battle. But do not get discouraged. You will get stronger and sooner or later you will knock down any single pattern that was enslaving you.
Observation is the cure, simple but damned hard at the same time. But over time, with practice, you will learn how to stand like a rock, stable and firm, accepting any emotional challenge each devil throws to you, harder and harder. The power of self observation relies in witnessing to all the limitations that are unconsciously blocking you. It is like witnessing an horror movie where the worst within you comes out and it reveals the dirtiness that you have let come in by forgetting your true nature. I remember my 4th day during the Vipassana retreat where I got hit hard by one or more of these devils within me, tired of getting observed. I was ashamed and scared how much bad stuffs was appearing in my mind and emotionally.
It is unbelievable how this simple technique can represent such a powerful tool in being purified and in getting to know our own fears and limitations and overcome them.
More you practice, more resistance will grow in you to make you desist in doing this practice. It is extremely painful and exhausting observing your dark side without distractions, without reactions but its reward is priceless. Use this resistance in your favor to get deeper in the darkness of your mind and emotions, to make you, Presence, stronger and more stable in order to illuminate the world around you.
This Work implies voluntary and conscious suffering and that is why few people are doing it. We have usually learnt to stay away from suffering and here it is asked to you to face it directly, to see your flaws, to observe your weaknesses, to stand in front of all your unconscious behaviors without a single movements, neither from your mind not from your body. This Work is about carrying your own cross, is about taking responsibility of any negative emotion or thought arising in your body because they represent something you have unconsciously created over time by forgetting your true nature. This Work represents the price to pay to clean yourself up and stand as pure Presence.
Once again, you do not have to fix anything, you do not have to do anything. You simply need to be strong enough in observing without any movements what is revealed to you. Each devil will be defeated not through violence, not by reacting to the events, not by thinking, not by having fear but by standing firmly facing your own shadows. Only by not interfering, real intelligence can operate from higher centers to get things at the right place.
From now on, consider your being mechanical as an ally, as a reminder factor for doing the Work. Use these mechanical patterns to grow your Presence rather than feeding the same old stinky cycles. Be thankful of any emotional and intellectual reaction because each of them represents an opportunity to wake up to your true nature in a more stable way. They are gifts, not flaws.
I would like to conclude by saying that realizing your true nature is a necessary step to live a more conscious life but this step is peanuts compared to the Work. Awakening to your true nature is the first essential step and it will make you look at the world with different eyes but it needs to be backed up with conscious, voluntary and constant effort to become a firm and grounded Being.
The history of so called "enlightened" masters is full of cases of misconduct, sex abuses and psychological torture: these people they might have grasped the divine nature of themselves and of the Universe but they have not cleaned themselves up from years of mechanical behavior. Awakening is not a New Age phenomena, it is not simply being in a constant peace and love mood. It demands responsibility for your own devilry, it requires cleaning yourself up by firmly standing in front of your weaknesses.
Honestly, it required courage to sit and getting smashed with your own shit without reacting.
Trust the process. Trust Yourself.