Not being able to observe oneself amounts to being unconscious
By Edward Hirsch
Assuming that you’ve already heard enough of the bad news, I’ll focus on bringing some good news. In these trying times, even crazy times, that bring out the more “crazy” parts of ourselves, we find that this can actually be good news. You see, it depends on how we relate to it, the meaning we give to it.
We get a chance to observe ourselves under more trying conditions, and so we can get a good opportunity — especially for self-observation. Sure, we get plenty of opportunity for observing others, but the wise especially observe the principle, “Know thyself.” But it is good to broaden the scope of observation, so that we’re not overly focused on ourselves and so that we enlarge our sense of the general human condition. We come to expand our sense of understanding and compassion — and these in turn apply to ourselves.
However, the problem with observing oneself is being able to have both intimacy and perspective, in other words “being in but not of.” Not being able to observe oneself amounts to being unconscious, oblivious, functioning on automatic pilot, and this can go along with projecting what one doesn’t see (and doesn’t want to see) onto others. Once one can observe oneself, then one opens oneself up to the possibilities of identifying with what one observes, or judging it (even mercilessly).
Another possibility is worrying about it, which involves spinning endless narratives and basically believing the worst-case scenario. We humans have this aptitude that the animals are spared. So, if we are going to have the aptitude for it, basically for self-awareness, let’s make sure to put it to good use, meaning let’s develop that potential so that it serves a good purpose. And an even higher or fuller purpose is developing that to a Self-awareness, which can distinguish itself from all that content which is not what we truly are (call it our soul, spirit, or Self, if you like).
So, the good news in trying times is that we can no longer rely on what had previously been getting us through. We are challenged to go deeper, and we can recognize this as a call from that deeper place within us, rather than something we have to do (but don’t want to), forced upon us by unforgiving circumstances. If you have some trust in the greater wisdom of life, you might recognize what is happening as a lesson designed to grow you. Recognize the power you have in the meaning you give to what is happening. Of course, we don’t live in isolation, and none of this implies we shouldn’t reach out to others and find (and give) support by associating with others. But it is helpful to develop the power within, which gives you greater ability to take responsibility for your life as well as to be helpful to others.
I’ve long been a proponent of deep sensing in the body, to be more grounded and in touch with what you are actually experiencing; of slow, deep breathing in the belly, to be more in the present moment and centered; and of dropping into the heart to be in touch with your sense of being, beyond mere self-images, story lines, and the “voice in the head.” When you can open into a greater sense of spaciousness beyond identification with the body as some separate and vulnerable piece of real estate on the planet, you gain a deeper sense of peace and the perspective to be with, rather than to merely identify with or react to, what’s arising.
You can call all of this “spiritual” if you like, but at least it is a step beyond the usual limited conditioned “consensus reality.” You become more conscious and responsible, and even more, up against your growing edges, but it is not merely that you are taking on more of the weight of life. There is a shift from “self” preoccupation to something greater and deeper, something that is not even a “thing” or a “someone.”
Edward Hirsch, M.A., teaches about the “Practice of Presence” at OLLI and offers free weekly Zoom meetings in the teachings and practices of Presence from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturdays on a drop-in basis (https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84805886301).
Send 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Richard Carey (firstname.lastname@example.org).