Thursday, June 26, 2008
What is self observation?
The practice of self observation usually revolves around what is observed. Agreed, that may sound pathetically obvious; bear with me here for a moment.
When we discuss our work on self observation amongst each other--or even with ourselves--, we usually describe what we see. Then we draw inferences from it.
This invariably leads to elaborated psychological analysis of one kind or another. By turning the behaviors that we see in ourselves into objects, rather than fluid events, we degrade our possibilities of understanding. Above all, we fail to understand that our interpretations are not sufficient. They already come after the fact; by the time we reach them, we have already walked right past what is vital.
The things that are seen in us, and by us, are not objects. They are not static; they are not "things." We are not this way or that way; we are many different ways. What we see when we observe ourselves is actually a constantly changing state of experiences, impressions, and reactions. It is seeing the movement itself, perhaps, that is most significant.
In the conventional and literal interpretation of the practice of self observation, one might say, we try to freeze the various aspects of this movement so that they can be studied, but they don't bear any more relationship to our "real" life, in a way, than a dead bug pinned to a board does to a living one. It's true that the dead bug comes from the living bug, but it has lost the most essential character that defines it. Referring back to what was seen already obscures the present.
We then proceed to apply all of our current set of opinions, preconceptions, supposed understandings, and so on to the dead bug, coloring it, in the process, even more than death itself did. In this way, I think, most of what we call self observation -- the collecting of so-called "facts" about ourselves -- forms a construction of spectacular inaccuracies.
It is not what we see that matters. It is to dwell within the act of seeing itself.
This act of seeing can take place only within consciousness, which occupies the exact location between the inner receiving apparatus and the external arisings of life. Seeing is, in other words, the fulfillment of the task Mr. Gurdjieff assigned his pupils when he told them to "place the attention at the point where impressions enter the body."
Of course, this instruction has multiple meanings and possibilities, but no matter where it is applied -- whether to the external arisings of ordinary life, or the breath as it enters the body-- it always involves occupying the middle ground. It involves being within life as it takes place, not thinking about what is happening.
In seeing, I think one of the things we may see is that we have parts that perpetually insist on turning everything that is seen into something dead--and the sooner, the better. The conceptual mind functions as the killing jar of spiritual entymology.
More often than not, these same parts prefer to impart a negative value to a great deal of what goes on. There needs to be a constant letting go in order to move past this. Otherwise, every inner criticism, every finding of fault with ourselves -- or with others -- becomes another dead bug.
A few days ago, someone I know in the Arkansas groups raised the question of why it seems most of us, when we do talk about what we "observe" in ourselves, speak about seeing things which are, for the most part, negative in one way or another. Things that we feel are wrong with ourselves, things that ought to be fixed in one way or another.
I thought it was an excellent question. If we are truly seeing ourselves, shouldn't we be seeing all of the aspects of ourselves? How often do we observe ourselves -- even in a quite ordinary way -- and say to ourselves, "Gee, I am pretty good at that," or, "this is one of the good things about me"?
As I have pointed out many times over the years, I suspect we are nowhere near as "bad" as we think we are. If we are going to forgive trespasses, and ask that our own be forgiven, we should perhaps also remember to forgive ourselves first.
This all leads me back to my "stupid man's Zen," whereby no matter what one encounters, one simply looks at it and says
"it's not so bad, really."
May your roots find water, and your leaves know sun.