In our normal waking consciousness we think, and we feel. The way it appears to us is “I think X” and “I feel Y”, but we do not inspect it so dispassionately as to state it that concretely in words, we just experience the constantly flowing, constantly changes torrent of thoughts and feelings. We take it for granted that the words we hear in our minds, the unarticulated ideas that occur to us, our sudden shifts in mood and emotion, are all parts of ourselves. Not only “parts” but “intimate parts”, parts that others cannot see nor hear nor feel. And not only “intimate” to ourselves, but also the deepest and truest expression of who we are at that moment, the “real us”. They are my thoughts, my feelings, my ideas, my hunches, my memories, my sadness, my frustration, my anger, my fear, my elation. We automatically assume that own totally own these ephemera, and it seems weird to even bring this up.
Imagine for a moment that some people have psychic powers that they have trained to use effectively all the time, at will, and that such people could take over our minds without us realizing it, and give us the experience we always have of thinking and feeling, except that they are programming it, not us, and we can’t tell the difference.
If that were the case and these people were paramilitary spies from a hostile nation, our government would advise us to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings and question ourselves constantly whether these could be planted thoughts and feelings. In that scenario, if we followed the government’s instructions, we would learn how to get into the observer state.
There are much easier ways, although the “pretend psychic agent” game is one effective way to get into the observer state.
In the observer state, one witnesses what is going on inside, thoughts, feelings, images, memories, as a scientist, objectively trying to see and hear and sense as clearly as possible what is going on. Where a thought starts, where a feeling first arises. As if we are the psychic spy, watching and trying to learn something about someone else, someone we don’t know at all.
Whichever way you choose to try the experiment of getting into the observer state, what you will find at first is that it’s hard not to slip right back into identifying with the thoughts and feelings. It’s distracting when some emotion comes up and almost impossible at first not to get caught up in that emotion. You forget the experiment and are right back in the normal state of waking consciousness. Or if you get a great thought and want to concentrate on it, not on the experiment. That’s OK. Do whatever you want. What I do is write down a couple of words that I know will bring back that great idea and leave it like a marvelous piece of candy I can look forward to eating later. Then I go back into meditation.
Wait a second – where did that word “meditation” come from? I haven’t used that word yet on purpose, because by calling it the “observer state” I hoped to start with a clean sheet of paper, without preconceptions and associations about the word “meditation”. Meditation – this next is my hypothesis – was discovered as the way to become self-observant, to understand and manage oneself better, to identify one’s true goals and achieve them. It does all those things. That is one reason to learn how to get into the observer state.
The second reason to get into the observer state is that it is the launchpad for getting into the Zone also known as the Flow state. This is the state in which not only is one the observer while the bodymind is performing some action, the action one is observing is perfect. The experience is also different from normal waking consciousness in that everything is of one piece, you the observer, you the bodymind, and everything else around you, is all one connected whole doing itself perfectly.
This is a very strange experience but not at all frightening. It’s ecstatic. It’s easy to fall in love with.
If we practice these inward ways we eventually experience higher levels of the Flow state in which we sense a benevolent spiritual presence of which we are a part.
There is nothing boring about practicing watching your own mind, and it can be done all the time, not just for X minutes a day.
The first benefit is that it is calming. It automatically readjusts our fears, angers, sadnesses, depressions, frustrations so that we wind up studying causes and effects and making sense out of why we don’t feel happy and what we actually can do about it. It makes us more sensible, patient, accepting of what is, courageous, analytical, open-minded, creative, and gives us hope and new direction. As we get better at it, it also leads us to be more forgiving. It shifts us from problem-orientation to solution-orientation, as we realize that problem-orientation is incredibly time-wasting, and can even waste a whole lifetime.
My book Mind Magic is designed to automatically induce the observer state as you read, although it hardly ever mentions the observer state the way this article does. This article is abstract and descriptive, the book is intimate and experiential like one’s own moment to moment thoughts and feelings. Right now because of the pandemic you can get the book for free at the top right of this page. Hope you enjoy!
Best to all,