“Self-observation brings man to the realization of the necessity of self-change.” ― George Ivanovich Gurdjieff
Tools For Positive Change
What came first, the chicken or the egg? It is the same question here with observation and awareness. Teachers like Gurdjieff tell us we must be both awake and aware before observing “the real world.” Others tell us we must first enhance our observational skills to become self-aware. Being self-aware is the goal. It is very important because it’s when “the Observer” is present.
“And in observing himself, a man notices that self-observation itself brings about certain changes in his inner processes.” ― George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1)
The unobserved mind allows our personality and instincts to be in control. These are the elements of the Ego. The Ego is a necessary component as it connects our consciousness to our minds. Our Ego contains the default settings of our personality and instincts. These default tools help us to acclimate to our bodies. We need to learn how to use them wisely. The Ego can be a tool for positive change if we understand how it works and how to allow the Observer to control awareness.
When we are aware or present, this allows the real you to show up. It’s the person you are talking to inside your head. It’s the entity, your soul, or your spirit that is experiencing your life. How are we able to reach the Observer and keep it online?
“He begins to understand that self-observation is an instrument of self-change, a means of awakening.” ― George Ivanovich Gurdjieff
So, what comes first, observation or awakening? Look at it this way. If awakening depends on our ability to observe, everyone should be awake, but we know this isn’t the case.
Does it matter which we do first? Or are they both working at the same time? We know we can increase awareness through specific types of moving and seated meditation. These techniques are in the domain of what we call spiritual exploration.
Anyone can learn to be more observant of their surroundings. The more aware you are, the more things you see when you observe. The tools of observation and awareness work together. Depending on how you categorize the observation tactics, they may also be part of inner work or spiritual exploration tools. As we become more aware, we can observe our thoughts.
Your Self-Observation Tools
It is important to remember that everything we experience happens within the mind. The senses gather information, and then we filter it through our worldview to get an individually crafted representation of reality. So we don’t perceive the world as it is. We see it as we expect it to be.
Our worldview interprets the input from our senses. Our worldview can contain negative bias and prejudice, which color our perception. It’s how several people can see the same event but describe it differently, which is why eyewitness accounts often misidentify people.
So, observing oneself starts with cleaning the internal lens of our worldview. Cleaning involves removing unhealthy filters, and this can be one of the most powerful tools for positive change. We must identify and remove as many preconceptions as possible. Any prejudice or bias will taint our experience. That means to improve observational skills, and we start with the inward journey.
Interactive Self-Observation Tools
Observation revolves around conflict management. You learn how to observe and control the outcome of a particular encounter. It’s a skill set often taught to those in law enforcement. We can all benefit from the use of a primary mindset. It involves four key areas when interacting with another person:
1) Engage in Active Listening. Listen to understand what is being said instead of planning a response. To do this, you must focus on the person and stop your internal dialogue.
2) Build Trust. Follow through with promises, big and small. Supporting others will increase your social acumen. Some people wonder how this improves your observational skills, but you become more empathetic when you help others. Cultivate an Empath’s skills to help you sense the energy of people, places, and things. This skillset enhances both your awareness and observational ability.
3) Increase Adaptability. It involves learning how to learn. It means learning to have an open mind and seeing things from fresh perspectives.
4) Enhance Your Self-Observation Ocular Awareness. Learn how to engage the peripheral vision to see things with a wide-angle lens. And it also involves using controlled breathing along with this ocular technique. Together they are powerful tools that enable us to control our nervous system. This skill set helps respond in the right way to critical situations. We’ll discuss this more later on.
Situational Self-Observation Tools
1) Become more self-aware of your surroundings. Enhancing observation starts with training your awareness. Practice watching and listening. We don’t do this because we are too used to being entertained. Instead, watch people in crowded areas. Stop tunnel vision, which means refraining from your smartphone’s habitual use. If the first thing you do when you sit down in a crowded place is to pull out your phone, stop. Instead, use the first minute to observe yourself and your surroundings.
2) Learn to engage your internal radar. You can enhance this quality of perception by Assigning yourself a scavenger hunt: Pick something and look for it throughout your day. For instance, red on a sign or shirt. A spiral form, etc.
3) Become more mindful and attentive. Learn and practice the waking mindfulness technique. Keep the Observer in the drivers’ seat instead of operating from the default settings of Ego. When we are present, we will see and hear things that we otherwise overlook.
Eye and Breath Training Tactics
The senses are the tools of outward observation. You can use these tactics simultaneously when you are cleaning the lens of your worldview. Learning how to use them together will enhance your observational skills and inward awareness.
The key is learning to control your nervous system with the eyes and breath. Here’s how it works. In threat situations, the sympathetic (SN) activates the emergency response of our fight, flight, or freeze reaction. It allows us to react fast, but it also shuts off the higher functioning brain center. So we move quickly, but how and where we move might not have the best outcome. For example, we could be sacred and jump back but fall into a hole. The goal is to control this reaction through ocular training and controlled breathing. We want to keep the parasympathetic system engaged.
This type of practice is the domain of advanced martial arts, like the alignment practices of Silat. This technique’s method takes the form of what looks like a dance. It’s the practice of very sophisticated physical and mental processes with martial arts a purpose. The untrained eye sees what appears to be a somewhat awkward dance performed to music with frequently changing rhythms.
Breathing and centering are two other significant components of these self-observation tools. Learning to control your sensory input will help keep you present by directing attention inward and outward simultaneously.
The warrior uses peripheral vision while focusing on an internal rhythm during combat. The eyes control the nervous system and keep it from engaging the sympathetic nervous system. The active mind focuses on music and rhythm; this allows us to access the dance’s combat applications.
The last element is using specific breathing techniques, which provide power to the actions. We can use these same tools for positive change for enhancing your self-awareness.
This combination gives the warrior greater control over their emotional reactions. It enables the use of higher cortical functioning necessary to assess a rapidly changing conflict. The breath is a critical aspect of this technique. We cannot exist without oxygen. As the breath deepens, we feel more grounded.
Another level of observation is learning to monitor our thought-life. One of the best tools for this is the Enneagram of Personality. By identifying our default personality and instinctual stack, we see that these mechanisms have specific thought and value patterns.
Understanding these patterns helps us see the hardcoded scripts of the personality. These scripts are short cuts designed to make life easier. When we encounter something, we don’t have to think. We’ve already decided what to do ahead of time via our personality.
We can spend much of our lives on autopilot. Most people can relate to this experience. If you’ve driven a car or traveled somewhere you routinely, you can make the trip and not have any recollection of the journey itself. You were on autopilot the whole time you were driving your car. Your mind was somewhere else. Thus, your personality and instincts were entirely in charge of your body. This autopilot syndrome is something we use, especially when we are not present or grounded.
So, we use the Enneagram to identify our default settings. Then we look at the tendencies for our particular personality and instincts. Now we have the power to recognize them and change them. It’s one of the most powerful tools for positive change.
Allowing The Observer to Observe
The goal of these techniques is to bring the real you into the place of conscious observation. Doing so will increase both internal and external perception as it expands our awareness. Your self-observation is the key to improving the bandwidth of awareness.
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(1) George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, Wikipedia
(2) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia