The Observer Exercise
by John W. Cullen
This is a variation of an exercise published in Synthesis, Vol.1, No.2, by James Vargiu. This is one of the most basic of the psychosynthesis exercises. Through practice it enables us to experience the personal self as observer. By observing the changes occurring in the events that we experience we have the possibility of experiencing and identifying with the permanent silent witness quality of the personal self.
- Sit quietly and relax your body. Look around and observe your visual environment. See it in all its detail, as clearly and as vividly as possible. Take a few moments to do this. (pause) Now close your eyes and breathe in slowly. As you inhale recall this vivid visual awareness. Then exhale and as you do, ask yourself, who is aware?
- With your eyes still closed, become aware of what you hear. Listen to the sounds around you. Be aware of the silence. (pause) Now take a deep breath, and as you exhale slowly, ask yourself, who is aware?
- Still with your eyes closed, imagine that you are drawing a triangle with chalk on a blackboard. Look at the triangle. (pause) Be aware of it. (pause) Take a deep breath, and as you exhale, ask yourself, who is aware?
- Now let the triangle fade away and breathing slowly stay with the awareness of your self as the one who is aware. (pause) Really experience being your self. (pause) Try to get as clear a sense as possible of this experience.
- Now try to get as clear a sense as possible for what it is like to be your self... Try to become aware of the stability of the self, its permanency. Try to experience it as the stable state of consciousness that is always reliably there. You will find that while all else changes, it remains. It is available always, as a source of stability and of clear perception in the midst of change.
- With the awareness of being your unchanging self, turn your attention to your body. (pause) Your body changes. The sensations of your body are different now than they were a few moments ago, and they will be different again a few moments from now. Your body itself is different now than it was when you were a child, and it keeps changing as you grow older. But your self does not change.
- Now, focus once again on the awareness of being your self, the one who is aware. And as that unchanging self, become aware of your feelings. (pause) Your feelings also are changing all the time. (pause) Even the depth with which you feel change, but your self does not change.
- Focus once again on being your self, the one who is aware. And as that unchanging self, become aware of your mind. (pause) Your thoughts change with great rapidity. They jump from one idea to another, and as you grow, you use different ways of thinking, but your self, your true nature, does not change.
- Focus once again on being your self. Then become aware of your body, your feelings, and your mind. Be aware that you have these three aspects. They are yours. They are your valuable means of expression in the world, and you have the capacity to direct and regulate them at will. But they are not you. You are your self, the one who is aware.
Some people experience difficulty with this experience because of an over-identification with one of the personality instruments. For many people this is primarily identification with the mind. You are encouraged to accept the tentative hypothesis that the observing aspect of the self exists. You begin to apply an "as if" hypothesis and test it out. You become your own scientist. Every time you go inside, there is an opportunity for growth. Your own experience is the guide. Practice the exercise on a daily basis to enhance your experience of the observer. With practice you may realize that if you are observing your mind, you are not your mind.
Later, one can practice the observer exercise in actual situations. In the presence of others you can assume the attitude of the observer and look at the situation more objectively. Many times we are overcome by emotions. When we look at our emotions from the standpoint of the observer, we can step back and ask: "What is going on with me right now? What do I choose to do?" In this manner we can avoid our usual reactive responses. "From the standpoint of the self I experience an emotion, and from the standpoint of the self I can choose consciously what I wish to do about it."
Similarly, when we are caught up in our minds and defending our own belief systems, we can step back and observe what our mind is doing, and then choose what we are going to do with our mind. We can choose to put aside our biases and prejudices and allow our mind to see another point of view.
Last revised: November 18, 2004.