“The observation of others is coloured by our inability to observe ourselves impartially. We can never be impartial about anything until we can be impartial about our own organism”. A.R.Orage
Without having yet started this, I know that there will likely need to be another one. So, let’s just call this “Observer – Part 1” from the off. It’s strategical on my part to alleviate some pressure on myself, to worry less that I am missing something out. My desk is strewn with books, having been digging back through my very well thumbed, corner turned and bookmarked little gems. I can’t, of course, lay my hands on the nuggets I have in my head, so I am faced with a choice. I can either recognise this and create a method of managing it, or I could abandon the idea, or the blog post and move onto something else.
The fact that I continue to type, and you continue to read, suggests I went for the former and therein lies the learned skill. I am self-aware, I am very sensible to the fact that I can over worry, overthink and that I veer toward perfectionism. I refer you to a previous edition “Good Enough”. I can hear the not so little voice in my head berating me for not having started this sooner, which would have allowed more time to get my research completed. And here I observe the thoughts…
“We cannot empty the mind by thinking. Only by observation”. Robert Adams
There are simply countless tools and hacks we can learn to aid us day to day and when these are strung together you can create a quite formidable toolkit (as I call mine), with which to face the days. When we partner this with the fact that with brain plasticity we have, at any age, the capacity to alter our brain connections and behaviour in response to new information; one could be forgiven for feeling occasionally despondent when feelings such as anxiety, frustration, anger (insert your personal favourite..) pop up again to have us question why me, or my personal go to, what I am doing wrong?
It is, therefore, important to stress, that we bring choice into every thought, action and scenario. This is not to say we have control over every circumstance in our life, however we are at choice regarding how we choose to respond, how we choose to think and how we choose to feel. There will remain however, certain traits that we have likely learned, that we will not be switching off completely, anytime soon. Were I to be offered a convenient black hole to lob one thing into, my ability to worry would be straight in there I can assure you. However, unless things suddenly go a bit Hitchhikers on us, I am sensible that it is part of me, it’s likely to always be there to a greater or lesser extent and it requires a firm hand.
So, I offer a reframe on this. What would it be like not to fight against this all the time? What would it be like to understand that it will come up, for a myriad of reasons, and that there is another way of navigating through? And here comes my very close friend, the observer. Some of you may have experienced coaching with me and if so, you will be familiar with the term “ally” – an inner resource around which we build a structure, which we can call on in specific scenarios when we need a bit of help dialling up certain characteristics or behaviours. I have a few myself who help me with confidence, being more playful and having fun, worrying less about the opinions of others etcetera, and of course my observer.
Think of your observer as the part of you that is calm, patient, accepting of what is and non-judgemental – and yes you do have that in you! I like to think of mine as a little buddha type figure, who sits on the side of a very busy road. Along the road rush cars, lorries, motorbikes, caravans and even the odd horsebox. It is a terribly congested and fast highway and everything is moving so fast, it is often a blur of colours, and the noise is absolutely deafening, engines and horns in a continuous wall of noise. And there sits my little buddha, cross legged on the verge, both intently watching the road and also managing to convey an air of quiet serenity.
So, what’s he doing and how the hell is this helping me? Well, he is my two second pause, he is the part of me who interrupts, just for two seconds before I go bat crazy at something and says “Oh, that’s interesting, notice that?”. To which I often say “No. In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a bit busy here (and normally it’s a bit more sweary than that) ..” by which time of course my curiosity is normally piqued, so he buys me a breath. Just one breath, one pause in which I get to choose – how do I want to react, how do I want to use this information and this time? You see the road is my brain, my thoughts, my feelings and my little buddha is both a traffic camera and a weatherman. He does not get involved in the potential carnage before him – he observes and reports back news flashes, the ones which may help avoid an accident.
Therefore, I am better able to look at something and be curious – what’s behind the anger? Am I hungry (and trust me that’s normally the reason with me)?
To be more accepting – ok I’m sad, perhaps there is no massive calamity and I will feel less sad in a few moments.
To trust – I’ve been here before, I know how to handle this.
To have beginners mind – “too often we let our thinking and our beliefs about what we “know” prevent us from seeing things as they really are”.
To strive less – slowing down here and really enjoying this moment could bring me joy and bring me closer to this person.
To LET GO (here’s the biggie!) - non attachment. They haven’t replied to my email – this could be a number of reasons, they may be busy, they may have had a crisis, they may not have found it interesting, they may not like me. Anything might be true. I do not need to seek “positive” and reject “negative”. I can choose not to be attached. Breezy huh?!
Fabulous! How do I do it? And I’m so sorry to report the utterly boring answer of practice. Urgh I know, what an absolute bummer. Should any of you know a better way I would be thrilled to learn, but I am pretty confident when I say it’s practice. It starts with practicing awareness – I did this both my sitting on my behind in silence for protracted periods of time, observing my thoughts (the image of sitting in a cinema and you are watching the screen, across which your thoughts play, may be a helpful alternative to the road). And secondly, and perhaps more interestingly, deliberately “seeing” things. I started with objects – really looking at something in my house, whilst out for a walk (you know the phrase look /wake up and smell the roses). It then progresses into sounds, then for me the tougher one of feelings. I’m getting better every day and I have much to learn still..
I leave you with homework.. start to notice the language you use as a first step. What language do you use to describe yourself, how do you interact with others verbally and in written form. Do you find yourself starting a conversation/email with “I’m sorry to bother/interrupt you”, “can I just..”, “I just wanted to..”. Observe how often you do this initially and then be curious why you may do this. And from that point of awareness, make a choice, what language do I want to use about myself, about others?
“Scientific enquiry starts with observation. The more one can see, the more one can investigate”. Martin Chalfie
If you are interested to find out more about working with me, you can book a free (promise I won’t chase you) call here
And I am now on Instagram (learning the ropes!) @start2thrive
The seven attitudinal factors of mindfulness. J Kabat-Zinn
Full Catastrophe Living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using Mindfulness Meditation. Piatkus
Bonus! The Telegraph 365: Are you observing or seeing?
Thank you Janet Calgan for sending me this 😊
By Linda Blair, Clinical Psychologist
When you see something, do you also observe it? To see is merely to notice, whereas to observe is not just to notice but also to register what you see as significant. Every time you see but fail to observe, you miss an opportunity to learn something new, improve your powers of discrimination, sharpen your memory, and enjoy a deeper appreciation of your surroundings.
No one has explained this distinction more clearly than Sherlock Holmes. When in A Scandal in Bohemia he demystifies the crime he’s been asked to investigate, his companion Dr Watson replies: “When I hear you give your reasons the thing always appears to me so ridiculously simple… Yet I’m baffled until you explain your process.” To which Holmes replies: “Quite so… You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.” “Frequently.” “How often?” “Well, some hundreds of times.” “Then how many are there?” “How many? I don’t know.” “Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point.” Every day, choose one ‘familiar’ item and observe it. You’ll be amazed what you learn.