Our concepts of ideal and perfect are always changing. What we consider good or bad for ourselves doesn’t stay the same. Of course, in regard to right or wrong, we are not talking about eternal truths, such as the idea that it is wrong and bad to take someone’s life. We are talking about the evaluations and judgments we make unconsciously in every second of our lives that jump-start our emotions and bring us much anxiety and stress.
What can we do about this unproductive habit? How can we escape this perpetual cycle?
First we must become aware of exactly when we are involved in the process of judging. Since most of us judge all the time, we don’t have to wait long for our first chance to observe ourselves participating in this exhausting act. And then we have a special opportunity: the chance to meet a quiet, non-judging presence at the heart of all our beings.
When You Talk To Yourself, Who Is the One Listening?
We must work at being more objectively aware of ourselves. We cannot refine any part of our daily thought processes if we are not separate from those processes. At first, this seems to be a confusing concept to grasp, but with the slightest shift in perception, it becomes clear.
If you are aware of anything you are doing, that implies that there are two entities involved: one who is doing something, and one who is aware of or observing you do it. If you are talking to yourself, you probably think you are doing the talking. That seems reasonable enough, but who is listening to you talk to yourself? Who is aware that you are observing the process of an internal dialogue? Who is this second party who is aware that you are aware?
The answer is your true self. The one who is talking is your ego or personality. The one who is quietly aware is who you really are: the Observer. The more closely you become aligned with the quiet Observer, the less you judge. Your internal dialogue begins to shut down, and you become more detached about the various external stimuli that come at you all day long. You begin to actually view your internal dialogue with an unbiased (and sometimes amused) perspective.
The Rantings of the Ego
I have had times when my ego is going on and on about something someone said to me that “it” considered “irritating,” and yet I remain very separate and unaffected. I feel as if I am invisible in a room, watching someone complain about something that is completely unimportant to me. This feeling also extends into experiences of personal stress, such as job deadlines or financial pressures.
I have witnessed my ego rambling on about how I can’t finish a job on time. When I am aligned with my true self, the Observer, I find myself aware of the stress that my ego is experiencing, but also unaffected by it. I think, “That’s just my ego fretting that it will experience disapproval if I disappoint my client by taking longer than originally anticipated.”
When you are aligned with your true self, you are immune to other people’s behaviors. When you feel that someone is acting inappropriately toward you, that feeling comes from a judgment of the ego. From the perspective of the Observer, you find yourself just watching that person’s ego rant and rave while you listen quietly and unaffected.
The Calm of the Observer
When you decide to engage your practicing mind in any activity, you are evoking this alignment with the Observer. The ego is subjective. It judges everything, including itself, and it is never content with where it is, what it has, or what it has accomplished.
The Observer is objective, and it is here in the present moment. It does not judge anything as good or bad. It just sees the circumstance or action as “being.” In other words, the circumstance “just is.” Thus the Observer is always experiencing tranquility and equanimity.
Whether you are going for a job interview, trying to develop more patience with a difficult person or situation, or learning an art form, alignment with the Observer is tantamount to success and freedom from stress. This alignment assures an objective, no-expectations point of view. This contradicts the ego-driven mentality that one must “be the best,” and the thoughts that “nobody cares who comes in second,” and “I want it all.”
The Practice: Moving Away from Emotional Reactions
Is there anybody out there who isn’t tired of running as fast as they can to grab a mythical brass ring that we all know in our hearts doesn’t exist? When a friend or family member falls short of something they considered an important goal, we console them with a detached wisdom that we don’t apply to ourselves. Alignment with the Observer brings this detached wisdom to bear on ourselves; it brings us non-judgment and hence equanimity.
Nothing is more satisfying than quieting the squawking voice of your frightened or insulted ego. In those moments, you realize that you really are separate from that angry or fearful voice and that you truly are the captain of your own ship and crew.
In time, this process becomes easier. Like everything else you practice, you get better at it. As you practice, you become more aligned with the Observer within you, and time begins to slow down during such incidents. You see them coming toward you rather than finding them on top of you. Your reflexive movement away from the emotional reactions you are so accustomed to becomes an intuitive habit.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
New World Library, Novato, CA. ©2012 by Thomas M. Sterner.
www.newworldlibrary.com or 800-972-6657 ext. 52.
The Practicing Mind: Developing Focus and Discipline in Your Life
by Thomas M. Sterner.
About the Author
Thomas M. Sterner has studied Eastern and Western philosophy and modern sports psychology and trained as a concert pianist. For more than twenty-five years, he served as the chief concert piano technician for a major performing arts center. He prepared and maintained the concert grand piano for hundreds of world-renowned (and demanding) musicians and symphony conductors, and his typical workday required constant interaction with highly disciplined and focused artists. He would perform delicate procedures often hundreds of times per piano with little or no room for costly errors. Being disciplined and focused were his key to survival, and became his joy. At the same time, he operated a piano remanufacturing facility, rebuilding vintage pianos to factory-new condition. Visit his website www.thepracticingmind.com