The Layers Within: What Self-Observation Can Show Us

The Layers Within: What Self-Observation Can Show Us

It’s nearly impossible to engage in real development without becoming aware of those elements of our makeup that, without our realizing it, have been holding us back not only personally, but also as businesses, a species, and a planet. As awareness of our interior world increases, and we notice patterns to our thinking, emoting, and behavior, we will likely discover that it isn’t always pleasant to see the ways we react to things. Such reactions can be difficult to acknowledge, let alone fully own.

Nevertheless, awakening to the fact we are a powerful person with something truly worthwhile to contribute during our time to walk the earth necessitates becoming aware of our unconscious habits, both in our work patterns and in our personal life. These may run the gamut from being lost in thought much of the time, to acting impulsively, eating for emotional reasons instead of when we’re truly hungry, or drinking to excess in order to numb ourselves to the unpleasant realization we are trapped in a situation that’s either boring or painful.

In short, becoming self-aware is becoming aware of all of the different parts of ourselves, some of which will seem more familiar, and some of which may surprise us. The good news is that as we come to know our strengths, and to feel more confident in those strengths, the challenging parts of our personalities feel less threatening. We are able to address our more problematic issues using our intelligence, along with less defensiveness or self-judgment. This becomes a powerful and practical asset.

Unaware of Our Tendency to Self-Sabotage?

Most of us are far more defensive and unaware of our tendency to self-sabotage than we realize. Conducting an autopsy on our behavior, we may see a tendency to be negative, to refute, to block, to shut down a line of inquiry without due process. Conversely, we may discover we have a habit of jumping on a hobby horse without thorough research, thereby making poorly thought out decisions that we then bulldoze through—all the more so when there’s the momentum of a consensus. These are the kinds of tendencies that can’t be ignored and must be confronted, no matter how painful.

It’s because the process of awakening to our potential is simultaneously exhilarating and challenging, that it requires courage. Such courage is spurred on as we spontaneously find ourselves experiencing a steady decline in our customary unease, a reduction of our pervasive anxiety, and a lessening of our dissatisfaction. Such progress in the quality of our day furnishes the motivation to continue the journey of awakening.

Ego's Cherished Ideas About Ourselves

It may be shocking to some, but most of us have cherished ideas about ourselves that aren’t exactly the truth. We may believe we have abilities or have established habits we don’t really possess, or we may think we are free of difficulties others can plainly see are still present. Sometimes we may think we are actually worse than we really are, not seeing the good in ourselves or recognizing our gifts. Needless to say, we often hold similarly distorted views of others, especially people who are important to us.

For this reason, real change requires letting go of some of our cherished opinions. For example, one of my beliefs was that to be strong, I needed to be in control. If our personnel were feeling overwhelmed, I took control of the situation. The wiser course would have been to allow them to experience—and even stew in—the discomfort of their feelings until they themselves either devised a solution or were motivated to seek my help in creating a solution.

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As we seek self-understanding, it’s helpful to avoid looking first to the mind, which tends to analyze. Far preferable is that we give our full attention to our body. Self-inquiry needs to be a felt experience, not an intellectual exercise. It needs to involve the gut, representing the entire body, along with the heart and the head. This full engagement with ourselves allows a deeper “knowing” to arise. This experiential awareness is naturally put into thoughts and words afterwards.

What’s Really Happening When We Find Ourselves Squabbling

Our ego not only makes us feel separate from each other, but from pretty much everything, essentially compartmentalizing reality. It’s this state that enables people to believe that businesses, or any kind of structure for that matter, can operate in isolation. Business is business, family is family, community is community, the environment is the environment, and “never the twain shall meet.” Such is the egoic distortion of reality.

Oblivious of our collective oneness, we incite division—and the squabbling that accompanies it reigns in place of the unity of working together as a team, thereby undercutting our human potential, if not torpedoing it.

Human relationships inevitably face moments of tension and misunderstanding. Although the emphasis in the world of business is on practicality, our work is no different from our private life in this respect.

Exploring What Exactly It Is That’s Upsetting Us

When we feel upset about something or someone, whether a project or colleague, it’s valuable to explore what exactly it is that’s upsetting us. What about it is niggling at us? Where do we feel it, and can we trace its roots? This isn’t merely a mental exercise. We can actually locate where these thoughts and emotions are registering in our body.

It simply doesn’t occur to most of us that the reason we feel crowded, pressured, or upset by another has to do with our own state. However, if our buttons are getting pressed, we need to remind ourselves they are our buttons—our personal issues that were there long before the current upset.

We should also keep in mind that it takes a lot of energy to defend against and ignore others, and it’s this huge drain on our energy that causes us to feel crunched and cramped. To be lost in thought and emotional reactivity, as many of us are, is to live life under pressure. Often it isn’t life and its requirements that drain us, even though we imagine this to be the case. Rather, it’s our enormous and mostly unconscious resistance to things, which manifests in our body as tension.

Acknowledging Our Interconnectedness

The hallmark of an awakened relationship is that we are separate individuals who recognize there’s ultimately no separation. Acknowledging our interconnectedness informs our thinking about the best way to proceed with any projects we do together.

Healthy relationships in the workplace are not only possible, but I would argue they are inevitable once we are awake. Because to be awake is to operate in the here and now, we move beyond our historic opinions of each other, which are often no more than our ego’s take on the other, and see one another with fresh eyes.

People may not always want to work together, but they can accept that they are nevertheless dependent on each other for success and satisfaction. Acceptance doesn’t mean we necessarily like what’s happening, but we are able to be open to how something is working out, with a minimum of reactivity.

Non-attachment creates a spaciousness within us that allows us to respond in the most appropriate way. In place of the impulse to react, which is an attempt to force our will onto a situation, we look for the possibilities the situation contains

Non-Attachment Turns Acceptance into a Springboard

Many tend to confuse acceptance with acquiescence, but the two have nothing in common. Indeed, we need to realize that it’s only when we accept the reality being presented to us that we are able to act wisely within the situation. The key is to notice whatever it is we have a resistance to, then—instead of fighting it—identify what we can and can’t control. By allowing what’s arising, we open up the flow of potential. Resistance serves only to dam the flow.

When we find it difficult to respond to provocation or a difficult situation with acceptance, it can be helpful to adopt the Buddhist practice called Tonglen, in which we breathe in another’s pain and breathe out the energy we wish for that person. You might want to try this when a team member behaves in a way that causes you to react to them. Instead of feeling hostile to the individual, you’ll find yourself feeling compassion for them.

It’s an axiom that whenever we go deep enough into our oneness, the feeling that arises is that of caring. Compassion aligns our intelligence with our heart so that we respond in a helpful way.

Compassion for someone doesn’t mean coddling them, neither does being compassionate toward ourselves mean treating ourselves with kid gloves. On the contrary, sometimes it’s more about facing difficult truths than about cheering ourselves up. It takes compassion to look honestly at the ways we aren’t in alignment with reality, but only to the degree that we self-confront do we truly care for ourselves. To take our humanity to task requires courage and willpower.

Self-caring is an important antidote to burnout. Part of being honest with ourselves involves being able to discriminate between those times when it’s essential to “go for broke,” and when it’s necessary to renew and restore.

A Commitment to Awaken

One reason companies benefit from encouraging their employees to become more self-aware is that, when a company has a growing number of awakened individuals who—rather than coming from ego, narcissism, or a defensive perspective—have the ability to work with others, they can collaborate to solve problems and innovate for success. This is why working on ourselves comes first and is an integral part of each stage of the development that follows.

Since awakened individuals are aware of both their potential as a creative person and also of their shadow, they intentionally spend time developing their strengths and confronting their issues. Because they do this, they are able to align their actions with consciously chosen goals.

Although goals fulfill a helpful purpose, for awakened individuals they are tools, not the driving force . Goals are therefore likely to be more flexible. As our awareness increases, we may even abandon a goal, switching our purpose to something entirely different.

The goal-oriented voice in us may object, “What’s the point if I can’t achieve the goal I set?” But it’s the actual experience of life’s journey—the moments between our defined start and end points— that form our everyday lives, and therefore, matter most. Becoming truly present in each of the moments between these start and end points is the real goal.

It isn’t how we start out and finish that matters, but what we do in the in between—what we learn, accomplish, give, and share. Did we live our life with moral integrity during both the easy and challenging times, and did we learn important lessons?

©2015 by Catherine R. Bell. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of Namasté Publishing,

Article Source

The Awakened Company by Catherine R Bell.The Awakened Company
by Catherine R Bell.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book.

About the Author

Catherine BellCatherine Bell holds a degree from Western University and an M.B.A. from Queen's University, is certified in the Riso-Hudson Enneagram and the Nine Domains, has taken the ICD not-for-profit course, and has more than a decade of international executive search experience in industries including renewables, oil and gas, power, infrastructure, high technology, and private equity. Renowned for her ability to build high performance teams, Catherine speaks frequently on leadership and careers to both business schools and companies. She has also been involved in a number of not-for-profit boards. For more info, visit


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