If we want to stop doing the things that keep us limited and suffering, we have to develop practices that support us in conscious shifting of our lives. Our practices not only support our own evolution but evolution overall. The more we loosen our individual constrictions, the more we are able to support and uplift everyone we come into contact with. Practice is a positive feedback loop.
If we want to actually respond, instead of reacting to situations, we need to develop what is called the inner observer.
There are many forms of practice to keep us evolving and awake. The most essential component of practice is the inner observer or inner witness. The inner observer is the aspect of ourselves that observes what we are thinking, feeling and doing in each moment as the thoughts, feelings and actions are occurring. Often we think we are observing but in reality we rarely do. What we often call observing is actually still just the ego maintaining a running commentary with criticism of itself and the world. The inner observer is unattached to what is occurring with the ego and observes unconditionally. It is from this unconditional place of watching that we can actually make a choice to change the habitual reactions.
As we develop the inner observer it enables us to have a gap between the stimulus and our response. It is in the gap that we can see our defenses arising and can choose whether those defenses are useful in the situation or whether to respond more consciously and with more awareness.
We all have the ability to observe ourselves, however the inner observer is like a muscle. In the vast majority of people it is atrophied and unused. The inner observer develops through practice in witnessing ourselves. Without developing this we are constrained to continue creating our world in the same way.
The only way to change the world around us (that we usually blame for our suffering and unhappiness) is to change ourselves. As we change ourselves our experience of the world changes.
One of the simplest and most effective ways of strengthening the inner observer is to witness the breath and body. The body and breath are always in the present moment with no agenda. Watching the breath gives us a focus of attention outside of the usual fixations that maintain all of our energy. By simply shifting our attention we free up energy that we normally use to continue creating the same ruts in our lives. Normally, we are always running a movie in our lives – same script, different sets and actors. With the inner observer we have the ability to change the scripts.
There are many ways to develop the observer and present moment awareness. Any practice that brings attention to the present moment without an agenda is useful. The ego fixations are always opposing the present moment, whether by attaching to the future or the past or attempting to force the present moment to be other than what it is. The body and the breath are always in the present moment – they can’t possibly exist in the past or the future. Practices that bring focus back to the body and breath create present moment awareness. These include yoga, tai chi, forms of martial arts, walking meditations, seated meditations and mindfulness practices of noticing body and breath as we move through life. The best practices are the ones you do and that work for you.
Dr. Deborah Ooten is the founder and director of the Conscious Living Center.