In my experience, one of the keys to personal development and ultimately self-understanding is observing how your mind works, what your heart feels and what your body experiences. This self-observing faculty is essential for managing personality and our personal reactivity. Just as physical exercise is important to our well-being, regular self-observation practice is beneficial to our mental well-being.
Breathing and centering are components of self-observation because they can help direct attention inward and quiet the mind. As we put attention on the breath, slowly inhaling and exhaling, our mental state becomes more receptive. The breath is a neutral force having no agenda of its own. As the breath deepens we feel more grounded and the heart opens to be more receptive to ourselves and others. It is important to gently return to the breath when we notice that we have given attention to some thought, feeling or sensation.
It is through noticing where our attention goes that we become aware of habitual patterns and preoccupations. Where attention goes energy flows. By becoming more aware of our habitual modes of thinking, feeling and behaving we are better able to direct our attention and make empowering, conscious choices as opposed to knee-jerk reactions.
Self-observation requires practice and being present; it also engenders compassion for us and others through non-judgment. When we are “identified” with our habitual ways of thinking, feeling and behaving we are unable to be aware and self-observant because we think that we “are” the thoughts that float across the sky of our minds. This process of “attachment” binds us and causes suffering. Through compassion we are less likely to judge ourselves and others, thus creating a more open, expansive inner landscape from which we can be engaged in the world but not totally of it because of the self-observing faculty. Monitoring our thought-life enhances our experience of reality.
In essence, when we practice self-observation we are becoming more aware of the “thinker” behind the thought. Who am I?
There is a paradigm that posits a flow: consciousness, awareness, acceptance, change, growth. Consciousness underlies all that is; awareness implies the “witness” or the observer; acceptance embraces non-resistance and non-judgment; change connotes conscious choice; and growth is a result or by-product of the preceding steps.