What are these two “Selves” and why are they important? The brain likes to create a lot of stories, generate ideas, thoughts, and fantasies and sometimes when we’re feeling anxious, our brains will capitalize on this and create a shitloadof thoughts about what this all means.
The typical anxiety brain will look something like “Oh, fuck. My heart just skipped a beat. This means something is wrong. I can’t breathe…am I dying? Why is this happening? When will it stop? Is my front door unlocked? I’m probably not getting that promotion” and the list goes on. That’s the thinking self in action. It’s the part of us that is aware of our thoughts, is constantly analyzing information, and is making meaning out of situations as we go along.
With any of our experiences, whether it’s anxiety or boredom, the thinking self has a hard time detaching from thoughts because it’s designed to analyze and produce content. If I’m really caught up in something, I’m usually thinking about a million things at once and not really considering the present moment.
The observing self is something quite different. It’s the part of our mind that is watchingourselves experience something and it’s been with us ever since we were born. The observing self can’t think or respond, it just notices. When we’re meditating, we are making contact with this part so that we can dispassionately observe our thoughts. The point of the observing self is literally to observe, without judgement.
The thinking self might say “why the hell did you do that?” while the observing self notices the rise of anxiety in your stomach, the desire to condemn yourself, and the response you’re having to the thoughts.
The observing self is the sky and the thinking self are the clouds that make up the sky.
When we’re thinking, the sky gets filled up with different shapes of clouds with different intensities and textures. Sometimes the clouds are so intimidating that we get scared and run for cover out of fear of what these clouds mean. However, the sky is really unconcerned with these clouds because it knows they will come and go. The sky simply notices the clouds forming and parting and silently observes while the clouds change.
The observing self is a great place to tap into when you’re feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed because it offers you a haven where you’re invited to simply notice the thoughts, feelings, and reactions that are forming inside of you. The way to get there is through meditation first. Once you’ve gotten used to meditation and how to get yourself into a meditative state, it’s a lot easier to access the observing self.
Mindful meditation is never about emptying your mind because that is impossible; Not even the holiest and most Zen meditation masters can accomplish this. The goal of meditation is to just watch your thoughts, your breathing, your sensations and that’s it. Like players on a stage, you’re watching the scene unfold without any desire to control or manipulate what you’re seeing.
Contacting your observing self is a really amazing thing. You will likely notice some pretty remarkable insights show up as a result of doing this. Start by paying attention your breath. You’ll notice that your mind will start to wander and each time that happens, I invite you to gently bring your attention back to your breath. This will help to gently bring your observing self to the forefront of your mind and allow to contact it more and more.