Training the Mind to Step above the Fray as the Observer

Many people, if not most, are challenged when it comes to the idea of slowing, quieting or stopping their thoughts altogether, especially today when we’re all so inundated with constant flood of distraction. I learned a whole lot about the inner workings of the mind over my years of study through a practice of ‘stepping back’ from the activity of thought, which is like stepping out of the shoes of the ‘doer’ – the doer, being like the ‘character of Patrick’ – and stepping back to be the observer of the character. All of us do this to some extent subconsciously but we can do it consciously too with some practice. In doing this, I found it was as if I could slow down what normally occurs in a fraction of a second and view the activities of my mind. I could watch thoughts rising and passing in real-time, yet viewing them at a slowed enough speed so that I could observe the mental processes occurring that eventually would lead to a decision or a course of action.

Initially it seemed I could only observe, without influencing the decisions being made. So I just watched myself, especially in my youth, making a whole lot of impulsive decisions, many of which the world and hindsight might consider as ill-conceived. “I,” the observer, just sort of went along for the ride. Eventually though, I learned to develop an invaluable skill of ‘merging the observer with the character.’ I learned to pause the stream of thought altogether. Then, as the observer, I could invite and wait for some clear sense of intuitive guidance to come, and then I could make a more mindful decision, rather than merely watch my ‘character’ act impulsively again with little or no thought involved. Like myself, I think a whole lot more of us operate impulsively than we might like to admit.

If you’re a gamer you know all about the options for playing a game in 1st-person perspective – being embedded and immersed in the action – or as 3rd-person perspective, observing your character from a more detached view, watching the action from behind. This is a great analogy for the mind-observing I’m talking about here. The idea of observing your mind and learning to consciously pause the flow of mental activity, and then merge the active and observing perspectives is a skill anyone can practice and come to master – this is another powerful benefit of mind training. It’s also an invaluable life skill, and it can especially be helpful for those in our younger generations who are increasingly being diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, as well as for those of us in older generations like me who pre-dated such diagnosis but likely would have fit the profile well.