Observation: your greatest ally

Person looking through a hole.

Mastering the mind: detach and observe.

Let’s look at the difference between the mind trying to structure your experience and clear, open observation.


The word seems innocuous enough, but when you find yourself using it in the context of your spiritual work (and I promise to come up with a better term than this), it’s a cue to stop and take notice. Your Personal Mind App (PMA) may be piloting the plane.

Consider the example of fear.

Le’ts say you are experiencing a lot of change in your life. Things that you always took for granted as being solid and real are shifting about like quicksand. You feel fear, or apprehension. Not just about the outcome, but about the whole process.

What happens: First, there is the feeling (pure energy in the body). Then, a very basic part of your program names it. Fear. Your PMA scoops it up and takes ownership: “I am afraid!” So we go from a powerful energy arising in your body that is named and then owned. This happens in the space of a second, so you may never be aware of it.

Next, your mechanical mind, the one that chatters at you day and night, starts talking to you about it. This is where all kinds of convoluted ideas get injected into your experience, including should — which is more accurately shouldn’t, because when you say you should, you are in many cases saying you shouldn’t be doing, thinking or feeling something that you are. So something is happening in the moment and you are saying it shouldn’t be happening. You feel fear and you judge that trust is better than fear, so you’re going to ride the raft of should from fear to trust.

The problem is, the level of mind you are dealing with, the one that takes ownership and chatters at you, isn’t built to trust or love.

It’s designed to be in control, to take ownership of experience, to deconstruct the whole into parts and to stay alive.

Everything I’ve just said is really not important. It’s not necessary to understand it in order to do what’s really important and useful, and that is: know the difference between the mind working to structure experience and clear, open observation.

Mind structuring: There is a feeling of constriction, of tightness. You feel your consciousness literally in your head. Your mind closes in on the experience and starts taking it apart, judging aspects of it, comparing it to other experiences, stuff you’ve read, what you should and shouldn’t be doing. The whole affair is an act of constriction.

Observation: The nervous system relaxes as you expand your awareness to include all aspects of your current, real lived experience. You become larger so that you can hold it, with enough space to be apart from it, viewing it, not in it trying to get out of it. As you give room to the feeling or experience, it may change and unpack itself, showing you even more of what’s beneath and within it.

You then expand more and more as necessary until, in this example, the fear, is allowed to be just as it is, as large as it is, in whatever fashion it is. It has plenty of room and there is no struggle against it and no getting caught in it. It is there, as it is. You are fully there with the experience, but you haven’t taken ownership of it. Since you don’t own it, you also don’t need to deny it and you don’t need to necessarily do anything about it.

There is enough room for you and it to be there. Personally, I experience my pelvic region become like a giant hollow bowl and my energy body expands from there out of the back of my body and my consciousness is not lodged in my head, but is expanded outward, like a giant halo from the base of my spine that expands out several feet to above the top of my head. You may feel it differently, but it is a physical, visceral feeling of expansion. There is also no mental narration that takes place.

Interesting things happen after this. Not that you need them to or expect them to.

The fear may resolve itself. Or it may tell you or show you things. Sometimes this is a very peaceful experience, but sometimes you may be bawling or having some other physical reaction.

The energy is moving through you. No matter how messy things seem, you can still remain in observation/expansion mode as this happens.

Can you notice the difference in feeling between these two states? They feel entirely different in the body. When you notice you are doing a boa constrictor move, can you switch into observer mode, and expand?

In the expansion/observation mode, there is no one telling you what should or shouldn’t happen, and yet, what needs to happen does.

You can practice this by picking a topic or memory that brings up a powerful feeling and just noticing in your body what it’s like to hold it with both methods: first with the PMA owning the feeling and constricting around it and then switch to the open observation mode and see what that feels like. Get to know the way you feel in the body when you are doing one or the other.

This is not just about feelings, but also relates to being in the “analyzing” mode. There are times where analysis is appropriate and helpful, but those of us who tend toward being analytical pull that tool out reflexively. We don’t even realize it is a tool, because it so dominates our mental experience. When you are analyzing, try to notice the difference between the way that feels and the way open observation feels.

The experience of waking up is not possible for sleepers to understand...at all. If you could understand it, you would be awake.

Understanding it does not precede waking up, it is waking up, they are not two things. Understanding it doesn't happen through someone explaining it to you, or gaining information from any source outside yourself.


Waking up, really waking up, you find yourself in a whole world of people who are in fact run by programs.

Some are rudimentary, some are very mechanical, others read the New Yorker or The Atlantic or The Economist, go to interesting parties and conferences and are more sophisticated programs.


Being awake can be pretty freaky at times, especially at first. It can feel like being lobotomized, but it is not that.

I promise you that the end of it is not supposed to be you staring out the window for hours on end, unable to rouse yourself to engage with this world in some way. Can you imagine a life in which you get through the disorientation and arise to meet the world as it comes to you, fully…even though it is pointless? Can you imagine expressing your ever-evolving true nature moment by moment, not merely acting out the tired empty pantomime of the persona? Can you imagine doing whatever it is you will be doing and feeling whatever you will be feeling, being fully alive and awake…even though there is no point?

More Basic Human

Mental chatter and deprogramming

Mental Chatter is the Mind’s Default Mode

There are parts of your brain that register and process various types of experience, and another that narrates it. In default mode, they activate almost…

Woman combing hair.

Under The Hood: Perfection

Do you have the Perfectionism Program constantly running in the background of your Operating System? Do you keep adjusting your behavior to satisfy its demands?…

Bush with the word breathe.

Learn to navigate your mind intentionally

How to interrupt thought loops and take control over your own mind. Still want to stay in Default Mode or are you ready for an…

Reader Q&A: I’m Having Trouble Turning My Passions into a Business

“I’m really interested in doing things. On the other hand, when it comes to translate an activity in a business idea. I’m stuck.”

The Covid Pandemic is an Opportunity for Massive Personal and Spiritual Growth

I’m in lockdown. Coronavirus has completely unwoven the fabric of my life. So why am I so damn excited? Grinning from ear to ear. Of…

Reflection of a bird and cloud in a mirror.

Center of Awareness

Are you on or off your throne? Your consciousness has a location and it matters where it is. Where are you? In any given moment,…

Dog wearing glasses looking at a laptop.

Reader Q&A: I Need To Break My Internet Addiction

Whether it’s news or cat videos, you may find you just can’t stop. Are you addicted to the internet?  Let’s step into our reader’s experience…

Spider in a web.

Deprogramming is Possible

Are you ready to update your mental default programming? I think what’s hard is not knowing where to apply ourselves…spending our energy in places where…

Dew on a spider web.

Inquisitive vs Acquisitive: Inquiring Minds Want to Know

The mind is not your enemy, unless its actions and mechanisms remain unexamined. Becoming intimately familiar with the levels, processes and different modes of functioning…

Man folding his hands over his face.

How to Avoid Negative Thoughts and Emotions

“After doing all this spiritual work, why am I still not able to stay positive? Sometimes I feel love, forgiveness, compassion toward people (and toward…

Room filled with furniture.

Everything Must Go!

Yes, I hear you. You’ve got stuff you need to think about. Work issues, practical issues, it’s not all just emotional stuff rattling around in…

Man standing outdoors.

Lessons From Day Trading: Dealing With Thought Loops

What can day trading teach you about mastering your mind? People assume my ability to master thoughts and emotions is a byproduct of spiritual enlightenment.