Learning To Be The Observer

by Doc Barham -

As human beings we have the amazing ability to observe our experience. Unfortunately, most of us have never been taught to observe our experience. But if you learn how and engage in a daily practice you can discover quite a bit yourself and how you work.

Upon observation, one of the first things you witness is that you have thoughts. 

Those thoughts are coming and going continuously; a thought arises and passes away and then another thought and another and so on. People often talk about how they can’t ‘turn it off’.

It can interferes with life in any number of ways such as an inability to focus on the task at hand or listen to another person who is speaking or even getting to sleep at night. As a result, millions of people have resorted to taking medication in an attempt to fix the situation when they don’t need to.

Instead, they can learn a to do a few simple things differently and experience a great deal more focus, enjoyment and calm presence.

What most people don’t realize is their problem stems from the fact that they identify too much with their thoughts. 

When you identify with something you ‘I-dentify’, meaning you relate to it as if it is you, as in ‘I am this thought’. Believe it or not its hard to get rid of something you think you are, for as long as you think you are your thoughts then you will be highly identified with them, and therefore, continue to have more and more thoughts, particularly the same or similar kinds of thoughts.

Ask yourself this question: 

Are you your thoughts? If the answer is yes, think again, pun intended. Instead, consider that you are not your thoughts but that you have thoughts. In fact, you can observe this right now.

Try this exercise: 

Close your eyes. Now think of a pink elephant. Now open your eyes. Are you a pink elephant? No. Proof positive you’re not your thoughts.

This might seem silly but it illustrates a very important point and begs an equally important question: Who was the one observing at the thought? And where does this observer reside? Clearly, there is some aspect of you that is separate from the thoughts you have. This is the observer. The witnessing aspect of your consciousness.

Now try this exercise: 

Close your eyes again. Think of the pink elephant. Now notice the space around and in which the image of the elephant is arising. There are no thoughts just empty space.

If you continue just relaxing and noticing you will find that the observer resides in that empty space that surrounds each and every thought you have. Typically, thoughts seem to arise in the forefront of our head while the empty space seems to be to the back center of the head and the surrounding area.

If this is true, then when we have a lot of thoughts that we can’t seem to turn off we now have a place to go to get away from all the mental chatter. 

We simply step back into the observer position and watch. As each thought comes up stay in the observer position as the thought does what all thoughts do, arise and then pass away. We detach or ‘dis-I-dentify’ from the thoughts. When we do this on a regular basis we discover and experience that empty space as something which feels very peaceful and open and yet energizing at the same time.

Eventually, this observer aspect becomes a part of ourselves that we regain full awareness of again. In the eastern tradition, this is known as witnessing or mindfulness and can lead to a much greater sense of well-being and a happier, better quality of life.

If you continue practicing, in the process, you will find that you realize quite a bit about yourself and the way you work. Maybe the Owner’s Manual For Being Human’ does exist and maybe it is right inside you.


The next time you feel agitated or upset with a head full of thoughts simply observe the thought, then shift your awareness into the empty space that surrounds the thought until you experience the felt sense of peace and open spaciousness that is truly you. Do this repeatedly until you can stabilize resting in the observer.

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