The Observer (chapter 51 from The Art of Being Human)

I was floating in outer space. Is that true? No. I was outer space.

Except there was no me. There was only space, aware of itself.

There were no names, no words, no categories. No memories, no goals, no burdens. Thought, emotion, form, and personhood did not exist.

Only awareness, without agendas, schemes, or concepts.

Just awareness, being aware. Observing nothing and everything.

A measureless, infinite field of equanimity.

Then the dextromethorphan wore off.

As I write these words, I’m in a body. My name is Andrew. I’m 5’11” and 300 lb. Thirty-five years old. I can be physically measured; and categorized by my skin color, beliefs, sexual preferences, and genitals. I’m far from equanimity- I’m too concerned with the thousands of conflicting thoughts and emotions I experience every day. I’m too busy judging myself for my perceived failings, and then coping by failing some more. I’m occupied with measuring, classifying, separating, analyzing, dissecting, ruminating, seeking pleasure, avoiding pain, caring about what others think of me, and convincing myself that I don’t care what others think of me.

I’m caught up in being me. Wrapped up in my own melodramatic narrative. I’m a walking soap opera.

Equanimity? Sounds boring. What would I do? Who would I be?

Then again, I’ve experienced equanimity. It was not boring. Boredom is a state of mind. There were no states there; only pure mind.

Simply put, everyday Andrew doesn’t have anything obvious in common with voiceless, nameless, changeless space, observing itself eternally with no judgment, analysis, or reason.

Except, there must be one common thread that connects that changeless space to this physical form. If there weren’t, then I wouldn’t remember existing outside my identity, beyond everything I know of that makes me a human being, an individual.

What is that common thread? How could one being know both form and formlessness? What possible connection could there be between who I am in this body, and the formless cosmos from which “my” consciousness observed itself?

Consciousness observing itself. There it is, the underlying thread.

Buried beneath all the layers of thought, judgment, identification, belief, opinion, emotion, and instinct, there is an indifferent observer.

The same observer from that infinite field of equanimity, beyond personhood; just awareness being aware of itself.

With all the ego and flesh stripped away, the observer is all there is left.

When the ego and flesh regenerate, the observer remains, but becomes less obvious in the noisy hubbub of being human. It gets concealed, but it’s still there. Otherwise, there would be no way for me to be aware of the thoughts and emotions that pass through my mind.

Thoughts and emotions. These are easy to identify with. Am I my thoughts? Am I my emotions? Am I my experiences? Am I my body?

Maybe so, in a way.

But then who is it that’s watching, observing, being aware? Could that be the real me, the core of me? Are the thoughts, emotions, and sensations merely objects to be observed, like the tops of clouds passing by outside a soaring airplane’s window?

Here’s a fun trick: try noticing the observer in you. Where is it? Can you find it?

Probably not any easier than you could look at your own face without a mirror or camera.

Is there any such thing as a mirror for the inside? A way to photograph the core?

Try looking into the eyes of another person. Look closely, searchingly. Probably ask permission first.

As you study the eyes, ask yourself, what is it that’s looking back at you?

It’s not their thoughts and emotions that are looking back at you, though you may see traces of their inner cognitive workings in their expression. Any thoughts and emotions they’re experiencing in this moment are in response to them looking back at you (unless they aren’t very engaged and are just thinking about lunch).

It’s not just their eyes looking back at you either. Eyes are cameras that record visual information. Data collected by a camera is meaningless in and of itself, without someone to observe the images. Technically, eyes transmit data to the occipital lobe of the brain via optic nerve. Then there’s some interplay between the occipital lobe and visual cortex, which all results in the amazing experience of sight.

But what’s it all for? Who is sitting in the control room, viewing the footage?

Awareness is. The other person’s awareness. Their inner observer.

And this is where it gets trippy: there is no inherent difference between another being’s observer and yours. Beneath all the thoughts, emotions, memories, beliefs, ideas, egoic clingings, experiences, and sensations that makes a person’s life unique, the observer is completely neutral.

There is no way that your observer could be different than mine, because the observer is featureless and formless. Its only characteristic is that it observes. It doesn’t feel; it observes feelings. It doesn’t believe; it observes belief. It doesn’t think; it observes thought. It is not a personality; it simply notices the personality. It doesn’t have a worldview; it is simply aware of the worldview generated by the personality’s integration of information.

Everything that seems to make us different from each other is in those feelings, beliefs, thoughts, personalities, and worldviews that the observer observes.

The observer itself, at the core of all sentience, is indistinguishable from one life-form to another.

That goes for if you’re a person, ant, spider, or anything else capable of observing reality on any level.

What if the eyes of others are not just windows into their souls, but also like mirrors that reflect back your own core, your own observer? What if deep within everyone you’ll ever meet is… you?

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