The title of this post is usually an instruction to take care, or look out for something which might be about to happen. However, in the context of this post it’s about exactly what it says: watching yourself. Specifically, it is about observing yourself from a distance, in the same way you might casually observe someone across a crowded room. It’s fascinating, at times mesmerising, and the feeling it generates is a mixture of the ordinary and the mind-blowing.
But what does it mean to observe yourself from the outside rather than the inside? And how might we answer the question which inevitably arises from such an experience: If you’re able to observe yourself from a distance, who is the you doing the observing? Or more simply: Who are you, really?
I’ve heard various versions of those questions before, but lying awake last month, listening to a podcast between Sam Harris and Loch Kelly, I felt I made a breakthrough. It wasn’t the kind of epiphany I’ve read or heard about so many times before (and secretly coveted), but a realisation that I have already experienced what they were talking about.
‘…throughout my life, I have put myself in uncomfortable situations because I wanted to watch how I reacted, coped, survived and dealt with things.’
The podcast dialogue revolved around the pointing out instruction from the Mahāmudrā and Dzogchen traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. What made the difference for me was the emphasis on taking the awareness outside of the self. It’s one thing to observe one’s breathing and thoughts, but it’s another thing to observe oneself observing those things. I’ve come across this before, but never has it been explained with the clarity of this conversation.
I was helped further by something Douglas Harding is reported to have said in the light of such a shift in awareness: “The Devil’s voice says, ‘So What?’” What he meant was that sometimes when people experience this major insight, they are underwhelmed and left feeling, ‘Is that it? What use is that?’ It would seem that the greatest truth is so simple and so close that even when it happens, we either miss it or overlook it’s significance.
So sit quietly and place your attention outside of yourself. Observe yourself from that place and notice the feeling of something greater than your self. Notice that it has a sense of being everywhere, pervading every aspect of existence. Notice, too, that you are intrinsic to it, and also that you are more aware, more conscious.
Similar perceptions are evoked by the captivating work and words of the animal communicator, Anna Breytenbach. In this interview she explains the process she goes through to connect with the common consciousness shared by all living things. At 13:43 she remarks that, ‘During the time of the communication I am largely unaware of self.’
The ultimate truth, therefore, is not just that we share consciousness, but that we are consciousness, (with the self being simultaneously a distraction from, but also a vibrant and necessary property of it.) That’s why we feel more conscious(ness) when we watch ourselves. It gives us a direct experience of who we truly are.
Most of us at some point in our lives feel as though we are being watched anyway, so why not be the one doing the watching and tap into the source of all connection and beauty.