Dear Candy - Cultivating the Curious Observer
Can you explain more about the curious observer and how to cultivate it?
The curious observer goes by many different names: the witness, neutral observer, witness consciousness, non-attached self observer, mindfulness, etc.
The idea behind it is this. We have two parts to our minds: 1) the action mind (aka the one who is doing the thinking & feeling), and 2) the observing mind (the one who is removed, watching the thoughts & emotions). The observing mind is one of simple awareness, the part of you that notices & watches, fully present in the moment, without judgment, attachment, or trying to change anything.
“The witness is your awareness of your own thoughts, feelings & emotions. Witnessing is like waking up in the morning and then looking in the mirror and noticing yourself - not judging or criticizing, just neutrally observing the quality of being awake.” (Ram Dass)
Cultivating the curious observer is key in rewiring the brain. We cannot change what we are not aware of, so the first step toward change becomes enhancing this capacity within ourselves. Then we can truly begin to notice our thoughts and feelings and whether they are in alignment with moving forward or staying stuck. Once we have that awareness, from this detached place, we have choice as to whether we are going to continue entertaining that thought or redirect. We begin to more deeply recognize that we are not our thoughts or our emotional states, and with that separation from them, actively changing them becomes a lot easier.
There are many ways to cultivate the curious observer. The most common is through meditation and mindfulness practices. You will find below a link to a short youtube video that offers one way to practice. Other ways include mindful eating, guided meditations, watching your breath as you breathe in and out. Get really curious with yourself about who is the one doing the noticing. As you connect with that part, you may start to notice that thoughts come and go, as do feelings, but they are separate from you. It is as if you are watching a movie rather than being in the movie.
If you have a lot of symptoms that show up in the body, staying away from meditations that include a body scan is probably best. Stick to guided imagery, self compassion practices, or ones that focus on the breath. The Insight timer app is a great place to get free meditations, ranging from a few minutes to over an hour. There are descriptions with each meditation so that you can get a sense of what is being offered.
The key to cultivating the curious observer is practice. Find a way that works for you and keep repeating it. As with any skill, repetition is what helps us become more competent and capable. Then eventually we start to take the observer with us wherever we go, not just in the moments that we are intentionally practicing. This can be really useful in catching the automatic negative thoughts and emotions in the moment when they arise. And even when we get caught up in one, we pull ourselves out much more quickly and choose what we want to think & feel instead. When we reach that place and do it consistently throughout our days, that’s where the magic happens. The old pathways really get pruned away and the new ones reinforced, and rewiring gets a whole lot easier!
Next week: More on optimizing sleep
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Candy Widdifield is Registered Clinical Counsellor, Wellness Coach, and Registered Reiki
Master Teacher in Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada. She works with people all over the world, helping them to optimize their wellbeing and thrive in their lives. Her modalities include coaching, therapy, Reiki and the Safe & Sound Protocol. More information about Candy can be found at www.candywiddifield.com