This exercise encompasses one of the most fundamental skills in regards to practicing meditation.
Your ability to remain aware of your senses in the present moment.
It’s a skill which will form the foundation of almost all the practices on this website, in particular the introspection aspect of these practices i.e. how these exercises make you feel as you practice them.
The interesting thing about this exercise is that despite the inherent simplicity of what it is, it’s an exercise most people struggle with.
In part, because of the great amount of misunderstanding and confusion surrounding what ‘observation’ truly is.
And this happens for a number of reasons.
For starters, we severely overcomplicate what it is, thinking it must be so much more than simply paying attention to what we're feeling.
Instead, we develop this idea that it must be this highly-trained skill that only Bhuddist monks can attain following years of practice in a remote location.
So what ends up happening is put all this effort and strain into trying to develop this ‘zen-like’ state of mind, which ends up exhausting us more than it does helping us.
We become so distracted in the expectation of what observation should be, that we ironically spend all our mental effort judging and feeling pressured, rather than observing at all.
So let’s change that.
To put it into the most simple terms I know how.
Observation is nothing more than paying attention to your senses.
If you’re at a cafe for example, it means paying attention to the sounds of the people chatting around you, what the atmosphere around you smells like etc.
Because when you think about it, you’re already observing reality.
You’re already breathing. You’re already blinking. You’re already seeing.
You simply haven’t applied that extra step of making yourself aware of all those things which you are currently doing.
It’s literally that simple.
You don’t need to attempt to find something that’s not there, nor even manipulate your interpretation of what you’re feeling or thinking via thought or judgement.
Instead, it’s about noticing your surroundings, thoughts and feelings, in addition to any particular reactions you may be having to those aspects of your reality. Hell, perhaps you’re not even thinking or feeling at all?
That’s for you to discover.
Where I personally feel a lot of people explaining observation go wrong, is that they focus on this whole "really try to empty your thoughts" or "attempt to refrain from judgement" mindset.
Because it essentially implies that you have to do “more” to somehow achieve what is effectively an empty state of mind.
Which doesn’t make any sense, and is even contradictory.
You don’t have to change anything. Observation isn’t about changing anything or setting expectations. It’s the exact opposite of that.
Instead, it’s about observing what you’re currently sensing via your thoughts and emotions.
So don’t worry about trying to prevent your thoughts, or getting frustrating if you can’t stop thinking.
That’s precisely the problem we’re trying to address, and the way we do that is by focusing on the task at hand, which is observation itself.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that we're not necessarily attempting to 'achieve' anything with observation.
Instead, what we’re doing is exploring.
We’re exploring how we feel, how we think, as well as discovering what we personally find enjoyable and empowering.
So that we can better understand ourselves.
This exercise is outrageously simple.
Observe your senses.
Observe what you’re feeling. Observe what you’re thinking. Observe what’s around you.
The world is your oyster.
Observe all the various interactions that are taking place in your mind.
It’s about sitting there (or standing, or walking, or whatever you happen to be doing) and paying attention to what you’re sensing, whether it be thought, emotion or absolutely nothing at all.
And remember, you’re not attempting to change anything here. Instead you’re merely keeping note and acknowledging the cloud of sensation that is your reality.
Certainly, you may struggle with it initially.
Which is to say that you may not be used to simply observing, and instead be in a constant state of reaction and judgement.
That’s okay too. It’s why we’re practicing this exercise, so we can improve and develop these skills.
So don’t be alarmed if you find observation to be difficult.
There’s always a first for everything.