Swallows are playing on the air and skimming the surface of the water. Quail cavort in the bushes along the stream, and I hear pheasant squawking in the fields. Though near the horizon, the sun is still shining with brightness and warmth.
Life is exploding around and within one. There is no division, outside or inside, nor even as ‘outside’ and ‘inside.’ I look beyond the fields to the canyon and foothills, and see them as if for the first time. At my feet, a mother merganser with her brood of 7 new chicks swims upstream. She spots me and hurries them along.
Passive observation vies with insistent questions for preeminence in the mind and brain, but after a while the questions give way to silence and a deep reverence and seriousness. Standing up after an hour, I feel something beyond words and all description. One is empty; there is (though I’m hesitant to use the word) love.
Is the brain capable of observing without an observer? What is the observer? What part does it play in the division, conflict and fragmentation of the world?
These are crucial questions, not only for awakening the meditative state and for psychological health and healing, but also for ending the growing division between people and the increasing fragmentation of the earth at the hands of man.
The observer is the first division of the human mind, and from that illusory separation all other division originates. ‘My country and your country;’ ‘my religion and your religion;’ ‘my family and your family;’ ‘my self’ and ‘your self.’ Thought operates in dualism, and as long as thought rules, dominates the brain and human life, there will be war, poverty and ecological destruction.
What is the observer? At the most basic level, it is a psychologically separative mechanism constructed by thought, based on the idea that there are two things: ‘Me and my thoughts.’ So the observer is comprised of prior experience operating through the filter of memory, driven by the fundamental illusion of a separate, permanent self.
If, while sitting quietly alone in a spot of nature one seriously asks oneself, ‘What is the observer?’ one will see that at bottom it is actually nothing but thought habitually separating itself from itself. One will see that the observer is inextricably part of the entire movement of thought, though one experiences it emotionally as separate from that which it is observing, in oneself and the world.
Wikipedia gives this mistaken definition observation: “Observation is the process of filtering sensory information through the thought process.” That’s a definition of the observer, not of observation. It assumes that the observer and observing is the same thing, when in fact they are completely distinct phenomena.
By virtue and vice of being human, the psychologically separative mechanism within every person-–the observer —is the first and greatest impediment to direct perception and insight. True observation only exists without the observer.
You’ll notice, when you become aware of the observer, that it is an infinite regress. The observer never sees itself because it is always removing itself from the field of observation.
Indeed, thought cannot see itself separating itself from itself, from nature and from others, and that huge blind spot is what allows the observer to be continuously experienced as an entity apart. Truly observing requires awakening another capacity of the brain, that of passive awareness and undirected attention.
So can the whole brain observe the observer, and catch it in the act of infinite regress? Yes, and in doing so there is the explosive insight that the observer is really just another part of thought’s overall movement!
At that moment the separative trick ends, and one’s basic perceptual process changes. The effect is like holding a mirror up to a mirror, and both suddenly dissolving.
In this process of undirected attention, the ‘I’ doesn’t do anything, since any action of effort or will is still from the observer and self. Attending to the whole movement of thought, along with gently questioning the workings of one’s mind, ends the habit of psychological separation.
The brain is so accustomed to looking from the observer (that is, through the glass darkly), having done so for tens of thousands of years, that it falls back into the habit whenever there is inattention. That’s why being mindfully aware of what one is doing, thinking and feeling in the present, is so important.
Passive observation produces an intense, effortless attention. The fire of attention burns away the extraneous material of memory and emotion, releasing energy. It takes energy to release energy, but once released, the brain liberates its immense capacities for insight.