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Self Awareness

The town doctor in The Plague by Albert Camus defines the good man as he ‘who has the fewest lapses of attention’. Maurice Nicoll, PhD states in his six-volume series on The Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky that ‘it all begins with self-awareness.’

If you are considering meeting with a psychological professional (psychotherapist, counselor, etc.) it will benefit you to understand that you are not ‘going to the dentist.’

At the dentist, you relax, sit back, PASSIVELY engage the treatment, and pay for your visit. The pain, we hope, is soon gone.

At these psychological types of meetings however, you will be asked to ACTIVELY engage in the treatment (and pay for your visit). The pain will continue and you will wonder when the ‘dentist’ will make it go away. But your active engagement is the crucial first-step to your gaining the strength that you are seeking.

Your active practice of self-observation is crucial to your research on your painful experiences and increasing your psychological skills. You must learn to begin working with the pain-creating activities that you bring with you. And your first tool in working with that is “self-observation.”

Yes, I know: “I am self-aware at all times and have free will” you would tell me. But there are a series of experiments that you will be asked to carry out, and in these experiments you will be able to test that self-assessment, under real-world conditions, to see just how persistent your awareness is and what you can do with it.

Just today I challenged a client with me to notice how he was drinking from his water bottle (which hand, etc.) here in the office. I urged him to be repeatedly aware of that small act here in the next hour and to change the pattern of drinking in just any small way every time he did it. He agreed.

Predictably (in my experience) he forgot the challenge about five minutes later and drank in his characteristic way for some time. Later I brought this to his attention and he laughed, recognizing that he’d ‘forgotten himself,’ was unaware of that which he was to be watching for, did the behavior in a fully conditioned and unaware way, as he always has.

Whether you and your therapist are studying thoughts, emotions, behavior, core beliefs, deep personal history, organizational behavior or the larger world, it is crucial that you understand the role you must actively play in this project. Without your commitment to repeatedly practicing self-observation, you’ll miss out on a thousand moments that can aid your progress and help build the strength that you are seeking. This isn’t something that the therapeutic person can do for you: you can’t purchase this from a weekend seminar or from a self-help book, or from all the prayers that you repeat. And it isn’t ‘navel gazing’ or ‘narcissism’ or ‘egotistical’ – in fact it is a corrective for all those.

You begin by making this commitment to repeatedly observe yourself without judgment or criticism or guidance or changing anything.  You start with just body posture and sensations, and then gradually expand to thoughts, emotions, reactions to others. You’ll be astonished at how much of you is conditioned, mechanical, un-free, predictable, habituated, manifested without choice or awareness. Some of that mechanical nature is wonderful: you remember how to drive the car without having to relearn it.

Some of that conditioned behavior is horrific.  It ruins marriages and children and organizations and sleep and friendships and nation-states.

And you can begin to do something about all that — if you are willing to practice ‘being the person with the fewest lapses of attention.’

 

 

 

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