In course of my attempts at meditation (more or less daily, since the past 5 years and more intermittently for a few years prior to that), I have repeatedly come across the issue of the classical triad of observer, observed and the observation. During the process of meditation, there is a distinct demarcation, a veritable split in the being of the meditator.
The I whom we commonly identify with, metamorphoses into something else two separate Is (for the lack of a better description). Suddenly, the one I whose life was defined and in fact driven by his sensory experiences becomes two and the second I starts observing the experiences of the first I. Maybe this happens all the time, but for some reason it isnt obvious.
Classical meditation texts recommend that the observer should be detached from both the observed as well as the observations. This detachment will lead to great insights and help break the cycle of circular sensuality and the wheel of causality (Karma). This is perhaps easily grasped at an intellectual level. However, it is not that evident (as a matter of fact, it is extremely difficult to achieve) to a beginning practitioner.
In the preliminary stages of meditation (Im speaking from personal experience, so if the more experienced readers disagree, please do feel free to correct me), the problems of focus, effortless concentration and basic detachment are dealt with. Let me elaborate
The form of meditation I pursue actively (about which I have written several times in the past) is through Tai Chi Chuan and its standing variations. The first phase of meditation was in learning the physical aspect of this art physical alignments, the mechanics of the Tai Chi forms (how do I perform Grasp Sparrows Tail, Wave hands like Clouds, repulse monkey, and so on). The physicality progresses from the easy to complex (as is the case with most teaching methods), at least at the first layer of learning.
As forms become ingrained into muscle-memory and memory in general, the finer details of the system start emerging forth. What is going on under the skin is what the practitioner starts focusing on (or rather subtler sensory phenomena become evident, such as the tingling, warmth and flowing sensations that accompany Chi awareness). The sensations vary from day to day and generally grow more coherent and strong with time. For instance, which Chi can be initially felt as tingling (as in very mild electric shock) initially, it can become a sensation of continuous flow of energy under the skin and in the muscles, etc as the practice matures.
Once the practitioner gets rooted in his practice (becomes somewhat comfortable with the physical and energetic aspects of the practice), he gets to slowly start observing his thoughts. There is something in the physical and energetic system of practice that allows this split to happen (I know it can happen through seated meditation such as Vipasana as well). There is suddenly an awareness of one's flow of thoughts.
Think of this as a constant white-noise which we have pushed to the background and have basically learnt to mask out. The thought-stream is like this white-noise, masked out of active awareness and is actually a driver of several of our actions. This phase also is a very arduous phase of meditation (I am still struggling with it). When the split between the observer, observed and observation occurs, one thing becomes painfully evident. The observed (thinker) and the observation (thoughts) are not always pleasant or nice. In fact, they can be very disturbing. These thoughts can (and in my case have) rock the very foundation of one's being (of one's self-image).
Side-note: We all have a self-image we have built over time and tend to carry and prop-up by our actions and (sometimes self-delusional) internal conversations.
As mentioned above, we do build and carry our own image and we do things (consciously and sub-consciously) to uphold (and perhaps enhance) that image. In a normally (emotionally) healthy person, this doesn't take too much work and a subtle and steady re-inforcement of this from time to time suffices. In the more troubled beings, this can result in large-scale fabrication of untruths, excuses, conditions to rationalize actions (which might be in direct opposition to this self-image — in other words, lying to oneself). The interesting thing about it all is that "normally" we don't really notice this. Most people don't know that there is such a steady background processing going on (and many think it is involuntary). Those who do realize that it exists might not necessarily have the wherewithal to deal with it.
So, coming back to the point I was making, the fork in observer, observed and observation is very painful. In my personal experience (and I'm still struggling with it), the holes that this meditation creates are akin to the sky-falling-on-my head (in hindi we have term for it — Vajraghaat). Is this what is termed as the Ego. For the longest time (as even more a beginner than I am today), I had somewhat of a conceptual/intellectual understanding of what the Ego is and what the ancient ones referred to when they talked about "vanquishing the Ego", etc. But this is a very painful process and something inside doesn't like it. When I ask my teacher about it, he tells me to be patient with myself and not get attached to the observation. If there are flaws in the self (that become evident), then my job is to start working to eliminate them (with compassion). I know there is no simple or one-fits-all solution to this matter…since that is what meditation is — an adventure into oneself. In this adventure, I am the adventure, the adventurer and all the dangers and trappings that are part of it. Hopefully at the end of this adventure, what/who emerges is a cleaner and more purified version of who/what started in the first place.
I know a lot of this sounds whacky (to someone who hasn't meditated). But to those of you who have, I encourage you to post your comments/experiences if it feels right. Sometimes, simply sharing your concerns or experiences can have a cathartic effect. It does for me (sometimes).
But this reverie of mine also led to the following set of questions —
If there can be an observer, an observation and an observation (all happening within a single human being), then who is this observer and who is the observed?
Who is thinking these thoughts (the observations)?
Who is pained by any seemingly anomalous patterns being observed? Is it the observer? Or is it the Observed? If the observer and the observed are both the same, then how can this divide exist?
Maybe oneday I will find out.
More posts by this author:
- The Maya and Karma Conundrum
- The Six Verses to Liberation
- Primacy of Consciousness
- Beginner’s Mind
- Blockages, Health and Dissolution