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Monday, April 15, 2013

State of Mind: Observing Mind

The ability to observe ourselves is a distinctly human ability (as far as we know) and is associated with the frontal lobes of the brains.  It is one of the executive functions.

As far as we know, we are the only animal capable of observing ourselves and contemplating what is going on within us, and also about how we are affecting others by our actions.

This ability can keep us out of trouble by warning us about how we are coming across to others before we go too far and damage relationships. It therefore can help us to know what not to do.

The ability to observe outselves dispassionately gives us a means of coping.  It means that we don't always have to be fully immersed in our emotions.  We don't always have to participate in situations from a self-centered, me, me, me point of view.  We are not our emotions.  There is a person, an "I" or a soul, behind my emotions. 

We use observing mind in cognitive therapy.  There are two major steps in cognitive therapy: thought distancing and thought evaluation.  Observing mind is used in the thought distancing step.  We realize that we are having thoughts.  More than that, we can realize that these thoughts are not necessarily the same thing as reality.

I would also include here the concept of what I might refer to as "transcendent mind."  The transcendent, observing mind is capable of looking at ourselves and at our situation philosophically.  Philosophers call this "sub specie aeternitatis."  For a better understanding of this concept, see in Wikipedia.  We have the ability, as it were, not only to stand aside and look ourselves from the ceiling in the present moment, but we also have the capacity to imagine how out situation and behavior might look from a vantage point decades later or even centuries hence.  And the result is that we begin to see our problems, our needs, and our behavior in a different light.  In transcendent mind, our problems might seem quite small, just as looking through the wrong end of a telescope.  Instead of things looking exceptionally large, as when we look through the eyepiece of a telescope, they can look smaller when considered from the vantage point of eternity.  Emotional mind tends to make problems look larger than they might otherwise seem; transcendent mind tends to make them look smaller.