Observing Yourself

Coach Heidi
What would happen if you observed your patterns without judgment?

How adept are you at stepping outside yourself and observing your own patterns? Think of this as mindfulness 2.0. I get the sense this is something many people don’t put a lot of energy into, either because life has them in survival mode or there are too many other things distracting their awareness away from what’s going on internally. I can’t say I’m always fantastic at observing my inner life either, but it’s something that I’m actively practicing. It’s quite illuminating, really. It’s both fascinating and maddening to observe yourself following a current that you know may well take you right over a waterfall, and yet even knowing this, you still hit what feels like an invisible barrier when you try to shift the pattern and respond differently. Just like anything, it gets easier with practice. Sometimes I can respond differently. Sometimes I can’t. It takes continual practice and lots of self-compassion. I don’t feel like I know what I’m doing or that I’m making any progress half the time. Turns out there’s a bit of an art to observing yourself.

Have you ever started making something, maybe a painting or a wool hat or a bookshelf, or even when trying to eat healthier or exercise more, and at some point you get to a place where it seems much easier to set the project down rather than continue to work on it? So often it’s tempting to say, “Well, this isn’t going well. It’s simply not worth it to put in any more effort.” So you put the project down. You no longer have to worry about messing it up, but you also don’t give yourself the chance to learn something from the process.

Practicing mindfulness in the form of introspection is similar. You try really hard to step outside your thoughts, your reactions, your deeply ingrained tendencies to respond in a certain way, and then it gets too hard. It is frustrating to continually go down those old rutted paths—and it’s almost worse to consciously observe your- self doing it, right? It’s exhausting in a whole new way. It would be much less painful to go back on autopilot.

However, isn’t it more exhausting (in the long run) to be continually swept away in your own current of patterns that has let you down time and time again? To allow yourself to sink into those old ruts that you know will catch you, even if they leave you battered and bruised shortly thereafter? It can feel like those old ruts, those riptides composed of old programming and childhood wounds and cultural bias, are a lifeboat. There is, of course, something to be said for going with the flow and letting fluidity into your life. But there is also something to be said for being able to pull yourself out of a current when you need to, in being able to swim the other way instead of just letting that self-abusive raft carry you away on a river of clouded vision. Not all rivers take you where you need to go, even if you’ve been on the same one for the last forty-five years. Sometimes you need to portage, or walk upstream, or take a break from the water entirely to get your bearings.

Accepting yourself as you are is hard, just like making art or music or other creative projects is hard. Making changes to your lifestyle or your personal expectations of yourself is hard too. Making changes to how you interact with your family, community, or the dominant cultural narrative? Also hard. But when you keep doing hard things, practicing and trying again, you get something back, even if it doesn’t always look how you thought it would.

Observing is hard work. You will be swept away on the clouded river time and time again. It’s okay. Every time it happens, you have another chance to practice pulling yourself out of the current. When you keep doing it and practicing and trying again, you get some- thing back: yourself. Even if you look different than you thought you would.

Modified excerpt from Collisions of Earth and Sky, which is available anywhere books are sold. 
Posted on MHC by permission of Broadleaf Books, an imprint of 1517 Media.

When you keep doing it and practicing and trying again, you get something back: yourself. Even if you look different than you thought you would.

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