What is holding people back from living the life they truly desire?
I’d say one common and destructive thing is that they can’t control their worrying and anxiety.
They overthink worrying thoughts until they become bigger and scarier than they actually are.
They overanalyze and deconstruct things to the point that their anxiety overwhelms them.
Now don’t get me wrong: Anxiety can be a great thing of course.
It can give you energy, keep you on your toes, and prepare you to tackle future problems.
But getting lost in anxiety and worry can result in becoming someone who stands still in life.
I know. I used to overthink things and experience anxiety non-stop. It held me back in ways that weren’t fun at all.
But when I started devouring eastern philosophy wisdom from spiritual gurus like Osho, I learned some valuable techniques that helped me cope with my anxiety.
I still have anxiety, of course, but I’ve learned to deal with it more effectively.
One of the main reasons I’m able to deal with anxiety in a more healthy way is because of a technique I learned from Osho on the “art of observing the mind”.
So, what does it exactly mean? And most importantly, how do you go about it?
Becoming the observer simply means taking a step back from your mind and becoming aware of your thinking patterns and how you’re responding to things.
In this article, I’m going to go over Osho’s wisdom to talk about what it really means to become an observer of the mind, how it can help you reduce worry and anxiety, and how you can go about it.
Let’s get started.
What does “becoming an observer of the mind” mean?
If you haven’t read much of Osho’s wisdom before, or other eastern philosophers, then you might not understand what being an observer means.
But it’s a powerful concept, and it’s crucial to understand if one is to successfully practice meditation and find true inner peace.
It may sound a little strange, particularly if you believe that you are your mind, so how is it possible to observe it?
But first, we need to make a distinction between the mind and you.
The mind is part of you, but not all of you.
Perhaps this best summed up by this quote from Eckhart Tolle:
“What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.”
In other words, it’s important to realize that thinking is only a small aspect of consciousness. Thought cannot exist without consciousness, but consciousness does not need thought.
Osho describes this eloquently, comparing the mind to body functions such as the heart beating and the lungs breathing.
“Just like your heart goes on beating constantly, your mind goes on thinking constantly; just like your body goes on breathing constantly, your mind goes on thinking constantly; just like your blood goes on circulating constantly and your stomach goes on digesting continuously, the mind goes on thinking constantly.”
“There is no problem in it; it is simple. But you are not identified with the blood circulation; you don’t think that you are circulating. In fact you are not even conscious that the blood circulates; it goes on circulating, you have nothing to do with it. The heart goes on beating; you don’t think that you are beating.”
In short, becoming the observer simply means taking a step back from your mind and becoming aware of your thinking patterns and how you’re responding to things.
How do you learn to become an observer of your mind?
According to Osho, becoming an observer is a bit like someone sitting by the side of a river watching the water flow:
“Become an observer of the currents of thought that flow through your consciousness. Just like someone sitting by the side of a river watching the river flow by, sit by the side of your mind and watch.
“Or just as someone sits in the forest and watches a line of birds flying by, just sit and watch. Or the way someone watches the rainy sky and the moving clouds, you just watch the clouds of thoughts moving in the sky of your mind. The flying birds of thoughts, the flowing river of thoughts in the same way, silently standing on the bank, you simply sit and watch.”
“It is the same as if you are sitting on the bank, watching the thoughts flowing by. Don’t do anything, don’t interfere, don’t stop them in any way. Don’t repress in any way. If there is a thought coming don’t stop it, if it is not coming don’t try to force it to come. You are simply to be an observer….”
Once you learn to treat your mind like a river you flowing by, Osho says that you’ll begin to understand that you and your thoughts are truly separate:
“In that simple observation, you will see and experience that your thoughts and you are separate – because you can see that the one who is watching the thoughts is separate from the thoughts, different from them. And you become aware of this, a strange peace will envelop you because you will not have any more worries.
“You can be in the midst of all kinds of worries but the worries will not be yours. You can in the midst of many problems but the problems will not be yours. You can be surrounded by thoughts but you will not be the thoughts…
“And if you become aware that you are not your thoughts, the life of these thoughts will begin to grow weaker, they will begin to become more and more lifeless. The power of your thoughts lies in the fact that you think they are yours. When you are arguing with someone you say, “My thought is”. No thought is yours. All thoughts are different from you, separate from you. You just be a witness to them.”
Observing the mind is also known as meditation
If you’re looking to practice the art of becoming an observer of the mind, then look no further than practicing meditation.
Osho says that the main goal of true meditation is becoming a witness of the mind. In fact, he even says that meditation is another name for observing.
“Meditation starts by being separate from the mind, by being a witness. That is the only way of separating yourself from anything. If you are looking at the light, naturally one thing is certain: you are not the light, you are the one who is looking at it. If you are watching the flowers, one thing is certain: you are not the flower, you are the watcher.
“Watching is the key of meditation. Watch your mind. Don’t do anything – no repetition of mantra, no repetition of the name of god – just watch whatever the mind is doing. Don’t disturb it, don’t prevent it, don’t repress it; don’t do anything at all on your part. You just be a watcher, and the miracle of watching is meditation. As you watch, slowly mind becomes empty of thoughts; but you are not falling asleep, you are becoming more alert, more aware.
“As the mind becomes completely empty, your whole energy becomes aflame of awakening. This flame is the result of meditation. So you can say meditation is another name of watching, witnessing, observing – without any judgment, without any evaluation. Just by watching, you immediately get out of the mind.”
Becoming an observer of the mind is a different state of mind. It’s taking a step back from your mind and observing it without judging what’s happening in your mind.
(To dive deep into mindful techniques to help you practice the art of observing your mind and accepting your emotions, check out Hack Spirit’s eBook: The No-Nonsense Guide to Using Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy for a Better Life)
Understanding the Observing Mind and the Thinking Mind
A perfect way to begin understanding the art of observing the mind is to look to Zen philosophy’s idea of two minds.
In Zen, they commonly refer to the “Thinking Mind” and the “Observing Mind”.
Western psychology therapies such as Acceptance-Commitment Therapy (ACT) are only recently beginning to see how powerful this concept can be.
The first thing we need to realize is that if the Thinking Mind is a car then we don’t have full control of the vehicle.
For instance, if I told you right now to NOT think about a pink elephant, you probably still will.
What happened here was that your Observing Mind was watching your Thinking Mind picture pink elephants, even though you were telling your Thinking Mind not to.
The Thinking Mind is always producing thoughts and if we aren’t accustomed to using our Observing Mind, then we get ourselves lost in our Thinking Mind.
This is the same for emotions, such as anxiety and stress, and it is where a lot of suffering comes from.
We can’t help but get sucked into the negative emotions, rather than taking a step back and observing them.
A lot of our psychological stress comes about because we don’t recognize the difference between the Thinking Mind and Observing Mind.
Why you can’t control negative emotions or thoughts
People often wonder how they can stop themselves from experiencing negative emotions like anxiety, nervousness, or anger, but the truth is, you don’t.
Because you can’t control your Thinking Mind. Your Thinking Mind will continue to produce thoughts. Your emotions will continue to pop up.
But the trick is not to identify with those emotions when they occur.
This is why Zen philosophy advises saying “I feel anger” rather than “I am angry”.
You can’t control your emotions, but you can control your behavior.
Negative emotions occur spontaneously. We all produce them, and unfortunately, that’s not going to change.
No matter how many positive thoughts you try to think, or therapies you engage yourself in, negative thoughts and emotions will pop up. It’s just part of being human.
But you can learn to accept them, avoid identifying with them, and then act despite them.
The problem with trying to get rid of anxiety is that the more you try, the stronger the emotion will become.
As the old saying goes: “What you will resist will persist.”
Negative emotions are a bit like quicksand. The harder you try to get out, then further into the sand you sink.
Instead, a better approach is to accept your negative emotions, avoid attaching to them, and then move on.
This isn’t easy to do, and it takes practice. The key idea to understand is that there are two minds, and you are only in control of one of them.
As I said above, learning to use your Observing Mind is difficult but with practice, you can better at it.
If you’re struggling with meditation, you’re likely confusing ancient and modern practices
As we mentioned above, meditation is the perfect practice to learn the art of observing the mind.
The problem is: If you haven’t grown up practicing meditation, it’s difficult to know how to go about it.
You may have noticed that every time you sit down to try and meditate, your Thinking Mind starts wandering quickly and you lose ‘focus’.
Instead of being the vehicle for bliss that it is, meditation turns into an endless loop of “loss of focus” that makes you feel upset.
It’s not your fault. After all, you probably trying the wrong type of meditation.
According to meditation guru Emily Fletcher, there are 2 types of meditation:
1. Meditation designed for monks, and:
2. Meditation for the modern world.
Many people get stuck because they chose meditation designed for monks.
Yes, these practices work but they have a more difficult learning curve.
On the other hand, the modern meditation designed by Emily Fletcher is easier to learn and more enjoyable. It allows you to practice using your Observer Mind in a more practical way.
To learn Modern Meditation, check out Emily Fletcher’s free 80-minute masterclass on the 3 useless myths about meditation and a 15-minute example of Modern Meditation that’s well worth learning.
Here are a few more exercises to implement to help you get more used to using your Observer Mind.
3 techniques to help you use your Observing Mind
Whenever a strong emotion or thought pops up, don’t identify with it but acknowledge it.
“I am not anxious. I am feeling anxious because I have a date tonight.” “I don’t hate my brother. I am feeling hatred toward my brother.”
I am not depressed. I am feeling depressed”.
Language is a powerful way to frame the mind. This technique does 2 things:
- Helps you understand that negative emotions or thoughts are temporary states, and they are permanent.
- Forces you to acknowledge them and take responsibility for them.
Express gratitude for your negative thoughts and emotions. This is actually a technique from ACT. By being grateful for your negative emotions, it forces you to accept them.
For example: “Thank you, Thinking Mind, for feeling anxious for my presentation tomorrow. It’s giving me energy and keeping me on my toes.
“Thank you, Thinking Mind, for being angry at my ex-girlfriend. It shows how much you care”.
This might sound weird, but gratitude really is a great way to diminish the strength of the negative emotions and thoughts you’re experiencing.
This technique is useful if something is really bothering and you can’t seem to let it go.
The first step is to distill it into a single sentence, such as, “I feel irritated with my co-worker”.
Now close your eyes and imagine a carton character saying it, or a comedian you find funny.
Now, turn it into an image, maybe of your irritating co-worker, or of you sitting on the curb outside of your office. Put that image on a television screen. Make the image funny. Put colors in there. Make your co-worker’s hair look colorful and ridiculous.
The goal is to make the thought or emotion that’s bothering as looking and sounding absolutely ridiculous.
Take your time with it and try to make yourself laugh.
After you’ve done this for a moment, see how you feel. If you’ve managed to make it fairly humorous, chances are the negative emotion isn’t as potent as it was.
There are a few different ways to practice observing the mind. You might like to visualize your thoughts as pictures projected up onto a movie screen, while your awareness is “you” sitting in the audience watching the show.
Or you might like to picture your thoughts as clouds that drift across the sky of your awareness.
Another useful technique is labeling. This is especially helpful when you are doing a breath meditation or body scan and you become involved in a stream of consciousness, a thought stream, which is a distraction from your chosen object of awareness.
When you eventually catch yourself having drifted away, you might note that fact using the label, “thinking” and saying that yourself before gently escorting your attention back to the breath or body.
Learning the art of observing mind is something that takes practice, but when you become better at it you’ll be less of a slave to your thoughts and emotions.
As Osho says, “If you become aware that you are not your thoughts, the life of these thoughts will begin to grow weaker, they will begin to become more and more lifeless.”
“As the mind becomes completely empty, your whole energy becomes aflame of awakening.”
If you really want to learn the art of observing the mind…
Let’s face it.
Practicing meditation is crucial to learn the art of observing the mind.
The problem is, of course, most of us struggle to practice meditation.
We try to meditate like a Buddhist monk not realizing that they’ve practiced these ancient techniques for thousands and thousands of hours…
So when we try it…We get frustrated when a thought pop-ups. We become easily distracted. We struggle to maintain our focus. We become more stressed and anxious…it goes on and on.
And because of these obstacles, not only do we not find inner peace, but we give up trying to make meditation a habit.
What if you could learn practical exercises to be mindful throughout the day without having to sit there failing at meditation for 5 minutes?
This is where meditation expert Emily Fletcher comes in. In her course, The M Word (you can read my review of it here), she teaches practical meditation for every day, 21st century people.
This is the best resource I know for learning Modern Meditation. If you want to learn how to become better at using your Observing Mind, then I think this course has the tools to help you achieve that in a practical way.
The M Word is designed to teach you quick and easy meditation techniques that calm your mind, reduce your stress, and stop you from overthinking.
With each lesson lasting from 10-20 minutes a day and being structured over 33 days, M Word is for open-minded individuals that want to add life-changing meditation techniques to their daily routine.
The meditation techniques that Emily teaches targets things like:
- Decreasing anxiety
- Improving sex life
- Managing stress
- Decreasing migraine intensity
- Reducing insomnia
- Reducing ADHD symptoms
- Overcoming sadness
- Being present
But here’s what I loved most about this meditation course:
It does not promise or focus on elements like “becoming one with the universe” or “The Law of Attraction.”
The M Word is not about the dissolution of the ego, connecting with an ever-present life force, or more metaphysical elements.
Instead, it is much more practical. It’s about improving your overall mental and physical health with proper meditation techniques you can use daily so that your quality of life improves.
It’s self-improvement, 20 minutes a day.
So, if you’re dealing with a high-pressure job, or perhaps you’ve got to balance multiple kids’ social lives + your own side hustle as a budding stand up comedian, and you’re feeling that stress is overwhelming you to the point of inaction, then M Word meditation is probably a great fit for you.
As the founder of Hack Spirit, a site on mindfulness and eastern philosophy wisdom, I was especially interested in this course from Mindvalley.
While many readers of Hack Spirit are interested in mindfulness, they often complain that practicing meditation is difficult and boring – at least in the traditional sense.
But Emily Fletcher transforms how to practice meditation, bringing it more in touch with modern living.
For a sneak peak into what you’ll get in the course, check out Emily’s free masterclass.
This will give you an idea of how Emily teaches and what you’ll get if you sign up for the course.
You may also like reading:
- I was deeply unhappy…then I discovered this one Buddhist teaching
- How a regular guy became his own life coach (and how you can too)
- What J.K. Rowling can teach us about mental toughness
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