The art of observation is tough, and as stated in one of my last posts about getting out of your head which was about being more present in your own life, this topic of observation goes hand in hand. How often are you able to sit back and observe what’s happening around you or what might be happening directly to you and just watch – without reaction. As I sit here sipping my coffee with my house still asleep and quiet, I am pondering the same thing. I’ve been working a lot during my daily 10 minute meditation to focus on being present and not instantly reacting but Geez Louise that’s really freaking hard. We are wired to react, to take action, to “figure it out”, and to jump in and take charge. But why? My oldest son who is now 20, when he was just a toddler loved to ask the question, “But why?” and it would come out all as one word – like this “butwhyyyy?” So I argue that you ask yourself the same question, in a little toddler drawn out high pitched voice. Ready? “BUTWHYYYY??” Exactly. Why? Why do we need to react instead of just being in the moment, observing, noticing, totally present, and simply looking at what the situation is rather than solving it, stressing over it, or tackling it?
All the best advice I’ve ever been given always includes NOT to make any spur of the moment decisions and I think this should hold true during our day to day moments, conflicts, and situations that suddenly arise. I’m practicing this notion of mindfulness in the form of simple observation and although it sounds super stinking silly to just sit around and observe your life – it’s really actually working to keep my nerves a bit calmer, my anxiety a bit more at bay, and my day a bit happier. I know what you are asking, “What does observing your life rather than reacting look like?” I’ll explain now, but let me remind you, I’m still a student myself – so I get this wrong all the time, and honestly, I think being aware of my reactionary tendencies is the biggie here and I believe that for you as well, this simple awareness will help.
Here’s a snippet of my life and what I’m doing to practice “just observing”. Let me set the scene – it’s 8am and I’m happily making breakfast – until – my dogs start barking at nothing, probably just they neighbors cat in the front yard – but it’s like all hell has broke lose. My old senile Jack Russell is throwing himself against the glass panel next to my front door, the border collie is practically doing back flips, and the Chihuahua is barking like she’s on fire. Simultaneously Rowan (the 8 year old) starts screaming that Jaden (the 12 year old) is being a jerk and he flings himself on the floor in the kitchen in front of the stove crying, and that’s when I notice the smell of burnt bacon wafting from my oven. All in this exact moment my phone starts to ring and I see that this is a call I’ve been waiting for regarding an important project I’m collaborating on and I really really really need to talk to this person. Also a text pops up while my phone is ringing from my husband wondering if there’s any food ready and if I could run it down to the office for him. Oh, and then my doorbell rings with a package delivery and that sets the dogs into an even louder, more frenetic frenzy. Trust me, this is not an exaggeration. This is the real deal crap that we all deal with – and my life is not any less messy than yours, I promise!
Old me? REACT as I feel the panic rising, my chest gets tighter with anger and frustration, and I immediately jump in and take massive and totally unhelpful action. I try to answer my phone because it feels like if I don’t the world will end while simultaneously dragging all three insane dogs out the back door while I’m turning off the burning bacon oven with my foot and my phone is jammed awkwardly between my shoulder and my ear as I’m mouthing to my wailing son to please quiet down while I give him the “cut it out” signal with my other hand that’s not holding a barking Chihuahua – you know the signal, the crazed mother waving her hand in front of her throat like she’s going to slice it while mouthing “please stop, stop it, Rowan, please, not now, it’s ok, STOP IT!” Yeah, totally works every single time – this scenario – works like gold, everything just falls into place, right? NOT!
Now let’s look at the new me – well I should say – what I’m working on when it comes to the art of observation. Same scenario, different game plan. I start by just taking a deep inhale in and then letting it out. I look at the situation rather than diving in head first with the notion to fix it. What’s really important here? My sanity. That’s what’s really important here. I’m looking at my life like I’m a bird perched on a wire rather than diving out of the airplane without a parachute. I observe. All of this takes just a few seconds but it gives me time to think rather than react and it gives me time to process rather than panic. I take another deep breath and than I tell myself, in my head, what is happening. My internal dialogue goes something like this. “Rowan is upset and the dogs are freaking out and my phone is ringing and this call is important.” Just telling myself what is happening, like I’m watching a movie instead of acting in one, helps me sort out the chaos rather than being a part of it. I feel more at peace, more in control, and less like a pawn in the game called life where I’m tossed into the battle with no idea of how to win the war. In this space, I’m able to assess and then address. Now I can prioritize.
Here’s the good news with phones these days. You can use them to call people back and the stuff that seems so important in the moment can always wait, and when I observe instead of react, usually the wait time to get to the important issues are less and the end result is way more productive. The next step – I’m still not reacting, but instead I share my observations. I let Rowan know what I’m observing instead of trying to make it all stop. I kneel down next to him and tell him know what I’m seeing. “You’re angry with Jaden, he made you super mad, take a deep breath with me and tell me what happened but first let’s get the dogs outside so I can really hear you.” Next, dogs go outside but without me wanting to kill them one by one. At this point, the call has gone to voicemail and once my life is back in order and the burnt bacon is out of the oven and the noise has diminished I can move on to the next thing – with a lot more peace and lot more focus. Observe first, and instead of reacting, take the appropriate action.
Does it always work this beautifully? No way – that would be me just making stuff up if I told you that. However, it helps me stay calm, more focused, and less crazy. Not reacting feels really really good. It gives me a sense of awareness that I didn’t have before and I can talk myself through the situation rather than being in the eye of the storm because no one can make a smart decision in the middle of a tornado, but when you are observing one, you usually have time to figure out how to get out of the way.
Now it’s your turn. Give it a try, see how the art of observation might give you more peace and clarity and holy guacamole, it might even make you a healthier person because you’ll ratchet down that stress level a TON. Let me know what you think? Have you tried this tactic? How’s your meditation practice going? Have you noticed other changes in your own life because of it?