Friday, April 25, 2008

Thinking Self and Observing Self

The book I'm reading makes a distinction between the thinking self and the observing self.  I find it quite a good distinction - the thinking self is all the thoughts, feelings, urges and sensations we have about life - all our judgements and thoughts fit are part of that self.  The observing self, however, is the part of us that observes what is happening and monitors and notices.  Our thinking self is just that - thinking - not good or bad, and certainly not the controller of what is.  Most of the time thought we act, I certainly act, as if it is.  I think this, therefore it is.  I feel this, therefore I need to pay attention to that.  Not necessary untrue, but not necessarily helpful either.  And that's the key question of this book - does this thing the thinking self is telling us (thought, feeling, urge, sensation) help us live in the direction of our values?  If yes - let it propel us in that direction.  If no, don't try and struggle with it, do things to "let it be" and keep living in the direction of our values.  This is profoundly different as well to much previous work I've done around psych stuff - rather than trying to change our unhelpful thoughts and feelings, we are encouraged to let them be and make space for them, but not let them dictate what we do.  There is place for lots of these different perspectives - but this is certainly the time and place for the ACT perspective that I'm exploring for me ... It's amazing how it's transforming my thinking and my life.  It gives me shivers regularly - and aligns so well with so much of my theology.

This morning I thought of another thing it changes for me.  With friends, colleagues and people who I am walking alongside in life, I often say "what are you thinking" as I can tell they are processing something.  This perspective puts new light on that - if I'm encouraging myself to not pay as much attention to every thought/feeling that comes into my brain (notice, make space for it, but not let fuse with it), how do I use that to influence how I relate and work with others?  I suspect that sometimes that will mean continuing to ask the question (making space for it) and sometimes not (not helping the person/us be fused with their unhelpful thoughts).  It'll be interesting to observe this and learn as I practice it.

Another helpful analogy with all this stuff that has been helpful for me is that our brains are like all the emails that are sent to us - without any filters.  As we get more filters on our emails we can trust more what goes into our junk mail and we might scan it quickly but we don't pay much attention to it - but those emails still come in, its just we don't get consumed by them.  That's been helpful for me.

If you can't tell - I'm excited by it all.

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