Detach to observe

Recently, I listened to a podcast by Mr. Tim Ferriss interviewing Jocko Willink. In that, Jocko described, and I paraphrase, stepping outside of himself and assessing the situation in order to gain a better understanding of the hostile situation he and his Seal team were in. With a greater perspective of the situation, he was able to take command and understand what actions to take. This reminded me of many passages in “Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius. The essence of observation, reflection, and perspective guided the hand that wrote those words. An example…

Remember that your higher self becomes invincible when it withdraws into itself and calmly refuses to act against its will even though such resistance may be wholly irrational. How much more, then, when its decision is based on reason and circumspection! Thus a mind free from passion is a very citadel… – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

We have incredible power and focus when we can hold our mental ground from the emotional torrents that sweep us in all directions without our even realizing we have been swept, all day long. Clearly, an everyday citizen has a softer and less intense existence than a soldier in war time. Regardless, the key step is to look at yourself from above as an external observer. To be clear, I mean to mentally construct an image of yourself and the situation from above and outside of yourself. When you do this, you see the situation more clearly and you know your thoughts. This powerful combination tempers your emotional view of the situation with a greater perspective.

With practice, you can see that extent of the situation and what the best options are. You will also see a person going through things that humans have been going through since our time began. This creates a distance from the situation and inserts a perspective that is broader. Here is an example of detaching and observing across humans over time. .

Look back over the past, with its changing empires that rose and fell, and you can foresee the future too. Its pattern will be the same, down to the last detail; for it cannot break step with the steady march of creation… – Marcus Aurelius

In the beginning reference to Jocko, he is a Navy Seal in a war training exercise or an actual war situation. In this example, he is likely pulling out far enough to gain a vantage large enough to see himself, his team, civilians to avoid, and the enemy in an area of battle. The ability to detach and observe is critical in most any situation wether hostile or tranquil. However, how far or how high you create your image will give you a different perspective. You can imagine viewing from a 300 foot tower, from space as Nietzsche did, or across history. You can imagine viewing across society as Krishnamurti often does. That same power of detaching to observe is referenced throughout his teachings.

Now, can we as individuals be aware of our conditioning, and is it possible for the mind to break down all this limitation so that it is free to discover what is truth? Because it seems to me that unless we do free the mind from its condition, all our social problems, our conflicts in relationship, our wars and other miseries, are bound to increase and multiply, which is exactly what is happening in the world, not only in our private lives, but in the relationship between individuals and groups of individuals, which we call society. – J. Krishnamurti, Can We Create a New Culture?, Total Freedom

This is a very leading question. It’s begging for an answer of being aware of how we think in any situation. When you can see how your thinking is constrained by some conditioning or a torrent of emotions, you can see other options. To do this is to become almost another person who is observing you. Isn’t it very easy to judge the mistakings of others because you are not in their situation? Of course it is. You must become an observer of yourself to do this. It is not hard. You just have to know how to do it and to practice it. Try it now.

  1. Visualize yourself doing what you are doing right now.
  2. Imagine being a different person watching yourself.
  3. State what see yourself doing and also state the intentions behind the action in the second person.
  4. Didn’t that create a shift in perspective that opened the door for alternate choices?

Some recent observations I’ve had for example:

  • I’m hard on myself, but what I am doing makes sense or is admirable in some way because I’m doing it for my family or to better my situation. This leads to relief and calmness in relation to my goals. I’m doing what I should be doing.
  • I’m acting out some pattern and being careless of another. Time to pause and check in with said person and course correct. This leads to empathy from me and trust in the other person.

It may seem odd to combine a Navy Seal that is a soldier for a nation, a leader of an empire, and Krishnamurti who is clearly the antithesis of a soldier for a nation. It is not. They are using the same principle of detachment and observation, but clearly they are applying it at different levels. Granted, Marcus Aurelius and Krishnamurti are more similar.

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