One of the foundations of this program of individual spiritual growth is “self-observation.” We are multi-leveled beings. We have a body, but we are more than our bodies. We have many thoughts and emotions that come and go. We are even more than our life-long collection of thoughts and emotions. We are spiritual beings living for a relatively short time in physical bodies.
Just as the body and the mind are systems of many parts, so the human spirit is also an intricate system of many parts. And isn’t it such a mixture?! The Bible teaches, “The Lord saw… that every inclination of the thoughts of a person’s heart was only evil all the time.” Genesis 6:5
Jesus expanded on this by referring to those inclinations as having different sources – outside and inside: “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’” Mark 7:15
Emanuel Swedenborg elaborated on this further by explaining the spiritual source of those inclinations as well as the opposite source of positive, joyful qualities: “If we believed that—as is truly the case—everything good and true comes from the Lord and everything evil and false comes from hell, then we would not claim the goodness as our own and make it self-serving or claim the evil as our own and make ourselves guilty of it.” Swedenborg – Divine Providence #320
Self-observation is more than just thinking about oneself. We think about ourselves a lot, but this idea of observing our self is different. It means using the high-level human capacity for reflection to observe the various parts of oneself as if they were separate and distinct. When you can trace something’s origin, then you open up choices. When you can observe yourself in action in the present moment, it opens up the possibility of choosing a joyful response over a negative reaction.
We use this tool by observing some negative (or potentially negative) part of self, and then simply naming it “IT.” Think of what is happening in your mind or your heart as separate from you. Instead of asking “What was I thinking?” ask “What was IT thinking?” Instead of “What am I getting myself into?” ask “What is IT getting me into?” Often we observe thoughts and wonder “Where did that come from?” The answer is “From IT,” and we don’t have to identify with IT. We may observe emotions coming to us from out of the blue. They may show up as self-dramas, private plays in our minds. IT may show up as road rage and the rationalizations that support and justify our negativity. We may observe IT as an inclination to lie or make an excuse. The goal is to say, “IT is not me.” IT may seem like me because IT is happening inside or through me, but IT is just one of many negative “I’s” speaking; a separate “voice.”