The Gentle Art of Observation

What a terrific website. This is such a unique and genuine service for so many people. It’s really touching to see so much compassion and friendship here. I’ve found that shy people can be the most compassionate and caring people in the world. My guess is that it has something to do with the transformative effects of suffering. Your stories have touched me deeply. In this spirit of giving, I’d like to offer something of my approach that has helped me journey from pathological shyness to self acceptance and a great reduction in social anxiety. Without going too far into a long story, my childhood was difficult and my circumstances were strange, so I felt I was an outsider from an early age. Everyday tasks such as catching public transport, going to the shops or talking to teachers was very difficult indeed. Later in high school I found some self esteem academically and I had strong ambitions of becoming a scientist. I surprised many people, including myself, by becoming dux of my school and going onto university.

At university I felt that no one need know that I was shy and that I had the opportunity to spontaneously change just by willing it to be so. For a while my sheer optimism did this for me and lifted me above my shyness. I surprised myself and even “made friends and influenced people”. However, not long into my degree I slipped into a deep suicidal depression as my unassimilated past caught up with me. Many issues surfaced and I pushed them under with hard work – work made much harder by my emotional burdens. I retreated from friends and eventually lost them.

I found, to my horror, that in addition to my course requirements there were some unofficial requirements – I would need social skills if I wished to attain my cherished dreams. I watched my fellow students find valuable mentors within the academic staff who were very willing to help. I watched my fellow students take up rewarding summer jobs within the university that gave them valuable experience. I could not even consider approaching the staff. Authority figures set off extreme paralysis in me. I could not even walk properly when passing lecturers in the corridor. The sadness I felt was overwhelming as I watched my dreams crumble before me. I looked for help from “counsellors” but found their advice to be shallow and dismissive. I slipped into denial. I finished my degree with mixed results and took a menial job. It was all I could cope with in the face of lost dreams and a deep depression.

My growing suicidal impulses frightened me into seeking real help. My therapist helped set me on a transformative path of self exploration. I learnt to consciously engage the “observer” in my everyday life. The “observer” is the silent witness that is with us all the time, taking in the world around us, feeling the feelings in our bodies and watching our thoughts pass, all without judgement. The observer watches without becoming coupled to and overly drawn in by experience.

I was taught that it was important to “be in my body” whilst observing, by feeling my physical presence and feeling grounded. Are you feeling hot, cool, tired, frightened or bored? Then feel it in your body. Watch your thoughts and let them move on. Everything can be observed – even the quality of your observation! It’s about being in the present. With practice, your observation skills will grow and you begin to guide yourself more naturally. After much practice and with gradual exposure to social situations I found that I could simultaneously take in the whole experience of the person I was facing, listen to them, feel my feelings and stay with them without lurching into internalised panic attacks. I could spontaneously converse without the crippling need for self-editing and self-censorship. I began to feel natural in more and more situations as I learnt to love myself more. I found myself worrying less about what the other person thought of me. I began to trust and let go of my deep layers of control.

As you engage or identify with the observer you find that situations don’t push you around so easily. I was taught to observe in a compassionate and loving sense. All kinds of conditioning gradually dissolve under gentle, loving observation and I found myself “loosening up” and feeling freer. Previously I had tried so hard to overcome and defeat my shyness with the aid of will-power, self help suggestions, affirmations and a ton of well meaning advice. It all just amounted to more conditioning and more blockage! The power is in the present moment and complicated thought systems can dampen that power.

To my way of thinking, learning to observe is the same as allowing a greater intelligence to look into my life to help unravel the knots. I haven’t got the complete perspective to see the shape of my knots but I can enlist help from the observer. I’m not really sure what the nature of this observer intelligence is but I feel that it is loving. I have a scientific mind and feel that many common notions of “God” are little more than parental projections, so I avoid using the the “G” word where possible!

I feel that there are some misunderstandings about “self-consciousness”. I remember many times being chided (gee, that really helped!) for being too self aware or even self obsessed! I believe that self consciousness is the seed that grows to transformative self exploration and that sometimes we need help to grow from that seed. I was delighted to see that idea already outlined on this wonderfully enlightened website.

I am now middle aged and have been with my soul mate for 7 glorious years and I’m loving my life. I have my pains and hurts to live with and I am still “quiet” but that is just fine with me. I wish you all the very best and thank you for sharing your stories and listening to mine.