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Observing: So Much I Haven’t Seen!

The LovePOEM is a four-part love practice. The first step is to Pause. Pausing allows us the space to break habitual reactions—but, alone, doesn’t cause new behaviors to occur. It is a necessary first step, but not sufficient for behavior change. After we have Paused and established our equanimity, we are able to Observe our present moment and histories with greater clarity. As we enhance our ability to Observe, we see more clearly ourselves, our beloveds, and our relationships. As we develop our Observing practice, we gain greater comfort with the present moment, even comfort with discomfort, allowing for more options in how we wish to respond.

Until I became a parent, I was a great sleeper—I would fall asleep in less than 10 minutes upon my head hitting the pillow, sleep soundly through the night, and wake up 5 minutes before my alarm went off. Now, although I still don’t have a problem falling asleep, my sleep is often fitful. On the worst nights, I awake in the wee hours, unable to fall back asleep. When I prepared to walk the Camino Frances, I worried if I would get adequate rest in what I expected would be suboptimal sleeping conditions. While walking the Camino, I stayed in pilgrim hostels. I slept in a new room each night, on a bed and pillow different than my own, and always with a number of strangers. A few weeks in, I observed that how well I slept had nothing to do with the sleeping conditions—one of the best nights of sleep that I had had in years occurred on the floor of a medieval church, with only the thinnest of pads, in a room with a snoring Frenchman and his braying donkey in the courtyard below. Apparently how well I sleep has little to do with the sleeping conditions! This insight allowed me to walk the remainder of the Camino unconcerned about where I might (try to) sleep each night—my comfort zone was expanded. Similarly, as we Observe ourselves and our beloveds, we have the opportunity to see our assumptions, letting us then challenge fears based on those assumptions and engage in our relationships as we would wish with the clarity of love.

The goal of observing is to assess what is occurring in a loving but also objective, even disinterested way—as if you are a sitcom detective, solely interested in learning ‘the truth.’ As observing detectives, our goal is to state what we see, rather than judge, criticize, or censure. Psychologist Rick Hanson advises that we seek to let be, let go, and let in, with letting be the key.

To observe with clarity, we are trying to turn off our keen evaluative skill—and solely use our receptive, descriptive skills. This is not easy. Humans are meaning makers: we seek to find patterns and categorize. Added to our shared evolved propensity to be meaning-makers, I have spent two decades honing my skills of critically examining, categorizing, and pontificating—otherwise known as living an academic life. Although our incredible abilities to see patterns has led to great cultural advances, it also makes us prone to assumptions and dismissive of evidence that doesn’t support our world view; this is our confirmation bias. Given our shared and personal proclivities to making assumptions, practicing observing will help us see our love and fears clearly in our interactions and relationships.

As interpersonal meditation teacher Gregory Kramer states, “Love is the spontaneous response of the nonadversive heart. Put another way, awareness is inherently loving.” Finding comfort with observing, observing our places of ease as well as any areas of dis-ease, creates awareness, allows us to reunite with ourselves—with our nonadversive hearts.

Pausing is the prerequisite to observing—we ground ourselves in the present through pausing, allowing us the space and equanimity to observe objectively. Observing is a skill in itself, which many of us have not only not learned to develop, but may have learned to activity suppress. Certainly, before I began to investigate love and fear in relationships, before I was gifted with the LovePOEM, this was true for me. And, so, future blog will provide means to practice observing, to compassionately hold and accept our tender fragile selves, so that we can enter the sometimes-scary (always-loving) space of awareness.

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