The Observer and Observed Effect

I don’t have much to write this week, except about a personal experience and resulting insight. So this will ramble, but bear with me, please.

I noticed during my meditation that thoughts arose in my mind only as a consequence of the differentiation between the Observer and the Observed. As long as I am able to separate the two, the separation creates thoughts. To remain thoughtless I had to find ways of merging these two. When I was able to do this, all thought activity would cease. But like water and fire, these two fused only in (and for) a moment, and would dissociate again.

What do I mean by Observer and the Observed? If one looks within, there is a substratum of existence, or reality, also called the absolute Truth, or Shiva, the all pervading and all knowing Self. The final voice of authority that seems to be presiding over our being, watching over everything. It is what we call as awareness, and existence itself, the sentience, and the ultimate authority within our being. It encompasses and represents the ideal within us. It is the Observer, and perhaps this Observer also represents the Jungian Self.

Then there is another entity within (I wouldn’t mind using the word impulse to define either of these !), which is distinct from this all pervading being. It is of a different texture from the Observer. This “other” within is the Observed, because its actions, thoughts, deeds are always being observed, evaluated and critiqued by the above mentioned Observer. The Observed is “less” than the Observer, it is not an ideal, but prone to faults, failures, fragility and vulnerability. Ideally, it would depend upon the Observer, and move towards it in motivation, hope and idealism. Perhaps the Observed is the Jungian ego, subservient to the Self ?

The duo is in a relationship with each other. Sometimes the relationship is complementary, and becomes like the yin and the yang. Sometimes the Observed needs help, and the unity is that of a mother and child, or mirrors our relationship with an external God. In some cases, due to adverse early conditions, the observer may fail in its role as an idealised God, and the Observed may be burdened into the role of God – a damaged Self.

Our relationships in the external world unfolds as an outcome of how this inner relationship is held, and vice versa. It can be symbiotic and affirming, or compensatory, as in cases of psychosis.

In our normal day to day life, the Observer and the Observed are two distinct aspects of our being. The Observer leads the Observed, sometimes with compassion and integrity, other times mercilessly, with punitive ruthlessness. As mentioned, the Observer-Observed couple seems to be a composite, a vector of an internalized version of mother child relationship of infancy, and the introjected (internalized) parental couple as well as the person’s requirements of an idealized relationship. The two are distinct, dynamic processes, and one wonders if they represent the Heisenberg’s Principles in Physics, for if we focus on the Self, we lose sight of the ego, and if we focus on the ego, we lose sight of the Self.  And yet, just like the absolutes of location and momentum, the absolutes of Self and ego are integral parts of our existence.

In normal day to day living, the interaction between the two – the Observer-Observed couple – is modeled along the lines of this internalized composite. Often, as a response the external stimuli, the composite dissociates into opposites to provide necessary compensation and council in order to manage the external situation. This splitting, this gap between the constituent opposites, seems to cause the birth of a thought. Thus thought can be imagined as a compensatory “object” sent by the unconscious to manage the external situation.

However, there are moments when the observer and the observed fuse, and become one, as happens in meditation. This seems to represent the union of the opposites. And like any fusion, there must be involved in this process, an associated release of energy. Perhaps it is this release of energy that manifests in various gifts of meditation, including the special powers acquired by maintaining a high intensity of meditative concentration. Perhaps the energy associated with Kundalini is one outcome of such fusion and transcendence of the opposites. In this union, the gap between the observer and the observed does not exist. Because thoughts arise as a consequence of a gap, hence this union, or zero gap state, is also called a thoughtless state.

In this state, the separation between Self and Other within is abolished, hence an external separation between self and other cannot be experienced, nor understood. So in those moments of this inner fusion, all perception of Self and Other is also abolished. This is not to say that in reality there IS no separation between self and other. Just that such a reality becomes irrelevant to the person, because it cannot be accessed.

From this, we can deduce that since a person loses the inner experience of separation, a person in this state of inner merger will be unable to comprehend any separation between Self and Other in the external world. There is no perception of any difference between self and the external object of perception. Which is the state of one-ness as reported by many people. Construed as a state, or an experience of non duality

Again, this does not necessarily mean that external world is non dual. It just means that the world appears non dual to a person in this state of existence. In other words, the person has acquired the ability to tap into the non dual aspect of the external reality. Is that the only aspect of external reality ? Is duality an aspect of external reality? We will never know. However, our internal worlds can be dual as well as non dual and we use those filters to see the world at different times. Where does this capability come from? Thats a different topic, but briefly, it appears to me  that the capability for non duality must arise as a consequence of our primal relationship, a merger with the mother, and the embodied experience of duality may be a consequence of the separation from the mother. These experiences get etched on the psyche as memory traces that may be accessed in normal, day to day living, as well in intense meditational states. But what is important is to recognise that these states are essentially internal states, and we have no way of ascertaining for sure if our external reality represents any of our felt experiences, just like we have no way of knowing what the color “red” really looks like, except thrugh the filters of our own color recognition apparatus.

This seems to echo the experiences of many people who have walked the path of spirituality. We have always been told “as above, so below” and “as within, so without” – all meaning what is not experienced within, cannot be experienced in the external environment. Conversely, it also means that in our external reality, we can only experience that which already exists within ourselves. So the separation that we experience from our environment, exists within us. And the unity that we experience externally, already exists within us. This insight is terribly important, for first of all it enables us to understand that externally reality posseses all potentialities that exist within us. This seems to indicate that within us lies the power that we project onto the external world. And secondly, the insight makes us aware that that which seek outside, can be only achieved by working on our inner Self. In other words, the external reality only mirrors our internal reality.

This leads me to an interesting conclusion. If our perception of external reality is totally based on our inner reality, then it is impossible for anyone else, from the external environment, to totally understand us. We can only reach a consensus on anything, but such consensual validity will always be arbitrary, depending on the experiences of the majority. Perhaps this is what Jung meant by his emphasis on individuation – the ability to recognize that the inner world of an individual is completely different from that of others. To enable this inner world to be manifest, to be heard is an ethical obligation of every human being. This also means that there is no teacher that can lead one beyond a certain point in life, because the experiences, and hence the inner worlds of such teachers and gurus will essentially reflect their own subjective reality. Their wisdom will only apply to them.

This insight reaffirms my gratitude and my respect for Vipassana Meditation, and Mr Goenka and his organization which brought this jewel to me. Vipassana emphasizes individual experiences, and only asks of me to be honest and attentive to those experiences, my inner truth, and discard the rest that I cannot experience. Its asks me to have faith in myself, for my faith in myself is the only, and the ultimate tool I have to understand the ultimate reality, the ultimate Truth.

The insight also validates my respect for my chosen profession of psychotherapy. It seems that the therapeutic relationship substitutes for this impaired Observer-Observed relationship – a relationship that is impaired due to trauma or adverse life situation. Therapy then consists of helping the person internalize this relationship, hopefully leading to a union of the opposites within, the merging of anima and animus. Like the internal Observer, the therapist is but only a witness to the unfolding of the intra-psychic phenomenon, session by session.

Is the state of non duality a desirable state? Is this what we must all be working towards? Is Nirvana then something that really absolves us of the cycle of birth and death? These are loaded questions, and come with their own subjective biases. Some of them are beyond my current experiences and so I don’t wish to dwell on them at this moment, being content with a simple understanding of the possible mechanism that underlies the two states of existence.

As a housekeeping issue, I am going to be away at the ISPS-US Annual Conference on Psychosis. As such, the next few weeks leading upto the conference are going to be hectic. I will try to squeeze in one more blog if something comes up for me, but I feel that my creative juices will primarily be tied up in preparing. So if I am not able to squeeze in another blogpost between now and November 5, know that its because new topics are being fertilized in my brain, and will be expressed as soon as I can find time.

Till then, take care. And thanks for your audience which makes it a pleasure for me to write.


13 responses to “The Observer and Observed Effect”

  1. […] matters is the essence of the moment – the experience of mindfulness. I become one with tea. The observer, and the observed are […]

  2. With havin so much content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright infringement?
    My website has a lot of unique content I’ve either created myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it is popping it up all over the web without my permission. Do you know any techniques to help prevent content from being stolen? I’d genuinely appreciate it.

  3. Thank you Madhu for an incredibly inspiring post!

    1. Hi Melissa,

      You’re welcome. I hope you got something out of it 🙂


  4. Bertrand Russell~ Man needs for his happiness not only the enjoyment of this or that but hope and enterprise and change.

  5. Thought provoking (and also thought-extinguishing 🙂 ) post! One of my favorite books on this general topic is “The Psychology of Kundalini Yoga” by Sonu Shamdasani. Perhaps you’ve come across it already; if not I would definitely recommend it.

    There’s a section of the book where Jung explores the symbolism of the Chakra system in Kundalini Yoga, and compares it to stages of psychological development. Here are some of my favorite excerpts from this section:

    1. Hi Kartik,

      Thanx for your comment and kind words. I did read the book, as I follow a Jungian approach in therapy and my work is deeply influenced by his thought. The book is based on a workshop that Jung presented on Kundalini Yoga, translated to English by Sonu Shamdasini.

      I was looking for more depth, and Anodea Judith (Easten Body Western Mind) was more enlightening for me.

      Perhaps Jung’s Western psyche could not grasp the full richness of this particular Eastern concept, although he struggled to make an effort, but this is just my opinion, fwiw. It could well be that in my following the Jungian orientation, I ask too much of Jung, forgetting that not ALL his books and lectures can be masterpieces.

      It is great to hear that it was of help to you. Carl Jung was a powerful thinker!


      1. Interesting. I think one reason that book resonates with me so deeply is because it was one of the first places where I saw the dots so clearly connected between the worlds of psychology and spirituality. Prior to that, I had been more fragmented in my thinking about these topics. Reading some of Jung’s works catalyzed an integration process for me.

        Carl Jung was indeed a powerful thinker. He is one of my answers to the question “If you could have lunch with any 3 historical persons, who would they be?”

        Thanks for the pointer to Anodea Judith’s work, I’ll check it out!

    2. Kartik,

      Jung makes the connections very well. I think it is because of him we have begun to make connections between such disparate subjects like particle physics and psychology. And of recent I have been drawn into cellular biology too. Everything outside is but a reflection of inner psychological states. We live, after all, in a holographic universe where every element carries the image of the entire universe within. This in’t just a cognitive statement but a psychic truth. One just has to become sufficiently attuned to experiences, thats all.



  6. Hello Madhu, lots here to digest and reflect on. My ears particularly pricked up at your comments ‘that there is no teacher that can lead one beyond a certain point in life, because the experiences, and hence the inner worlds of such teachers and gurus will essentially reflect their own subjective reality. Their wisdom will only apply to them.’ Yes, resoundingly yes – so perhaps it is the expectation that a teacher will lead one beyond…that is unhelpful. A teacher is there to lend a helping hand, eseentially but one travels on one’s own journey.
    I have had experiences of the Observer/Observed whilst in yoga nidra, the sleep of the yogis. If I can manage not to sleep but instead go to that deep place in between waking and sleeping, then I can observe myself as if outside and inside myself at the same time; and also sometimes feel my body as pure energy.
    Your posts are always a pleasure and stimulate me often in ways I can’t logically express. All best wishes in your preparations for your paper, and thanks,

    1. Karin,

      Thanks for your response. I agree about the teacher.

      Have little (no actually) experience of yoga, but it sounds the same as in meditation – that interim liminal space, Jung calls it imaginal space where the real world and the dream world meet. It is the space of transformation, a transformative space.

      As for logical expressions, they’re not necessarily needed. The psyche is anything but logical. Experience is usually illogical, beyond logic. And experience is all that matters…

      Thanks again.


  7. Dear Madhu,

    This clearly reminds of one talk by Jiddu Krishnamurthy on the Meditation, specifically how he speaks about the Observation – The Observer and the Observed moving from Duality (Dwaita Bhava) to Unity (Adwaita Bhava) . Great and truly inspiring. ……………. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Hi Sanjay,

      Thank you for your kind words.

      I should have discussed the process of naming earlier, and thanx for bringing this up. In psychology we use the terms Observing Ego and Experiencing ego. I did not wish use the term ego because different feelings are associated with the word ego, and they would impact the understanding. So I did pick these specific terms (O-O) from Krishnamurti’s work I have been exposed to thru osmosis, although I confess I myself have never read Krishmurti.

      The terms Observer/Observed had been heard, but meant nothing to me until I experienced this moment in meditation. I suppose in my psyche they lay as possible expressions, symbols waiting for a related reality to become associated with. In that sense they were used as mere symbols to convey my own inner experiences. That is exactly how all symbols are experienced and used….

      Once again, thanks for your comments.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: