Being the Observer

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Sarah Parker

Change coach, therapist, human being, and founder of Well of Being.

While we were on holiday in Scotland recently, we visited the Fortingall Yew – a yew tree which is thought to be between 3000 and 9000 years old and one of the oldest living things in Europe.

Brian, my husband, finds all sorts of weird and wonderful places to visit, so as we drove to Fortingall I assumed we would take a quick look at the tree and be on our way again. I was very wrong.

As we stood beside the tree, I felt I was in the presence of something profound – a deep wisdom seemed to be held within the tree – a sense that within the ancient branches was a knowledge gained over thousands of years of watching the world around it. I imagined all the history from the past few thousand years which has been witnessed by the tree, from the first people who started settling and cultivating the land in the neolithic period, through the bronze age and the iron age to the Picts. The yew was present during the Roman invasion and later the arrival of the Vikings through to the more recent history of the battles for independence and the Jacobite risings.

This tree has borne witness to so much, and yet it remains solid today as a silent observer, surviving the turmoil. Watching but not involved; present yet unharmed.

The Fortingall Yew reminded me of the observer part that we all have within us.

 ‘The Observer Self’ is that part of us that is distinct from our inner world of thoughts, feelings and experiences. Imagine in your mind a movie screen where all that happens within us and around us is playing. Sometimes the movie is happy, sometimes sad or scary. The movie is always changing. Now imagine yourself sitting in the audience watching. This part of you, the one sitting in the chair watching is the ‘observer self’.

It is the part of us that notices or observes us living life with all the thoughts, feelings and experiences life brings, without getting caught up in them.

When we connect to our ‘observer self’, we can create a sense of steadiness, stability. We are not pulled about and controlled by our thoughts and emotions; instead, we are able to watch them. And despite what is happening in the ‘movie’, we the observer remain unchanged.

Our ‘observer self’ reminds us that we are more than what we think and feel in any given moment. Just as the Fortingall Yew, our ‘observer self’ stays true and firm, no matter what is happening round about us. We watch. We learn. And still, we remain solid.

With July love

Sarah x



How will I benefit from connecting to my ‘observer self’?

Connecting to your ‘observer self’ can help you gain perspective and create a sense of steadiness. When you observe your thoughts and feelings without getting caught up in them you can respond to situations more calmly and thoughtfully. This can help reduce stress, improve emotional regulation and enhance your overall well-being.

How can I practice connecting to my ‘observer self’

A really helpful way to practice connecting is through mindfulness. As you sit quietly, focus on your breath or something you can see or hear, and observe your thoughts and feelings as they arise without judgement. Imagine watching them on a movie screen where you are the audience. This can help to create separation between you and your experiences which can create greater calm and clarity.

What is the difference between the ‘observer self’ and dissociation?

The ‘observer self’ involves mindful awareness and presence. It is about consciously noticing and watching your experiences from a place of stability.

Dissociation is a psychological defence mechanism where the person feels disconnected from their experience and sense of self. The ‘observer self’ encourages us to engage with life from a place of calm observation whereas dissociation involves detachment and disconnection.

How does the ‘observer self’ relate to the Fortingall Yew?

The Fortingall Yew is a metaphor for the ‘observer self’. Just as this ancient tree has witnessed many events over thousands of years without being disturbed by them, our ‘observer self’ watches the many events we experience without being affected. It remains solid and unchanged as a stable point of reference amidst life’s turmoil.

Can the ‘observer self’ help with anxiety and stress?

Yes! By watching your anxious thoughts and feelings without reacting to them, you create distance between you and your experiences. This helps to lessen the intensity of the emotions and allows you to respond more calmly and effectively.

How will I know if I am connecting to my ‘observer self’?

You may notice yourself feeling calmer even when face with challenging thoughts and feelings. Your internal experiences will feel less overwhelming, and you will be more grounded in the present moment. This will take practice, but in time you will find you will be able to observe your experiences without feeling controlled or swept away by them.

Can everyone access their ‘observer self’?

Yes! It may take time and practice, especially if this is new to you, but it is possible.

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