You’re an ocean you’re an ocean
Settle down settle down
What’s the commotion?
I’m an island
But you’re an ocean
It’s a stormy sea of love and emotion
You got me suspended motionless in time

Dr. Maitland advises me to make myself an ocean.

The metaphor goes like this.  If you are a puddle, any little pebble that hits you makes a big splash. If you are an ocean, you could drop a boulder and it would not make more than an insignificant ripple on the surface of a vast body of water.

At times, it feels that all of us are vulnerable to so many things in our environment, internal and external.  What other people do or think, what our own judgments of ourselves and others create.  Emotions, events, and our interpretations of them can really make us feel that our well-being is in jeopardy.  For those of us who are especially sensitive (and for those of us who embrace and cultivate that sensitivity), we’ve often got what seems like a lot of pebbles hitting us continuously.  And we all get a boulder or two every now and then, something that just rocks us to our core.

The way I initially responded to Dr. Maitland’s advice was to focus in on what I felt was the essence of myself, the inner part of me.  Then I imagined that part of me extending outside my body and moving all the way to the horizon, becoming expansive.  As I walked through my day, I would practice pushing my energy ahead of me, outside of me, surrounding me and extending all the way to the curvature of the Earth.  At times, I tried to imagine it encompassing the Earth or extending out into outer space.  I admit, I’ve never really accomplished that much expansiveness through imagery and will, but it’s fun to try.

The interesting thing about this exercise is that when I’m able to do well with it, it feels as though judgment falls away to some extent or another.  It feels as though self-reproach falls away in part or full.  The expansiveness feels like an embrace of everything and everyone around you.  Judgment, including self-judgment, tends to “crunch” it all back down, and I am yet again a puddle with a hailstorm of pebbles all around.

But I think I may have discovered another piece of the puzzle.  The phrase “Be the observer,” is fairly well known.  It is based in Buddhist (and other) philosophies that ask us to release attachment to our present experience, whatever it may be.  We can observe our emotions without getting drawn into the drama of them.  We can observe what happens around us without getting caught up in the dichotomy of good and bad, without the idea that we have to put everything in a little box so that we can understand it with our thinking mind.  Or so I hear.

I discovered a book called The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer.  I’ve had more success learning to be the observer since I started reading this book than I ever have before.  He explains the essence of who we are in a way that makes more sense to me than anything else I’ve ever read.  I realize I’m not my thoughts, I’m not my experiences, I’m not my personality – but who am I?  I’m the awareness of all those things.  I am not even the thinker of thoughts.  I am the one who is aware of the thought.  And that’s all.  In fact, that’s more than “all” – that’s everything.

We think that our thoughts are substantial.  We think that our beliefs are real and our opinions are real.  We think that if we can understand it, it counts.  In my cerebral way, I’m as prone to this (if not more so) than most people.  It’s part of being human to get caught up in what we think and to believe that we are defined by our thoughts and the actions they lead us to.  But that’s not who we are.  We are the awareness of those things – the thoughts, the actions, and everything we observe around us.

Michael Singer compares it to watching a movie and getting so caught up in the experience of the movie, you forget you’re sitting in a theater.  You forget the details of your life outside the theater.  You come back to yourself when the credits roll and the lights are turned on.  Then you realize you were absorbed in the story and had left yourself for a while.  He asks us to imagine a movie where we could smell and taste and feel every element of the story as well as see it.  How much more absorbed would we become?  We might forget ourselves completely.  And so we do.  This human experience is so absorbing that we tend to be unable to remember who we really are.  We think we are all the things and experiences that make up our Earth life.  We forget we are actually the awareness that is having the experience.

This way of looking at things has made a big difference in learning to become the observer.  I feel like I really am starting to get it for the first time.  I am more easily able to step back to the level of awareness and watch what goes on – what my brain thinks, what my emotions react to.  I still get caught up and absorbed in the story – and I know I always will tend to do that, just as all humans will tend to do that.  But I more easily and quickly pull back and watch, even as the tears stream down my face, even as I’m feeling irritable and out of sorts, even as I grapple with insecurities.  Even as all this occurs, I am more aware of the consciousness that underlies every Earthly experience.  I am more in touch with the true essence of myself, and it is simple and profound.

So, I began experimenting with the ocean idea again.  Only this time, I’m not vaguely pushing some part of myself to the horizon.  Instead, I’m simply focusing on the aware part of myself, the truly “me” part of me, and getting a sense of that.  As I do, I try to find the boundaries… and I can’t.  I can’t find the boundaries.  Maybe there are edges out there somewhere, but I can’t sense them.  It is more expansive than I could have imagined.  It’s not a question of pushing my boundaries out to the horizon or into outer space or beyond.  It’s really that I have no sense of where this awareness begins or ends.  It feels immeasureable.  How startling.  Is that really me?  Could it really be that I am that expansive?  (And at this point, “I” doesn’t mean what it used to mean.)

When I pull back into my awareness, when I’m able to do this, I’m truly an ocean.  And when I crumble, when I compress into my current experience of insecurity, lack, thoughts, and opinions, I can at least watch myself doing that.  Even when I don’t feel expansive, I have a sense that I am expansive – more than I can possibly comprehend in my current state.  And as I watch myself getting caught up in the drama, I am comforted by that knowledge, even when I don’t feel it, when I have no visceral experience of it.  I remember having a glimpse of it in my clearest moments, and for now that is enough.