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  • Writer's pictureBernard Beitman, MD

How Does the Observing Self Help Create Synchronicities?

Meaningfulness emerges through the synergy between awareness and analysis.


 

Key Points

  • The observing self is central to the creation of synchronicities.

  • A coincidence without meaning does not become a synchronicity.

  • The observing self bears witness to thoughts, emotions and external events without judgement.

 

Present Moment, by Leslie Greiner (with permission)

Creating a mental image of a synchronicity requires that the person’s observing self notices two or more events with similar patterns and that the likelihood of their occurring together appears to be low. The observing self then teams up with the thinking self and associated emotions to analyze and then extract potential meanings. Finding meaning in the coincidental pairing of the two or more unlikely events creates the synchronicity.


Defining the observing self


In psychology, the observing self has received several different names that share overlapping definitions. For example:


  • Observing ego: This psychoanalytic term refers to a part of the self that is able to step back to observe and reflect upon one's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without judgment or attachment. The observing ego plays a crucial role in self-awareness, self-reflection and social behavior. (Miller, Isaacs, & Haggard, 1965)

  • Self-As-Context: This term is used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to describe the part of ourselves that remains constant and unchanged amidst our thoughts and experiences.

  • Noticing Self: Emphasizes our ability to notice and become aware of our thoughts and experiences.

  • Watching Self: This term highlights the role of the observing self in watching and observing our thoughts and experiences without getting caught up in them.

  • Pure Awareness: Some refer to the observing self as pure awareness, emphasizing its ability to simply be aware of our thoughts and experiences without judgment or attachment.

  • Witness: The observing self is sometimes referred to as the witness, highlighting its role in witnessing our thoughts and experiences without identification or attachment.


The functions of the observing self


The observing self strives to be objective rather than consider what should be, what could be, or what we want. The observing self attempts to see things as they are. It doesn’t judge. It doesn’t criticize. It is a viewpoint from which you can observe and witness thoughts, feelings, and events. The observing self is used for awareness, consciousness, and self-knowledge. It is innately calm and tranquil. In addition to observing internal thoughts, feelings, sensations, and emotions, it also observes external events, like the weather, sounds, the minds of other people and generally what is happening in the surrounding world.


In his book The Observing Self, psychiatrist Arthur Deikman (1983) outlined the value of the observing self in psychotherapy. He explored how the observing self can contribute to self-awareness, detachment, and a deeper understanding of one's thoughts, emotions, and experiences. By cultivating the observing self, individuals may gain insight into their psychological patterns and develop a greater capacity for self-reflection and personal growth.


Deikman cites a story illustrating how the observing self may not be noticed.


A group of peasants forded a river. Afterward, concerned someone might be missing, the leader counted the group. One of them was missing! The dismay of the group evaporated when a traveler noticed their dilemma and pointed out that the leader had not counted himself.


Psychotherapists are generally not conscious of their attempts to activate the observing self to more fully engage their patients in psychotherapeutic change. (Beitman and Soth, 2006)


Meditation teachers emphasize how the practice of mindfulness separates the observing self from the thinking mind, creating an unbiased witness that lets events pass through it. (Kerr & Littenberg, 2011)


The Thinking Self


The thinking self is characterized by thought production and logic. The thinking self can be used for problem-solving and planning. The thinking self is also responsible for producing the mental chatter in our minds and is also responsible for generating worrying or depressing thoughts and their accompanying feelings. It evaluates and judges things, persons around you, and yourself. It is mostly preoccupied with the past or future. (Harris, 2008)


Optimizing collaboration between thinking and observing self


The observing self generates observations that can be evaluated by the thinking self. The thinking self can then generate responses best suited for certain observations. Once the observing self notices a similarity between two events that is surprising and unexpected, the thinking self is called into action to further develop the usual synchronicity meaning questions: what does this synchronicity mean to me? I wonder how to explain it?


This collaboration takes practice to optimize. Potentially useful meanings can be ignored or too many of them can be generated.


Comment


The fluid interaction between these two selves, the thinker and the observer, will increase your ability to utilize synchronicities. This fluid interaction is maximized by not getting caught up in emotions. Thinking can trigger emotions and emotions can cause thinking spirals. This continuous loop creates feelings of being “stuck”, “not worthy”, and a general sense of suffering through life.


Instead, observe the thoughts, observe the emotions and act within the calm state of the present witness. Here is a simple practice to cultivate the observing self to help get out of the thinking/emotional loop. Reflect upon “Who Am I?”


  • Who is the “I” brushing these teeth?

  • Who is the “I” feeling this anger?

  • Who is the “I” smelling the rose?

  • Who is the “I” thinking these thoughts?


In our fast-paced world, we are trained to be in the thinking self and to judge our thoughts and emotions. What if we use the mind to gain knowledge, but with this knowledge take a great pause. Think the thoughts and feel the emotions, observe them, and then respond with ease and flow. With the intertwining of the thinking self and observing self, we can be both witness to and analyzer of the unfolding of events that create synchronicities.


Note: Leslie Greiner contributed to this post.


 

References

  • Arthur A. Miller, Kenneth S. Isaacs, Ernest A. Haggard (1965) "On The Nature of the Observing Function of the Ego", The British Psychological Society and British Journal of Medical Psychology

  • Deikman, A (1983) The Observing Self. Boston, Beacon Press

  • Beitman, B. D., & Soth, A. M. (2006). Activation of self-observation: A core process among the psychotherapies. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 16(4), 383–397. https://doi.org/10.1037/1053-0479.16.4.383

  • Kerr CE, Josyula K, Littenberg R. Developing an observing attitude: an analysis of meditation diaries in an MBSR clinical trial. Clin Psychol Psychother. 2011 Jan-Feb;18(1):80-93. doi: 10.1002/cpp.700. PMID: 21226129; PMCID: PMC3032385.

  • Harris, R ( 2008) The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT. Durbin, South Africa

 

Photo by Leslie Ann Greiner. Used with permission.

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