Embracing the inner observer

Photo credit: © 2013 Chad Cooper, from Flickr and used via CC-BY licensing

I’ve experienced quite a bit of deep transformation over the last six years or so, and one of the biggest keys to creating and maintaining the changes that have made up that transformation has been my deepening relationship with my inner observer.

This inner observer, sometimes also known as the witness, is the part of myself that is able to dispassionately observe myself—including my emotions, thoughts, motivations, and outward actions and words—without judgment or criticism.

This clear observation of myself is precisely what allows me to recognize what is truly happening in and around me and allows me to make better choices about how I respond based on that knowledge.

First, however, I had to learn to recognize my inner observer’s voice.

Recognizing the inner observer

It often feels like my head is filled with multiple voices—my own and whole slew of other characters who have all kinds of varying opinions about who I am, who I should be, and what I should do.

Some of these voices are my own, and others are echoes of things other people have said to me over the years. It’s not always easy to pick out one voice among the crowd or to know which one to trust.

I do know that it is the part of myself that allows me to observe the thoughts and feelings that arise in meditations without becoming attached to any of them. It’s the part of myself that notices my own lack of impeccability when my words, actions, or attitudes don’t live up to my values.

But how do I recognize that one voice among the many? Here are five characteristics I use to help me recognize this inner observer’s voice:

Spacious perspective

The inner observer always sees things from a bit of a distance that gives a wider perspective while also being able to focus on what’s important.

Like the coin operated viewfinder at a tourist overlook, it can go from scanning the whole panorama to focusing in on the one or two details that truly matter.

My inner observer never gets overwhelmed by the details or distracted by all that comes at me.

When I hear a voice that has a calm, clear grasp on the essence of the situation, I can be pretty sure it’s my inner observer speaking.


My inner observer sees the situation from a detached, objective viewpoint.

It never gets caught up in the emotions or the drama of the moment. No fear, no worry, no resistance, no anger.

It just sees what is there.

This calm, non-emotional, detached observing of the situation (including myself in that situation) is a good sign that it’s my inner observer.


Part of staying detached from the situation is a complete lack of judgment of myself, others, or the situation itself.

No criticism or praise. No right or wrong. No resistance or attachment. Just an observation of what’s there.

It observes the interconnection between my actions and the results without judging (positively or negatively) myself for my contributions.

All of my other internal voices tend to rush to praise or blame, so the lack of either in this voice is a big clue that it’s my inner observer speaking.


My inner observer is constantly curious. Its favorite phrase is “How interesting! I wonder why that happened. I wonder what would change if I did _____.”

Staying in that detached, non-judgmental space, it’s constantly viewing life as a big experiment, questioning each variable and the connections between them.

Other voices tend to get stuck in assumptions, always/never thinking, or a lack of perceived options, but this one brings a lightness of curiosity to all that it observes around me.

As soon as I hear that “Hmmm … I wonder …” voice with that light, detached tone, I know it must be my inner observer doing the talking.


Finally, my inner observer always sees myself and others with compassion.

Much of this stems from the lack of judgment, but there’s also an embrace of the full humanity of all involved, without reducing anyone to an easily dismissed caricature or a stereotype.

This voices always contains an inherent kindness, an ability to see the viewpoints of others, and a willingness to give others (and myself) the benefit of the doubt.

This compassion for all involved is another sure sign that I’m hearing the voice of the inner observer.

Embracing the inner observer

Learning to recognize the voice of my inner observer was a first, crucial step, and spending time in meditation, yoga practice, and mindfulness practice were key to creating enough space to learning to hear its contributions.

But in order to benefit from that voice, I had to embrace its messages and begin acting on its observations.

This took a lot of intentional effort at the start, but as I’ve learned how powerful this practice is in improving my life, it’s slowly become second nature to slow down enough to tap into this voice’s wisdom on a regular basis.

The more I have actively listened to what it observes and used that information to make better choices, the stronger my connection to this inner observer has become. I follow that continual cycle of observing, curiously wondering about what could be different, trying new things to move in the direction I want, and observing again to see what results.

This relationship with my inner observer has become a calm center that I can return to in the midst of any kind of emotional upheaval the more I embrace its wisdom and court my connection to it.

I still feel all of the emotions, and my mind is still full of all of its other voices competing for my attention. But embracing this inner observer has given me a way to penetrate through all of that noise—without suppressing or denying any of it for a moment—to see more clearly what is.

That has become the soil from which all transformation in my life springs and the ground in which it stays rooted.

In what ways have you made a connection with your own inner observer? How has it served you in your life?

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