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Making Objects of Your Subjects

Dear Integral Meditators,

How does mindfulness help you grow and develop your mind? This weeks article considers this question from the perspective of subjects and objects, and offers a simple practice to start focusing upon.

In the spirit of inner growth,


Making Objects of Your Subjects

Mindfulness essentially is about learning to watch and observe your inner life objectively, like a witness.
One of the ways in personal growth can be explained is this: What previously we used to identify with absolutely at one stage of our growth becomes an object that we can dis-identify with and consider objectively when we move onto the next level.
Here are two quotes from developmental psychologists that explain this idea, the first is from Harvard psychologist Robert Kegan: “I know of no better way to describe development than that the subject of one stage of development becomes the object of the subject of the next stage.” The second is from Jean Gebser “The self of one stage (of development) becomes the tool of the next (stage of development)”.

Two examples:
When I was a baby, I was completely subjectively identified with my body. Thus when my body was hungry ‘I’ was hungry, and there was no self, other than the I that was hungry. Thus if I was hungry I had no choice than to be upset because my ‘I’ was completely identified with the hunger. As I grew up, I learned to distinguish my ‘self’ from my body, and thus I can recognize ‘My body is hungry’, and separate my sense of I-ness from the hunger. This enables me to exert self-control so that I can be hungry but not upset.
At a relatively low level of development I may be completely identified with my emotions. When my emotions are angry ‘I’ am angry, and I have no choice but to be angry because I completely identify with my emotions as being self. As I move to the next level of my inner growth I develop the capacity to detach from my emotions, so that when I experience anger I am able to separate ‘me’ from my anger. By doing this the anger becomes an object of my awareness rather than the subject, which in turn gives me the choice as to how I am going to deal with it; the anger is in my mind, but it is not ‘me’.

Mindfulness as the stimulator of inner growth
So, mindfulness works as a tool of inner growth simply by encouraging us to make objects of our subjects; to take the aspects of our body and senses, mind and emotions that we are currently very identified with, and simply learn to observe them as objects.

One image that I got from Ken Wilber’s new book Integral Meditation (highly recommended!) is that the process if mindfully turning subjects into objects is like videotaping; you simply watch an aspect of your mind or self that you are currently very identified with. Imagine you are behind a camera videotaping it; just watch, observe and film, don’t get involved.

‘People are so stupid’
Over the last day or so I have been caught up in a certain view of some people that is essentially very frustrated with their (perceived) stupidity, I notice that ‘I’ am very identified with this frustration with this sense of their laziness, lack of drive, lack of curiosity. So I chose this as my object of ‘mindful videotaping’ sitting down, acknowledging it and them simply watching it, witnessing it, videotaping it. As the observer I note:

  • The frustration feels like this, in this area of my body
  • The inner dialogue or conversation in my mind around stupid people sounds like this
  • The outer events in my life giving rise to the frustration and judgment are this, this and this

As I continue to watch my frustration and judgment, gradually it ceases to become ‘me’ and becomes instead an object of my awareness. It is in my mind but it is not me. This in turn enables me to make conscious choices about what I am going to do with the emotion, which is mostly just let go of it, and make a conscious choice about what, if anything I am going to do about the situation.
Like most other aspects of mindfulness, the aim of turning subjects into objects is to give us greater inner freedom and intelligence and take empowered control of our life choices and experience.

© Toby Ouvry 2016, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

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