Self-observation is the first step in the foundational threefold Work practice of self-observation-non-identification-Self-remembering. Although studied separately, they are, in fact, a threefold movement, one incomplete without the presence of the others.
This practice is a living exploration of the structure and parts and conditioning of the centers and personality fragments known as “I’s.” We may have had the conviction that we operate with a permanent, consistent, conscious I that directs affairs, but the Work will quickly shatter this illusion and, in fact, labels this as Imaginary I.
A fundamental Work practice is what Maurice Nicoll calls “definite, concrete, topical, non-critical self-observation,” activating the faculty within oneself of Observing I – that is, dividing oneself into an observing side and an observed side – viewing a detail of one’s life and observing it as if a scientist: the thinking, the emotions and the sensations associated with this point of observation. Self-observation is the starting point of the Work and matures overtime. Its force is a powerful ray of light into our inner darkness and, seeing what we are really like – the person that we don’t see and never suspect ourselves of being – can prompt true inner development.
“The object of self-observation is to increase consciousness, because if it is emotional, the man becomes conscious of the fact that he is, [for example,] envious and his position is infinitely better than it was before. Why? Because his consciousness has increased. … And this instantly means that he can begin to work on his envy and perceive it acting whereas before he was unconscious of this factor in himself. … Observing I observes you and feels itself different from you. … I took myself envying as myself without realizing for a moment that it was envy. But now I can see myself envying as distinct from my Observing I – in short, I have established something in myself that is not my ordinary self. In that case, I can make room for other people in the sense that, seeing and knowing my own envy, I am not criticizing them as I would if I only found fault with them for being envious and judged them without seeing my own envy.”
– Maurice Nicoll, Commentaries, “Self-Observation,” July 16, 1949, Vol. 4, pp. 1318-1319
As self-observation is practiced, one will begin to see all sorts of things about oneself and how we have taken ourselves for granted and justified everything, while being full of criticisms and judgments of others. Once we begin to uncritically observe the world inside of ourselves and how it manifests outside, we can no longer self-justify, no longer judge, no longer find fault with others. But, of course, we still do, but inner taste will no longer let us get away with it.