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The Trained Observer

As suggested in the previous article, in the world today, there is a great need for trained observers of current affairs. This might seem a strange idea – most people probably think they are competent observers of world events. Yet, if we assume this, we ignore a number of factors that can distort our vision. These factors are the biases, prejudices and preconceptions (or glamours and illusions as they are known in the works of Alice Bailey) which we acquire as we grow up. They come from many sources – nationalist feelings, political ideologies, religious conditioning, and other social influences. Furthermore, such internal distorting filters are quite separate from any distortion due to the various agendas of the media. So, to be able to observe an event clearly, one must be aware of both these internal and external distorting factors, and able to detach oneself from them. In effect, the individual steps outside of his own distorting filters, his own personality, and sees life and events not as they affect him and those closest to him, but as they affect the world. And beyond that, he sees them not so much in terms of the outer forces at play, but in terms of the inner flow of consciousness. He then comes into touch with the world of meaning.

To be an observer is essentially to learn the art of paying attention. This is one of the first lessons in meditation, and as we begin to brood upon seed thoughts, we learn how difficult it is to focus attention for long periods. Conversely, this shows how little attention we usually pay to most things. As Gurdjieff observed, "How awake are we, really? Is consciousness relative? People are asleep when they think they're awake. They sleepwalk through life. They live and die for the most part asleep, at best half-waking in fitful starts.”

We tend to pay attention to those things that attract us (the root meanings of “attention” and “attraction” are quite close), but “attraction” implies desire, i.e. the emotions, while “attention” is more mental. Thus, we can take a step in training ourselves in a more detached perspective by deciding to pay attention to things we may find unattractive. The observer must also train himself in exercising dispassion with regard to his own emotional reactions to events. This is particularly hard nowadays, when greed, injustice, and other abuses are coming to the surface. As a result, the public consciousness is in turbulent motion. While the observer may be free from the more chaotic forms of mass emotion, he must also see to it that emotion’s subtler veils do not blind his vision. For example, when we see the dignity of our fellow human beings being trampled upon, the natural reaction is a feeling of indignation, an indignation that is understandable, and, in a sense, righteous. Yet, as soon as that feeling becomes the focus of attention, it draws the focus away from where it is most needed for the observer, namely, the underlying causes. The observer may then be in danger of becoming caught up in seeking to reform individuals or groups, rather than striving to identify the conscious impulses in all people that lead to such events.

A complementary ability to detachment and dispassion is discrimination. This faculty must also be trained. As Alice Bailey points out, discrimination may begin by distinguishing right from wrong in the world, but it must progress to distinguishing between a situation that is right within a narrow context, and one that is right within a broader context, i.e. between a less inclusive and a more inclusive principle.

We can also train ourselves in placing events within the widest possible context, seeking to detect their relationship to the evolutionary Plan of love and light for humanity as it exists in the Divine Mind. One part of this is the skill of stepping back from the short-term vision that blinkers the individual self – and also, it seems, much of economic and political thought – and view events as part of a historical sequence in the evolution of human consciousness. In his article, “A Marvelous Victory”, the recently deceased historian and social activist, Howard Zinn, counsels against thinking that the status quo will necessarily continue. By striving to expand our vision out into longer time cycles, we stand a better chance of detecting the emerging Ideas of the Divine Plan.

So to sum up, we could say that the trained observers take a firm stand in consciousness, unswayed by outer events, looking above and helping below. Looking above, they recognise Ideas and the need to transform them into Ideals. At the same time, they are aware of the limitations of Ideologies (a form of glamour) – where Ideals are crystallised into fixed and inflexible forms, so that the inflow of new Ideas is blocked. And there is the added temptation for people to identify themselves exclusively with specific ideologies – “I am a socialist”, “I am a libertarian”etc. – thus blinding them further to the value of other Ideals. So, observers train themselves to remain free of ideological blinkers. As the statesman Václav Havel remarks, “…I have never espoused any ideology, dogma, or doctrine – left-wing, right-wing, or any other closed, ready-made system of presuppositions about the world.”*

The trained observers help below, by standing apart from the froth and foam of surface events, and from the turbulent emotions that so often propel the thinking of the public. By seeing through the glamours of the times, they sense the underlying currents of consciousness which shape the evolution of culture and civilisation. Thus, their work helps illuminate the consciousness of humanity, freeing it from outmoded ways of thought.

* p.60, Summer Meditations (1992)