The Watcher Within

I was sitting in a doctor’s office, waiting for a specialist’s opinion on how to handle a potentially life-threatening situation. She was called to an emergency, so I had plenty of time to read the book I’d brought. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer is a plainly written book about the Watcher within each of us.

He speaks about the voice in our heads, the one that yammers, criticizes, exhorts, judges, and generally finds fault with what we do. I know that voice. I also know it is not the “I” who can connect to my deeper wisdom. Most of my thoughts are coming, not from my deep self, but from programming, what Buddhists call “monkey mind.” Shamans and others refer to it as “predator” and “judge.”

Beliefs and ideas are thoughts. Not physical reality. Singer makes the point that if you notice who is thinking a thought, you put distance between the thought and yourself. Then you can ask, “Who is thinking that thought?”

The Watcher.

Also known as the Self, the Soul, the Heart, Consciousness, Awareness, Connection, Atman.

I call that part of me The Creative Self, since it is the source of the energy that supports my growth. It is also the energy I call upon for physical creativity–in my case, books, stories, writing of all kinds.

The analytical mind dwells on the past, recalling memories, and on the future, what might be. It is never in the moment.

The Creative Self is different. Its home is the elusive present time that every spiritual tradition mentions. Even when we try, exactly how to get there is something of a mystery. As it turns out, it can be simple. All I have to do is stop thinking. Stop letting monkey mind rule my life. Stop worrying about what could happen, what might be the problem and notice where I am now as I watch myself. This is not easy. It takes intention and persistence, but it can be done.

When I was learning to meditate, I knew there was more than one “I.” Maybe that’s why I started attending meditation classes. They were secular, aimed at teaching students how to visualize our energy so we could understand ourselves better. We learned to ground ourselves by dropping a cord of energy from the base of our spine into the center of the earth. We visualized our chakras and learned how to feel them and how to remove unwanted energy from them. It was all fascinating and eminently practical. Grounded, I could navigate my life better. Without other peoples’ energy in my field, I was less susceptible to the demands of others.

The lessons never stopped. Once you realize you are not your ego mind, that something larger than you not only exists, but can be accessed, there is no going back to a wholehearted acceptance of the drama that monkey mind concocts.

The Watcher watches. It does not exhort, command, or judge. It watches my thoughts and feelings. It watches how I react to the events of life. Of course, I must remember to access it, which is the hard part.

That day in the doctor’s office, it said to me, in the form of a thought dropping into my head, “Why do you worry so?”

My first reaction was to defend myself. To say, “Well, this could be serious. I’ve been sitting here for two hours. I’m nervous and upset. With good reason.” Then I had to laugh. I had just read Singer’s reminder about the Watcher. To withdraw from the drama that the analytical mind loves so, I stepped back (mentally) and remembered myself as Watcher. Soul. Heart. Creative Self. Which had just spoken directly into my mind!

That seldom happens without asking a direct question, either in meditation or in my journal, but that day my reading prompted it and I was grateful. The journey into my Center was neither quick nor easy. I was a stubborn, willful student who sabotaged myself at every turn. But in time I learned.

Journaling to access my Creative Self, my Center, is one of the best practices I’ve used to help myself. My next post will be about how that started and what kept me doing it for more than twenty years.


Your Personal Legend

When first I read the story of Inanna, goddess of heaven and earth, revered in ancient Sumer thousands of years ago, my heart leapt in recognition.

  • From the Great Above she opened her ear to the Great Below.
  • From the Great Above the goddess opened her ear to the Great Below.
  • From the Great Above Inanna opened her ear to the Great Below.

Sumerian poetry mesmerizes with repetition.  The first lines of the poem, The Descent of Inanna, tell us that the goddess of Sumer is drawn to the underworld.

When she hears the rumbling from below, Inanna is Queen of Sumer, a married woman accustomed to wielding the power of her office. She does not have to make the journey to the underworld, but she believes that her sister, the dark goddess Ereshkigal, calls her and so she abandons her holy office and sets out.

The descent to the underworld is the path of the mystic. Inanna is Queen of Heaven and Earth, but she does not know the depths of the spiritual world.

On her journey down, Inanna must pass seven gates and at each one, a gate guardian demands she divest herself of her jewels, crown, and gown, the royal me which she donned as protection.  When she arrives at the abode of her sister, she is naked.

Ereshkigal, Queen of the Underworld, lives in a dark, dry realm, the kur, the region of the Great Unknown that was given to her by the gods as her domain. In it, she eats clay and drinks dirty water.  She is childless, insatiable in her appetites and alone since her husband’s death.  She is the other side of Inanna, the bright, glorious queen of the upper realms.

In the underworld, Inanna is judged and condemned to death by her dark side.  She becomes part of the underworld. While Ereshkigal moans in agony at her fate, two beings sent by the God of Wisdom to rescue Inanna offer her empathy. She, in turn, releases some of her personal anguish, which allows her other half, Inanna, to be reborn.

Inanna wishes to leave, but no one has ever returned from the underworld. Since she was reborn there, a goddess of light who integrated her dark half, she is permitted to return on the condition that she send someone else to take her place.

And so, a passageway has been created from the Great Above, the conscious, to the Great Below, the unconscious and it must be kept open. Inanna returns to rule her kingdom, but she must not forget the part of herself that is Ereshkigal.

Why is a story more than three thousand years old relevant today?

Learning the personal answer to that question has been a lifelong quest, but even when I first read it, I knew that the journey down, into the unknown, the body, the recesses of the earth, the unconscious, was mine.

The quest for wholeness is real. The gates of initiation are real.  The necessity of joining with the denied, split off parts of the self are real. Most real is the need to keep the passage open, so the missing parts, the emotions denied, the fears pushed down, the greatness avoided for fear it is too dangerous, can be allowed to travel to the upper world.

Not an easy path, but for some of us, a necessary one.

And what about you?  Does an old story reverberate through your cells?  Ariadne?  Ulysses?   Demeter?  Apollo?

What are they whispering to you in the dark?


Changing Your Story

Changing our words will change our story. Changing our stories can change our lives.

Our parents tell us stories about our family, heritage, and culture. Our culture tells us stories about what people like us can expect.

The words we use are not coincidental or arbitrary. We are taught to name, identify, and classify. Words are used to classify us. Eventually, we get the picture. We don’t need anyone to tell us we need to shape up. We know.

Have you ever looked at the words you use to describe yourself? Do you see yourself as smart, attractive, competent, scared, passive, helpful? Are you loyal? Independent? A team player?

Which words are more positive to you? More negative?

Words create our sense of who we are. A good girl. A strong boy. Such a smart student. So good with her hands.

Even something as seemingly objective as our physical appearance is shaped by beliefs.

You have big hips. He’s small for his age. Red haired people have hot tempers. You’re too fat/thin/freckled, pale. Your hair is too curly. Rich people have straight hair.

We describe ourselves, first, as others have described us. Judged as children, we take the words to heart. The judge takes up residence inside our minds, and from there rules us. Later in life, we wonder why we never feel good enough, smart enough, and capable of making our dreams real.

How we talk about ourselves has a lot to do with what we’re willing to try. I had a student who was bright, attractive, and a single parent receiving public assistance. The class was on how to find a job. Marie was a high school graduate and well qualified to work as a hotel receptionist, but when I told her about a position in a downtown hotel, she said, “Oh, no. I couldn’t apply for that.”

I asked why, and she said, “People like me don’t go there.”

The hotel was upscale in an urban area. She was qualified. The job did not pay well enough to attract applicants with college degrees. What stopped her was the story running in her head. She was poor, Hispanic, “second class.” If she had applied, she would have been seriously considered, but I couldn’t convince her to make the appointment. She felt more comfortable in the fast food job she took.

Now when I teach journaling, creativity, and writing for healing, I ask students to examine their beliefs, the tapes running in their heads that are stopping them from reaching out. It comes down to words. Change the words, change your life.

If you’d like to try it, look at your life as a timeline

1.Draw a straight line across a blank piece of paper.


2. Below the line, group your age anyway you like. By school grade, decades, whatever works for you.

3. Above the line write three words that best described you at that age.

Do this quickly. Do not mull. Your first responses are best.

When you finish, look at the words.
• Are the words from your younger years still true?
• Would you like to change any of them?
• Looking forward,  what new words would you add to describe yourself?
• Write them in the future portion of the timeline.

Did you notice any patterns? Any changes with time?

If so, I’d love to hear your reactions in the comment box.

All content copyright © 2023 by Carol Holland March. All rights reserved.