Candle of the MindAA

If we wish to make a voyage into the self, we need a set of tools, with which to:

a) Investigate, as objectively as possible, what this ‘me’ is doing.

b) Create a space; a different part of us, that our growing and real consciousness can ‘live in’.

These may initially sound somewhat forced, but that is only because western language, with its notional structure of “(I) do something to (that)” embeds the principle that there is an ‘I’ in the form we think of it; therefore we never question the root of the problem.

The ‘toolkit’, strange-sounding though it may be, is only there to correct the language-based falsehood within which we all live. But truly understanding that comes later, when we live on the upper floor of ‘ourselves’ rather than the ground.

When we begin to watch ourselves, we run, immediately, into conditioning. Conditioning is the result of society, family, job, school, mates – best and otherwise, job pressures, the club for football/books/golf/cricket/(insert here). In short, everyone who has ever laid an expectation on us that we accepted, has contributed to this conditioning.

Most of this conditioning is there to mould our personality into an acceptable form so that we can live, harmoniously, within the society into which we were born; or into which we have relocated, due to a bad fit of the first one…

Part of the valid conditioning is a set of moral values: the good and bad of it. These often affect us the most, especially if we believe that good and bad are powerful things.

When we accept a framework of a philosophy or religion, we subscribe to a subset of values associated with that ‘method’ of instruction. This applies, equally, to any School of spirituality which imposes on us similar constraints.

Are we to be anarchical in our search for personal truth? Are we to cast off everything we hold dear to find a pure layer of self within, as though we were beginning our lives again?

It’s not a trivial question, since, at the right time in our development, there are truths in some of the above scenarios. But such a transition, done brutally, negates the value of the developed personality and its potential for doing ‘good’. In the West, we need to work within the framework of our society – we’re not particularly suited to the life of a monk, regardless of the religious basis. Few of us believe that discarding everything we own will do anything but destabilise us.

The mistake is thinking that the personality can solve this, all by itself. Since our goal is to rise ‘above’ the everyday life imposed on us by the habitual nature of that personality – with all its habits and hungers – we can hardly expect cooperation from the creature, itself!


A clever, stealthy and subtle way to go about it is to become a ‘self-watcher’. Self-watchers do everything they’ve always done, but they resist the societal urge to judge what they are watching in themselves. Self-judging is also habitual; and was exposed by Freud, the pioneering psychologist of the last century, as belonging to a part of the personality called the superego. We can never satisfy the critical demands of this monster. It’s like your worst authority-figure. Whatever we do, that critical voice is always there, telling us we may have tried our best but it’s just not good enough…

When we become a self-watcher, the superego comes at us like a charging tiger. It applauds what we’re finding about our ‘weak’ self! It loves our unveiling of the pathetic nature of our resolve to give up that nasty habit… or six.

The dedicated self-watcher has to learn a new skill: to ignore the judgment of that inner voice. It does this initially by trust. Later, with experience and a deepening sense of something good and calm growing inside us, it does this because it knows the approach opens up a new world. An inner realm, seen from a judgment-free perspective, brings a new energy to the study of how we really live our lives. This new energy is far more potent at personal transformation that any scowling superego could ever be.

One of its most wonderful attributes is that it loves us…

Watching has a power of its own, no matter what scale it operates on. This is one of secrets of the ancient methods of spiritual development, and one that is vital to learn if we are to find any peace and retain our sanity in the perceived nasty and crazy world we find ourselves in, today.

It doesn’t operate on its own; of course not. Other things have to happen, too. But the establishment of a watching-place inside us, inviolate from criticism–an inner room in which we can say: “In here I will learn about me in peace and free from persecution”, is the single most powerful tool we can adopt if we want personal transformation in our lives.

Stephen Tanham is a director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit organisation that helps people find the reality and essence of their existence via home-based study and practice courses which are low-cost and personally supervised.

His personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at

You’ll find friends, poetry, literature and photography there…and some great guest posts on related topics.

©Stephen Tanham

4 Comments on “Candle in the mind

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