As we have seen before, the Observer is the observer of both Experience and the Experiencer. In outer life, experience usually arises from interaction with the world through the senses. In the inner life, which is the particular focus of meditation, experience arises from stored impressions, what we call samsakaras. And the experiencer interacts with experience whether coming from outside, or as in meditation from those stored impressions.
Taking as usual our focus on the inner life, and therefore in meditation, and accepting that the experiencer is likely to react to any impression that arises, let us look more closely at the nature of experience. In instruction in meditation we do not usually find the instruction 'observe, be aware of, your experience'. Usually instruction is, 'become aware of your thoughts'. And it must have occurred to everyone at some stage, well what is thought then. And you might even have found yourself thinking when something outside of what you take to be thought arises, I should be being aware of my thoughts, not this.
Also the really strange thing is that when I want to observe a particular form of focus, like a breath, in attempting to maintain the focus on the breath, usually many distractions and other thoughts arise. And then strangely enough when we want to allow the thoughts to arise of their own accord and just observe them directly, we may find ourselves in a kind of vacuum, where the thoughts just seem to disappear altogether. I’m not thinking anything - well, that is a thought for a start.
It’s rather like somebody who likes cats wanting a cat to sit on his/her lap, and doing everything possible to attract the cat, and yet the cat remains uninterested and will refuse to jump up and sit on the lap. And someone else who doesn't like cats who will totally ignore the cat will find inevitably the cat will make its way and finally do its best to settle down on the lap. "The more you go looking, more it goes slip-sliding away".
One thing that should be clear is there is a distinct difference between thoughts that we create consciously, intentionally; and thoughts that we allow to rise, in a quiet moment, spontaneously, of their own accord. In the first case we know what we are going to think beforehand, or at least we know the subject when we begin. We have made up our mind to think about it. In the second case we have no knowledge at all before the thought arises, or when it will arise, what it will be when it arises. The first discipline we need to exercise is managing and as soon as possible stopping conscious thought, the thoughts that we think about deliberately. Then when we turn to spontaneous thoughts a different type of discipline is needed. This is what we are dealing with here.
There is a clear indication from the outset in meditation of the perversity of the mind. We know that we are not in control of the mind, certainly not as much as we would wish. We may even think we have control over those parts that we know, but this is usually at the price of suppression of those parts that we don't yet know. So at some stage we should make the attempt to be aware of, to observe, the thoughts that arise freely in the mind, spontaneously, directly.
Then there is this question, what is thought? Everyone experiences their experience differently. I know this is stating the obvious, but seeing that for what it is - how individual experience is - it translates into a greater clarity of understanding about the nature of thought. A thought is always stimulated by experience – either of past experience; or as a result of past experience, thoughts of, or plans for the future. And therefore a thought can be anything that arises as a result of experience.
It may be visual; it may be a literal memory; it may be primarily in the form of sound, what is heard what is said; it may be in the form of sensation; it may not be so literal – it may be in images, patterns, shapes, colours, or any combination of these. So in a way the instruction, become aware of your experience is the more accurate. So translate the intention to observe thought as being observing experience.
Some people are definitely more visually stimulated. Some people are much more connected to sensation in the body. The same stimulus from memory may be expressed in different ways, depending on many things. And therefore if you ever find yourself asking when observing spontaneous thought: Is this included? The answer is always, Yes. And don’t forget with this broadened palette of observation, that the reaction of the experiencer, which is included in the awareness of the Observer, may also be broadened in the same measure.
If you ever get to see the experience play out in whatever form, and allow the experiencer to react, in whatever form; and you remain the Observer, do not touch it in any way from beginning to end, it will engineer and manifest its own inner change. If this ever happens, that is a moment of great inspiration. You know it can be done, you know you can do it. The Observer becomes very important. It becomes everything in the search for the real identity. And so, if it doesn’t happen every time, be clear that it is because you need to adjust something in becoming the Observer, not because there is anything at fault in the process.
This allows for the total freedom of expression of the mind – something we do not yet know – and therefore develops a more comprehensive relationship with what is stored in mind. If you get to know your own inner language well, that can be the beginning of a more focused, determined and deliberate investigation of one's inner nature. More on that later.