We conducted an experiment: we invited BePeriod students who regularly work in front of computers to record themselves for ten minutes at their desks using their webcams. Ten minutes is long enough for a person to forget that they are being recorded, so the resulting footage becomes a candid portrait. Students’ self-portraits displayed furrowed brows, various other facial and shoulder clenching, frequent unnecessary scratching of the face, and generally being sucked into their tasks at the expense of any other awareness. Why do we get so absorbed in front of the computer?
There is a powerful urge to change what we observe. “Am I clenching my jaw? Then I should relax it.” “Am I sitting too close to the screen? Then I should pull back and sit straight.” To some extent, this is effective, because it requires a conscious effort to go against one’s physical habits. But it is also misleading. It labors under the assumption that the physical trait we observe is the cause of our identification. If we remove the cause, we might change the effect. Identification, however, is the true cause, for which awkward physical postures are only some of the physical effects. Accordingly, students reported limited success the following day with resisting the physical traits they had witnessed in their self-portraits.
Success came elsewhere and unexpectedly. The effort of seeing themselves as they really are was so powerful that it etched itself in students’ memories. Each time they realized they were in exactly the same posture they’d witnessed on the video, that realization spontaneously kindled self-consciousness. Seeing one’s sleep is the opposite of being identified, and one of its most powerful antidotes. The more we observe, the more we develop an observer separate from what we see. We turn our habits into kindling for the fire of Real ‘I’. This embodies the February Labor.
Objective self-observation is very difficult because it is a different function, the function of the master.