The Ghost Watcher is a self-awareness (or awakening) mental exercise which can help free you, by bringing your mind under greater control. We live in an era of the politicization and weaponization of everything. Everyone wants a piece of your mind, while almost anyone gets to mouth off their opinion (even if nobody wants to hear it). In this context, being able to quieten your mind and pull out of the battlefield of monkey-minds has become crucial to living an empowered life.
In many meditative traditions, the monkey-mind refers to the voice in our heads that tends to engage in endless chattering, like an egomaniac sports commentator who is out of control and just won’t shut up. The game is over, but he’s still on the mic delivering his take on it all. On anything and everything. There’s nothing that he doesn’t have an opinion about. And he/she has a captive audience. You.
Perhaps the most problematic part of the monkey-mind is that we tend to believe whatever it is that the monkey is chattering on about, regardless of how lucid or inane that comment may be.
If I may mix even more metaphors, there’s another analogy I prefer to use to describe the part for our minds that tends to endlessly prattle on, seemingly with a will of its own. I call it “The Ghost.” Philosophers sometimes talk about “the ghost in the machine,” when they discuss the puzzling question of why a biological organism (you), which is supposed to be mechanical in nature, has consciousness.
But that debate is a little too deep for my purposes here. I use the term “The Ghost” in a somewhat similar way, because it sometimes seems that our consciousness is possessed by a chattering mind that we can observe, but often have little control over.
Philosophers and mystics of bygone eras bemoaned the inability of the mind to shut up. They didn’t know how good they had it. For in the twenty-first century The Ghost has found the perfect soapbox upon which to stand and to haunt its host (and any other unfortunate minds that happen to be in earshot).
When Tim Berners-Lee proposed the world wide web way back in the late 1980s, I doubt he envisaged the mental battlegrounds that are today’s Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and clickbait news sites. He might well have pulled the plug on the whole thing if he could see the mess we are in now.
The presence of the internet means that we are increasingly entangled in other organisations’ and people’s opinions and projections.
My preferred way to deal with clickbait media, social media and the troll wars is to teach people how to pull out of online dramas by assuming cognitive responsibility.
This path won’t be for everyone. And there will be a requirement for a culture shift for it to have a global impact. Yet at a personal level, it doesn’t matter what anyone else is doing. It’s all up to you.
If you want to develop what the meditative traditions call “the right relationship with the mind,” you need to be able to assume control of The Ghost. The Ghost Watcher tool mirrors the witnessing process common to many meditative traditions, with some added visualization to make it more effective.
You can apply this mental exercise at any time during the day when you find your mind being drawn into combative arguments or dramas with others, either online or in the real world. Or just in your imagination.
A common mental drama involves our Ghost arguing a mental point with another person. Here I am talking about an imagined scenario that plays out in your head. Much of the time the other party will not be directly involved. It often involves our arguing with an imagined other who isn’t even there.
Not quite. More like, “human.”
Some of those imagined dramas may be ongoing and habitual, such as arguing with a political, philosophical or religious opponent; a classmate, work colleague, the boss, a teacher, a family member and so on. If you find yourself replaying the same argument over and over again inside your head with the same individual(s), this is a perfect situation for The Ghost Watcher.
These kinds of internal dramas have existed well before the age of the internet. I can remember engaging in internal squabbles long before I had ever seen a computer, let alone a mobile phone. Yet online forums of communication appear to have made the situation worse; or at the very least, more obvious.
Please ensure that you do not engage in this activity while you are doing something that requires careful attention, such as driving a vehicle or working in public on something important.
The Ghost Watcher
When you find yourself engaging in mental role playing (“the drama”), or even just ruminating over a problem, stop and bring yourself into the present moment by feeling your feet on the floor or focusing upon an object in the room (or place) you find yourself. Alternatively, take a breath or two and focus upon that.
Close your eyes (if the situation grants that possibility) and imagine that you (as “the witness”) are sitting in front of a big screen, say in a movie theatre. Make sure “you-as-witness” are close to the screen in this imagined situation, so you can really get the experience.
Now, imagine yourself and your mental adversary appearing on the screen. Visualise yourself sitting close to the “camera” (the foreground), with the other person (or people) sitting a little further away, towards the background, facing you. Alternatively, you might imagine both “you” and the other party sitting facing each other on the screen, from side on.
Begin by replaying, word for word, what you have just been imagining in “the drama,” on the big screen before you. As witness, see “yourself” from the third person perspective saying to the other person the precise words that have just been rummaging through your head. Hear the words clearly, and make sure you get the correct tone. So, if there has been anger and frustration, make sure that is the way you imagine yourself on the screen speaking to the other person. You can observe this situation for a minute or so.
After you have witnessed yourself upon the big screen saying whatever you have been internally voicing, let the “camera” then switch to being behind your opponent. Now, see him/her looking at “you” (The Ghost). Imagine yourself as he/she/they, as they watch and listen to your “Ghost.” Listen to them saying whatever you imagined them saying in the original drama. If they suddenly start saying something different, its OK. Just go with it.
Again, keep that witnessing position for at least a minute.
Is there anything that you (as witness) can see differently from the opponent’s perspective?
You should be able to see the drama in a new light. You might like to consider the following.
How does the drama look to you from a distance?
Are you comfortable with what you have just witnessed? Why or why not?
Is the drama really necessary in any way?
What would you like to change?
Is the perspective of your Ghost really your own? Or does it mirror that of a media, social media, political or tribal group?
Do different perspectives better embody your Authentic Self? Does the drama reflect you highest values? How can you better align your mental space with your Authentic Self (which reflects those values)?
Are there alternative mental spaces that you would prefer to inhabit, other than the internal drama you have just been witnessing? How might you better establish those mental spaces?
Much of the value of The Ghost Watcher lies in the interruption of the Ghost’s dialogue. In choosing to observe the Ghost, you are developing the capacity to witness the mind without being controlled by it, becoming possessed by its ideas and opinions (which in turn may be somebody else’s).
The ideal relationship with the Ghost is that of a gentle but firm parent. It is tempting to be very critical or ashamed of ourselves for the shadowy parts of the mind. But in the end, we are all human. We don’t need to get rid of the mind. That is perhaps impossible, and probably undesirable for most of us. The key is to develop the right relationship with it, and shape it as best we can.
While The Ghost Watcher tool might appear to occupy some length of time in the description above, in practice the whole process may take just a moment or two, once you have become familiar with it. The essence is to stop for a moment and observe your thinking mind, permitting you to pull out of any mental drama or narrative, and to become more present.
You can then return to whatever productive or mental activity you would like to be doing.
If the internal dialogue (drama) starts up again, you now have the tool to bring the mind into alignment: The Ghost Watcher.
The Ghost Watcher has the potential to pull our minds out of the collective mindscapes of the internet. Many of us today are caught up in political tribalism. The Ghost in our heads may actually be quite angry, viewing other tribes with contempt or even destructive outrage. This is unsurprising, because many news and social media channels paint their political opponents in the worst possible light, editing clips and magnifying the least attractive aspects of their opponents, while obfuscating their better qualities. Quite often, they fail to contextualize statements and actions, and too many deliberately misrepresent what has been said or done. Almost everybody in the public spotlight has had this happen to them.
The lack of civility in online discourse is seen everywhere, driven by pathological profit models centered upon the promulgation of fear and loathing, the dehumanisation of a despised other. Our Ghosts end up parroting the voices echoing across whatever mediascapes we have come to inhabit (even as their invisible algorithms stalk us, and shape our minds).
Too many of us are being programmed to be players in someone else’s computer game, fighting other Ghosts in a game that we never consciously agreed to participate in.
Its time to pull our ghosts out of the machine.