The Active-Observation (A-O) Principal

Shamanic Living
Waking Times

What is “active-observation”? the Taoists might call it “Wu-Wei: effortless effort, and Quantum theorists might call it the “Observer Effect.” This is when you can step out of the automatic, passive or reactive experiences of life and bring in greater awareness and intention to enhance the experiences of observation and action.

I believe pretty much every aspect of life boils down to an action or an observation. If you “observe” your daily routines, they can be divided into actions/reactions or activities that are observed and recorded.

One involves outward expression that interacts with the physical world, the other involves receiving and inwardly processing info much like an antenna. (While receiving can be an act in itself, it can be done passively—so observation can also be viewed as a passive action).

Adding the element of conscious awareness to either of these two experiences transforms and enhances each one and provides a marble-colored layer of “active-observation” to the mix.


If ‘passively observing’ as we go through life, it can feel like living alongside a conveyer belt, where all sensation becomes attuned to automated and narrowly focused stimulation—It could be tantamount to apathetic mechanistic living or a blind acceptance of whatever comes and goes in front of you.

Similarly, passive action—or action without the added ingredient of active-observation —resembles the experience of being the conveyor belt or being on it. Many of our basic survival functions are passive actions, and that’s a good thing. But in these cases we are either preprogrammed to act in a certain way to fit a protocol, or we may be following the brain’s orders out of habit. Like passively observing, the defining feature is the same: a limited cause-effect experience of life.

  • When reacting passively, it’s similar, except that the reaction may be an automatic emotional response traced to a wound. New and old hurts, resentments, and negative sensations (and a craving for thrills that get in their way) are a recipe for reactiveness. And in the case of passive reaction, a habitual association with emotions may interfere with life and develop into an addiction as we become dependent on ego-driven feelings giving the orders.


    Active-observation could be one key to meditation. Indeed it could be the act of bringing a meditative mindset into any interaction with the world. The result is to move beyond survival, reaction and automation and into the realms of creativity, play, inspiration, spontaneity, and healthy natural being. Where the experience of whatever we are doing carries a natural flow of feedback between observer and observed and between actor and action.

    Someone who is experienced at active-observation, may develop and refine these skills so they provide the basis for an integrated-existence. Here, a person becomes so familiar with their own unique place as an agent of constructive interplay with conscious observation and action that the two merge and synch guided by an intent of creating more sustainable access to active-observation. Perhaps this integrated state might even begin to wire a person to develop higher brain functions and bring forth Lao Tzu‘s state of “valuable, necessary, and long lasting service.”

    The Hindu’s believe that one ideal of life is to experience Satchidananda, or to break out of the action-reaction cycle of karma and live-out our true nature. Could they have considered “active-observation” and integrated-existence as ways of unlocking our highest potential on this path?

    Gaining an awareness of life’s essential unity and learning to cooperate with its natural flow and order enables people to attain a state of being that is both fully free and independent and at the same time fully connected to the life flow of the Universe – being at one with the Tao. From the Taoist viewpoint this represents the ultimate stage of human existence. ~ Ted Kardesh

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