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Is a formal practice needed, at least at first?

I'm new to this Looking at Yourself, although not new to seeking. John's approach just wouldn't have been meaty enough for me before now, so its interesting that I am finding the looking really rich at times and can't leave it alone, although I go through all those thoughts that I'm not doing it right. And at times, it seems impossible to do. And I'm not really sure what I'm looking at/for since passing sensations seem to take up all the space most of the time. But I believe I've had glimpses of ME before even beginning with this method which helps me continue with it.

However, one of my biggest doubts is whether this should be a more formal sitting practice which I have never been very successful with. I love being able to do this at different points in the day informally but I have a bit of a downer about myself because I can't and never have been able to discipline myself into a formal practice, which means to me that I'll never really succeed at this.

So I'm really interested in others' views about formal practice versus informal practice around looking at yourself.

Finally I have a devotional background and have a lovely book (that I've read a few times over the years) by a Carmelite monk from the 16th or 17the Century -Practising the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence - and although it uses very different, more devotional language, it seems like it may be the very same thing. In fact alot of teachings that I have come across on my path seem to make more sense than ever now with this looking.

Any comments / guidance/ experiences would be gratefully recieved.

Thanks and love,


Hi Susan,

Welcome! I'm glad you decided to post. This is a great question and certainly one I struggled with a lot at the beginning.

I was always an "unsuccessful" meditator too--it took a LOT of effort for me to have any kind of meditation practice, probably because it almost always resulted in extreme self-criticism and feelings of guilt and misery that I wasn't doing it correctly. So, one of the things that initially attracted me to the looking was it seemed that the "twenty minutes of meditation a day every day" rule didn't necessarily apply.

Initially, I would just look whenever I thought to do so, as John suggests. After about six months, I started trying to do the mindfulness meditation he describes for about ten minutes or so and then look for a few minutes after that. You should be able to find his mindfulness meditation instructions somewhere on the Just One Look site.

I've continued to do mindfulness meditation because I enjoy it (I think the looking has helped with this) and because I believe John when he says that building one’s powers of concentration (which is what he recommends the mindfulness meditation for) is valuable for the looking and other aspects of life. I guess it also doesn’t hurt that, for whatever reason, meditation is no longer a struggle. Although there are PLENTY of days where my thoughts are all over the place, it just doesn't stress me out as much anymore. So, in short... I don't think meditation is a mandatory pre-requisite, but if you try it again after you've been doing the looking for a little while, you may find that it's a different and valuable experience.

Hope that’s helpful—I’m still a beginner at this too, but I thought any perspective might be useful.



For me the key is stopping. What I see when I look varies, and I don't pay much attention to how I might characterize what I "see" about myself. I used to be big on meditation, and my sense is that it helps with discipline now and reduction of stress then. The willingness to stop (and look) overshadows the technique, whether it be mediation or otherwise. Trimpi

To me, the Looking differs from meditation and similar techniques in that these techniques are for the purpose of finding a relief from the suffering we all experience in varying degrees and circumstances -- and they can help. The relief (happiness) was the prize and it seemed a few obtained it by accident and a few more by sheer will power, self-discipline or self-denial. The Looking is just looking. It is about trying to put this human mind in direct contact with what we are and have always been. But the Looking is not about straining for a direct "experience" of some sort although to some these occur. No understanding is required or even can be had. There's nothing to believe. Looking inward, away from the cacophony of our human mind, for that which is always there, never changes and has no qualities except it feels like you, will heal the disease that is the root of our distress – of our suffering.

Now, it is simple but not easy. Sincere effort is required. At times it may bring on the very symptoms we so desperately want to escape. But that will be proof that the healing process is underway and now as we continue Looking, the end is sure. That's the amazing thing about this practice. There are not just one or two star students who "get it." It truly seems that we all will get it. And here's the kicker: Then instead of fleeing from a life that only brings pain, we will embrace life as it is and for what it is--our most precious, miraculous gift.

Your excellent reply raised two thoughts. First, if anyone has tendencies to be angry, miffed or upset when unappreciated or judgmental toward others (I have great experience in the realms of appreciation and judgment), then the mention of "star students" will trigger a response. No problem with that, except that if it won't be brought to consciousness it will likely reoccur a lot, thus making the practice more difficult. This is another pitfall I want to mention. I spent a lot of time at John's first retreat in judgment of others and missed out on the value of much of what was said. Eventually it all came home to me, and it wouldn't have been so bad if it was more entertaining, but I layered it over with self-blame and a desire to be "cured." That I have been a judgmental jerk is no so hard to swallow now. I know there are a lot of you lying in wait with your judgments, and I would suggest that you be gentle with yourselves and not allow them or your feelings of unworthiness or not being appreciated enough to direct you away from the inquiry. Another direction, as John would put it, would be sex, drugs and rock and roll. There's much more inside. The second thing I'd mention is what you say about "getting it." I went through est in the mid-80's, and the whole program was a build-up to the last assurance or goal, that we would all get it. At the end the trainers came around and whispered in our ears that there was nothing to get. The same can be said of our practice. There is only stuff to strip away, but nothing (no thing) to get from outside ourselves. What I think we get out of the inquiry is freedom. Freedom from suffering, freedom from being so identified with our circumstances that we can be knocked off our pegs, freedom (not the elimination) from the effects of our neurotic impulses. Embracing presence -- or life as you say -- becomes more automatic and is greased with ease. Trimpi

Formal practice

I haven't been on the forum in a while and now, seeing so much clarity in so many human beings, I am just thrilled to the bottom of my heart. How wonderful it is to see that the looking at myself turns out to bring the same sanity and joyfulness in all people. Wonderful...

Trimpi, this is my own take on the formal practice aspect. I spend about 1 hour and a half daily in subways. I found this time to be great for just sitting quietly and doing some sort of meditational practice. There have been times when I looked at myself in the same circumstances, but the looking is not something that can be done consciously, continuously, for that long, at least in my experience. The looking is, as John says, just a momentary seeing, repeated whenever possible. And I found, again as John says, that it's absolutely true that I'm always, always looking at myself, I'm just not aware of it. Now as far as mindfullness or other practices go, I consider them quite useful. They can help us relax a bit, release some of the layers of stress, appease some of the crazyness. I use some of them quite frequently, just because I found that they make me function a bit better. Think of them in terms of athletics. If you have a good athlete, if you want to make him better in some area of his sport, you're going to make him sweat and toil, right? That's how our professional and even personal lives are performed - effort to become more skillfull. Now, after you're done with training, you need some diet, some sauna, massage, a good sleep, maybe some psycho-therapy, clean air, supplements, no? That's what mindfulness, releasing, opening practices do. They relax the mind and the body to a deep level. So, they're valuable. But, no matter the strain or relaxation, you are the same. There's an aspect prevailing at that time (like strain or relaxation), but you are here and you are the same nonetheless. That's what makes the looking special and so universal.

Sitting quietly or counting breaths are optional practices. They are pleasant and, in the end, good tools for a balanced living. You are here anyway, balanced living or not... that's the real jewel. You

Being judgemental on yourself or others is, to quote John, besides the point. It may go away fast, or not so fast, or not at all. Who knows? Looking at you takes away the feeling that being judgemental or not being judgemental or doing away with judgementalness has any impact on you. And you already know that. So, look at yourself, enjoy yourself. I'm so glad to be with you all in this adventure. Much love and appreciation. Dragos

Thanks for all your helpful responses to my question about formal practice. I was unable to respond sooner since I was having trouble opening this reply box for some mysterious reason! Anyway, it is really heart warming and encouraging to experience this community for the first time and first hand. It's encouraging to hear about your similar struggle with meditation Ansley, and your enjoyment of meditation since looking - thanks for sharing your experience. And its helpful to think about not straining and willingness. I read yesterday in John's book that it can useful to sit down and focus on the breath once a day before looking so I may try that a little more. By the way, I'm pleased you mention that this looking may bring on symptoms we wish to avoid, SWHA. I have begun to believe that the looking is magnifying a sense of suffering in my life. Is that a common experience? At first it was so easy and enjoyable (which it still can be at times) but life does seem to have got harder in some ways - difficult to put my finger on it though.

Thanks again and love,


Dear Susan,

About life getting harder with the looking: Looking back I find that my life certainly got stirred up. For example, I became aware of a substrate of fear I had been denying. Over time I have become aware that no matter what I do, even Look at Myself, life seems to have its own wave rhythm. I may get a wave of disturbance followed by a wave of peace followed by a wave of disturbance, etc. With continued looking, I have realized that these waves are not me so I let them be. LeraJane

Well said, Dragos. I, too, am grateful for connecting with the folks on the Forum and thank C.S. for suggesting it. Trimpi

Hi LeraJane,

I can relate to what you say about a wave of disturbance followed by a wave of peace etc. I am grateful to hear someone else corroborate what I have been going through since starting the looking. Thank you for contributing your comment, it's very helpful! Jenny

Its so funny, that really everything is 'beside the point' and we can just carry on looking regardless of concerns about formal practice or what's being stirred up etc etc, and we can just look whenever it comes to mind to do so, without strain or a big drama, but my mind really likes to keep busy with making sense of life and getting caught up in creating meanings of the dramas, so I guess I may continue to humour it when I'm not looking! In this vein, its as if this looking places a light on one's life that prevents the denial of anything - I guess that's why it can get a little tricky at times. But as you say Lerajane, life goes in waves, so what to do...

Susan x


I too have possessed an overwhelming need to understand what's going on here. Even though the carefully written thoughts of the greatest thinkers the world has produced revealed nothing to me, I kept up the search to the exclusion of so much. If you had asked me a year or so ago why I was this way I would have given you some answer I'm sure. Then it all began looking futile. Later it started looking a little silly. Now it seems uninteresting and remote. I suspect the natural life -- the sane life -- is lived without the distortions caused by the tension and anxiety of needing to know that which can never be known by the human mind. It is starting to seem that way to me.

Isn't this fascinating?


Hi Steve,

Your message is very reassuring. I have depended on my mind and understandings for so long that letting go of the need to gain knowledge/understanding is really stepping into the unknown and can feel a little scary. I also like to have goals that can be met, so just looking is very unfamiliar. And my mind then judges me as lazy and depressed as it becomes less active. Somehow reading these forums allows a welcome release of tension with respect to all these negative judgements and I can just enjoy the present and the looking once more.


Thanks Trimpi,

Stopping is a key for me too. When I began, I downloaded John's book "Look at Yourself" and was immediately drawn to it. I will add that I was truly desperate at the time. Eventually I clipped every word pertaining to how the looking should be done, filling a 3 x 5 notepad. Gradually I reduced the instructions, trying to find a formula that worked for me. I was used to teachers "revealing" their secrets in riddles, puzzles and mystery and I guess it had not then occurred to me that I had never been smart enough, or something enough, to get what the teachers were trying to impart. What was there to do but try?

Still, this was different. I don't have to change? I don't have to chain myself to the bed when the full moon approaches? At that time I was certain that the human mind was defective. It never occurred to me that it might be damaged or universally diseased. But I also knew that some few had recovered -- had broken free. (It is really awkward to try to describe this impression as if I understand the mechanics of it. I do not.) So as time passed I came to realize that there is nothing to understand or believe. I don't have to sell my goods and follow another salesman (I do not mean to disparage intentions) into the wilderness. I just have to look. And I get to be me.

My ‘looking’ has taken many forms. At the moment, my looking usually goes something like this. I prefer to sit or lie down and totally relax. Then I think about bringing the attention of this human mind into direct, conscious contact with the “me” that never changes and is always there. I look but do not “see,” I listen but do not “hear,” I touch but do not “feel.” Yet I am certain that I am there. I am the only thing that never changes. I can see through memories that this is so. I yield to my instinct and intuition to find a way to bring my mind and my “reality” into contact and I try to move my mind inward and away from the source of mental noise. When I am most successful I am overcome by a smile and then later sometimes by the discomfort of an upset mind as whatever is happening happens.

But that’s me and that’s now. I’m just sharing. You will find your own way. Like you, I am under re-construction and for me there is much work to be done. I don’t even know what I’m doing writing this. But here I am. Back again.

One more thing I’ve come to know: This is real.

Thanks to all,




I suspect the natural life--the sane life -- is lived without the distortions caused by the tension and anxiety of needing to know that which can never be known by the human mind. It is starting to seem that way to me.

Isn't this fascinating?


This makes really good sense to me - my mind has currently taken a hiatus from the struggle of trying to figure out that which it can never figure out. The hiatus came due to becoming more ill in the last week, and my mind has become quite preoccupied with that. My mind became tired and foggy enough not to care about any non-existant answers to the mysteries of life. But I really like your quote. Thanks for sharing.



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