Have an out-of-body experience

Oh that the gods, the gift would give us, to see ourselves, as others see us. Robert Burns, Scottish poet 

I enjoy select Latin and Greek words and phrases because they say a lot in few syllables. They’re even more condensed and succinct than poetry. Here’s a term I recently learned that’s provided food for thought: ekstasis. 

From the Ancient Greek, έκ-στασις (ex-stasis), it means to be or stand outside (from ex-: out, and stasis: stand). In philosophy it means being outside of oneself—to see oneself from the outside. To be self-aware.

Self-awareness is an indispensable skill for developing emotional and social intelligence. Without it we are unaware of how our lives affect other people. 

One way to see ourselves as others see us is to have trusted friends who will honestly and candidly tell us what they observe about our behavior in social settings. 

But we should also develop the skill of self-observation. Let’s learn how to have an out-of-body experience in which we’re observing ourselves in particular situations with the same objectivity that an uninvolved bystander would have. We then “hear” what and how we’re speaking. We “see” ourselves in the context of time and space, observing ourselves from a factual, nonemotional perspective. When we get “outside of ourselves” we’re able to see ourselves more clearly.

  • Recently, I was unkind to a Firestone service advisor because I thought he was being unreasonable. Later that day, I mentally went “ekstasis” and tried to visualize what that scene must have looked like to others who were present. I was embarrassed at what I “saw.” 
  • Recently, I took the time to visit with a member of our custodial staff at the church. We had a good conversation in the hallway. I later heard that those few minutes meant a lot to him. I had been unaware of how my words encouraged him so much. Later, a moment of ekstasis helped me understand the positive impact of spending a few minutes with someone who is outside my normal sphere. 

Action item — Think of a time in the recent past when “going ekstasis” would have helped inform and temper your behavior. 

Discussion question — How could this skill be taught to other people? To children?

10 Replies to “Have an out-of-body experience”

  1. I have found that, with children and anyone really, modeling far exceeds telling, although there are times that communicating well is important. And listening (not just hearing) speaks to the heart.

    1. Jan, I think it takes both modeling and telling. Sometimes I assume that my child or grandchild is learning from my behavior but sometimes they don’t totally get it until I explain what I’m doing and why. Thanks for responding.

  2. I have been reading Psalm 17 and I had written in my journal for God to examine me inside and out and your message here was timely for me thank you

  3. Don, what did you do beyond the “self observation” in the instance where you were unkind to the service advisor. Does that self awareness call for follow-up action to “help” that person to feel better about the interaction? Or is it sufficient to learn from the experience and understand where you could do better in the future?

    1. Condall, what a great question. I became aware of my inappropriate behavior several days later. I did not return to the store to visit with the sales person, perhaps I should have. You bring up a good point: is it sufficient to have just learned from the experience…

  4. Don, in pondering this piece, and your question at the end, I really think the only answer is to walk in God’s light. As we daily read the Word and take it to heart — meditating, and throughout the day, letting the mind return to truths read at the start of the day — and yield to God’s instruction and conviction, then we begin to see ourselves as God sees us. As we admit our sin(s), confess to God (and others, where needed), and yield to Him, the image of His Son begins to shine brighter. HE is the one others need to see. The infinite God so lovingly attends us, and with many and varied vehicles, brings this miraculous change! To look and listen for Him makes life exciting and Him increasingly dear.

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