Telescopic, Panoramic Awareness and the Inner Work of Compassion

Photo by Ansia Lasa on Unsplash

Craig Polsfuss, the administrator of the Facebook group “Gaining the Most from Sydney Banks,” recently posted a question based on a statement he once heard Syd say. “Once you’ve had this understanding, all that’s left is the inner work.” Craig posed the following question to the group, “What do you think is the ‘inner work’?”

This question really piqued my interest. My initial response was that our inner work is “awareness” because awareness is the gift of Consciousness. I know that, at any moment, I have the innate capacity to be open to the immediacy of my experience, the awareness of life unfolding, and the awareness of what I create via Thought.

I experience awareness like the lens of a camera, both telescopic and panoramic. When I place curious and kind attention on the foreground of what I am experiencing, my present moment thoughts, emotions, and sensations, I am engaging telescopic awareness. I experience panoramic awareness as vast, formless awareness, the background which contains everything.

Photo by Vincent Wright on Unsplash

As a professional harpist, I am acutely aware of my role in ensemble performances. Harp is the orchestral solo instrument “loner,” and I need focused attention on my performance’s technical intricacies at all times. When playing, I am telescopically aware of aspects such as notation, rhythm, dynamics, phrasing, rests, conductor cues, and listening for my instrument’s balance with the entire ensemble. The moment it is not my singular performance any longer, and the last vibrations and frequencies of musical notes fade, I experience the totality of the joyful and spiritual nature of music-making. It is an otherworldly dimension of transcendence and interconnected, panoramic awareness of the deeper intelligence and energy behind life.

“As the human mind ascends in divine consciousness, the gap between subject and object begins to vanish, and the oneness of life emerges.” (Sydney Banks)

“Notice — then stop looking — the job is done.” (Elsie Spittle)

“When you operate from the infinite creative potential of this space, you produce high levels of performance and creative flow. Universal mind, or the impersonal mind, is constant and unchangeable. All humans have the inner ability to synchronize their personal mind with their impersonal mind to bring harmony into their lives.” (Michael Neill)

Photo by Simone Secci on Unsplash

It occurs to me that my initial response of “awareness” to the question “What do you think is the inner work?” feels incomplete. What about those days of music-making when my practicing or performances don’t go very well? What happens on the days when I feel inadequate, insecure, or when things fall apart? I vividly recall my ruthless self-criticism when at age 10, I had a memory slip during a piano competition. Even though the judges were compassionate and gave me a high score, I refused to ever partake in any piano competition again. Brutal self-judgment was my dominant feeling after my first solo harp performance as well. At that time, I left the stage and ran down an outside corridor of the recital hall because my performance wasn’t “perfect.” Fortunately, the audience did not feel the same way, and I felt a glimmer of joy and kindness when the stage director found me so I could take an audience-requested second bow. I am forever grateful to many others, including my harp teacher, audiences, fellow musicians, and conductors, who had more compassion and gratitude for my efforts than I did for myself.

“You can search the whole tenfold universe and not find a single being more worthy of love and compassion than the one seated here — yourself.” (Buddha)

“Hold yourself as a mother holds her beloved child.” (Buddha)

“Loving ourselves points us to capacities of resilience, compassion, and understanding within that are simply part of being alive.” (Sharon Salzberg)

I realize now that thoughts of self-criticism, insecurity, and self-doubt act as a habitual, false identity narrative and filter on my life as it unfolds. I know that I can interrupt the momentum of thought-created illusions and access the clear light of panoramic awareness by giving my pain compassionate acknowledgment, acceptance, and embodied attention, moment-to-moment.

The juxtaposition of my early musical experiences and my current practice of self-compassion toward my thoughts of inadequacy and “failure” reinforces the profound impact and intersection of self-compassion and my understanding of the Three Principles. Subsequently, upon deeper reflection on my initial answer to Craig’s question about our “inner work,” I responded with the words “compassionate awareness.”

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

What do you think? I encourage you to consider what I use as a daily intention. Just for today, can you notice the number of self-criticisms and the number of self-accepting and compassionate encouragements you give yourself? Can you make an intention to shift that ratio toward self-compassion? Can your self-compassion then awaken a greater compassionate awareness for all?

“Never underestimate the power of compassionately recognizing what’s going on.” (Pema Chodron)



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Paula Smith

Paula Smith


School Psychologist, Professional Harpist, Certified Dynamic Mindfulness Trainer, Certified SEE Learning Curriculum, Author of “Core Goodness” K-4 Curriculum