An inside observer, a second semi-separate consciousness: sounds like multitasking or maybe parallel computing. In Lunchtime Enlightenment Chapter 3 ("Frogs Jumping from Lily Pads: Becoming a Witness to the Mind") Pragito Dove expands upon the theme that "The special knack of meditation is to develop the one who pays attention, the watcher." As she explains:
Simply by watching the disturbance of mind, body, and emotions, with nonjudgment and acceptance, slowly, over time, the traffic of the mind begins to slow down, and we move from being controlled by the mind to connecting with the heart. This brings us more balance and clarity as it accesses our inner intelligence, dignity, and wisdom.
This is what happens in meditation. The meditator takes a journey from the outer realm to the inner, subjective world where she finds the parts of herself she often ignores, forgets about, or is disconnected from: her feelings, emotions, soul, her essential being. Patience is needed, but this knack of witnessing brings rich rewards. It is a thread of awareness we can weave into the fabric of everyday life.
And a few paragraphs later Dove suggests, reassuringly:
Whatever you are doing—walking, sitting, eating—try to do it watchfully. Or if you are not doing anything, just breathing, resting, relaxing in the grass, try to bring yourself to an awareness that you are a watcher. Yes, you will forget, over and over again. You will get involved in some thought, some emotion, some sentiment—anything to distract you from being the watcher. Just remember and come back to your center of watching.
By making this a continuous inner process, you will be surprised how life can change its quality. Once we reach that place of watcher, or witness, we begin to see ourselves with more clarity and objectivity. We see the dramas in our lives with perspective and compassion, and insights and understandings will begin to arise naturally.
The mind and the ego will want to make it complicated, but it is not. Mind always wants to control. It is a technician; technology is its field. But watchfulness is beyond its control. It is beyond it, above it, and in fact can be death to the control the mind can have over us.