Stepping Back from Your Own Mind

Becoming Observer and Observed

By: - Sep 15, 2020

“Can you deal with the most vital matters
By letting events take their course?
Can you step back from your own mind
And thus understand all things?”

Dao de Qing, Ch. 10, from Laozi

Things change, always.  What we thought today was so awful will seem less so with each passing day, if not moment.  If only we could muster patience, let those moments and days pass without upset and let the red dust settle..  

We’ve all likely heard some variation of the story of the farmer whose horse ran away, only to return a week later with other horses; and his son who fell off the horse the next day and shattered his leg, only to avoid conscription into the Emperor’s army the following week when called to serve.  With each seeming disaster, the farmer asked what makes you think it’s so bad; and with each seeming good fortune asked what makes you think it’s so good.

Events take their course.  Things change.  Have patience.

In my meditation classes, I often speak of becoming both the observer and observed.  Laozi wrote of “step(ping) back from your own mind” in order to “understand all things.”  As you sit on your cushion, with your mind focused on just the breath, take that step back and watch yourself.  See and hear everything around you.  Can you do this?

In a moment of upset when we are raging against that “thing” we thought so awful, shouting such hurtful words at the one standing before us, imagine how horrified we would be if we could  step back to watch ourselves!  Wouldn’t we wish we could find that patience, that wisdom,, to know that awfulness diminishes over time?

When Laozi writes in Chapter 16 “Empty your mind of all thoughts. Let your heart be at peace,” he is not suggesting we stop all thoughts from arising; rather, he is telling us to step back from them.  Become both observer and observed.  Take a more objective view of life and of the world, and see things merely as they are.  Ah, if only for that clarity in the moment.

We practice the skill of meditation to cultivate stillness.  Stillness brings us into the present moment, and enables us to see all of creation with great clarity.  We step back from ourselves and become our own observer.  We let our heart be at peace.

And we remember that things change.  Always.

Lest you think this is a mere  PollyAnna perspective, Think back to a dire circumstance in your life that on the day of its occurrence seemed so devastating.  We just knew we’d never recover from it, and became convinced our life was over.  If you’re reading these words, you know otherwise.

Breathe.  Step back from your mind, and understand all things.  This is the power of stillness.