Are you in the arena or are you a commentator?
There is a rousing quote from Theodore Roosevelt, which talks about the credit belonging to the person who is actually in the arena, “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again.”
On a good day, this is the way we feel about our lives. We are down there in the arena engaged, making the hard decisions, overcoming the obstacles, bounding over the pitfalls, moving forward in growth and achievement.
And while all that is true, as we become more conscious, we begin to realize that what is actually happening is we are observing these things being done. For example, I think I am writing these words but what is actually happening is that I am observing these words being written.
When you have been meditating for a while you begin to get a bit of distance from your thoughts. You are sort of to the side of them and can see them happening.
It is an odd experience, particularly the first time it occurs. It can be quite disconcerting to see a thought happening, a thought that in the past we would have thought was us. A thought we wouldn’t have really thought of as a thought, instead we would have thought we were just figuring something out like what to have for dinner.
Let’s say I am meditating and in the distance a bell rings. In the inner stillness, I can see a chain of associations forming in response to the bell ring. They lead to a memory of a time I had Pizza in a town square. The pizza is linked to the good times and feelings I had. My body glows with the memory. I want more of those glowing feelings.
I want pizza.
This kind of distance is so helpful. Seeing where our thoughts are coming from allows us to get ahead of our reactions and inverted negative perceptions. It helps us to not say the cruel thing, make the impulse purchase, or eat the last piece of cake.
As we continue to speed up our growth in consciousness through meditation, we begin to see that what we think of as ourselves changes. More and more of it falls away as we see how thoughts originate.
We used to think that we were doing the thinking.
Now we see that there is no one doing the thinking there are just thoughts.
Thoughts generating thoughts.
Thoughts that feel like they make up a continuous whole of who we are, but when examined closely have none of our substance in them.
The simple act of seeing our thoughts demonstrates to us that we are not our thoughts. We cannot be the thing we are observing. We are something else, something witnessing.
No one home
As we continue to grow in consciousness, this observer begins to appear in our lives more and more. It can be quite disarming. Up until then, we feel like we are the person in the arena, and everything rests on our shoulders. The decisions, the challenges, the choices, the direction chosen, the assessment of the situation, the planning, the discernment.
We realise that what is actually happening is we are observing something unfolding, a deeper part of us at work, driving our lives forward. We observe a purpose we don’t comprehend but can feel – an intent.
It can be very humbling because it is very baked into me, for example, to feel like I am the one writing these words instead of what is actually happening which is that I am observing these words being written.
But, once we get over that shock there is a great sense of ease. When we think we are the person in the arena all our decisions are very heavy because we think the outcome of those decisions will shape the direction of our lives.
As we become more familiar with the observer witnessing the events of our life a deep anxiety falls away. We become like a commentator who is keenly following the events in the arena and is rooting for the player and keenly interested in what is going to happen next.
Welcome to Paradox
All the above could sound like a recipe for irresponsibility and spiritual bypass. “It’s not me man, I’m just the observer.”
This would be true if it weren’t for the realization that we are both player and commentator at the same time.
We play the game like our life depends on it, while simultaneously observing ourselves playing the game with the detachment of a commentator who will be upset if their hero doesn’t win, but either way will go home to a warm bed and the love that is their family.
We are both and knowing that we can rest peacefully in both.