The Gift of Being a Fish Out of Water
I want you to imagine you’re holding a gift-wrapped box in your hands.
(For the full impact, do the exercise instead of just reading through it. It’s fun)
Get a sense of it’s size and weight, what does the wrapping paper looks like?
Does it have a ribbon or a bow?
Hold it out in front of you,
BUT DON’T THINK ABOUT WHAT’S INSIDE OF IT YET!
Just turn and examine the wrapped box itself.
(You might want to put your phone down for a second)
OK, now go ahead and start to unwrap it,
But don’t anticipate what’s inside, remain curious.
Once you have the box unwrapped, wait for my signal, but don’t peek yet.
OK, Go ahead and lift open the top and look inside.
What do you see? What popped up for you?
Now pause for a second and ask yourself, “Where did it come from?”.
I want you to make a distinction between 1) What you saw inside the box, and 2) What part of yourself was seeing the gift. There was an object and some part of yourself viewing that object. Even though both are taking place inside your mind at the same time, there is a difference between these two things. Let’s call the part that’s seeing the object, The Witness. This part is witnessing everything that’s happening in your life, even your thoughts. Our thoughts, feelings, emotions, experiences, and the events of our lives are passing in front of this Witness. It’s more difficult to differentiate these things from our Witness because we’ve been thinking thoughts all day long every day for so long that we’ve come to believe that we are our thoughts.
Imagine a fish that’s been swimming around in a lake his whole life. He has no idea that there is anything outside of this body of water. He’s come to believe that this is the whole universe. One day, he happens to leap out of the water and in that instant, his world view changes. He comes to see for the first time that he’s a fish swimming in a lake. There’s air up here, blue sky, he maybe even get’s a glimpse of land. Inevitably he falls back into the water, but from now on he’ll be able to picture what life looks like from up above. It’s a more accurate representation of the truth, an expanded consciousness.
We, like the fish, rarely leap out of our own ocean of thoughts, see the air, and the truth of our existence.
When you make an effort to become mindful of the present moment, you start to get a sense of this Witness Consciousness. You start to see that the watcher inside is separate from your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. It’s a pure unfiltered vision of what’s happening right in front of you. A present moment of living and being alive, of truly being there and experiencing life first hand, bypassing the mind’s mechanical habit of labeling and categorizing everything with judgements, reactions, and preferences. It’s this unconscious process of filtering life through the lens of your previous experiences that keeps us underwater and unaware of our true nature.
If you could live your life from the vantage point of this Witness Consciousness at all times, you’d call it Enlightenment. I’ve met monks that struggle to achieve this as a life goal so give yourself a break here. You don’t have to be totally Enlightened to reap tremendous benefits from this idea. Would you settle simply for being “more enlightened” than you are now? Now that’s possible with a little effort.
Imagine the benefit of knowing that you are not your thoughts, that you are not your feelings, that you are not your emotions, that you are only the witness of these passing things. It allows you to detach and rest above the ebb and flow of the tide of emotions when things aren’t going exactly as you’d like. After all, this is not you, you are only watching and “this too shall pass”. A thought comes along that is not particularly helpful, pleasant, or that serves you positively in any way, no problem, it’s not you. You can let this little irritant simply pass along, knowing that another thought will instantly takes it place. Now of course you could also decide that you’d rather wrestle with it instead, beat yourself up with it, churn it over and over and keep it alive, possibly all day, all week, or for the rest of your life. How often have you done that? You can even choose to let it become part of your identity (I’m a victim, I’m a failure, nothing ever goes right for me, I’m no good at that and never will be), or you can simply let it pass, for it is not you.
This is not as easy as I make it sound. It takes strength of mind and a commitment to not let yourself get bogged down in the discursive river of thought or emotion. This is a skill that can be developed and strengthened with mindfulness techniques and a meditation practice. This skill of being able to let things go is the chief benefit of meditation and the reason it reduces stress and anxiety while simultaneously increasing happiness and peace of mind. With this skill you’ll have the strength of mind to let things pass by that don’t serve you. You’ll be able to conserve your energy by not wrestling with thoughts or feelings that drag you down in the muck. You can then repurpose this energy for more productive endeavors. You can detach from identifying yourself with negative past events in your life, unhelpfully mislabeling yourself, or fearing or worrying about future events that might reflect bad on you if they don’t turn out like you’d prefer.
Developing this perspective of Witness Consciousness is the path to the freedom of your spirit. This is the first step to the beginning of the end of suffering. This is the window to appreciating the miracle of life’s ordinary moments as they pass before you. Don’t let life stream by, anticipating only the highlight moments while you exercise your will attempting to bend reality to your liking. Come on, jump out of the water, YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS THIS LIFE! There are so many more magical moments to enjoy from this higher vantage point, above it all.
ps A mediation practice has given me the biggest boost of happiness and enjoyment of my life more than any other single thing I’ve ever done, period. Here is a link to a short quick-start instruction guide if you are so motivated.
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