The backward step x2

 

In Zen, the backward step is a shift from being caught up in the content of our experience to that which it all happens within and as.

For me, there are two backward steps. And often, it can be helpful to first take one, and then the other.

The first backward step is from being caught up in reactivity to notice and feel into what’s behind it.

The reactivity is to an uncomfortable experience we have in the moment, and we go into the reactivity to distract from this uncomfortable experience. In my case, and perhaps for others, this underlying experience is often fear. The reactivity itself can take the form of justification, blame, guilt, defense, and even sadness or depression, and it goes along with a contraction of both the mind (defensive etc.) and body (physical tension).

So I notice the symptoms of reactivity, step back from engaging actively in it, find curiosity to what in me – here and now – the reactivity is a response to, and feel into it. Often, I take a shortcut and look for underlying fear.

As long as I am caught in the reactivity, it’s stressful, tense, and a struggle. And as soon as I take this backward step and rest with the underlying fear, there is a relief, softening, and receptivity.

The second backward step is – as described above – from being caught up in the content of our experience to notice what it happens within and as. And when I say “caught up in the content of our experience” it really means caught up in our thoughts.

When I take my thoughts as true, and get caught up in them and engage in them, my attention is automatically caught up in the content of my experience and I experience myself as something or someone within this content of experience. My world becomes small and I become an object in the world.

Taking this backward step is similar. I notice the symptoms of what’s happening, step back from actively engaging in it, and notice what my experience happens within and as.

A verbal pointer may be to notice the field of experience or consciousness or the space it all happens within and as. And – especially in the beginning – we can explore this more effectively through a form of inquiry like the Big Mind process, Headless experiments, or exploring the sense fields through traditional Buddhist inquiry or modern varieties like Living Inquiries.

Eventually, we notice that what we are is what all our experience happens within and as, and this is what notices itself. It temporarily took itself to be something or someone within its own content, and it woke up from that little excursion or dream.

As mentioned earlier, these two backward steps are similar. Before the step, there is contraction and struggle. In the step, there is a release, relief, softening, receptivity, and a sense of returning home. And when we live more from it, we live more from noticing, allowing, receptivity, and from a kind of groundedness.

For most of us, we have an opportunity to take these steps many times throughout the day. We notice we are caught up in something, step back, find the fear behind it, rest with it for a while, and take the other step back and rest with and as that for a while.

In the beginning, it can be easier to take some time out of the situation we are in to take these steps. And as we get more used to it, we can do it more seamlessly in the situation we are in. If I am on my own, I’ll take a few seconds or minutes to do it. And if I am with someone, I’ll do the same – perhaps while the other person is talking.

It’s very simple. It’s not always easy, at least not in the moment. It’s always new and fresh. (It really feels new and fresh each time.) And it’s more rewarding than just about anything else. It’s a very useful life skill. And it helps us return home – in an emotional sense and as what we are.

Initial notes…

  • The backward step
    • from Zen
      • notice what we are -> what we are noticing itself
    • for me, two backward steps – useful at different times, or one after another in the same situation
      • (a) the fear behind any reactivity (defense, blame, guilt, etc.)
        • helps release out of the reactivity
      • (b) what I am – what all experience happens within and as
        • helps release out of taking myself to be something/one within the content of my experience

In Zen, the backward step is a shift from being caught up in the content of our experience to that which it all happens within and as. That which we more fundamentally, in our own experience – when we notice, are. And that which can notice itself as that.

The first backward step is from being caught up in reactivity – in whatever forms it takes – to notice the fear behind it.

The reactivity may take the form of justification, blame, guilt, defense, and even sadness or depression. This goes along with contraction and tension – contraction of the mind and tension in the body. The reactivity is to an uncomfortable experience, and the reactivity serves to distract attention away from it. At least for me, the underlying experience is often fear.

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