The backward step


Hence, you should stop searching for phrases and chasing after words. Take the backward step and turn the light inward. Your body-mind of itself will drop off and your original face will appear.
Dogen from Enlightenment Unfolds (1999)

What does it mean to take the backward step?

Sitting in the tea house in a Chinese garden yesterday, the words backward step became very much alive for me.

I noticed the symptoms of solidifying a story, taking it as real. I noticed a solidified sense of a separate I, a center located in space, boundaries appearing as real, slight unease, tension, sense of precariousness, a viewpoint to defend, and so on. It was just the beginning movements, but still quite noticeable.

I could see that one option is to enhance, elaborate, support and defend the story, making it appear even more true. This is the forward step and it solidifies the story, and the sense of a separate I, even more.

And another is to allow and be with the emotions created by the belief, allow and be with the fear behind it, with kindness, and also notice and inquire into the belief to find what is more true for me. This is the backward step.

Instead of acting on the reactive emotions created by the belief, I allow and be with them, as they are, with kindness. Instead of acting on the fear behind the belief, solidifying the belief even more, I notice the fear and allow it, as is, wholeheartedly, with kindness. Instead of defending and elaborating on the story, I can notice it and relate to it with receptivity and curiosity. I can notice it wordlessly as just a story, an image within my own world of images. I can inquire into it with words: Is it true? can I know it is true? what happens when I believe it? Who would I be without it? What is the truth in its turnarounds?

This backward step leads into don’t know, into noticing that I already don’t know. And it leads to noticing it all as the play of awake emptiness, of awakeness itself, already insubstantial, already without an “I” anywhere.



  • backward step
    • belief
      • forward step: defend, elaborate, act as if true etc. (notice the symptoms)
      • backward step: allow, be with emotions w. kindness (including the fear behind it) + inquire into belief > don’t know > play of awake emptiness

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