Backward step

In Zen, they sometimes talk about taking the backward step.

And as so often, it is a metaphor, and it’s also the description that’s close to the immediate experience of it – at least for me.

The forward step is going into familiar stories and images, fueled by familiar emotions and identities. It’s a very familiar territory, and it feels like tightening a knot. It’s an escape from uncomfortable sensations, emotions, images and thoughts. It’s a distraction. It’s an attempt to run away.

And the backward step is to open to what’s here, meet the discomfort that’s here, notice it’s already opened to, welcome it, find what it’s deepest wish is for, invite it to notice what it really is. And it is to notice the images and thoughts that’s here, and inquire into these to find what’s more true for me.

The first is experienced as a forward step because it’s often very familiar, it’s what I have learned to do from our families, friends and culture. It’s also a forward step because it takes me “away” from what’s really going on for me.

The second is experienced as a backward step because it’s – at least at first – more unfamiliar to me, and it brings me towards what’s here – the contraction, the sensations, the images and thoughts as images and thoughts.

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