I think it’s really helpful to forget you exist, and often.
It sounds impossible, but it can be done.
Here’s an exercise I do sometimes to achieve that perspective:
Wherever I am, whatever location I am in, I picture the situation exactly as it would be if I wasn’t there. I just watch it like it’s a movie, and the people still in the scene are the actors. Or maybe there’s nobody around at all, it’s just an empty corner of the world sharing a moment with itself. Whatever the scene, it feels like I’m watching it remotely from some far-off theater. It’s all still happening, but I’m not there.
I absorb myself in the details of how it looks and sounds. The characters’ tones of voice, their gestures, the room around them, the background noise. I can let it be whatever it is without any apprehension, because I’m not there, so I have no means — or reason — to stop it or control it, or to wish it was different.
And something amazing happens: all of my concerns and interests just disappear. I watch the moment unfold however it pleases. No part of me is invested in the moment, it just becomes whatever it wills to be, and it doesn’t matter what happens. The effect is exhilarating and liberating. It seems to be quite a miracle that there is even something happening at all. And it’s always, always beautiful.
Think of it as dying on purpose.
Imagine you just died, right now. All of your responsibilities, relationships, plans and worries would vanish like they were never even real, and the world would go on perfectly fine without your input, just like it did before you existed. It’s nothing personal, just the plain truth.
Your hopes and worries never mattered anyway. They only appeared to be so critical because while you were alive you had the insidious (but normal) human habit of seeing things only insofar as they relate to you and your interests.
Really, try this. Imagine you’ve died but you can still watch what happens. You can even wander around the house or the neighborhood like that. Suddenly, the spectacle of what happens is all that’s important, and how it might affect you has nothing to do with it whatsoever, because there is no you.
If you can achieve that mindset of being utterly absent — and it’s not difficult — you will experience no self-consciousness, no worries, no angst, no fear. Just stuff happening. Interesting stuff. Poetic and absurd and compelling all at the same time.
The sensation of “not being there” is one of utter clarity. It will feel as if you’ve dropped a weight you never knew you were carrying.
Once you get a feel for that state, you will realize how much of your everyday thoughts are not about what actually happens, but about what’s in it for you or not in it for you. Those thoughts are the source of all self-consciousness, fear, longing and existential pain.
There is no sufferer, so there is no suffering. Curiously, beauty survives.
You will find that what happens around you is always beautiful and painless if you can watch it without evaluating it against your personal interests. And that’s easy to do when you’re not there.
So die, often.
Photo by David Cain