Sitting and Watching

‘No matter what gets in the way or which way the wind does blow… I’ll just sit here and watch the river flow.’ ~Bob Dylan

Post written by Leo Babauta.

Have you ever felt that we are rushing through life, that we get so caught up in busy-ness that life is passing us almost without notice?

I get this feeling all the time.

The antidote is simple: sitting and watching.

Take a minute out of your busy day to sit with me, and talk. Take a moment to imagine being in the middle of traffic — you’re driving, stressed out by the high amount of traffic, trying to get somewhere before you’re late, angry at other drivers who are rude or idiotic, completely focused on making your way through this jungle of metal on a ribbon of asphalt. Now you’ve gotten to the end, phew, you made it, wonderful, and you’re only a few minutes late … but did you notice the scenery you passed along the way? Did you talk to any of the other people along your path? Did you enjoy the ride?

No, probably not. You were so caught up in getting there, in the details of navigating, in the stress of driving, that you didn’t have time to notice your surroundings, the people nearby, or the wonderful journey. This is how we are in life.

Now imagine that you pulled over, and got out of the car, and found a grassy spot to sit. And you watched the other cars zoom by. And you watched the grass blown gently by the wind, and the birds making a flocking pattern overhead, and the clouds lazily watching you back.

Sit and watch.

We don’t do this, because it’s useless to do something that isn’t productive, that doesn’t improve our lives. But as Alan Watts wrote in The Way of Zen:

“As muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone, it could be argued that those who sit quietly and do nothing are making one of the best possible contributions to a world in turmoil.”

It’s interesting, too, what we see when we sit and watch. We will notice others rushing, and worried, and angry, and in them see a mirror of ourselves. We will notice children laughing (or crying) with their parents, and remember what we’re missing when we rush to improve our lives.

More interesting is what you see when you sit and watch yourself. You learn to step outside yourself, and act as an observer. You see your thoughts, and learn more about yourself than you ever could if you were rushing to take action. You see your self-doubts, and self-criticism, and wonder where they came from (a bad incident in childhood, perhaps?) and wonder if you are smart enough to let them go. You see your rationalizations, and realize that they are bullshit, and learn to let those go too. You see your fears, and realize what hold they have over you, and realize that you can make them powerless, by just sitting and watching them, not taking action on them.

By sitting and watching, you come to know yourself.

You learn the most valuable lessons about life, by sitting and watching.

And as we know from the observer effect in physics, by watching, we change what we watch.

Take a few minutes today, to sit and watch. It might change your life.