Nondual Zen Article:

The Seer and the Seen

nondual title

The Seer and the Seen
by Kathleen Sutherland

For our practice for August, Joyce and I took on a simple suggestion of Fred’s: Observe the character; be the witness. I am the Seer, Kathleen is the seen.

I began thinking of myself in the third person: Now she’s in the grocery store, now paying, now driving home. Now taking a walk. Now she’s worrying.

Worry – that was revealed to be the salient activity of this mind. I noticed that the unit believed she could worry herself out of discomfort, that the mind would either reach a solution to the problem, or a place of equanimity about it all. But this was rarely true. Usually the mind just continued to spin, creating discomfort for the character – to the extent that she believed its portents. The witness, by contrast, was not so gullible, and didn’t really mind the mind.

I also noticed the circadian rhythms of this mind/body: Around 5:00 p.m., a low mood hits. Although the character knew of its usual late afternoon slump, without stepping back and observing from afar, she still tended to be pulled into its negativity.

But as the witness, I knew that the truth or untruth of the negative thoughts was irrelevant. They need not be debated or countered. The observer simply notices, then disregards them. She knows that everything is as it must be, so the character’s opinion – good or bad – regarding the content of any given moment is not of much interest. The witness has more compelling business at hand: She knows that there is only now, and that what matters is being consciously awake in the here and now. So her attention does not dwell on imagined earthly troubles, but instead turns to inquiry, or simply rests in the light of being.

It’s like having a wise friend to guide you. I’ve always been a good adviser to others, as most of us are. We can see our friends’ patterns, their mistakes, their flawed thinking, irrational worrying. We can reassure them that all is well and advise them to focus on the present. We find it harder to do this ourselves because we’re too close to ourselves – unless we stop being ourselves. Become the observer and notice how much easier it is to follow your better impulses.

I often visualized spirit beings hovering above and discussing Kathleen: what she’s doing, thinking, feeling; how she’s coping. They were kind, nonjudgmental, and detached, and ultimately not that interested as, let’s face it, this life is not all that interesting.

After a week or so of listening to the beings discussing me, I joined them. In my mind’s eye, an ethereal “Kathleen” was sitting and chatting with the beings. My imaginary friends would remind me that the body/mind operating on the relative plane was not me. It was a projection of Mind, part of My dream. Of course, the ethereal “Kathleen” and companions were also within the dream, but being non-physical, detached and wiser, they were a more accurate representation of who I am than the character. The ethereal Kathleen and company were always serene, cheerful, and unperturbed by the ups and downs of the earthly Kathleen. As Joyce expressed it, “My witness Self has so much compassion, understanding, calm and peace that Joyceness calms whenever she stops to listen.”

This often translated into more skillful action. If the Kathleen mind/body wanted to have more ice cream than was reasonable in one sitting, the calm observers gently advised against it. It was not difficult for the mind/body to fall into line. After all, we tend to behave better when being watched.

At one point, the ethereal Kathleen and friends were joined by Padmasambhava, one of my favorite deities. His presence with the committee of observers was inspiring and soothing. With this group following me about throughout my day, I never felt lonely. The character no longer faced challenges alone. She always had guidance and support – from herSelf.

I did not see this as an exercise in dream improvement because life continued as before. Action was more skillful and the heart more at peace – welcome changes. But these were the simply the natural effects of identifying more closely with my true self: the observer rather than the doer.

I had to keep in mind, however, who was observing the character, lest I fall into the bubble of self reflection. If I believed that Kathleen’s mind was simply practicing self-awareness, observing its own thoughts and feelings, then this would be a helpful psychological tool, but would not lift me out of identification with the character. On the contrary, it could reinforce identification, as Kathleen might congratulate herself on “her” greater mindfulness.

The witness is not me, the character. Engaging the little mind’s-eye group of me – the spirits and Padmasambhava – was helpful in that regard. It wasn’t just some abstract “me” watching me. It was my higher self, two spirits, and one deity observing my every move, thought and action. This personification of my Self was thus helpful as a provisional truth.

I came to see more clearly how absurd it is to identify with a body, seemingly made of material elements. It is only slightly less absurd to identify with a mind, a limited human mind, that can see so little when compared to the vision of Oneness. This human mind/body is an “app” for Me, creating the experience of being Kathleen. But I have never been and never would limit myself to my device. It is not me. How could it be? I am so much more.

It is difficult for modern people to break out of the view that the brain generates consciousness. The truth is the contrary: consciousness generates minds and bodies. The pure witness is not a product of my brain. That which dispassionately observes the workings of this mind is apart from the mind; it is something greater. It is Me.

I, emptiness, look upon creation, and as I flow through those objects equipped with a nervous system, I become sentient. I begin to observe and reflect, and quickly fall into the delusion that I am one of those beings, separate from all else.

But the truth is that all of creation is Me. It is a marvel to behold. What reflects back to me, when I look through various eyes and sense through various senses, is none other than me. Sentient beings are my sensory organs. There is only me. There only ever was me. But I am not alone. There are worlds within me.

Observe the character from afar. As I did, you might start with a sense of other beings watching you. But eventually, you will see that you are observing from way afar, from the depths of emptiness. You gaze upon the world and notice that you are looking in a mirror. The character is indeed you, but so is everything else that you see. Everywhere you look, you see the face of God. Everywhere you look, you see your own beautiful Face.