How to Step Back and Watch the River Flow – Episode 422

My oldest daughter graduated from high school a few days ago and my younger daughter is turning 16 this month. My wife asked me how I felt about that. I thought for a second and said “I guess I’m just observing.”

When things get super stressful, like they have been, and there’s a lot of stuff going on, sometimes I feel the need to just step back and be the witness. I’ve discussed this previously a bit in episode 389 but I want to revisit the idea of just watching without any attachment to how I want it to be, how I think it should be, or how it was or how I think it will be. I find it very liberating to get into this space if I can.

I wrote a letter to my graduating daughter not only congratulating her and all that but I also gave her some advice I thought might be helpful. I don’t know if she’ll take it to heart or even care, but I hope so. One of the things I wrote about was change, telling her that it’s the only constant in life.

Sometimes change happens in a way that we like and sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes we don’t know if it’s good or bad. I think we have some agency that allows us to create the changes that we want but some change is inevitable and often painful. The loss of the innocence of youth, watching relationships drift away and or end, the passing of people we love, the aging of our bodies. We can’t do much about these things. Change is stressful and because life is change, life is stressful. So how do we deal with with it all? Well, we can practice acceptance, have gratitude, and step back and just watch the whole thing flow by.

How do we do that? It involves a shift in perspective from content to context. Now don’t check out on me here, ok? I’ll explain.

I did a presentation a few years back to a group of business people. I showed them drawings I had made on pieces of paper. I held one up and asked “What’s this?” They would answer, “It’s a bird”, or “It’s a boat” or “It’s a flower.”

But nobody said “It’s a piece of paper with a drawing on it.” That’s the context. The content is bird, boat, or flower. As humans, we are very identified with the content of our lives: the details, what happened, what will happen, descriptions. The context is the awareness of having an experience called Life.

Imagine you are in a canoe or kayak. You’re paddling your way down the river. You have a destination, a place you want to be. You’re trying to avoid rocks or getting overturned in a rapid; you want the journey to go as smoothly as possible. Imagine at one point, you paddle your canoe to a nice grassy place, pull it out of the water, and sit on the bank to watch the river flow by. You are no longer in the process of trying to get to where you want to go, now, you’re just watching the river flow.

Jim Carrey once said: “I used to be a guy who was experiencing the Universe, but now I feel like the Universe experiencing a guy.”

Guy is content, Universe if context. Pondering the idea that you are the universe having the experience of a guy or gal is what I’m talking about. It’s a major shift of perspective. It’s freedom because at that moment, there’s nothing you need to do or worry about or solve or figure out. There is nobody you need to be. You’re just checking things out.

There’s a song from the 1970’s called “Spill the Wine” by Eric Burdon and War. It’s about a guy who is strolling on a hot summer’s day and he decides to lay down to rest in a field of grass. He falls asleep and dreams he’s the star of a Hollywood movie. The lyric goes:

“The fact that me, an overfed, long haired, leaping gnome should be the star behind a Hollywood movie, hmm.”

In the same way, I can think to myself: The fact that me, a short haired, overfed, leaping vibration of the universe should be a husband, father, hypnotherapist and dude living in 21st century America. Wow. Far out. Cool.

Of course it’s hard to do when things are challenging, but that’s when we really need to shift our perspective.

I had a realization of this while driving through Scottsdale, Arizona in 1987. I was the general manager of a sales team. However, I was in a sales slump and had been for a couple of weeks. I walked into work one day and my boss said to me

“I can see failure written all over your face. You have dead eyes. You’re not bringing that attitude of despair and negativity in here. Go home and get your head straight. Go, now!”

I felt pretty terrible and pretty low at that point. While I was driving home I passed a lake with a beautiful fountain shooting high up into the air. It was a gorgeous spring day. One of my favorite songs came on the radio. I was able to get out of my head and realize that life is good even if I wasn’t selling, that nothing will last forever. I teared up and got a bit emotional. I went home and I think I called my mom to say hi. I went to work the next day and started selling like a fiend. I was no longer attached to what it all meant.

Stepping back means letting go of the narrative of your life (which is the content of your life) for a while. Your details: age, gender, occupation, status, history, goals, desires etc. Instead, you just watch your life flow. With awe. With wonder. With amazement. Now, you’re no longer a guy or gal, now you’re the Universe, or awareness. Now you’re just aware. Now you are the watcher, just watching.

We’re so attached to the details, the narrative, the content, that it takes practice to step back but it’s so worth it to get a sense of the truth of you. This is why mindfulness practices like meditation are so valuable and so popular right now. Because there’s so much content in life right now, we just want a break from it.

Practice stepping back once a day to say to yourself “Wow, check this out!” Even if its not wonderful or beautiful or fabulous. Remember everything is always changing. I personally believe the more connected you are to your own awareness, the higher the vibration you put out and will attract back to you. Good luck with that.

Here’s a quote by Bob Dylan from his song Watching the River Flow:

Oh, this old river keeps on rolling, though.
No matter what gets in the way and which way the wind does blow.
And as long as it does I’ll just sit here and watch the river flow.

Thanks for being here,




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