I remember vividly what it felt like being the center of my world, the magnetic center of awareness, everything in relation to me. Being in any situation meant I felt something about it: liked it, disdained it; felt bored with it, scared of it; hoped it would last, wished to escape it.
Once, some years ago, this oddball thought came to me. From out of the blue, it just arrived. I hadn’t been thinking about things— at least, not things like this. I was lying in the bathtub at the time.
You know how when you realize something big, you’re likely to always remember where you were when it happened?
This was the thought: What I feel about something isn’t the most important thing.
I could see this was hitting me pretty hard. I thought — Okay, what’s the big deal here? Why is this making such an impression? My mind kept turning over the idea, as it would examine any novel thing. It was like the thought was cutting a new groove in my head.
It would be a long time before I’d appreciate the fullness of what came to me that day.
I couldn’t have had that thought if I didn’t realize (even if unconsciously) that whatever I felt about something was the most important thing. Up until that moment in the bathtub, anyhow. It had been that way my entire forty-some-year-old life.
Life consisted of moving along from caring about one thing to caring about the next, and the next, with the prospect of it going that way to the end of time (my time). This was the stream of my inner life: care about whether my kids got off to school on time, about the political situation, about what somebody said or did. Everything was about how it affected me, how it “made me feel.” How I thought about it, how I talked about it, what I did about it.
I never questioned this, or even saw that it was going on. I took it that much for granted— the necessity of the ongoing “meta-reality” assembled from my impressions of things. I never saw that I was living at a remove from reality, that I was inhabiting not my life but my mind-made picture of it.
When that shock of a thought came to me — What I feel about a thing isn’t what matters most — it was the door opening on something truly transformative: that it’s possible for a thing to simply be itself. That the thing itself must have a reality independent of my thinking or feeling anything about it.
Which meant (if the logic was followed through) that there wasn’t any compelling necessity for me to be affected. It must be possible to be in life, to be in the presence of one thing and another, without automatically, by some crippling kind of default, having my inner state be determined by it.
If there were an inner response, the outer thing would still be itself, independent of whatever I made of it.
Only in retrospect, long after life was actually happening in that steadily “unaffected” way, did I understand the significance of that moment in the bathtub — did I see how something began there.
Text copyright © 2012 Jan Frazier
Jan Frazier is a spiritual teacher and writer. She lives in Vermont.
By Jan Frazier
This book is probably the best description ever written of enlightenment and its effects on a person’s life. We know this is ridiculously high praise, but we mean it. At the age of 50, Jan Frazier noticed that her habitual intense fear had stopped. Over the next eighteen months she recorded additional changes in her feelings, mental state, and relationships with other people. Jan’s awakening turned out to be permanent. Jan writes extremely well, and her prose sometimes reaches sublime heights. We give this book our highest recommendation.
This page was published on August 29, 2019 and last revised on August 29, 2019.