The Beholder

By Paul John Roach
The Beholder

I was sitting at breakfast with my mother and my wife in a quaint bed-and-breakfast in Wales in the late 1970s when the words “The Beholder” came strongly into my mind. At first I got the idea of God being The Beholder as God seeing everything with a cosmic perspective. Almost immediately I became aware that I, too, was The Beholder. There was something within me that saw clearly and dispassionately, yet with great love. This something was not my ego or my human perception but rather a witness to myself and to the world. This witness beheld everything with a tender embrace.

It was quite a moment and put a smile on my face and a deep feeling of well-being in my heart. I had heard the terms Christ within and Observer Self before, but what I experienced in that moment at the breakfast table was no longer a concept but a living reality. I knew it to be true.

Within me, within everyone is The Beholder. Perhaps within is not the right word. The Beholder looks and sees as me. It is my greater reality. Instead of identifying with the passing show of circumstances, events, reactions, I am able to view these things but without becoming lost in them. It is not so much that we are no longer concerned with everyday duties and desires. In fact, they can be quite fascinating and satisfying in a wholly new way. Peacefulness replaces anxiety, and an ability to discern and focus is present. I have also found  this beholding awareness responds only with love. It is profoundly compassionate and has our and everyone else’s best interests in mind.

This awareness, the beholding presence of the divine, is available to you right now. In truth, it is much more real than what we assume to be our reality. So often we give our allegiance to what is subject to time and change, trying to hold on to things, events, and people. We are mightily frustrated, hurt, and confused when they won’t stay put. It is much wiser to give our allegiance, and our focus, to the timeless presence that is always waiting for us to notice and to return.

So how can we do this? It is nice to experience epiphanies like the one I described at the bed-and-breakfast. Most of us have experienced a moment of breakthrough or sensed a stillness that woke us up with its offer of new possibilities. Yet no matter how inspiring the “Aha!” moment is, we must return to our everyday lives. As the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield notes, “After the ecstasy, the laundry.”

Meaning is found not so much in the things we are doing but in our appreciation of them. If we tend to see some things as better and more worthwhile than others, we might be allowing our human judgments to cloud the joy of pure presence. Becoming mindful and clearly experiencing even the most mundane tasks (like the laundry) can be a revelation. Our senses become more attuned to scent and texture, and our mind begins to slow down and behold with a quiet watchfulness.

As we become more familiar with the feeling that beholding engenders, we notice a greater spaciousness in and around us. There is space between thoughts, a feeling of having more time at our disposal, and a sense of relaxation. We are no longer harried or impelled by circumstances but quietly and joyously attentive.

Let me be clear, though, that what I describe is not just a blissed-out state where we have transcended all our problems and are not really human anymore. That would probably be impossible and certainly undesirable.

The beholding awareness is not about making everything a saccharine experience. However, it does bring a transforming power to any situation, no matter how tough. I have found, in times of loss and grief,  The Beholder in me has been a sustaining force, bringing wisdom, warmth, and love when I, as a human being, felt lost and alone. In making difficult decisions in the face of hostility, the loving awareness of the witness guided me in ways that would have been impossible if I’d let human resentment and indignation hold sway. And in happier times, The Beholder fills me with an expansive gratitude that comes from a realization that we arise and thrive together. No one is against me.

May the presence of the Christ awareness in me behold that selfsame presence in you. May our lives unfold in rich and wondrous ways.

Rev. Paul John Roach has been the minister at Unity Church of Fort Worth since 1988, after ordination from Unity Institute® and Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri. He is the host of World Spirituality on Unity Online Radio.