The Fly on the Wall

Can we gain objectivity by seeing things from a third-person perspective?

The Fly on the Wall
Photo by Pedro Miguel Aires / Unsplash

Recently, I went and played golf with my son. He’s a very good player, but he’s also very competitive. When things weren’t going his way on the back nine, he lost control of his emotions. As we unpacked that experience, I introduced him to a technique called “Fly on the Wall.”

I’m not sure where I got it, to be honest, but I’ve been doing it for a while. Fly on the Wall is simple; all it asks you to do is to imagine you are outside of your body watching the experience from the outside. The effect is that you are able to detach yourself from your inner thoughts and understand the experience from the outside. You gain a little objectivity about the experience.

Here’s what we did:

  1. I asked him to close his eyes and put himself back on the fifteenth green where everything feel apart.
  2. Then, I told him to describe what he saw.
  3. After he described what he saw, I asked him what he thought about it. He had some pretty negative things to say about what he saw. (This, of course, was not easy.)
  4. Then, we turned it around. I asked, “That person did those things, but are you that person? Is that who your are?” He immediately said, “No.”

I was actually pretty amazed with this eleven-year-old’s answer to that last question. He knew, deep down, that his identity was not kid-who-threw-a-fit-on-the-fifteenth-green-after-missing-a-short-putt. Moreover, this exercise interrupted all the negative self-talk that he had cultivated over the course of the last few holes. Instinctively, he started to understand the beginnings of anatta, no-self. He understood that he did those things: he tossed his putter, he used unkind words, etc. But these are not what defines him. His identity is not found in a single emotional experience on the fifteenth green on a Friday afternoon.

When he opened his eyes, he smiled and said, “Dad, can you teach me to meditate?”