Finding Your inner sage

In many Eastern traditions, the sage is discovered through the practice of meditation. Practitioners spend the first few years of their study sitting on a cushion observing the craziness of the mind, like a bad movie replaying itself repeatedly.


When l sit down to meditate in the morning, and all I can focus on is that my back hurts, I let my mind dwell on my sore back. If I try to force my mind back to my breathing, I know I’m in for a frustrating time. What I do is simply identify with the sage, who is observing it all, smiling at how silly everything is. There’s no conflict, so the mind gradually dissolves. My back may still hurt, but I don’t identify with it, nor do I suffer from it. Thoughts continue to appear and disappear, but my attention resides with the empty sky that is the sage.


If you are new to meditation, start by sitting in an absolutely quiet place because you want to listen to the chatter of your mind. Close your eyes and begin to take deep, regular breaths . . . count your breaths from one to ten, and then start at one again. After a few minutes, you may notice that you’re counting up to 27 or 35, as the mind becomes absorbed with what you need to do later in the evening, what you failed to do at work, or how upset you are with someone.

Bring yourself back to counting your breaths. I might then ask myself these simple questions: “Whose back is sore?” and “Who is it that is asking the question?” And there I am, the sage. You can practice this query with anything you’re doing. You can ask, “Who is sitting here meditating?” or “Who is reading this page?” What brings us home to the sage is always this: “Who is it that is asking the question?” The minute we ask our self this, we break the trance and the mind dissolves. Only Spirit remains, because Spirit ls the sage.

The chatter in our minds will only stop when the mind is extinguished. Until then, we can simply observe our thoughts, be amused by the chatter of our “monkey mind,” and not identify with it. We recognize that our genuine self, the sage, resides in the middle of the storm and is unaffected by all the commotion surrounding us─such as the fight with our spouse, the car breaking down, or the stomach ulcer acting up. And then the chaos around us subsides because we realize that it’s only a mirror of what’s going on in our minds. Slowly but unstoppably, the sage prevails, as the screen of our reality becomes a blank canvas for us to create and dream in.

You can’t “make up your mind” to step back and become the sage because once you do, the mind will vanish . . . and it knows it. So in order to protect itself, the mind will tangle you up in all of the reasons why you can’t do this practice. That’s why you can only discover the sage by inquiring, “Who is it that is asking the question.”

After many years of meditation, and a decade of training with the medicine plants of the Amazon, I discovered that I didn’t need external devices to discover the sage that has always existed. He was there before my body was born; after all, I am not my body─I only inhabit it─and the sage will be there long after my body returns to the earth.


Once you discover that you are the sage, the madness of the mind takes up only a tiny fraction of your awareness, whereas before, it took up 100 percent of your attention. At this point it becomes easier to reach the perceptual level of eagle─old assumptions dissolve as you look at situations with new eyes.

Alberto Villoldo, Ph.D.