Watch Yourself – A Zen Buddhist Spiritual Story

There was once a pair of acrobats. The teacher was a poor widower and the student was a young girl by the name of Meda. These acrobats performed each day on the streets in order to earn enough to eat.

Their act consisted of the teacher balancing a tall bamboo pole on his head while the little girl climbed slowly to the top. Once to the top, she remained there while the teacher walked along the ground.

Both performers had to maintain complete focus and balance in order to prevent any injury from occurring and to complete the performance. One day, the teacher said to the pupil:

‘Listen Meda, I will watch you and you watch me, so that we can help each other maintain concentration and balance and prevent an accident. Then we'll surely earn enough to eat.'

But the little girl was wise, she answered, ‘Dear master, I think it would be better for each of us to watch ourself. To look after oneself means to look after both of us. That way I am sure we will avoid any accidents and earn enough to eat.'

The author of this story is unknown and greatly appreciated!

What Is the Spiritual Moral / Meaning of the “Watch Yourself” Story?

Just as the acrobatic pair relies on each other for balance and safety, we are all interconnected in the vast web of existence. Each action we take, each thought we think, has ripple effects that extend far beyond ourselves. When we recognize and honor this interconnectedness, we cultivate a deeper sense of compassion and understanding for all beings.

Another key spiritual moral of this story is the importance of self-awareness and self-reliance. The young girl, Meda, demonstrates wisdom beyond her years when she suggests that each acrobat focus on themselves rather than solely relying on the other for support. This mirrors the spiritual journey of self-discovery, where we must look inward to find the strength and balance we seek. Through self-awareness, we can navigate life's challenges with clarity and resilience.

The story also speaks to the power of mindfulness and presence. In the midst of their acrobatic performance, both teacher and student must remain fully present and attentive to their actions in order to prevent accidents. This mirrors the practice of mindfulness in our daily lives, where we strive to cultivate awareness of the present moment and embrace each experience with openness and clarity. Through mindfulness, we can find peace and fulfillment in the here and now.

Additionally, the story highlights the concept of shared responsibility. While the acrobats work together to maintain balance, each ultimately bears responsibility for their own actions. This reflects the spiritual truth that we are co-creators of our reality, accountable for the choices we make and the impact we have on the world around us. By embracing our individual agency and accountability, we can contribute to the greater good and create positive change in the world.

Furthermore, the story emphasizes the value of trust and cooperation in building harmonious relationships. Despite their differences in age and experience, the teacher and student must trust each other's abilities and work together in order to succeed. This underscores the importance of collaboration and unity in fostering collective well-being. When we trust and support each other, we can overcome obstacles and achieve greater heights together.

Moreover, the story invites reflection on the nature of abundance and sustenance. The acrobats perform each day in order to earn enough to eat, highlighting the basic human need for sustenance and security. This reminds us of the importance of gratitude for the blessings we receive and the interconnected web of support that sustains us. Through cultivating a mindset of abundance and gratitude, we can attract blessings into our lives and experience greater fulfillment.

In conclusion, the story of the acrobats offers profound spiritual insights into the themes of interdependence, self-awareness, mindfulness, shared responsibility, trust, cooperation, and abundance. By reflecting on these spiritual morals, we can deepen our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world, and cultivate a greater sense of harmony, compassion, and connection with all beings.

Personal Reflection Questions

Spiritual stories are an opportunity to reflect on your own life. Here are 10 questions you can use to go deeper with the teachings in this story:

  1. Reflect on a time when you felt the need for support and guidance from others. How did their presence influence your ability to navigate challenges and maintain balance in your life?
  2. Consider the roles of teacher and student in this story. Have you ever found wisdom in unexpected places or from individuals younger or less experienced than yourself? What insights did you gain from these interactions?
  3. Imagine yourself as the teacher balancing the bamboo pole. What does this symbolize in your life? Are there areas where you feel the weight of responsibility, and how do you maintain balance amidst these challenges?
  4. Put yourself in the shoes of the student climbing to the top of the pole. What emotions arise as you ascend, and how do you find the courage to keep climbing despite the height and uncertainty?
  5. Explore the concept of mutual support and cooperation in the story. How do you cultivate supportive relationships in your own life, and what role do they play in helping you achieve your goals?
  6. Reflect on the teacher's proposal to watch each other for safety. How does this idea resonate with your own experiences of seeking guidance and protection from others? In what ways do you rely on external support versus trusting your own intuition and abilities?
  7. Consider the wisdom of the young girl's response to the teacher. How does her suggestion to focus on self-care and self-awareness apply to your own life? Are there areas where you could benefit from prioritizing your own well-being and inner balance?
  8. Contemplate the importance of mindfulness and presence in the acrobats' performance. How do you cultivate mindfulness in your daily life, and how does it contribute to your ability to navigate challenges with grace and resilience?
  9. Explore the theme of resilience in the face of adversity. Reflect on a time when you encountered obstacles or setbacks, and consider how you summoned the strength to persevere and overcome challenges.
  10. Finally, think about the underlying message of abundance and sustenance in the story. How do you cultivate a sense of gratitude for the blessings in your life, and how does this gratitude contribute to your overall sense of well-being and fulfillment?