What does witnessing mean and why is it essential for our inner peace? We have been exploring how understanding is the first step to letting go of tendencies or habits that cause us pain. Witnessing is the vital second step. In witnessing, we can notice the way our tendencies continue, without getting upset about them. This then loosens our mind’s grip on the tendency so that we can let it go.
Witnessing is born from the understanding that our senses do not contain the full picture of reality. Our perceptions are temporary, as they change with circumstance and are subject to our moods and whims.
Through witnessing practice, we meet the moment as it is, without overlaying a perspective of how we want it to be. We come in contact with the deeper unchanging truth beyond our senses.
Observing is not witnessing. In observing, we are still attached to what we experience, and the attachment takes the form of a running narrative.
Witness a Flower
For example, when we observe a flower, we see it for its colours and size and empirical qualities. Our minds may come up with stories for it, such as a memory of similar flowers in a garden behind our childhood home, or getting flowers like it from a past love.
Through this, emotions related to our memories – nostalgia, grief, resentment—may arise. We then project those associations onto the flower, which actually has nothing to do with them.
When we witness, no narrative accompanies the moment. As we witness a flower, we would meet the flower’s essence as it is, and be there in harmony with it. We can note its colour, shape, smell, but we have no story around them. The flower simply is, and so are we.
The same is true of any tendency we have. We can witness it with the presence we would bring to the flower, without going into stories like “Oh no! This again? I shouldn’t have this tendency” or “But I really want that chocolate cake…” We can simply be.
It is easy to confuse witnessing with being numbed out, indifferent or disconnected. But in witnessing, we are fully present. We rest in the deeper substratum beneath our perceptions.
When this happens, life goes from monochrome to technicolor. We feel more connected, more alive, more engaged with it all, because we are no longer bound by our way of seeing things. Even situations that once were painful for us become light and effervescent. Through witnessing comes tremendous spacious vitality.
Witnessing is not paralysis. It is an active state of consciousness, receptive to that which is. In this, we receive the energy of grace, a force beyond human will. Witnessing feels rooted, vital and expansive. It is a consciousness muscle we can develop. The more we do so, the more freedom we experience, because the less hold our habitual mind will have on us.
Witness Your Mind
Start your witnessing practice today. Take a few minutes each morning and evening to come to a neutral place, where you can allow yourself just to be.
- Sit on something solid like a bench, chair or the floor, with your spine straight. Breathe in and out for a few minutes. Focus on your breath. Let yourself settle into being right here and now, exactly where you are.
- Allow your spine to take root through your seat, feeling the weight of your body and your connection to the ground. Sense the crown of your head floating upward and notice your connection to the cosmos. Let your spine feel like a neutral conduit of energy between these two points. Breathe in and out.
- If your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath. When you breathe in, inwardly say “In.” When you breathe out, inwardly say, “Out.” No big effort. No drama. Just one breath at a time, in and out.
- Should you notice thoughts arise, acknowledge them, while remaining neutral. Let them be there with you, rather than getting pulled into them. Welcome them as though they had just joined you in your inner living room. They may take a seat beside you. Or they could quickly head for the door. Either way, it does not matter. You continue sitting, breathing in and out.
- Make room for it all, without getting entangled in any of it. Rest in your breathing and allow yourself to expand into the now.
We will take a pause from journaling work this week so that you can simply practice witnessing without the temptation to start writing down your observations. As the desire to narrate arises, notice it. Witness it too.
From my heart to yours,