I’ve read the books, listened to the talks and thought long and hard about this spiritual stuff for several years now. What I’ve learned is that there are many ways to describe the central thrust of it all.
One of those ways is the concept of witness consciousness. What is witness consciousness? Let me explain.
By the way, doing so will kill approximately three billion of my brain cells and/or cause my head to explode. So I wouldn’t object if any of you want to organize a Go Fund Me campaign to pay a neurosurgeon to reassemble my brain.
Defining witness consciousness
That said, let’s get this party started. Witness consciousness is a way of describing that there is you, the witness, and then everything else, what the witness is conscious of.
That can also be expressed as subject, the witness, and object, anything and everything the witness experiences.
Like what? You name it.
-A car drives by and honks its horn. You, the witness, experience the sound of the horn, the object.
-You watch a beautiful sunset. You, the witness, experience the sunset, the object.
-You see your girlfriend laughing as she talks to a handsome guy at a party. You feel jealous. You, the witness, experience the feeling of jealousy, the object.
-While meditating, you become aware that you’re having thoughts about what you want to have for lunch. You, the witness, experience the thoughts about lunch, the object.
Most people understand the first two examples. We hear the horn and we see the sunset, but we aren’t the sound of the horn or the sunset.
What they don’t get is that they aren’tthe feeling of jealousy or the thoughts about lunch, either.
We are the witness
In all of these cases, we are the witness of these things. We are the consciousness that experiences them.
The problem plaguing humanity is that our egos, which manifest as thoughts and emotions, are so powerful that they overwhelm the witness, and in doing so lead us to believe that those thoughts and emotions are who we are.
The spiritual path in two steps
The spiritual path, then, can be whittled down to these two steps: 1. Realize that you are the witness and not the egoic thoughts and emotions; and 2. Strengthen the witness in its ability to remain in the seat of self and not get swept up in thoughts and emotions.
Many of you may think I’m saying we should deny or push away our thoughts and emotions. Not so. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Witness consciousness is about placing our fullest attention on those thoughts and emotions as they arise, as we would with anything our witness experiences.
The key is that we merely observe these sensations. We experience them. And then we let them pass. Just as we let the sound of the horn and the beautiful sunset eventually pass.
Don’t go down the rabbit hole
What we DON’T do is flee the witness and fly down the rabbit hole of our thoughts and emotions. That, of course, is precisely what our powerful egos want us to do.
Which brings us to step two on the spiritual path: Strengthening our witness to the point that it is strong enough to withstand the pull of the ego. How do we do that?
In other words, how do we prevent ourselves from accepting the ego’s invitation 99 percent of the time when it beckons us to…ruminate in the car about how we much we hate our boss, get pissed off that we hit our third red light in a row, yell at our spouse for forgetting to put the garbage cans out on the street and 5.2 zillion other examples?
Strengthening the witness
I’ve written extensively on that subject. One way to strengthen the witness is to work on quieting the egoic insane asylum that is our minds. Meditation is the most direct way to do that. Practicing mindfulness also works wonders. Physical exercise helps. There’s also yoga, prayer and many other spiritual practices. So do those or anything else that promotes inner stillness.
A practice to strengthen your witness
Today I also want to offer a specific practice that can help strengthen the witness. Because when emotions or thoughts arise within us it often happens so quickly and powerfully that we are unable to keep our witness in the seat of self.
Here’s a little helper for you to use in the heat of the moment. It’s real simple. It’s:
“I’m here. It’s there.”
That’s it. Let me explain. Let’s say you’re hungry as you drive home from work and…you guessed it, you hit another red light. That annoyed, exasperated feeling arises.
Right then, what you do is say to yourself, “I’m here. It’s there.” Who’s here and what’s there?
Who is here is the witness. That’s the “I’m here.” I locate my witness in the upper back part of my head. So that’s where I place my attention when I say, “I’m here.”
In this example, what is “there?” It’s the feeling of exasperation that just arose. Most of my feelings arise in my belly area. So I’m here (back part of my head) and it’s there (in my belly). I’m here, it’s there. I just picture those two areas.
It’s all about separating ego and witness
What this technique does is facilitate the separation of the two basic elements of our existence: the ego and the witness/consciousness/presence/awareness (they’re all the same). Achieving this separation is yet another way to sum up the entirety of the spiritual path.
Why? Because the domination of ego over witness/consciousness to the point that most people don’t even realize they have a witness is the central malady plaguing humankind.
I hope this is all comprehendible. Witness consciousness is a big subject, but I hope you get the drift of it.
Try it. Simply look at every experience you have as the witness experiencing some object — a sound, a sight, a feeling, a thought…anything. And with the tough feelings or thoughts, go to “I’m here. It’s there.”
Doing so will place you squarely in each moment, which is, of course, the only place where life happens. It behooves all of us to do whatever we can to inhabit that place of witness consciousness.
Because we, and the world, will be better off the more presently we live.
P.S. — Describing witness consciousness wasn’t as brutal as I thought it would be so need for the Go Fund Me campaign. 🙂