The Domino Effect of Witnessing
Old School Teachings
Early in my training, Guru ji, Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, taught me that life is either a play or a drama. He said it would all depend on how I saw it. What he meant was, see life as a play and you will see clearly, see it as a drama and all that it reveals is that your vision is partial. Living from a partial perspective alone causes suffering. Partial vision means seeing life from the individual perspective alone. When we look at life and the situations we encounter through the lens of individuality, we understand the world according to that individual perspective.
After many evenings listening to Guru ji offer teachings, I started to think: How do I develop seeing so I can experience life as a play? How do I access the universal view he spoke about?
During meditation, Guru ji guided students again and again: “Feel what you are beyond the body and mind. Remain still. Be like the witness and feel your real form, which is true happiness.”
I caught the phrase…‘Be like the witness and feel your real form….’ Hmmm…so witnessing was a bridge between the individual perspective and the universal perspective…though I didn’t understand it then, I sat with it more. After some time, I noticed questions had arisen in me around the topic of witnessing. These questions created an internal conflict.
Conflict and Fear Around the Practice of Witnessing
Throughout the world, Yoga students are advised to work with witness consciousness. Other conscious practices, such as Buddhism, and the New Age movement teachers guide students to practice watching in order to calm the mind and experience inner peace. However, many people that hear these teachings may feel, practically speaking, that engaging witness consciousness is of little value. I wonder if perhaps it seems confusing to them as it did to me. Here is a list of statements or questions that arose for me regarding the practice of witness consciousness:
- Witnessing is boring and un-dynamic because all I’m doing is watching.
- If I am stationed in the witness, will life somehow pass me by?
- If I watch everything, how will I get anything done in my life?
- How will I relate with the people I care about when all I’ll be doing is sitting around and watching? Will I have to be willing to lose connection with everyone to gain some kind of supposedly great thing called witness consciousness, which will ultimately lead me to union with Self?
My mind reeled, what a price to pay!
If you find yourself relating to any of these questions regarding witness consciousness, I assure you, you are NOT alone. These questions and others like it are normal and common.
With a view towards understanding them, I believe it is wise to allow such questions the necessary space to exist. And rather than agree with them or reject them, my suggestion is for you to work to explore them. When you become established in witness consciousness, you do not become disconnected from your body and mind.
Instead, you experience a shift in perspective.
The Value of Witnessing
“Witnessing supports internal softening because it creates space.” ~Manorama
Through a regular practice of witnessing (and by regular, I mean daily), you develop the capacity to shift from a personal perspective alone, to a universal one. Moreover, seeing beyond your own personal point of view causes compassion to rise in you more and more, because you begin to see not only your own, but also another’s perspective, and eventually the whole of a situation. In this way, witnessing enables you to relate and communicate with all beings with ahimsa, compassion.
You also begin to understand the worldly realm more, which includes your body and mind because you come closer to them in understanding. In other words, if you fear losing the ability to communicate with the world around you, don’t worry because the more you move into witness consciousness the more the opposite actually happens. You come into such contact with your self that you are naturally able to communicate your feelings and thoughts with your self and others.
When you work with witness consciousness, life does not pass you by as you may fear. Witnessing is not just another way of saying ‘lie around and do nothing’. It is a practice that supports dynamic contact with one’s center, as you watch the periphery of thoughts and ideas play out. In other words, live your life normally and in the process hold to the center. As you engage each experience, practice seeing as the witness and watch how that opens up a fuller perspective for you.
*All references to Guru ji in this article refer to Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati.
© 2014 Luminous Soul/Sanskrit Studies & Manorama