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The Power of the Witness

The power of the witness is so important in the practice/sadhana. True change comes from awareness. Here’s a great take on the witness from good ole Ram Das.  I find he always has such an eloquent way of expressing himself. I came upon this in Paths to God, by Ram Das.

“There are practices that focus the mind, like meditation or mantra. And there are practices that let us take a step back from the mind, like witnessing. I think that the practice of witnessing can be a key spiritual exercise for us, because it lets us move outside the dramas of our lives. It shows us that there exists another plane from which to view our experiences. The danger of confusion in this practice is mistaking the judging voice inside our own minds for the spiritual witness. When we first begin to get some grasp of what the dance is all about, and we start to stand back a bit from own trips, we frequently adopt a type of witnessing that is very judgmental. It’s got a standard–you’ve got the Buddha as your standard, or Christ/Krishna/Maharajji as your standard–and next to that standard you’ve got your own behavior and your own thoughts and your own feelings. You set those two things side by side, and then judge your own behavior against the standard. That’s an extension of what is known as the superego, and it’s a heavy emotional trip that only tends to lock you more tightly into your predicament. It certainly doesn’t do much to free you.

The witness that’s useful in our spiritual work has a totally different quality. It isn’t judging–good, bad, it’s all the same. This witness isn’t trying to change anything–it’s just seeing it all. It is completely uncommitted; its not committed to your enlightenment, it’s not trying to get you ahead, it’s simply witnessing, nothing else.

As we move into that perspective, however, we discover that in developing the witness, we sacrifice being the experiencer. That is, we sacrifice the thrill of the experience into the witness. Anytime we want to, we can become part of ourselves that is the witness, which is noticing it all, very calmly, very equanimously. It just takes a flick of our perspective–in fact, just the intention to be coming from that other place. That’s all. But to do that, we have to be ready to let go of the experiencer. 

To develop that kind of witness, you have to have a little elbow room. That’s why one of my first instructions for sadhana would be to ‘Give yourself space’. Don’t always be filling up your time and your mind of content; create a spacious environment for yourself, one that makes it easier to step back and notice your trip.

Then just do that. Notice it. Don’t judge it, don’t try to change it, don’t do anything at all except to notice it. You will find that a lot of your stuff has only been able to survive unnoticed; the minute you begin to bring it into the light of the ‘I’ that is just looking at it all, it starts to change–without you ever having done a thing! All you did was to start identifying with a different part of your being, a part you could use to watch all the rest of it.”


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