What does cultivating silent inner witnessing mean and does it have any relevance to someone living life in the early part of the 21st Century?
To explore this question, I will share the answer in the following way
Silent Witness Consciousness
In this way I hope it that you can then explore this spiritual practice and find if it works for you.
Silent Witness Consciousness Definition
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When you search for a definition of witness consciousness using Google search you will find the following information.
- The origin of the idea of Witness Consciousness and its practice is found in the Upanishads. Upanishads are the sacred Hindu scriptures and are thought to be between 5000 and 7000 years old.
- The Witness or Perceiver or Knower of the thoughts, images, sensations, and perceptions — is Universal, rather than personal, i.e. that it is what in Taoism we refer to as the “Mind of Tao.”
- The witness is actually another level of consciousness. The witness coexists alongside your normal consciousness as another layer of awareness, as the part of you that is awakening.
- The Witness Consciousness is simply another name for atman (the Supreme Self). The very definition of yoga is associated with the notion of the Witness (or Seer, as Patanjali called it in the Yoga Sutras)
These are some of the definitions you are given from the top search results in Google should you search for term “What is witness consciousness?”
Speaking personally, none of the above would entice me to explore this powerful practice of spiritual alignment and unfoldment. This is informational but not inviting of transformation.
One of the best explanations as regards the practice and experience of witness consciousness is shared by Father Richard Rohr in his bookThe Naked NOW—Learning to See as Mystics See.—Chapter 18
He refers to practice and purpose of witness consciousness as The Watchful Gaze. He describes the practice.
Being conscious or aware means:
- I drop to a deeper level than the passing show.
- I become a calm seer of my dramas from that level.
- I watch myself compassionately from a distance.
- I dis-identify with my own emotional noise, and no longer let it pull me here and there, and up and down.
- I stop thinking about this and that and “collapse into” pure consciousness of nothing in particular. You do not get there, you fall there—objectiveless consciousness, some call it.
The above is an excellent definition of witness consciousness that I have not found elsewhere.
This practice of witness consciousness is the practice of leaning to see how mystics see. You become one who is a Seer. You see beyond separateness into the reality of unity.
Meditators and Buddhists would call this inner Knower the “Stable Witness.” Christians might call it the “united witness,” as Paul speaks of in the epigraph above.
Few have unpackaged this brilliant notion in the Christian world. Only this Big Self (God + me) has the strength and capacity to fully observe each present moment in all its breadth, depth, risk, and daring invitation. Christians would rightly call this “The Indwelling” or the Holy Spirit (see Romans 5:5).
You will need vigilance to keep seeing and trusting this Implanted Union because of the pressure, diversion, and seduction of the noisy, demanding world around you.
Is Cultivating Witness Consciousness for You?
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Witness consciousness is the practice of observing the thoughts, emotions and sensations that are part of your everyday living experience.
These make up the personality that most everyone thinks is their true self. The essential invitation to this practice is to help you realize that you are so much more than the drama of the persona (meaning “the mask) you think yourself to be.
In Christianity, they call this practice of cultivating witness consciousness “indwelling.” In Buddhism this practice of Witness consciousness it the called the development of The Staple Witness.
I first learned about the practice almost fifty years ago when I was introduced to the practice of Vipassana meditation.
The result of sustained practice means you develop a deeper centre. You become less and less identified with the drama of the personal and more in tune with your Essence.
The result is that you experience real peace of mind which your personal mind can never give you. You live from alignment with your soul rather than with the incessant demands of your personality.
We discover the paradox that the less there is of the drama called “My life” the move there is of the REAL Life which brings you deeper fulfilment, purpose, and true prosperity.
The Challenge of Witness Consciousness
The Challenge of Detachment from Detachment
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There are some teachers who view witness consciousness as a practice not suitable for beginners of meditation or contemplation.
I think this myself. It would be better to choose one of the many other meditation techniques and better still to choose a practice that involves the practice of embodiment such as Yoga Nidra.
Let me share with you an experience that I had with cultivating the silent witness within.
I was in my early twenties. It was my first experience of being taught meditation. The teacher was a young man, not that much older than me. However, he seemed to me somewhat strange.
At the time I was not aware of the phenomena called “disembodiment.” This is where an individual in the words of the Irish writer James Joyce declares of one of the characters Mr Duffy.
Mr Duffy lived some distance from his body—James Joyce – The Dubliners.
Witness consciousness is often favoured by those who want to practice finding some emotional stability in their life.
They are drawn to the idea and the practice of detachment. However, many are already detached from their emotions. They engage with the practice of witness consciousness as a form of spiritual bypassing. They bypass their emotionally challenging life experiences.
The result can be that the person practicing cultivating silence witness consciousness becomes detached from detachment. This was the case with my first meditation teacher, who seemed to live some distance from his body.
We refer this practice of witness consciousness to as a cool technique—Andrew Harvey—The Hope – A Guide to Sacred Activism. I recommend it that if you practice this technique that you combine it with a warm meditation technique such as the Buddhist practice of the Metta Bhavana.
Whatever you do, I recommend that you combine this practice with some form of devotional practice. This keeps you balanced and in touch your with feelings. Detachment is not intended to develop absence of feelings but to promote the ability to be less and less reactive.
Cultivation of detachment is what the spiritual teacher Dr Deepak Chopra refers to as The Gap.
Today as we continue our journey from human to Metta Human – Unleashing your Infinite Potential I invite you to press the pause button and step into The Gap.
The gap between thoughts, the gap between perceptual snapshots, the gap between sensations, the gap between every breath.
The gap between objects is, “The Still Point of the turning world,” as T.S.Elliot so eloquently expressed.
Step into the gap. It is infinite awareness being the Source of all insight, creativity, the power of intention synchronicity and the source of every experience in every sentient being, the Source of the Universe.
Benefits of Witness Consciousness
The Benefit of Connectivity
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Provided you do not engage with the practice to avoid feeling your feelings you can expect to enjoy some or all of the following benefits.
- You worry less.
- You overcome fearful situations.
- You stop being judgemental
- You are more compassionate.
This is kind of magical because you are not trying to achieve any of the above, which is often counterproductive.
The reason the above benefits accrue to you is that you are learning to disengage from your over thinking obsessive sense of the personal self. In doing so, there is more room for the true Self, which is deeper and more stable.
You are learning to experience the magic of being thought through. This results from BEING in the gap—the space between thought which is the Source of all creativity and inspiration.
None of the above seems at all logical. It is not. It is magical. So the mystic poet Rumi invites.
Trade logic for bewilderment—Rumi
Logic and intellect are always dualistic. The magical is always paradoxical. You enter the wildness of trusting in the unknown so that you are KNOWN through.
Witness Consciousness Meditation
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I have searched the internet for a guided meditation on witness consciousness. This is, in my view, one of the better introductions to this practice of cultivating the silence witness within.
Witness Consciousness Meditation
Jadi Engels, MA, CHC, RYT
I think this is a good place to start with exploring witness consciousness that is a part of the meditative experience.
This is a lovely presentation and not overly long for beginners.
I would suggest that you find a time to be silent and ensure that you are not disturbed for 15 minutes. I would also suggest that you practice by lying on your bed in the savasana posture.
Other Thoughts on Witness Consciousness
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The practice of witness consciousness will make you aware of one thing. This is that you are not in control of your overthinking mind.
The singer/songwriter Mike Scott of the Waterboys calls this overthinking personal mind The Madman in the Cave of the Skull. (World Party)
The modern mystic and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle refers to this overthinking as “The normal insanity.”—The Power of Now – A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
There will come a time and even many times when you feel you are being driven mad by the constant stream of never-ending thinking. What is important is that you do not fight with the thoughts that arise. You simply observe them.
This requires patience and I do not claim expertise in that area. Sometimes I could scream that I wanted the noise in my head to cease.
Your overthinking mind is the servant that has taken over the Palace. It is the spell we are all under. We are the Prince turned into the Beast in the story of Beauty and the Beast. We are Sleeping Beauty under the 100-year spell, asleep in the tower of the intellect.
Final Thoughts on Cultivating Witness Consciousness
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Silent witness consciousness is a practice I think we will all come to on our spiritual journey. However, do not make this a practice of detachment from feelings as many do.
This practice of observing thoughts, feelings and sensations then becomes a form of spiritual bypassing. The individual becomes dis-embodied and etheric. There is no one home.
I have seen this phenomenon of dis-embodiment celebrated in different spiritual groups. They hold the etheric individual up as a model of detachment and peace when in fact such an individual is emotionally detached from themselves.
When you learn to get out of the way you learn HOW TO love, but it will not be etheric. It will be authentic. You will feel alive and blessed. You will not be engaged in becoming Mr Duffy, who lives some distance from his body.
With that proviso I invite you to explore the practice of cultivating witness consciousness.
Books Courses Poems and Songs about Witness Consciousness
This post includes:-
Presently being written as at 19th April 2020
Books I have read related to Witness Consciousness
Recommended Course on Witness Consciousness
Poetry, Song and Other Resources
- Why teach Yoga – Why I Though I Never Could and Why I Do - November 16, 2021
- What is the Caduceus – No 1 Powerful Healing Symbol - May 10, 2021
- What is a Chakra – A Gateway to Your Full Potential - December 22, 2020
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