Friday, April 4, 2014

The Significance of the Witness Consciousness....

Pick up any spiritual book and at some point you will come across the notion of "the witness" or "that which watches." But what exactly is this and why is it so important in spiritual awakening? Awakening to Atman or Soul is the awakening of the witness consciousness and my experience of this consciousness is that it is most easily seen when meditating.

It is the consciousness that is present when I sit and simply and dispassionately watch my thoughts, emotions, attitude etc. That which watches all of these aspects is the witness.

In the early stages of meditation cultivating this consciousness is likely to be frustrating because the moment one recognizes that "something" is watching thoughts et cetera that awareness disappears at that moment; the moment you try to grasp it is the moment that it goes.

Meeting me for the first time, many people remark how calm I am. This is due to the many years I have spent building a connection with the witness. Cultivating the witness has resulted in thoughts and feelings that might have been difficult to control.

Because I am human, there are times when I react rather than respond, but as time goes on these moments are becoming less and less frequent. For me, this is what living from an enlightened state of mind is about. I don't know if it is actually enlightenment itself, but it is the state from which enlightenment arises. To come from pure enlightenment, I would have to enter into Samadhi or stillness, a state where the subject/object separation is not present. The fact that I can witness what is arising in the body/mind as the observer (subject) means that there is still separation and therefore not enlightenment. Awakening involves the witness consciousness, enlightenment is beyond the witness. When enlightenment occurs, there is no "I" present to witness or report back. Any reporting back is from memory and that is not the state itself. So when people — and there are now many who openly declare themselves to be enlightened — describe their experiences, a part of me says, "Awakened? Maybe, but enlightened, definitely not." This is the way I describe myself: awakened, yes, enlightened, no. All that can be captured after Samadhi is the essence of stillness, not the stillness itself.

The way to contact stillness is to create space. Stillness develops in space. When there is no space, when the mind is busy with idle chatter, there is no space and therefore no stillness. Meditation is the art of connecting with this stillness through becoming aware and not judging anything which arises while meditating. Witnessing is like a mirror that reflects exactly what is put in front of it without adding or taking away anything. A mirror simply reflects what is. Contacting this stillness results in an experience of bliss. Another way to contact stillness is through compassion, through a combination of empathy and love that involves the movement of energy from you towards something else. That movement of compassion, away from "I" or ego, also connects to the stillness. The most powerful way to connect with the inherent stillness at the core of our beings is by acceptance, by allowing any elements of experience to simply be there.

Many years ago, while doing a retreat I was sitting on a chair in the library of the retreat centre, looking out the window. I don't remember thinking about anything in particular when I was suddenly gripped by an intense wave of anger. I had a really strong urge to throw a plant sitting in the corner out of the window. This really surprised me because there was no trigger at that moment that would have made me feel angry. Then, I realized that anger is a natural energy that lies within and it is necessary for growth. At that moment, I was unable to attribute those feelings of anger to anything happening in my environment. Eventually, I saw it as an expression of natural intrinsic energy. If we acknowledge its presence — not looking for the reason why it's there, not desiring it not to be there, or not acting out in ways which are destructive to ourselves and/or others — then we can be free to let anger purify the body/mind, which is its natural purpose.

The energies of anger, grief, and love are natural energies that serve our spiritual growth. If they are suppressed and not allowed to be expressed safely, they become supercharged, and eventually uncontrollable. They change from being slow feelings to fast emotions which result in the release of certain neurotransmitters into the body. Feelings foster self-awareness. If they are slow and observable, then awareness expands. Quantum mechanics show us that the nature of something changes when it is observed. So if the feeling becomes supercharged, the emotional intensity prevents the act of observation in many cases. For quantum scientists, a "unit of measurement" that collapses a wave to a particle is, as I see it, nothing more than the witness. This is why it is so important on the journey to spiritual awakening. Without the witness there is no awakening of consciousness, no freeing of the self from the body/mind.


  1. The most important element, one that applies in every walk of life, is the notion of "respond" vs. "react." If this can be learned and mastered, it bodes well for the individual's life on Earth...and his/her traversal to the next state of being.

  2. See followup discussion on this post in FB:

  3. A great reminder to us that emotions shouldn't be suppressed as we are often taught. They are necessary to feel for our spiritual growth.