Being a Witness

Nov 16 22:53 2005 Nikhil Gangoli Print This Article

This article gives instructions on the practice of witnessing - necessary for meditation and living mindfully.

In some of my earlier articles in this series I have stressed onthe need to witness your thoughts and feelings. Through the actof witnessing we dis-identify with the mind and obtain some restfrom out fretful,Guest Posting anxious selves.

This act of witnessing can be done at any moment during the daywhen we are with ourselves and not fully occupied in our workand other activities. During our hours of meditation, of course,we are necessarily involved in being a witness.

A simple but powerful method of witnessing is as follows:-

Simply acknowledge your thoughts and feelings as they arisewithin you. Anchor yourself in the present moment bysimultaneously being aware of your in breath and out breath. Forexample: “I am breathing in and am aware of a pleasantsensation.” Or “I am breathing out and am aware of a sadsensation.” Or “I am breathing in and am aware of a neutralfeeling”

It may be noted that in Buddhist Philosophy feelings arecategorized as pleasant, unpleasant and neutral.

I have learned Vipassana meditation and during the course Mr.Goenka – the main instructor – compared our minds with amischievous monkey. Just as a monkey is forever restless,jumping about from one object to another, so our minds areconstantly flitting from object to object, from one thought toanother. Thich Nhat Hanh describes the method I described in thepreceding paragraph on acknowledging your thoughts and feelingslike a guard observing and acknowledging all the visitors to thebuilding whose entrance he is guarding.

But the above analogies contain a contradiction. It arisesbecause we are not separate from the thoughts and feelings,which annoy and distress us. When we feel anger, sadness orirritation we should not push these feelings away. We should notmake off ourselves a battlefield, constantly grappling withourselves. If we think of a guard observing and acknowledgingthe visitors to a building we get the impression that the guardis separate from the visitors. We think that our witnessingpressure is separate from the thoughts and feelings witnessed.

However we are not separate from our monkey minds, ourwitnessing presence is not separate from the thoughts andfeelings witnessed. And we need to recognize this fact and beone with our thoughts and feelings, observing themcompassionately and not creating a battlefield within ourselves.

This may seem contradictory to you. On one hand I am asking youto witness your thoughts and feelings and dis-identify with themind. On the other hand I am asking you to be one with yourthoughts, not view them as enemies or adversaries, not to createa battlefield within yourself. It may seem to you that it isimpossible to do both together. Yet it is not only possible butis also surprisingly easy.

Life is full of contradictions. As Shakespeare said “There aremore things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in yourphilosophy”.

One method of both witnessing your thoughts as well as being onewith them is to observe your thoughts without reacting. If youreact observe the reaction without reacting. This is a 3 stepmethod:

1. Welcome the thought or feelings into your awareness.2. Observe the same without reacting.3. Let go of the thoughtor feeling and bring your attention back to the breath, or backto your meditation practice.

Another way to think of this process is that we are surrenderingto whatsoever thoughts and feelings that are arising. There is afamous text from the Bible, “Lord, let thy will and not mine bedone”. We need some of this attitude of surrender as we approachour meditation practice.

If you follow my above instructions you will find itsurprisingly easy to meditate for longer and longer periods oftime. There was a time when meditation for even half an hour wasa huge effort for me. But now within just 4 months I find that Ican meditate for an hour at a stretch and feel happy andpeaceful. I do not need to add that following these methods inyour day-to-day life will also bring immense benefits to you.

I hope you enjoyed this article and that it will be useful toyou.

If you have any comments or question please visit The EasternPhilosophy Blog and post them. I promise to reply as promptly asI can.

Stay tuned for more articles in this continuing series.

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Nikhil Gangoli
Nikhil Gangoli

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