The Gift in Consciousness
We humans come in all shapes and sizes, but our differences are far outweighed by what we share in common. Like the Dalai Lama has said, we all want to be happy, and we all want to feel safe. Yet we all get weathered by life’s up and downs and we may stop trusting that the outside world will bring us happiness. We reach a point where we take a look inside ourselves instead.
Within us we may discover our natural ability to watch ourselves as we live our lives. Buddhists call it witness consciousness, and it comes as standard equipment for everyone. Connected to our larger self awareness, the witness has the capacity to step back from our thoughts, emotions and experiences, and simply view what is going on. Ram Dass has called it our ticket out of pain because it helps us accept our experience and at the same time not take it so seriously.
The witness should not be confused with its counterpart that lives in the ego, whose function is to socialize us properly and basically ensure we don’t become serial killers. That witness is internalized from others at an early age and it imposes limits and instills morality, sometimes through love, but also through judgment and fear.
The witness I’m talking about comes from the soul, the perfect part of us that would love us even if we did become serial killers. This witness is passive, and its mission is to watch us quietly, without judgment or the need to change us. It helps us discriminate between soul and ego by letting us see dispassionately who we are and what we do.
Witness consciousness is perceptible through all of our senses, and its form is unique to each individual. Some may experience it as the view from the best seats in an arena, while others may feel it as a quiet presence in the heart center, holding space for all that is. Each time we activate it, we infuse more love and compassion into our relationship with ourselves.
Sounds good but working with the witness can be tricky. It is inevitable that our ego will run a diversion, particularly in the beginning. For example, I may see that I’m disliking a particular person. When the ego takes over, I will suddenly be fueling my dislike with more reasons why they are bad, or instead I may attack myself for the judgmental thought. In that instant I have just lost the possibility I could come to peace with my feelings about the person and that the relationship I have with them could change.
When that happens, as it does to all of us (a lot), we learn to witness that too. Luckily for us, at the soul level there are no sins, only mistakes, and the worst that can happen is our mistakes temporarily cost us our peace. But peace is always there. The witness is always there too, at the ready for its next deployment.