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The Witness

I was chatting with a dear friend the other day about coping with personal challenge and we wondered about what it must be like to go through those hard times without “The Witness.” I know I must have done at one time, though I couldn’t tell you exactly when my Witness showed up – definitely post children but only just. Which is a great blessing because becoming a mother has definitely triggered the most intense personal challenges for me.

I know I bang on a lot about self-care and yoga and mediation and having a practice but I don’t think I talk enough about why. I am afraid that Yoga & Meditation has been so hijacked by consumerism that many have switched off and tuned out. It’s lost some of its sacredness and potency, which is a real shame because we need it now more than ever. We need it because we all need a Witness to support us through the hard times.

The Witness is why I practice. Every day – not just when I feel bad. This is what it is for me:

The Witness is always available. Doesn’t matter how dark I feel, how completely consumed by the frantic looping thoughts. The Witness is sitting in the corner, watching and waiting to be called upon, without judgement or a need to be invited to participate in the conversation. I’ll never forget the morning of the Paris bombings. It was a Friday. I was crossing the road with my children on the way to school and one of them stepped out too soon. I yanked him back in plenty of time, but it triggered a dread of darkest proportions. The feeling intensified as the day went on and by the next morning, I couldn’t get out of bed I felt so sad and terrified. At this point I wasn’t aware of what had transpired the evening before, but as soon as I read the news I felt as though my antennae had picked up all the sorrow and fear of All of the World and was downloading it straight to my heart. That weekend I didn’t leave the house, mainly because of the uncontrollable weeping. But through all the despair and the terror, I also knew that this would pass, that my depth of feeling and anxiety about the state of the world would not change anything – only action could do that; that the tragedy that happened this time, close to home, was happening in other places all over the world in one way or another daily and each and every heartbreak was a projection of the collective suffering of the human race. And yet, progression towards a kinder, fairer, more tolerant, more collaborative way of being was and is inevitable. Change is inevitable. Evolution is inevitable. Fact: every day someone somewhere wakes up to their own consciousness and that is like lighting a candle in the dark. Every day the world gets a little brighter.

The Witness helps us to heal

And here’s the magic. Knowing all of that – what The Witness knows – is what allows us to fully embrace the darkness, to go into the pain without the strings that hold us back, so that we can move through it. Without The Witness there to hold us, not from anything, but in its unconditional presence, we can never fully feel the feelings enough to integrate them and heal. My Witness didn’t save me from the utter darkness of that time. I still thought all the fearful thoughts and cried all the tears of grief but I did also know, simultaneously, that everything would be ok. And lo and behold, everything was ok.

The Witness enables us to change

The definition of insanity, some say, is behaving the same way but expecting a different result. Real, lasting change is so tricky because we are hardwired to maintain the status quo. Habits are efficient, so our biology would suggest, but only if the habits serve us. The Witness is the facet of the mind that says, “Hey, I thought you weren’t going to think that thought anymore. It’s self-abuse.” Or, “Hey, I know you love sugar, but it makes you feel unwell so do you really want to eat that?” For a long time, I heard The Witness loud and clear but chose to politely ignore it. Slowly, gradually, after many hours on the mat, my Witness has become stronger and louder than my ego-mind. More often than not, it overrules the habitual unhelpful impulses that have kept me stuck in patterns that don’t serve me. And I have changed. I loop less, feel lighter, clearer and my thinking is more ordered. I am able to experience real, authentic joy and act on my creative ideas. I also feel more connected and loving and yes, cliché as it has become, present, in my relationships.

The Witness in Kundalini Yoga is known as the neutral mind. Meditation is the exercise that will introduce you to your Witness and yoga is the practice that will condition your nervous system and endocrine system to follow its wisdom. Once you have it, it will always be available to you. You will know it because it has no capacity for emotion, though fully allows for the depth of your emotion to be experienced. It has no agenda except that which is True. In other words, that which is in alignment with your highest purpose in this lifetime. It has no aim other than to reveal all the fractured parts of yourself rooted in shame, grief and fear that need to be brought into awareness for integration to further your journey towards wholeness. Your Witness can be your BFF. It’s the relationship with yourself that yoga and meditation can offer you. So if you’ve switched off and tuned out to promise of what a personal practice has to offer, maybe reconsider?

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