In Meditation: What Is Meant By The Witness?

In Meditation: What Is Meant By The Witness?

Let’s take an example of a practice where you are observing the belly rise and fall as you inhale and exhale. You are aware of the physical movements of the belly and the characteristics of the breath from a place of observation, these could be; the depth of the breath, its rhythm, comfort or discomfort in the abdominal or chest region, digestive movements, sensations and so on. You notice all of these happenings that are taking place.

As these movements take place there may be a commentary from the mind, for example ‘My breath is not deep enough, it should be different or better, Wow my belly is getting big!, I am doing this really well’ and other random thoughts like ‘what is for dinner?’ You once again are aware of the commentary. There may be a number of layers to this including feelings and emotions, trying and resistance and so on, but all of these layers come and go.

The witness is prior to and sees all of these movements come and go, yet itself does not come and go. It is always present, inactive, neutral, opinion-less, free and unaffected by what it witnesses. It includes everything and excludes nothing.

Some of the other commonly used terms that also refer to the witness are: awareness, consciousness, the observer, the watcher, the seer and presence.

On discovering that you are not your thoughts, your emotions, your mind, your body, your beliefs, your personality or ego, because all of these can be witnessed as they change and come and go it may leave a question of well what or who am I then?…

Perhaps that is the real discovery, to find out what is unchanging.

Resources For Practical Exploration

  • Here’s a link to a free Vipassana Body Sensing Meditation where witnessing can be practised. Like the technique taught by S.N. Goenka, the physical body is systematically experienced from a space of present moment awareness & with an equal neutral mind.
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