One day while walking along the Ganges, my teacher was told, specifically, by his Guru , “Witness Everything“. He knew that Swami Rama did not incline towards repeating himself; so, he grunted to acknowledge that he heard the instruction. But, the sound also signified he needed to digest this morsel a bit longer.
“Witness Everything”, what a specific, yet, elusive instruction. As my teacher paradoxically says, “it is simple; but, not easy.”
Often, during the opening of an asana (yoga posture) class, when we begin to focus on the breath, I remind my students we take about 20,000 breaths a day–but, most of them come and go unconsciously. Yet, it is the most essential of all our bodily functions. If we were forcibly made to stop breathing, for even a few seconds, we would suddenly become very grateful for our lifeline!
Why on earth would we want to cultivate this state of detached observation? Witnessing is the essence of mindfulness–the practice of paying attention to and seeing clearly what is happening in our lives.
If we always act from the perspective of the self, life happens to us–it is very personal and selfish. The person that cuts us off is doing that to us personally. The traffic is affecting us personally. When we begin to witness we are able to “see” the person cutting us off is actually thinking about themselves. Maybe they were rushing to an emergency! We begin to see all of the people stuck in traffic–we may even develop compassion for so many frustrated individuals.
But, on a deeper level, when, in our meditation practice, we bear witness to our thoughts (remember, this is done with non-attachment or non-judgment), we begin to notice the patterns, trends, and colors of our thoughts. We begin, without necessarily having to analyze the source of our tendencies, to have more space from the fluctuations in our mind-field. We begin to see the mind as it is, an infinitely creative tool that is a blessing and a necessity to navigate this earth-plane–instead of seeing the mind as a source of our frustration.