Understanding Witness Consciousness
According to the Advaita and the practice of Yoga thousands of years ago, Witness Consciousness is learning how to develop simple awareness of what is going on with oneself. Digging a step further is having an attitude of Metta, which refers to the idea of wishing oneself well. The development of this kind of consciousness and attitude toward oneself is an important type of self-love. It is understanding, learning to love (clear seeing) and accepting whatever arises within and without oneself.
We need help to stay in this place of unconditional acceptance for ourselves. It gets harder to remain open when we have difficult situations that bring up emotions from within. We are not taught in our traditional Western Culture how to deal with certain feelings, which may be the reason why there are so many unhealthy addictions in our modern western culture. Even so-called healthy habits and lifestyle choices (work, relationships, exercise etc.) is often chased by society to run from dealing with difficult feelings and thus, becomes an addiction.
In the Tibetan Monastic Culture, there is an important meditative practice called Tonglen. It is a very strong practice that trains the practitioner to open their heart to the suffering of others and oneself. First, the practitioner is taught how to embrace his or her personal suffering and emotions. This person can understand his or her past and difficulties in the present, but that does not always help him or her live through it in the moment. The Tonglen practice is one very concrete method that I give my clients to try when they are dealing with personal difficulties. Furthermore, the practice extends to developing compassion for all others experiencing similar situations.
Here is my modified version of the traditional Tonglen I use for my clients. The key is in using the breath to release the difficult emotions you are having. This is very different from what we usually do as a society, which is to run from our difficult emotions.
- So, first, become aware of the feelings you are experiencing. Acknowledge these feelings, and breathe it in.
- Envision your body as a transformer. Imagine the difficult feelings mixing in with calming thoughts of wholeness and lightness in your body. Breathe out this transformed energy.
- Send out this new energy to whatever is needed in your current situation. Perhaps what you need is love, understanding, compassion, and tenderness.
- Continue to breathe in the difficulty, mix it with transforming energy, and breathe out the energy that is needed.
Over and over again.
You will eventually notice that the difficult emotions will slowly become muted as you send yourself the love and compassion that is needed. Or perhaps what you need to send yourself is something even more specific.(One client sent herself a cup of coffee! If that was what she felt would help and soothe her at the moment, why not!)
The final step is ending the practice by developing compassion for others. Acknowledge that there are other beings in the present moment experiencing the same pain as you. Send them love too.
By doing so, you are using your personal suffering to remember and honor others. This will no doubt bring feelings of peace and joy. Don’t be afraid to practice this over and over and see how you feel after a few minutes.
Being with yourself in the midst of suffering is true self-love. And remember to always end the practice by sending love to all other beings feeling the same pain.
Then you are now on the way to having the heart of a Buddha.
Written By: Dr. Sharon Goldblum
Dr. Goldblum is a NYS licensed psychotherapist who has worked on Long Island and NYC with individuals, couples and families for over 25 years. She has been faculty at a training institute for psychotherapists and has founded a Wellness Center and Yournaturequest.com retreats, located in the Catskills. She spends part of the year in India following her spiritual pursuits.