Being a witness - some key guidelines to help your meditation
By being a witness of our thoughts and feelings, we dis-identify with the mind and obtain some rest from our fretful, anxious selves.
This act can be done at any moment during the day when we are with ourselves and not fully occupied in our work and other activities. During our hours of meditation, of course, we are necessarily involved in being a witness.
A simple but powerful method is as follows:-
Simply acknowledge your thoughts and feelings as they arise within you. Anchor yourself in the present moment by simultaneously being aware of your in breath and out breath. For example: “I am breathing in and am aware of a pleasant sensation.” Or “I am breathing out and am aware of a sad sensation.” Or “I am breathing in and am aware of a neutral feeling”
It may be noted that in Buddhist Philosophy feelings are categorized as pleasant, unpleasant and neutral.
I have learned Vipassana meditation and during the course Mr. Goenka – the main instructor – compared our minds with a mischievous monkey. Just as a monkey is forever restless, jumping about from one object to another, so our minds are constantly flitting from object to object, from one thought to another. Thich Nhat Hanh describes the method I described in the preceding paragraph on acknowledging your thoughts and feelings like a guard observing and acknowledging all the visitors to the building whose entrance he is guarding.
But the above analogies contain a contradiction. It arises because we are not separate from the thoughts and feelings, which annoy and distress us. When we feel anger, sadness or irritation we should not push these feelings away. We should not make ourselves a battlefield, constantly grappling with ourselves. If we think of a guard observing and acknowledging the visitors to a building we get the impression that the guard is separate from the visitors. We think that our witnessing pressure is separate from the thoughts and feelings witnessed.
However we are not separate from our monkey minds, our witnessing presence is not separate from the thoughts and feelings witnessed. And we need to recognize this fact and be one with our thoughts and feelings, observing them compassionately and not creating a battlefield within ourselves.
This may seem contradictory to you. On one hand I am asking you to witness your thoughts and feelings and dis-identify with the mind. On the other hand I am asking you to be one with your thoughts, not view them as enemies or adversaries, not to create a battlefield within yourself. It may seem to you that it is impossible to do both together. Yet it is not only possible but is also surprisingly easy.
Life is full of contradictions. As Shakespeare said “There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy”.
One method of both witnessing your thoughts as well as being one with them is to observe your thoughts without reacting. If you react observe the reaction without reacting. This is a 3 step method:
- Welcome the thought or feelings into your awareness. 2. Observe the same without reacting. 3. Let go of the thought or feeling and bring your attention back to the breath, or back to your meditation practice.
Another way to think of this process is that we are surrendering to whatsoever thoughts and feelings that are arising. There is a famous text from the Bible, “Lord, let thy will and not mine be done”. We need some of this attitude of surrender as we approach our meditation practice.
If you follow my above instructions you will find it surprisingly easy to meditate for longer and longer periods of time. There was a time when meditation for even half an hour was a huge effort for me. But now within just 4 months I find that I can meditate for an hour at a stretch and feel happy and peaceful. I do not need to add that following these methods in your day-to-day life will also bring immense benefits to you.
I hope you enjoyed this article and that it will be useful to you.