As human beings, we have the capacity to observe our thoughts. We have an awareness that is not limited to just thinking words in our minds. In the study of meditation, this is referred to as witness consciousness.
Welcome to the fascinating workings of the human mind! Indeed, the mind is a prolific thinker, generating thoughts, ideas, opinions…. sometimes around the clock! What a marvel! What a beast! But, where would we be without it? Fortunately, our mind is so much greater than just the thoughts we think. How do we know? Simple! Because we have the ability to observe-notice-witness that we are thinking!
If we can know and witness that we are thinking, then we naturally have the leverage to choose what we think about! This is the first step in flipping negative thinking into a positive mind set, which can uplift our entire experience of life.
Witness consciousness, or being the observer, is the human ability to witness thoughts, emotions, and inner states without being ensnared in the experience. Being able to stand it the place of the watcher of what is happening in our thoughts is the key to learning how to transform struggle into peacefulness.
Consider the following example.
Suddenly, a wave of deep sadness, depression, or anxiety arises from inside. How do you react? What does your mind talk say? Perhaps, like many of us, you get caught up in a wave of inner dialogue that goes something like this, “Oh no! Not this again. I hate this feeling. Why does it keep happening? What’s wrong with me? I’m so tired of this feeling! I’ll never feel better!” And on it goes.
As you can imaging, this kind of mental litany begets a downward spiral, even deeper into the depths of sadness and despair. It’s like a snowball rolling down the steep slope, gaining size and momentum as it rolls. However, when we begin to train our minds to watch these negative statements with an observer’s perspective, it provides us a greater vantage point from which we can avoid being unwittingly ensnared by a negative spiral of thoughts.
The amazingly good, and seemingly unbelievable news is, that we DO have power to observe, and therefore change, our mental talk! We can use witness consciousness to bring about peace of mind.
As an unbiased witness, we make observation, neutral comments. “Oh, there’s sadness.” “I see it.” “Huh, sadness.” The simple distance gained by observing the thought, instead of leaping to judgements and conclusions, drastically alters the negative emotional impact.
By taking the stance of the witness a healthy pause is created, giving us the opportunity to choose how we would like to frame our thinking about the feeling or thought which has arisen.
When we practice noticing what we are thinking, we can lovingly and gently reframe negative thoughts into more positive and hopeful ones. This gives us the power to immensely improve how we are feeling! Developing the healthy tool of witness consciousness offers us immediate relief and freedom from the snares and emotional pain created by negative thought patterns.
So, the next time you find yourself feeling down and out, become the witness and notice what thought patterns are running in your mind. By simply watching them, you gain distance, and have the choice to create a thought to uplift yourself instead!
Try this Challenge: Watch the Watcher
While witness consciousness is often taught in the context of meditation, it doesn’t need to be limited to sitting time. Like all skills, practicing little by little adds up to a lot! Try this short exercise and see how it feels. Engage in these questions by reading the question, then pausing to close your eyes and bring your full awareness to answer the question.
Can you identify where your attention is directed?
1. Who is looking through your eyes right now to read these word? Can you turn your vision around to see the looker?
2. What do you hear right now? Who is it that is listening through your ears? Can you observe the listener listening?
3. What are you thinking right now? Who is it that sees the thoughts in your own mind, the one that knows you are thinking?
When contemplating any of these questions, did you get a sense of being the witness? Did you experience a mental lift or slightly different perception than usual? Keep contemplating! What question gives you a glimpse of seeing the seer?
As we continue to develop the skill of witness consciousness, we gain the ability to hold a healthy distance from negative thought patterns, and build a deeper peacefulness in our own experience of life.
If you find yourself beset by ongoing, negative thought patterns, or would like to learn more about meditation practices to create mental peacefulness, please contact me for a free inquiry call to see if Golden Life Healing services could be helpful for you.
For further reading
1 Poem on Witness Consciousness by Gurumayi Chidvilasananda
2 Exposé on Witness Consciousness by Dr. H.K. Luthar
3 Yoga International: Become Your Own Inner Witness