Cultivating Witness Consciousness: How to Be Free & Fully Present

Uncategorized Jul 15, 2021

When you pour tea into a tall thin cup, the tea assumes that tall, thin shape. When you pour tea into a squat, round cup, it assumes that shape.

It’s wonderful that tea does this. It facilitates tea drinking. But your mind needn’t act like tea. Too often it does.

How does the mind act like tea?

Just as tea takes the shape of whatever container it’s poured into, the mind tends to assume the shape of whatever thought, emotion, or sensation captures its attention. But it doesn’t just assume the shape of what is arising– it identifies with the object of attention.

The mind believes it is what it is aware of.

When the emotion of sadness arises, the mind identifies with that emotion and believes it is sadness. Not, I’m aware of sadness but I am sadness.

When anger is present, the mind believes - I am angry.

The mind identifies with whatever condition is most intense at a moment in time.

Whether it's an inner condition like a thought or emotion or an outer condition like hitting a home run or losing 10 pounds – the mind tends to identify with what it is aware of.

There’s nothing wrong with being aware of what is arising.

It’s important to be aware of your inner and outer world. But here’s the rub – when your mind is immersed in identification it's no longer aware. When your mind is believing I am sad – it’s no longer aware of sadness and can no longer respond wisely to the arising experience.

To become aware, the mind needs to step back.

To dis-identify with what is arising in order to be fully aware. This state of non-identified and fully engaged awareness is called witness consciousness.

It’s quite different from a tea-like mind. Cultivating witness consciousness allows the mind to fully experience what arises without being overcome by identification.

It’s a paradoxical state of mind.

It’s neither lost in identification nor separate from experience. Witness consciousness simultaneously transcends the object of attention while fully entering into it. It’s this paradoxical quality - of being beyond and fully engaged - that makes witness consciousness such a powerful source of healing.

Witness consciousness is able to infuse all conditions – with the light of awareness.

Through the function of witness consciousness, the light of awareness can fully infuse any and every condition. The mind is thus able to engage with all forms of conditions as a healing presence.

It is able to investigate, enter, and experience any condition fully – because of this engaged detachment. Witness consciousness develops as the mind simultaneously dis-identifies with conditions while remaining fully present.

How can you cultivate witness consciousness?

The most reliable way is through meditation practice. Meditation practice is ideally – and intentionally – designed to cultivate witness consciousness.

This happens organically as you practice.

When you begin meditating (and by as you begin I mean whenever you sit down) – you become aware of how easily the mind slips away into identification with thought, emotion, sensations.

A few mindful breaths, a few mantras, and the mind mindlessly shape shifts, becoming lost in thoughts, emotions, and sensations.

It’s part of the process.

When this shape shifting happens in the context of meditation practice, you (eventually) notice and gently reorient to witnessing the object of meditation. In other words you come back to the breath, to the mantra, to the visualization . . . whatever your object of meditation may be.

Gradually the shape shifting reduces and attention stabilizes.

As stabilization deepens, witness consciousness emerges. You discover the blissful capacity to be fully engaged and totally free at the same time. It’s an experience of flow and one that you can intentionally develop and deepen through meditation practice. It’s not just for when you’re on the cushion.

This capacity to enter into life fully – but without being caught in identification – isn’t just a meditation thing. 

It’s a life thing. Witness consciousness allows you to meet the conditions of your life – whether these take the form of emotions, thoughts, people, or snowstorms – with clarity, wisdom, and creativity.

Then whatever cup of tea life pours – you’ll be able to enjoy it fully.


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