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Witnessing – Being That Which is Not

Dear Integral Meditators,

What does it really mean to ‘be the mindful witness?’ and why is it useful to us? This weeks article seeks to answer these questions in a practical way.
For those in Singapore, last call for the upcoming workshop: Saturday April 30th, 2.30-5.30pm – Mindful Self Confidence: Developing your self-confidence, self-belief & self-trust through mindfulness & meditation

In the spirit of the witness,


Witnessing – Being That Which is Not

Really the first basic ‘position’ that you are being asked to take with your mindfulness practice is that of the witness self. Other ways of describing this is to say we are trying to:

  • Become the observer self
  • Strengthen our capacity for taking and keeping a 3rd person, detached perspective
  • To dis-identify with that which we observe arising within our mind, body and environment. To watch but not to engage

Dropping all that is not the witness
Then the question may arise if I am becoming the observer of my mind, body and environment, who am I? Who is the observer? One way to clarify this is to carefully and systematically note that the witness self is:

  • Not any element of your environment or senses
  • Not your body or any part of it
  • Not your feelings or emotions
  • Not any part of your mind

If you drop all of these one by one, what you are left with is awareness itself; that which is conscious and observes. It has no form, and because it has no form it exists out of time in the eternal NOW. The witness is present at all times in your mind, as it is the basis of your consciousness itself. However most of the time it is invisible to us, or in the background of our awareness, hidden by our identification with the activity of our body, mind and senses.

Getting started with witnessing
To become the mindful witness then, simply do the exercise above, stripping away all that is not the witness, and then practice recognizing and resting in that which is aware, that which is witnessing; pure awareness or consciousness itself. As the witness you can then start to observe in a detached manner the contents of your consciousness, body and senses, simply be that which is the watcher rather than identify with what is being observed.

The benefits of mindfully being the witness self

  • It is relaxing and calming
  • It gives you more objective perspectives on your experiences, both the good and the bad
  • It gives you a deeper experience of who you are, and answer to the question ‘Who am I?’
  • It gradually liberates you from the attachment, clinging and consequent fear and anxiety that comes from being over identified with the contents of your mind, your body and senses.

An image: The Watchman
I sometimes think of the witness self as like being a soldier on guard duty. As s/he stands on guard his job is simply to watch and scan his environment, to witness it with awareness and alertness. If he should see something that needs action then he is ready, but the vast majority of his time is spend simply being the watcher, the observer, the witness or watchman. Practice being the Watchman; that which observes and witnesses with alertness and discipline.

© Toby Ouvry 2016, you are welcome to use or share this article, but please cite Toby as the source and include reference to his website

Upcoming Courses at Integral Meditation Asia:

Ongoing on Wednesday’s, 7.30-8.30pm – Wednesday Meditation Classes at Basic Essence with Toby

Saturday April 30th, 2.30-5.30pm – Mindful Self Confidence: Developing your self-confidence, self-belief & self-trust through mindfulness & meditation

Integral Meditation Asia

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