Witnessing can be a spiritual practice which involves taking the position of a neutral
observer to the whole range of our experience: physical sensations, perceptions,
thoughts and emotions. It can be practiced as a meditation technique in which one
systematically observes and dis-identifies with all that arises into awareness. Practiced
with sustained and focused attention, stepping back from sensations and thinking again
and again, thoughts gradually diminish and a healing silence is revealed.
Practicing regularly in meditation makes it easier to apply this same effort to daily life by
having one part of the mind observing even as we engage in activities. The non-
reactive awareness we cultivate gives rise to a tremendous benefit, changing our
relationship to any activity, conversation or emotion. Where we might normally react
compulsively lost in an emotion or a habitual pattern of thinking, we now are
empowered to pause, reflect and respond mindfully.
For example, I may be able to stop myself from spinning the truth to protect my self-
image if I feel compelled to hide a mistake I made. I might be able to catch myself
obsessively thinking negative thoughts about someone and choose to focus instead on
my part in a difficult interaction. No doubt, becoming this conscious of our thoughts is
not easy, especially when we are stressed or emotionally triggered.
A practice of Hatha Yoga can be an effective way to develop this attentiveness by
tuning into the raw sensations of the body. We can train ourselves to see and act with a
non-judgmental response to the body’s capacity in a given moment. A mind that
becomes focused on sincerely listening to what is can respond to events as they are,
without looking through a colored lens or projecting onto things our hopes or fears.
In this way, we train ourselves to pause and discriminate between the anxious reactions
that may be triggered by stressful situations, and the deeper, neutral voice of our
Spiritual Self. This skill develops over time with steady effort, patience and without
expectation for how and when results will come.
When we repeat such a practice and experience moments free of habitual thought
patterns, we begin to see ourselves and our relationship to the world in a fresh way. We
begin to feel our connection to each other and all of nature. A natural compassion and
wisdom arise in our hearts. Over time, a regular practice of this kind will gradually
restructure even the subconscious mind so that we are no longer compelled by old
beliefs, and approach life with a sense of deep belonging, inner contentment and