Monday, February 20, 2006

Discovering the Witness

[Image by Alex Grey]

There is a nice discussion going on as to the nature of the Witness in the comments section of Life as a Creative Process, so I thought I might help elucidate the idea of the Witness with some words from Ken Wilber. This is a section from Boomeritis, but he has written similar "pointing out" instructions in other places (One Taste has a variation on what follows).

"Everybody starts out living in a fragmented, broken, dualistic, brutalized state. The world is divided into subject versus object, self versus other, me in here versus the world out there. Once the world is broken in two, the world knows only pain, suffering, torment, terror. In the gap between subject and object lies the entire misery of humankind."

"That's the gap between the Seer and the Seen," Joan softly adds.

"Yes. So you can find the ultimate state of oneness, of cosmic consciousness, or radiant love, by going through the Seer or the Seen, since they both end up coming together as one. Men generally find it easier to pursue the Seer, and women generally find it easier to go through the Seen. But men and women can do both, it's just a matter of personal choice."

"I do not understand a single word you said."

"It's not that hard, young Ken, honest. Let us start with the Seer, and follow me just one more time, because you have heard these words before, haven't you?:

"Let your mind relax. Let your mind relax and expand, mixing with the sky in front of it. Then notice: the clouds float by in the sky, and you are effortlessly aware of them. Feelings float by in the body, and you are effortlessly aware of them, too. Thoughts float by in the mind, and you are effortlessly aware of them as well. Nature floats by, feelings float by, thoughts float by . . . and you are aware of all of them.

"So tell me: Who are you?

"You are not your thoughts, for you are aware of them. You are not your feelings, for you are aware of them. You are not any objects that you can see, for you are aware of them too.

"Something in you is aware of all these things. So tell me: What is it in you that is conscious of everything?

"What in you is always awake? Always fully present? Something in you right now is effortlessly noticing everything that arises. What is that?

"That vast infinite witnessing awareness, don't you recognize it?

"What is that Witness?"

The voice pauses. "You are that Witness, aren't you? You are the pure Seer, pure awareness, the pure Spirit that impartially witnesses everything that arises, moment to moment. Your awareness is spacious, wide-open, empty and clear, and yet it registers everything that arises.

"That very Witness is God within, looking out on a world that it created."

(From Boomeritis, 448-449)

Wilber "borrowed" the basic premise of this exercise from Roberto Assagioli, the founder of psychosynthesis, although I suspect Assagioli lifted it from an Eastern source, most likely tantric. In psychosynthesis, this is called the disidentification exercise. Most therapists working within this "lineage" still use the exercise as a way to get clients separated from ego enough that they can begin to see their various and unique subpersonalities.

I'm curious about Wilber's claim in the section above--do women find it easier to move through the Seen and not the Seer? What does it feel like to approach the Witness through the Seen? This sounds like nonsense to me, but I'd like to learn something new if anyone can explain this to me.

One bit of attempted clarification for those who might be new to these ideas: The Witness is the most non-egoic manifestation of the Self, a point at which evolution of the Self meets the involution of God. Once we move beyond the Witness, the sense of a separate Self increasingly breaks down until we reach nonduality (no distintion between Self and God--pure oneness of Spirit). That's as clearly as I know how to express it. If anyone has a better (or more correct if I am off-base) explanation, please share it in the comments and I'll add it to the post as an update or clarification.
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