The intimacy of witnessing our experience
Practices of mindfulness develop the capacity to witness or observe our experience. We can do this anywhere. When we are walking. Dancing. Breathing in sunshine. Checking Facebook. Washing our face.
We begin every meditation practice by becoming aware of our body, our breath, and our thoughts. Who is it that becomes aware of this? What part of us is able to observe our body, our breath, and mind? It becomes clear there is more to our mind than thoughts coming and going. We are able to observe thoughts and to observe the silence between thoughts. We are more than just our thoughts.
Bring your attention inside your own body to an energy or a sense perception. It could be a contraction in your gut, a tightness in the back of your neck, clenching in your jaw, or a feeling of warmth and softness in your heart center. A cool breeze on the skin of your face. The rumbling of hunger in your belly. The movement of your stomach as you breathe.
Bring to mind an image of yourself. Are you looking at a picture? What is in the picture? Are you looking out of your own eyes or from the perspective of someone who is looking at you? What can you tell about you from that picture? From the look on your face or your body language?
Now bring your attention again to your internal experience. From the inside, what is your experience of your body? There is an ongoing stream of sense perception, of propioception (our internal sense of position), of stillness and movement. There is a constant scanning or potential danger and for our people with whom we connect, with possibilities, with what is happening in our immediate environment. It is familiar, like the first night sleeping in our own bed after returning from a trip. Our internal world feels “like me”.
Being present with the energy and sensation in our bodies can feel threatening, it can feel mysterious, and it can feel welcome or unwelcome in varying degrees. Witnessing our internal experience of the energy in our body, is an intimate experience. This is not the view from an observatory on a distant hill or even from a person two feet away. This is not what we glean from looking at a picture or a video clip of our life.
Thoughts in our mind come from the pool of associations, memories, and experiences we have had. Energies and sensations in our body come from that same source and are associated with thoughts. Trauma is stored in our body. Anything that was too scary or overwhelming to process completely when it happened remains in our body to be seen and attended to later. We suppress what we feel we cannot afford to see. The amount of energy it takes to suppress something is directly related to the level of intensity, of fear. We can be very invested in avoiding what we are not sure we can survive seeing.
Something triggers an unwillingness to continue suppressing and living this half life. We become aware of possibilities for healing. We begin a practice of mindfulness. Perhaps we start attending a yoga class or sign up for a meditation course. We begin to work with our mind, with compulsive intrusive thoughts. Possibilities open up for us to be present with the energies and sensations in our body. We begin observing our breath and relaxing our belly. So far, so good!
Our inner experience becomes known. We become more able to stay present with uncomfortable energy or sensations and to see and welcome the associated thoughts, pictures, video clips of our life.
We all long to be seen. To be known and loved. This is the gift we offer ourselves through the intimate experience of witnessing our internal experience moment to moment. We widen our window of tolerance and increase our capacity to witness disturbing content with equanimity, kindness, safety and compassion. We become so interested in deeply knowing ourselves. In this gentle knowing, we stop torturing and shaming ourselves. Deep acceptance and love emerge.