Be an intelligent witness of every happening within and without. —Swami Chinmayananda

The mind is a continual flow of thoughts. This is a fact that isn’t necessarily problematic because it’s the nature of the mind to produce thoughts.

But problems occur because we identify with our thoughts. Either instantly believing what shows up or constantly doubting and changing our thoughts and emotions, we multiply the number of thoughts and ride a roller coaster of inner experiences that leave us emotionally and mentally drained.

The remedy for this inner disharmony is to disassociate with the thoughts. This will help slow down the mind and keep it peaceful. You can do this in meditation by becoming a witness and simply watch your thoughts without engaging in them. As you do this, the thoughts die down on their own.

Thoughts die down when you simply watch them

To illustrate how watching the thoughts can calm them down, here’s a little scenario. . . Think of your thoughts as a chatty little boy who continues to play in the sandbox even after his mother repeatedly tells him that it’s time to go.

He keeps pleading for a few more minutes and she keeps giving in. Finally, tired of waiting, she tries something different. She becomes uncharacteristically quiet and simply stands there watching him without responding to his chatter and questions.

He begins to feel uncomfortable under the silent gaze of his mother. Playing in the sandbox doesn’t feel like fun anymore. He slowly gathers his toys, climbs out of the sandbox and walks quietly to his mother. . .

The seer and the seen

Your mind consists of thoughts about yourself and the world that you interact with. Although things, beings and situations outside are innumerable, you, the knower or experiencer of them is only one.

Vedanta refers to you as the ”seer” and what you know as the “seen.”

What often happens in meditation is that instead of focussing on the seer of the thoughts, your attention goes toward the thoughts themselves. One thought leads to another and before you know it, you’re sucked into the drama they create. And you may not even notice it until much later! My guru, Swami Chinmayananda jokingly described this as being in “MADitation” not “meditation.”

When you’re able to shift your attention to yourself, the seer of the thoughts, the thoughts, no matter good or bad, cease to affect you. You become merely their witness.

As your ability to do this increases over time, your mind becomes more and more quiet. Its ability to concentrate increases. This is a valuable skill to develop not only for your meditation practice but to help you achieve any of your goals.

Meditation on being the witness

Here is a typical Vedantic method on how to be the witness in meditation:

  • Sit with your head, neck and back in a straight line.
  • Softly close your eyes and place your hands on your lap or on your thighs.
  • Take three slow, deep breaths to calm and center yourself.
  • Drop your everyday roles, concerns and responsibilities. Simply be a seeker of peace.
  • Mentally scan your body, one part at a time, from the top of your head to your feet. If you detect any area of tension, visualize it, breathe into it and relax it as you breathe out.
  • After a few minutes of doing this, you will feel your whole body relaxed.
  • Bring your entire attention to your relaxed body. Keep it very still.
  • As you focus on your still body, your mind becomes much more peaceful and quiet.
  • Soon, thoughts not initiated by you will rise up on their own.
  • Stay calm, don’t get excited or disappointed that your peace has been disturbed.
  • Don’t suppress any thoughts or add more thoughts by identifying with them or taking ownership of them.
  • Watch the thoughts stream out in front of you with as much detachment as you would watch the flow of traffic outside your window. Allow them to pass through your mind without your active engagement in them. In this way, they will taper off by themselves.
  • If thoughts come up again, substitute them with positive thoughts such as…
    • “The thoughts have nothing to do with me. I am the changeless inner witness
      of my mind.”
    •  “I am unattached and free from any thought disturbances.”
    •  “I have a mind, but I am not the thoughts in my mind. I am the seer of
      them all.”
  • Continue making the effort to keep your mind calm by focusing on your breath and body.
  • Carefully hold this inner silence for as long as you can.
  • When you start to fatigue and are ready to come out of your quiet state, shift your attention back to your body and breathing.
  • Slowly open your eyes and start to move and stretch your body.
  • Smile!

Being a witness improves your life

When you practice being a witness of your thoughts during your meditation practice, this habit spills over into your daily life.

This helps you keep a little distance between you, the seer and what you are experiencing. You are better able to see things, people and situations for what they are, and respond rather than react to them.

Practicing being the witness in meditation is an effective way to improve your daily interactions, be happier and grow spiritually.

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Manisha Melwani

Manisha Melwani is a teacher and the author of, "So You're a Spiritual Being–Now What?" She offers spiritual and wellness solutions for life and stress management. She teaches classes in personal growth, stress management and meditation. She is based in Richmond Hill and Markham, Ontario. Contact her for more information or to have her speak to your group or organization. She also offers private counselling sessions in person or on-line.
Manisha Melwani

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