There are two aspects to our being. One is the participatory part and the other is the witnessing component. The former is involved in worldly interactions or objectivity which requires the axis of the mind, body, senses and objects. The mind is well accustomed to the participatory part. The seamless interactions we have with our thoughts that take us on soaring flights of fancy or those that bring us to a grinding halt attest to our participatory role. This creates polarity such as the individual and the world, the phenomenon of the observer and the observable. The invisible line between the two can conceivably be drawn at the level of the body, at the mind or the consciousness which underlies both. One could argue that both the body and the contents of the mind are observable, hence the true observer lies beyond the two. Our true nature may be uncovered by a line of enquiry that leads us towards the real observer within. It is a subjective process and can only only be done individually, it cannot be projected on a screen or understood from a book. A neutral witnessing state gives room for this inner enquiry to grow.
Our innermost core is pure subjectivity, which consists of awareness that is not linked to a particular bodily form, the mind or even thoughts. When the ego is discarded, what’s left behind is awareness that does not associate with a body or mind. Ego creates a sense of individuality, it plays an important role in having meaningful interactions with the world. But a runaway ego creates a false sense of permanency with respect to those interactions. The mind is collection of crisscrossing thoughts. Thoughts are not permanent, but the grooves in which they travel remain and repeated transit of thoughts in those grooves reshapes the mind. A witnessing state dilutes and ultimately dissolves these grooves that create lines of separation between various thought forms. Just as a canal is dug in which water may flow, grooves in the mind act much in the same way to funnel our consciousness towards certain thoughts. Through witnessing, all boundaries are not just blurred but they are ultimately irreversibly erased. This cannot proceed from imagination but from actual experiencing of the witnessing state. It is a phenomenon that only happens when emotional reactions to or interpretation of experiences cease.
In contrast to witnessing where nothing new is recreated, imagination is a more sublime process. But to us, it seems easier to let the imagination run rather than be an uninvolved witness. One cannot however, imagine a state of witnessing. Imagination proceeds from identification with the mind, while witnessing starts when that identity is dropped. The underpinning of imagination is emotion and desire. The ego puts it all together and functions as a user interface. When the ego functions, the witnessing state goes into dormancy. Even the thought, “I am witnessing” implies the work of the ego. But we have to start somewhere. Witnessing uncovers the one who says “I am…”. The ego affixes the “I, me or mine” to every thought and there is no corner of the mind or body where that will not be in our experience. The ego links us to the body and the mind, just as a unique serial number that is associated with only one individual computer’s hardware and software.
Beyond the body and the mind, the genesis of perception starts from choiceless awareness or pure consciousness. This aspect cannot be observed as all observation proceeds from there. When this unbounded awareness hits the “inner atmosphere” or mind, it loses that quality of being unaligned. Awareness and hence consciousness becomes bound and limited. The mind can also be thought of in terms of crystallized consciousness that takes infinite variety of thought forms. The mind usurps the role of “the observer” by the process of identification. By aligning our waking consciousness with a neutral witnessing state, consciousness is gradually freed, allowing it to grow and ultimately become unconditioned awareness from where it originated. When there is total subjective awareness, there is no distance between “me and my inner core”. Both become one. A byproduct of this union is bliss which pervades us and cannot be related to any particular outer cause. The longer we remain in a witnessing state, greater is the experience of bliss.
Bliss cannot be equated with happiness as we know it. The forms of happiness we experience on a day to day basis are highly dependent on situations, objects or people. Happiness of this variety may or may not be in our control. Desire to seek happiness binds consciousness. A simple fact of happiness is that it flows more freely when one stops seeking it. The pain and sorrow is in the seeking. When consciousness is walled off by desire, it tries to go back to its natural state which is one of expansion. The friction caused by the contraction imposed on consciousness by desire creates uneasiness within which is proportional to the depth and intensity of a desire. The bodily mechanism is put into action to fulfil a desire which is creating an uneasy inner milieu. When the desire is wholly or partially satiated, consciousness is given room to expand, and consequently the mind feels lighter, freer and happier. We have plenty of “room to breathe” when not in the grip of desire. Longer these periods, more rooted will be the positive aspects of our being such as love, contentment, compassion etc.
When consciousness expands as a result of fulfilment of a desire, that expansion is has a finite expiration. To maintain that experience of expanded consciousness, desires will have to be constantly pursued. This form of indirect expansion of consciousness does not bring about a fundamental change within the individual which witnessing can do. Money brings us happiness as it takes away limitations that are felt in the mind. It gives us time and freedom to pursue activities that we otherwise would not have had the opportunity to pursue. In that freedom to pursue and fulfil our desires, which money allows, consciousness expands. But that expansion is counterbalanced by the fear of losing money. The true value of money lies not in its purchasing power, but the degree to which it influences expansion of consciousness within each individual. No wonder, it has become the “universal currency” for happiness. But no amount of it can take us to higher states of consciousness which have an independent existence. Money, power and chemicals can only give us brief and incomplete glimpses.
A greater and more permanent expansion of consciousness may be brought about through the practice of witnessing. Inner freedom that is experienced as bliss is neither happiness or sorrow. Day has night as its contrary, but that is not the case with twilight which does not have an opposite that can be experienced. Bliss is similar to twilight, there isn’t an opposite polarity to that experience. It is a state by itself without relativities. Greater the bliss, closer we are to the inner core of subjectivity. Pure subjectivity devoid of stored experiences, interpretations, imagination and considerations of past or future may be equated with the highest states of bliss.
When we move away from subjectivity, we enter the world of opposites where there is separation. The world exists in our experience only when there is a separation between inner subjectivity and the outer objective world. Bridging this gap can only be done as an inner endeavor, no amount of money, fame or power can offer help. The nature of the world is that of duality or opposites. Existence is full of such dualities such as day and night, happiness and sorrow, heat and cold etc. The mind is the venue where we attempt to resolve these contradictory states and narrow the gap to pure subjectivity.
Some of these opposites such as day and night, summer and winter we have accepted and adapted to. We don’t really question or fight such recurring natural phenomena in the mind. But when it comes to a particular form of duality which is happiness and sorrow, there is a constant push and pull in the mind. In a game of tug of war, the rope may be one but it gets pulled from either end. Happiness and sorrow are two ends of the same mental energy, which can be thought of as the rope in the above example. Happiness can turn into sorrow in an instant and vice versa. It cannot be so unless they are one and the same energy. When that energy is pulled to one side and associated with certain thoughts it may become happiness. But when thrust to another side of the mind with completely different thoughts, we experience the opposite.
Situations that create happiness and sorrow both evolve and change with time depending on how much we pull or give. These dualities experienced in the mind aren’t necessarily real but we seldom look at it that way. For instance, we experience day and night but in reality it is an illusion created by earth’s revolution. From the perspective of the sun, it is always daylight. Time is another factor in duality. Without time, one form of energy cannot turn into another. For example, solid ice cannot turn into vapor instantaneously. Depending on the heat source and the size of ice, it can take a short or a long time. Time is the invisible line that divides the present.
If the present moment is indivisible in our consciousness, time does not exist in that experience. When there is division into past or a future, time comes into play. Time is hard to define. We can describe the past from history or memory and the future from imagination and forecasting, but this does not tell us what time really is. It operates very differently depending on whether our awareness is conditioned and limited in the mind or it is more expansive and less dependent on our ego’s power of “choice”. Time is very much in play in the mind, where past and future seem like very real concepts. But when awareness is not consciously in the mind, such as in sleep there is no concept of time. This is also the case in a pure witnessing state, where the mind is asleep for all practical purposes but our awareness is intact.
The notion of past and the future arise in the mind, whenever there is something to compare and contrast against. This however, cannot be done for the “here and now”. “Here” is space and “now” is time. When there is neither space (distance between subject or object) nor time (limited awareness through dividing the present into past and future), it is pure subjectivity. We cease to remain in the “here and now” the moment we start comparing and contrasting one experience with another either through memory and recall or imagination. Witnessing leads to pure awareness only when the total intensity of our attention is in the “here and now”.
When the mind is used as a tool for witnessing (rather than being witnessed) it may give a false sense of accomplishment. The witnessing in that case does not stem from subjectivity but from the ego. Participating with thoughts is so ingrained in our experience that we have become fully identified with thoughts. Ego is the glue that keeps this identification in place. The “one who sees” has become synonymous with the mind and not the awareness that exists much deeper. Mind and thoughts can be “seen”, but awareness cannot. It is through awareness that we see everything else. True witnessing leads there. The concept of awareness may be compared to our eyes. We see on account of them but the eyes cannot see themselves.
Lack of satisfaction with life and not seeing a purpose in life, whether manifest overly or as a subtle feeling stems from thrusting the role of subjectivity on the mind. The presence of the ego leads to false identification with thoughts. When one is identified with thoughts, the mind can never be impartial witness. The influence of prior thoughts will color any experience. The mind is a filter and is not a “pass through” entity. The crucial difference between witnessing from the mind and from somewhere deeper than the mind is the exercise of choice which is prevalent in the mind. We choose to our liking and disregard what we dislike. That is the only “free” choice we have. The ego is the “knife” that cuts everything that is experienced into likes and dislikes. No doubt the mind is instrumental in giving us the experience of life, but it is also a storehouse of those experiences. They frequently resurface and reinforce our likes and dislikes.
Each time a choice is made, whether positive or negative, it influences the next choice and so on. By this token, the future can never be predicted. Imperceptible changes in how we choose in the present moment may lead to large changes at a distant point in the future. By the same token, injecting even a small amount of positivity in any experience may impact our future for the better. To complicate matters, memory of choices made in the remote past can also influence our present choice. The permutations can be endless, which makes the mind highly unpredictable. If willpower is weak, this unpredictability takes the upper hand and can percolate down to become our outer nature. Undoing every choice made in the past is an impossible task. Theoretically, there should be a way of getting rid of prior conditioning en masse. One way to bring out extermination of prior conditioning is to make every experience stand on its own merit while the mind simply functions as an erasable white board. A new experience should be allowed to form only when what’s prevalent disappears. When the will is strong, any experience may be recreated voluntarily hence no experience is forever lost, but when it is weak memory decides what is recreated. Memory is always selective and tends to favor our perceived best interests at the present time. The ego acts an an editor in this regard.
When the memory is active, awareness cannot exist in a pure state. When awareness isn’t pure, although there may be outer clarity as evidenced by what the mind shows us of the world, there cannot be any experience of inner clarity. Inner clarity in this sense refers to the experience of consciousness freed from of the pull of thoughts. By its very nature, the mind is not equipped to show us that experience. When we stop interpreting, witnessing begins and this gradually frees our awareness to explore deeper realms within ourselves. Greater the intensity in the present, freer is the awareness. When our awareness is enslaved within the mind and tied to thoughts of the past or the future, we become the “painting” and not the painter who decides what to paint.
Ultimately, all qualities within ourselves including the witnessing and participatory aspects are different forms of the same energy. Just as a seed grows into a tree and the branches, leaves, bark, trunk, roots all owe their existence to that tiny seed, consciousness is the seed from which everything about us sprouts from. A cup or tea or coffee, a can of juice, or a bowl of soup all have water as the basis and are called different names depending on what is added to water. Similarly, we all have the same “neutral” consciousness and its projection into the world as our personality is influenced and shaped by our accumulated tendencies in the mind. When human beings fight, it is the mental tendencies that clash and erupt into physical battles. When one is aware that it is the same consciousness that animates us all, one will not need to “fight for peace”. It becomes a natural byproduct. Just as the left hand does not fight the right hand in one’s body, all parts of the world will get along. This may sound utopian, but it is realistic and within reach.
Balanced living in which there is inner harmony in the midst of an active productive life comes when the witnessing (or subjective) and participatory (objective) aspects are developed in equal measure. The mind is where they meet, the bridge between the outer and inner, where subjectivity is masked by objectivity and objectivity is seen only through that hidden subjectivity. Within every individual there are “Eastern tendencies” which is seeking spiritual unfoldment and “Western tendencies” which is the pursuit of material advancement. They exist in varying proportions in every human being. They in turn influence the witnessing and the participatory aspects of our being. But it is only the active participation in the witnessing state that helps make bliss which arises from expansion of consciousness a more permanent part of our inner experience, regardless of whether one is from the East or the West.