Finding The Supreme
Chapter 5 – Meeting the Witness
A personal experience:
Something nice has been happening for the last several days. Some Gurus have described as “The Witness”, a non-involved consciousness that is close to you and always available and merely observes but also gives off a beautiful harmonious feeling.. Well, the Witness has started Moving In, meaning overlapping with my normal everyday waking consciousness. Lots of benefits occur in addition to just a nice feeling.
I had a classic day from hell yesterday with everybody needing me at once all day long, my 16 year old son, and people where I do volunteer work, it was truly a massive challenge and I don’t multi-task well. All day long I was on the phone fixing things, figuring things out, for my boy. He had forgotten an assignment, his track spikes, and felt he couldn’t go to a meet, but wanted his spikes and his tablet brought to school an hour away from me, to work on the assignment. There were emails from coaches, and text messages, text messages, and text messages. Usually very early in such a dramatic 3D squeeze I would break and start to yell at people. Wince.
It didn’t happen. But I was not trying to keep calm. Clear light was dawning in the actual midst of the true frenzy all by itself, and I began to notice that the Witness was “moving in” to “me” and suddenly I was also non-involved in all the dramas. Imagine a Venn diagram with one circle Bill’s old cranky consciousness, and the other circle pure Witness without judgment, with no ax to grind, and just attention. The overlap started and expanded to maybe a quarter of my normal consciousness and even that much was enough to transform everything, mood, decision making, everything of 3D. I became non-involved in my own brain. Just there, noticing, watching the Bill Brain sorting everything out and text in the car, and just do everything that had to be done, — and not get angry.
I think actually many folks have this experience, it is just that this one was extremely vivid and also continuous, in fact it is here today, about 4 days into it. The Witness coming to me instead of my going to the Witness is new and quite a revelation.
It feels like a return to normality and sanity.
At about 5 days, the Witness left. I am left too, left with a beautiful memory of how life can be. The situation right now is that I can bring in the Witness by request, but it has not actively sought me out since. During the experience, when I woke up in the morning, it was there. When I was eating, it was there. I didn’t have to look. The Witness graciously and sweetly, stayed available, being.”
False Self Systems
Who we experience as us has always been mysterious. The closer we have looked at how we know we exist, the more confusing it has become. It has so stumped most of humanity that several geniuses figured it out precisely backwards. Writing back in an even denser age than ours, the philosopher Renee Descartes concluded, “I think, therefore I am.” Writing in a later and softer age, the Indian sage Krishnamurti made what I think is a more helpful observation, “Thinking is an addiction.”
Indeed Hindu cosmology has for me always offered a more sensible order, first comes Being, then thinking and all the phenomenal rest.
Finding The Witness makes this a clear and immutable finding. The Witness doesn’t think. It just is.
At possibly the opposite end of the spectrum of who we think we are can be had some often terrifying experiences labeled as schizophrenic. Really helpful work was done by R.D. Laing in this area, intersecting identity and illness. In The Divided Self, 1967?, Laing posited a useful description of identity confusion he called “False Self Systems”. Many of us choose to appear to be one sort of person in one environment, and to be a different personality in a different environment. It can be found easier to be chameleons than to be authentic.
Experienced to extremes, one has no idea who he is. Laing said we can create false selves, often for protection, among which we can become simply lost. Laing asserted everybody seeks “ontological security”, not only knowledge and experience of who we are, but certainty that we exist at all.
If we go with Descartes, and put our trust in thinking, we can quite easily wind up in a serious debate with ourselves that implicates our actual identity. Anything can be thought. Opposites can be simultaneously thought, even believed, and we can think ourselves nearly out of existence. It has been asserted that the ability to simultaneously hold contradictory thoughts is a mark of high intelligence.
In college I was convinced, and supremely agitated to think, that if god is infinite he must by definition will the happening of all possible things, including his own non-being. This was for an already nervous undergraduate, really scary. I didn’t come to this from the “God is dead” league current at the time. The conclusion actually seemed to me built into the structure of thought and logic. He had to. And if God didn’t exist, neither did I. The whole thing collapsed, and me too.
Furthermore, I went to college believing that I would meet wise men who knew what life really is and could explain it. By reading in an untrained way I had become confused. I knew that my first university philosophy class would seat my intellectual chaos into divine right order.
But early in freshman year, I learned with growing intellectual and spiritual horror, that nobody there knew anything important. They were just as adrift as I was, emotionally and spiritually. One brilliant philosophy professor encouraged me that perhaps he knew. He used the phrase in one seminar like,
“… at three o’clock in the morning when you know that you are the center of the universe …”
I thought yes, yes, yes!, am I really, tell us all about it, tell us what that means. Then I found that he was ridiculing us and himself for having such a bizarre delusion. The best I got was from people who knew they didn’t know, but I already knew that about both of us by that time. University for me was two million minutes of wasted time and lonely philosophical melancholy.
The Witness evaporates all this nonsense in one event. The first time it shows up for lunch, the whole table is first cleared of everything. Then Absolute Being is served. And we never try to think reality into existence, or out of existence, again.
The panoply of I Am
The structure of everything might be something like this:
I, Higher Self,
Witness behind the Witness,
Brahma, classic, big league, omnipotent God.
Nice to diagram, but I am not sure the structure and names matter much.
There is no question when the Witness comes around about if I am, or who I am. Laing’s “Ontological Security” doesn’t get on the menu. We learn the Witness is not somebody else. At first it may feel so, as if you are being watched, but quite soon it is realized we are watching us, then I am watching me, then I am watching me watching me, and then there is just watching.
How do I find the Witness?
Witnessing can start very early in meditation. Then it can suddenly overlap into activity. It often dawns in meditators first in their activity during simple repetitive actions where the mind is not engaged, for example sanding a board and being hit over the head by my own being, was an early experience of mine. It gets trickier when you’re doing something where the mind is engaged, that is, it is essentially in the way, because as stated the Witness is a thinkless reality. Later we may find that this experience of witnessing can coexist with quite furious cognition, driving, talking on the phone. But the witness survives it all. Keeps a calm inner “I Am” base note in the midst of outer cacophonous activity.
The Witness behind the Witness
The best descriptions I know for the experience of witnessing are on Mooji.org. In one discourse Mooji surprises us by talking about he Witness behind the Witness.
Finding and being found by the witness is to be inhabited by and an exemplar of what Maharishi called “self-referral consciousness”, which is sufficient in itself, eternally uncontingent, it is to experience complete ontological confidence. The certainty in personal self existence is total. The wan undergraduate thinking that he may have to not exist should have started meditating much earlier than he did. But nobody on the faculty of the great university he attended even knew of it to suggest it.
Once we experience ourselves as uncontingent, we are free. Alan Watts, one of the West’s early exponents of meditation put it this way,
“To understand the whole process of oneself requires constant alertness, awareness, in the action of relationship. There must be a constant watching of every incident, without choice, without condemnation or acceptance, with a certain sense of dispassion, so that the truth of every incident is revealed.”
Self-referral consciousness, being everything, it needs nothing.
How can the individual partake of such an abstract, universal, elusive thing?
Once when I came out of an especially quiet meditation I found myself staring at my left hand. My hand appeared to me as a landscape of clear being. It glowed with a marvelous happiness and ecstatic beauty. It seemed an extension of the meditation, an answering of all questions although I had not asked any.
Soon for an unknown reason I had formed a circle of thumb and forefinger on one hand and superimposed it over the other.
The result seemed especially profound to me. It was just dazzling in ways I couldn’t follow. I was mesmerized and kept the positions for quite a while. Eventually it wore off, but it has remained unforgettable.
In context of some current notions I think I know what it was teaching.
This will get very abstract. It is abstract, but at least it is always ready to hand.
Hands and fingers are of course covered with skin. The skin on my hands had become identified with or representative of what one contacts in meditation, pure unbounded absolute undifferentiated being. Please don’t leave yet.
I first looked at the open left hand. It felt like a landscape of being, as if it were infinite. That was fine, I was used to that. Next the touching fingers of the other hand were put over this skin which represented infinity. The fingers seemed to isolate a section of hand. But the fingers were also skin. While the experience was a totally harmonious and uncontroversial matter, some of me was aware that infinity had somehow just bounded infinity. But how could it do that? This question was at least presented. In my state at the time, the answer was “of course” and everything was completely OK; it was just something at the time to notice, but it is worth emphasizing it was all so beautiful and seemed so significant that it was clear as glass that something important was occurring, something worth getting was being said. It was like Maxwell’s silver foam rubber hammer.
Now I see it as a primer on boundaries. Chapter 2 of Finding the Supreme in this blog is a long discussion of the technical irony inherent in limits and boundaries. I realize now that the experience of staring at my hands fits right in.
I was observing that all of my skin was the same. I was also observing that part of my skin was marking out or highlighting another part of my skin. But how can something demarcate itself? In the ontological terms of deep meditation, being was marking off or identifying an area of being as separately knowable as a part of its otherwise undifferentiated landscape of self. Of pure skin self in this tutorial case. An unbounded reality of skinness had acquired a perceptually (only perceptually) area of itself as partial. Remember, the hand ‘felt’ infinite. So the fingers of skin acquired the same definition because skin was presenting itself as infinite. Here was the infinite marking out the infinite.
For this discussion and the analogy to be built, we have to imagine that skin is skin, that is, it all looks the same, is the same, is completely homogeneous, there are no different areas in skin, no different colors, no attributes at all except skin. For now, there aren’t fingers and hands. And that was the way it all appeared to me in that event.
The encircled area on my left hand gained a description of itself as different from the rest of the hand, although it absolutely was not different. Let’s say it just somehow became experienceable as bounded by another area of undifferentiated skin itself not identified as thumb and index finger but just as the same substance which it was somehow redefining.
Nothing had actually changed. Skin self had decided to enwrap skin self. But the perception changed.
The simple perception I had while still drenched in the immense conceptual latitude of deep meditation was casually, “Oh. That’s the infinite encircled by some same infinite and telling me whats bounded is separated from the rest. No problem. Something pure can somehow do that.”
That was very interesting and at the time not paradoxical. I can now comment to myself on this unbounded bounded area on my left hand as shall we say unique. If I moved my thumb and fingers a smallest amount, they showed a different part but could not be a boundary of it.
The original entity so defined could get a name. It could be ‘Area Of Skin 1’. When the fingers moved the next area enclosed could be called ‘Area Of Skin 2’. Each would be so many inches across, and so many square inches in size and so on. And the definitions of the two described areas would be different. But each would still be ‘Hand’. More important, each would still be more fundamentally ‘Skin’. And another area of identical skin had called it out as differently defined.
And if skin were all there was then skin had moved within its undifferentiated actuality to identify areas of itself as unique which were really not. This is what was important and is what was showing itself to me in the simple positions of two hands.
And because I was lucky enough to be there observing, I saw something change which did not change. It was a changeless alteration of identifications which were true perceptions but not real changes to the correct definitions of the underling substance(s) of the single thing involved in appearing as two things.
Skin had moved to create seeming difference of skin.
As seer I could enjoy both. Skin was still radiating beauty of its genuine nature and at the same time its newly defined areas of called out uniqueness were most beautiful. The new skin identities were absolutely interesting not least because the hand landscape and the fingers marking out seeming but not actual boundaries were both glowing. Newness worth knowing about had appeared within sameness.
Boundaries came into existence which were not capable of bounding anything because they were composed of the exactly same thing they appeared to bound. It was ‘absolutely’ fascinating.
Now we go off the cliff.
What am I? I am consciousness. Whatever consciousness is, it is a pure undifferentiated field of whatever it is, that’s pretty uncontroversial. So how do I show up as conscious within consciousness? As a separate identity within total sameness which has no separations?
I’m a wrinkle of consciousness in infinite consciousness. I’m an area of area. I’m a pucker of something within the something, an emergent definition with no differences from the rest. I am a candle in the sun.
What does finding the witness in this way, or in any way, have to do with finding the Supreme value of life, the personality of god?
Somehow there are relationships between myself, the Witness, and god which are something like this:
There is a relationship of infinity between me and the witness, and a relationship of love between me and god. And there is a relationship of unity between god and the witness. These relationships produce an overall relationship of identity among the three areas of universal Self.
I know this is a lot of abstraction to handle, but in the experiences of meeting the Witness and “setting face to face” as the Buddhists say, there is no abstraction. Moreover, there are qualities of appreciation in each beingness of god, Witness, and me. The Witness is impersonal, while there are simultaneously personal and impersonal aspects in god. And I seem somewhere in the middle. I seem to share in the universal absolute of god and the witnessing aspect in my self, while also perceiving and inheriting the personality venue of god. It seems to be the blessing of humanness to have this extraordinary awareness all at once.
So when you find the Witness, you can navigate to god, and when god finds you, it opens the path to the Witness, and when I find me, I am known as a united identity with both.
Mooji quotes an unnamed saint, who put it all much better, and simpler, which is always better …
“When you seek for god, you find yourself, and when you seek yourself, you find god.”
And the Witness sees it all happening, and sees that it is good.