On Being A Witness

by Christopher Lovejoy on December 26, 2010

The holiday season is sometimes a little more intense than we would like.

So many things to do, places to go, people to meet. We might feel overwhelmed or be underwhelmed, depending on who we are, where we are, and what’s going on around us.

With all this overwhelm or underwhelm …

  • things can happen that don’t make sense
  • people might say or do things that don’t make sense
  • situations can arise that don’t make sense

We might ask ourselves: where did that come from?!

And there isn’t just one wave of intensity; there are two: the one approaching, and then moving past, Christmas day, and the one approaching, and then moving past, New Year’s day.

We can either ride these waves like masters or we can let ourselves get carried thrashing and screaming and sputtering along for the ride.

For the remainder of this post, let us focus on being masters.

In preparation for teaching you how to be a master of the holiday season, let me begin by getting a little formal with my presentation.

Not too formal, mind you – just enough to guide you through what I’m about to share with you.

The Witness Perspective

Body < Soul < Heart < Self / * / Ego > Mind > Spirit > Body

Notice that the arrows in this heuristic run in opposite directions from the * . One set of arrows points to the left of the Self and one points to the right of the ego.

For now, I’ll let you ponder what the * represents as you read this post.

The keys to understanding and appreciating these two channels of energy lie with the soul and spirit, but before I can consider them in depth, I need to explain a bit about the roles of Self and ego.

To appreciate the meaning of these two energy channels, we would do well to understand that the Self and ego are two distinct yet integral aspects of the * , which has two distinct yet integral aims.

To place this in its proper context, consider the following.

I’m satisfied that the objectively verifiable evidence that comes from those who have endured or experienced clinical (bodily) death makes it clear that we are not our bodies or brains.

Our bodies and brains are transmitters of consciousness – not producers of it. What this means is that we can perceive, identify, remember, and appreciate the play of people, places, and things without a body or brain. Bodies and brains are mere instruments of perception, cognition, memory, and emotion, and they impose limits on the * , which itself perceives, understands, remembers, and appreciates.

Having said this, we can begin to appreciate that a very real split occurs when the * manifests as a body and brain. The Self and ego are not real things; they are constructs that identify two distinct yet integral pathways from the * . Where the Self represents the pathway of heart, the ego represents the pathway of mind. With these pathways, the heart within the soul and the mind behind the spirit come alive from within the body and brain.

Now let us turn our attention to soul and spirit so that we can more fully appreciate these pathways, before addressing the issues I raised at the beginning of this post.

The Ins and Outs of Soul and Spirit

The human body and brain are remarkably complex and versatile.

Even so, they impose limits, and when we suffer, the soul suffers.

Not the heart (which bears witness to the soul), not the body (which alerts us to pain, both physical and emotional), and not the mind or spirit (which co-exist on a separate energy channel).

And when the soul suffers, we feel it from the heart, we perceive it in the body, we observe it through the mind, and we resist it with the spirit.

Now for some crucial distinctions.

The soul “takes it in” and the spirit “puts it out”. The body is a vessel for soul and the body is a vehicle for spirit. As such, your body and brain contain your soul and carry your spirit.

When you, as the Self, behaving through the channel of Self, satisfy an urge to dwell in the moment, your soul resonates. And when you, as the ego, acting through the channel of the ego, act on an impulse to move, your spirit vibrates. As such, your soul is forever seeking quality in its encounters even as your spirit is forever seeking vitality through its experiences.

In essence, you (as the Self) derive meaning from contemplating and cultivating quality through the soul, and you (as the ego) orient yourself and find direction from generating, sustaining, and celebrating vitality through the spirit.

And finally, with the soul, we hold the intention, and with the spirit, we carry the expectation.

When our intentions and expectations function and operate from unity, in harmony, we find it relatively easy to behave ourselves; we find it relatively easy to act decisively. We satisfy that urge (with its underlying need) and we fulfill that impulse (with its controlling desire), and we do so relatively easily or quickly.

The Energetic Pathways Described

The energetic pathway of the Self has a heart that dwells within the soul; ideally, the heart is keen to know the soul inside and out. This pathway is concerned with subject relations – with the subtleties, complexities, and intricacies of relations that occur through encounters between subject and subject.

Between me and you, between me and us, between me and them, between them and them.

The energetic pathway of the ego has a mind that stands behind the spirit; ideally, the mind is keen to know the spirit inside and out. This pathway is concerned with object relations – with making what seems subtle obvious, with making what seems complex simple, and with making what seems intricate apparent – in relations that occur through experience between the subject and the object.

Between it and me, between it and us, between it and them, between it and it.

Where the body and brain serve as a vessel for the soul – to contain the soul so that it might consider quality, contemplate quality, cultivate quality, appreciate quality – the body and brain serve as a vehicle for the spirit – to carry the spirit so that it might generate vitality, sustain vitality, celebrate vitality.

As you might have already guessed, the soul and spirit have two very different aims.

Earlier in this post, I said …

So many things to do, places to go, people to meet. We might feel overwhelmed or be underwhelmed, depending on who we are, where we are, and what’s going on around us.

The soul, by way of the heart, feels overwhelmed; the spirit, by way of the mind, is underwhelmed.

Your soul feels overwhelmed when there are too many subtleties, complexities, or intricacies for it to process in its relations with other subjects, and your spirit is underwhelmed when everything in its immediate surroundings seems too simple, too obvious, too apparent.

It’s true that these conditions are temporary, but this isn’t how it feels to the soul; this isn’t how it is with the spirit. The soul needs to get out – now! The spirit must get going – now!

This is where the Witness comes into play.

Knowing that the Witness can manifest two energetic pathways (through the Self or the ego), and knowing that it can witness through the heart or the mind, and knowing that the soul can sometimes feel overwhelmed or that the spirit can sometimes be underwhelmed, you (as the Witness) can rise above these pathways (temporarily), back away from the problematic or difficult situation so as to better observe and assess it, and then take comfort in knowing that these realities are temporary.

This is not a prescription to suppress or repress your feelings – or to become stoic in your disposition.

This is a temporary measure to put some distance between yourself (as the subtle, complex, intricate being that you are) and the situation or set of circumstances that overwhelms or underwhelms you.

This mode of action, however, might take practice – some for others, a lot for others.

Some Tips and Techniques

I’m not going to leave you hanging here.

In closing, I’d like to provide you with some tips and techniques that have helped me to take a witness posture, to assume a witness perspective, to be a witness to overwhelm or underwhelm.

If you have neither the time nor the inclination to take on a formal practice, here’s what I’d suggest that you do to be an effective witness if or when you feel this is necessary or desired.

Tip: if your soul feels overwhelmed, it’s because your soul is out of balance with your spirit; you’ve succeeded in suppressing the impulses of your spirit. Until you can bring your spirit back into balance with your soul so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed, enter the Witness posture.

Technique: To assume the Witness perspective with overwhelm, stop. Don’t move. Don’t react. Just take note of your feelings, no matter how intense, and allow yourself to feel them (if they persist, then excuse yourself from the situation or circumstances causing the overwhelm). And then get moving. Engage the mind of your spirit in a stimulating activity or interaction. Take a walk, go for a jog, do some exercise, converse with a compatible spirit – do whatever it takes to bring your spirit alive.

Tip: if your spirit is underwhelmed, it’s because your spirit is out of balance with your soul; you’ve succeeded in neglecting the needs of your soul. Until you can bring your soul back into balance with your spirit so that you aren’t so underwhelmed, enter the Witness posture.

Technique: To assume the Witness perspective with underwhelm, relax. Take note of your restiveness or restlessness, and allow yourself to observe them with detachment (and if they persist, remove yourself from the situation or circumstances causing the underwhelm). And then look for a way to ease yourself into an activity or interaction that involves the heart of your soul. Contemplate a work of art, enter into a relaxing relationship with your natural surroundings, converse with a compatible soul.

These tips and techniques sound counter-intuitive, I know, but remember, this is about bringing your energetic pathways back into balance so that you avoid a repeat of the overwhelm or underwhelm.

A formal practice of prayer, meditation, breathing, and/or exercise (emotional or mental) is effective in getting your heart or mind to be a witness to the feelings or states of your soul or spirit.

You might wish to consider the value of undertaking one.

No pressure. No hurry.

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