Thursday, June 7, 2012

Meeting the Witness

Even comic books in India are spiritual.

It's been a very busy month! With my teacher training wrapping up and gearing up to lead my first classes at the end of this month, along with the usual activities of everyday life, there has been a lot to keep my mind and body busy, busy, busy — so much so that I truly relish the moments of stillness I can find throughout the day, whether it's on my mat in Savasana, in the bath after a gruelling yoga practice or sitting by the fire after a day of sledgehammer swinging.

During the drive to and from the yoga studio (about 20 minutes each way), I try to use that time to catch up on the few podcasts I still listen to. One that I look forward to every week is Ram Dass' new podcast Here and Now. Each podcast interweaves segments from classic Ram Dass lectures with stories about the host Rhagu Markus' own journey from Montréal to India and subsequent spiritual transformation. They are wonderfully produced and Ram Dass has a unique gift for communicating some heady esoteric subject matter in a way that is very engaging and relatable.

This week's episode (ep. 7 "The Veil") deals with the idea of inviting "The Witness" into your daily life, and learning to disassociate your true self (or, Atman) from your thoughts, actions and body. The idea is that when you are able to observe your thoughts and actions without judgement, you are "witnessing" them from that which is not the ego, but that which is able to observe the ego: your true self. This practice has been incredibly useful for me in dealing with various issues that I had wanted to overcome for many years, but couldn't figure out how. For instance, I recognized that at times I had a tendency to lose my patience and get angry even when it wasn't justified, but I didn't know why or how I could change it. I just knew that I desperately wanted to get over it and be done with it for good!

I think the breakthrough came for me during my first session in an isolation tank. If you've never experienced a float tank, it's basically a large metal egg that you climb into naked, close the door, and submerge yourself in a very dense salt water solution that is the exact temperature of your body, and float. The effect is one of total sensory deprivation. Your body doesn't feel the water, you're in complete and utter darkness and the only sounds are those produced by your organs. Because you float with complete ease, you can completely surrender your physical body and let your mind take front stage. Getting to that point can take a while — you'll probably fidget and move around a lot at the beginning, your mind will wander, and your pesky ego will distract you in every way it can think of — but when it happens, things can get interesting.

I won't describe my whole experience as it's very personal and has no relevance to your own experience, but there is one moment that I attribute to a very profound shift in my own consciousness and relates directly with the idea of "The Witness". At a certain point in my journey, I was presented with the image of my body, and floating just above and behind my head was a large cloud of swirling colours — very much like a cartoon thought bubble, but instead of dots leading to my mind, this cloud was tethered to the back of my head and connected to all of my sensory organs — eyes, ears, nose and mouth etc. I immediately recognized this cloud as my true inner consciousness (or spirit) and saw for the first time that my body was merely a vehicle and input device for my Self. More than that, it wasn't even contained by my body. It just uses it to get around!

The sketch from my float tank journal entry.

From that point on, things really shifted for me, and it's become of utmost importance to take care of my vehicle as best as I know how — and I'm learning more every day. Part of my hatha yoga practice is just that — body maintenance. The rest of it is a wonderful, challenging, entertaining inner game of tennis between my Ego and my Self rallying back and forth.

Awakening to the presence of inner Witness has empowered me in overcoming habits, both mental and physical, that I previously felt completely powerless to. It has allowed my true Self to shine through after many years of being locked in a little room. For me, it's a daily practice to remind myself that my Self is there, observing it all, and that my ego will only run the show if I allow it.

I invite you to take a moment today to welcome the Witness into your life, have a chuckle at the antics of your monkey mind, and find some love and acceptance of your meat body with all of it's creaky joints, banged up limbs and weathered finish.



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