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what is this?

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Have you ever felt as if looking down on your/self, from outside the skin, remotely observing your thoughts, sensations, feelings, movements? Ken Wilber calls this view the Witness “[which] cannot be attained, because it is ever-present. The Witness cannot be practiced, because it is ever-present. The Witness cannot be reached, because it is ever-present.” Only rarely (over ten years of meditating) have I had glimpses of the Witness while sitting on the meditation cushion. More often I’ve Witness-ed while being with someone at hospice: a patient near death, perhaps, or a bedside visitor. Reaching for it doesn’t work, it can’t be forced. Paradoxically it’s in letting go of trying that “it” emerges.

My current reading includes a novel by Ian McEwan. At one point, the heroine, eleven-year old Briony, sits alone in her room as “liquid birdsong evaporates in the heat” of a summer’s day. “The silence hissed in her ears and her vision was faintly distorted [when]–

she raised one hand and flexed its fingers and wondered, as she had sometimes before, how this thing, this machine for gripping, this fleshy spider on the end of her arm, came to be hers, entirely at her command. Or handdid it have some little life of her own? She bent her finger and straightened it. The mystery was in the instant before it moved, the dividing moment between not moving and moving, when her intention took effect. It was like a wave breaking.

Why not try it for yourself. Find a quiet moment and look at a part of your body — best not your hand so as to minimize preconceptions. Look closely and observe. Let nothing happen. Let go of what you know and of the wish to make something happen. See — as if for the first time; and whatever you see simply is.

source: McEwan, I. (2001). Atonement. Vintage, p. 35.


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