The principle of the “witness” (or observer) who is aware of the entire realm of human experience, is well-known in spiritual circles and the worlds of meditation and mindfulness.
At first, for many people the witness takes the form of a mental concept, which, although not the whole truth, is a step up in consciousness from the unconscious identification with the body as being who and what we are.
As such there is nothing wrong with living from a conceptual witness position and for a while it serves a useful purpose.
I believed the notion that who I really am beyond the body was a mental construct, which I called “the witness”, as being the truth for many years, until awakening to the non-dual reality of pure Self Consciousness – the true witness – in 2005.
At the point of awakening both the conceptual witness and that which was being witnessed dissolved. And the realisation spontaneously arose that what I had thought to be the witness was really a subtle form of the thought “I am”, or in other words, the thought-form known as ego.
When placed upon a spiritual pedestal and given the role of being the observer of, or witness to, the events and experiences of life, ego can be lifted to a position of “super-ego”. This of course is not at all the spiritually advanced consciousness that is the true witness.
This super-ego, the imaginary entity I used to think was the witness, is, I believe, what Ramana Maharshi referred to as “the thief who pretends to be a policeman”.
When the witness is vaporised, if we could even use such a word for a phenomenon that was only ever a figment of imagination and never had any real or substantial existence, then there can be no crime for the “policeman” to pretend to solve. And therefore no sentence. And no prisoner. And no prison.
Which brings us back to a core principle of my book, Break Out of Your Mind: “There is no prison and there is no prisoner. Both are illusory concepts born from our imagination.”
To realise the experiential truth of the above, we must release all our identification with conceptual thinking, which has manifested as beliefs, doctrines, religions and philosophies.
When the egoic (i.e. separate) “I” in all its manifest forms – including the false witness – dissolves, what remains is simply the inexplicable feeling of being pure Consciousness, whose very nature is freedom and peace. This Consciousness is the true witness, and is what the great spiritual traditions point us to.
“I AM” is not an experience
Right now, as you read these words, you may like to notice that there is awareness of your body-mind.
And notice that when living from our naturalness – the feeling of being pure I AM Consciousness – there is awareness of the body-mind and all experience, so therefore “I AM” cannot be the body-mind, nor any experience.
There is a delightfully grounded logic to this, which I adore, as so many spiritual teachings eschew logic and fall back on beliefs, dogma and plain fantasy.
Btw: “Mind” is simply shorthand for our collected sum total of thoughts. Living without the thought “I am”, whom we may have imagined to be the “doer” of our actions, can take a bit of getting used to … 🙂
Try this 3-step Self-inquiry process:
1) Ask yourself, “Who is aware of the body?”
Obviously, “I am”.
2) Ask yourself, “Who is aware of the mind?”
Obviously, “I am”.
3) Ask yourself, “Who is aware of the witness (i.e. the subtle thought ‘I am”) of the body and mind?”
There is no true answer that can be thought, conceptualised, imagined, or put into words.
All that remains at the end of our inquiring, the only true answer to this most important of all questions we can ask ourselves, is the silence-peace-freedom that is the nature of I AM Consciousness.
Through the experience of guiding people whose Heart yearns to live an awakened life, I have come to believe in the importance of “seeding” the mind with words that point to truth and reality.
Then, when we are graced to know the experiential reality that they point to, the mind is prepared for the radical shift of identity that awakening brings about.
To prepare yourself for living an awakened life, you may like to contemplate the truth of these phrases:
I AM not my body and I AM not separate from my body
I AM not my mind and I AM not separate from my mind
“Not two” is peace