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developing and strengthening the “witness”

developing and strengthening the “witness”

by March 21, 2012

Welcome back to the second session on “Witness” meditation. This week, we will discuss the importance of developing and strengthening the Witness within as a means to ensure an empowered feeling of “I-identity.” –Previous post in this series.

Dr. Carl G. Jung’s—a Swiss psychiatrist during the late-19th century until the mid-20th century—greatest contribution to Western psychology was his theory of the Self-individuation process, which was very similar to Yoga’s Self-realization path. Although both psychological/spiritual methods were very similar, Jung warned Westerners against practicing Yoga meditation for fear they would over-identify with the Self-archetype, thereby resulting in an exaggerated God-complex. While Dr. Jung never fully clarified his concerns, many Jungian psychoanalysts and Yogis from both the East and the West have since studied his work and arrived at different conclusions.

Dr. Jung understood the alienation of modern society and the internal isolation that resulted from it. He understood that many people felt not only disconnected from their selves, but also disengaged from their personal relationships. Jung believed that the principle of detachment emphasized in Yoga might cause an even larger rift of intimacy for them. Although Dr. Jung was correct on many accounts, a comment from the Dali Lama addresses his concern quite poignantly.

            When the Dali Lama began travelling to the United States, he was confounded when students asked him how to raise their self-confidence and self-trust levels. The Dali Lama stated that this problem was not evident in the East, and no one back home had ever asked him such a question. The holy man had no answer.

            We can solve this problem when we understand that Jung’s greatest misinterpretation of Yoga philosophy was his belief that the yogi’s goal was to eliminate the entire ego. This is simply untrue. Buddhist practitioner Rob Preece differentiates between “ego-grasping that holds on to a self as solid and ultimately existent,” Jung’s God-complex, and the ego that is a “stable center of self-awareness … [and is] crucial to relative daily experience” (40).[i] Therefore, a yogi’s first responsibility is to strengthen his/her ego-identity through self-awareness, self-reflection, and professional help, if necessary.

As you practice witness meditation, consciously withdraw your attention toward the back of your head, mentally looking at the ‘screen’ behind your forehead. Through this process, you will become aware of the Buddhist ‘monkey mind’ that is constantly distracted by new thoughts, old concerns, past makeovers, and future desires. The goal is to detach emotionally from this mental activity, simply standing back and focusing your attention in the center of your head while observing the chatter.

            You will soon recognize repetitious thoughts, which come, leave, return, leave, ad infinitum. You may also realize that many of your thoughts are negative, fomenting a deeper sense of inadequacy and self-defeat. At this stage, it is only necessary for you to begin to bring awareness to what’s occurring constantly and repetitively in your mind. As you develop an emotional detachment from your thoughts, consciously maintain an empowered sense of “I” as the witness.

Furthermore, always remember, “I am thee, and thou art I.” You will eventually reach psychological maturation through Self-individuation and a heightened spiritual consciousness through Yogic Self-realization. However, you must consistently practice meditation, engage in self-reflection, and detach from egocentric thinking.

            Please share your thoughts and experiences with the practice this week through the “comments” posts. Our personal expressions often help others.


[i] Preece, Rob. The Wisdom of Perfection: The Challenge of Individuation in Buddhist Life, Boulder: Snow Lion Publications 2006
copyright © Eileen M. Sembrot – All rights reserved.

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