The Witness Exercise
… Here, then, is the first practice of the ultimate path: think constantly of that Mind which is producing the ego, all the other egos around, and all the world, in fact. Keep this up until it becomes habitual. The consequence is that one tends in time to regard his own ego with complete detachment, as though he were regarding somebody else. Furthermore, it forces him to take the standpoint of the all, and to see unity as fundamental being…
Let him play the part of a witness to his own ego, through all its experiences and vicissitudes. In that way he will be emulating by effort those enlightened men to whom the part comes easily and naturally by their own development.
The student has to stand aside from the thought-forms, which means that he must stand aside from the person and look at it as something external to himself. If and when he succeeds in getting behind it, he automatically adopts the standpoint of the Overself. He must make the person an object and the Overself its observer…
To play the role of an observer of life, his own life, is to assist the process of inwardly detaching himself from it. And the field of observation must include the mental events, the thought-happenings, also…
When he can look at his life-experience as something that seems to happen to somebody else, he will have a sure sign of detachment.
He notes his characteristics as if they were outside him, belonging to another man and not inside him. He studies his weaknesses to understand them thoroughly. They do not dismay him for he also recognizes his strengths.
… We have to get ourselves out of our selves and look at each situation, momentarily at least, the way the other person involved in it looks at it. Then we have to seek true justice for all and not be selfish…
To observe himself correctly, a man must do so impartially, coolly, dispassionately, and not leniently, conceitedly, excitedly. He must also do it justly, with the whole of his being…
To practise living in the world and yet not being of it involves becoming a spectator not only of the world but also of oneself. To the extent that he gets lost in the world-experience, to that extent he loses this deeper self-awareness.
We may live in the mere succession of events and so remain victims of time, or we may, while still noting them, raise our consciousness out of such involvement to a level so high as to become a mere spectator of them.
He has to stand aside from himself and observe the chief events of his life with philosophic detachment. Some of them may fill him with emotions of regret or shame, others with pride and satisfaction, but all should be considered with the least possible egoism and the greatest possible impartiality. In this way experience is converted into wisdom and faults are extracted from character.
He sees his personality playing its role on the world stage and, although he recognizes its connection with him, it is felt as an object, as an ”other.”
When one is working without a teacher, he must necessarily intensify his efforts. He should strive to develop a greater awareness of the meaning of all past and present experiences in the light of his new knowledge, to be more objective in his observance of himself, his thoughts and actions in every situation, and, finally, to recognize the fact that his own daily life is the material presented him to work on.
By adopting a witness attitude he puts a distance between the day’s activities and himself. This helps him bring them under control, prevents them from submerging his quest altogether, and preserves whatever inner peace he attains.
He will have to learn the art of standing aside from himself, of observing his actions and analysing his motives as though they belonged to some other person. He may cease to practise this art only when his actions reflect the calm wisdom of the Overself and when his motives reflect its detached impersonality.
When a man has practised the witness exercise for some time and to some competency, he will become repeatedly aware of a curious experience. For a few minutes at most and often only for a few moments, he will seem to have stepped outside his body and to be confronting himself, looking at his own face as though it were someone else’s. Or he will seem to be standing behind his own body and seeing his face from a side angle. This is an important and significant experience.
The attitude of detached and impartial observer helps to protect him, to diminish his animality, and to correct his egoism…
When he can mentally withdraw at will from a situation where he is involved with others, so as to regard all the parties, including himself, with calm impartiality, he will have travelled far.
The consequences of putting the contents of his own mind under observation, of becoming fully aware of their nature, origin, and effect, are immeasurably important.
Keep on remembering to observe yourself, to watch yourself, to become aware of what you are thinking, feeling, saying, or doing. This is one of the most valuable exercises of the Quest.
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