“To me, witness consciousness represents the human capacity to experience a way of knowing that goes beyond the limitations of language. It’s the felt experience of holistically apprehending our being. For most of us, this sense of realization comes and goes in special, fleeting moments. But when we’re in touch with it, it liberates us from the boundaries that ordinarily keep us feeling divided within ourselves, form each other, and against the world. Witness consciousness is, I believe, a capacity of mind that we all have but normally don’t develop. Practices like yoga, meditation, and centering prayer work to strengthen our capacity to access it. If these are done consistently, our ability to tap into it grows over time. This is why experienced practitioners often refer to yoga as spiritual “practice.”
The quotes above and below are from Yoga PhD: Integrating the Life of the Mind with the Wisdom of the Body by ex poli-sci professor, activist yogi, Carol A. Horton.
By noticing our breath, our tense muscles, our moments of ease and stress we cultivate this sense of witness consciousness through our own bodies and experiences. Each pose becomes an invitation to really see ourselves moving and breathing as we struggle to stay in the present and to stay in our bodies. Sometimes, I find myself, unknowingly, using this holistic witness consciousness to find ease when I’m tired or struggling.
Recently, I was at a football game volunteering. The noise, the crowd, the heat, the carnivalesque atmosphere was overwhelming. I found myself transfixed by the fluttering orange gosamer wings of a butterfly as it floated towards the cloudless, cereulean blue serene sky. Suddenly, the whole stadium dissappered and instead there was blue, orange, lightness, ease, air and space. I survived the rest of the day by taking my gaze up whenever I needed. Just by focusing on a larger picture that included the stadium but was not limited to the stadium, I found my witness consciousness experiencing a joyous crazy football game under a calm and resplendent fall sky. Yoga or connections off the mat can be so magical.
Speaking of magic …Dr. Horton talks about the benefits of contemporary yoga (a mix of physical and mental practice) as an “intuitive opening to the hidden magic of everyday life.”
In the end, what I love most about contemporary yoga is its ability to synthesize the everyday with the extraordinary, the practical with the visionary, the mundane with the sacred. I love that yoga can work to release my tense muscles, negative emotions, and pyschic detritus at the same time. That it can connect me to my body in ways that create new neural pathways in my brain. That it offers a practical tool for coping with everyday stress, as well as an intuitive opening to the hidden magic of everyday life.
Don’t we all need to find the hidden magic of everyday life, at the grocery store, pumping gas, hunched over our computers, loading the dishwasher, tossing a salad and wiping the counter? From this perspective of witness consciousness my suburban, cul-de-sac ordinary, existence becomes a gateway to a magical reality where I can see the lone fluttering butterfly floating above a college football stadium.
Wishing you all happy butterfly chasing,