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TOPIC: The Witness

The Witness 10 Nov 2012 11:03 #7715

I was wondering what people thought of "The Witness" as a practice (what Kenneth Folk refers to as "2nd Gear")? I'm interested in what experience people have with it, if they found it to be useful for some people or themselves - how long it takes for most people to dissolve it,etc.

The problem I have is that when I was introduced to the practice, I already saw it as extraneous and quite easy to see through.
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Re: The Witness 10 Nov 2012 11:35 #7716

I never did this practice regularly because it seemed too obvious. I believe I'm a strange/non-normal case, however, in that I seem to have stumbled upon (was blessed with) a very solid and lasting view of the non-dual soon after stream entry. The witness, which Kenneth tried to get me to practice, just seemed like a waste of time.
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Re: The Witness 10 Nov 2012 13:22 #7723

I kinda agree. 1st and 3rd have always made sense. Sometimes I can lock into "witness" but it get's blown apart by awareness of it.
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Re: The Witness 10 Nov 2012 13:24 #7724

Is one of the main things we are going to discover that no one actually has a practice that followed any of the maps or models very cleanly? Hm.

I did not get any instruction about the witness in the way kenneth teaches it. My basic trajectory was:

Watching the breath for many months until I suddenly began having mystical experiences (and K&C of HGA) and called a teacher (Alan) to help me.

Verbal noting practice (limited to "sight, sound, feel, image, talk") to get me disembedded from the weird mystical stuff that kept happening. This continued through 1st path. Invoked HGA before each sit.

Just sitting, allow everything to be as it is once I was "meditating automatically" and no longer being sucked into content. This was starting shortly after 1st path and continuing into mid 3rd path territory. At this point I also began intensive magickal explorations such as spirit invocations and energy work explorations and Enochian scrying.

Inquiry practice focused on things like: noticing that everything that happens happens by itself (fear arises by itself, I didn't make it arise, etc.), or where do thoughts come from.

Inquiry practice focused on specific fears or resistances I had, such as you think you aren't worthy of awakening, which part of you exactly is not worthy; if you believe you are going to die, how is it that you know that to be true; and other explorations of whatever was coming up in my practice as part of my resistance.

In this latter phase I also did more devotional practices (with the HGA central, as always; also with John the Baptist); also re-engaged with some spirit work from earlier in my life (Palo and Santeria); further explorations of other types of entities, and continued with the Enochian scrying. Those practices carried over for a year and some after awakening, too, and I found them quite supportive.

If that be helpful...

I'm really curious, David, about your relationship to magickal work now, but perhaps that's another thread.
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Re: The Witness 10 Nov 2012 17:47 #7734

Ona, is the recognition of paths and path moments as milestones in your practice one that you had at the time they occurred, or has the recognition come more recently? I ask because you have begun to describe your practice in those terms, something you didn't used to do. Maybe you've been hanging out with us Theravadinistas too long!
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Re: The Witness 10 Nov 2012 17:55 #7735

Good point. I tend to use terminology I think will be most helpful to the person I am talking to. So David is referring to Kenneth and Dan's stuff a lot, and so by framing my practice around those markers, I figure it might help him see what I mean.

I don't generally use that terminology with students, for example, unless they have had a lot of exposure to it and it helps as a shorthand for referring to the past, present, etc.

And when I talk to people who are religious, I tend to frame things in religious terms more than pragmatic dharma terms.

When I was working with Alan he did label 1st and 3rd path at certain points, when I had significant "openings" or shifts in my practice. But we didn't otherwise bother much with the map approach and didn't do the micro-attention to cycling that some pragmatic dharma practitioners do.

When I write to a general audience, such as on my blog or in my book, I don't refer to that because it would require a lengthy explanation of that system to mean anything to people not familiar with it.

This ability to work in multiple languages is either a terrible weakness or a great strength! :D
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Re: The Witness 10 Nov 2012 18:26 #7737

So you are the Swiss Army Knife of spiritual teaching!
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Re: The Witness 10 Nov 2012 19:11 #7738

Chris Marti wrote:
So you are the Swiss Army Knife of spiritual teaching!

Or Jack of all trades, master of none? :D
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Re: The Witness 11 Nov 2012 00:05 #7740

My practice has followed Kenneth's map pretty damn cleanly, actually. Maybe I'm very suggestible. :silly:
The Witness was useful to me as a supplemental practice after 2nd path and to a lesser extent until 4th path. As I interpret it, The Witness is taking the cluster of sensations that imply a Cartesian observer behind the eyes/inside the head and focusing on those sensations as a kind of kasina. You can get there through inquiry questions (who am I?) or with a noting approach by tracing arising phenomena back to this sense of subject. After you get a feel for it you can incline the mind there immediately. That's how I used it, anyway.

It became exponentially more useful after 2nd path, mainly as an off the cushion practice. Eventually you can ask "who knows the witness?", recognizing that the sensations that imply a subject are just sensations so they couldn't be it. This became experientially obvious at 4th path, but I've still found 2nd gear/self-inquiry useful even though the witness practice as I used to do it is painful and pointless (but possible). There is a stage on Kenneth's current map which is supposed to render the witness impossible.

Nowadays when I use 2nd gear--which is admittedly not that often--it's more as a pointer towards emptiness/non-duality. It's interesting to look for that which is aware and recognize that whatever comes back as an answer is being perceived and therefore is an object and couldn't possibly be it, and repeat. It can lead to a vast/infinite/still state in which there's no agency, no separation, koans make sense, and against which dependent origination can be seen more clearly (in the contraction/collapse of that state).
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Re: The Witness 11 Nov 2012 07:43 #7741

Nadav, a question for you: when you say that you took the observer sensations as a kasina, is that the same as dwelling in the "I-ness" of experience? Not deconstructing it, but just taking it as a sense of being and holding that in attention?

I think I agree with you that doing this is a good stabilizing practice and that it naturally evolves to begging the question, well who is looking at this?

I almost think 2nd gear is more of resting method for when the deconstructive-ness of 1st gear becomes a bit too much.
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Re: The Witness 11 Nov 2012 08:53 #7742

I think 2nd gear/Witness practice is a pointer to not-self and ultimately non-duality, as nadav said. That's why practicing the Witness/2nd gear seemed inconsequential to me and, as he said, to David, I think. David was already 4th path and I was already pretty deeply into the non-dual.
Last Edit: 11 Nov 2012 08:54 by Chris Marti.
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Re: The Witness 11 Nov 2012 11:01 #7743

shargrol wrote:
Nadav, a question for you: when you say that you took the observer sensations as a kasina, is that the same as dwelling in the "I-ness" of experience? Not deconstructing it, but just taking it as a sense of being and holding that in attention?

I think I agree with you that doing this is a good stabilizing practice and that it naturally evolves to begging the question, well who is looking at this?

I almost think 2nd gear is more of resting method for when the deconstructive-ness of 1st gear becomes a bit too much.

Yes, that's what I'm talking about. When you're noting or doing some other 1st gear practice, attention is constantly bouncing from object to object. When you're dwelling in the "I-ness" of experience, you can still notice things arising but attention is anchored 'inward'. I guess that's where the restfulness comes from.

As you suggest, you can also deconstruct the sensations that come up from the inquiry as a kind of 1st-2nd gear hybrid. Kenneth has suggested that to me after 4th path but I haven't gotten much traction with it. I recently realized that I was looking for body sensations to signal identification, but really the most obvious was the narrative voice. Oh, hey, that little voice sounds a lot like me! :P

Chris, that makes sense. The allure of the witness is gone once you realize that it's just grasping to a bunch of sensations.
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Re: The Witness 11 Nov 2012 12:15 #7745

Thanks everyone! That's pretty helpful!

My experience is a lot like Chris's - as soon as I started doing it, it became immediately obvious that it was a tangle of formations and "shen" and of course, "who is perceiving the Witness?"

The reason I asked is that I recommended the practice to my friend George, and I'm not sure how long to get him to do it prior to having him deconstruct it - I'm guessing when he starts to question the practice...

As a side note, he seems to be having fun with it. When I started trying it out, Kenneth warned me not to do this while interacting with other people and sent me this video of someone clearly absorbed as the Witness:


George is doing it while in the 7-11, and when people stop him on the street to ask him for money, or when people he doesn't want to talk with start interacting with him! LOL!

Ona - my relationship with magic is pretty complex, but mostly a post-enlightenment practice. The short answer is: on one hand it's just another skill in my toolbox, on the other I see it as integrating the three trainings, and essentially a practice of sila. If you want to start the thread "haquan's Relationship with Magic" I'll post there!
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Re: The Witness 11 Nov 2012 14:12 #7746

My normal stance in life tends to be remote and stand-offish. This made meditation and especially noting practice feel quite natural: just lean back and watch the show! At the same time, I think that witness practice would be playing too much to my tendencies to withdraw so I really didn't explore this style of practice too much. In fact, I'm trying to bring in more embodiment into my practice to counter the tendency to withdraw from experience and instead develop a habit of more fully inhabiting my experience. I remember finding Kenneth's Direct Mode practice to be interesting and useful and somehow balancing witnessing with embodiment.
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Re: The Witness 12 Nov 2012 10:20 #7758

David wrote:
this video of someone clearly absorbed as the Witness:

I just watched a minute or so, thanks for this! It's interesting, too, that you can see that the witness gets dropped momentarily as he is discursively thinking, analysing, etc. Then the witness is back.


I am curious about one other thing about Witness states... There seems to be two very distinct witness-absorption-states. One seems to be the one shown in the video which is kinda soupy, thick, numbing, insulating... Then there is another one that I've more rarely experienced. It hits hard and when it first happened the words "diamond samadhi" popped into my head. The body feels like a mountain, absolutely stable. The mind seems very clear. And experience is very very crisp. Anyone know if this is a distinct state or just part of the continuum of a single witness state? Obviously this is just meditation trivia, but I'm interested nonetheless.
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Re: The Witness 12 Nov 2012 11:15 #7760

Hey Shargrol :)

I'm curious why you would categorize both those experiences you describe under the 'witness' umbrella. Could you say more about that?

@everyone--

My experience has been similar to Eran's in that it always felt Witness practice would reinforce certain aspects of my temperament in an unhelpful way. Also in retrospect it's apparent that I had frequent experiences, flashes, of the Witness during my twenties especially.

There was something profound-feeling about these flashes but at the same time, I had a powerful instinctual sense that they represented a sort of root condition of duality, despite the vivid oneness which characterized the experience.

Coupling those two facts-- the sense that this was a if not the root duality, and a self-awareness that indulging in the experience would reinforce tendencies to aloofness and disembodiment, made the notion of practicing the state seem totally uninteresting when I encountered that notion years later at KFD.

Also, by that time, my bodily sense of self was pretty stably in the heart area and the feeling of being an observer behind the eyes has been unavailable since well prior to stream entry for me, replaced by an occasional phenomena of clarity in the head region which have no observer-like status. So getting obsessed with that behind-the-eyes observer was impossible anyway. Needless to say I've had an ambivalent relationship with the maps common to DHO and KFD, partly because of this Witness stuff. I see how helpful it has been to some yogis, but with others I have wondered if their case weren't more similar to mine, and if it might be harmful for some.

In my more cosmopolitan moments I wonder if the usefulness of this practice mode might be greater for desire-types who are temperamentally more inclined to being embedded in the flow of their desires, highly engaged in 'getting what they want' out of life, while a more direct-mode-esque approach may be better for aversion-types who are habitually resisting, resenting, rejecting, and holding back, avoiding the stuff they don't like as their basic dualistic strategy.
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Re: The Witness 12 Nov 2012 13:14 #7764

jake wrote:
Hey Shargrol :)

I'm curious why you would categorize both those experiences you describe under the 'witness' umbrella. Could you say more about that?

Sure, both have a strong and invincible sense of I AM and they are obviously states (they have characteristics that can be recognized). Whether that's a correct use of "Witness", I'm not sure, but looking for feedback!
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Re: The Witness 12 Nov 2012 13:38 #7766

Okay, thanks!

"The body feels like a mountain, absolutely stable. The mind seems very clear. And experience is very very crisp" <-- This description reminded me of a state I sometimes experience which is associated with, having checked experience while in a calm state, noticing vividly that when looking within there is no experiencer, yet experiences are still arising. A vividness dawns which includes a vivid sense of mind-as-clear-openness. Thoughts, feelings and perceptions flow naturally in this state but transparently, and it is evident that there is no stable identity to be made from the instinctual, personal, or transpersonal dimensions of experience, but instead all phenomena are self-arising. But it definitely does not include a sense of 'I am', exactly the opposite. Thanks for sharing!
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Re: The Witness 13 Nov 2012 10:54 #7777

Great discussion, everyone. I'm jumping in a bit late, so bear with me.

I think practicing the Witness can be beneficial. It was for me, at least, for quite some time. I’m not a fan of it now, though, which tends to be the case for those who’ve already seen through it, so to speak.

The way I conceptualize the Witness is less stage-like than Kenneth’s model. As human beings, we tend to identify with some aspect of experience as “me.” The Witness is the result of releasing identification with everything BUT consciousness/knowing, as distinct but not totally separate from phenomena.

The only way this illusion is allowed to persist is when the instability of consciousness is not apprehended. When it becomes clear that consciousness is not static – that awareness is not fixed – THAT’S when identification with consciousness is released, resulting in a collapse of the Witness.

I’m not familiar with Kenneth’s latest model(s), but the idea that there’s an attainment that makes accessing the Witness as a state impossible sounds dubious. States can be cultivated regardless of whether or not they’ve been seen through. Reality is creative, flowing, and dynamic. We can shape our experience through intention. There’s no reason why someone couldn’t learn to cultivate this state, even if they don’t buy into it. That doesn’t mean they’ll like it, or that they’ll render themselves less enlightened in the process.

To conclude, Jake and I had a lengthy email conversation on this topic a few years ago. I think I still have it. Maybe I’ll review it and see if we were able to come to any interesting insights through our dialogue. At the time I was more into Kenneth’s teaching methods, so I was acting almost as an apologist for it. That’s no longer the case, of course.
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Re: The Witness 13 Nov 2012 11:07 #7778

You know, I'm no expert on this practice (I started the thread) but to give my thoughts on some of the above conversation is that there are many ways that one can represent the sense of an observer to themselves that evolve with one's self concept and insight into the fundamental nature of experience.

I've also recently observed different levels of insight into "The Witness" in two people working with it - in the one case a person who has yet to get stream entry noticed it on his own, and asked himself the question "Who observes the Witness?" and came up with the answer that it was like a recursive set of "I's" - (so close!). My other friend, who I think just got 4th path through an insight into the Witness, said "non-local awareness? AHA!/Phew... " This morning I warned George to make sure he didn't start identifying with a subtle set of sensations that he identified as "non-local awareness" and that that was just "The Witness all spread out" if you will.

My other sense of this is that this second gear practice is greatly aided by high proficiency in 3rd gear - that gives you the tools to actually examine it when the question eventually arises.
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Re: The Witness 13 Nov 2012 11:20 #7779

David wrote:
My other friend, who I think just got 4th path through an insight into the Witness, said "non-local awareness? AHA!/Phew... " This morning I warned George to make sure he didn't start identifying with a subtle set of sensations that he identified as "non-local awareness" and that that was just "The Witness all spread out" if you will.

That's a terrific pointer, David. George could be on the edge of a breakthrough, and I hope he takes this pointer to heart.
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Re: The Witness 13 Nov 2012 12:36 #7781

Jackson Wilshire wrote:
To conclude, Jake and I had a lengthy email conversation on this topic a few years ago. I think I still have it. Maybe I’ll review it and see if we were able to come to any interesting insights through our dialogue. At the time I was more into Kenneth’s teaching methods, so I was acting almost as an apologist for it. That’s no longer the case, of course.

I'd be interested to learn what your experience of the witness is these days, Jackson. The descriptions seem to vary from the experience that Jake described of the "behind-the-eyes observer" to something like a pure knowing that is uninvolved (which Wilber describes as "your original face").
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Re: The Witness 13 Nov 2012 12:53 #7782

@eran: For me, Witnessing seems to show up in two forms. The first is one where consciousness is perceived as the container of experience. That’s probably the best way to describe it. It’s not really a bubble-like perception, because there appear to be no edges. Still, everything except for consciousness arises within consciousness, and is contained by it. I can see how the epicenter of this experience could be located behind the eyes, even if no actual point of reference is discernible.

The other way is shows up is like what David described as “The Witness all spread out.” Instead of awareness being a container of experience, it is experience itself. All is awareness, as there is no dividing line between this or that… or so it seems. It’s possible to be in this state and still be identified as “consciousness-as-everything-else”. In other words, “I am consciousness, and everything is consciousness.” This isn’t quite right, though, as it doesn’t recognize just how dynamic and not fixed awareness is. The pointer, “Not one, not two,” might be helpful here.

Anytime one is identified with consciousness, Witnessing, in some form or another, ensues. The result of fully letting go of consciousness is difficult to describe, because to do so, one lets go of intention at just the right time. Or so it seems to me…
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Re: The Witness 13 Nov 2012 13:37 #7786

Jackson Wilshire wrote:
The other way is shows up is like what David described as “The Witness all spread out.” Instead of awareness being a container of experience, it is experience itself. All is awareness, as there is no dividing line between this or that… or so it seems. It’s possible to be in this state and still be identified as “consciousness-as-everything-else”. In other words, “I am consciousness, and everything is consciousness.” This isn’t quite right, though, as it doesn’t recognize just how dynamic and not fixed awareness is. The pointer, “Not one, not two,” might be helpful here.

Anytime one is identified with consciousness, Witnessing, in some form or another, ensues. The result of fully letting go of consciousness is difficult to describe, because to do so, one lets go of intention at just the right time. Or so it seems to me…

Wow! Nicely said. Say more about that last line there...
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Re: The Witness 13 Nov 2012 14:01 #7789

Okay. I’ll try.

The reason I say “at just the right time” is that it’s unlikely that one can just let go of intention from the beginning and just be free. I’ve never met anyone for which that was the case. It takes a lot of practice to learn how to calm the mind, how to sharpen one’s awareness, how to expand one’s capacity to sit through experiences that they never would have otherwise. One gets to a certain point where all of the right factors line up properly. Their concentrated enough; alert enough; investigating the right stuff, in the skillful way. Only then is one able to see how letting go of intention is even possible. If one can remain in the intention-free zone for a while, I think there’s a good chance for the whole thing to flip.

There’s a danger in talking about it this way, though. I certainly wouldn’t encourage anyone to “try not to try,” as that’s just counterproductive. It’s akin to the whole, “Don’t think of a pink elephant,” pointer. The thought itself contains the pink elephant. The same is true of trying not to try. It’s still just trying. But when the mind lets go of intention, it the cycle is able to wind itself down, and the eye of wisdom sees the truth of things, even if only for a few short moments.
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