Photo by Anthony Tran
In my last blog post, I shared an experience that happened to me over 20 years ago after I caught my then-boyfriend sleeping with another woman, and how I was graced with the gift of “witnessing” in the midst of the pain and drama. If you haven’t read that post, you can read it here first to get a fuller understanding of what it means to “take the witness seat.”
Put simply, taking the witness seat means to settle into the core of who you are (your soul) rather than identifying with the thoughts, emotions and activity going on in and around you. You may still have the thoughts and feelings inside you, and the activity may still be going on around you, but you’re now observing them rather than being lost in them.
I received some emails after the article went live and since I can’t respond to every email personally, there was a recurring question that came up that I’d like to answer in today’s article.
Here’s what some of you said:
“Don’t I have to face reality rather than transcend it? I still have a life with real challenges & struggles that must be dealt with.”
“To surrender to the moment seems irresponsible. Didn’t your then-boyfriend need to know that his action caused negative consequences? If you let him get away with it, he’ll think it’s okay to lie and cheat.”
“What do I do with the reality of the situation when I’m taking the witness seat? Taking the witness seat doesn’t change the fact that my rent is due in two days and I don’t have the money to pay it.”
“So what does this ‘You who feels’, do about such things in reality? This is what I don’t get. We get above ourselves or witness the unfolding of interactions, but still our feelings have important functions to motivate us in certain ways.”
First, let me stress that I LOVE THESE QUESTIONS!
You know why?
Sometimes I write an article and get zero response. Maybe the article was helpful to you, maybe it wasn’t. I have no idea since I didn’t get any emails or comments about it. But I didn’t write it to get feedback, I wrote it to serve. So I trust that the Universe is delivering my message to those who need to hear it and then I let my ego go. And then other times, I write an article and get tons of emails and comments with questions, praise, criticism, you name it, I get it. THIS is when I know my writing sparked something inside you. Not just something, but something strong enough to motivate you to hit “reply” or “comment” and spend time formulating a response. Good, bad, doesn’t matter. I’m simply happy to know that something I wrote woke something up inside you, that a part of you came alive.
Since I received so many questions along the same idea, I wanted to address them here. In fact, your questions have inspired me to create a new section on my site called “Q&A with Tree”. This article is the first in that section. So let’s get started.
The core of the questions fundamentally came down to the idea that if you’re taking the witness seat, you’re not facing reality.
This is far from the truth.
On the contrary, taking the witness seat puts you in a position to face reality in its fullness.
When you’re lost in your own thoughts or emotions, believing everything they tell you, you are only seeing one perspective of reality – the one created by your false self, by your fears, limitations and beliefs.
But that perspective isn’t the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That perspective has been tainted by past experiences – specifically YOUR past experiences and YOUR current judgments and beliefs on how things should and shouldn’t be. If there was a person standing in front of you, they would have a completely different perspective and their view of the reality in front of them would be tainted by their own past experiences, judgements and beliefs. So which reality is the truth. Is it yours or theirs? Or any of the other people within the vicinity? Ultimately, WHOSE perspective is the whole truth?
When you take the witness seat, you’re able to step out from behind the veil of your limited one-sided perspective and see the bigger picture. You’re able to see the unfolding of experiences from a broader, more holistic perspective. You’re able to detach yourself from the identity of your false self and all its drama.
I grew up in a chess playing family. As early as the age of 8, my sister entered and won chess competitions against adults 5 times her age. I always enjoyed watching her play though I never enjoyed playing against her because she always beat me, and when you’re a kid, losing is no fun. I gleefully watched her beat adult after adult and I observed their intimidation tactics to try to get her to break and make a mistake. From an outsider looking in, I could see the anxiety and excitement of both players, I could see my sister trying to hide her nervousness and act like an adult, and I’d see the adults getting more and more flustered with each move she made. They were both amazed and frustrated at the skill of this lanky little poker-faced Asian girl with a ponytail and frayed bell bottom jeans. Being able to watch the game as an observer instead of a player, unattached to the outcome of winning or losing, I had a broader, clearer perspective of the moves being made, the strategies behind moves soon to be made and the players involved in making them. My vision became more keen to picking up subtle clues and shifts because it wasn’t tainted by my ego. I could watch, detached, as the players went through the gamut of emotions during the game, from the smug satisfaction of making a good move to the sudden disappointment of realizing they’d fallen into the opponent’s trap.
Watching someone else’s chess game is like taking the witness seat. Since it’s not YOU winning or losing, you not only experience the game from a broader perspective, you also enjoy the game without emotionally identifying with or attaching yourself to a desired outcome.
Witnessing life experiences unfold in front of you is the same. YOU, the soul of you, who you really are, the YOU who feels, can never be hurt by what happens. It neither wins nor loses. It simply observes.
This might seem like a passive act of giving up or giving in to the situation but it’s rather the opposite.
Ultimately, when you take the witness seat, your vision expands and your energy clears up allowing you to take action based on an intelligent force that rises up within you rather than the reactivity of fear and drama that often controls you.
If you read my story from the last post, you’ll notice that in the midst of the witnessing of my confrontation with my then-boyfriend, I didn’t stop yelling and screaming. I didn’t suddenly give up, lie down on the floor like a throw rug and tell him he could do anything he wanted to me or in the relationship. And I certainly didn’t stop hurting.
It was my first conscious experience of witnessing, and even though my awareness detached from the drama, the drama still unfolded right in front of my eyes. I watched in awe as I noticed the drama originating from inside me, expressing itself outward, full well knowing in that moment that there were two of me. There was an emotional crazy me, crying, red-faced, sweating, yelling, screaming, blaming, pointing, arms gesturing abruptly, heart-broken, betrayed and angry.
And there was a calm soul me observing the animated human me in all her drama.
The soul me was aware that it was just drama of the moment and nothing more. It didn’t have any weight to it.
But make no mistake, decisions still needed to be made. The “reality” of the life situation still needed to be faced. Whether I was taking the witness seat or not, the human me still needed to take action. Does she stay in the relationship or go? Does she forgive or hold on to the pain? If she leaves, what’s she going to do now with her single life? If she stays, can she ever trust him again? Does she give it time to settle down or does she walk out tonight?
While I didn’t take inspired action in that moment, I’ve since become better at allowing my human self (what many call the false self, the little self, or the ego) to step out of the way in order to connect with my bigger self, my true self and the divine. In that moment, I was still too identified with my false self to let it go. I still believed that I had to teach my boyfriend a lesson, show him how much he hurt me and I was still lost in my own emotional hurts and expressing them in an unhealthy way.
I ended up breaking up with him, subletting my Los Angeles apartment and flying to Missouri to stay with my parents until I could figure out what to do next with my life.
Even though the witness seat had shown me that everything was alright and I was okay, the actions I took were still based on fear, hurt and brokenness. My false self was still running my life and making all the decisions, and my soul self was simply enjoying the show.
The more you take the witness seat, the more you allow your false self to step aside and your higher self to take over. Eventually, the decisions will be made by the higher self, inspired by love and goodness.
But taking the witness seat takes practice. Daily. In fact, you can do it all day every day.
Use your ordinary life experiences as opportunities to practice.
Someone cut you off on the freeway? Perfect opportunity to practice. Shift your body slightly up and back, signaling to yourself that it’s time to take the witness seat. Observe your thoughts and feelings. You might still curse the driver out but now you’re aware of yourself cursing the driver out. Now you’ve shifted your perspective from the one cursing to the one watching the cursing.
As you practice with the little upsets throughout the day, you become better and better at it, and when a big upset happens, you’re in a stronger position to step back to witness.
Eventually, in the moment of an upset, you’ll take the right action because you’re clearer, more open to divine inspiration guiding you rather than being compelled or pushed by fear and pain to react, manipulate or control the situation.
In essence, your little self has stepped out of the way so that a higher you can lead.
But for now, as you’re beginning your practice, start slow and simply watch yourself as you think your thoughts, feel your emotions and deal with your problems in any way that you normally deal with them. Your only task to begin is to become the thinker behind the thought, the feeler behind the feeling and the liver behind the life.
Whatever action you take, whether it’s inspired by knowing or motivated by fear, it doesn’t matter. What matters is you become the observer of it. If you find yourself screaming and yelling, become the one watching the screaming and yelling. This act alone is far more important than anything you can do, including trying to calm down, resolve the situation or show the other person how wrong they are.
For now, simply observe.
This is just the beginning.