Self Awareness and “The Witness”
Awareness is perhaps the most precious property of being human. It is also perhaps one of the least appreciated, and certainly one of the least understood.
Self awareness is the key in the lock that allows us to recognize unhealthy patterns and change the effects of past experience.
There is a place in the mind of each of us that simply observes what is happening. Its voice is sometimes very faint, but at some time or other everyone has heard it. This voice is the witness. This is the part of us that experiences life without stopping it, that stands outside of the ego, and that recognizes repeating patterns.
Developing the witness can be a helpful part of the counselling experience and is central to changing old patterns. Awareness, and the ability to witness one’s own mind and body is an essential step for escaping the fractal chains of unhealthy beliefs, thoughts, and actions.
When we apply awareness to the cycle of the mind, it gives us the ability to make a conscious choice, rather than simply react according to unconscious habits. In the example of belief systems about drivers in the article about mind, awareness is the witness that notices when we react with anger and reminds us that this is not something that we have to do. We can then choose to change our actions or not. If we change how we act, we will begin to have different results in our lives.
The witness is like a muscle – it will get stronger with practice. Meditation or prayer can create stillness in which to listen.
There are many levels of awareness - physical, mental and emotional as well as spiritual, existential, and transpersonal.
Physical awareness involves noting body sensations. With awareness, body sensations are excellent early signals to help change patterns. Body sensations, and their usefulness, are discussed in the article on body.
Part of mental awareness involves learning to listen for your own “Self Talk”. “Self Talk” is a term used for the repeating thoughts that run around in our minds like skipping records or a CD player set on “repeat”. Practicing awareness helps us to learn how to catch these thoughts and make positive use of them. Journalling can be an important part of this.
For more about awareness, and practices for developing it, see my book - Falling Awake.