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Advanced Yoga Practices
Main Lessons
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Note: For the Original Internet Lessons with additions, see the AYP Easy Lessons Books. For the Expanded and Interactive Internet Lessons, AYP Online Books, Audiobooks and more, see AYP Plus.

Lesson 122 - Witnessing  (Audio)

AYP Plus Additions:
122.1 - Finding Mindfulness  (Audio)
122.2 - What's Wrong with Holding On to the Things We Love?  (Audio)
122.3 - Is Witnessing a Mind Game?  (Audio)
122.4 - Relationship of Witness and Inner Obstructions  (Audio)

From: Yogani
Date: Fri Feb 20, 2004 11:10am

New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the archive, as previous lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why This Discussion?"


Q: I've been going through a process for a long time now where I just don't identify with the body. I don't identify with the emotions or feelings. Something else is feeling them, not I. Sometimes I am aware of an emotion trying to come up, but I just don't know what to do with it so I ignore it and it goes away. My grandmother died 2 weeks ago and it didn't bother me at all. I must have been the only one in the funeral smiling or trying not to smile most of the time. My cat whom is everything to me.. my best friend.. my companion.. my love.. I think is going to die or is dying slowly and I am just not bothered by this. I am concerned and a bit worried yes, but I am not bothered. It changes things externally, but not internally. I can fall down the stairs and just laugh not caring. I could get fired from work with out a care in the world. I am just not attached to anything. More recently, I feel like I lost identity with my name. It almost hurts me to sign an email or a posting with my name. Is this normal and a part of Pratyahara? Are there stages to this, so I would be prepared for what's next to come?

A: Thank you very much for writing and sharing.

The answer depends on what your state really is, and that has to do with how you got there. If you have been meditating and have this feeling of separation in silent witness, that is one thing. If you have separated from your life and the world as a psychological defense mechanism because of some trauma in the past, that is something else. The former is due to purification in the nervous system. The latter is a pigeon-holing of awareness in avoidance of subconscious obstructions involving a lot of pain. One is an opening up. The other is a kind of closing down. They can appear similar, but are not. Under certain circumstances, it is even possible that some of both could be happening at the same time. 

If it is purification in the nervous system giving rise to the emergence of inner silence, then the thing to do is engage in spiritual practices and in life. Ultimately, our enlightenment is not about us. It is about everyone else. The first stage of enlightenment is the rise of an ongoing inner silence -- a temporary separation. The second and third stages are about joining with the divine rising dynamically in ourself and in others (this is where ecstasy and pratyahara come in, not much before). Going beyond stage one (inner silence/witnessing) is not an inert do nothing process. It involves the rise of devotion, and engaging our pure bliss consciousness in the further processes of enlightenment, which include practices and involvement in the world. It is a natural evolution, part of which is in our deciding to participate.

Suggestion: When emotions come up, instead of ignoring them, consider the process of bhakti as described in lesson #67, "Bhakti - The science of devotion," and subsequent lessons discussing the finer points of witnessing and bhakti, especially, #109, "Bhakti, meditation and inner silence." These might give you some tips on how to make better use of your witnessing state to move on to next steps. The relationship of witnessing and emotion is a key dynamic in this. Pure bliss consciousness, the silent witness, is not touched by the phenomenal world, but it is not uncaring. Just the opposite. Inner silence is an endless well of love and compassion, and moves us naturally to engage in the ecstatic processes in the body, and in loving service to others. We can even get angry and cry in the witnessing state - the nervous system will continue to purify itself. Even though the silent witness is the ultimate unmoved spectator, the enlightenment game is not a spectator sport. This is one of the paradoxes of spiritual life. Until pure bliss consciousness becomes fully present in every atom of existence, joining continuously with the ecstatic processes of creation (the divine inner lovemaking), there can be no completion of enlightenment. If we want to move to higher stages of enlightenment, we must actively participate.

So, my suggestion is to see if you can find a desire in yourself to grow beyond where you are. Any desire will do, because you can transform emotion easily into bhakti in the witnessing state, if you choose to. If you can, cultivate it. Then you will find it easy to do something -- some daily practices, some service, doing something for someone else. If you find it difficult to "engage," then maybe the situation is psychologically more complicated than a natural process of purification coming up in the nervous system stimulated by spiritual practices. Or, sometimes there can be some tenderness during the witnessing stage (or any stage) where we just have to bide our time for a while - a sort of healing into a new state of being. Once we get comfortable where we are, then we will become more interested in moving on to the next step. 

Whatever the underlying cause of your witnessing is, it will not hurt to be in daily practices - meditation and pranayama especially. Sooner or later, these will naturally bring you to the next step.

I wish you all success as you travel along your chosen path.

The guru is in you.

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Note: For detailed instructions on utilizing witnessing with Bhakti, see the AYP Bhakti and Karma Yoga book. For the role of the witness in self-inquiry, see the AYP Self-Inquiry book. Also see AYP Plus.

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