Cultivating the Silent Witness


One of the concepts taught in yoga is to cultivate the silent witness or silent observer. To get an idea of how foreign of a concept this is in our western world, the first few items that popped up on my Google search were for police tip programs, where they offer money for people to report information on crimes. I had to add “yoga” to my search to get the right silent witness information. Who knew there were stuffed animal versions of McGruff the crime dog? My kind of dog.

Deepak Chopra explains on his website that we each have two selves, the self that we present to the world, “our conditioned ego personality that eats, drinks, feels and senses life around us and in the process of experiencing each sensation, it is affected and overshadowed by it to the extent that it only knows itself in terms of that experience.”

Next we have the second self.  This higher self is “the silent witness that is awake and aware of itself and what is going without being affected by it.”

Why does cultivating this second self matter? According to Chopra, this higher self is “a pure, quiet Self inside you that is more authentic than the self you have constructed throughout your life.”

What the heck?

I’ve always struggled to understand this concept. How can there be something inside of me, that’s higher than me, more authentic than me? Where is my higher self that just watches without judgment or fear or anger?

Seriously, what the heck? I could really use this person.

I started practicing yoga and meditation to quiet my mind and reduce my stress. But I’ve always felt like I’ve been missing something because I haven’t felt this silent witness state. I’m smart. I’m doing the work. I should be able to learn this. But for more than a year, it’s baffled me.

Why can’t I find my silent witness?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot, wondering how can I be a good yoga teacher if I can’t find my own silent witness. Most of the time, I remind myself to live in the present moment and realize I don’t have to worry about being a good yoga teacher now because I’m technically NOT a yoga teacher yet. So I was creating stress about something that is in the future, not the present, which is another concept in yoga that I understand, but don’t always apply – live in the present moment.

Today, two people who are very dear to me, told me about problems they had at work. As they told me their problems with their coworkers, I listened to what they were saying. Then I put myself in the shoes of the other person and thought, for this coworker to act so inappropriately, so hurtfully, that he himself had to be in a lot of pain. It’s always easier to see both sides of the situation when you are not the one directly involved. I do that all of the time. I often find myself asking my friends, did you ever think this person meant this or is just really socially awkward?

That’s when it totally hit me. I was being a silent witness in that situation. Now I just needed to apply that to myself. If I could find that space in me where I’m able to step back from a heated conversation with someone and notice what in me was making me act in anger, what was affecting the other person to make them act out in anger, I would be the silent witness. It’s like being a friend to yourself instead of being yourself. It’s also a great way to diffuse a volatile situation. Cultivating the silent witness is being able to in that moment of anger, step back and see the whole situation for what it really is and act accordingly.

It’s so easy now that I think about it. I’ve been doing it for a while but never thought of it as being a higher self. I like to make things more difficult than they really are.  I guess I expected this higher self to turn me into this wise Buddha like being with sparkles and fairy wings. Or at least to make me 50 pounds lighter and have awesome hair. Wait, I do have awesome hair.

This journey of yoga gets harder every day. As I learn one lesson, it seems like I realize I have five more new ones to learn.

But it’s good because the more lessons you learn, the less you will repeat the mistakes you’ve made in the past. So I am thankful to my two friends who helped ME learn and grow today by sharing your experiences with me. I am so grateful that you helped me learn a complex lesson.




2 thoughts on “Cultivating the Silent Witness

  1. Remember, yoga is a journey, not a destination. Do you really think yoga teachers have it all figured out and have mastered all of the teachings? Even Chopra must have bad days and sleepless nights now and then. There are a lot of good posts on Elephant Journal about the “imperfect yogi” including this one: As you pursue your yoga teacher goal, be as kind and forgiving to yourself as you are to the stranger in pain who’s acting out. You can totally teach yoga even if your silent witness is fidgety and elusive. 🙂

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