Witness Space

"Experiencing and the Witness", Chapter 4 of Being Zen by Ezra Bayda, describes a meditation exercise that Bayda calls "the Three-by-Three":

... In this practice you bring three different aspects of sensory input into awareness simultaneously and hold them for three complete breaths. For example, you could first bring awareness to the sensations of the breath and then, while staying with that, begin to include the sense of touch in your hands as they rest in your lap. And then, while staying with awareness of breath and touch, expand your awareness to include the perception of sound, and then hold all three together for three complete breaths.

To get a taste of the Three-by-Three, try this: first bring awareness to the sensations of the breath. Be sure you are feeling the physical quality of the breath, not just the thought of the breath. Now add to awareness the feeling of the air on your skin. Feel the temperature and the texture of the air. Now, while maintaining awareness of the breath and the air, expand your awareness to include the feeling of presence in your posture. Hold these three components—the breath, the air, and the posture—in awareness for three full breaths. ...

The point, according to Bayda, is to widen "the container of awareness". As he describes it, in "witness space" the identification with the self — "me" — goes away, and there is no longer an observer. There is experiencing without thinking, pure present-moment awareness.

Delusion, or insight? Hard to tell. Bayda recounts a time when he felt discouraged about his meditative practice. His teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck, suggested that he label his thoughts and "reside in the physical experience of [his] emotional state." As Bayda describes it, he kept saying to himself things like: "Having a believed thought: nothing matters," "Having a believed thought: I'll never be good at this," "Having a believed thought: what's the use?"

Eventually the emotions faded. "Even though there was still a residue of sensations, it was no longer what I would normally identify as 'discouragement' or 'anxiety.'" He describes the result with a beautiful metaphor:

... through the practice of experiencing, we could still feel some anxiety but not be anxious. We identify not so much with "me" or "my anxiety" but with the wider container of awareness that we are calling the witness. From this increased spaciousness, there is a stillness within which we can experience what's going on. Our awareness is like the sky, and all the contents of awareness—thoughts, emotions, states of mind—are passing clouds. As we experience our emotions, we come to understand that they are not as dense and substantial as they appear. This thing we call an emotion is just a complex of thoughts and sensations, and like a cloud, it has no substantial reality. But the only way to make this understanding real is through the practice of experiencing itself, whereby we bring awareness to the physical reality of the moment. ...

Again, is this loss-of-me-ness a mere trick of mental confusion, or some deep understanding? What does it mean to "... stop identifying with this narrow sense of 'self' and start identifying with the wider and more spacious context of awareness itself."

And what's the point of persevering in "... the soft effort of cultivating the willingness to just be in the experience of our life as it is"? Could this be the bridge between "0" (non-attachment) and "1" (total unification)? Hmmmm ...

(cf. 01 (2013-11-05), Bursting the Bubble of Fear (2014-03-26), Swiss Cheese (2014-07-04), ...) - ^z - 2014-07-31