Developing the Witness

October 2, 2013

In the process of awakening, we encounter three states, Identification, Witness and Pure Awareness.  In developing the witness, we become more aware of how identifying with various phenomena causes distress and suffering.   The practice of meditation is useful to develop our sense of awareness or mindfulness.  A concentration meditation not only helps to calm the mind but also to become more aware of the various factors (called the distractions or hindrances) that prevent us from being fully present.  Be being mindful of these distractions, we will notice that their hold will lessen.

Meditation doesn’t have to last a certain amount of time.  It can be as simple as taking three breaths and can be done frequently during the waking hours.  (Ajahn Thanasanti Bhikkhuni or Amma)

What is the witness or observer?  The witness has no characteristics to which it attaches.  There is only witnessing.  By comparison, in the stage of Identification, we identify with images of who we think we are (female, US citizen, profession, parent, etc.).   We also identify with our emotions such as “I am loving” or “I am angry.”  .  Moving to witnessing is shifting from “I Amness” to “I Am.”

Barriers to shifting to the witness are called hindrances.  The hindrances can categorized as:  Sensual desire (attraction), Ill-will (aversion), Sloth and Drowsiness, Restlessness  and Anxiety, and Uncertainty (doubt).  When a hindrance is present, it serves as a distraction to true witnessing.  Hindrances are another form of attachment.  Developing the witness through mindfulness in meditation can expose these hindrances allowing us to develop insight.  Bhante Gunaratana in Mindfulness in Plain English discusses the hindrances in Chapter 12.  Dealing with Distractions II and notes their relationship to the Ego in Chapter 16, What’s in It for You.


As you meditate or go throughout the day, be on the lookout for the hindrances.  When you find one, look at it with mindfulness (observing all phenomena bare of judgment, commentary, and decision-making).  What happens to the hindrance when you observe with mindfulness?