Not too long ago during one of my retreats in Mexico, I was walking on the cobblestone streets admiring the ocean, and a huge flock of birds began to sing in the trees above my head. I was surprised at how similar this sound was to the sound of the chattering of the mind. The next day, I suggested to the participants in the retreat that we try a special meditation: we would walk to where the birds were, sit underneath the trees and focus deep within our consciousness and from there witness our thoughts and the sound of the birds.
Noise of the mind
You can try this too. Find a place in nature where the sounds – the whisper of the wind in the trees, the murmur of a stream, the song of the crickets in the night or the trilling of the birds – can serve as a type of mental noise. Without straining, concentrate your attention on these sounds. If you find yourself inadvertently attaching to a thought, just gently bring your attention back to the noise in your environment.
Listening from an internal space
Through this practice we can develop the ability to listen to external sounds from an inner space of love-consciousness, thereby learning to distance ourselves from our own thoughts. This practice gives us an opportunity to witness our mind. If we can learn to see our thoughts as a fleeting sound instead of allowing them to engulf us completely, they will start to lose their power over us.
The result is that we’ll find it easier and easier to let go of repetitive and self-destructive thought patterns, and we’ll stop torturing ourselves with the criticisms and judgments coming from our mind.
Witness of your thoughts.
Once you’re familiar with the idea of being the witness of your thoughts, you can apply this practice to your interactions with others. For example, the next time you find yourself arguing with someone, pause for a second, and take your attention inside, focusing solely on listening to what the other person has to say. Regardless of whether you agree with their point of view, just listen. By doing this, you’re not necessarily agreeing with the truth of the other person’s perception, but you are allowing yourself to truly listen.
Listening being the witness of your reactions
By listening, you allow yourself to also be conscious – to be the witness – of the emotional response that the other person’s opinion is generating within you. If you feel that you need to react to defend your point of view, attack, or justify your opinion, you can be certain that the other person’s words are provoking a deep emotion within you.
Listen, and at the same time, listen to yourself. Take your attention to your whole body and anchor profoundly within yourself, having only the intention to be very present with what is arising. You might find that what you are most resisting about your opponent is what you most needed to hear. You might even discover that you were both defending the same point of view and that in the heat of the moment you hadn’t even realized! Or, you might realize that it doesn’t matter who is right and that the dispute is really such a minor issue not worth of the wasted energy.
Witnessing the present moment
The experience of witnessing and being conscious of the present moment comes to us like a cool breeze on a hot summer’s day: softly, peacefully and with total fullness. Detached from our thoughts and our stuck emotions, we simply feel the abundance of being and the incredible presence of love-consciousness.
By developing the ability to be witnesses,
we acquire the clarity of vision needed
to progress on our spiritual journey,
like a lantern lighting the inner path.