This entry was previously posted in 2008 and is an excerpt from the book, Awake in This Life: a guide for those climbing the Mountain of Spirit.
Another way to refer to the Witness is to call it our “Eighth Sense.” By this I mean that we have our five senses of our physical experience: those of sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch. Then, in our mental experience, we have our thoughts, which can be counted as our sixth sense. Unlike the Western idea that suggests the sixth sense is some supernatural representation of insight, Eastern cultures soberly suggest that our sixth sense simply encompasses the activities of mind such as thinking, emotions, opinions, intuition, and the like. For our purposes here, we will look at the sixth sense as an Eastern culture might. But we can notice another aspect of our mental experience once we see that all of our mental activity exists and is bound by something truly fundamental. No thoughts, emotions, opinions, or intuition could ever exist without the container of time. Without past and future, there would be no sixth sense therefore, we can call this perception of time, of past and future, our seventh sense.
In order to be clear, we should probably point out again that time and mind cannot really be separate since our thinking can only exist as an expression of past events, future outcomes, or judgments therein. This means that the sixth and seventh senses dependently co-arise with each other, as Buddhists say, in every one of our circumstances. If our mind is not aligning itself with either past or future, it is resting in the present moment. And any mind fully engaged in the present moment is Awake since it wisely refrains from grabbing hold of anything linked to a past or a future. Because it is free of time and yet fully engaged it is a conscious expression of the vastness of Spirit.
This vastness is exactly where the Eighth Sense, or Witness, shows up in experience. The witnessing awareness of our Eighth Sense allows for each of us to watch everything and is always present in our consciousness. We can become aware of the Eighth Sense easily. First of all, pay attention right now to your breath. Is it an inhalation or an exhalation? Does your breath flow smoothly or does it feel constricted? Are you in agreement with what’s being said in this book? Or are you doubtful of its usefulness? That which is aware of both the body and these mental positions is the Witness.
As another example, consider your longing to fall in love again; or to Awaken; or to understand why the world is the way it is. Whatever your deepest longing is, allow for it to fill your experience right now. What exactly does it feel like, and where is this feeling arising in your body? Don’t lean into the longing or push it away, just be intimate with the feeling without grasping it or avoiding it. Feel it completely without judging it as positive or negative. Be fully with the feeling. Meet it with your full attention. That which registers any kind of felt sense of experience right now as you do this is the Witness.
To take this a step further ask yourself, “What am I sensing at this very moment?” Then open your awareness up to whatever you are sensing. Let the question itself guide you to that which is aware within your experience. Are you tired? Confused? At peace? Tense? Relaxed? Distracted? Simply be aware of the unfolding of everything that comes into being in each moment with a deep, nonjudgmental, and unattached curiosity. As you consider these words, continue to be aware of what you are experiencing. Maybe it’s an unsettled feeling—maybe a resentful or frustrated feeling—maybe you are witnessing a sense of being truly open. Again, the “noticer” of all these things is precisely what we can refer to as the witnessing Eighth Sense that radiates equally on all things. It doesn’t evaluate, it doesn’t adjust, it doesn’t move. It is simply aware. As such, this very Witness can be realized as an ever so slight contraction of the very Spirit that gives birth and offers a final resting place to all things in the Universe.
We should review this critical point for a quick moment. If we realize Spirit as a vast, all-encompassing Awareness, we can then look at our consciousness as the awareness of this Awareness. In other words, consciousness can be seen as Awareness experienced through each one of us. Similarly, the Witness can be seen as Spirit realizing itself through us, as each one of us. By this logic, Spirit fully realizes itself as itself the moment we Awaken. In short, when that which is totally impersonal is consciously experienced personally, we are shown in that moment the Summit.
This may sound overly esoteric and intellectual, but this is actually the point where realization can begin to show up and support us in the ways that we live each day. When we simply practice witnessing with our Eighth Sense all things that arise, we become free of our attachments. Watching our experience allows us to begin to dis-identify with all the mind-created things that distort our experience of life. This is wisdom that leads all of us to the heart of Awakening.