There is a concept I have come across repeatedly in my search for cultivating mindfulness in daily living that refers to creating a ‘witness’ within our minds that is a neutral go-to place when observing ourselves. It is like having a sacred space within us where our emotions and thoughts do not follow and we are at our most basic ‘self’ that observes impartially what the rest of our mind is doing. It is the blessed gap between our experiences and how we react to them. How deep the gap is depends on how well we have stretched the muscles of awareness to separate our initial reactions to situations with how we choose to behave despite them.
Learning to step away from our thoughts and simply observing what our mind is going through is practicing mindfulness. It is bringing our focus into the now, as it is in its barest form without making judgements about it just yet. Our thoughts about a situation are what classify it as being good or bad and dictates our reactions to it and whether we suffer because of it. By extending this sacred space within, we can learn to disassociate with our experiences enough to get to the root of the real issue underneath the uncomfortable feelings and reactions and finding a positive solution to dealing with it effectively. This space is essentially there to allow us the time to really reflect on the best course of action by giving us the time to align ourselves with our values and behaving accordingly.
So how do we create this space then?
By becoming aware at the barest level of what you are doing RIGHT NOW. I mean it, right now. You can start by thinking along the lines of: “Here I am reading this awesome post.” Now take notice of your surroundings; the objects around you, the temperature of the room you are in, the feel of your hand on your mouse or touch pad; notice any physical sensations and discomforts impassively. If your mind automatically labels them, that’s okay but just notice. Then notice the thoughts that arise as you look around. Perhaps you start thinking about how uncomfortable your chair is and how you need a new one, or that your internet is being slow again and that is aggravating you, or that you are also worrying about your child waking up from their nap and cutting your blog surfing short, or how you have such and such errands to do tomorrow. You may even be thinking how stupid this exercise is, who knows. NOTICE these thoughts, then step away from them. That is mindfulness. Really, it is that simple. The very act of observing where your mind is going is what the ‘witness’ is. Congratulations, you have found your sacred space!
If these quiet moments of pure awareness are not something you engage in regularly, it will feel awkward and sluggish at first. It will take some time for you to notice all those little things and bring them into your awareness. Just like taking up yoga or stretching for the first time; it requires practice and lots of patience. You may not be able to engage in it for long periods of time until you stretch out your muscles little by little over time. The way to do so is by snatching little moments of awareness in your daily life like:
While breastfeeding or bottle-feeding
When changing a diaper or giving a bath
When in the shower or brushing your teeth
When cooking or cleaning or doing yard work
While sitting with that much loved morning cup of coffee
When just about to fall asleep in bed
As you knit, sew, or scrapbook
All that is required is to bring awareness to the automatic things that we do in our daily lives and notice how we react to them. How long or how short we remain fully aware is irrelevant, as long as we make the effort to do so when we can. Over time you will notice how your ‘sacred space’ stretches and grows along with you and you are able to extend the time between experiencing situations and engaging in them. Your witness will also become more skilled at noticing the subtleties in life that bring us joy and unhappiness. Being able to discern the underlying causes of our experiences by first being able to observe them fully as they unfold allows us the ability to then exact the positive changes in our lives in order to parent consciously. It also allows us to develop the ability to discern our children’s needs based on their own behavior and help them development their own sacred space so that they can express themselves in an appropriate and healthy manner instead of being reactive. But all change starts with us doesn’t it?