(For information about Shared WitnessingTM groups and schedules, CLICK HERE.)
Developed by Eric Sucher (Portland, OR) and inspired in part by the work of Eckhart Tolle, Shared WitnessingTM Presence Practice offers a pathway to opening our hearts and becoming fully available to All of Life, moment to moment … regardless of circumstances.
A profoundly beautiful, nourishing practice, Shared WitnessingTM cultivates our capacity to remain present & Be With everything we experience, just as it is. We have found that holding a “witness” perspective – observing our own internal experience (body sensations, emotions, thoughts, etc.) and then intermittently & very briefly reporting that experience to the group — often brings us into an experience of spacious, compassionate acceptance for All That Is, that participants consistently say is among the most wonderful experiences of their lives.
Although the heart of the practice is to both Witness our experience and to allow ourselves to HAVE our experience, just as it is – with no agenda or intent to change anything during the time of the practice — paradoxically we often find that this practice transforms or dissolves even our most extreme pain. (For more about transforming and dissolving pain, CLICK HERE.)
Perhaps loveliest of all, as we practice over time we find ourselves more and more able to meet with our own and others’ upsets, defenses, fears, and constrictions with compassion, presence, and heart-centered choice.
If you value living a heart-open, heart-centered path…
If you long to connect more deeply and more tenderly with yourself and those you love…
If you wish to expand the experience of Peace on Earth for yourself and others…
…Shared WitnessingTM may be a pathway to support the real-ization of these dreams in your everyday life. (It has been for many of us.)
The Shared WitnessingTM PROCESS
- Sit quietly in a comfortable position. (You can lie down, just be aware that you’re more likely to fall asleep.)
- Take a few deep breaths, letting the air fill your belly as much as possible.
- Notice whatever is arising: sensations in your body, emotions, thoughts.
- From time to time, report on what you’re noticing. (Take care not to use reporting as a way to share with others; the purpose of reporting is to deepen your awareness and experience of what’s going on inside you in the present moment. See below for more reporting guidelines.)
- After some time, you may sometimes notice that your mind has fallen silent, and you feel peaceful, whole,and complete. There may be a feeling of ease and spaciousness, gratitude, joy, etc. You may wish to notice this experience; you may wish to report on it; or you may wish to simply sit silently and enjoy it. All choices are valid. (See below for reporting examples,and suggested guidelines for your meeting organization.)
CLICK HERE for opportunities to experience Shared WitnessingTM communities in person, and by phone (yes, it works beautifully over the phone, too!)
Shared WitnessingTM – REPORTING GUIDELINES
- Notice that there’s a part of you that directly experiences the thoughts or feelings, and there’s also an Observer or Witness part of you that does the Noticing. Feel what it’s like to be in this Observer/Witness/Noticing perspective, and what it’s like to be in the Experiencer perspective. Practice shifting from Observer/Witness/Noticing to Experiencing.
- When reporting, use “framing” language that helps you keep your Observer/Witness/Noticing perspective. You might report what you’re observing by saying, “I’m noticing my body feels …” or “I notice thoughts about…” or “I notice I’m feeling [an emotion -- annoyed, happy, curious, etc]….” Some people say, “There is a feeling of…” or “I’m having thoughts about…” or “I see that I’m feeling/thinking…” It’s usually best not to begin a report just by saying, “I’m thinking…” or “I’m feeling…” without some framing/distancing language in front of it, since that’s how we usually talk about our direct experience.
- When you notice you’ve shifted back into directly experiencing your thoughts/feelings/body sensations, simply gently bring yourself back to your Observer mode. It can be very easy to get caught up in and/or identify with our direct experience — that is, to think that our thoughts, feelings, or body sensations are “true” or “right” or that they are “us.” This is how we’ve been taught to see our thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. But, we are not these things; they are like passing weather, changing at a whim as the result of (for example) what we ate, what we thought someone said, or how we interpret something that’s happened.
- When reporting, do your best to speak from the Observer/Witness/Noticing perspective. Often we interpret this guideline to mean that we need to strive to “do it right;” we may feel our bodies tense, or feel anxious, or think “I’ve got to do this right.” Use these experiences as part of your practice: simply move into your Observer mode and notice all the things you experience in reaction to this guideline, or to how other people are doing their reporting.
- Each witnessing report takes only a few seconds, and sentences are usually fairly short. If you find that your reports are lengthy or involved, you’ve probably slipped out of witnessing mode and into analyzing or sharing your direct experience. Bring yourself back to a place of detachment, where you’re simply noticing and reporting what’s coming up.
- Take care not to report too often. Allow silence in between your own and others’ reporting. Remember that the purpose of reporting is not to share your experience with others, or to connect with others. The purpose of reporting is to deepen your awareness and experience of your connection with yourself. Also, take care to leave generous space for others to report.
- If you find yourself analyzing what you’re saying to figure out how long your sentences are, or how long your reports last, or how “good” a report it is compared to what others are doing, simply bring yourself back to a place of detachment and back into your Observer mode, and report on what you’re noticing.
- If you notice thoughts criticizing or judging yourself or others for anything, you can simply notice and report on that, too. *When this is done from the Observer/Witness/Noticing perspective* it’s often very powerful and transforming for people to report their negative thoughts or feelings towards each other. When noticed and shared from this perspective, the other person isn’t seen as the cause of our experience, they are merely seen as what stimulates or activates something within us. The experience itself is ours, arising from within us.
- Sometimes people have very intense experiences; let them have their experience. If someone cries or is angry or feels embarrassed, avoid conversing with them, trying to comfort them, or trying to change their experience. Stay with your own experience, and if you’re moved to, report on that. When reporting, don’t use other people’s names, as this pulls their attention away from their own experience (and your attention away from your own immediate experience).
- I’m noticing that my heart (or chest) feels like there’s a weight on it.
- I notice the thought, “Am I doing it right?” and I notice feeling embarrassed
- I notice I’m feeling afraid and stupid, and there’s a thought “You never know what you’re doing.
- I’m noticing that I feel surprised; I’m noticing a feeling of recognition: I say “You never know what you’re doing” to myself all the time.
- I notice a feeling of gratitude and relief, and I notice tears.
- I notice I’m feeling annoyed. [Rather than, "I notice I'm feeling annoyed by what Susan said."]*
- I’m noticing a feeling of concern; I notice an impulse to give a hug. [Rather than, "I'm noticing a feeling of concern for John; I notice an impulse to give him a hug."]*
- I notice the waistband of my pants feels too tight.
- I’m noticing a compulsion to offer reassurance. [Rather than, "I notice when I hear Frank say he feels embarrassed, I feel a compulsion to offer reassurance."]*
*NOTE: One of the essential aspects of Shared WitnessingTM is staying focused on our own experience. Both Shared WitnessingTMand NVC emphasize that, while what others say and do may stimulate certain feelings or responses in us (e.g., an impulse to comfort or correct, impatience, annoyance, delight, judgment, etc.), our stories and interpretations, personal history, beliefs, old (previously avoided) pain and/or defenses, and even our personal preferences are actually what cause our feelings and responses.
In particular, both Shared WitnessingTMand NVC believe that uncomfortable or painful feelings are guides that let us know when something *within us* has inadvertently become disconnected from Life, and that discomfort and pain are opportunities to enhance our well-being by learning how to more skillfully meet our life-needs. Click here for more on discomfort, pain, and transforming/dissolving these.
Shared WitnessingTM Groups – SUGGESTED GUIDELINES
As always, do what serves you and your community. Only you can discern what will support you in whatever it is you’re wanting to cultivate.
Number of People – This practice can be very helpful when done alone or with just one other person, and we find it becomes noticeably more beautiful and transformational when more people practice together. So far, the practice has worked wonderfully with groups of up to 10 people, both in person and on the phone. We’re guessing that even larger groups could also work well.
Length of Time/Keeping Time – It helps to have someone set a timer for however long the group wants to practice, so that no one has to watch a clock during their practice. (Note: There’s a lovely application for android phones called “Zen Timer” ($1.95 one-time cost) that offers a variety of bell and chime sounds, any duration, and chimes at the start and/or end of the selected time. Similar applications are available for iPhones as well. Note that these applications only work when in person; for some mysterious reason, when used on a conference call, no one else can hear the chimes.)
Taking Turns - This can be done in order around the circle, or it can be done “popcorn” style, where people speak in any order, whenever they’re moved to. This works surprisingly well both in the phone groups and in-person; people rarely talk over each other.
Creating a Connected, Safe Space - Especially when starting a new practice group, it’s helpful to have a facilitator who most people experience as openhearted and compassionate. For new groups, having each person introduce themselves, perhaps sharing a little about their past experience with meditation or stillness practices, their healing journey, and/or what they like to do for fun/joy, can help everyone feel welcome, connected, and safe.
Once a group is established, having each person “check in” by briefly sharing whatever they need to say to get present and settled is often enough to create a sense of connection for everyone. And, the Shared WitnessingTM can itself serve as the “check-in.”
(We’ve also begun using the Shared WitnessingTM process as the check-in for other meetings of all kinds.)
Questions? In Need of Support?
Click here to contact Vika by phone or email. We’re here to support you!