How to Reach for Peace in Troubled Times.

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The gap between wanting and having is often huge, and warrants examination, right? Where does the problem lie? What is the nature of what I want? What is preventing me from having it, and what is the lesson I can learn as I strive to bring more harmony to my relationship with the world?

One thing most of us can say with certainty is: I want peace.

World peace.

Peace within.

Peace among friends.

Peace among neighbours.

Peace among us all.

After a time, though, and especially in light of current world events, it becomes tiring living with two seemingly irreconcilable facts: 1) we want peace; and 2) we can’t seem to achieve it.

It’s time that we inquire: what’s going on here? Why can’t we make our way to peace?

First, we find that it’s too easy to blame society, or the government, or other forces “out there”. It’s too easy to say that we are advocates of peace, but that we are powerless in the face of what the powers that be choose to do in this world.

Why do we think we are separate from the world, and the other people in it? I think the answer to this question holds the key to the true and lasting peace we are always dreaming about.

The reason why peace eludes us is that we seem to have a mistaken conception of peace. First we need to notice that we think about peace most when we feel we are under threat, say, the threat of war. In this way, then, we are putting peace and war on the same playing field; they are dancing together in our field of consciousness, so that the specter of war is never far from apparently innocuous desires for peace.

So we say it: why can’t we just have peace? But what kind of peace are we imagining? Are we really projecting ourselves into a whole new world in which peace is the very foundation? Our first thoughts, if we are honest with ourselves, are not about some kind of Eden, a place characterized by genuine harmony, where we are unencumbered by every form of conflict large and small, where we have full freedom to be who we are and are simultaneously full acceptance of everyone else, where the very idea of “non-peace” does not even arise in consciousness. Rather, “peace” becomes more of a reactive concept: we long to go back to “better times”, to how things were before the threat of war appeared.

Hindsight tends to look more golden. Our youth, or even the preceding few years, become soft around the edges, a safe space we have distilled for their better moments. Scared of the present, we re-imagine the past as Eden, without really trying to go back there to remember the very same fears that now plague our minds.

The way things were: there, we might find comfort, stasis, perpetual fear of the status quo being upset, along with thwarted dreams, anxiety, dissatisfaction, a situation in which we were dwelling even further back in the past, or worrying about what was to come. In other words, the same things we find in the here and now, regardless of exterior circumstances.

We need to see the violence in this. Our minds can be very violent places, not at all at peace, but torn, divided, running amok, complacent, isolationist, subconsciously fearing and also wanting the upheaval that surrounds us, because we don’t truly believe it can be any other way. We may have grown up with it. We may have inherited it. We may have absorbed in from any of various environments and situations. We live it, because we are humans, and humans are replete with embattled interior worlds, until we find our way to a path toward peace.

So upheaval comes: we have war, devastation, harrowing events we fear but have long, maybe secretly, suspected were inevitable.

We seem not to be able to accept either what we have created, or what IS, right now, in this moment, in the world or in the deepest parts of ourselves. If we explore within, we will find fear-based reactions to world events; we feel, for example, that we don’t deserve the natural disasters that ravage the world and its inhabitants, but upon further inquiry we have to see that deserving has nothing to do with it. Natural disasters don’t happen to us. They simply happen. This is one of the laws of nature, and we somehow think we are removed from the laws of nature. Even above them.

Do you see how this amounts to a form of violence? To feel separation from what we are so intricately bound to, to see isolation, me versus you; how can this not be construed as violence? Am I not more likely to react in negative and harmful ways to things I feel are separate from me? Would I be as likely to hurt something that is essentially myself?

Yet this is what we are doing, because the war is within ourselves, and we don’t want to confront the more self-destructive aspects of our nature. Instead, we throw nature and people to the other side of a line or boundary, maybe out of self-preservation, maybe because we were taught about separation more than unity, about countries more than world; maybe because we have come to rely wholly on our senses and not our intuition, and our senses bring what is out there into our interior world. The reason doesn’t matter: here we are, wondering about everything in relation to our one self and how it benefits us, and unity is lost. There can be no peace when we can only conceive of our humanity in pieces. Pieces can also come apart just as easily as they can connect for short whiles. And this is how we are living: in constant fear of things coming apart.

But what if we are the ones keeping them apart? Our belief in apartness allows for all kinds of horrible things to find their way into the cracks. And we cannot fortify ourselves from the calamities that occur as long as our hearts are wired to expect calamities, and as long as we continue to forge separate pathways for the people of the world. We cannot stop violence until we understand that we are perpetuating the violence, we are housing the violence, we are feeling the violence with our deep-seated fears but also beliefs in it, until we come to see that we are the violence.

Look at all the ways in which we are at war with ourselves. Look at how we are self-deprecating; how we hate looking in the mirror; how we doubt our abilities to achieve success; how we hold ourselves back; how we don’t believe in ourselves enough to invest the time and energy into our wellness. Look at how quick we are to believe other people’s beliefs in the very worst of us, at the expense of our own belief in ourselves – a belief that should be the most natural thing in the world? It goes on and on like this. There is so much negativity living in the circuitry of our bodies and psyches. Where is the place for peace in this?

Yet, there is a place for peace, a huge, golden space inside of us, that coexists with all this violence. We are full of love, hope and good intentions, and we know this, and we have felt this many times. This is a brilliant truth. We just need to believe in this part of ourselves, and work to cultivate it that much more.

So how we begin to turn things around?

First, we must realize that peace starts at home. We must become aware of our hidden, limiting and destructive beliefs that serve nothing but the powers of violence. We must stop right here, where we are and accept the mess that we have inherited and that we continue to make by doing nothing to stop it. We must feel the effects of this violence on the core of our beings right now, in this very moment.

We must ask: do we really want peace, or do we want the luxury of returning to our comfort zones, where we keep the world at bay and hope that all the terrible things we are scared of don’t make their way to us, though they are already right here with us, in the deep crevices of our minds? We must ask: are we ready to do the hard work of finding the peace in us that is also the real, true, lasting peace of the world?

We can only do this in stillness. We must rest in stillness and use the landscape of our bodies to feel what fear looks like, and to arrive at a place of a true, real desire to end the violence within. We must look so deep within that the borders between us and the world fade and we start to realize how destructive the lens of separation is on all our relationships, with people and the world.

We must commit to the responsibility of looking deep within and removing the obstacles to peace, removing the violence we find inside, for peace is the absence of violence, and will naturally arise when we actively want and seek our own salvation.

Peace isn’t something you wish for while going about life and not doing much to effect real change in your relationship with it. Rather, peace is something you uncover, and discover in yourself. You figure out that it has been there all along, and once exposed, it will grow and expand and guide you. And this is the building block to a peaceful world.

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Why Don’t We Have Peace? Here’s Why.

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The gap between wanting and having is often huge, and warrants examination, right? Where does the problem lie? What is the nature of what I want? What is preventing me from having it, and what is the lesson I can learn as I strive to bring more harmony to my relationship with the world?

One thing most of us can say with certainty is: I want peace.

World peace.

Peace within.

Peace among friends.

Peace among neighbours.

Peace among us all.

After a time, though, and especially in light of current world events, it becomes tiring living with two seemingly irreconcilable facts: 1) we want peace; and 2) we can’t seem to achieve it.

It’s time that we inquire: what’s going on here? Why can’t we make our way to peace?

First, we find that it’s too easy to blame society, or the government, or other forces “out there”. It’s too easy to say that we are advocates of peace, but that we are powerless in the face of what the powers that be choose to do in this world.

Why do we think we are separate from the world, and the other people in it? I think the answer to this question holds the key to the true and lasting peace we are always dreaming about.

The reason why peace eludes us is that we seem to have a mistaken conception of peace. First we need to notice that we think about peace most when we feel we are under threat, say, the threat of war. In this way, then, we are putting peace and war on the same playing field; they are dancing together in our field of consciousness, so that the specter of war is never far from apparently innocuous desires for peace.

So we say it: why can’t we just have peace? But what kind of peace are we imagining? Are we really projecting ourselves into a whole new world in which peace is the very foundation? Our first thoughts, if we are honest with ourselves, are not about some kind of Eden, a place characterized by genuine harmony, where we are unencumbered by every form of conflict large and small, where we have full freedom to be who we are and are simultaneously full acceptance of everyone else, where the very idea of “non-peace” does not even arise in consciousness. Rather, “peace” becomes more of a reactive concept: we long to go back to “better times”, to how things were before the threat of war appeared.

Hindsight tends to look more golden. Our youth, or even the preceding few years, become soft around the edges, a safe space we have distilled for their better moments. Scared of the present, we re-imagine the past as Eden, without really trying to go back there to remember the very same fears that now plague our minds.

The way things were: there, we might find comfort, stasis, perpetual fear of the status quo being upset, along with thwarted dreams, anxiety, dissatisfaction, a situation in which we were dwelling even further back in the past, or worrying about what was to come. In other words, the same things we find in the here and now, regardless of exterior circumstances.

We need to see the violence in this. Our minds can be very violent places, not at all at peace, but torn, divided, running amok, complacent, isolationist, subconsciously fearing and also wanting the upheaval that surrounds us, because we don’t truly believe it can be any other way. We may have grown up with it. We may have inherited it. We may have absorbed in from any of various environments and situations. We live it, because we are humans, and humans are replete with embattled interior worlds, until we find our way to a path toward peace.

So upheaval comes: we have war, devastation, harrowing events we fear but have long, maybe secretly, suspected were inevitable.

We seem not to be able to accept either what we have created, or what IS, right now, in this moment, in the world or in the deepest parts of ourselves. If we explore within, we will find fear-based reactions to world events; we feel, for example, that we don’t deserve the natural disasters that ravage the world and its inhabitants, but upon further inquiry we have to see that deserving has nothing to do with it. Natural disasters don’t happen to us. They simply happen. This is one of the laws of nature, and we somehow think we are removed from the laws of nature. Even above them.

Do you see how this amounts to a form of violence? To feel separation from what we are so intricately bound to, to see isolation, me versus you; how can this not be construed as violence? Am I not more likely to react in negative and harmful ways to things I feel are separate from me? Would I be as likely to hurt something that is essentially myself?

Yet this is what we are doing, because the war is within ourselves, and we don’t want to confront the more self-destructive aspects of our nature. Instead, we throw nature and people to the other side of a line or boundary, maybe out of self-preservation, maybe because we were taught about separation more than unity, about countries more than world; maybe because we have come to rely wholly on our senses and not our intuition, and our senses bring what is out there into our interior world. The reason doesn’t matter: here we are, wondering about everything in relation to our one self and how it benefits us, and unity is lost. There can be no peace when we can only conceive of our humanity in pieces. Pieces can also come apart just as easily as they can connect for short whiles. And this is how we are living: in constant fear of things coming apart.

But what if we are the ones keeping them apart? Our belief in apartness allows for all kinds of horrible things to find their way into the cracks. And we cannot fortify ourselves from the calamities that occur as long as our hearts are wired to expect calamities, and as long as we continue to forge separate pathways for the people of the world. We cannot stop violence until we understand that we are perpetuating the violence, we are housing the violence, we are feeling the violence with our deep-seated fears but also beliefs in it, until we come to see that we are the violence.

Look at all the ways in which we are at war with ourselves. Look at how we are self-deprecating; how we hate looking in the mirror; how we doubt our abilities to achieve success; how we hold ourselves back; how we don’t believe in ourselves enough to invest the time and energy into our wellness. Look at how quick we are to believe other people’s beliefs in the very worst of us, at the expense of our own belief in ourselves – a belief that should be the most natural thing in the world? It goes on and on like this. There is so much negativity living in the circuitry of our bodies and psyches. Where is the place for peace in this?

Yet, there is a place for peace, a huge, golden space inside of us, that coexists with all this violence. We are full of love, hope and good intentions, and we know this, and we have felt this many times. This is a brilliant truth. We just need to believe in this part of ourselves, and work to cultivate it that much more.

So how we begin to turn things around?

First, we must realize that peace starts at home. We must become aware of our hidden, limiting and destructive beliefs that serve nothing but the powers of violence. We must stop right here, where we are and accept the mess that we have inherited and that we continue to make by doing nothing to stop it. We must feel the effects of this violence on the core of our beings right now, in this very moment.

We must ask: do we really want peace, or do we want the luxury of returning to our comfort zones, where we keep the world at bay and hope that all the terrible things we are scared of don’t make their way to us, though they are already right here with us, in the deep crevices of our minds? We must ask: are we ready to do the hard work of finding the peace in us that is also the real, true, lasting peace of the world?

We can only do this in stillness. We must rest in stillness and use the landscape of our bodies to feel what fear looks like, and to arrive at a place of a true, real desire to end the violence within. We must look so deep within that the borders between us and the world fade and we start to realize how destructive the lens of separation is on all our relationships, with people and the world.

We must commit to the responsibility of looking deep within and removing the obstacles to peace, removing the violence we find inside, for peace is the absence of violence, and will naturally arise when we actively want and seek our own salvation.

Peace isn’t something you wish for while going about life and not doing much to effect real change in your relationship with it. Rather, peace is something you uncover, and discover in yourself. You figure out that it has been there all along, and once exposed, it will grow and expand and guide you. And this is the building block to a peaceful world.

The Yellow Ribbon for the Dalai Lama

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Thousands of people have already crowded into the sprawling Kalachakra Temple compound in Dharamsala, India by the time my husband and I arrive at 8:00 a.m.

We’re gathering in anticipation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s first day of teachings at the very temple where he has his private chambers, and where he frequently addresses the public. Everywhere you look, your eyes rest on a sea of Tibetan monks, nuns and laypeople, a sizable smattering of foreign tourists and a substantial sprinkling of Indians, many of them journalists, cameras and video gear in tow.

As we thread our way through the crowd, I get the sensation that this colorful medley of humans, against the ornate backdrop of the temple, resembles a living, breathing and moving mandala- the cosmic order come to life. There is infinite possibility on this cool, crisp morning; all mysteries might just reveal themselves in this gathering of good intentions and open hearts.

We walk upstairs past a jam-packed garden to where there are two prayer halls, one of which the Dalai Lama will use to transmit his teaching.

In and around these halls hordes of people sit, in hallways, on staircases leading to toilets, by a room full of ever-burning candles and by the cellar kitchens where butter tea is being boiled. As we look for a small space to squeeze into, a child’s voice crackles an adorable, stilted chant through the loudspeaker system; his voice rings with the crystalline innocence of youth. Others, like us, are navigating the crowds searching for an empty spot. Ropes have cordoned sections off, and security is still ramping up for the Dalai Lama’s arrival.

We jostle our way into small opening by a large column that faces the large hallway the Dalai Lama will soon walk down. Not too far ahead are a couple of stairs leading to the antechamber he’ll enter to reach his chair in the prayer hall. We arrived twenty minutes early, and the teaching is evidently going to start late, so we have time to stand among the sea of visitors, to observe the goings on that lead up to an event of this magnitude.

The smart ones who arrived early spread out mats and sit on cushions, many quietly munching on snacks.

Tibetans and foreigners are chitchatting, smiling and laughing side by side. Two of the security guards near the antechamber entrance, Indians, are rail thin, mustached, ever-smiling and holding long, austere-looking rifles. At intervals, various monks inhabit the holding area leading to the antechamber, and I keep expecting each one to be the official greeting party for the Dalai Lama. But then they leave and others take their place. Time seems to be lackadaisically seeping outward rather than moving forward in chronological sequence.

At a minute to nine, an older Tibetan man in a royal blue apron who’s been standing by the stairs the whole time, disappears into the antechamber and scurries back out with a bright yellow ribbon. He painstakingly goes about wrapping it around the stair rail that the Dalai Lama will use as a support on his way up. He corrects it, flattens and presses it again and again until it is absolutely perfect and he’s satisfied.

This tiny gesture, almost lost in the tide of brewing excitement, deeply moves me as emblematic of the purity of honest work and holy servitude.

This bright yellow ribbon that forms a vibrant part of our view on a very special day, strikes me as a beacon of far more. Sometimes we wonder about arguably overwrought rituals in spiritual tradition, and in our cynicism, declare all the pomp and circumstance excessively elaborate, meaningless and unnecessary. We find infinite things to feel sour about as we get lost in the details and distractions of our lives and lose sight of the small marvels happening around us at every turn.

I couldn’t argue with any degree of certainty about role of ritual in our lives or spiritual practice. My own views keep changing with time as the rest of me evolves and adapts to the life I find myself living.

But what I feel deeply, looking at the man with the yellow ribbon, is that every single action affects the universe.

Every act of true devotion brings out the light in the one who is devoted and that light reaches all of humanity. Everything we do that is in service of something greater than us builds into a momentum of positive energy that will only expand with our combined efforts. Before the teachings have even began – before the deliciously strange butter tea is served to thousands! – lessons arrive right in our laps. I can’t help but feel these lessons were meant for us to discover.

One yellow ribbon taken in isolation is a shiny and slightly garish curiosity. A yellow ribbon lovingly handled to mark a great occasion by a man who, just like the rest of us, has good days and bad, depends on others and has dependents of his own, and wants to be happy and free of suffering, is a beautiful manifestation of connectivity at work.

The care that emanated from those aging hands arranging one yellow ribbon one the first day of the Dalai Lama’s public teachings, those inordinately generous offerings, is also the care and love that feeds the world.

*This article was published on The Tattooed Buddha.

 

Despite the Terror We Are Love

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I don’t mean to sound trite or self-helpy when I say that we are love.

I was probably born spewing cynicisms and am a recovering pessimist. I believe it’s important to be aware of our current realities, and not turn a blind eye to the tragedies in our midst. I believe in knowing that corruption and impure intentions form a part of the web of our humanity as we’ve evolved up to this point (Not devolved. Bad news makes us think we are devolving, but I don’t believe devolution is our narrative arc).

I am horrified and saddened beyond words to hear about the terror attacks in Paris, the suicide bombings in Beirut, and so many other soul-ripping issues and problems occurring around the world.

One or two horrors don’t eclipse all the others; they are a searing, painful reminder of the darker side of the world. One broken body, one broken heart is the cracking open of an awareness of all heartbreaking things everywhere.

It is not meant to sound trite, either, to say that we are all connected. We know that we are, with our deepest instincts. We bleed for the fallen and laugh with the triumphant. Though it doesn’t always seem like it, we are not on any perch; we are not our own havens or cocoons. We are not reacting to world events from somewhere apart, no matter how far we might seem.

This is the world we all live in. Moments like this, when the world rips into shards of pain, highlight the fact that the separations between us and everyone else are illusory.

It’s not that these things “could” happen to us. They are happening to us. Our reality is an enjoined one.  This is why we cry at someone else’s loss and remember our own: we are exercising our great capacity for sympathy, and also tapping into universal pain and suffering. This universality of our experience is also evidenced in the hundreds of thousands of monks meditating creating an observable ripple of peace everywhere.

Focusing on the potential we have to generate and spread peace from within us to the world is not to turn away from the shocking realities in our midst. It is a way of taking action. It is to confront tragedy directly, and instead of getting angry or placing blame (though some anger is healthy—provoking, as it does—impassioned action), we are cradling it in our arms in acknowledgement, and providing an antidote of love.

The longer we sit in meditation, or quiet reflection, the more we come to understand that we are swimming in a sea of love beyond the immediate world of suffering.

We can feel it within the microcosm of our bodies, too.

We sit down to meditate, and it isn’t long before we become uncomfortable. Our back and shoulders begin to ache, our legs fall asleep, sharp pain shoots out from the knee, the stomach rumbles, the heart begins to palpitate. Intertwined with all this are our thoughts and emotions, buzzing every which way, wreaking havoc through our system, reminding us how hard it can be to be human, to have this history of our past pain living inside of us.

We confront all this, observe it head on, and give it compassion.

Eventually, the discomfort subsides (it will return of course; everything earthly cycles before we can free ourselves from all our past wounds), and we wonder: where did it go? How could such disturbances just disappear? But they do. And then an ocean of calm floods the body, the mind, the heart. Breath elongates and we dwell in a calm universe we know extends far beyond the boundaries of our physical form.

We even come to see or feel that this universe of calm is our foundation, our platform, our natural state.

It’s most crucial to remember this when it most feels like this cannot possibly be true, because violence is erupting and hurt and horror are spreading like wildfire.

Let’s grieve, and cry, and really feel the suffering that abounds. And then, let’s give it love.

Let’s breathe in all the suffering of the world, gathering it into the soft spot of our hearts, where we transform it to love and peace.

Let’s breathe out this shimmering love and peace to the whole world.

Breathing in all that is, breathing out the love that underpins it all.

May we all find peace.

*

This  piece was first published in The Tattooed Buddha.

Who is Our Inner Witness on the Spiritual Path?

Haiku and Photograph by Tammy T. Stone

Haiku and Photograph by Tammy T. Stone

“If we consider the knower independently of the known, it reveals itself as pure witness. When knower and known are not-two, there is no place even for a witness.” – Jean Klein

In yoga and in our spiritual journey, we seek the transcendence of duality, the arrival of unity between ourselves and the cosmos, knower and known, observer and observed.

One of the ways we work toward this unity is through meditation, by learning more about how to tame the mind’s wild and roaming ways. But immediately, a question arises: who is the “we” in relation to our own minds? Who exactly is it that can control our minds, which we so often associate with our very sense of identity?

How are we different from our minds?

Once we start meditating, we learn pretty quickly, through direct experience, that there is a part of us able to “watch” or witness ourselves meditate, and that “something” accompanies us off the cushion and into our lives as we become more mindful and present in our daily lives.

When we are instructed to observe our in-breath and out-breath, suddenly there “we” are, as though from the outside, tracking the breath’s movements. We are also aware of becoming distracted, and we can guide ourselves – our own minds – back to the breath.

This “witnessing consciousness” is also known as a kind of meta-consciousness in scientific terms; it sounds fancy and official, but that doesn’t make them any less mysterious!

When I think of the witness or observer as I normally understand the words, two visions come to mind.

I think of the unobtrusive but interested observer, maybe collecting scientific data (though the Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle teaches us that the act of observation changes that which is observed), or maybe sitting a cafe watching life pass by, somewhat aloof, but with great curiosity. The observer seems to be guided by a higher principle or motivated by a desire to reach greater meaning.

When I think of the witness, my mind floods with images of those who have been at the scene of momentous events like calamities, natural disasters, or the terror of war, who make an active decision to record and transmit what is being witnessed, so that the world can become more compassionate and future generations can benefit from the mistakes and tragedies of the past.

As a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I have been privileged, and sometimes overwhelmed by becoming the legacy and carrier of unimaginable things experienced and witnessed by loved ones.

As I write this, hundreds of witnesses are chronicling the ravaging effects of the Nepal earthquake, tearing our hearts apart and inspiring us to help. In an age of instant media access, we are all becoming witnesses, with the privileges and responsibilities this entails.

What is the overlap between a “mere” witness to events and someone with feelings and conditionings who experiences the event?

Can any being ever be neutral, whether out there in society or within our own selves?

Until we experience pure One-ness, we are always a little bit “in” and a little bit “out” of things, and this can be a confusing place to be.

It may well be that the common denominator between the worldly witness and the inner witness is compassion, and the merging this allows between a self that is conflicted or divided within the universe.

Grappling with the witness and observer can be a chaotic endeavor, but I think it’s important to understand this special consciousness inside of us, so that we can become more conscious beings in a world that desperately needs this from us.

Rather than try to understand it intellectually, I’ve tried, below, to delve right into the “my inner witness,” using my meditation practice as the basis.

If the goal is to lose the witness altogether and merge into a compassion-flooded whole, then this is a humble attempt to bring the witness into sharper focus. I would love to hear any thoughts regarding this phenomenon!

Who is The Witness?

The witness tells me I’m thinking while I try to clear my mind, and brings me back to my body.

The witness stands guard but does not offer solace.

The witness stands back when emotions overtake me and whispers quietly, “Let this be so.”

The witness observes me “be” as though from afar, while remaining a part of this “me” fabric.

The witness guides me into nature when I need comfort and solace, and disappears when I am in rapture.

The witness points me to the physical effects of my confusion, by way of telling me that I am not my confusion.

The witness asks me if I’m being honest with myself.

The witness doesn’t argue with any other part of me, even as the parts argue with each other.

The witness doesn’t have the same goals for my life that I do, and doesn’t get frustrated when the goals I set are not met.

The witness seems to want what is best for me, or at least doesn’t veer me in the direction of harm.

The witness is not a friend or an enemy.

The witness knows what I am doing but doesn’t make any judgments.

The witness asks for nothing the way other parts of me ask me to tax myself over and over.

The witness is not a master or a guru.

The witness allows me to be more attentive.

What do I do with this attention?

Which part of me is the keeper of my stories and the inspiration behind the dreams I long to fulfill?

Can the witness take me there and beyond … or can it only witness the evolution?