Kanna and Meditation

In the American Journal of Psychotherapy, D. Goleman (6) suggested a division of meditation into two general catagories. His distinction was supported by transpersonal psychotherapy theory papers written by Seymour Boorstein M.D (7), Greg Bogart M.A (8), Mark C. Kasprow M.D and Bruce W. Scotton M.D (9). The two categories can be called concentration meditation and receptive or insight meditation.

Concentrative styles include fixing the mind or focusing upon a mandala or candle, or breath, koan, chakra, circulation of prana/chi/light, to create the restriction of attention to one point. This technique can lead to trait changes including deep tranquility and enhanced clarity and concentration.

Receptive/insight styles are based upon the passive and non-interfering watchfulness of the minds movements and manifestations of the unconscious, letting the myriad visions and thoughts emerge and sink back without interference by criticism, commentary, selection, judgment, preference or interpretation.

Each meditation may have different effects upon the mediator as it attenuates different aspects of consciousness. Different meditative practice may lead to different trait changes. Greg believed that “a meditation technique may appropriately be applied in therapy only if it matches the therapeutic goals being sought”. Within a therapeutic context, different styles may be useful depending on peoples needs.

Receptive meditation does not use inhibition or focus, it is rather a technique of becoming open and receptive to the inner flow of the mind, introspective, and watching with acceptance, non-judgment and non-attachment, the different phenomena that arise. It is thus more compatible with the aims of psychotherapy than concentrative styles in this regard, because one does not bypass the troubled and conflicting complexes of the unconscious. One becomes exposed to ones inner subtle condition, rather than honing ones consciousness to a laser-beam focus as in concentrative styles.

The cathartic nature of the receptive state can help the resolution of inner conflict and create a more unified, integrated psyche. As Jung explained, we do not become wise by visualising radiant beings, but by making the darkness light. But ultimately the receptive state is not about beautifying ones state of consciousness but transcending it altogether.


I came to have an understanding of receptive meditation practices through grief and loss. At one time in my life circumstances changed against my will and control, in such a way that caused me great emotional anguish. But one night I became distinct or separate from the sensations of emotional pain, I became able to let it speak itself, let it go through its cathartic, healing movements, without being caught up and lost in it.

A voice in my head said “Who feels the pain ?” and no center or point that was suffering could be located. The emotions and memories were painful patterns hanging in space, patterns of nature evolving, crystallizing out of the void. But who feels the pain ? I was witnessing this pain, these memories, but I am neither. I am the witness. I did not feel dissociated from either my body or these memories and sensations, but I felt transcended. To retain the knowledge of pure witness experiencing patterns, whether of joy or pain, without over-identifying with them, brings spaciousness and freedom.

This state caught me by surprise and was an incredible relief. I woke up the next day completely refreshed and elevated. The spontaneous occurrence of the receptive state made me realize that this is a natural, innate healing state.

In this form of awareness one becomes Awareness itself, not the contents of awareness, or the dreamer, not the dreams. It is an awareness distinct from personality, memories, emotions and perceptions.

A good metaphor is becoming peaceful by a riverside, without jumping in and getting thrown about or ripped apart on the rapids. The river is the flowing contents of mind. The watcher on the riverbank is the true self.

It is a receptive state. Its letting the Tao flow without the split-off ego interfering with this flow through criticism, over intellectualism, judgment, inhibition, selection, hate, denial, attachment etc – the typical ego-commentary type fashion.

I sometimes call this Self, distinct from mental contents and sensations, The Witness. The Witness perceives and comprehends the movements, images and feelings of the brain/mind. It is pure awareness, from its perspective, interior phenomena such as feelings and ideas are as external as the information that comes through the senses.

There is not an absence of thoughts. One just lets the thoughts and visions emerge and sink back again into the background without attachment, without grasping. An integration occurs between the ego and the unconscious.

They simply become One under an all-embracing watchful awareness.

In this state the mind is not fragmented or partitioned into an unconscious and an ego, and what we call “I” or “me”. With the awareness of the Witness, there is a flow of consciousness with no fragmentary, illusionary “I” to act upon and interfere with itself and create havok. It is a state of awareness and non interference in regard to emerging mental contents. It is getting out the way of the mommentum, and letting it BE.

Bringing this state forth creates the ability not only to step back from the flowing patterns of the mind and percieve their formations in a detatched, objective, peaceful, absorbed way, but also allows the increasing ability to center oneself in this awareness in external situations. This can lead to great insight into the way thoughts, emotions, contexts, situations and relationships are assembled.


It is very difficult to describe this valuable state to people who have not experienced it. Between people who have, sayings such as “We are the Storyteller and not the story” and “We are the Music Makers, and We are the Dreamer of dreams”, make straightforward sense. We are not all sound and fury, the chaos of external manifestation.

But most people have not experienced this level of centeredness and so cannot imagine it. The psychosynthesis excersise of disidentification and centering may help. Once one has a slight personal knowledge of what is meant, it becomes easy then to explore it deeper.

Read the following and experiment with it. Introcept it, explore and test this outlook :

“I have a body, but I am more than my body. I am the one who is aware: the self, the center. My body is changing all the time. It may be rested or tired, active or inactive, old or young, but I remain the observer at the center of all my experience. I am aware of my body, but I am more than the body.”

“I have emotions, but I am more than my emotions. My emotions constantly change, angry, happy, sad, tender, empty, poetic, but I am not changing. I have emotions, and whilst they change, I am still here. I am more than emotions.”

“I have an intellect, but I am more than my intellect. My beliefs have changed over the years, but I remain the one who is aware. I have an intellect, but I am more than intellect.

“I affirm that I have a mind, but I am more than mind. I am not ruled by my ideas about life, I keep an open mind, open to new awarenesses even when they conflict with familiar long-held beliefs. My mind, my personality changes, but I am more than my personality.”

“I am pure awareness. I am the self.”

It is best to practice the dis-identification exercise in a peaceful place. It takes repetition for it to sink in.

Here is another exercise that may help. Although the witness state cannot be grasped or generated, because there is nothing to grasp or generate, it is simply beyond all forms and assemblages, practices that induce changes to the surface manifestations of consciousness can teach the relativity and constructed nature of our typical state of mind. Through disturbing the equilibrium of everyday consciousness we can gain insight into how that Witness exists beyond any particular state. The plant Sceletium Tortuosum, an empathogenic relaxant used by the African Hottentot people, can also aid the bringing forth of a mindful-watching state (sceletium must never be taken with MAOI, SSRI, or tryptophan). However these tools can be abandoned once they have enabled initial contact with this state of consciousness.

Do some physically demanding activity such as astanga, dancing, combat, cycling or jogging, have a quick, hot bath followed by cold shower, and lie down on the floor on ones back in an open position (ie legs parted, arms by the sides, palm up) without a pillow, in a place which is completely undisturbed and quiet.

Relax completely, letting all the muscles go limp. This is called the corpse posture. Relax completely, merge with the floor,

Breathe cyclically, softly, without any gaps between the in and out breath. A connected breath.

Let the mind flow where it wants, merely watch, merely feel. If anything uncomfortable emerges, keep breathing, keep watching, remain open, stay with the flow but do not become involved. let the mind flow without judgment, comment, interference.

Insight or vipassana or witness meditation enable the unconscious mind to be heard. This can trigger catharsis, the integration of dissociated and painful psychic material.

This integration can be painful. Often the pain of catharsis is caused by the ego trying to maintain its usual defensive boundaries and prevent an opening up to influx of content that it is forced to accomodate. Rigid muscles, irregular breathing, tense, rigid mental states are all indications of resistance to the emerging dimensions that threaten the ego””””””””s concept of seperateness. It is at this point that one must relinquish ego control by placing their trust in the wisdom of the body and mind, or faith in Nature. Opening up, being mentally open to healing and expansion, placing ones faith in the minds natural transcendent and healing functions, trusting in nature, accepting ones self and letting the energies flow where they will, and even letting the pain just be, accepting it, letting it follow its course, can be a useful attitude to cultivate.


The Witness state is not itself an experience, it is our essential awareness. It is hidden through over-attachment to perceptions and the contents of the mind. Rather than experiencing our perceptions and thoughts and emotions, instead we over-identify with them, we become them.

Although it is not an experience, familiarity with the Witness can be attained through experiences. Experiences in which we temporarily detatch from our identifications and attatchments and percieve ourselves as Pure Consciousness.

With practice, the receptive state becomes an aspect of ones traits. Its development increases patience, tolerance, receptivity, openness, calm, therapeutic and listening abilities. It allows one to become aware of, thus avoid the pitfalls of, common projection and transference phenomena. Developing this awareness creates a spaciousness and maneuverability within everyday situations that would otherwise seem dense, confusing and confining, allowing clarity within conventional actions and reactions, conditioned responses, and destructive defense mechanisms.

As one becomes centered, there is a feeling of stability. Even though ones internal and external environment is changing, one has become identified with a stable center.

The witness is the true mystery of human consciousness, because it is that consciousness itself. Throughout the experience of life, and even within the strange astral vistas opened up by altered states of consciousness, there is an awareness, of whatever may be occurring. It is the Witness, the Self.

Phenomenologically, in its deepest aspects, the Witness is the ultimate, self-aware reality, the timeless, primordial self existent before the creation of organic nervous systems, the planet, pre-solar system, pre-big-bang. It is a mercurial essence that comprehends, and simultaneously the light that shines outward this phenomenological world of space and time, without being separate from it. It is the center point from which everything emerges, and paradoxically, upon which everything is reflected, the solar light that reveals the dance of life on the changing earth.


0. Transpersonal adj. 1 Literature transcending the personal. 2 Psychol. (esp in psychotherapy) of or relating to the exploration of transcendental states of consciousness beyond personal identity.

Transpersonal research is the study of “…experiences in which the sense of identity or self extends beyond (trans) the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche, and cosmos.” (Walsh and Vaughan)

  1. Both psychosis and transcendence involve the everyday personality or ego becoming more connected with the personal and collective/numinous/imaginal unconscious. The victim of psychosis is overwhelmed by such experiences, and can be confused and persecuted by them, although with help they may learn to integrate them and reach a level of functioning far superior to the average state of normality. The mystic is able to integrate their connection to these numinous domains of psyche and turn them into a great source of light, insight and healing. Confusing the two states is known as the pre-trans fallacy, The paper A Review of Transpersonal Theory and Its Application to the Practice of Psychotherapy by Mark C. Kasprow, M.D. Bruce W. Scotton, M.D. (J Psychother Pract Res, 8:1, Winter 1999) contains an excellent summary of this issue.
  2. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. Abraham Maslow. Viking Press 1971. Pelican Books 1973.
  3. Psychological Health and the Experience of Transcendence. Noble, K. D. The Counseling Psychologist, 15:601-14, 1987.
  4. Peak Experiences : Some Empirical Tests. Wuthnow, R. J.Humanistic Psychology. 18:59-75. 1978.
  5. LSD Psychotherapy. Beyond the Brain. The Adventure of Self Discovery. The Cosmic Game. Stanislav Grof. Suny Press.
  6. Meditation and Consciousness : An Asian Approach to Mental Health. Goleman, D. American Journal of Psychotherapy. 30:41-54, 1976.
  7. Transpersonal Psychotherapy. Seymour Boorstein, M.D. American Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol. 54, No. 3, Summer 2000.
  8. The Use of Meditation In Psychotherapy : A Review of the Literature. Greg Bogart, M.A. American Journal of Psychotherapy, Vol. XLV, No. 3, July 1991
  9. A Review of Transpersonal Theory and Its Application to the Practice of Psychotherapy. Mark C. Kasprow, M.D. Bruce W. Scotton, M.D. J Psychother Pract Res, 8:1, Winter 1999

Further Kanna Reading