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
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
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
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
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
ATTAINING THE WITNESS
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
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
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
DIMENSIONS OF THE WITNESS
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
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,
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