First, we can choose to approach suffering and the atrocities of this world by responding to hate with more hate and divisiveness within each other. (Or, we can respond to these situations through witness consciousness, which I’ll get to, below!).
Right now I have jarring emotional responses to two specific global issues that come to mind, which inhibit me from thinking with compassion when in conversation around these topics. These emotional responses towards global issues are the results of my own traumatic experiences. When I remember these situations I was in, I feel filled with a sense of rage towards the “other” in the experience that, in essence, stops me from seeing the conversation through the eyes of love.
At this point in the conversation, I usually explain (as calmly as I can) that I am being triggered by a rush of memories (and vengeance toward the “other”) and cannot think clearly. I do my best to steer clear of these conversations right now, as I work towards developing a sense of compassion towards the “other” in my story, so I can soon see these global issues through the eyes of compassion and love.
The second lens in which we can view suffering is through the vantage point of the soul, or witness consciousness.
I have learned through therapy that practicing “witness consciousness” is to metaphorically step back from the situation or mind chatter you’re having and simply bearing witness to what is going on in your mind. (Skip the next paragraph if you’re not feeling a cute-but-tangent-y story about squirrels that exemplifies this state…!)
For example, right now I am blessed to be sitting in my hammock that is suspended between two trees, swaying away in the wind and the waning sun. Over the past couple weeks, I am proud to say that I have been able to work through an irrational fear I have of chattery squirrels that like to climb down the trees (a little too close for comfort, I’d say!) and interrupt my peaceful moments. Not only are these demons (squirrels) loud, but they are so bold that they create a visceral response in my body that causes me to believe I must either run for the hills or prepare to fight the tiny dudes! AKA the fight-or-flight response was enacted when seeing them, causing an intense hatred (otherwise known as fear) of squirrels. Well one day I decided that instead of simply reacting to the situation and getting the hell out of there when I witnessed the tree guinea pig encroaching on my territory, I was going to allow my imagination to tell me what was causing the bodily responses of adrenaline and fear…and my mind went for it. What resulted was not a cognitive discourse but a visualization (delusion) of the squirrel lunging towards my face and absolutely demolishing me in my perfect little hammock. My body lurched forward towards jumping out of my hammock and evacuating the premise, but I held strong in my place this time. Next up in my mind’s eye, I was fighting the squirrel and throwing him off me. But then thousands appeared to back him. I fought valiantly (in my mind’s eye) but ended up being mauled to death by a thousand squirrels. In my oh-so-vivid imagination, no one came to help in the friendly park but instead stood by to watch with cameras and acorns to cheer them on in their deathly pursuits.
This may be a very MORBID visualization, but the ridiculousness of the delusion (my imagination) ironically allowed me to take back control over my mind. Every time a squirrel nears my territory I don’t suppress the fear – what you resist persists (Carl Jung) – but instead I dive into the fear head first. This grants me control over my mind, which used to go into fight-or-flight and cause adrenaline to shoot through my body. Now that I have fully experienced a deadly squirrel attack dozens of times in my mind’s eye, my body does not respond to the stimuli with little (if any) fear, and I am able to see the “dangerous” situation more clearly.
This is similar to when we are in conversations that remind us of past memories where we have been humiliated, embarrassed, or endangered. We, in experiencing the same fight-or-flight response to the memory, formulate opinions and perspectives that are based on the preservation of self, rather than through the witness consciousness that pervades all of my being.
To summarize my squirrel story on transcending fear and embodying witness consciousness, we must first look inwards before trusting our responses in conversations with triggering topics. This inner work allows us to truly understand what is causing the fear within us, as fear of death (as my story exemplifies) is known to be a large catalyst for what motivates people.
It is my goal as a human being living at this point in time to view both myself and the world through the lens of witness consciousness and through an integral perspective.
I strive to witness my reactions to environmental stimuli and not let them become my fear-based responses. However, in order to do this, I cannot avoid my fear-based responses and let them overwhelm my daily life. I must have the courage to dive into the fears and allow them to nurture me in my soul’s journey.
I am here to relinquish my anxiety-based projections of a dystopian future in favor of envisioning a loving, more nurturing humanity that will be birthed as a result of today’s suffering.