Seeing the Seer
Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness.
— Pantajali, Yoga Sutra 1.2
Richard Rosen’s exercise:
Close your eyes and notice whatever contents are pass through citta. Normally you identify with such contents and are unaware of the seer. Now step back from the contents. Can you identify with the seer? Try this exercise the next time you’re in a stressful situation. When you stop identifying with your thoughts and notice the seer, does it diffuse the stress?
When I sit to meditate, I find it useful to begin by observing the body: adjusting my posture, feeling into the weight and solidity, the ground underneath me, and then noting the sensations which present themselves. At this level, the relationship between these sensations and the witness or the seer seems rather clear cut: I can think with conviction, I am not these physical sensations. I am not the pain or the twitch or the itch.
Then I shift the focus of my attention to my breath. It’s as palpable as any other physical sensation or process, but a bit more subtle in the sense that breath will come whether I will it to or not, and yet my will or state of mind obviously alters it. Perhaps I decide that I’m going to practice a fourfold breath: four in, hold for four, four out, empty for four, repeat. Who decided all that again?
Now the breath seems to be regulated and the part of me that’s counting is running nicely on a background track. (Did I mention that my mind seems to be like an eight or sixteen track tape deck where different thought loops can run in parallel to one another?) Anyway, now that all that seems steady, I shift my awareness to the “content of consciousness”. I think the words I am not that. And then I become aware that that thought is itself a form of content. It seems that whatever the seer may be is not thinking about thought. And so releasing the thought, I attempt to just abide, to remain aware.
It seems strange to say “attempt”, and yet there does seem to be some kind of energy or effort involved. It’s as though the flows of consciousness have a kind of gravity and if there’s not enough energy present, one gets pulled in and only after awhile does one emerge and become aware that awareness had been lost.
In addition to energy, there seems to be a kind of poise that it is needed to stay in awareness. Too much excitement and the attention has galloped off into some kind self-identification with the fluctuations. Too much dullness and awareness goes dark until a nod of the head sends a jolt through the nervous system. But when there’s an energetic poise, which seems to be supported by physical poise, by mindful breathing, and by clear intent, there does seem to be, well… a sense of being closer to the eye of the storm. A sense that the swirl of sensation, feeling and thought is something other than what I am. A sense of well being.
I imagine that as pratyahara and dharana deepen and unfold into dhyana and samadhi, well… more will be revealed, and then I might be able to say something substantial about this seer. Or perhaps just a smile will be sufficient.