Welcome change!  Where would I be without you?  Well, think about it – I wouldn’t be alive, that’s for sure.  Yet looking in the mirror, I find myself wondering who this is looking back at me.   There is some part of me that must have expected that I would continue to look the same.  It would be the familiar face of me, the one I’ve become used to over my adult life, always.   Interesting that now I think back to adolescence, which was certainly a time for changes in my body and appearance.  But not the same as now.  I believe the difference then was the sense of excitement that accompanied what was happening.  Even if I wasn’t pleased with a particular change, the overall sense of it was looking forward to what was to come.  There were plans and goals and new experiences to be met.  Changes then may not always have been greeted with open arms, but the energy in them was about moving forward.  Why is it that, in the later years of life, what lies ahead can often feel more like sliding down a slippery slope than rising to meet challenges?

There seems to be more attachment at this point to what was.  And perhaps years of perfecting the voice of judgment within.  This voice is the one that is not liking what’s happening, wanting the body to stay the same, considering desperate measures or placing blame for what’s changed.  All as if these shifts in one’s body could be avoided.  

Where are our role models for growing old, for aching joints and sagging skin?  Even if a role model exists for us it isn’t his/her body that is the focus of inspiration.  It is more likely what he or she is accomplishing in spite of the physical body.  Maybe the bigger question is how to show up fully human with all that’s shifting and changing and be ok with that.  We are a culture that relies on reflection – not the inward kind but the mirrored image of who we think we should be.  It’s generally a full screen representation of who we want to be or the image we desire to project to others that drives the ability to accept changes in our bodies.

So how do we turn the mirror back on itself?  Would it even work?  Imagine a world without mirrors – where the only option to “see” oneself is in someone else’s eyes.  We might then have to accept a new level of vulnerability – the reality of being seen by another.  Mask – less.  It may seem more difficult than what we do now, but somehow I think not.    This could be a practice that leads us to the wonder of feeling connected to other human beings in a way that doesn’t easily happen now.  It might help us realize that we are all the same, we all change and that change has the capacity to reveal to us who we truly are.  How bad can that be?

It seems that none of us are born loving ourselves.  It even sounds odd to talk about an infant “loving” in our most familiar sense of the word.  What’s happening for him are sensations which might be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, what feels good or not, but hardly anything we would call love.  How does the feeling of loving oneself emerge or develop?

Suppose, just for a moment, that this is the purpose for each one of us in our lifetime, to come to feel unconditional love for ourselves.  How that happens can be a very convoluted route.  We first experience love in some way from people around us.  Mostly it would seem that what we learn is conditional – based on our behavior, how we look,  what we say or issues that have nothing even to do with us.   An infant growing up is left to interpret the signs, some of which may be subtle and some loud and obvious.  We don’t come knowing who we are, so we depend on these messages from those around us.  We internalize what is shown or said to us and, for the most part, come to believe this is who we are.

It’s true this may not be information that is new to you.  But, in the context of growing to love ourselves, how is it that we can come to learn that we are really okay and worthy of being accepted completely as we are?  Might it not be a matter of remembering a moment of wholeness – where there was no judgment, no sense of unsatisfactoriness.  All that is there is a fullness, an acceptance of however we are in that moment.  It’s a felt sensation that is independent of where we are, who we are with or what we are doing.  It’s simply a matter of being.

Mostly we consider that how we feel about ourselves depends on what’s happening, or what has happened or the possibility of what may happen.  All these considerations impinge on what we think of ourselves.  Interesting that so much effort can be spent on shoring up the bulwark around our own identity, trying to make it stronger or less impervious to outside influences.  It takes some remembering to get back to the whole and realize that nothing can touch or change the core of our being.  It’s not possible.

So, suppose you find a comfortable seat, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths in and out.  Now let yourself remember an earlier time when you experienced the sensation of loving and/or being loved.  See if you can set the story aside and focus on the feeling.  It needn’t be one of those BIG, LIFE CHANGING events; it might be a few moments when you felt ok inside, when there was the beginning of an inner smile happening for no particular reason.  After you’ve connected with that feeling, open your eyes and move to where you can see yourself in a mirror.  Look directly at the person there in front of you. Allow yourself to remember that inner smile and consider that, regardless of what may have happened since that earlier time, or what might happen in the future or even what thoughts and emotions are creeping in at this very moment, you are the same inside.  That inner smile, the feeling of loving yourself, is there, simply waiting to be remembered.

While this title seems a bit erudite and formal, the subject is intensely personal.  It’s personal in the sense that, in order to be a conscious witness for someone else, one first must be a conscious witness to oneself.  And tapping into this ability requires developing one’s own witness consciousness.  Okay, a bit of a word game happening here, but take a deep breath and allow yourself to appreciate how this might work.

First there must be something to witness in you.  This may be layers of thoughts, emotions, physical sensations or whatever is happening now for you even when you don’t know exactly what it is, when it’s not more than a felt sense in your body-mind.  Doesn’t it make sense that you would have to dive in and explore the inner caves of your self to see what’s there, so that at least you might be able to give it a name.  Naming is an important step in connecting to witness consciousness.  It needn’t be the “right” name as long as it is a name that gives some context to the feeling, thought or sensation.

All of us are familiar with the experience of noticing some irritation or disturbance just below the surface but not understanding where it’s coming from or what it’s really about.  So, it simmers, coming to a slow (or not so slow) boil, and then it’s out there in the world demanding to be seen, heard and felt.  These experiences seldom retire into the shadows and disappear – or, if they do, it’s with the intention to return at a later date – often bigger and stronger than before.

The process that allows us to name what is happening is witness consciousness.  This relatively simple act of stepping back and disengaging from what holds our attention also helps remove us from the center of the storm.  Our perspective becomes clearer.  Our awareness is focused on the issue at hand but isn’t attached to it.  We are able to appreciate the feelings, thoughts, sensations for what they are and for the fact that they are not the whole of who we are.  Then the shoulders relax and the tension in muscles dissipates, along with the sense of forward flung momentum that may also have been present.  What’s left is a clearer view of who we are, right here, right now.  From this new perspective, it can be so much easier to know what our next step needs to be.

How then to  apply this witness consciousness to the act of being a conscious witness for another person?  Perhaps the most visible way is to come from a place of knowing the truth of who you are, without attachment to your own thoughts, feelings, sensations.  In other words, show up with clear vision of what you have named for yourself so that it doesn’t create an agenda for what you might want to see or to happen for the other person.

The next time you are called to be authentically present for someone, bring awareness to your ability to say, “I can let go of wanting him to be like me or be different than he is.  I can be accepting of who he is right now.”  Then notice how it can be to offer appreciation and support as a conscious witness while standing in your own witness consciousness.