A note from Erin:
“A spring wind blew my list of things to do away…. “ – Greg Brown
Yep, that happened yesterday. I’m a day late in sending this to you.
It was a good thing.
Nearly 70 degrees and sunny here, and spring fever won over my to do list. (That plus a cancellation from our sitter.) Now I’m sitting with the laptop on the sunny porch delighting in the finches at the feeder, the starlings pecking at the grass. I love this time of year.
This has become one of my favorite words.
It’s a made-up word with that extra H, coined by mentor and friend, Russell Delman. Can I tell you why I love it?
In many meditative and contemplative traditions, you’re encouraged to cultivate the “witness”, the aspect of consciousness that simply sees what is happening. We grow our ability to see thoughts and feelings that pass through our minds while we’re on the meditation cushion or the yoga mat, or we notice emotional reactivity arising in a conversation with a friend without being disoriented by it.
Having been intimate with many contemplative traditions over the past few decades, I’ve noticed that the witnessing capacity can tend to have a sense of icy coolness, as if we’re removed from the messiness of life, perceiving from a safe distance. We watch moments, but can remain untouched, unmoved. It can be helpful to grow that capacity, especially if we tend to get caught up and swept away by our thoughts, emotions, and circumstances. But withnessing takes it to another level. Witnessing steps back into life.
Imagine a friend in distress, sharing his sticky situation with you. Imagine you could sit there, as open as the sky, allowing him to talk without getting sucked in to the drama. Useful…..
But adding to our open, witnessing presence the ability to be as warm as the sun, to be noticing our own or another’s struggle, but also to BE WITH it, to be with them and with ourselves as we hold space is profoundly healing.
It is amazingly powerful to be WITHNESSED. Not just “I see you over there,” (whether we’re referring to our friend or our own inner life) but “I see you and I’m with you.” I LOVE that. Love love love it. Witnessing plus being with. Hallelujah. That shit works.
Witnessing is seeing but not being entangled. Allowing and noticing.
Being with while witnessing, or WITHNESSING, adds to that pure noticing the maintaining of a warm connection. “I’m with you!” I love that.
Here’s a recent example.
I’m sitting at a cafe with two dear friends at a small, round table. It’s 9:30am. On the marble tabletop sit our two lattes and a chai in sturdy brown ceramic cups, along with our journals and a charging phone. The wooshing sound of steaming milk and the smell of pastries fills the air.
One friend is a little disoriented this morning, on the verge of tears. She shares what’s emergent for her today – a new wave of grief for a challenging time in her past has come up, stopping her in her tracks. She feels stuck, confused. She shares the intimate details of how it’s living in her body, in her marriage, in her creative process, and how she doesn’t want to feel this way, and how she really wants the renewal at the end of this tunnel of grief without having to go through it – and how she knows that’s not possible.
She’s softened by the end of her telling and says, “I knew I could share this with you two because I knew you wouldn’t try to fix it.” We sit looking at one another, a hand on our own hearts, just being together, making room for it all.
The ordinary beauty and vast heart in this moment of sitting with these friends…
We take turns being wise, being a mess, being kind, being with. We withness and are withnessed. We are in it together.
I’m grateful to Russell for this wonderful word, withnessing.
We’re so very fortunate to have Salt Lake City included on Russell’s full international schedule. We hope you locals can join us! He’ll be giving a free/by donation talk at Avenues Yoga next Friday night, the 18th, and then a workshop on Saturday and Sunday. Details are below.
Wishing you the privilege of withnessing and being withnessed,