The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands
in moments of comfort and convenience,
but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.
The true neighbor will risk his position, his prestige,
and even his life for the welfare of others.
In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways,
he will lift some bruised and beaten brother to a higher and more noble life.
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
Most people react to life. We make plans and line everything up, so things will go exactly right… and BAM! Life happens.
It is frustrating when our plans go wrong. So, we make a joke and say something like, “Time for Plan B.” Plan B comes in handy sometimes, but life is not about Plan B. Life is about witnessing your life from the back of your eyes, instead of the front.
When we witness life from the front, we are fully invested in a specific thing happening, doing our best to control the outcome. “If I wear this blouse, he’ll notice me…. If I stay late and get this report done, I might get that raise…. If I throw the ball every day, I can make the All Stars.” Are we really controlling the outcomes? Have we ever?
If you think you are in control of your life, ask the sun to come up an hour later, so you can sleep in.
— Dr. Wayne Dyer
When we view life from the back of our eyes, as spectators, rather than manipulate, strategize, or force things, we observe what is happening from us. Before we can change our lives, or in our behaviors, we must be able to observe what and how our mind is thinking, believing, and rationalizing. To do that, we must look deep within ourselves. We must ask ourselves the questions. We must be a witness to ourselves.
How to Start Being a Witness to Yourself
- Track what is going on in your mind. What are your thoughts when something happens? Where did those thoughts come from? Ask yourself, “Why am I thinking this way? What prompted that thought? Do I believe that thought?”
- Track your behaviors and actions. What did you do before, after, and because of something happening? Ask yourself, “Why did I do that? Did I do that randomly, or on autopilot, or by clear intention? If I thought about it now, would I have done the same thing? Why, or why not?”
- Track your verbal responses and patterns. Ask yourself, “Why am I saying these things? What motivated me to say that? Do I have a pattern of these kinds of verbal responses?”
- Track your feelings associated with what is happening. Ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way? Does this feel familiar? Is there something deeper that I am not attending to, or feeling comfortable enough to express? Why?”
- Take responsibility for your emotional health.
Whether you react in a way you believe to be positive or negative, or whether you do not react at all, your emotional reaction is yours, and yours alone. Only you control how you feel. No one can make you react in a specific emotional manner, unless they are physically hurting you, or threatening to hurt you. Ask yourself, “Why am I reacting this way? Is this typical of me? When and/or where did I first start reacting like this?”
Your emotions are a product of you and your experiences, beliefs, and choices.
- Beliefs create feelings.
Feelings create emotion. Emotion creates action. Action creates habits. Study your emotions.
Know them. Change the roots of them and own them.
- Focus on what feels best to you or what you want to focus on and make a note of the other thoughts and areas that compete for your focus, to come back to them later.
You cannot think of two things at the same time and focus mentally, physically, and emotionally on both. Clear your mind and ask yourself, “What do I want to do, say, be, or experience in this moment?”
- Be present.
No matter where you are, be there. You cannot observe yourself if you are not presently connected mentally, emotionally, and energetically. When you walk, look at where you are, not down or off in the distance. You never know what you might miss. If you struggle with this, ask yourself: “Why am I not here? Why am I not listening or paying attention to where I am? Am I uncomfortable, afraid, bored, conflicted? Am I needing to be somewhere else or take care of something else that is more important? Why did I commit to being there instead of here?”
- Create a “Feeling and Thought Observation Journal.”
Understanding what you do and why you do it is difficult, especially if you continue to make excuses for your actions and words. Seek to know why you do not understand, by looking at the feeling associated with each of your behaviors. We attach your feelings that prompt you to behave in a way that to something that is subconsciously protecting you, blocking you, soothing you, or no longer serving you. Take a minute to reflect on the day. Ask yourself, “What happened? Where was I? Who was I with?”
- With each circumstance that comes to mind, write what you thought.
Why did you say or do something? Why did you feel that way? Recall the emotions that caused you to react or make the choices you did. Be honest.
After a brief time, you may notice patterns. Over time, you may realize something for the first time, or remember something you had forgotten.
Address your discoveries in small bites. Remember that it takes three weeks of doing something new for it to become a habit, either good or bad.
- Notice when you feel the need or desire to change—your mind, your belief, your behavior, your desire. Notice how you are feeling, what thoughts are new, what needs, and desires are propelling you to want to do something differently. Then follow that inspiration to make the change. Or, maybe you have already made a change, but you are realizing it after the fact, because you were not consciously aware at the time that you were changing.
- Congratulate yourself for making the change.
Or, notice when you think you must make a change, but are not making it.
Ask yourself, “Why am I not making that change? Why am I resisting?”
Write all your thoughts and feelings surrounding that topic and your responses, or lack of responses, in your journal.
- Become the observer of how well and how often you open yourself to receive.
Do you continually put out, give, extend, and spend your energy, time, resources, or knowledge outward or to others, but rarely allow yourself to receive?
Here is an exercise to help you to learn to be a witness to your life:
Fold a paper lengthwise into 3 sections.
In the first section, note how many times per day or week you have pleased, said yes, or given to others.
In the second section, note how many times you have pleased, said yes, and given to yourself.
In the third section, note how many times you have said yes to receiving from others.
This includes, compliments, money, gifts, time, food, kindness, help, praise, nurturing, services, products, ideas, contributions, work, support, listening, and caring for.
Compare the three sections. If you observe an imbalance, in any of the areas, think on that. Notice how that makes you feel and that perhaps you are not feeling as good as you can.
Be patient with yourself and your process, as if you are teaching a young child.
Connect with your inner guidance. Observe yourself. Listen. Feel. Write. Watch the cues. Do not put pressure or weight on yourself with limits, assessments, and judgments of yourself. Know that you are a work in progress. Sometimes, the only thing that is holding you back is a little more time, or the right time. Write, “I am a work in progress.”
Reward yourself as if you are both your teacher and your student, your parent, and your child.
Watch and celebrate each step in your progress and ability to witness each victory, great and small.
Create a Victory Journal, or a section in your Feelings and Thoughts Observations Journal where you note each of your victories and accomplishments.
Let your increasing awareness inspire you to continue.
The more aware you become, through witnessing yourself, the better you will start to feel on a day-to-day basis. The lifting of stress and suffering and the expanding happiness and light will be your ongoing reward.
Be a witness to your growth, evolution, awakening, and blossoming.
Look back at yourself, and in your journals of your thoughts, beliefs, behaviors, feelings, observations, and victories. Feel the difference from your earlier notes to your current notes. See how your feelings about yourself and about life have changed. Feel your goodness. Appreciate all the witnessing, writing questions, and self-discovery work you have done. Feel grateful for every bit.
Sometimes, through our witnessing, we realize that we just need a little more time, or information, or experience with it, or a little more dreaming, creating, or planning, to be ready. Realize these possibilities. Life will repeat the experiences we need, giving us endless opportunities to discover and awaken and change. We must not worry that we missed our chance or blew an opportunity. Every day brings fresh chances.
When we change, we can pay more attention, asking what we were ready for or needing to learn from the change. When we witness ourselves responding to the call to change, we stop the randomness, the tailspins, the sideswipes, and the bitterness from feeling as if life is out to get us.
Life is not meant to be a sprint.
— Joseph Binning
In being a witness to your life, you will notice your pace is slower. Slowing down to observe, notice, and feel allows you time to see things you once ignored, or viewed as less important. Minor miracles, like birds in flight, the blueness of the sky, and the vivid blossoming flowers catch our attention, because we are slowing down. To be a witness to ourselves, we must observe ourselves. The universe changes for one who studies and learns from there self. They notice the minor miracles all around them, the greatest of which is their own awakening to their own greatness.
The witness is your centering device, the awareness. It guides the work you do on yourself.
And you can cultivate that awareness in the garden of your being.