How to Practice Bearing Witness



Zen trainer Jules Shuzen Harris teaches us a three-step follow to attach with and serve those that are struggling. Illustrations by Carole Hénaff.

In occasions of doubt, disbelief, and insecurity, the follow of bearing witness might be an necessary facet of our consciousness and presence.

Bearing witness might be outlined as acknowledging that one thing exists or is true. From a Buddhist perspective, and particularly the Zen Peacemakers Order, to bear witness is to embrace each the enjoyment and the struggling we encounter. Slightly than merely observing the state of affairs, we develop into the state of affairs. We develop into intimate with no matter it’s—starvation, poverty, discrimination, illness, or dying.

Bearing witness invokes a way of interconnectedness, a direct realization of the wholeness of life.

Once we analyze and choose a state of affairs, we usually come to it with all of our concepts and ordinary beliefs. We’re solely capable of see it by the lens of our conditioned pondering. However after we shift to the follow of bearing witness, we droop our analytical pondering and transfer to a spot of open consciousness. This enables the witnessing presence to develop into one with no matter state of affairs we encounter.

To bear witness, we have to put aside the deal with our personal reactions and enter a spot of stillness and receptivity. Bearing witness on the planet, we’re cultivating the identical floor of open coronary heart and thoughts that we follow in our meditation.

This brings us to the query, “What’s the good thing about bearing witness follow?”

Psychologically, it allows us to attach with a spot of actual empathy. It additionally offers a form of catharsis, a launch from our emotional reactions of pity, disgrace, or worry.

Spiritually, bearing witness invokes a way of interconnectedness, of oneness, a direct realization of the wholeness of life.

Politically and socially, it allows us to see clearly your complete net of causes and situations that create struggling, and to take efficient motion to enhance individuals’s lives.

Here’s a three-step follow of bearing witness that you are able to do:

1. Determine Who Wants You

First, establish an individual or a gaggle who’s disenfranchised or who’s struggling. Their state of affairs is likely to be one thing acquainted to us, related to one thing we ourselves have skilled, or it might be one thing completely unfamiliar to us, bringing a brand new edge to our consciousness and understanding.

2. Be There and Be Empty

Second, spend significant time with them. It is a time to let go of what we got here with, and be taught and pay attention. You may do a road retreat with the homeless. You may volunteer at a drug rehab clinic, take part in jail outreach work, or present help to sufferers and/or households in a hospice middle. You would participate within the voluntary providers provided to veterans by the VA program.

Central to this step is coming from a spot of vacancy, approaching it with willingness to develop into actually intimate with one other’s expertise. Bearing witness requires a form of psychological and bodily give up to the state of affairs to permit it to completely enter into your consciousness.

3. Serve the State of affairs

After a while, ask your self, “How can I most acknowledge individuals’s plight?” If they’re hungry, do I serve them a meal or do I give you a means of serving to them to feed and shelter themselves? I’d say sure, you need to do each. To bear witness is to embrace and acknowledge the entire state of affairs. On a private degree, you feed them. On a systemic degree, you interact the system.

If there was ever a time after we wanted to bear witness, it’s now.

There are various ways in which witnessing can develop into an energetic expression of our consciousness and our empathy. Proper the place we dwell, the town council, the mayor’s workplace, governors, or legislative meeting might be introduced into this recognition of what’s calling out for consideration. On the federal degree, your congressional consultant or federal businesses might be held accountable to their duties. Our private witness contains supporting organizations which can be pushing for laws and insurance policies that tackle human struggling and that promote peace and justice.

In a cultural anthropology class I took years in the past, I realized concerning the notion of cultural upkeep, which describes how a tradition, as a system, defends itself even when it means disguising the reality or absorbing what that tradition perceives as threats. Bearing witness is a radical act—it’s a means of shining a light-weight on the reality and standing steadfastly in that gentle.

The follow of bearing witness is just not simple, but when there was ever a time after we wanted to bear witness, it’s now. Gone are the times when it was sufficient to march within the streets to result in social change. Every of us is named upon to maneuver past our personal fastened views and open our eyes to penetrate to the true actuality of the world as it’s.


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