Bearing witness may have come to be associated with courtroom drama, but it is, in fact, at the heart of all of our lives. I believe the term best describes how we turn our experience into wisdom and how we merge the inner world of perception with the outer world of conscious action. Let's take a closer look at these words:
Witness = noun 1. to see an event; 2. evidence or proof. verb: 1. see; 2. to give or serve as evidence; 3. openly profess one’s religious faith
Bear = verb: 1. to carry; to convey; to be called by (a name); 2. take responsibility for 3. To endure; 4. To give birth; 5, to turn in a specific direction
Hence, "bearing witness" transforms experience (witnessing) in the process of carrying, taking responsibility for, enduring, conveying, birthing and turning the experience in a specific direction.
Witnessing connotes an effort at accuracy. Although you can “bear false witness,” there has been a long tradition and heavy emphasis on bearing witness to the “truth.” This highlights the importance of accuracy in perception, even though we recognize that any view is only a slice of a greater reality, and that our observation will inevitably be distorted. I believe this is why so many mystical traditions encourage cleaning the windows of perception.
Accuracy of perception is a practice, an act of simply seeing, hearing, and sensing the world as it appears to us. “Bearing” witness goes beyond mere perception of something “out there.” It is an act of engagement, a “taking into oneself” of the world as it is perceived. To bear is to carry, to take responsibility for, and to convey. Bearing witness, on the first level, is the conveying of what has been perceived as accurately as possible. Accuracy is one principle. Another is usefulness. For instance, you can have a topographical map that shows varying elevation of a terrain. But it will not help you navigate a city streets. Ideally, you want to have perceptions that are accurate and useful.
But when we take an experience in and make it part of us, it goes through transformation. We cannot help but change what we embody because it becomes part of our own inner landscape. Bearing witness, on this second iteration, transforms experience into wisdom. We bear what we witness by a second, deeper reflection. We attempt to make sense of it while considering how it impacts us, what it means to us, to our lives, and to the world. This is a process of cultivation, of working the experience into something we can use in our lives. We then bring our understanding back out to others or to the world in some form of contribution. Cultivation and contribution turn the inner work of reflection into an outer product, service, or presence.
I discovered this process of transforming experience into wisdom in my own writing of poetry. I modeled out 5 steps from my own creative process: Presence -> Engagement -> Reflection ->Cultivation -> Contribution. Below is a more detailed description of each of these steps:
Transforming Experience Into Wisdom
Experience is lived in the moment through sensory connection to the world. All of our “past experience” and future imagined possibilities exist within us in the moment. The present is the bedrock of our experience and the source from which all true transformation starts and completes. Bringing yourself into the present is the first step in transforming experience into wisdom. This means being in your body, in the moment, seeing, hearing, and feeling the world around you. Presence requires a Mastery of State.
Presence is the bridge that connects one’s self to specific contexts. “Context” includes the external environment and all the things and events in that environment or an internal environment and all the pictures, sounds, and sensations within. Engagement directs attention to something in the immediate external or internal context. We engage with the world by focusing attention on something as opposed to letting our attention drift from one thing to another. Engagement is the Mastery of Attention.
Reflection has two meanings, and this method uses both meaning, The First Reflection is “mirroring” the context and objects of engagement. We see the wall hanging and take that image inside by representation. The founders of NLP said the we literally re-present the outer world to ourselves in our inner world. This mirroring overlaps into the second reflection as we imagine becoming the object; taking on its shape or function isn some way in an effort to understand it more deeply. We must hold the object of engagement in mind while we take it in and reflect on it. Reflection involves the Mastery of Focus.
Cultivation is a continuation of the Second Reflection, which is to think deeply about something. Once we have taken the context or aspect of context in, and perhaps embodied it by going other, we begin to “reflect" on it. We begin to consider its meaning and function, its purpose and uses; and other associations or memories it evokes. We may consider it as a metaphor or think of metaphors for it Cultivation often requires iterated repetition of the above sequence: presence —> engagement —> Reflection —> Cultivation. With cultivation, we are working what we have taken in to make sense of it or make use of it for ourselves, for others, or for life in some way. Cultivation is the Mastery of Contemplation.
The final step is the crafting, through cultivation, into an end product, service, or presence as an offering to others or to life. This is the culmination of “bearing witness” by conveying something out into the world, or taking responsibility for, caring for, or nurturing something in life. Too often, we use standards of perfection that keep the good we create from ever landing in life. And, since this is often the only thing others see or know about, it is the thing on which we are judged. So, we hold back from this last step without realizing it is not really an end. We can cycle back through the steps again and again, just as does life, updating and revising our "conclusions" into a never-ending story. Contribution is the Mastery of Completion.
© Nick LeForce
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