Meditate to Develop the Witness Consciousness

The aspect of ourselves known as "the witness" simply observes thoughts, perceptions, images and sensations -- like reflections appearing in a mirror.

Here's a technique that will support you in accessing and stabilizing the Witness Consciousness: that part of you which is able simply to observe thoughts, perceptions and internal images as they arise and dissolve, without getting wrapped up or "caught" in them. Be open to the possibility that this aspect of your Self -- the Witness or Perceiver or Knower of the thoughts, images, sensations and perceptions -- is Universal, rather than personal, i.e. that it is what in Taoism we refer to as the "Mind of Tao."

For a more extended introduction to Witness Consciousness, I recommend this talk by Ira Schepetin.

How to Tune Into Witness Consciousness

Time Required: 15 - 30 minutes, or longer if you like

Here's How:

  1. Sit upright -- either in a chair or on a meditation cushion -- with your skull balancing happily right on top of your spine. Place your hands palms-down on your thighs, or else rest the fingers of one hand in the upturned palm of the other, with the tips of your thumbs lightly touching. Let your eyes close, and turn your eyeballs slightly downward.
  2. Take a couple of deep, slow and pleasantly-soft breaths. As you inhale, notice a rising in your abdomen. As you exhale, notice your abdomen relaxing back into its neutral position. Repeat this six or seven times, and with each exhale, release any unnecessary tension in your face, neck, throat or shoulders. Smile gently.
  3. Now, turn your attention inward, to begin noticing the contents of your mind: the internal chattering, or mental dialogue, as well as the images flashing across that internal screen.
  4. In this practice, we're simply going to name the thoughts arising as "thinking" and the images arising as "image." The spaces between thoughts and images - when neither is present - we're going to label as "rest."
  5. So every five or ten seconds, simply name (silently, to yourself) what's happening in your mind. If what is arising are thoughts or internal dialogue, simply say "thinking." If what is arising is an image (e.g. an internal picture of, say, the friend you had lunch with yesterday), simply say "image." If there are no thoughts or images arising, simply say "rest."
  6. As you label the thoughts and images, maintain the attitude of a detached but also kind observer, almost as though you were saying: "hello, thoughts" or "hello images" in a friendly and relaxed way. Make no attempt to change the thoughts or images in any way. Simply observe and label them. On their own, they will arise, have a certain duration, and then dissolve.
  7. Over the course of, say, one minute of this practice, your labeling might be something like this: "thinking" ... "rest" ... "thinking" ... "image" ... "thinking" ... "rest" ... "rest" ... "thinking" ... "image" (It will of course be different for each person, and will change from day to day, as you practice.)
  8. Notice this part of your self that is observing and labeling the thinking and images. This is called the Witness Consciousness -- and is the aspect of awareness that remains forever untouched by its contents - by the thoughts and images arising within it. A traditional metaphor for this witnessing awareness is that it is similar to the deepest part of an ocean - which remains calm, still & silent, even if at its surface, waves (of thinking, emotion, or sensation) are raging. Another traditional metaphor for the Witness is that it is like the smooth surface of a mirror, upon which thoughts, internal images, perceptions and sensations appear, like reflections appearing within the mirror. Ask yourself: does this Witnessing Consciousness share the limits of the phenomena that it perceives?
  9. When you're ready to end the practice, take another couple of deep, slow, breaths, with your abdomen rising with the inhalation and relaxing back with the exhalation. Notice how you feel, and then slowly open your eyes.


  1. If your mind wanders, no problem - simply come back to the practice.
  2. If you're feeling stressed out during your day, taking even a minute or two to do this practice, is a great way to access a place of internal ease and spaciousness.

What You Need:

  • A precious human bodymind.
  • A quiet place to practice (indoors is best).
  • Optional but highly recommended:  Meditation Now - A Beginner's Guide by Elizabeth (your Taoism guide). This book offers step-by-step guidance in a number of Inner Alchemy practices (e.g. the Inner Smile) along with more general meditation instruction. It's common thread is the cultivation of Witness Consciousness -- so if you enjoyed this practice, the book will be an excellent resource.

 Of Related Interest

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Your Citation
Reninger, Elizabeth. "Meditate to Develop the Witness Consciousness." Learn Religions, Aug. 26, 2020, Reninger, Elizabeth. (2020, August 26). Meditate to Develop the Witness Consciousness. Retrieved from Reninger, Elizabeth. "Meditate to Develop the Witness Consciousness." Learn Religions. (accessed May 30, 2023).