Bearing Witness

When someone is suffering, the most powerful thing we can do is bear witness. We bear witness by keeping our minds and hearts fully open; by letting go of what we think we know and can control; by allowing ourselves to feel and be vulnerable. Then we become truly present and available for God to use us as agents of love and healing. The natural action for us to take arises effortlessly out of listening with our entire being as if we were hearing everything for the first time. We take action not out of need or obligation but because our soul whispers the answer to the question echoing in the depth of our minds: What would love do?

Often, we must first begin by bearing witness to our own suffering–our emotional reactions to what we see, hear and feel. We come face to face with parts of ourselves we ordinarily ignore or suppress. The feelings we experience are intense. Can we let down our defenses and make room in our heart for our whole being? Are we willing to give up the comfort of certainty and security and step into the vast territory of the unknown?

Bearing witness is the opposite of denial. We are in denial when we believe there is something we have to protect. However, when we enter the present moment holding nothing back, we become truly liberated and therefore powerful. In that state of lucid awareness, we are and act from within the flow of love. There is nothing to fix or to solve but compassionate action arises as a natural response to the suffering we experience.

To bear witness is to discover our oneness with life in the most visceral sense. As Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, we care for the one who suffers in the same way we would care for our own hand if it had suddenly begun to bleed.