In crime dramas we see witnesses step forward to tell the story of what happened. They give an account to the police, and describe who did what wearing which hoodie.
In transpersonal art therapy we try to develop the inner witness. A little bit like the witness at a crime scene, the inner witness state is a mild, calm observer, who notices all that happens, the ‘good’, the ‘bad’ the mundane, the meaning laden. It does not jump to react, or fix, chase, or punish, it is the part that just quietly observes.
Specifically, the witness is that part of ourselves that observes ourselves reacting, doing, feeling, thinking. It watches calmly saying ‘oh look at that, I’m angry today. I wonder why that is?’ Or it notices ‘hmm, I seem to be operating in a pattern this week. I notice that.’
What makes the witness different to other parts of ourselves that might also observe is that it does so without judgement or self reproach. So if the narrative in our heads is slipping towards ‘oh gee, look what I did. Again! Why do I always do that, I’m such an idiot’ then we are probably hearing our inner harsh school teacher or angry parent rather than our inner witness.
To take it back to the crime scene analogy, the inner witness is almost like the part of ourself that floats above the happenings down at street level, or maybe saw all the action happening while it was nice and safe peering through the curtains of the front window. It is neither the criminal, nor the victim, neither the force of justice and judgement wearing a police uniform, nor is it the traumatised observer or angry shopkeeper. The inner witness is more like a shaggy calm old dog sitting further down the street watching the action unfold thinking ‘oh, what’s all this that’s going on? Interesting’.