The Hanged Man and the Eternal Witness

The mystics of the world have used the “witness exercise” to move beyond body and mind to find the inner witness, which is the transcendent self. In this practice, we continuously return our awareness and our being to the part of ourselves that transcends our thoughts, feelings, body and ego. In tarot, The Hanged Man invites us into that practice. Often associated with surrender, self-sacrifice, and mystical awareness, the Hanged One is immersed in the water element, as indicated by its astrological rulership – the planet Neptune. In the Kabbalah as understood by Western Esotericism, this card is connected to the Hebrew letter Mem מ , which forms the word Mayim (waters, seas).

Ken Wilber, when describing the eternal Witness, uses watery language that I could not help seeing is a deeply rich descriptor of the Hanged Man:

“If you persist at such an exercise [the Witness Exercise”], the understanding contained in it will quicken and you might begin to notice fundamental changes in your sense of “self.” For example, you might begin intuiting a deep inward sense of freedom, lightness, release, stability. This source, this “center of the cyclone,” will retain its lucid stillness even amid the raging winds of anxiety and suffering that might swirl around its center. The discovery of this witnessing center is very much like diving from the calamitous waves on the surface of a stormy ocean to the quiet and secure depths of the bottom. At first you might not get more than a few feet beneath the agitated waves of emotion, but with persistence you may gain the ability to dive fathoms into the quiet depths of your soul, and laying outstretched at the bottom, gaze up in alert but detached fashion at the turmoil that once held you transfixed. […]

“You being to feel that what happens to your personal self—your wishes, hopes, desires, hurts—is not a matter of life-or-death seriousness, because there is within you a deeper and more basic self which is not touched by these peripheral fluctuations, these surface waves of grand commotion but feeble substance.”

May you find anchor in the inner Witness through the turbulent waters of life.