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Witness with Compassion

Irish Labour Party

Grounded in your heart, offer gentle observations free of judgement. With kindness and presence, place attention on what you notice happening, rather than your reaction to it.


Witnessing with Compassion means paying attention to what is happening in the room, from a relatively calm place inside. It involves watching, listening, awareness . . . taking in not only the words spoken and any visuals (whether explicitly part of a presentation or unconscious body language), but also the tone, emotions, and energy present. The pattern could apply to a facilitator noticing a speaker; a facilitator noticing those who are not presently speaking; or one part of the group paying attention to another part of the group, for example in a "fishbowl" format. The information received then helps guide decisions on what is needed next.

In order to successfully engage this pattern, one must be able to listen and watch without judgement. Of course interpretation, evaluation, and judgement are very important too, but if you are jumping into them too fast, then you lose the neutrality. A compassionate practitioner maintains curiosity and a consistent openness to new information. Noticing what's going on lets you know whether the proceedings are unfolding in a manner that fulfills the purpose of the gathering, or whether intervention is needed. If your attention is diffuse, this may be referred to as "attending to the field," whereas if your attention is focused in on one person speaking, it may simply be good listening.

When something happens that you have a personal charge about, say something that offends you, triggers an unpleasant memory from your past, or makes you feel uncomfortable, then it becomes difficult (or impossible) to simply Witness. Everyone has this happen sometimes! However, if it happens too frequently, then it will get in the way of serving as a facilitator or convenor. The most effective means for confronting this in yourself is probably a steady personal practice, as well as setting personal intention each time before a session begins.

If you are guiding a group in witnessing with compassion, and all or some of the group gets triggered and off-kilter, then acknowledging the emotions present is usually the first step toward returning to a state of non-judgemental compassion. The second step may be a simple reminder about distinguishing observation from interpretation or evaluation.

While staying calm is often useful, witnessing with compassion is not an appropriate response to every situation. If you are always in neutral mode, then you are missing an essential part of the human experience.


Standing in the Fire by Larry Dressler.
Focusing Institute
Any martial arts training.