There’s Marvin Gaye, clean cut and polished for 1960’s television… “ Can I get a witness?” he sings, “can I get a witness?” he’s calling out for someone to stand up and vouch for him, to be on his side, to see the situation he is in clearly…
Years later and I’m part of an Authentic Movement* circle - witnessing the movers, observing their actions as they follow their movement impulses. I do not evaluate them I just notice the details of what they do and stay open and aware of my own responses. The simple act of being attended to allows the movers to explore their deepest impulses the non- judgemental, respectful gaze creates a safe space within which they can connect to their subconscious minds.
Just the other day I find some old video footage of my 14 month son- he is at home, just started standing, walking and busy exploring a low wooden stool with an old and heavy sewing machine safely stowed on top. The stool provides him with a ledge and he is intent on trying to step up onto it - there is nothing behind the machine, just white wall. The video captures the other adults in the room speculating about what he is trying to reach, eventually one person (patience and worry about potential accidents tested to the limit) comes over, picks him up and 'flies' him to the wall to let him touch it. My son isn't interested, he squirms and tries to get down. From behind the camera I can see why he squirms, he was practicing stepping up, the stool was just the right height for his foot but his difficulty was to shift his weight up onto the foot and lever his body up to the next level. He had found the perfect equipment to practice climbing on. The well meaning intervention had interrupted his learning.
Three things that say something about being seen - really seen, not judged, not evaluated but simply, respectfully seen for who we are and what we are occupied with. It is something we all want and it starts from birth.. this need to be acknowledged. Its a tricky issue for many of us even into adulthood - that feeling that we are not quite the person that our parents perceive us (or want us) to be.
In my parent and baby groups we work with witnessing in two ways. In focused playtime we observe our babies, noticing how they move, how they engage with their environment. This helps us develop our ability to understand their preoccupations, their needs and desires. And it is an important skill that can underpin our instinct to empathise and emotionally engage with our children. Movement is key to development it comes before language and the ability to read our babies movements enriches our relationship and deepens the connection between us.
We also practice our ability to witness ourselves, to give ourselves that moment of attention, of respect. We check into our physical and emotional sensations, acknowledge how we are feeling. We share our anxieties and our joys if we wish to. We notice our habits, the patterns of response that we have not consciously chosen and in seeing them we find the freedom to change them if we wish to. All this in 60 minutes… can I get a witness?
*more information on Authentic Movement