How Practicing Sakshi Got Me Through Hard Times
There are some phone calls no one wants to receive. I received mine on March 29, 2018, while driving home from teaching at Electric Soul Yoga in LA. My husband, Eric Paskel, was the muffled voice at the other end of the line. “I had a bad ski accident, and I’m in the hospital.” Even though my heart immediately sank, I recognized the need to be of service. And to do so, to engage in the practice of sakshi (witness). “Be the witness amidst challenge,” I told myself. I was calm until we hung up the phone.
Instead of completing my weekly staff meeting, I cried while my assistant held and consoled me. After 10 minutes, I put on my spiritual production hat. This was the moment when I focused on bringing my attention to the higher purpose in front of me. The prognosis was in: Eric had 10 broken ribs on his right side and two broken bones on his left hand. The next day, I was on a flight to meet up with Eric.
It was time to kick my yoga off the mat into full gear by applying the principle of being a sakshi, which is the Sanskrit word for witness. This is one of the most powerful teachings in Vedanta. According to my teacher, Swami Parthasarathy, a sakshi, a witness, is able to function in this world, but isn’t caught up in it. A sakshi stays detached but not aloof to the world’s ups and downs, ebbs and flows. A sakshi’s mind and intellect stay connected to the higher ideal of uniting with the true self while the body is functioning in the world.
In order to face this emergency, Eric and I had to be witnesses. We wanted to prevent ourselves from becoming entangled in all the emotions and fears, and focus on our respective duties. We didn’t consult each other about applying sakshi in advance. Our practice came into practice; we just both knew what needed to happen in order to move gracefully through this temporary situation.
The next part of the temporary situation involved setting up camp in a borrowed Park City, Utah, apartment, taking him to the emergency room three more times when his pain progressed, picking up medicine, taking medicine, going on food runs, getting more medicine, helping him sit up, helping him walk to the bathroom, helping him shower, helping him sit back down, making sure he did breathing exercises to prevent pneumonia or other complications. You get the point. To add to it, I had to do this while I had a shoulder injury. It should have slowed me down, but I wouldn’t let it.
We had to wait until his pain subsided enough so that we could fly home. When we were ready, I was the one who had to pack. If anyone knows Eric Paskel’s fashion, they would know he has an extensive ski wardrobe. We had two ski bags filled to the rim, one boot bag, two large suitcases, one yoga mat bag, one guitar case, Eric’s carry-on, my backpack, and my purse.
Our strength came from our daily practice. As part of this, one of the most important things we did every morning was study. Our Vedanta teachings were critical for maintaining perspective, balance, and keeping our sakshi strong.
In hard times, we don’t always see clearly amidst the clutter and fear, so we are usually being misguided. Cultivating the art of being the witness changes your perspective and allows you to receive clear guidance. When I am able to shift my mindset into one of cultivating sakshi, it allows me to show up and take care of someone. Without this technique, I would not have been able to summon the skill. Sakshi is a moment-by moment practice, done with repetition and awareness. I benefit from the art of sakshi so much that it is one of the principles and practices I explain in my book, The Yoga Mind: 52 Essential Principles of Yoga Philosophy to Deepen Your Practice.
Gratitude and Sakshi the Witness
I’m grateful that Eric’s body is still around to keep me warm and hold me, his mind is still around to make me laugh, and his intellect is around to teach me. But, it’s his spirit that I love and cherish. And his spirit is imperishable, immortal, and unchangeable, just like yours. This experience simply reminded me that no accident can break that.
Each one of us is here to serve: in good times and in bad. When you increase your capacity to be a sakshi and you’ll be able to handle all of life’s challenges—as well as life’s joys.
Related Story: Read about Rina Jakubowicz and her practice in LA.
Practice Sakshi: The Witness
One of the most powerful tools you can adopt from yoga philosophy is this tool of becoming a sakshi—a witness. Our days are spent in reaction to outside influences, which makes us deeply involved and attached to our surroundings. This is exhausting and stressful. Instead, when you can step away from a “personal” situation and observe it from the outside, there is nothing personal about it. We can then find resolution and act consciously.
Consider when you are in traffic: You hate is and react (overreact?) to everything (that person who just cut you off, maybe?). But when you watch traffic from a building, it doesn’t affect you at all. This is being a witness. Ideally, you could be in the traffic but see it as if you were in the building so it doesn’t affect you. You remove yourself from the situation emotionally in order to intellectually respond in the best possible way, so peace and harmony are cultivated instead of stress and suffering.
Practice reprinted from The Yoga Mind: 52 Essential Principles of Yoga Philosophy to Deepen Your Practice.