This is the second part of a series I’ve written on the Tantric practice of Inner Silence, or Antar Mouna. To begin with part one see:
This is a technique to prepare the mind for meditation, and has been the most helpful technique I have utilized in learning to train my mind. Before I began practicing Antar Mouna, I found sitting to be a challenge, which is not a unique experience for most of us! The technique of observing thoughts and sensations left me feeling out of balance and ungrounded, with little inspiration for the next sit. What Idiscovered, when I learned about Antar Mouna, is that I simply needed a little prep work before the observation stage, and voila! Observing suddenly became easier, which is a very good thing.
In both western and yoga psychology, there is an understanding of the part of the mind that is called the Witness Consciousness, or simply the Witness. In Sanskrit, the Witness is called Sakshi or Drashta. This is the part of the consciousness that is able to observe thoughts, feelings, and sensations, without reacting to them. Awareness and strengthening of the Witness is an essential part of a yoga practice, or any practice that provides guidance in self-study. When we are able to observe our experience of life, and of the moment, without going into an automatic reaction, we have cultivated the quality of equanimity, non-reactiveness and it is this ability that allows us freedom from the kleshas or conditioned behaviors and beliefs. Antar Mouna is a structured way of learning to hone this part of the already awake mind that is present in each of us.
STAGE 1: AWARENESS OF SENSE PERCEPTIONS
Remember that meditation is a state, not a technique. First we must build the competency necessary to find a one-pointed focus, dharana, which will lead us to the state of meditation, dhyana. I hear so often, “I can’t meditate because I can’t stop thinking!”. What a daunting task it is to attempt the complete cessation of thoughts. Before that happens, before we will find ourselves in a true state of meditative absorption, we must train our mind to focus on something. In this first stage of Antar Mouna, we engage a sense outwardly. For example, we may choose to focus on the sense of hearing, and simply listen. Listen to all of the sounds around us. Be specific with the act of listening. Listen to the sounds that are the closest, the sounds that are far away, the individual sounds, as well as the collective sound. With this stage, we are giving the mind something external to focus on, which is easier for most, at least initially, than focusing on something internal.
If the sense of sight is used, place an object (something inspirational such as a flower, a picture of a teacher, a mandala or yantra (yantra means “instrument” or “machine” and in the west is usually a geometric shape or symbol), at eye level height and foot or so in front of the sitting place. In using the sense of smell, incense can be burned, or simply smell the natural scents all around. If the sense of touch is engaged, appreciate the feeling of clothing resting the your skin, or the weight of the body on the earth, the sensation of wind as it blows. With the sense of taste, a flavorful tea can be taken before the practice, or observe the neutral taste in the mouth. Usually, one or a couple of senses will feel the most accessible and enjoyable to engage, go with one that’s interesting to work with. The same sense should be used throughout the entire duration of this stage.
BENEFITS OF STAGE 1:
- Heightened Sensory Perception. With refinement of the sense experience, we increase our ability to observe the more subtle components of our sensory perception and of our experience of reality.
- Awareness of Mental Conditioning. By engaging a sense intentionally, we begin to recognize the patterns of thoughts that arise once a familiar sense is interpreted. For example, we hear the post carrier deliver some mail and we feel: excited – “I wonder if my package has arrived?”, or we feel anxious – “Did I receive the letter of acceptance or denial?”.
To begin practicing stage one, take five or ten minutes to move through all five senses and then pick a sense to commit to using for this stage. Be as regular as possible with the time and location of your sitting practice, and for those that are new to a sitting practice, begin with 15 minutes. I recommend aiming for a 20-30 minute sit. Remember, this stage of awareness of sensory impressions can be practiced at any time. Take it off the cushion! It’s most important to do this practice consistently, so if on a given day, 15 minutes of practice is out of the question, take 5 minutes.
Now to embark on the 30 Day Challenge! Each stage takes a minimum of 30 days to complete, with no maximum time. I’m inviting everyone to begin practicing Antar Mouna, Stage One on Saturday September 22nd, the Equinox. Please comment on this article with any questions or sharing of personal experiences with Antar Mouna.
Information on Stage two is coming soon!