Before you jump right into this part, begin by reading the first and second installation of this series on the Tantric technique to prepare the mind for meditation, Antar Mouna.
In part 2, we explored the first stage of this practice, and now moving on to part 3, we will look at the second stage. Remember, it’s recommended that each stage is practiced for a minimum of 30 days, though it can be practiced as long as needed. For example, when I began this practice, while I was studying in southern India, I felt finished with the first stage in about a month, and then I practiced the second stage for over a year and a half before I felt ready to move on. So, take your time, pay attention, and honor your experience on this path.
STAGE 2: AWARENESS OF SPONTANEOUS THOUGHTS
Once we are ready to transition to stage two, we may become more drawn to observe our thoughts, or we may simply become less interested with the engagement of our senses outwardly. I felt ready to transition to stage two after a month of dedicated practice of stage one. It’s important to take your time. If we build a strong and stable foundation, we can continue the challenging and rewarding practice of self study. However, if we skip the proper cultivation and strengthening of the Witness, then further self exploration may become hindered due to a lack of skill, or due to the intensity of the experience.
The concept of spontaneous thoughts is quite amazing. Our conscious mind is not actively creating a thought, the thought appears to randomly pop up to the surface of the conscious mind. So what exactly is the source of this thought? The source is the subconscious mind. We have the same thoughts numerous (sometimes hundreds) times each day. I have heard references claiming that over 90% of the thoughts we have each day are the same thoughts we had yesterday. Wow. Certainly some of these thoughts are useful, but do you know what most of these thoughts are? Negative thought patterns of how we feel about ourselves, others, or our environment. So much energy is wasted in this realm of harmful thought patterns. In stage two we deliberately observe these spontaneous thoughts without trying to suppress them.
A big part of stage two is the cultivation of the Witness. The Witness observes the thoughts as if watching a movie, and watch the scenes change, one by one. We let go of labeling the scenes or thoughts as “good” or “bad”, and simply acknowledge the thought by repeating mentally “thought” or “thinking”. Some thoughts are particularly “sticky”, that is the thought is enticing, it calls us to entertain it and they are often weighted in some way such as with worry or fantasy. When these sticky thoughts surface, allow your Witness to acknowledge it with mentally saying “thought” or “thinking” and then use the power of your mind to resist engagement. We aren’t suppressing thoughts, we are watching them without interacting with them. Watch them float into conscious awareness and watch them float right out.
BENEFITS OF STAGE TWO:
- Liberation from mental conditioning. We are not our thoughts! Meaning, our True Self is not what’s happening in our mind. However, we can fall victim to allowing our mind to control our experience of reality. When we identify patterns of thought, we begin to observe who or what is behind the steering wheel of our vehicle in this lifetime. When we realize that some or much of the time, it is our patterns of thought, our ego, and our cravings or aversions that lead us into a state of reaction rather than conscious action, we have made it to the first step of reclaiming the steering wheel.
- Noted demonstration of the automatic thought processes, and the ability to reclaim and conserve mental energies. As I mentioned above, it takes a lot of energy to be continually cycling thoughts in the mind. This energy can be conserved and reserved for realizing the goals and aspirations we set for ourselves.
- Ease in letting go of thought suppression. By allowing thoughts to come and go freely, we begin to accept what we’re working with in this life, how we function, and lessen the pervasive self-judgement that accompanies attempts at thought suppression/rejection. This stage allows the mind to create the space necessary for the thoughts to dance around, moving at will, and without attachment.
- Aids in cultivation of equanimity by building up the Witness. With the cessation of labeling thoughts as “good” or “bad” we begin to find the state of equanimity. In one passage the Bhagavad Gita defines yoga as “equanimity”, using the Sanskrit work samatva, which literally means “sameness” or “evenness”. Equanimity is essential in the practice of yoga, because it allows us a tool of awareness that’s nonreactive. When we disempower a thought by changing an automatic labeling, we empower the Witness.