YOGA-PSYCHOLOGY: A TOOL TO KNOW ONESELF
Key points and Suggestions for Practice
There exists an enormous variety of meditation and yoga practices. These practices differ not only in the processes and the “techniques” they utilise, but also in the way they describe their ultimate objective. Unfortunately it is not possible to describe either the processes, or the ultimate aim of yoga and meditation in terms that are theory-independent. (Even to assert that yoga has an aim, is, for example, anathema to some schools of thought.) Terms like “The Absolute”, “Brahman”, “Purushottama”, “The Divine”, “Emptiness”, “Satori” stem from different theoretical traditions and they have meanings and connotations that differ considerably. For our present discussion we’ll assume, however, that they all point to a common “X”, to a “That” which in itself is ineffable — or rather anantaguṇa, of infinite quality – but which can be “realised” through a process that can be described as “changing the nature of one’s consciousness or the state of one’s being”.
To keep things simple we’ll use in the following discussion the word “yoga” in its most generic sense, for all human efforts to change our ordinary, ego-based state of being, into a conscious oneness with “The Divine” (or whatever else “That” may be called). And we’ll use the word “meditation”, in an equally generic sense for any practice that is intended exclusively to achieve the objects of yoga.
Yoga consists then of three stages:
2) The actual/specific meditation practice
3) The application of the processes used (or the results achieved) during meditation in one’s daily life.
In contrast to some forms of Zen-meditation, in which one tries to become fully aware of all sense-impressions, most Indian forms of meditation can be described as a progressive movement inwards. To achieve this, it helps to go through a four-step preparatory process, just prior to the actual meditation practice:
1) becoming aware of all parts of the body, noting where the body supports itself on the earth; sensing and then relaxing every muscle-tension;
2) becoming aware of the outer senses (e.g. smells, sounds, etc); first following them in detail, then letting them go;
3) becoming aware of one’s breathing;
4) becoming aware of one’s thoughts, feelings and other inner movements. It is generally considered helpful to take one’s time going through these stages, especially in the beginning. For the present workshop, we suggest using them only as a short preparatory relaxation that can be completed in a few minutes just before the actual meditation practice.
THE ACTUAL/ SPECIFIC MEDITATION PRACTICE
The meditation practices we discussed during the workshop were four, but there are many others:
1) Silencing the mind.
One way to shift from the ego to the Self, is to make the mind similar in nature to the Self, so that it becomes easier to shift one’s centre of identification out of the mind into the Self. The Self is in its very essence an all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, all-upholding, all-loving, all-beautiful, all-peaceful, all-blissful Silence. Silencing the mind, so that it becomes similar in its nature to the Self, is thus an effective method for shifting the centre of one’s consciousness from the mind to the Self, but perfecting any of the other qualities can be pursued as well. All these pursuits will, in the end lead to a permanent inner silence.
There are many ways to do this; we discussed:
a. Watching ones’ thoughts and other movements till they wither away.
Many people find it helpful to take distance from the inner processes by labelling them: “thinking”, “feeling”, “sensing” etc. The smaller the number of different labels the better, and one can reduce all to one single one, “passing event”.
When one gets, inadvertently, carried away by one of these thoughts or feelings, there are several ways to come back to one’s watching position.
i. Just noting the diversion and going back to watching.
ii. Tracing one’s steps backward, so one sees exactly how one got distracted
(This can teach one a lot about the structure of one’s subconscious, but it can easily become a diversion itself. As a consequence, it is not for everybody the quickest way to achieve silence.)
iii. Going back to watching one’s breath.
b. Actively throwing thoughts etc. out, the moment they are perceived.
(During meditation, thoughts are perceived by many as coming from without rather than as being produced inside oneself.)
c. Inviting silence to descend into one’s mind.
(Silence is here perceived as a pre-existing power, presence, atmosphere, stuff.)
d. Climbing into/ moving towards a pre-existing realm of silence.
(A disadvantage of this method is that one has afterwards to make a specific effort to bring that silence down into one’s own being.)
e. Find the “paper behind the letters” or “the silence in which sounds occur”
(Sub-varieties of this process are:
i. Looking “behind” or “through” the words, and listening “through the sounds” to the silence behind them
ii. Finding the little gaps between words, sounds or sentences, and then widening these gaps
f. Exaggerating one’s thoughts (or otherwise mocking them) till they “feel ashamed and wither away”. (This last possibility was introduced by one of the participants.)
2) Moving backward or inward and watching events as an uninvolved, pure witness.
This is in essence, the same movement as the first method of silencing the mind, but here the stress is not on silencing the mind, but only on the disentanglement of the Self (the puruṣa) from the activities of the prakṛti so that one becomes a pure witness (sākşi). (NB: Thoughts and all mental movements are considered to be part of Nature, prakṛti; they are not part of the Self but only look like that as long as one, mistakenly, identifies with them.)
Initially, one needs to limit oneself stubbornly and exclusively to becoming the witness, as one gets otherwise immediately sucked back into identification with one’s ego, with the “executive centre” of the little part of prakṛti one is accustomed to identify with. But once that separation is solidly and permanently established, one realises that there are actually three stages to this process of stepping back, of which becoming the witness is only the first:
a. Becoming the pure witness (sākşī)
b. Realising that one is also the sanctioner, the upholder (anumantṛ), of whatever happens in the little part of prakṛti that one holds to be one’s own.
c. Becoming the master (Ishwara) of the same.
3) Centring one’s consciousness in different locations in one’s subtle body.
In the ordinary waking consciousness, our consciousness is transparent to us: we are aware of the content, not of the container. One of the ways in which we can become aware of what it means to be conscious is to realise that it makes a difference from where we look at the world. When people need to think intently about something, they are asked to “use their head” and philosophers typically think that they live “a few inches behind the centre of their forehead”. When people need to be more generous, compassionate, loving, we suggest that they “open their heart”. For issues of power, ambition and survival, the proper centre is still lower, and the place where politicians and businessmen locate the origin of their “gut-feelings” tends to be somewhere between the navel and the pit of their stomach. The Indian tradition has studied this “anatomy of consciousness” in great detail, and describes it as a system of seven major and many smaller chakras, centres of consciousness, that are arranged one above the other in our subtle body, each with its specific functions and characteristics. One effective form of meditation consists of becoming aware of these centres, learning how to move freely between them at will, and opening, cleaning and harmonising them in the process.
4) Technique Using OM / Breathing / Silent chanting of SOHAM at 4 different levels of being + sounding Aaa aloud / Silent A-U-M
The entire procedure has three stages:
1. Chant OM * 3
2. Breathe deeply and focus on the passage of air at the nostrils till able to feel sensation and mind seems focused
3. Consciously locate your identity in your Navel Centre (manuipura chakra)
4. Chant SOHAM silently till you feel established at that Centre.
(If possible try to feel the essential Reality of your being – Its unlimited freedom – purity – light – at your navel centre as you chant SOHAM.)
5. Become aware of the ease / difficulty of locating yourself at this centre.
6. Once established, take a deep breath and then sound the letter ‘Aaaaa’ (you could spread your hands sideways while chanting Aaa if you feel like doing so)
7. Breathe in deeply after the Aaa while chanting SOHAM silently
8. Repeat 5 & 6 twice more.
9. Shift your locus of identity to your Heart Centre and repeat 4 to 8.
10. Shift your locus of identity to your Head Centre and repeat 4 to 8.
11. Shift your locus of identity to the Transcendental Centre of your identity and repeat 4 to 8.
12. Chant A-U-M silently at least 3 times (As you go from A to U to M imagine that you are gathering your whole being to a central point at whichever Centre you feel most comfortable)
13. Stay a few minutes in silence at that Centre
14. Close the practice by slowly doing palming to your eyes – gently caressing your face, neck, chest, …. the whole body all the way till your feet with a deep sense of gratitude to the instrument that silently sustains and supports us in all our endeavours.
Maintaining a Record of this practice the following points could be kept in mind:
1. Effect of OM
2. Ability to focus on nostril tip while breathing
3. Ease / Difficulty experienced in shifting identity at the different Centres of being
4. Observe potential causes for obstructions.
5. Listen to the sound of Aaa and note if free or constricted.