Practical Gains from Esoteric Practices

by Judith Wermuth-Atkinson

I suppose that all of us who took the path of learning meditation have struggled, more or less, with the ability to repel unwanted thoughts that pop up in our mind in the midst of reciting a mantra or even in deep meditation.

Recently I went through a period of time when I was almost completely isolated - alone in my home in the countryside. I was in a place where I had to drive even in order to do grocery shopping or anything else.

However, I did not want to drive, because I was fasting and I was not sure if I was not a bit lightheaded. It seemed to be the perfect time to practice silence time as well. The experience I had made me see clearly something I knew about only in theory.

Speech and thought have not only a powerful connection, a fact obvious to all. They are in fact interdependent and affect each other in ways we do not pay attention to in our daily life. In our daily life we are drowning in speech – not only speech we produce or perceive willingly. We are drowning in random, imposed, unwanted, and uncontrolled speech, which we may not even want to listen to, but which nevertheless is inevitably processed in our mind. The speech that our mind has to deal with on a daily basis does not always sound like a conversation or lecture that is focused on certain points and is controlled by certain speakers. During much of our day speech may come from random sources such as the radio or the TV, from overhearing the speech of our colleagues or of passers-by. It may not always include whole sentences but just snippets from commercials, the news, words of a salesperson, or the argument of friends.

Imagine that your mind has to process a sound image like this:

“Boko Haram has taken responsibility… of Tyson stopping the use of antibiotics as regular supplement … in the third movement of Mozart’s fifth piano concerto …aluminum is more durable than… Forty six Dollars and ninety nine cents… for his lunch meeting with the president… of killing Mr. Gray… just order pizza for…see you later…”

This is the kind of a speech stream that we have to deal with in a large part of our waking life, in addition to the speech perceptions we control consciously.  

Let us say that at 5:00 p.m. we want to sit down, do pranayama, and then begin our meditation. Our mind keeps resonating the impressions of the day – like the beautiful body of a violin or a cello, on which we have just played a piece of music. Gradually, our training in pranayama will calm the mind down. If we have a mantra and we meditate on it or recite it, it will cause the mind to focus on it and, thus, eliminate the “side effect” of thinking. The mantra, of course, will do a lot more than that. It will transform our vibration and our state of mind; it will connect us with our teacher and perhaps with other teachers from the lineage too. On the deepest level, it will connect us with the Self. But before we can have these profound experiences, a short, uncontrolled and unwanted snippet of a thought will often sneak into our mind and, along with the sound of our mantra, we will think “Boko Haram…Forty six dollars…” or something like that. In his book Mantras Swami Vedi tells us that we should not fight those mini attacks on our meditative state. If we did, we would engage with the partial thoughts and give them full bodies or make them the reality of our mind. Following this advice, I realized that there is another way to avoid the unwanted disturbance – by practicing silence. Before we could even begin to understand the esoteric meaning of silence, we could experience its tangible effect on our meditation practice. If every now and then for a while we stop producing and perceiving speech, our mind, the resonator for our entire daily environment, will become as still as our body should become when we sit in meditation. It will be cleansed the way the organism is cleansed during fast. Then, we will be able to rely on more control over the process of thinking or the process of meditating.

Usually, the thoughts that “disturb” our meditation practice do not result from a “stream of consciousness,” as understood in literature (e.g. Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, etc.) or in psychology (as in William James, who coined that term). In psychology, the concept emphasizes the fact that conscious mind consists of a natural flow of thoughts. In a literary narrative the “stream of consciousness” is artistically controlled by the author. During meditation, however, we do not seem to be dealing with a full range of completed thoughts that “stream” into our mind. We are disturbed by words, ideas, images or phrases that are not only uncontrolled but seem to be random and chaotic bits of broken thoughts. Our mind then does not sound like a novel by Virginia Woolf. It sounds more like the gibberish of a chatterbox who cannot stop talking. On the way to a mystical experience during meditation, we may first want to become the authors of our minds. For that purpose, we cannot simply cut and paste the daily headlines into our brains. The stream of thoughts naturally produced in our own minds is more than enough for us to deal with. But every now and then, we have to stop the stream of speech coming from outside. We have to stop perceiving both well-ordered thoughts and broken bits. There has to be a time when we neither manifest our own thoughts to the outside nor absorb the stream coming from the outside. In other words, there have to be regular times of silence – as a very practical step toward learning how to meditate.



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