Mouna: Silence is a very important practice that helps in developing an understanding of the mind. It is through periods of inner silence that one becomes aware of the thought processes. The view that mouna is suppression is totally mistaken. It is said in Vedanta that an aspirant has to control the sensory organs externally and internally (dama and sama). The organ of speech is quite out of control; we keep on vomiting our mental states without any restraint. Mouna trains us to value quietness, and how to create a pause between mental reaction and speech. A lot of unpleasantness and useless karma can be avoided by keeping quiet!
Through the practice of mouna we can realize the value of silence, the language of the higher mind, and connect with that higher mind. The lower mind is composed of the impurities of the kleshas of attachment and mineness, while the higher mind is predominantly sattwic and has the light of discrimination (viveka). In our efforts we will always be aided by the higher mind, provided we know how to listen to it and communicate with it. The subconscious mind is also a part of the higher mind: Archimedes and Einstein received their insights from there! If there is a problem you cannot solve, do not worry over it, rather quietly file it away knowing that a solution exists and it will come later. Inevitably the answer comes, maybe the next morning.
The practice of mouna also gives an awareness of the value of the right choice of words. Firstly, we can change the words we use without awareness, such as expressions like I tend to get upset at things like this, I am not used to, I do not like, I cannot stand. When we use words like this, we are sounding the death knell for the mind. To come to the state of equanimity and mental cleanliness, one has to make a conscious effort to drop all statements of I qualified with a negative behavioural aspect. Just being careful of the choice of words is very significant progress.
Cultivation of positive qualities: The first point to remember in the drive for transformation of the mind is: do not fight or create conflict in the mind. The mental grooves formed over years of accumulation are deep, and the mind will gravitate towards them if you try to take them out of the groove suddenly. This is why the effort is to be made quietly and slowly. It is said in the Bhagavad Gita, shanai, shanai or slowly, slowly. Swami Niranjan gives us an appropriate example in this respect. If you decide to change your habit of getting up in the morning and make it earlier, do not suddenly change it from 7 am to 4 am. Instead, get up ten minutes earlier every day or every week until you reach your goal. Then the habit is changed quietly. Deeply ingrained habits are difficult to change and one has to start slowly.
The masters tell us that it is better to try to develop positive qualities rather than struggle to eradicate negative ones. We should aim to make our scale of positivity heavier than that of negativity, by adding on the positive side rather than removing from the negative.
Swami Sivananda gives the practice of the 18 ities, by urging us to cultivate positive qualities such as serenity, regularity, absence of vanity, simplicity, veracity, humility, etc. This practice increases sattwa, and can be done by practising one ity each month. The Yoga Sutras (1:33) tell us to practise the virtues of maitri (friendliness), karuna (compassion), mudita (gladness), upeksha (indifference), when faced with happiness, sorrow, virtue and evil respectively. Applying this teaching will take us through all human interactions in life without causing adverse mental reactions. When we see evil, the mental reaction is not to fight it but to ignore it. When we meet a virtuous person or a saint, we feel internally uplifted. This means that we connect with a sattwic vibration and ignore or disconnect from a tamasic one. In fact it is said that the mind is thereby cleaned (chitta prasadanam) (1:33). The Yoga Sutras also give the yamas and niyamas, which are another tool for cultivating positive qualities.
Spiritual diary: The process of imbibing positive qualities and eradicating negative ones can become a systematic process only when one maintains a spiritual diary. Unless one makes this a habit, it is virtually impossible to make much progress despite the best of intentions, because the mind creates illusions and gives excuses. Writing a diary every night is a practice of swadhyaya or self-study, and manana or contemplation. It can become a meditative process. A diary can include simple questions like: How many times did I speak roughly? How many times did I indulge in criticism? How many times did I speak nicely? These simple questions, asked and answered every day, are a very effective way to develop the ability of self-observation and sattwic qualities.
Antar mouna: The process of thought management and control is perfected through the practice of antar mouna (inner silence). Swami Satyananda has given us this systematic practice, which gives us the ability to observe thoughts and become aware of the laws of thought operation, e.g. the law of association. Ultimately it gives us the ability to weed out thoughts and become free of thoughts.
Mantra: If there is one cleaning agent or soap for the mind, it is mantra. Swami Sivananda says that while working out the program of life, we should have a background thought. The mind has to be trained to always return to this background thought after dealing with the sensory interference. Our background at present is a confused jumble of thoughts, and is not clean and clear. Whenever the mind is empty or unoccupied, it has to return to the background: the mantra. This can be a personal mantra, a universal mantra or even the mantra Om.
One-pointedness: The Yoga Sutras give us a very important tool for mind management in the practice of ekatattva abhyasa or being one-pointed (1:32). This is not referring to the practice of dharana (concentration), but one-pointedness as a lifestyle. It is simply trying to become one-pointed in work, in sadhana, when we are interacting, when we are eating, in all our activities. Many of us work with dissipated minds, with the workplace littered and trying to do many things at the same time. However, the mind does only one thing at a time, which we do notice because of the speed with which it works. We have to be one-pointed in all activities.
The mind can be managed only when we approach it as a friend. Suppression, or the attitude of a master, will only create conflict, while indulgence, or being a servant to the dictates of the mind, will take it out of control. We need to understand the mind and gently quieten and tame it. The spiritual aspirant is compared sometimes to a warrior, but Swami Niranjan says it is more useful and practical to have the attitude of a farmer. We can plant some flowers of sattwic qualities, remove a weed or two of attachments or negative qualities and water it with viveka and vairagya. In this way the garden of our mind can be transformed from being overgrown with weeds into a lovely well kept garden. Then the faculties of the higher mind, the birds and the bees, will come and transform that garden into a paradise!