When one sits for meditation, millions of thoughts come as disturbances to the surface of the mind. We may try and suppress our thoughts and ultimately get so frustrated that we give up meditation. These thoughts are only the very first hindrances to good meditation. However, we can convert these thoughts from barriers to stepping stones.
Our thinking process is stimulated by desires; therefore, there will naturally be tension in our mind. The mind finds an outlet for all these petty desires as soon as you outwardly calm yourself, close your eyes and try to proceed in the practice of meditation. The mind opens all the hidden gates and windows and these desires come silently, expressing themselves in deep and involved thoughts. These thoughts were first inside your mind only in essence but they now take complicated shapes and forms which can astonish and even disgust us. The aspirant gets so involved in all his worries and desires that he even forgets he is practicing meditation. Afterwards when he recollects himself, he feels defeated and frustrated and decides it would be better to stay away from yoga and keep to his daily business.
This process of the unfolding of thoughts acts as a psychological purging. When we just sit down calm and quiet, no disturbing thoughts will come to our mind, but as soon as we resolve to sit for meditation, the purging starts and thoughts keep coming to our mind with fantastic speed and confusion. The solution to this difficulty is just a matter of patience and understanding. When you embark on something new you always have to start from the beginning, and so at first you must practice regular meditation with patience. When one suffers from constipation, he takes purgatives to relieve his constipation. The purging is a process towards health and is very necessary if one is to get better. Similarly, psychological purging is a process towards meditation and we must go through it if we are to be successful in meditation. Therefore, the thoughts that come during meditation should not be suppressed. They should be allowed to express themselves in a healthy and controlled way, just as a charioteer lets his horses run as fast as they can, but always keeps the reins tightly in his hands.
What happens when a thought is suppressed in meditation? For a few moments the thought will disappear, but then it will reappear with double force and power, and will occupy your mind with such cleverness that you will not even be aware of it at first. It is a temptation in meditation to suppress all thoughts of a negative or criminal nature, but this purging must be an expression of all our thoughts regardless of their nature. Only when this valuable part of meditation has been completed, can the nature and spontaneous unfoldment of the deeper layers of consciousness take place. This process of purging, where the sadhaka only has to be aware of his flow of thoughts, is called in yoga antar mouna or inner silence.
In this practice we treat our mind and thoughts like children in kindergarten. The aspirant sits down, closes his eyes and keeps his mind wide open; he does not think but allows the thoughts to play around freely and spontaneously, and he lets his mind be distracted by outer noises. However, he has to fulfil the role of a guardian; he has to be carefully aware of everything going on inside and outside. Above all, he must remember that he should not let his mind get involved with anything. He can allow his ears to listen to the different distractions, but his mind should remain uninvolved with them. The connection between the brain and the noise should be completely cut off. He listens to the sound, but he should forget about the object that has created the sound. He treats his thoughts in the same way. He should watch his thoughts very carefully and alertly, but he should not think about them or become involved in them. After some time the aspirant will enter into a semi-hypnotic state, a state where he will be able to listen to all the sounds and noises around him with such indifference that the objects that produce the sounds do not influence his brain. This is the first part of antar mouna practice, where one transcends the awareness of sound and external sensory perception. When the concentration has become more intense, the outflow and awareness of the inner thoughts will also become more intense. These thoughts should never be suppressed. The aspirant has to become a seer, a witness of what is going on inside his mind. He has to stand apart, but at the same time he must be aware of every single thought. Concentration and awareness of concentration will become deeper and deeper.
The practice is very important in yoga. It is especially designed for people who suffer from anxiety or neurosis and those who are unable to concentrate their minds, but in fact anyone will be benefited by antar mouna. People who have suppressed thoughts find they can take on forms and images which at times can be very frightening, but if they practice inner silence and allow their thoughts a free flow, remaining a constant witness to them, they can eliminate the root cause of their complex.
Our thoughts seem to exist in chains which do not necessarily corrugate or interrelate with one another. The thoughts are chained together, but the chain is not one; there are many chains, and every chain is cut off from the next by a space, blankness and vacuum. They are constantly interrupted like a movie with frequent intervals. The movie is suddenly cut for an interval of time, a period of ‘no thinking’. One must be aware of this interval between thoughts. As you are aware of the thoughts, so you must be aware of the ‘no thinking’ intervals. All throughout the practice, there must be awareness of ‘I am the witness’, ‘I am the seer’. As the connection from the ears and brain was cut in the preliminary stage, the mind must similarly be cut from the brain and heart, and remain a witness. There must be no emotional involvement, no identification with the thoughts. These thoughts, once they are expressed, are eliminated naturally and freely, so that eventually the mind becomes fit for meditation. Thus, when we practice this inner silence we close our eyes, relax ourselves in meditation, do not control any thought and do not dislike or hate any thought. We are not even particular about concentration or about the process of transcending empirical and objective consciousness. However, in the later stage we develop awareness of looking at the inner space of our consciousness, or chidakasha. Just as we watch films in the cinema hall and on television, in the same way we should witness the thoughts and visions being expressed by the mind.
Inner silence gives sound mental health because in this practice the impurities, complexes and hidden fears are eliminated from the mind. These hidden ideas in the mind that we do not like are the causes of our tensions, from which we constantly suffer and try to escape. When we relax the mind in antar mouna, these bands of tension are unfettered but first the disliked ideas come out. Once these bands of tension are eliminated, tension will not recur.
We are constantly trying to relieve our tension through some form of entertainment, diversion, or through sleep, but these provide only temporary relief; the only real cure is inner silence or meditation. Emotional complexes, repressions or tensions are the greatest disturbing factors of meditation. These emotional tensions are invisible and impossible to detect. Some people find meditation easy, whereas others will be unable to meditate. Why? If you analyse deeply you will find it was an emotional tension which was obstructing. When muscular and mental tensions are relaxed, the emotional tensions will manifest themselves, but when there exist muscular and mental tensions, emotional tension remains underground, suppressed. Only when there is relaxation all throughout the body and mind and when you have gone deep into meditation will the emotional tensions come up. We must prepare ourselves by improving our mental health through antar mouna.
Antar mouna is a part of the system of pratyahara or negation of the empirical consciousness. We try to go above sensory attachment so that the consciousness becomes free from pain. With this inner freedom, you can turn to concentration on the higher spiritual forces.
I have helped many people suffering from mental illnesses through yoga. For instances, a boy of eighteen who behaved like a four-year-old was brought to me and I kept him with me for some time. I taught him a few yoga exercises and then some pranayama, and through pranayama I developed in him a state of relaxation. When he was completely relaxed he would cry and shake his whole body. Gradually I taught him systems of meditation. During meditation he would express himself and the process of purging started. His psychological personality was dormant, inert and completely clogged up. How had it happened? In the case of this boy it had happened because he could not develop his psychological awareness, but meditation brought about a great change in the processes of his brain matter, in his nervous system and psychological awareness. After six months when he left, he was acting as a boy of twelve years, so now he was only six years behind. He could understand things better and his behaviour was developing naturally.
From this instance you can understand that meditation is not only a method of union with the higher intelligence, of cosmic, absolute awareness, but it can also be a panacea for mental illnesses. Those of you who have studied Freud’s system of psychoanalysis and also the yogic science where psychological symbols and images are brought to light in the depth of meditation, can understand how more sensitive, handy and easy this method of meditation is. In the current system of psychoanalysis, you become so hyper self-conscious that instead of getting rid of the present mental illness, you often develop another. In yoga this does not happen.
Yoga changes the pattern of your thinking and the way of reasoning about things that affect your life. It purges your karmas or powerful subconscious impressions which condition your thoughts and experiences, which have been with you for a very long time and compel you to act in certain ways. They lie at the very source of your behaviour. Even if you do not want to take to yoga for spiritual reasons, at least you should accept that yoga has potential as a panacea for our mental ills.
Inner silence should be practiced as a preliminary to meditation, or in its own right. Those who are suffering from neurosis or from insomnia and have a lot of anxieties and worries, should deal with these before embarking on meditation. Inner silence should be practiced in the early morning and at night. In the early morning, you can practice inner silence concerning your future plans and at night, practice it on spontaneous thought processes. Within a few weeks you will find yourself much better. You will become your own doctor and psychiatrist. You can become your own master, and the master of your mind. You will be able to control your whole system of thinking and thereby improve and modify your personality.
To practice antar mouna, close your eyes and relax yourself in any comfortable position, and keep your eyes closed until the practice is over. It is not meditation, but only a yogic relaxation technique, inducing psychic and mental relaxation. Relaxation is a suspension of activity. It does not matter if your mind is vacillating, dissipated or distracted. You keep yourself free from all conscious effort, and do not try to do anything. Just sit or lie quietly with eyes closed and remain relaxed. Whether the spinal cord is straight or bent or in which position you sit does not matter.
Then you start listening for external sounds, and you become aware of sensory perceptions, such as touch or smell. With your consciousness you search for auditory perception. If you hear a sound you let your mind go to it. You do not control your mind, or worry about thinking, or worry about disturbances. You are completely free, so there are no disturbances at all. You are a witness of all perceptions. You do not hate them or try to stop them, nor are you afraid of them. You let your mind go outside on to the main road among all the traffic. You repeat to yourself mentally “My mind is a witness of all the sounds going on around me and outside.” You do not bring your mind back from these attractions, but you remain a witness, you keep your mind free. Whenever you hear a sound spontaneously, it means your consciousness is attracted to it. You let it be attracted and follow it. In antar mouna there is no concentration, no meditation, you just let your consciousness move independently and freely. You do not chain it, but follow every form of perception that attracts your mind, and go with it as far as you can. You keep on searching for sense perceptions; you can find one anywhere, in any corner of the room or outside the room. However, you must remember that you are keeping your consciousness free to follow only sense perceptions: sound, touch, taste or smell.
You classify these perceptions mentally. You say to yourself “I am hearing a car, now a bird, now people talking and a door opening. I am smelling smoke.” In this way you become aware of all the sense perceptions and also their order. After some time, the mind will become free from sense perceptions and experiences. It will become quiet and undistracted by external goings on. Your faculty of awareness also becomes keener and is able to experience perceptions more precisely. Now the mind is free to be aware of internal thoughts, and now you pass on to the second practice of thought awareness. Antar mouna takes the mind to the state of pratyahara and spontaneous concentration and meditation.
—World Tour 1968, first published in Yoga from Shore to Shore