Over the past few years I have realized that self-observation is a tedious process. For most instances there is no magic involved. It is a painstakingly slow and repetitive endeavour. But if done constantly and with conviction it gradually brings about a whole new perspective to life. There is an innate sense of adventure involved in it. Self-observation has especially been useful when I try to practice mental silence.
Almost all spiritual practices demand a certain level of mental quietude as a pre-condition for undertaking any sort of serious spiritual practice. The often-quoted image is that the mind should be as a clear and placid pond wherein you can see accurately not only your reflection but also all that lies at its bottom. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj says,
“When the mind is kept away from its preoccupations, it becomes quiet. If you do not disturb this quiet and stay in it, you find that it is permeated with a light and a love you have never known; and yet you recognize it at once as your own nature. Once you have passed through this experience, you will never be the same man again; the unruly mind may break its peace and obliterate its vision; but it is bound to return, provided the effort is sustained; until the day when all the bonds are broken, delusions and attachments end and life becomes supremely concentrated in the present.” I am That, p. 294.
The best opportunity I get for practicing mental silence is during my morning walks. Though most often the Silence is nowhere to be found. I invariably start the walk by telling myself, “for the next 25 minutes I have nothing else to do except walk (that too in a no traffic zone). So let me try to be concentrated and silent.” Though my intentions are good in practice nothing about that walk remains silent!
There are clearly certain types of thoughts that I have observed in myself that prevent me from trying to become silent.
- The first one is a steady stream of mechanical thoughts that somehow have a life of their own and I have simply no control over them. They begin as soon as I start walking. So a typical stream would be like the following, “the sun is so hot; that’s the chemist; is Dr. N there? That dog didn’t come to me today; what is she wearing? He is running so fast; Oh, look at the colour of the sea,” etc. There is absolutely no connection between two consecutive thoughts. They simply emerge and then vanish. There is no rhyme or reason to them. No necessity, no meaning, no function. Of course the senses have a huge role to play in these particular types of thoughts. For example, every single day during my walk I see a group of friends sitting by the beach and invariably I end up counting whether the six of them are there or not. It is a completely futile exercise because I don’t know any of them or even care to know. But their habit of sitting together everyday has weirdly formed a habit in myself of counting them! So every single morning I find myself counting a set of strangers! These types of mechanical thoughts accompany me throughout the day. Every time I climb the stairs at home I count them. Any vehicle I see passing I note the registration number. These are completely useless thoughts that have become part of my life.
- The second type of thoughts that I have observed during my morning walks is the compulsive negative thoughts. These thoughts are repetitive too and I somehow cannot get rid of them. They are normally rooted in some negative experience I have had. So for example, I have nasty neighbours and they are always upto some mischief. I have an ugly argument with them the previous day. So today during my walk I will spend a huge amount of time playing on repeat mode the entire scenario that took place yesterday. I will dissect the entire conversation and figure out where and how I could have retorted in a better (or nastier) manner. How can I teach them a lesson? This completely useless exercise of re-living a past negative experience continues to create fear and anger in me. So even though the incident was over yesterday I continue to relive it in my thoughts. These types of thoughts are the most harmful.
- The third type of thoughts are the mind’s favourite ones. I often find them to be one-pointed, rational and focused. They always have a direction and require a certain amount of mental attentiveness. They usually involve one of the following types of pattern: planning, reasoning or contemplating. There is a definite problem or an issue that I want to solve and I consciously think about it. So for example, I can actively and deeply ponder over the notion of “dharma” or that I can clearly reason out a riddle or that I can plan my detailed itinerary for an upcoming trip. All these thoughts require concentration. So if during my walk I am busy with such type of thoughts then I am hardly aware of my surroundings and am not easily distracted by my senses.
- The last types of thoughts are my favourite. They are what I call “the not thought-out thoughts!” They appear all of a sudden by themselves and are generally deep and insightful. It is as if my mind is the receiver and not the creator of these thoughts. It only acts as an intermediary. A sudden clear recognition of a behaviour pattern I have, or an unexpected revelation on love, or a creation of a two-lined poetry, or a widening of a long-held, narrow and stubborn opinion — these kind of thoughts have the power to bring about a real change in me. They are always positive and they often allow me to experience a greater Truth or Reality. I have realized that they are the ones that actually help me grow as an individual.
Of course, given a choice I would actually love to experience a state of thoughtlessness! But as of now my morning walks are still a constant mixture of these different types of thoughts. The Silence that apparently resides in this Universe still hasn’t figured out its way in my tiny, noisy, confused head! 🙂