Sadhana 26

Sadhana means ‘practice’ in Sanskrit, the language that the oldest Yoga books were written in. It means an exercise that people can do to help get enlightened. Sadhana is to enlightenment what weight-lifting is to muscles.

Sorry, no, I don’t know where you can buy steroids for enlightenment.

The basic idea of the sadhana that I will describe on this page is to wait passively to see what pops up next in the mind.

This sadhana is different from the usual state because you’re not taking any interest in trying to make the next thought be one thing or another. Instead you allow it to be whatever it turns out to be.

If you become curious about the next thought — “I wonder what it will be?” — this sadhana can become entertaining. You will soon discover that you don’t have the foggiest idea what the next thought will be.

If you wait with a quiet mind, eventually something will pop up. It may be an image. It may be a song. It may be words or a memory or any sort of mental event. Whatever it is, don’t take any mental action. Don’t push it away. Don’t try to make it into something else. Just keep waiting to see what happens next.

There are at least two main ways to apply this technique. One way is to have a question in mind. “In mind” is misleading because you’re not thinking the question. But you begin the session with the intention of finding an answer, and then you let your mind be quiet and wait for something to come. I’ve used this approach to ask God questions and also to investigate friends’ health problems.

The other way is more pure. There is no question or intention on your part except that you’re keeping the attention turned toward the field in which mental phenomena appear. You simply wait while thoughts bubble up out of nowhere. The mind is empty and then suddenly, out of nowhere, a thought pops up that isn’t connected to anything you’ve thought recently. Sometimes a thought pops up that isn’t connected to anything you’ve thought in months.

When thoughts begin to rise up this way, it can be astonishing to see how unrelated they are to each other. Many people have concluded from this that all thoughts are always disconnected. I believe this is incorrect. In the usual state of mind, the lost-in-thoughts state, thoughts usually arise in a different, more complex way. They get generated by a mental process or entity which has intentions and which is trying to create emotional effects. This complex process is the primary one, the one that accounts for most thinking in most people. In this primary process, thoughts are connected to each other; in other words, there is something like a train of thought. But the primary mechanism is difficult to see because we’re lost in thought while it takes place. The “popping-up-out-of-nowhere” phenomenon is a secondary thought-generation mechanism that is easier for meditators to see because it happens in a state of mindfulness or intensified consciousness while the mind is relatively quiet. Mindfulness makes the primary process shut down while allowing the secondary process to continue. Hence many meditators have come to believe that the secondary mechanism is the only one. If you can catch sight of the primary mechanism at work, you will have gone a long way toward understanding the I-thought.

One of the benefits of this sadhana is that it helps teach us the difference between thinking and knowing. The things that are arising in the mind are thoughts. The you that is waiting to see them is knowing. I think we can regard this as a kind of viveka (discrimination).

Another benefit is that this sadhana interrupts the primary thought process that I mentioned a moment ago. Over time I think this helps weaken the machinery that puts us in the lost-in-thoughts state.

Say that again

I wrote this article twice. The first version was an email to a friend who asked how to get guidance. Then I rewrote the email for the blog.

I probably said it better in the email because my writing was more spontaneous and because it was directed toward a specific person. So here’s what I wrote in the email:

“Here’s what I suggest. Make your mind quiet and wait to see what materializes on its own. Don’t expect any particular thing. Just wait to see what materializes. If you want to start the session by asking, “What should I do about the relationship?” that’s okay but it’s not necessary, and after you ask don’t try to figure anything out. Just wait as passively and quietly as possible and see what pops into your mind.

“You see, the thing is, something will pop into your mind. Something will eventually always pop into your mind. So without giving it any help at all, wait and see what it is.

“Maybe it will be an image. Maybe it will be words. Maybe it will be a feeling. Something will arise. When it does, just wait passively and see what it turns into.

“It may begin as something very subtle. So subtle it isn’t anything yet. That’s okay. Wait and see what it develops into.

“If you can do this, I think you may be surprised at how easily guidance comes.”

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