Tether and magnet: the method of dwelling on the ‘I’ sense

Note from Freddie: The author of this guest post is the friend who I quoted in an earlier article a few days ago. Here’s his answer to the first question that readers asked.

Welcome to all who read this. I should like firstly to thank Freddie for giving me the opportunity to speak to you and secondly, would ask you to bear in mind, whilst reading this, that what is written here comes not from the ego-I but rather the Self-I, the Self of all of us in truth, in the manner suggested by the earlier post.

Two queries are raised in that post. In this reply I shall deal with the first, regarding the method used to gain this state. If you still care to hear what I have to say after reading this, then I shall write again concerning the second query over the purification of the mind, a topic of utmost importance.

In order for what I have to say to be meaningful, I shall have to backtrack a little and say something of my relationship with my guru, Ramana Maharshi. I’ll try not to make it overlong and promise I will get to the point eventually.

I have never consciously sought a guru, either living or dead, and, in fact, firmly rejected the idea, on the basis that every human being must, by definition, come into this world with at least the potential of realising his or her own Self-nature without any outside help. However, soon after I came into the presence of Bhagavan — arriving at Sri Ramanasramam on a bus from Bangalore at around 3 am in the morning in January 1980 — I realised, from the changes that began to occur within myself, that He was my true guru and I needed to seek no further.

Fast forward two decades and I have returned to the UK after several years in India, married, cared for elderly parents, and helped bring up a step-child and two step-grandchildren. Most of my worldly responsibilities being now at an end, I have begun in 2004 to return to India again with my wife, after an absence of nearly 20 years.

In 2013, I think it was, I bought the book Conscious Immortality in the ashram bookstore, a book which plays an important role in the story I am about to tell. It had been out of print for many years and until then, I had not been aware of its existence. It is basically satsang notes compiled by Paul Brunton during his time with Sri Ramana, many of which coincide with the records made by Mungala S. Venkataramiah, the author of Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi. Although superficially similar, I found in Conscious Immortality what I would call a manual for enlightenment, with numerous practical hints and tips on spiritual practice. Much as I had admired Talks, a veritable modern Upanishad in its own way, I had never found in it the sense of immediacy of contact with Sri Ramana that I found in Conscious Immortality.

About a year ago, perhaps, I began to feel drawn to this book and I began to read a few pages every day, returning to the beginning and starting again each time I got to the end. There are two themes that dominate in this book. The first is that of the deep sleep state as a clue to the state of waking sleep, jagrat shushupti, sahaja samadhi, which is experienced in the state of realisation. The second theme was that concerning the paramount importance of dwelling on the ‘I’ sense in a very focused manner and resolutely turning the attention back there upon the arising of any thought. By comparison, little is said in this book about the enquiry ‘Who am I.’ Sri Ramana says in Conscious Immortality somewhere that realisation is a function of feeling rather than thought, which was a relief to me, because I had always felt frustration with the ‘Who am I’ enquiry, which always seemed to me to lead down an avenue of the mind straight into a brick wall, if I may use that analogy, leaving me with nowhere to go.

At this point I shall quote from Conscious Immortality:

The Self is like a powerful hidden magnet within us. It draws us gradually to itself, though we imagine we are going to it of our own accord. When we are near enough, it puts an end to our outer activities, makes us still, and then swallows up our own personal current, thus killing our personality. It overwhelms the intellect and floods the whole being. We think we are meditating upon it and developing towards it, whereas the truth is that we are as iron filings and it is the Atman-magnet that is pulling us towards itself. Thus the process of finding the Self is a form of Divine Magnetism.

It is necessary to practise meditation frequently and regularly until the condition induced becomes habitual and permanent throughout the day. Therefore meditate.

I assume here that by ‘meditate’ Sri Ramana is referring to the dwelling on the ‘I’ sense or current, mentioned earlier.

After the expulsion of name and form (nama-rupa) which compose the external world, and by dwelling on existence-knowledge-bliss (sat-chit-ananda) take care to prevent the entry into the mind of the expelled name and form.

Reading this and being certain that Sri Ramana’s words could not be other than the truth, I became convinced that a sure way to lose the ego, and thus, by default, gain the Self, would be to hold onto the ‘I’ sense with tenacity until such time as the Self ‘swallowed up’ this ego-mind, which was being coerced to cling onto it, and it merged with that Self.

Of course such ideas were not new to me after so many years of efforts in that direction which had failed. The problem was how to keep the ‘I’ awareness in the proximity of the Self without it wandering off, in order that this process outlined by Sri Ramana might occur. Thinking about this, I came to the conclusion that a good means for keeping the ‘I’ current within the vicinity of the Self current would be to identify a place in the body in or at which to anchor it, to tether it, as it were, so that when the mind wandered it could not travel far and could therefore easily be drawn back. I identified such a place in myself as the locus of the ‘I’ sense on the right side of the chest, just below the right breast. I found that by slightly exaggerating the breath and consciously breathing into and out of this place, I could keep the ‘tether’ tight, never allowing the mind to wander far. Gradually, over a period of several weeks, the process intensified to the point where my whole body was involved in it, a kind of burning vibration, as the ego-mind fought desperately to escape the growing power of the Self current and save itself from extinction. At some point the ego-I must have given up the struggle and got sucked into and annihilated in the Self, just as Sri Ramana had predicted it would, and I experienced the transformation of consciousness described in the earlier post. I didn’t notice it happen as such but rather noticed that it had happened very shortly after it did.

This is not the place to delve into the ramifications of the process described here but it seems fitting to end with a verse from Ozhivil Odukkam by Kannudaiya Vallalar, describing the condition of the disciple who has just realised the Self.

205. For them, all that has its root in desire has gone; the idea ‘I am That’ is no more; infused with the divine love in which there is neither knowing nor absence of knowledge, they dance the silent dance of blissful joy; they move about with the playful innocence of children.

Text copyright 2019 A Ramana Devotee

17 thoughts to “Tether and magnet: the method of dwelling on the ‘I’ sense”

  1. Thank you very much for this post. The method you followed is very interesting. This confirms (to me at least) that it’s less about the exact technique and more about intense desire for liberation. Even under the path of self enquiry, each seeker may have his own variation. And a few weeks are enough once this intense desire/effort is started/sustained.
    Please tell us more about​ mind purification.

    1. Yes, it’s not about the method really. You may say I ‘got to the end of my tether’, perhaps. Then only did it take a few weeks. But getting to that point can take a long time, as in my case. It may sound corny, but the Self has a plan for us and will arrange lovingly arrange everything for us at the right time.

      More on MP later.

  2. I once was granted a brief instance of being which I always associated with the ‘soul state’, or the Self: a state of being which I can best describe of being in a state of emptiness, bliss and silence. Is this also part of your current state?

    1. In this state emptiness, bliss and silence are ever present, even when perceiving and interacting with the world. The world appearance is like an image reflected in the mirror of the Self, whose nature is beyond even bliss, emptiness or silence. Bhagavan would describe the state you experienced as a sign of spiritual progress, certainly, but one to be rejected as not the final state. In addition, such states can lead to laya, the temporary suppression of the ego-mind, which will reassert itself in full vigour once that state is ended.

      1. Thank you for the clarification, very insightful and helpful. It was only a brief time (approximately 5 minutes) during which I experienced this state, and it hasn’t happened since. And you are right, the ego-mind fully reasserted itself after that!

  3. Thank you for writing this and giving me the privilege of publishing it. I think this article is a significant addition to the literature about how to do Self-enquiry, especially because of these three sentences:

    Thinking about this, I came to the conclusion that a good means for keeping the ‘I’ current within the vicinity of the Self current would be to identify a place in the body in or at which to anchor it, to tether it, as it were, so that when the mind wandered it could not travel far and could therefore easily be drawn back. I identified such a place in myself as the locus of the ‘I’ sense on the right side of the chest, just below the right breast. I found that by slightly exaggerating the breath and consciously breathing into and out of this place, I could keep the ‘tether’ tight, never allowing the mind to wander far.

    I wonder if it might be possible for you to describe some of this in more detail to help people do what you did.

    Also, I’ll cast my vote for another article about purifying the mind.

  4. Thank you for asking, Jelke. It was about ‘purifying the mind’ wasn’t it? Well, from this perspective, that is, the one in which the ego has been ‘swallowed up’ by, merged with the Self, simple Being, there is no mind, really. There is thought, which occurs naturally as part of the moment to moment manifestation of the Self’s activity. There is nothing impure about this flow of thought. The impurity only comes in when this flow is ‘hijacked’ by the sense of, the identification with, an individual ego. The Self does not want us to suffer this indignity and will do whatever it can to bring us to a realisation of our error. To an extent there are still seemingly negative thought movements, arising from the preconditioning created in the previously ego-identified state. I suppose what one calls ‘vasanas’. But they are harmless, now, as Ramana Maharshi says, like the ash remains of a burnt rope, still apparently intact. In the heat of the Self, they sort of bubble to the surface and burn off. Part of the prarabdha, past karma, that a given bodily incarnation must necessarily experience, whether realised or not. Rather than write an article, I would prefer to answer any question that you or anyone would like to raise. With love.

    1. Dear ‘Ramana Devotee’,
      Thank you again for spending your time on us!
      Actually, I am really curious about the method you used, which you describe as :
      ” Thinking about this, I came to the conclusion that a good means for keeping the ‘I’ current within the vicinity of the Self current would be to identify a place in the body in or at which to anchor it, to tether it, as it were, so that when the mind wandered it could not travel far and could therefore easily be drawn back. I identified such a place in myself as the locus of the ‘I’ sense on the right side of the chest, just below the right breast. I found that by slightly exaggerating the breath and consciously breathing into and out of this place, I could keep the ‘tether’ tight, never allowing the mind to wander far. ”
      If I read it quickly, it’s a process that is very similar to chakra breathing, which I practiced for 15 years or so without too much success (I did kriya yoga). That is: meditating on a place in the body, preferably a chakra, while also focussing on the breath. But I think the difference with your approach is that you primarily focus on the ‘I’ sense, while also being aware of it’s origin in the chest and your heavier breathing. Please correct me if I make wrong assumptions here.
      I am currently practicing the approach ‘Awareness watching Awareness’ as described by Michael Langford. I practice it as being aware of my everyday awareness or attention, or ‘I’ sense as you described it. Please correct me if I make a false assumption here. Even though I really like Langford’s book and ideas, I always felt something was missing. It’s really easy to get distracted if you only watch your awareness, or to remain aware. Intuitively I tried something like you, to watch my awareness in the chest region (and other places in or out of the body) building a Tether as you described it, but without the breathing. It’s easier to stay aware of the attention/awareness/’I’ sense like that because I can feel my attention/awareness/’I’ sense in the body or in the energy system around it. I haven’t tried it with the breathing yet, I will incorporate that in my routine as well and see if that will work. I hope I wasn’t rambling too much! Your insights have been really helpful.

      1. Dear Jelke

        You say, ‘But I think the difference with your approach is that you primarily focus on the ‘I’ sense, while also being aware of it’s origin in the chest and your heavier breathing.’

        I would put it more strongly and say that the origin in the chest, exaggerated breathing and so on are entirely secondary and only take on significance as aids that are useful in being able to remain merged with the ‘I’ sense.

        On the second point, I have to say that, in my experience, any attempt to ‘watch awareness’ is doomed ultimately to failure. In realisation you cannot be aware of awareness. Nor can you be aware. You can only be awareness or, rather, you can only be. The universe unfolds and is withdrawn as an appearance within that being, which we call the Self.

        Please do not accuse yourself of rambling. You are a serious seeker and fully entitled to express your thought process. With all best wishes.

  5. To what extent would you say purification of mind is necessary? Did you experience any progressive dissolution of the personality before this experience?

    1. To the first question I would say yes, but it is a difficult one. If one feels that one lacks purity and that this is barrier to progress and so on, then this can only create more obstacles. It stands in the way of the here and now quest to realise our true nature. The truth is that the mind will never be ‘pure’ in any true sense until it is free of the ego. One of the greatest barriers of all is to feel ‘I am not good enough, not pure enough to realise the Self.’ The ‘purity’, I would say, resides in the earnestness of the desire for liberation, the absolute determination in each succeeding moment to put past failures behind us, forgive ourselves for any failings and return to the task. The task being to steadfastly refuse to follow thoughts and bring the attention back to the simple sense of being.
      To the second question I would also say yes. Over the years moments of clarity, ‘light-bulb’ moments, as when you read a sentence by, say, Nisargadatta Maharaj and suddenly sink for a moment, alas, all too fleeting, into the bliss of the Self, pure being, become more frequent and the realisation that the ‘personality’ is an unwanted burden becomes stronger. But the moment of release is not like that. It is a once-for-all event, like an ripe apple falling from a tree, never to return.

      1. The way you have put it is pure gold. A very helpful and encouraging answer, thank you.
        It’s also interesting that you mentioned​ “here and now quest”, because a couple of days ago I realised that all the effort I was making was with the expectation of something happening in some future moment. Realized this is the nature of the mind. Been trying to readjust since.

        1. Yes, quite. The mind will try anything to prolong its existence. Be vigilant. Be determined, Nishant. You will not fail. Don’t try to readjust. Another mind trick. Just start anew, as if you were doing sadhana for the first time ever.

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