The basic idea
This technique is intended to make you more conscious of your vasanas in order to help them dissolve.
Set your phone (mobile) or digital watch so it beeps or vibrates unexpectedly at random times. Each time it goes off, notice what you had just been thinking. Optionally, you can write the thoughts down and examine the written list later to find patterns. The goal is to become conscious of repeated, compulsive patterns of thought.
I’ve never tried this. The idea just occurred to me.
More about it
Academic psychologists have done quite a bit of research on the mind’s tendency to daydream and wander. There are many dozens of papers on this subject in psychology journals dating back to the 1960s.
Some of this literature is interesting from a spiritual point of view because it is, I think, an attempt to study vasanas, mindfulness, monkey mind, and being lost in thought. The authors rarely use the kind of traditional spiritual terms that I wrote in the previous sentence, but this is a case of “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
I just skimmed through some of this research looking for information that might be of use to spiritual seekers, and I stumbled across something that gave me an idea for a sadhana that might be a big help for destroying vasanas.
The idea was provoked by a study done by Eric Klinger and W. Miles Cox in the 1980s called Dimensions of Thought Flow in Everyday Life.
In this study, people carried beepers that went off unexpectedly at various times during the day. When the subjects heard a beep, they noticed what they had just been thinking and wrote it down.
Here’s how you could use this idea as a sadhana. Set your phone (mobile) or digital watch to beep or vibrate at random times during the day. You may need to install an app to do this. Each time the alarm goes off, notice what you had just been thinking. You could go even further and write down the thoughts and examine the written record later to find patterns.
By doing this you would notice your vasanas and become conscious of them. Vasanas often escape our conscious notice. The beep would help you notice consciously. I don’t know if making vasanas conscious is a requirement for destroying them, but it certainly helps.
This sadhana reminds me of Gurdjieff’s “stop” exercise. I think he might have liked this idea. Beepers and phones (mobiles) had not yet been invented during his lifetime.
I like the idea of using phones to wake ourselves up since they usually seem to do the opposite by putting people in a hypnotic trance.
In case you’re interested in looking at the academic literature on daydreaming, I’ll pick a fairly recent paper almost at random and cite it here so you can follow the references:
Stawarczyk D, Majerus S, Van der Linden M, D’Argembeau A. Using the Daydreaming Frequency Scale to Investigate the Relationships between Mind-Wandering, Psychological Well-Being, and Present-Moment Awareness. Front Psychol. 2012;3:363. Published 2012 Sep 25. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00363
Added May 31, 2019
After I wrote this, my girlfriend told me about a company called Meaning to Pause which sells bracelets that vibrate at a fixed interval of 60 minutes or 90 minutes. You pick the interval when you buy the bracelet. In other words, you can buy a bracelet from them that vibrates every 60 minutes or you can buy one that vibrates every 90 minutes. You can’t adjust the interval after you receive the bracelet. I don’t think this product would work well for the technique described above because (1) the interval is fixed rather than random and (2) it’s too long. For the sadhana described above, I think you need a bracelet that vibrates at random intervals with an average length of a few minutes. Ideally, the average length of the interval should be adjustable.
6 thoughts to “This might be a powerful sadhana”
Hey it’s Riccardo
there are a couple of articles that I read recently which seem in line with what you wrote:
They boh touch on the ideas you wrote: the first about being mindful of what you just thought, the second about unraveling circular and unhelpful thoughts keeping you stuck
My question is: the “psychological” part of Sadhana is rarely discussed. While I haven’t progressed much in sadhana, I’ve found that as I psychologically free my mind of thoughts Concentration and sustained attention is easier for me.
Does in your experience ever come a point when The psy part weakens so much as to be of no obstruction to sadhana? Because I’d like to cultivate right expectations, and I often am unsure if I am even right to pursue meditation before my psy stuff is cleared, as it seems a tangible hindrance
Thanks for the articles, Riccardo. I’m not sure what you mean by “psychological”. Could you clarify that for me?
(I work as a psychiatrist, that’s why I feel entitled to speak of this)
Psychological stuff is simply having to do with the psyche: thoughts, emotions, tendencies, moods, behaviors. In particular, psychological is usually referred to that the above elements are part of the meanings we give to our lives, therefore causing emotions in us and feeling deeply personal (whilst in psychiatry all of this is usually evaluated by paying more attention to form, than to the content of the mind and experience).
The persuasiveness of psychoanalytic theory (due to Freuds’ magnetic personality, to the luck of the historical situation it found itself in, to the lack of a convincing alternative theory at the times, and especially in my opinion to its characteristic of touching humans’ innate curiosity for “hidden truths” especially when about themseves, and the theory’s novel ideas) brought into popular knowledge the concept of unconscious psyche and of its “depth”. While I have no professional experience with the theory, its epistemology (the idea of unconscious) is not totally solid (how can you ever get to directly confirm something that’s un-consciuos?). The consequence is that in any case people now thing that they need to dig deep for finding the reasons of their problems and overcome them. But, dig where? By digging in the mind you often only get deep in it.
While it seems true that our psychological structure forms in infancy through experiences, and it can be useful to be aware of this, in practice “psychological stuff” is hidden in in people life in plain sight, in the behaviors, thoughts and emotions that they display and feel, and from which one can derive as a concept a structure, which can then refer to one’s psychological issues so to say.
My question is therefore the following: psychological content is distracting from spiritual practice, but I am unsure it can be eliminated as far one is alive. Probably the sages had a one pointed focus on the spirit. What about a ordinary man? In your experience Do you think one needs to work on dissolving major psychological blocks (through psychotherapy, through correct self-reflection, through experience) before one can achieve significant progress in sadhana, or one will need to start with sadhana and pay duty to it and at the same time do sadhana?
That’s what I thought you meant but I wanted to be sure. And that’s what I hoped you meant because I think this is an extremely important topic and I’m about to publish a series of posts about it. Coincidentally, my next post, which I’ve already written, is about this subject.
I’m glad you’re a psychiatrist because I look forward to hearing your reaction to the posts that I’m about to publish. My mother was a Freudian psychoanalyst and I was in analysis for several years when I was young.
In my experience, one of the fascinating aspects of progressing along the spiritual path is that you become aware of more and more thoughts, impulses, feelings, etc., that used to be unconscious. This gives you a sense of what “unconscious” really means and I don’t think it’s quite what most people think. Maybe I’ll write about this in the future.
Yes, it blocks spiritual experience. Yes. This is incredibly important. Therefore the distractions must be eliminated. Yes, they can be eliminated and this can be done with sadhana. One way to do this with sadhana is similar to psychotherapy. I’m going to start writing about this in my next post. This post will describe a deep emotional issue in my personality that was totally eliminated. I’m going to write a series of articles like that describing additional examples of this process. The examples will come not only from my life but the lives of two close friends.
Some of these examples will describe a technique that is a little bit similar to Freud and Breuer’s method of abreaction.
Traditionally, in ancient India, this business of destroying psychological blocks was dealt with under the rubric of “vasanas” and “samskaras” (synonyms). But the ancient Eastern teachings don’t talk much about the emotional side which is incredibly important.
In my upcoming posts, I’ll use the word “vasana” for this topic even though it’s not a perfect match because, as you will see, I’ll be addressing the emotional aspect.
Yes, in my experience it’s necessary to dissolve major psychological blocks before one can progress very far in sadhana, but I don’t think we need to do one before the other. Actually, sadhana *IS* (among other things) the dissolution of psychological blocks. 🙂
Great I’ll look forward to read your articles and to experiment with your instructions.
In my personal experience I have this interest for spirituality but I have all this emotional worldly stuff that pulls me away in an extremely seductive way. I know that it’s all ultimately unimportant but emotions are extremely involving.
Wonderful. I look forward to hearing your reactions and talking more.