When the mind is silent and peaceful it becomes very powerful. It can become a receptor of bliss and wisdom enabling life to become a spontaneous flow and expression of joy and harmony. However…this inner silence cannot arise while there is a continual stream of disturbing thoughts and emotions. All this inner noise of thoughts and emotions has to be removed before one can truly experience the soundless sound of inner silence.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Peace, bliss, harmony. Who is able to experience these states? So many people these days are struggling with their own minds. Influenced by their conditionings, and overwhelmed by the pressures of day to day living in today's increasingly stressful society, they are full of mental tensions, which manifest as anxiety, nervousness, guilt, lack of self-confidence, loneliness, fear, obsessions and phobias. Some turn to drugs and alcohol as a temporary means of escape and solace. Others enlist the costly help of psychiatrists or psychotherapists to try and cope. All are looking for some form of change, a little relief from the inner conflicts and turmoil, wanting to feel at ease with themselves, or even to experience, if not bliss, just a modicum of peace and contentment.
Those who are fortunate enough to come across Satyananda Yoga can encounter and learn an excellent systematic meditation practice, known as antar mouna (अंतर्मौन) , that will enable them to release these oppressive mental tensions and to become their own psychotherapists in the process.
Antar means inner, mouna means silence. Antar mouna is a technique of attaining pratyahara (withdrawal of the mind from the sense objects), the fifth stage of raja yoga, and in its fullest form can lead to dharana and dhyana. Antar mouna is also a fundamental part of the Buddhist practice known as vipassana, used in a modified way.
Purging the mind
Generally we tend to allow 'good' thoughts to arise to conscious perception; we accept and enjoy pleasant thoughts. When an unpleasant, painful or 'bad' memory or thought arises, we tend to quickly push it back down into the subconscious layers of the mind. This is suppression and we all do it. Everyone has mental suppressions. Often we are conditioned to do it from childhood. But suppression is definitely not the answer.
Every single suppressed thought that remains unexpressed causes a block in the free flow of the mind. The thoughts and experiences stay submerged in the subconscious realms of the mind in seed form, causing pain, unhappiness and frustration in life. These subtle impressions are known as samskaras. Without even realizing it, we build up a vast accumulation of suppressed thoughts which cause a lot of tension and disturbances in the mind and personality without obvious cause.
To find lasting happiness or peace of mind, these mental impressions have to be rooted out. It can be compared to gardening. We remove the unwanted weeds from the mind. If we just break the top off, although there is temporary relief, the weed will return. However, when we dig down deep and pull out the root of the weed, it loses its hold and can be removed completely. If left to fester in the mind, these negative mental impressions poison the psyche and lead to irritability, aggression, anger, non-specific depression, a tendency to worry, being fearful without reason, and permanent tiredness. This affects all our interactions in life and reduces our ability to be efficient, creative and dynamic at every level of our lives.
Antar mouna enables us to exhaust these unwanted thoughts; it provides a means to purge the mind. Once these mental tensions start to be released, we can experience corresponding surges of energy and inspiration and life starts to take on a new dimension. In the same way that we clean our rooms and the physical body every day we also need to develop the habit of cleaning the mind each day in order to prevent the accumulation of more dross or rubbish. Therefore, it is very necessary to repeat this process on a consistent and regular basis.
Antar mouna is required because this process of oscillation and extrication from the contracted state to the more benevolent state takes time. We forget and get lost along the way. We need a technique like antar mouna which will help us through this process. Antar mouna is the technique of inner silence, also known as witnessing. It is divided into six main stages which can be divided into three basic categories. For most people, the first three stages provide plenty to work with, and in order to obtain the full benefits, a considerable amount of time should be spent practising and perfecting them before attempting to move into the more advanced stages.
The first two categories are passive, where we sit and observe our mind and our process of evolution, of change in our inner nature, without engagement. We simply observe that tendency to suppress things and to grab onto things and to lose ourselves within our mental process. We do not try to change anything. We simply develop what is called a sense of self. While we are developing that, we have to maintain an awareness of the object of meditation. We also have to be aware of the whole process. This is important because we tend to get lost either in the object we are observing, a thought or an event, or we get lost in our own selves. It is very difficult to maintain the kind of equilibrium where we hold an awareness of self and of other at the same time.
Antar mouna is designed to allow us to do that because developing a sense of self is an antidote to the pain, to dealing with this kind of contracted and somehow distorted energetic process that goes on inside. A sense of self is very grounding and calming. We feel a greater sense of safety and trust the more we develop it. What we are trying to do is develop a greater stability in that experience, so that it becomes more available to us for longer periods of time. So the first stages of antar mouna are simply passive, learning to witness outside sounds or sensations, learning to witness thoughts without getting engaged in suppression of thoughts or involvement in the process. These are the two main states, grabbing onto a thought and pushing it away. Of course, the awareness is the antidote to ignorance.
Once we have that capacity, we go into the next two stages. These are active, to develop mental muscle, like doing mental push-ups. We consciously try to grab onto a thought, to exaggerate the process of grabbing. Then we consciously let it go. One stage is to create a thought, grab it and then throw it away, and the other state is to grab a spontaneous thought as it comes up and then throw it away. So we are developing this internal capacity to deal with our thoughts, feelings, emotions and inner states with greater clarity. In the third category, which is divided into two groups, we throw out any thought that comes into our mind, until we achieve shoonya or emptiness, a luminous emptiness. It is not a dark, tamasic emptiness; it is an emptiness which is full of peace and love.
Antar mouna is one of the most important techniques that we can learn in order to maintain the path, in order to maintain an awareness of duality and polarity, and to be able to hold the negative as well as the positive experiences.