As we enter into any discussion regarding spiritual maturity, it is important to establish the context in which such discussions are occurring. This is, of course, extremely important when we enter into any discussion regarding the mind.
Many spiritual teachers, who emphasize the mind, will offer different teachings to different groups in order to facilitate a deeper understanding of our ultimate reality. But because these teachings are sometimes taken out of context, or presented in a piecemeal manner, a great deal of confusion may arise.
In this article, we will explore a progressive approach to developing the mind to the point where the mind itself is transcended. Using a basic model that is neither too simplistic, nor overly complex, we will focus on three basic stages of mental development that tilt one in the direction of self-realization. These three stages include awareness, discipline, and quieting of the mind.
Awareness is achieved when one brings attention to the mind and begins paying attention to what the mind is doing. It can be quite an interesting experience indeed, when one first engages the mind from a position of awareness. In fact, the experience of it can be almost overwhelming. Most of us, absently participating in our daily lives, pay very little attention to our thoughts – where they come from, where they take us, etc. But by paying attention, we see the truly chaotic nature of our minds, and we realize just how little control we really have over the various mind states that appear.
This is the basic practice of mindfulness and the objective of most meditations – to create awareness of the mind states that appear and show us how our minds are actually operating. We open ourselves up to a field of awareness within which we can observe a thought arising, expressing itself, and falling away. In this stage there is no need to actually ‘do’ anything. Awareness is enough. Awareness alone reveals to us the nature of our confusion – it becomes quite clear that, with so much happening absentmindedly, it’s no wonder that we’ve found ourselves in mental distress. Awareness arouses within us a desire or willingness to pursue deeper inner examination.
Disciplining the mind is not what it sounds like. Use of this term tends to summon up visions of a punishment and reward system used to obtain desired behavioral results. This is not what is meant here. To discipline the mind is to continue bringing our awareness to the mind states that are arising, but to use the opportunity of arising as an opportunity to free ourselves from what our thoughts are revealing about our own inner worlds. It also offers us an opportunity to redirect ourselves from negative mind states and cultivate positive ones.
At this stage, it is important that we be with our thoughts, examine them carefully, and work with them as needed. If we see patterns arising in thought, these patterns become a point of focus that we can begin to bring concentrated awareness to, examine with inner intensity and radical self-honesty, and, eventually free ourselves from their weight. It is these attributes, concentration, intensity, and self-honesty that will ultimately lead us to a place where we can let go of the thoughts that keeps us trapped in our illusory concept of self and see ourselves as we truly are.
At a certain point, we begin to experience the space in between our thoughts. With greater ease and regularity, we are able to shift our awareness in ways that allow us to be with what is, without stirring the mind. Rather than being with our thoughts, or redirecting them, we instead learn to let them go entirely, bringing ourselves into the spaciousness between our thoughts, the spaciousness beyond the mind. Whenever we see thoughts arising, we bring ourselves back into quietude. Over and over again we set aside our thoughts, and let go of our association with the thinker.
Thought is largely unnecessary. One who is quite dependent on the mind may have difficulty with such a statement, but the absurdity of it is grounded in the deepest truth there is. As a part of this journey, somewhere along the way, the entire concept of self that is entertained in the mind is seen through and we begin to understand that there is no one here who can claim the mind. The mind is the creation of consciousness, and is a tool that ultimately reveals itself as false. A quiet mind is a peaceful mind – a loving mind. It is no longer seeking to prop itself up as the master, but instead becomes the servant.
As you can see, this progressive approach covers the most common methods used to tame the mind, but does so in a way that shows how each practice leads into the next, and how these practices become building blocks unto one another. In truth, this model offers very little real value. As with everything else that exists outside of you, it will fail you into yourself, until you become nothing, and then everything. Transcendence of the mind is not necessarily what we ‘think’ it is. It is actually surrender of the small self into the One Self.
Awareness reveals to us how little we truly know ourselves. Discipline is our effort to gain some sort of control over ourselves once we’ve acknowledge just how undisciplined our minds really are. Quieting is what happens as we see through the nature of thought itself and surrender into the mystery – the thinker dissolves into the clear waters of pure being, and disappears. It is the universal mind that is doing all of our thinking anyway – whether we understand this for ourselves or not, it is true; always, for each and every one of us, conscious or unconscious, accepting or in denial of it all.
Experienced as one of the most profound realizations we can attain, we eventually reach a point where we understand that transcendence does not necessarily mean that the minds states themselves disappear. What it means, in actuality, is that the one who lays claim to the mind, and the thoughts that occupy the mind, is transcended. That one knows that it is no one, and steps out of the way, so that the divine mind can make itself known, more directly, through the vessel of its own conscious projection into the dream world that we call reality.
Once this has occurred, one simply relaxes into The Self, and watches the movements that occur within consciousness, not caught up in them, not identifying with them; simply witnessing them dispassionately – not believing in them, not giving them any reality. You learn to become comfortable with the flow of consciousness as expressed within the presence of being called ‘you’; holding onto nothing and claiming nothing as your own.
The whole process of life becomes a passing show; with people, places, and events playing themselves out within your field of now – with God as the doer of all things. You are made free by this knowing… Surrender and gratitude become your practice – and everything becomes sublimely beautiful. Such is the nature of liberation. May you find it for yourself; here, now, in this moment, through your own direct experience. Amen.