Watching thoughts – by Madhuri, written approx 1988.
(I had become an ashramite in 1975 and in those days, if you lived inside you didn’t participate in groups. So this lovely group in Poona II was my first since then. It might seem like meditation 101, but for struggling, relentlessly-doing me it seemed all brand-new-wonderful!)
Each time my eyes open, jungle hushes outside the second-story window; tall jungle, the special flavour of trees’ upper branches; bamboo rustling in occasional wind. A subtle multitude of leaves and greens, and through it, just seen, his rooftop – reminding us, as the whole atmosphere reminds us, to be aware.
The circle of us sits. Zen stool on mattress, cushion on stool, the legs a firm-folded gravity beneath the stalk of spine. Ten of us perhaps; a motley crew of (eyes open) Germans, Italians, English…men, women; pink skirt, white trouser; face uplifted or face down-turned; quiet, static or vivacious. And (eyes closed) a unity of watching. Darkness within! Strange configurations! Nudges and wheedling; catcalls and artificial profundities of the mind…and silences, seen sometimes; felt hugely behind it all.
Each in his or her focus of self, and yet one with the watching. We just sit…and watch…and, if a thing rises up and wants to be said, for whatever reason or non-reason, the thing speaks itself, or laughs itself, or weeps or merely comments, out loud.
Nobody answers. Nobody judges. Especially does nobody judge.
And what a space this leaves for each of us to see our own judgements! What is conversation really?
Generally, it seems, a series of unconscious reactions in the self, sparked by unconscious reactions in the other to what we have said, and all of it churned out and traded in a kind of sleeping (if animated) bargain to reinforce and re-establish our ideas of what reality, and our egos, are.
In the context of this group speech and response are seen in an entirely new way. To me this was a beautiful gift. A fun dismantling of the known, unconscious, and sometimes tension-ridden process of conversation. Words have been for me as easy as walking, and I enjoy them like walking – each word a step, the whole a flow – but when they come to a situation fraught with basic friction – like a love-affair – they can become weapons and shields, ammunition and muddy trenches of war, before we know what’s happening.
Even in a conversation where both parties are relaxed and enjoying – as in a good gossip between friends – unconsciously each is seeking signals of approval and disapproval, judgement and comparison, which define the world of the mind. How far to go in outrageous comment about a third person not present? Will my friend think I’m awful? Does she mind how much I’m complaining about how that guy treats me? Will she give me advice? Lord knows I need it, even if actually I probably won’t follow it; or if I do, and things still go wrong, I might talk about her to somebody else…
And so on. A tirade of give and take…pleasurable, sometimes joyful, sometimes difficult; but generally unconscious.
In the setting of this group, speaking and meditation are seen with a new clarity, a light both raw and soft. Nobody judges what you say…and you can say anything. You can close your eyes; what you say will not be in reaction to the facial expressions of those around, but in response to your own inner urgings.
And it is strange in there! How to say it? Especially if you think in German, and are trying to express in English? You can express in German, then. How to say what is so subtle, or fleeting, or is a thing you’ve been afraid to say? In the clarity of this space it becomes possible to see….In the deep relaxation of this group – for it is deep relaxation – you can see if your past, be it German or Californian, is compelling you to speak against your will. You can see if you want to say something because the mind temporarily thinks it is clever; or because it is a true urging of the heart, or of something not conscious which now wants to be conscious, exposed, let-go-of.
And nobody answers you! Nobody tells you to beat a pillow, or suggests a technique to rid you of what you’re feeling, or even gives his opinion. You’re left with your words fading into the air and your own experience of yourself in the echo of your words, the release of your feeling. This can be very very beautiful; the double-edged sword of your awareness on the vanished words outside, and the fresh being within, always changing,. What you’ve said is yours, and yours alone.
I’ve fumed and fussed so much about the non-response of a certain lover to things I say. Now I have a much clearer vision of how spoken and unspoken words beg, and ask, and push, and demand response, like dogs on their haunches begging biscuits. How lovely it is to watch one’s words as they emerge…watch from where they come…and not to expect them to be merely freight trains, conveying desire outwards and returning with the appropriate response after a journey through the other. With closed eyes, and the bamboo outside, I felt sometimes a rustling through the transparent body in the silences…The minds of others are spoken, and in our relaxed quiet we see our own thoughts rising up, our feelings and associations connected with what is said. Often, too, each person seems to be living on a different planet, in a different world of thought. We are sitting together, but inside each a story continues oblivious of others. This can be comical, absurd.
And then there is Purna. She is enjoying herself immensely. She loves to sit here and do absolutely nothing. You can feel her enjoyment of her own being, and a kind of rich laughter rolling off her from time to time.
Did I say nobody answers you? That’s true..but Purna is always alert and watchful; and completely a participant too, sharing her own being as she watches, saying things sometimes. And at times she steps in and comments on where we are stumbling or caught. Identified.
She goes on reminding us: “Just watch it. Don’t do anything about it. That too; watch that too. No need to do…that’s the mind.” Or; “Allow that! Just experience it; open your doors to it. Don’t be afraid. Feel it. But watch. Where is it taking you?”
But all this quietly, relaxedly.
For me, this was so valuable! Each time I perceived the point where the mind would normally urge me to do – and was able to stand aside and watch it – it was as if a dark misty energy-shape rose up in my body and, finding no womb-wall of identification in which to sink its cord, shook itself like some great sea-beast and rose towards the sky, alone and out of me. What a feeling of freedom! What miracle!
At one point many thoughts had risen and vanished and I was in an image of outer space, quiet starry universe, and even remembering to watch that too. Energy was rising, moving, changing, but basically a feeling of unity and bliss..when I actually saw the mind reach out its arm; dangling a tid-bit of thought – some thought I would normally chase after – and wave it temptingly, saying, Don’t you want this, hmmm? Nice tid-bit? Yum, yum! Come and get it!
And I didn’t! So many billions of thoughts I have chased down billions of dark alleyways…and to what avail?
Each day after lunch – preferably a light one – we jumped and jogged around the room for a few minutes to oxygenate the blood and wake us up for the session to come. We then lay down, heads towards the middle of the room, feet to the periphery, and relaxed. Purna put lovely quiet music on and began slowly, relaxedly, in her deep, resonant voice, to guide us to (ideally) a state of deep relaxation with greater alertness than normal. (Some of us fell asleep sometimes, and some of us didn’t sometimes. I found it’s generally more valuable not to!)
In this deep, semi-hypnotic state – remarkably easy to fall into – she gave us suggestions about acceptance, non-interference, the witness…guided us into letting go and becoming the alertness. A few times she played sections of discourse tapes. Bhagwan’s words and voice penetrate in a very direct way in this state. His voice seems both to open us – relax and soothe and part our very flesh – and to hammer our sleep into awakening. He goes right through the trappings and misunderstanding and tradition into the very core of a thing, and lifts it naked to our eyes…uncompromisingly, again and again, each thing he speaks of. In this state of deep receptivity it is our very core he goes to, and lifts naked before our eyes….
That is how it seems to me now, though I drifted in and out of sleep. On the day I was most alert, and came closest to really seeing the utter futility of my thought process in a situation so inappropriate to it, my mind threw up a wall of physical pain to distract me; which vanished as soon as the exercise was over. I wept afterwards, and Purna drew me immediately back to watch – to watch what my mind was doing with the experience, which was already past – its speculations, its vainglory, its past-life ideas – and very quickly I was still and relaxed, released, and felt light and lovely again, a little smile at the corners of my mouth.
Amazing, the long-running plays on the Broadway of the mind!
We did Dynamic and Kundalini each day, and in the discourses enjoyed Bhagwan’s further jelling, cooking, crystallizing, melting…and re-inforcing the witness, the watcher, the one-without-form-who-is-everywhere-and-nowhere.
Everything changes! Moment by moment, the pictures and moods and whole worlds which pass, are different. What freedom! What confusion!
With the mind, confusion; with the watcher, freedom.
This group helped reveal in me a new continuity of awareness – a new depth of seeing the machinations of the mind – a new soft, subtle joy – and even a new awareness of watching when things are nice as well as when they aren’t!
I found I could simply sit for much of each day, watching…It felt like a perfectly natural thing. My body became very light, very open.
The last day I didn’t want to say anything for at least an hour while the inner flame coalesced and gathered energy from the far corners of my body and rose…until it was time for lunch!
And it was all so relaxed… and easy…and we didn’t do anything!
Text and illustration by Madhuri