As I said in the previous post, Why Are We So Uneasy, there can be a gap between starting to intellectually understand that you are the unchanging, undivided Being and actually living from a place of freedom and Oneness. And that’s where spiritual practice, or sadhana, comes in as a way to create the right conditions in the mind and body that allow the knowledge of the Being to expand and the false sense of duality to subside. Hatha yoga, pranayama and meditation are all practices that have been recommended for this purpose and so has the study of the scriptures.
Hatha yoga asanas are intended to allow the body to be strong and stable enough to sit in meditation. Pranayama—breathing exercises—allow the movement of the prana, or life energy, to be regulated and, since the mind is completely interconnected with the prana, this can be very helpful in settling the mind. Meditation allows the mind, which is usually so fixed on thoughts and objects, to be absorbed back into the formless nature of the Being.
When the sense of danger is caused by untrue thoughts and beliefs, true thoughts are the weapon of choice.
The unique power of the scriptures stems from the fact that they come in the form of words and of course our minds think in words. If a real lion is coming for us, the lion’s body being physical, we need a physical weapon to deal with it. But when the sense of danger is caused by untrue thoughts and beliefs, true thoughts are the weapon of choice.
True thoughts are subtly but importantly different from just positive thoughts. For example, someone may replace the thought “I’m terrified of speaking in front of all these people” with the thought that “I’m going to be relaxed and confident when I speak in front of these people.” If repeated enough, the positive thought might certainly help settle their nerves and get them through the event. But the positive thought is still embedded in a framework of thinking that is based on a mistake (duality), so it doesn’t do anything to resolve the existential fear of death that causes this and all the other fears and anxieties to bubble up to start with.
There’s an analogy often used in scriptures of a child who is very scared and starts crying because she thinks there’s a ghost behind her when actually it’s just her own shadow. If we take this analogy, the child’s mind is saying, “Aagh, there’s a ghost behind me, I’m terrified.” A positive thought might be, “Yes, there’s a ghost behind me but it’s OK, I can be brave and stay cool and calm”. Whereas the approach of the scriptures is that of the wise mother who comes and explains to the child how her body has created a shadow in the sunlight, so there really isn’t any ghost at all. When the child understands this, she doesn’t need to be brave because the fear has automatically subsided.
A true thought is that which meets and neutralises the thought of death.
The effect of scriptures, of hearing or reading a true thought, reminds me of the experiment where a wave meets another wave coming from the opposite direction just at the right moment, and the result is no wave—just stillness. A true thought— when really understood and recognised as being true— has the power to meet and neutralise the thought of death. Then, in the stillness that follows, the eternal, undivided Beingness has a brief chance to recognise itself because at last it is unobstructed by the busy mind that normally superimposes the sense of duality—of me and you, this and that—onto the underlying truth of Oneness.
The proviso that a true thought needs to be understood and recognised to be true in order to really take effect is of course an important one and one that I’ll be writing more about in another post. Also, just as you wouldn’t expect to do yoga or meditate just once and be set for life, or go for one run and stay fit and healthy, most human beings need to hear or read these true thoughts consistently and repetitively for their mind’s previous conditioning based on the sense of separateness to start to subside on a more permanent basis.
But just as having a regular yoga or meditation practice can leave the body and mind feeling clearer and calmer for the rest of the day, the beauty of having a regular practice of study is that your mind starts to become steeped in the wisdom of the scriptures. And then that wisdom becomes readily available to counteract the mind’s old habits whenever they try to make a resurgence. Then eventually, the mind gives up its previous patterns, quits its job as the ringleader of anxiety and fear and can start to take on a new role as the servant of freedom.