Gangaji, in her book, “The Diamond in your Pocket”, invites her readers to stop their search and in just Being recognize their true nature as It reveals Itself to Itself. In chapter 20 she outlines what she means by stopping, describing it as allowing thoughts to arise and fall without becoming involved with their story. She states if you make the choice not to follow the endless stream of thoughts the mind will stop and there will remain silence, your true face, God, Existence or Pure Consciousness, whatever tag you prefer to give the Nameless.
In Tibetan yoga there are three processes that parallel Gangaji’s description of stopping. The first follows the initial attempts of the yogin to stop all thinking. When he realizes his attempts have only produced more thoughts he reaches the first stage of mental quiescence, described in W.Y. Evans-Wentz’s “Tibetan Yoga and Secret Doctrines” as the yogin looking on mentally unperturbed as if he were on the bank of a river watching the on-going thoughts flow by.
The second process is one wherein the yogin makes no attempts to stop thoughts but remains indifferent to whatever form or shape they become. In spite of the apparent need to let thoughts arise and fall as they will there is still an active effort in this phase to monitor thoughts. Specifically, the yogin does not allow his thoughts to dwell on specific pleasures or pains and when it appears this is happening he will make an effort to move past these fixations.
As the practice of letting thoughts arise and fall continues there comes a point when they cease to arise and the mind achieves a state of passive tranquility and one-pointedness. As this state is prolonged through progressive mediation the Middle State of Quiescence is achieved which is described as a calm flowing river.
The third process begins with altering between the first two, at times making the effort to stop thoughts, at other times allowing them to arise and fall with indifference. It then moves on to undistracted awareness and then is described as leaving the mind like a little child who looks on with intense mental alertness at the frescos on a temple wall. The “frescos” are ecstatic states where visions arise that the yogin is directed not to hold onto or inhibit. He is merely to look on as a child would at frescos, with intense interest but no attachment. Evans-Wentz compares this level of meditation to the western mystics state of Illumination. But Illumination is only the half-way point of the mystic path which ends in the union of the higher and lower states of consciousness in active daily life.
It’s clear that in Tibetan yoga there are various levels of “stopping”, or just watching thoughts flow without becoming attracted or repelled, that Gangaji could be referring to in her writings. At any one of these points a state of quiescence, each deeper than the preceding, can arise. The meditator needs to be cautioned, however, not to let the first stop on the Path be his or her last. There are deeper levels of realization and not going onward may result in the loss of the first glimpses of true Quiescence.
Having pointed out the need not to stop on the path it nevertheless needs pointing out that there is an essential truth to Gangaji’s directive to stop the search for enlightenment. But it must be understood in the context that to “stop” means to cease trying to objectify or conceptualize your true nature. There is no thought that can contain that which comprehends all thought, so it is pointless to try and find one. Your true nature cannot be conceptualized, only Realized. And the way to do that is to set the stage for the Realization by a meditation that culminates in giving up everything, even the meditation, and just coming to a stop.
Samskaras, as defined here, are the unconscious habits, tendencies and potentials built up over a lifetime or lifetimes that give an individual his or her unique character and make-up. Samskaras may be considered well-established patterns of thought or, if you prefer, well-established neural patterns in the brain that resist alteration or change.
In your daily meditation you will naturally encounter thoughts arising and falling but if you monitor these thoughts throughout the day you’ll notice that they tend to follow regular patterns or themes. They are much like the formula based newscasts you see on television everyday.
Have you ever noticed that when reporting a story the media follows certain formulas in how to present the news? That most every story always ends with a forecast of something worst happening tomorrow? That the reporter will tell you something then flip to an interview that has someone saying just what the reporter said (as if that makes it true). Or how items related to physical injury begin with an ambulance or police car siren screaming on the TV set? These are all formulas used by the media to present the news. They are well-established methods that are for the most part done automatically by the news crew.
Much of our daily thinking and behavior are like media reports in that they follow well-established patterns. A smoker, for example, will automatically light up when he gets to the same spot whether it is just after he starts the car to go to work, or when he comes home and sits in his favorite chair. An alcoholic will experience the same set of emotions as he’s about to take his first drink at his favorite watering hole.
Each day we have the same set of thoughts as we drive or take the train to work. This continues throughout the day as we continually think the same thoughts when a client calls or we go to lunch. These daily thoughts are hung upon the hooks of our samskaraic tendencies built up over the years at the job. But underneath these “hooks” are the walls they are nailed into. These walls are the deeper samskaras that determine the characteristics and attitudes reflected in our daily thoughts. And just like a wall they act as barriers to freeing up our thoughts to embrace new possibilities.
To illustrate a deep-seated samskara consider the adult who was sexually abused as a child and developed posttraumatic stress disorder. Throughout his or her adult life the brain of this individual has continually sent signals to the body and psyche to suppress its life functions. This suppression is a continuation of the “freeze” mechanism the brain used to defend the child when it was not possible to escape or attack the abuser. However, this mechanism never turned off and so the abused child turned adult continues to live with the underlying directive to not act, not be assertive, to freeze in stressful situations and never reveal him or herself, not even to themselves.
We all have deep-seated samskara that lie in our subconscious and direct our thoughts and actions. Overcoming them is, however, possible. This can be done through a meditation that brings the samskara to conscious awareness and reveals their underlying falsity and unreality. The individual with PTSD, to continue with the example, needs to realize that the situation his or her thoughts refer to is no longer real. The abuse has ended and all the fallout from that past trauma is now essentially unreal, but kept going by a mechanism of the brain that meant only to keep the child alive.
Through recognizing the unreality of the situation the awareness can then move to shut the samskara down. This typically does not happen right away, as the samskaras that developed over time often need time to dissipate. But it is, to me, simply amazing that awareness is the key and the power to overturning the habits of a lifetime. Awareness is truly the door to Liberation.