How to Meditate, Article – April 16, 2010
Ramana Maharshi in a number of books which are in fact references to his teachings, including many word-for-word quotes, offers those of us seeking to still the mind an incredible technique one might call “the “I” thought technique”. I will describe it as best I can here. However, if you want to really get into it, check out the book “Be As You Are—The Teachings of Sri Ramana Maharshi”.
For those who delve deeply into meditation stilling the thoughts quite quickly becomes a compelling interest. The beauty of awareness in its pure form is unbelievably sweet. We get hints and glances of it, but being able to sustain it is rare as the mind is slippery. The gratefulness I have to Ramana Maharshi for providing us with an actual technique for stilling the mind is immense.
Practiced at length, this technique can bring very real results. It is not an easy technique. However for those of us bent on experiencing the bliss that stilling the thoughts brings, easy needn’t be the case. The first thing I need to address before presenting the actual technique is the polarity of subject and object and how consciousness (or pure awareness) is aware of “things”.
The ego is the one that identifies with experience and claims to be the one who is experiencing. This is the subject. The things experienced and the circumstances witnessed are the objects. Subject witnesses object. There is he who is conscious and then what he is conscious of. The “conscious of” is the object while consciousness (or the conscious one) is the subject.
As redundant as all this may seem now, this perspective will come in handy as things get more subtle. The description of the experience in the previous paragraph is how we go about our daily lives as individuals. My car of which I observe and drive is a matter of subject and object. I am the subject and my car is the object. Awareness however IS in truth—singular—one. It is an undivided experience. One feels absolutely at one with all that is. There is no “two”.
In this experiential space there are no thoughts that divide subject from object. Subject and object have merged to become what is greater than both. Divinity is felt and known. Ramana’s technique helps us to merge subject and object together. The fact is that we ARE awareness. This is what enables us to be the subject in these scenarios. We experience. We exist. We ARE.
The Ramana Maharshi technique has us focus on “this that we are” to the exclusion of the object. It is counter-intuitive to go deeply into that which we wish to shake off. It is the ego we wish to lose. The ego is false. The ego is nothing more than the experience of division. We are distracted by the contents of mind. We first imagine ourselves as separate and envision ourselves as a reference point for which all else occurs.
Beneath this ego however is our true awareness. Eager to shake off the ego, we try to circumvent it. In doing this we end up shaking off our true self as well. The ego must be pierced not ignored. Here is how we achieve this piercing. The “I” thought that Ramana speaks of is the first thought. When we are drifting away from thought temporarily it is the “I” thought that emerges first when we once again pick up the habit of thinking.
The “I” thought is first because—we are our reference point. It is ourselves that we wish to protect. We are self-interested and when there is a threat to our identities we begin with ourselves as the natural starting place. We focus on our body and our being as separate and something to defend. The “I” thought is very subtle and quick and yet it is where every train of thought begins. All thoughts are anchored in this first “I” thought.
A first great step in this technique is to actually witness the “I” thought naked in all its glory. So much confidence in this process is gained when this happens. For some it comes quite easily, others will find it more difficult. It so helps to have a sense of direction in the domain of the mind (which can be so elusive). To continue, the way to free oneself from thoughts is to sustain a focus on this “I” thought.
Once you recognize the “I” thought as taking place you are to focus solely on this thought to the exclusion of all else. What we are doing is permeating the subject and letting the objects disappear in the background. This can be grueling as the well of unconscious emotions and impulses that compel one to think of actual things begin to build up. There is great pressure to think— to solve some unknown problem.
If you can manage to stick with the “I” thought (subject) to the exclusion of actual thinking ABOUT anything (objects) for a reasonable amount of time then something incredible happens. If one delves deeply enough into the subject pure awareness is reached. This is the one eternal formless subjective experience. Everything else is false. The material world is an energetic projection engaged in by this awareness.
The deeply felt emotions will ultimately simply solve themselves. This all gets easier when the pressure drops as we absorb the compulsion and begin to relax. It is not easy. The pressure can be great. However, sustaining the focus on the subject (the one who thinks) intensely over time starves the identity to its death. Without the objects there is no subject. They need each other to survive. With both subject and object gone the single reality prevails. It is of course beautiful. It is sheer bliss.