If we observe our mental space for some time, such as when we sit for meditation, the first thing to be noticed is that the mind tends to jump around from one thought, idea or perception to another, seemingly randomly and impacted by sensory data coming to us through our sense organs. Some call it the “monkey mind”. This constant churn in the mental space is an obstacle to the meditation, as it also is an obstacle to receiving knowledge and force from higher levels of consciousness. In his lectures on Raja Yoga, Swami Vivekananda provides a very clear understanding of the “mind stuff” chitta, which is the basic mental substrate that must be brought to a state of tranquility as a prerequisite to achieving deeper states of meditation.

Any higher inspiration or intuitive insight, not to speak of the higher ranges of consciousness beyond them, must enter into a receptive space that is not being distracted or busied by the normal mental process. Sri Aurobindo relates a core experience when he observed that thoughts actually enter from outside, and can be rejected leading to a ready, receptive silence as the perfect foundation for the transformation of the consciousness.

There are a number of strategies for achieving a calm, quiet mind, if not a silent mind, including active rejection of thoughts, or detachment that allows them to enter and be observed but not taken up or sanctioned, until they fall quiet of themselves.

Some who take up the spiritual life are concerned that when the mind falls quiet, they will be unable to act or they will simply become dull. A clear distinction can be made between a mind that is “vacant” and one that is “quiet”, as Sri Aurobindo notes.

Sri Aurobindo observes: “The difference between a vacant mind and a calm mind is this: that when the mind is vacant, there is no thought, no conception, no mental action of any kind, except an essential perception of things without the formed idea; but in the calm mind, it is the substance of the mental being that is still, so still that nothing disturbs it. If thoughts or activities come, they do not rise at all out of the mind, but they come from outside and cross the mind as a flight of birds crosses the sky in a windless air. It passes, disturbs nothing, leaving no trace. Even if a thousand images or the most violent events pass across it, the calm stillness remains as if the very texture of the mind were a substance of eternal and indestructible peace. A mind that has achieved this calmness can begin to act, even intensely and powerfully, but it will keep its fundamental stillness — originating nothing from itself but receiving from Above and giving it a mental form without adding anything of its own, calmly, dispassionately, though with the joy of the Truth and the happy power and light of its passage.” Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 5 Bases of Yoga, Quiet, Calm, Peace and Silence, pp. 118-122

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com He is author of 16 books and editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.