The initiatory practice, being an experimental and scientific path, goes through a whole series of hypotheses that are verified by the practitioner through direct experience. One of the starting hypotheses is the following: (untrained) people do not have the slightest control over their own minds (yet they delude themselves that they do). The way one can test this hypothesis is very simple: try to stop thinking. Ah! But you can't! Some will say. Who are wrong. To stop thinking, in the sense of silencing the mind, is possible. It just takes practice.
We could also do something simpler: try thinking about a red ball for two minutes. If we don't have a trained will, well before the 30 seconds are up, the mind will already be lost in some other thought, other than the red ball. Why does this happen? Because the mind is out of control, however much we delude ourselves to the contrary. We have no power over it, and we let it drag us where it will.
Whoever is on a path of inner, 'spiritual' growth, if they want to achieve any results, if they want to know the Self, must - first of all - learn to enter the invisible dimension of interiority, placing themselves in silence, dominating the mind, directing attention, cultivating the subtler senses. The Self that everyone seeks is hidden in the depths of the sea of the mind, but as long as the waters of the mind are agitated, it is not possible to descend to the bottom, where the Self is hidden.
Therefore, 'spiritual', or inner practice, must begin with the discipline of the mind, that is, practices aimed at regaining control of one's mind. We must move from being an instrument of the mind, to making the mind an instrument. Or, in other words, we must return to being masters of our own house.
Some people, when they hear about disciplining the mind, fall into the error of thinking that it amounts to a kind of emotional/intellectual deprivation, but the effects of the discipline of the mind are actually the opposite. In fact, regaining control of the mind leads to experiencing emotions more intensely and deeply, but at the same time to remaining still in the middle of the river, allowing us to remain present, to observe and understand what is flowing through us, without being overwhelmed. Our flow of thoughts goes where we want it to go, no longer subject to distraction. The senses are open, perception of reality is expanded, simple and clear.
Time slows down, space dilates and condenses, filling up with moments that become eternal and give meaning to existence. For many, time passes, and with it life, because their moments are empty. And it is not empty because they spend their time working or partying, but because while the body is acting, they are elsewhere, lost in the river of thoughts flowing incessantly in their heads. These are the ones, among the many, who wake up one day, look back, and discover that they have never fully lived a single moment.
Learn to observe yourself, to know yourself. To understand what you think, in which direction your thoughts are going. See where they take you, and ask yourself if that is where you want to go. Many people delude themselves that it is they who decide their destiny: they do not realise that even before their reason analyses a choice, their unconscious has already decided which path they will take. And here there is no need even for initiatic science, it is enough to know a minimum of basic psychology: reason rationalises emotional or instinctive 'movements', of which we are usually scarcely aware, but which determine most of our choices. On the other hand, if this were not the case, things like advertising would be completely useless.
According to Goethe, no one is more a slave than he who considers himself free without being so. We could also say that: "if you are, you do not know; if you know, you are not". That is, if you delude yourself into thinking you are 'x' (slave, student, trader, etc.) you don't know (who and what you are), if you do know (what role you are playing) then you are not (because you know you are the actor and not the character).
Hypotheses, these, which are not to be believed, but which must be verified and understood through practice. Practice that must be constant and daily, because the understanding of the Self does not come just like that, one day, out of the blue, but is obtained with one small intuition at a time, which, all together, unveil the multiple veils that veil the Truth.
If we take it for granted that we are perfect, we give no room for growth. This is the underlying concept of Goethe's sentence. We must never delude ourselves that we have arrived, that we have understood everything, because as soon as we do, we create walls that prevent us from growing. Doubt, therefore, must accompany us at every step. Dismantle every dogma, every certainty, ask yourself questions, lots of questions, and give yourself even more answers: without this basic attitude, the road will just be the usual dead end.
On average, people's minds fall prey to an uncontrolled flow of thoughts and emotions that drag us where they want us to go. Regaining control of one's mind and actions is a long and arduous journey, and coupons have been out for a few ages. There are two options: either you practise and grow, or you stand still and delude yourself.
It's not easy. In fact, sometimes it means taking (metaphorically) a lot of slaps in the face, and they usually aren't even that funny. Being willing to take them, however, means being willing to grow. It means being open to the new, to the impossible, to different possibilities and visions. It means continuing to ask yourself questions, to question what you think you have already understood, and to seek an ever broader and deeper understanding of Self and reality.
The Discipline of Mind is about aspects such as observing, remembering and analysing one's thoughts and emotions, training one's will, memory, listening and silence. Or, more generally, it concerns inner work on the discipline of the subtle bodies. Of this work, this article can therefore only be an introduction.
Training one's memory by learning poems or other texts is certainly an exercise not to be underestimated. The Art of Memory, as Bruno well knew, is of fundamental importance in self-knowledge. There is a meditation, quite practised among the Pythagoreans, from which we can draw inspiration. Every night, before going to sleep, go over your entire day with your mind, and analyse, in order, moment by moment the actions you have performed, and the thoughts and emotions you felt in performing them.
Evaluate each of your actions, not by judging whether it is 'right' or 'wrong', but by analysing how consistent or inconsistent each action is with your goals, whether or not it makes you happy, what it would have been better to avoid doing, and what you can do next time to improve. And when you assess that your actions are consistent with your goals, with what you have decided to do, and make you happy, enjoy all the satisfaction they give you, and thank your Self for the good times you have had. Finally, make a plan of what you are going to do the next day, already planning to act in the way you have judged best.
The next day, as soon as you wake up, it is a good habit to mentally go over the programme you made the night before and go over it at various points to reinforce the memory of the programme and the will to carry it out point by point. And, whenever the mind goes in search of justifications to let chaos reign, let us remember that any justification we give ourselves is only a limitation, a mental programme that repeats itself. Let us therefore be silent in our minds, so that we can listen to ourselves and understand what is stirring within us.
After a few months of practice, we can go even beyond the day we have just experienced. We can go back to last week, or to months and years past, to dredge up situations, dynamics, relationships, events, and analyse them to understand, for example, how they still affect us today. And, when appropriate, then stop letting them weigh on us, stop giving them power, through a work of inner purification. But we will return to this another time.
Presence in every Action.
Mind discipline, and more generally all spiritual practice, should never be taken trivially as a set of exercises, but rather as a lifestyle, an individual and inner mission.
Start by getting into a simple habit: listen to yourself. Calm your mind, bring your attention to your heart, and open your inner eye, to observe what is moving within you. Or, even, what moved inside you when you were not present and reacted to an external stimulus, without thinking about it, without listening to yourself, without observing yourself. Observe your emotions, your thoughts, your actions, your words. Relive them, remember them, analyse them. Constantly search for solutions, choices, behaviours that allow you to be happy and that make you grow, evolve, expand.
Learn then to force yourself to turn your attention to a single thought, a single subject. Above all, on what you are doing, in each moment. When you cook, think about what you are cooking, think about the ingredients, turn your attention to them - listen inside yourself to what feelings they arouse in you - imagine where they come from, who produced them, confined them and transported them, thank Heaven and Earth who gave them to you. When you wash, think of your body, your skin, the dirt that goes with it. When you work, think about your work, how you organise and carry it out, the effects it has on people and the environment.
Never leave anything to chance. Cultivate presence and awareness in every gesture. And remember, too, that Everything is One. Everything is moved by the One Cause, the Lógos, the Conductor of the Cosmic Orchestra. Free will is only an illusion. There are no choices, there is only the possibility of listening to the Lógos and following it, or losing oneself in one's own noise. Observe oneself, listen to oneself, be present, cultivate silence: only in this way can one listen to the Lógos, the Self, the Cosmic Law.
The common man believes himself to be a grain of sand in this universe-desert, and does not see how his every action is linked to the infinite chain of causes and effects that moves the cosmos. The Magician, on the other hand, transcends action to make it eternal. The transcended action is no longer performed by the individual, but by the Divinity. And since it is the Divinity that acts, the action is no longer a chaotic effect of unknown causes, but is an ordered and ordering action, a note played along with the cosmic orchestra, conducted by the One Conductor.
To learn to follow and act according to Cosmic Law and allow Divinity to manifest itself in every action, one must go through a process of knowledge and purification. The Magician must learn not to feel desire or aversion towards the fruits of his actions, but to act by accepting his role, without attachment, in order to put himself at the service of the Universe, of Divinity.
The action, therefore, is not performed by the Magician, but is performed by the Divinity. Such action is acting without acting: it is no longer an action aimed at an end, as the Magician is merely an instrument of the Divine Will acting within him. The Magician entrusts himself to the Lógos, arriving on his path to integrate the Individual Self with the Universal Self. In this way the illusion of separation between individual and cosmos vanishes. It is therefore no longer the Magician who acts, but the cosmos: it is the Divinity that manifests itself through him.
To achieve this state, however, requires a path, as already mentioned, of knowledge and purification. A path that concerns all our bodies, from the densest to the subtlest. In the article on The Meditation of Centering we have given a useful purification exercise for all the subtle bodies, to be practised daily. To this, however, must be added other practices, such as those of the discipline of the mind, and others that we shall see. As we have understood, the mind of the common man is a stormy sea that prevents him from using and developing his faculties. A sea we must learn to tame.
Learning to observe oneself, to relive one's actions, one's days, one's life, to plan one's future, is a first step, a way to begin to give order to one's life and escape the clutches of chaos. To observe ourselves, however, we have to detach ourselves from thoughts and actions, and be able to fix our attention on what we are observing. Two faculties that both need to be trained.
The following exercises are milestones of the discipline of the mind. These are not just any exercises, but are the beginning of a whole series of practices based on them. Therefore, if you do not practise them, you will hardly be able to continue in the more advanced exercises. In daily practice, my advice is always to start with the Centring Meditation and then move on to these (or other) exercises.
Yes, something has already been said. But now it's time to sit comfortably, close your eyes, rest your tongue on the top of your palate, and calm your breath, using your diaphragm to breathe.
The first step is to learn to observe the flow of thoughts in the third person. Watch the river of thoughts flow, and let it flow, without getting carried away. Detach yourself from the river, remaining still in the middle of it, learning to observe it. Some people find it helpful the first few times to imagine that they are watching their own stream of thoughts/images on a screen in their mind, as if it were a movie.
The moment you realise that you are no longer 'watching the film', but are living it, i.e. you are being carried away by the thoughts, simply detach yourself from them and continue with the exercise.
Another variation is this: sit comfortably, close your eyes, and let your thoughts flow freely, remaining detached from them. Watch your thoughts flow, and memorise what you observe. After five minutes, stop and try to remember the thoughts you observed flowing. As the days go by, you can increase the time, adding one minute at a time.
The observation of thoughts naturally follows a quieting of them. When, after a few minutes of practice, the flow of thoughts becomes calmer, you can move on to the concentration phase.
Here the aim is to keep the attention on one and only one thought, or subject, as simple as possible. The exercise of reliving one's day, for example, is an exercise in concentration. For an artist, it could be a work to be realised or one that has already been realised, but keeping our attention on what we are doing, in each moment, is also concentration.
The mind, however, tends to go where it wants, so we have to train ourselves to make it go where we want it to go. Meditation, in this sense, can be seen as a gym for the mind. It is no coincidence that we are talking about the discipline of the mind, which involves exercise, training, education, teaching.
Choose a subject: a memory, a project, an idea, an event, an object, a few lines of a text, or whatever you feel. Use something simple. You can fixate on a single object, considering its various characteristics, such as size, weight, colour, temperature, density, how it is constructed, how to use it, and so on. Or you can also reason about a certain theme, running through the various logical links that make it up. Then turn your attention to the chosen subject. After a few seconds you will probably get distracted and start thinking about something else. Stop following the flow of thoughts, detach yourself, and go back to thinking about your chosen subject.
Count how many times you get distracted. To do this, you can help yourself with a rosary, running a grain each time you get distracted. Over time, you should come to think about the same subject for at least one minute at first, and then two, three, five, ten, and so on, gradually increasing the time, until in your entire day, from when you wake up to when you go to sleep, your flow of thoughts is entirely under your control. They are all under your control.
Other concentration exercises concern the development of the subtle senses. To cut a long story short, for the time being we could see these exercises as a development of the imagination: that usual 'darkness' in which we are usually immersed when we imagine must be transformed from an empty, black screen to a full, full hd screen, in which we can see, hear, smell, taste and touch what we imagine. The exercises are also about the development of the subtle senses of the imagination.
Fix your mind on a single, simple object, like a red ball. Think only and only of it, eliminating every other thought-distraction that passes through your mind. Observe it, look at it, until you visualise it clearly. At first there will be darkness, then it will gradually become a red shade, and then take on a rounder shape, until it becomes the ball you want to imagine, clear and sharp in every detail.
Once we have learnt to visualise the red ball, we can move on to more complex subjects, adding the other senses as well. For example, the next object could be the pendulum of a clock, of which, in addition to visualising it, we can also listen to the ticking. For more on the development of the subtle senses, I particularly recommend reading Franz Bardon, Introduction to the Hermetic Doctrines, Volume 1, and Patanjali's Yogasutras. We will, however, come back to this in other papers.
The moment you manage to keep your attention steady on a certain subject for at least a minute, then you can move on to the next step: silence. Silence' is a symbol and as such you can interpret it in various ways. For what we are interested in now, silence means very simply stopping the mental chatter.
When, in your meditation, you have calmed your mind and stabilised your attention, managing to keep it on the chosen subject for at least two minutes, then you can begin to practise silence as well. To do this, stop thinking about your chosen subject, and nip in the bud any thoughts that arise in your mind. Stop thinking.
To simplify things, you can focus on your breath. Listen to the air enter your mouth, pass into your windpipe and fill your lungs, to go out, and back in again. Feel the breath flow freely, and with it your vital, inner energy, while silence reigns in your head.
In concentration, thoughts-distractions that do not concern the chosen subject are to be rejected, blocked, ignored, so that our attention remains on the chosen subject. In silence, every thought must be extinguished, nipped in the bud. The mind must be free and calm. A blank canvas. A still ocean.
To silence your mind, you don't need any fancy techniques, you just have to totally and literally stop your flow of thoughts, and remain with your mind in silence. Simply concentrate on your breath, block your thoughts, and nothing else. Of course, it might not be so easy at first, and the silence won't last very long, but as always, it takes practice.
Practise staying with your mind in silence for longer and longer without getting distracted. Silence is one of the four cornerstones of the Work, and must be practised every day. The most important times to practise it are at the beginning and end of the day.
Three in One.
The three previous exercises can also be seen as three parts of a single exercise. That is to say: at first it is chaos, in the sense that the flow of thoughts goes where it will, continually attracted, or distracted, by new stimuli. Then the practice begins. One begins to observe this flow of thoughts, and so one becomes aware of the chaos. Then you train your attention, develop your will, subtle senses, imagination, and intellect.
You tidy up, clear out the superfluous, and begin to consciously direct your mind, weeding out the bad grass, and letting only those thoughts grow that bear fruit that interests us. Every thought is a seed, to which we give our light when we direct our attention to it. Disciplining the mind means treating it a bit like a garden, of which we are the gardener. We can choose what to do: either stand under a tree watching the clouds all the time, or get busy, making our own Eden.
Watch the chaotic river flow by removing yourself from its influence, through detachment. With detachment, the wind stops blowing over the waters, which gently calm down, also helped by the breath, which evens out, slows down and becomes deeper. From many chaotic thoughts, one thus passes to a single one, ordered by the Will.
Look at a red ball. In doing so, you might think "red ball!", so as to call it to mind. Next, you might ask yourself: what is the red ball made of? What size is it? How heavy is it? Is it smooth or rough? What does it smell like? And so on, trying, after each question, to perceive the various characteristics we want for our ball. If we imagine a red, rubber ball with a smooth surface, we try to imagine touching the red ball and feeling our fingers sinking into the rubber, or the sound produced when we pass them over the smooth surface of the ball.
When attention is fixed and stable, one begins to remove all that is there: first the thought, and then the seed, the chosen subject, the red ball, and one remains in silence. In the silence, the breath rises beyond physical matter, and becomes a subtle breath, a life-breath, which rises to tune with the cosmic, universal breath. Mental silence sinks into the eternal void of infinite space.
In order to elevate itself, silence must empty itself. It is filled by the body, the breath, the senses, the imagination. When your attention is fixed and stable on the red ball, eliminate the words, the mental chatter, and visualise the red ball without speaking in your mind, but nipping every thought-sentence in the bud. Then, eliminate the red ball too, a little at a time: the scent, the density, the shape, the colour. Until all that remains of the red ball, or the seed, is the essence, and nothing else.
Or, remove that essence too, and shift your concentration to the body, to the breath. You will still feel the environment around you: try to remove external perceptions. Keep removing, emptying your mind, until you remain only you, Consciousness, in the Centre, in the heart, and around you, the Eternal.