'Approach what you find repulsive, help the one's you think you cannot help, go to places that scare.' p164 'Being Bodies - Buddhist Women on the Paradox of Embodiment' edited by Friedman & Moon Shambhala 1997
The opening quote, though consistent with the tantric origins of this practice, may seem like a tough exhortation to recommend it. However, it reminds us that all experience is shaped in the mind. We advise you to begin this practice with the help of an experienced teacher. It is not recommended if you are out of balance, distressed, derpressed or unwell. Better to do Yoga Nidra for an intial practice until you are feeling more balanced. For this reason we have only included the first two of the six stages of the practice on our web site. If you area struggling with persistent negative thinking, consider this brief article.
Meditation is a spontaneous, organic process that you can only prepare for, as one does for birth or sleep. Technique can only take us so far. Meditation is one way we can stop fighting with ourselves, stop struggling with our circumstances and stop splitting ourselves, our body and our world into wanted and unwanted, avowed and disavowed, good and bad.
Antar Mouna, or inner silence, appears to focus on thought as the object of attention, but in its culture of origin and today, it truly aims for the sensations underlying thought processes and the prana or life beneath that. It aims to internalise the senses so that we can observe the underlying structure of mind and of Mind.
We have learned from our students and teachers that if you have a chronic or terminal illness, a traumatic injury, obsessive compulsive disorder or depression, you may already have discovered how a thought can provoke the symptoms. Adepts at managing chronic pain like fibromyalgia, have learned how to catch the whisper in the breeze of sensation that precedes tidal, inflammatory thoughts and calms thembefore they wind up the symptoms.
We pray this is not how you learned the process underlying Antar Mouna, but if you did then you will find this practice very familiar and perhaps life saving. For the rest of us, this practice can make our time living with the unruly, grasping brain more pleasant for ourselves and those affected by us.
It can be done lying, sitting, whilst swimming, cleaning or as a passenger in a car. It does not require a still body. Only relaxed concentration, soft attention and lots of practice.
Stage 1 and 2 in a nutshell Stage 1 - Settle body, activate senses near and far. Consider the least used sense.
Stage 2 - Witness spontaneous thoughts. Notice the patterns.
The Practice in Detail
Each time you commence this practice, settle your body in any particular pose or position that suits you. This can be seated in a chair or in a meditation pose or lying down. If you are engaged in an activity such as walking whilst you are practising Antar Mouna, then this phase of settling the body is a bit like adopting a conscious physical attitude, which says I am now walking AND practising meditation. We recommend a position seated on the floor with the spine upright. Having the legs the height of the torso is less work for the heart, and having the spine erect gives alertness. However, any position that is comfortable is fine. Because antar mouna is about a moving mind, movement of the body does not disturb the practice.
Stage 1 Antar Mouna
Preamble - lessons from trauma and recovery
Awakening all the senses is a particular emphasis of our teaching. Thirty years of working with trauma and the observations of emergency workers trained in trauma recovery indicate that the brain fragments shock and trauma within an hour of the incident. It places crucial parts of the experience in little used sensory areas and clouds them over so that the traumatic effect is dulled. When you are tired, distracted or upset, the brain's hold on these places loosens and their contents can leak out and give you a bit of a shock or even a flashback.
When you come to meditate and touch on these areas it might shake the hell out of you or you may avoid going there at all, knowing it has that potential. As you develop in meditation these areas guard your access to full awareness. All the sensory channels need to gradually awaken in the process of meditation, so we emphasise this in beginning stages of antar mouna in order that you won't be shaken to bits and be turned off meditating for life.
Very few humans get through childhood without experiencing or witnessing a shock or trauma. Most of our parents are an unfinished work when they have us, still recovering from their own childhood and adolescence. The school and cultural environment does not support living in process. It is outcome based. There is little room for examining our life, exploring the workings of our heart or what is hidden in our senses.
We live day to day as a society, witnessing human rights abuses around the world and at home. It was always so. As a result the brain has evolved a capacity for rapid rebound from shock and trauma by clouding the sensory record of the shock and by fragmenting the senses. This breaks the experience up into parts not only out of sequence but also out of context. And alongside this, we have evolved a process of healing when the time and resources are present for unravelling the frozen locations of trauma. Embodied meditation practices will often reveal the no-go areas in the brain's mapping of our experience, past and present.
In Antar Mouna we start with the end in mind, occupying and activating all sensory channels with a kind heart. Start one at a time, with hearing first, then move to sight, smell, touch and taste. The largest sense organ, larger than the skin is fascia, the marbling in meat. It pervades and interconnects just about every system in the body. It surrounds muscle and tissues and supports its shape. It can act as an emotional or body memory storage system. Fully explored in each sense, this process will get you to a deep, abiding calm and clarity of mind.
If only it were so easy.
Embodiment means connection with the beauty and the garbage stored away in the sensory channels to which you give your attention and those from which you withdraw your awareness. Each of us has a sensory channel we neglect and one we rely on. This first stage of Antar Mouna is an opportunity to come home to the love and the crap that you carry around within you.
As with our other teachings, we recommend you hang out in each stage before moving on, rather than rushing though it to get to the end like an express train. And find a way to do it with progressively less effort. If you only complete stage 1 in a sitting, the clarity will abide throughout the day. If you are finishing at stage 1 for the day then send a little of this clarity to someone you are connected to and may need it. End with saying your sankalpa to yourself three times with serene confidence. Start to get up. If you are moving on to stage 2 then stretch and move a little if you wish.
We suggest that if this is the first time you have tried Antar Mouna, that you begin just with stage I. Developing this clarity and the ability to witness the senses makes the next stage of witnessing thoughts possible. Because of it's importance, we have given three different approaches to stage 1. Try them and see which works best for you.
For the best results, take the instructions for those exercises off the page below and speak them slowly and gently onto an audio tape. Then, when you are in a comfortable position, without interruptions, you can do Stage 1. Work with this over time, until you feel grounded in the senses. They are the senses of the body not the imagination. We need to be aware of their content and at the same time be aware of ourselves being aware of them. It is comparatively easy to know we are not the sounds or smells, less clear to know we are not the thoughts.
When you feel easy with witnessing the senses, add stage 2. When you reckon it is time to go on to the next stages of witnessing thoughts, contact us for a class or obtain a copy of the Antar Mouna CD from Satyananda Yoga.
Stage 1 Antar Mouna
Version 1 - coming to your senses
Become aware of your present time experience. Notice the sensations of your body. Feel for any tension get to know what that feels like. Adjust your position if you like. Notice the sensations in the face. ..around the eyes and jaw. Shoulders, arms and hands. Chest and abdomen. Legs and feet. Notice the body move as you breathe. Let the body be as it is. Just get to know it.
Notice that your awareness can be quite separate from the body. It takes a while for the mind to come into the body, and away from its playthings of thoughts. This quality of separation is the quality of witness.
Take your awareness through your body again, from head to toe. Do this as the witness, just finding out what the body is doing. Take your time (pause one minute).
Now notice the sounds around you. Let them come to your ears, just as you waited for the body sensations to come clear. Surrender to the sounds around you. Welcome them in to you home.
There is no need to think of what makes the sound. Just listen.
Move your awareness from sound to sound.
Within the sounds, listen for the fluctuations.
Listen from all directions.
Start by embracing sensory events near to the body and then further and further out, even to the other side of the world. Imagine that you could hear a match strike lighting a candle on the other side of the world.
Then bring your attention back with a soft focus, back to the body. Then move it out again.
Listen for the quieter sounds.
Listen for the beginnings and endings of the sounds. For the soft breeze just before the sound lands. Just like that subtle shift before the dawn appears in the heavens.
Feel your awareness as the witness, just receiving the sounds.
Now take your awareness to the taste in your mouth.
Feel if it is stronger at the front or back or side of the mouth.
Deepen your awareness - can you taste your previous meal?
Can you taste what is in your stomach now?
Find ways to sense your taste with less effort.
The sense is already here.
Then to the smell in your nose. Be the witness.
Smell a little further. Out to the rest of the room
And then back to the nostrils.
Flex your sensory muscles.
Finally, notice the colours inside your closed eyelids.
Notice the depth of the vision - how far do you see?
How big is the field?
Let the vision be as it is, just notice.
What movement do you see?
Then bring your awareness back with a soft focus. Let the mind look around freely. Notice whatever the senses bring spontaneously to awareness.
Version 2 - cleaning the doors of perception
This is a guided imagery journey, however, you will need to make your own particular journey right for you amd guide yourself through each sense. The script below is a source to adapt for your own script and can be repeated for each of the five or six senses.
You are on a trip into an imaginary cave, a dwelling or a huge ten or a room among the clouds. You might have found your way there along a footpath, or down a broad flight of stairs, on a walk in the desert under the stars or hopping on pebbles in a stream or just climbing up into a cloud or diving down to the ocean floor. Let the place take shape freely, with at least six doorways and through each a space occupied by one of the senses, including the sixth. Notice which of the six doorways beckons you. You may find the doorway covered or not, by any material in imagination or they may just be an open passage like that between buildings in a market place. You may pass easily through a silk curtain, you may feel welcome in the space or you may find there is some resistance to going on through to this first sensory area. You will notice that you have at your finger tips, all the magical and mundane cleaning equipment that you will need in each of the areas you enter. In this one, begin to clean every nook and cranny in the space. Clean the windows if there are any, clean the air, the floors and ceiling, any materials or furniture, any jewels or ornaments lying around. As you clean consider which sense you are in. If garbage is piled up high in one of the spaces you may have come upon the place you hide your 'stuff'. Carefully move it or dispose of it lovingly and ecologically. Compost is good. Junk sculpture is good. Do whatever works and leave behind a symbol of ongoing healing. When you are satisfied with your work, go out into the area where another doorway may beckon you. Notice how easily you pass through the door and find again just the right equipment at your fingertips and repeat the process. Continue this until all the doors of perception are opened and the space behind cleansed, knowing that this will continue once you have given the brain the idea that this cleansing is possible.. If one of the rooms is particularly hard to find or to enter, is noisy or its windows covered in grime or foul smelling or door or walls rough - you may have come across your least occupied sense. When this one is cleaned, leave something special in there to draw your attention to this sense. When you have finished, return along the path, the stairway, down from the cloud room or up to the surface, knowing that you can return here to a sanctuary for the soul
Next time you begin an Antar Mouna practice, just have a quick check of the rooms and do a maintenance clean if needs be.
Version 3 - witnessing spontaneous flow
As you develop the ability to internalise your senses, do this with less and less strain. This is a more spontaneous way of entering this state.
Become aware of the sounds around you, where you are now. Both near and distant sounds. Try and catch the vibrations of them in your ear before you guess thier source (eg that's a car passing by or a distant radio). Then imagine you are sitting on your favourite river bank and watching the whirlpools forming and dissolving in the water flowing before you. You have no desire to interfere with or disturb the water or the whorls, you are just witnessing the unfolding patterns as they arise and move on in the river of mind. Have an internal monologue, which says 'I'm noticing the size or the duration of a whirlpool. Now take this witnessing approach into feeling that you are standing at an intersection of warm and cold air currents and feel for the edges, which define a contrast between one temperature or humidity and another. Now take this approach into sensing you're on the outskirts of an Indian or Mexican bazaar and just let the aroma's waft across, noticing the intermingling of odours. Notice how your mind conjures up meaningful associations, memories or not. Tell yourself what you are noticing. For example 'I'm noticing a memory of the last time I was in a bazaar'. Now taste the air which carries these aromas into the back of your throat. Now bring your awareness back to the sounds around you where you are now, listen to the sound of your breathing. Play with these experiences. Choose your least used sense. Develop a dispassionate witness that doesn't get involved in the experience, that leaves it alone to unfold and surrenders to its effect in the body, without limitation or judgement.
Stage 2 Antar Mouna
Preamble In Stage 1 you are here and now, in your body, with internalised senses and witnessing their free flow. In Stage 2 you extend that awareness to spontaneous thoughts. Emotions and body sensations will come and go as well. They will appear and dissolve without assistance, just like water whirlpools and wafts of scent in a bazaar. Although Antar Mouna means inner silence, most of us have a lot of inner noise. The inner silence is this separation from the noise. It is resting in the awareness that notices the thoughts or sensations.
Stage 2 Antar Mouna
Initially, catch the thoughts, feelings or body sensations as they arise, gently holding them and then releasing them until you can notice them without catching or holding onto them at all. This is the softest attention of all, like butterfly thoughts, almost not attending and noticing events at the periphery of mind, at the edges of awareness, just as they are beginning to reach the senses and before they form into a thought, feeling or body sensation. As each body/mind event comes up, say to yourself 'I'm thinking about X..'. You are just noticing these events unfold. They come up into awareness and as surely go on to dissolve in the stream of mind. All of them pass. This too will pass.
You can think of this as becoming the 'sky of mind', rather than the clouds that pass. Or being the ocean rather than the wave. Or the tree and it's roots, rather than the leaf or the seed.
Sometimes when we ask the mind to think, there is a period without thoughts, then we find ourselves absorbed in them again. If you are without thoughts, just wait. They will come. Catch the beginning.
Some thoughts come embellished with associations or meaning and you just notice that too, and think to yourself, "All these thoughts, feelings, sensations about X.. mean that I am Y or Z.. and I notice I am thinking or believing that I am Y or Z.'. That is as much processing of the thought that you do in Stage 2. You are aiming to sit very lightly at the edge of your mind, on the outskirts of awareness, like gossamer or spider web caressing the ground or the air, leaving little or no imprint on the surrounding area. Just witnessing with the softest gaze, completely relaxed and open.
In this way you are releasing tension around the thought, the sensations or feelings. You are inviting and welcoming all that is within you, to come across your path and move on. As this progresses you may start to notice a pattern or theme emerging. You support the witness in you by saying to yourself, 'I'm noticing a pattern to these thoughts. It's about X', 'There's that thought about X again'. Just keep witnessing, and get out of the way of your mind releasing its contents in the same natural flow as the river to the sea.
As you progress in Stage 2 you will get to a clear space, without tension and you will feel energised. This is the beginning of the natural emergence of chidakasha, which you will use in Stage 5. Again, hang out here and let this experience deepen before going on to Stage 3. If you are finishing at stage 2 for the day then say your sankalpa to yourself, send some of this clarity and energy to one you are connected to and who may need it right now. Take time to return to your body and your surroundings.
Stages 3 to 6 are provided at our workshops or in the CD
This is part of the teaching notes from our workshop of the same name. Because of the possibility of intense experience, Avinashananda and Ziji offer weekend workshops in this practice. This gives time for the experience to unfold in a supportive environment. If you would like to know more about this or other workshops please contact us. Alternatively, you can buy a CD fromSatyananda Yoga Australia.