In our cities, noise pollution has become a big thing, and if you are trying to develop a meditation practice and find that “quiet, peaceful place” to sit, you may become a little disillusioned.
However, there is an answer, and a very practical way to attain Inner Silence, and you can do it right in the middle of the noise, by using the noise. The practice I am referring to is antar mouna.
What is so fantastic about antar mouna is that we start by dealing with the external noises, and then move into the noise within the mind. If you are just starting out with a meditation practice or you probably remember when you began, just a couple minutes sitting and you realize how noisy your head really is.
But with all of the external noises around you, this is where the distraction begins. You are busy trying to quiet the mind and then someone next door slams the kitchen cupboard, or a loud car goes roaring past, you instantly create an image in your mind of that noise and it’s source. Once that starts you then find your thoughts snowballing and 5 minutes later you realize that you lost focus on your breath, again.
So, you gently bring your attention and awareness back to your breath and then two cats start hissing and growling at each other, and 5 minutes later you realize that your thoughts have gone rampant, and so you gently bring your awareness back to your breath, again.
So first we need to eliminate the attachment to the sounds we hear and then eliminate the attachment to the noise in our head.
By eliminating attachment I mean accepting those things and not becoming attached to them by identifying them and then creating visual images in our mind of what they are and their source.
To do this we start with stage 1 of antar mouna.
Antar mouna is split up into six stages. We start by dealing with the external stimuli and then move onto dealing with the thoughts that create the noise in our head rather than the noise in our ears. From there, being stages 4 to 6, we move into more advanced practices where we start with no-thought and move on from there, but for now, I just want to talk about the external noise and how to deal with it.
Antar mouna technically belongs to the fifth step of raja yoga which is pratyahara and that means withdrawal or retreat, so it is a withdrawal of the mind from sensory objects. When you practice antar mouna, and more specifically the first stage, you are withdrawing the mind from external sensory objects and withdrawing the senses in order to go inward.
When doing the practice you are to be the observer, the witness. All sensory objects outside yourself are of the outer world, and are not of you or part of you, therefore, you simply observe.
Start by closing your eyes, this is sight and you will see blackness. Then move onto taste and observe the taste within your mouth. Then to smell, observing or witnessing any smells around you. Finally move to sound which is the anchor to the practice. Hear the sounds around you. Do not attach to them as you will then move outside yourself with the imagery of the sound and the monkey mind will kick in. Just observe, witness the sound as just that, a sound.
As Swami Satyananda Saraswati put it, “You must separate the sense from the sense experience and only become aware of the experience of sound vibration.”
When we hear a sound, let’s say a dog barking, we first become aware of the ear, then the sound which is the barking, and then the dog. The barking is the sense experience and the dog is the sense object. The sense object is external from us and so we separate the bark from the dog and only focus on the sound or sense experience. Once you can achieve that, then you have accomplish the first step of withdrawal or pratyahara.
Now move the sense of hearing further out to the distance like a radar and start to experience the sounds further out. You can then move toward yourself and finally to the sounds within your own body. Then bounce from sound to sound, experience the sound as a vibration for a short while and move onto another sound, and keep bouncing from sound to sound.
You may be wondering how experiencing all of the sounds around you can lead to Inner Silence, after all, it is noisy. What happens with this technique is that eventually you become so familiar with all of the sounds around that you become disinterested. This allows you to withdraw from the senses and go within as you have experienced all of the distractions to exhaustion and can’t be bothered with them anymore.
As I mentioned, this is only stage 1 of antar mouna. From here we then go inside and start to deal with our thoughts, but not in a forceful way whereby we ban the thoughts as they come up, or push them away with contempt. We deal with the thoughts as in, let them arise and then pluck them out. We actually want the mind to become noisy so that we can slowly turn the volume down. But, more on stage 2 in another post. For now, let’s concentrate on that noisy world outside ourselves.