Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 4 : Elementary Meditation > Chapter 7 : Mindfulness, Mental Quiet

Mindfulness, Mental Quiet


Although everyone must begin by making meditation something to be practised at particular times only, he must end by making it an essential background to his whole life. Even under the pressure of inescapable outward occupation, it ought to be still continuing as the screen upon which these occupational activities appear.

Keep on remembering to observe yourself, to watch yourself, to become aware of what you are thinking, feeling, saying, or doing. This is one of the most valuable exercises of the Quest.

Whatever one is doing, to stop suddenly at an unarranged moment and in an unforeseen position becomes a useful exercise when repeated several times every day. It is necessary to hold the whole body rigidly fixed in exactly the posture which had been reached at the very moment of command. Even the expression on the face and the thought in the mind must be included. This is one of the "Awareness" exercises; they are performed when sitting, walking, working, eating, or moving.

This exercise of self-vigilance is a daily and hourly one, for the intrusions of negative moods and destructive thoughts are daily and hourly, too.

Walking meditation: The practice of meditation can be continued even while walking. This is done in a slow dignified way, starting with the right foot and the heel touching the ground first, on the expiring breath. Then continue rhythmically, slowly, a measured pace--without haste and without turning the head right and left. The monk I saw was walking with head down, and looking at the ground. He was in Thailand.

In the end, he will make no separation between everyday ordinary routine and the period of meditation--for the whole of his life will become one continuous meditation. His actions will then take place within its atmosphere. But in the beginning he must make this separation.

As you go about your daily work in your ordinary life and in relations with other people, in hours of toil or pleasure, or indeed at any period of your life, remember the Overself.

The Way of Mindfulness in Buddhism, of deliberately being conscious of each physical action quite apart from the action itself, produces a different state from that of the ordinary person who may outwardly perform the same action. It develops concentration and an awareness which ultimately leads to the awareness of the being himself who practises the exercise. The ordinary person is lost in the action itself, in the thought itself, in the speech itself, and has no separate awareness of them. Practice of mindfulness gives a conscious responsibility for what is being done, what is being thought, and what is being said quite apart from what is observed and heard. It lights him up from within with intense concentration. This is a mental discipline practised daily by the Buddhist monks and useful to other seekers.

By means of this exercise in mindfulness, whatever he is doing and whatever he is working at is no longer the mere work or action itself. It is also a part of his spiritual training, his self-discipline, his concentration practice, and ultimately his separate awareness and responsibility for himself.

A housewife wrote to me that she found herself too busy with her duties to sit down and meditate; but by thinking about spiritual subjects as she went about her work, she found with time that this not only lightened the drudgery but also developed into a kind of meditation itself.

A valuable exercise is one which practises transferring awareness to the body as and when it is being used. This is done by moving across a room, a courtyard, an open space, with slow-walking feet, as slow as he can make them. The physical movement must be accompanied by a deliberate effort to know what one is doing, fully mindful and concentrated on each step forward.

This practice of persistent recall does more good to help a man not only in an inward uplifting sense but also in a practical manner by its prevention of falling into bad courses.

Responsibility, according to its measure, cannot be shrugged off. "Our thoughts are ours," as Shakespeare says.

He will give, and he ought increasingly to give, more attention to scrutiny of the kind of thoughts which occupy his mind. And he will take the opportunity following every such scrutiny to cleanse, correct, improve, or uplift these thoughts and thus bring them under some control.

He can use books as a preliminary guide to working on himself. The study and observation of his conduct, the analysis of his past and present experiences in the light of his highest aspirations, the attempt to be impartially aware of himself in various situations, will open the way to more direct guidance through intuitions from his higher self.

It is true that the space of time during which he tries to gain control of his thoughts every day is a short one, whereas his habitual carelessness in the matter continues for the rest of the day. Some critics have asked what is the use of this control if it ends with the meditation period?

Even while he is acting in a situation, he trains himself to observe it.

The practice should also be continued at mealtimes. When eating anything, keep in mind the idea, "The body (not my body) is eating this food." When taking particularly appetizing food, hold the thought, "The body is enjoying this food." All the time, watch the bodily reactions as an impersonal but interested spectator.

Bangkok monastery meditation exercise: The monks paced around very, very slowly, slowly lifting a foot and consciously deliberately putting it down again for the next step. All the while they tried to keep the mind empty. The eyes were cast downward.

The intenser the longing for enlightenment, the easier it is to practise recollection.

Emotional ecstasies are not or should not be the final goal of meditation practice. They may be welcomed, but the quest ought not be pursued so far and allowed to end with them. Better the Great Peace, the Self melted in Divine Being, the mind enlightened by Divine Truth, the result a return to the world with the heart suffused by a Great Goodwill. Such is the philosopher's goal. It does not depend on meditation alone. To those struggling in and with the world as it is today, it may seem inaccessible, utterly beyond one's ambitions.

The higher purpose of meditation is missed if it does not end in the peace, the stillness, that emanates from the real self. However slightly it may be felt, this is the essential work which meditation must do for us.

The cultivation of a tranquil temperament promotes the practice of mental quiet. The cultivation of mental quiet promotes the attainment of the Overself's peace.

The bored or gloomy silence of some old persons is not at all to be mistaken for the sacred silence of a true mystic.

If he practises mental stillness until he masters it, he will benefit proportionately. For in its deepest quietude he can find the highest inspiration.

It is partly because the Overself waits for us in silence that we have to approach it in silence too.

The belief that meditation is only an exercise in quiet reflection is a half-true, half-false one. It may begin like that, but it must not end like that. For when it is sufficiently advanced, thoughts should be dropped and the mind emptied. This will not be possible in a few days or months, but if one sits for it daily, regularly, this utterly relaxed state will suddenly be realized.

It is also an affair of waiting, waiting for the repose to settle on his being. The doing is simply to brush off intruding thoughts, to hold attention in a concentrated manner.

In those moments when a mysterious stillness holds the heart of man, he has the chance to know that he is not limited to his little egoistic self.

If the mind could but listen to itself, and not to its thoughts, it might get closer to truth.

To renounce the self in meditation is to sit still and let the ego listen to the Voice of the Overself.

It is the calm which comes from profound reflection, the repose which repays adequate comprehension.

If we can train the mind to be still, it will clear itself of muddy thoughts and let the Soul's light shine through.

What ordinary thought cannot reach, pacified thought can. This happens when mental quiet is fully and successfully entered, even if briefly.

There is the silence of the mentally dull and spiritually inactive. There is also the silence of the wise and illumined.

God will not enter into your heart until it is empty and still.

But why must the mind be stilled, it will be asked, to know God? Because God moves in and through the universe itself so silently and in such stillness that atheists doubt whether this divine power is really there. In the state of rapt mental quiet, the human mind approaches the divine mind and, as the quietness deepens, is able to make its first conscious contact with it.

It is not easy for a man to believe that a greater wisdom may be received by his mind if he keeps it still than if he stirs it into activity.

What they do not know, and have to learn, is that there is a false silence within the mind as well as a true one. The one may resemble the other in certain points, and does--but it is a psychic state, not a spiritual one. It can deceive and lead astray, or reflect earthly things correctly, but cannot let them hear the voice of the Overself.

When the brain is too active, its energies obstruct the gentle influx of intuitive feeling. When they are extroverted, they obstruct that listening attitude which is needed to hear the Overself's gentle voice speak to the inner silence. Mental quiet must be the goal. We must develop a new kind of hearing.

If he is really deep in meditation, not a single muscle of his body will move.

With most people a completely thought-free mind may be impossible to attain in their present situation, but a tranquillized mind is possible.

Meditation may begin as a dialogue between the meditator and his imagined higher self; it may pass beyond that into a real dialogue with his Overself. But if he is to go farther all dialogue must cease, all attempt to communicate must end in the Stillness.

As mental agitations and emotional dominations fall away through this patient waiting, a hush falls upon the inner being. This is a delicate, gentle, and important state, for it is approaching the threshold where a new and rare kind of experience may be near.

Mental quiet, if fully attained, frees the time-bound consciousness, which then floats all-too-briefly into Timelessness.

He is to keep absolutely still during this period, letting no movement of the body distract the mind; because of the interaction of these two entities, the one influencing the other, the mind will become increasingly still too.

The layman of the West is just beginning to learn the art of mental quiet, but he has not yet penetrated deeply enough; he has far to go.

The "natural" (returning to one's true nature) condition of consciousness has not only to be attained but, by unremitting practice, also retained.

The bustle of the world's activity and of personal preoccupations must be inwardly silenced before the knowledge of what underlies both the World-Idea and the ego-thought can reveal itself.

It is good practice to put one's questions or state one's problems before beginning a meditation and then to forget them. Unless the meditation succeeds in reaching the stillness, the full response cannot be made.

Mental silence is what is ordinarily called yoga in India. From the philosophical standpoint, it is valuable, but still not enough where it is mere mental inactivity. The ego, or the thought of the ego, has also to be overcome so as to allow the higher power, the higher self, to take possession of the mind thereafter.

Because thinking is an activity within time, it cannot lead to the Timeless. For this attainment, mental quiet is necessary.

The clearness of mind which pervades this state is extraordinarily intense. It lights up every person and every incident coming into the area of thought, but even more--himself.

To sit with another person for several minutes in complete silence yet in complete ease is beyond the capacity of most Occidental city people. The Orientals still have it but, as the West's way of life makes its inroads, are beginning to lose it.

It is only when this emotional calm has been attained that correct thinking can ever begin.

Chou Tun-Yi (eleventh-century Chinese philosopher): "The Sage makes stillness the ruling consideration."

There is an air of venerable dignity about a figure sunk in meditative quiet and withdrawn from earthly concerns.

As the mind's movement ebbs away and its turnings slow down, the ego's desires for, and attempt to hold on to, its world drop away. What ensues is a real mental quiet. The man discovers himself, his Overself.

He sees into himself as he has never known himself before.

How far is all this utter emotional stillness and grave mental silence from all the noise of religious disputations, from all the tension of sectarian criticism, from all the puerilities of textual hair-splitting!

It is when the mind is still that high spiritual forces, be they from God or guru, can reach a man.

The body becomes strangely still, the sinews quite relaxed, the breathing greatly subdued; sometimes even the head droops.

Only the regular deep breathing shows that the spirit has not withdrawn from the body.

A mind filled with thoughts about things, persons, and events, with desires, passions, and moods, with worries, fears, and disturbances, is in no fit condition to make contact with that which transcends them all. It must first be quietened and emptied.

The quietness uncovers the essential being.

Thoughts flicker across the screen of consciousness like a cinema picture. Who pauses to see what this consciousness itself is like and what it has to say for itself? Has not the time come for Western man to learn the art of mental quiet?

The effort to hold thoughts back, to touch their calm source deep deep below them, must be made.

The way his body moves, works, walks, behaves, reveals something of the inner man, the ego. But non-movement, sitting quite still, can reveal even more--the being behind the ego. However this remains a mere unrealized possibility if the man is without knowledge or instruction.

"To be in Mental Quiet is to observe the mind's own nature," wrote Lao Tzu.