A non-dual teacher once stopped my mind briefly with a single word, after I had rattled off questions about how to return to the sense of an awakened state I had felt at some time in the past. Her word was "STOP!" delivered with a penetrating stare. This invitation plunged me into a silence that rested within me, and dropped me into the presence of the heart.
The problem most of us have is that we are overly identified with our thoughts. We never stop! We never question from where they arise. We never doubt the validity of our concepts, beliefs, fears, desires and ambitions. We never relax deeply enough, except possibly in sleep (and even then not very thoroughly) to experience the nature of consciousness in its state prior to thought. It’s as if we are a spinning top or a whirlwind of thinking and emotion and it never stops – we never stop to recognize ourselves in the position of nothing-happening, being no-one. When the Buddhists speak of an end to suffering they are speaking of this stopping, because realized beings have recognized that it is the entanglement in thought that supports the idea of a separate "I", and keeps us vulnerable to separation and sorrow. Of course you can't stop the function of thought entirely, except in brief moments. But you can make it irrelevant, or move it from the role of manager into the role of occasional service.
It doesn’t matter in the least what the thoughts are that entangle us. They can be about work, relationships, money, or even spiritual goals and accomplishments. All of them are false because all of them support an entity that does not exist, who is like a character in a play. All of them are just spinning around, hoping to pull us in, seducing us into identifications with our life. This has a functional use, but the outcome often seems to be division, judgment, conflict, confusion and fear. If you are in a role where thought is essential (a judge, inventor, business manager, teacher, etc.) of course you must use the working mind functionally. But what about the chaotic thoughts -- the self-judgments, criticism, obsessive worrying, rehashing of old memories -- there is a running commentary in the back of most heads that is burdensome, distracting, and even destructive. It serves to keep a person locked into a learned and conditioned identity.
Something propelled the person you are into existence. Did you have anything to do with it? Was there a you who was born, and developed and will die? Can you find him or her outside of a thought?
There is an apparent form, which appeared in one moment, and changes day-by-day, year-by-year. Did you as a separate person have anything to do with starting this process? Are you in control of the ending of it? There seems to a be a mind which has some influence over how you live your life, but how much control do you have over the thoughts that pop up in it? Can you find who or what it is inside of you that makes decisions for your life?
The foundation of spiritual awakening is the discovery of what it is you are, what it is in you that exists before thoughts clutter up perceptions and wrap themselves around experiences. What has the experience if you do not identify with the form or the thoughts? What is having this experience right here and now? It is nameless: it is that which never leaves you, and the only part of you that never changes,
When you are able to cut off all awareness of form and thought you may go into a Samadhi state, where consciousness is simply floating or free-falling or expanding into space or light. But eventually this feels incomplete, because you are transcending out of the form and experience that exists as creation right here now. Many forms of meditation and spiritual practice have focused on the transcendent experience. But Zen and other non-dual teachings focus on the immediate expression of the infinite through life’s appearance itself. You do not let go of all thoughts, but rather recognize yourself as the ground through which they arise. You can’t have this recognition through thought because thought cannot think itself out of existence. You cannot use thought to eliminate thought any more than you could eliminate sunlight by putting more sunlight on it.
The Advaita sage Ramana Maharshi said "That from which all thoughts of embodied beings spring is the Heart. Descriptions of the Heart are only mental concepts. In brief, the 'I' thought is the root of all thoughts. The source of the I-thought is the Heart". However he said this Heart is not the "blood-pumping organ." He called this other heart area Hridayam, which means the center, and stands for the Self. It is located on the right side of the chest parallel to the physical heart and a few finger-widths from the sternum. He said that the "light of consciousness flows from the Heart" through sushumna (the central channel in the spine through which our subtle energy runs) and into sahasrara, the point at the crown of the head that opens to cosmic consciousness).
Ramana cited his own awakening experience as the source of this understanding, and said that our sense of an "I" springs from this pivotal point and expands to create the appearance of the mind and the world. So if one will sit with the feeling of "I'' and seek its source without any labeling, freed for a moment from any beliefs or attachments of mind, consciousness may fall into this "cave of the Heart" (as he called it) and realize its True Nature, or Self.
There are many practices that various spiritual communities offer as pathways to awakening. This simple focus suggested by Ramana led me into the deepest Truth I have known, shattering a sense of separateness and giving a vision that described how all of us are trapped by thought-forms, and reaching out to be pulled into the unbounded openness of consciousness. For this to happen we must allow ourselves to "STOP!" and let the chaotic activity of mind sink into a single source, the illusory belief in an "I" triggered by a subtle movement of the heart. If your longing is to awaken, seek the source of this longing sensation, because it too arises from the Heart, attempting to draw you Home.
 (1994)Maharshi, Sri Ramana (transl.by Natarajan) Ramana Gita: Dialogues with Sri Ramana Maharshi, pp 48-50
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© Bonnie Greenwell Ph.D.