The first step in self- study – inner quiet, relaxation, sensation of oneself, and the attempt to remember oneself THE ideas presented in the preceding chapters may have shown us how superficial is the knowledge” we have about ourselves and our lives. If we want really to live our life, perhaps we now feel the need to deepen our understanding of it.
This places us in front of a new demand, something we have never looked at in this way until now.
The precise reasons why we want to undertake this study are doubtless a little different for everyone, and the specific aim which we have in view may not appear to be the same in each case and can be formulated in various ways. Nevertheless, each of these aspects is related to the same inner demand-to give our life a direction and meaning which in all honesty we have not yet found for it or, in any case, only found in part.
Almost everything we have done up until now has been directed outwardly-the outer world has absorbed almost all of our life. In comparison, the amount of time actually spent in turning toward
ourselves and our inner life is insignificant. In our training, schooling and daily activities, almost everything has been focused on externals. We are oriented toward knowledge coming from outside; we have learned to look only outside ourselves, and to deal with people, things and external circumstances. Even our “prayers” turn out most often to be directed outwardly, to an external God. We have learned very little about turning toward ourselves-it happens only briefly and at long intervals. If, however, we want to attain our own aims in life, and if we wish for a life with achievements and qualities like those we feel called to attain, and with achievements which have the taste of the truths we have realized, certainly this cannot exist as long as outer life constantly carries us away. We need to develop in ourselves a strong, lucid, stable presence, one that is capable of achieving its goals, making use of the forces that can help us, and resisting the forces in life that carry us away. And, first of all, we need to be continuously and fully ourselves in front of and in the midst of life.
Most of us have made some efforts in this direction, but we already see that these are almost always scattered, uncoordinated, disconnected, and completely inadequate. At best, a certain self-control and “will” have been developed at the cost of struggle and inner division, which has led to surrender to the opposing forces, or a revulsion against them. Even this control is precarious and constantly in question. We cannot say that it has brought us to be fully ourselves or that we have realized synthesis and harmony within ourselves, or between ourselves and life-it is not what could be called the first step toward self-realization or even realization of the lucid and sable presence which we understood that we needed. If we wish to reach something of real value in this direction, we fowl now that it is necessary to begin a work of another order, a work that is much better structured.
One thing is certainly true today. We cannot go further in our search for more presence in life conditions without firs: turning inwardly toward ourselves, without more experience and understanding of what we are, and without developing qualities we still lack. It is only in and through ourselves that what can give meaning to our lives is perceived and comes to pass. But we have not learned how to turn to ourselves; we do not know at all what an inner work toward awakening and self development could be. Just as we had to learn to manifest in our outer work, we must recognize that we are going to have to learn what inner work is and what kind of action or activity it requires.
Confronted with this first necessity to deepen our knowledge of ourselves, we suddenly see what an immense undertaking it is-just as largo as, if not larger than, the training necessary for our outer life. It is also a long road, sometimes boring, and often even discouraging; and from the beginning difficulties appear. Where to begin? We see clearly that a much longer, more intense, and more exacting work is necessary than any attempts of this kind we have ever made before. It will require methods of which we are totally ignorant. If we want to succeed in this, a much more organized work is needed.
A suitable structure cannot come from us-we do not have sufficient knowledge. A man who knows is necessary. And we cannot accomplish such a work on our own: alone we would not have the amount of time, all the different capacities, nor even the necessary courage. The first absolutely essential condition is to find a group of seekers interested in this work to whom he knowledge which is indispensable has been given. To find Such a group is in itself extremely unusual and difficult.
Let us suppose that by some miracle these conditions are realized and we can join a group which has undertaken to work along these lines. Even then, we shall never have the necessary interest to carry out this work if we do not have a clear enough vision of the direction to be followed, and if we do not understand the meaning of these first efforts.
We have seen that three different levels can be recognized in us, three very different modes of activity-an instinctive/moving level, an emotional level and an intellectual level. We are not without some experience in each of these domains, and we could begin our studies with any one of them.
Thus we could begin at the emotional level, that is to say, with all our emotions or feelings. But those of us who have tried (and others may very quickly come to the same conclusion) find out that our emotions and our feelings are probably just the place where we are most helpless. They rise up, disappear, make us blind, or carry us away in spite of ourselves, and they are certainly neither a solid nor a favorable foundation for beginning self-study.
We could also begin at the intellectual level. But we all know how much our thoughts are connected together, form associations, run on in spite of us, and escape us. We all know how difficult it is for us to “hold” them-to hold our attention on an intellectual task. And so this also does not seem an easy work with which to begin our self-study.
Lastly, there is the organic level-our body. It is solid and concrete, with an apparently stable form which can, in any case, be relied on to some degree. It is the instrument through which we perceive and our means of action. It can stay still voluntarily and thus is easier than the other parts for us to observe. It is relatively obedient, and we have a certain amount of control over it (in any case more than over our other parts). In addition, it is the one solid material base in us, and as a general rule everything undertaken on earth, whether human or not, must first be established on a solid and firm foundation. Finally, it is through the body that all the exchanges of life take place and through which we receive all the energies we need. For all these reasons, it may be wise to begin our work with it; and we need to be wise because we have a difficult task. If we don’t go about it intelligently, with certain artfulness, we cars be sure that stupidity will lead us to bitter disappointments.
If we wish to study our body, or at least, to begin with, its moving function, its movement, we must first of all be related to it. What relates us to the body is the sensation we have of it-the inner perception of my physical being, the physical sensation of myself. But sensation has an even greater importance because, if our aim is eventually to develop a stable presence in ourselves, the sensation of our physical being is an inherent part of this. It is the most concrete and easily controlled part.
We always have some sensation of our body; otherwise our postures could not be maintained, our movements would be made haphazardly, or not at all. But we are not conscious of this sensation, we are unaware of it, except in extreme situations when an unusual effort is required or when something suddenly goes badly or goes wrong. The rest of the time we forget about it. In order to know and observe ourselves and to study our body and later to support our work, we need to have this sensation. This calls for a new relationship to come into existence in me: I-conscious of-my sensation. Actually much more than just a new connection is involved. Really a new situation arises within us in this effort and, undoubtedly, this is what is most important, but we do not yet have enough actual experience to speak of it.
What we need immediately is a stable sensation; that is, we need to develop a more steady and longer lasting consciousness of our body and its situation. The first idea which then comes to mind, of course, is to try to follow this awareness of our body in the midst of the movements and activities of our life. We can try; but we soon see, on the one hand, that the sensation never remains the same so that it is extremely difficult to stay in touch with it and, on the other hand, that our activities distract us and cause us to lose all possibility of following our situation.
In fact, if we wish to experience sensation of ourselves and to develop the possibility of remaining aware of it, we must work in much less difficult conditions. We must put ourselves in specially favorable circumstances which correspond to what is possible for us; and, at the start, in a field we do not know yet, where nothing is developed as it should be, almost nothing is possible for us.
Moreover, in our work on ourselves, it will always be so. This work only makes sense if it enables us one day to go into life in order to manifest there to the full that which we recognize as being and to accomplish what depends on us. There will always be two lines in our work on ourselves: on the one hand, inner work in quiet conditions suitable for the development of certain possibilities, and on the other, putting ourselves to the test in life, to an extent proportionate to the inner development that has been realized. But life is a tempest in which one must be very strong inwardly not to be upset by the opposing elements. And before putting ourselves to the test or taking big risks, it is necessary to have developed patiently, in sheltered and favorable conditions, the forces and faculties (powers) which will preserve us from disaster.
As regards the sensation of ourselves, before being able to follow how it changes as we move about and live, we need to know it in a basic condition where we can immediately return to it, always the same, whenever it is needed for our inner work. Just as a zero or a norm is needed in all measurement, in the same way we need a point of reference in evaluating ourselves, a yardstick, the measure of a situation that is always the same. And for the sensation of oneself, we can find this base only in complete relaxation.
We must therefore put ourselves in conditions where complete relaxation is possible. Having realized this is necessary, we must promise ourselves to try it every day, so far as this is honestly possible, at least once, if not twice, and perhaps even, more.
We shall put ourselves in conditions where we are sure we will not be disturbed, nor have to respond to any calls from outer life. And, first of all, we have to take a posture suitable to work of this kind. Any such posture must be stable in itself, comfortable, and without strain of any kind. For
us, the one which is probably the best is simply sitting in a straight-backed chair or in an armchair if necessary, with the lower back supported or not, but with the pelvis well-balanced, the body erect and the head straight, that is, neither too low (which is a sign of inertia and even sleep) nor too high (a sign of running away into the intellect and ideas and even imagination). The eyes may be left open or closed. If the eyes are open, what is seen can feed the association of ideas in ourselves which takes up our attention and turns us away from our search-thus in this case it is desirable to keep looking steadily at a fixed point one or two yards in front of one. If the eyes are closed, not seeing anything external brings about greater quiet but also favors inertia and giving in to sleep. The knees should be at right angles and the feet close together or only slightly apart, flat on the ground. The arms and shoulders should hang freely, with the forearms bent, each hand flat
on the corresponding knee; in this position, the energy circuit passing through the hands is left open. The hands may also be placed in front of one, the right hand palm upwards in the left; then the energy circuit is closed in its natural direction (reverse the hands for left-handers).
It is a fact that there are various circuits of energy in our organism. Some of these are well known, such as the circuit of blood circulation or of the nerve impulses. Others, such as the circuits of the autonomic nervous system, are much less know c:’ practically unknown to us, as is the case with the circuits of more subtle energies. At the very we have heard they may exist. One of the reasons for taking the posture which we have adopted for all intensive inner work is to allow a free flow everywhere within us for all these circuits of energy. Another reason is that it makes total quiet possible; that is, on the one hand it does not cause mechanical discomfort in any part of the body or any uncomfortable pressure on our organs; and on the other hand it allows all unnecessary tensions to by dissolved, starting with those of our physical body. In a human being everything is connected. Mechanical pressures and especially muscular tensions block the free circulation of our energies, and they have their counterpart in the other parts of ourselves where there are similar features which prevent or divert work on ourselves. If for some reason (for example, a deformation of the skeleton) these cannot be resolved, we need to be aware of them in order to bring about as far as possible the necessary adjustments at the different levels within ass.
A favorable posture for intensive work on oneself muss therefore be perfectly balanced and naturally stable, the vertebral column and the head held upright on a perfectly stable pelvis without any kind of tension other than the very light tension at the back of the neck which prevents the head falling forward. This is the least tension necessary as a support for the effort of watchfulness.
The posture considered the best since ancient times, especially in the East where men practice these exercises a great deal, is the “lotus position.” With the buttocks slightly raised (on a cushion) to an extent which varies for each person, this posture provides the most stable base of any, the broadest area of contact with the ground and the most balanced immobility of the vertebral column.
But for Westerners, due to their lack of practice since childhood and their somewhat different skeletal formation, it is generally impossible. Nevertheless we can take a half-lotus position, or simply the posture of sitting on the ground with legs crossed. Even these intermediate positions are often difficult at first and require a certain amount of “training.” They are not absolutely necessary, and at the beginning the simple sitting position that we first described is perfectly suitable for work on oneself. But the other positions are the best for intensive inner work. They allow the greatest freedom with the least tension, the least expenditure of energy for the organism as a whole. Moreover each one of us has particular differences which require that everyone should
find the position which as the most balanced for himself or herself.
A position which might seem the most natural of all for resolving all tensions is lying flat on one’s back. But this position, “besides eliminating all muscular tension and leading first to inner passivity
and then to sleep, also favors the circulation and development of instinctive forces so that the general equilibrium is upset and made less sensitive, which is not desirable. Nevertheless, in some special cases or at special times, it may be flee only position which gives enough relaxation.
Provided that we can recognize and actually correct the dis-equilibrium, this positron also permits intensive work on oneself.
So, having placed ourselves in conditions where we are sure we will not be disturbed externally, we shall choose this seated position which at the beginning is certainly adequate for the work we intend to do and is the simplest one for us. First, we have to re-establish quiet conditions inside ourselves and free ourselves little by little from all the outer preoccupations of daily life, the tensions they create, the hold and the inner repercussions they have on us, and the agitation they cause. This requires more or less time depending upon each person’s state, how well he knows how to work and the pressure exerted by the outer circumstances.
Next, there is a necessary initial step, whatever work exercise is being practiced: this is always to remind ourselves why we are undertaking this effort and to find again in ourselves that which feels a need for this work and the line of interest it is connected to. An exercise of this kind has no meaning unless it is connected each time to our need to become a little more ourselves.
When we feel this we see that we are always divided-one part of us needs this effort and willingly accepts to make it; another part which may be more or less powerful (this can change with the weather or the circumstances) has no need for it at all and wants to have nothing to do with it. This other part has no interest in it whatever and would prefer something quite different-such as listening to music, going to the theater or to the cinema, studying, dancing, etc.
We must convince this other part for one moment to help us, or at least not to interfere with us, even if it has to be given what satisfaction it needs later. And it is most important to get this agreement in order to reduce the conflicts within us to a minimum. Work of this kind requires a harmonious “atmosphere.” It is better never to force anything.
Sometimes, however, at the risk of making no more efforts and seeing the part of us which has the most right to life wither away, we must compel the other part which smothers the first and refuses to make room for it to allow us to attempt what we wish. We must know how to do this when it appears to be necessary and demand of ourselves a discipline without useless struggle. We must be clever yet firm, knowing that each time we force something a resistance of equal strength is created. Even if the resistance created by constraint does not arise right away, it remains in the background, grows and gets larger through repeated accumulation until finally it explodes with destructive effects. It is necessary to know it, to observe it in oneself and to act accordingly. If this resistance is provoked or if it finds allies in oneself, it can make all real work impossible for a time.
One mast know how to recognize it, because there is nothing worse than undertaking an exercise of this hind without any real motive, simply because it has been suggested and -ire wish to get it over with. It is certainly more intelligent to wait for a better moment; at the same time, to put off until later what we cannot do right away is an obvious trap, a mild form c£ surrender to make the work more acceptable to the one who toes not wish it.
But to wait for a definite interval until a time precisely fixed in advance and then, at that moment, whatever the conditions may be, to begin relentlessly to make the effort again, is sometimes a justifiable expedient-though not without risks. Is this not what we do in our daily life for much less important goals?
Only if we are determined to bring about these first conditions, and only if we succeed in doing so, can we consider what should be our first efforts of work on ourselves. For these attempts bring nothing of themselves. They are only preparation for a long series of inner work efforts, difficult,
sometimes exacting, strewn with pitfalls and dead ends where the risk of going astray is as great as it is in outer life, and the amount of work to be done is much greater and more subtle than in any ocher kind of endeavor. Initially, this work will most often be a matter of relaxation and sensation, later of self-remembering, following precise methods and under the surveillance e‘ what it brings with it. To lose our way at this beginning may compromise any chance of future development, and from this point on we must abandon all abstract conceptions. Only the direct relationship of man to man, older to younger, master to disciple, will advance our progress from now on. A very alive inner awareness and a determination that never loses courage are indispensable to proceed on a road that is my own.
However, everything is relative, since human beings do not e,’ possess the same possibilities for evolution; but all of us have a way we can (and should follow, and which for us is essential. This way goes through precise stages, but at the same time the order in which they are reached and the means used to pass through them vary with each way and each school. Nor is the final level of attainment the same on the different ways. But in spite of these different aspects, what is possible to man, in general, and the methods of his eventual evolution, obey the same laws and the same rules everywhere.
All of this is connected with the reasons why the exercises for work on oneself given in schools are not committed to writing. Or, if they are, such writings are accessible only to people who already have enough experience of the exercises and have practiced them long enough under the direction of their elders to understand what they stand for within the line of work of the particular school.
All the same, there is no secrecy involved. There is only the fact that nobody can understand experiences of this kind without having undergone them himself. A false understanding, be it insufficient,
partial or mistaken, is the worst thing that can happen to the individual as well as to the school-thus everything possible is done to avoid it.
*excerpt from the Vaysse’s book:“Toward Awakening”