If we shift to the standpoint of the observer of the mind, we will notice that as conditions vary, the ‘mind-stuff’ (citta) takes on different characteristics based on our state of reactivity and interaction with perceptions, feelings, events or external circumstances. We may consider an image of a lake that can either appear perfectly still and have a glass-like and reflective consistency, or when whipped up by wind or other external factors sends up waves, whether steady and of measured amplitude, or extremely agitated. If we are worried, angry, frustrated or upset in some way, the mind-stuff sends up agitated waves. If we are in a state of peaceful awareness, the mind-stuff is very quiet and still. If we are focusing on a steady object of concentration or contemplation, the waves will tend to be consistent and coherent with a pattern of steady repetition. Scientists who measure brainwaves have reported that different types of waves, alpha, beta, delta, etc. appear in the brain as the individual undergoes different states of mind. These waves correspond to attentive awareness, dreaming, deep sleep etc. Those who are in a deep meditative state also exhibit specific wave patterns corresponding to the brain activity in that state.

With this background, we can see that as an individual begins the process of practicing meditation, the first steps are basically to achieve a rather calm flow of brain waves that are quietly attentive. This is most easily achieved in the early stages by finding a quiet location that does not provoke too many impressions of the senses. Texts on meditation recommend finding a secluded place, that is neither too warm or cold, too windy, wet or dry, and that allows the mind to quietly center itself. Initially, using the power of habit, it is recommended to try to meditate at a fixed time on a regular basis.

As the individual advances in the practice, there is the influence of the habit that allows the mind to come to the quiet, meditative status quickly, and eventually, it becomes possible to retain this state virtually constantly regardless of potential distracting influences. This also implies that the type of purifications known as yamas and niyamas in Patanjali’s yogic text have taken hold, as thoughts of desire, harm, anger, obviously disrupt the mind-stuff.

“Conditions internal and external that are most essential for meditation.”

Sri Aurobindo notes: “There are no essential external conditions, but solitude and seclusion at the time of meditation as well as stillness of the body are helpful, sometimes almost necessary to the beginner. But one should not be bound by external conditions. Once the habit of meditation is formed, it should be made possible to do it in all circumstances, lying, sitting, walking, alone, in company, in silence or in the midst of noise etc.”

“The first internal condition necessary is concentration of the will against the obstacles to meditation, i.e. wandering of the mind, forgetfulness, sleep, physical and nervous impatience and restlessness etc.”

“The second is an increasing purity and calm of the inner consciousness (citta) out of which thought and emotion arise, i.e. a freedom from all disturbing reactions, such as anger, grief, depression, anxiety about worldly happenings etc. Mental perfection and moral are always closely allied to each other.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Growing Within: The Psychology of Inner Development, Chapter V Growth of Consciousness, Means and Methods, pp. 86-87

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at http://sriaurobindostudies.wordpress.com and podcast at https://anchor.fm/santosh-krinsky He is author of 17 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.