Satsang 5: General Guidelines for Practicing Self-Awareness

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“The effect and the purpose of Self-awareness is
to give us a completely different idea of the things we know best.”

Notes on the Satsang with Sahajananda

Watch the satsang here. Find notes from all of Sahaja’s satsangs here.


The following notes are offered to support your understanding of the satsang Sahajananda presented on May 18, 2020. This satsang is the fifth in a series of ten talks which together make up a program called Inner Non-Violent Revolution: A Free Online Course on Self-Awareness.

Note that this is not a transcript and should not be seen as an alternative to viewing the satsang itself (available here). If you don’t watch the satsang, you will likely miss the context for the ideas presented here and will therefore not grasp their subtleties. And, as importantly, you will miss Sahaja’s transmission. The word satsang comes from the Sanskrit words sat (“truth”) and sangha (“association”) and refers to “associating with truth,” or “being in the company of the wise.” By being in Sahaja’s company via watching the video of the satsang, you will be receiving the teachings directly from him and you may understand them on a deeper level.


 Nirodha Parinama In Perceptions

In nirodha parinama (“The Transformation of Dissolution,” Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, 3:9), the subconscious mind is purified by constantly bringing the subconscious (or superconscious) tendency, the longing towards stillness, dissolution (samskara nirodha—the subconscious tendency of dissolution). This is applied in meditation.

  • The same act of purifying the subconscious mind can be explored (revealed) in connection with any human experience.
  • In any act of perception look for an immediate, spontaneous [conscious and natural] liberation of the perception from the personal “experiencer.” The Teachings of the Fish. The wonderment of being. It is an art of perception. Contemplative existence. Everything points to God—not as an image, but this stillness, sacredness, fascination, as when you see your lover for the first time.
  • The act of Self-awareness is an act of acknowledging the unlimited nature of our being. Thus, this perception doesn’t refer to a “me, myself” but to an infinite space of awareness, Stillness.
  • It is literally like seeing with the infinity of our being, with all our being, with all the Stillness that we are, not just with the eyes. Seeing with the Heart. Try it.
  • It is a view that spreads like a blanket of serenity over the soul.
  • When we say, “I speak from my heart,” is like our essence is condensed there and we want to express our entire essence by what we say, we are totally truthful, honest. It is the same with an act of perception. Be totally truthful in a perception…
  • In this way, limited perception leads to a perception with no object: like the sound of a gong dissolving into silence, a fish appearing and disappearing. The limited perceiver sees themself as infinite. This brings aesthetic intuition and, more essentially, a sense of the sacred.“We are everything and nothing, but we think that we are something.” –Tolstoy
  • The more we understand this sadhana of Self-awareness, the more it settles rightly in our being and its pure meaning is seen, the more it helps us to become Self-Aware—awakening. It is continuous feedback in faith. Then, the practice is like a projection of the Center into the periphery, or of the “Motionless Mover” into the flow of things.

General Guidelines for Practicing Self-Awareness—Examples

There are some challenges in developing Self-awareness. By understanding them, we can learn many useful things. More than that, we can then take steps to design a Self-awareness practice. This topic is very important, as the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, perhaps the most important Tantric text has it as its subject.

It is difficult to integrate Self-awareness in our lives mainly because of two reasons:

  1. We are not so accustomed with Pure Presence itself, with the intimacy of the pure “I.” (We don’t know what this ultimate center of reference or point of support in our being represents.) This first obstacle can be eliminated by practicing Self-Inquiry. What is revealed in these meditations is exactly this pure “I”-feeling.
  2. We are easily taken away by thoughts, sensations, feelings, etc. and we forget to be present. Old habits and attachments will prevent the intuition of our real depths. One way of gradually eliminating this second obstacle is to do these conjunctural practices.
  • While only a small amount of effort is usually needed to be attentive, mindful, remembering to make that tiny effort can be very challenging.

Why Do We Need to Be Present and What Does That Even Mean?

Your friend, lover is always asking you to be more present… This is the whole point in spirituality—to be aware. In this way, we learn intimately that spirituality is not separate from life. What does it mean when I point to me in the center of the body? Such exercises create a framework for acting in life and even dealing with different situations in a way we didn’t before.

Description and Guidelines

We use a method of orienting the mind to an object (like the breath), again and again. This is a mindful practice.

  • Try to continue to be aware of your breath while you are reading this text, as an anchor for Self-awareness.
  • This practice should point further to a state of Re-collection (zooming out, “I am all these feelings, thoughts, etc.”) or even deeper, to the pure “I”-feeling…
  • Any conscious action can be used as a mindfulness exercise in this general sense if it is associated with proper attention.

being valuesFor the sake of clarity, we’ll refer to three levels of the practice:

  1. Mechanics—the actual procedure, for example, breathing deeply or passing a threshold, walking through doorway
  2. The attention or awareness that such a gesture induces (we can call it “mindfulness,” “Self-observation”—it is still personal). You are conscious of the gesture or act.
  3. Self-awareness, the Pure Presence it points to. This last “part” is the only aspect that really matters. It is the Moon to which we are pointing the finger. At first, it may be a pointing to Self-Recollection or to a Being Value like Love, Silence, Truthfulness, Timelessness, which are in themselves rays to Pure Being…
  • The difference between points one and two: the technicality of the exercise is different from the attention or mindfulness we hope to induce. So, the gesture in itself, no matter how often repeated, is different from the actual awareness of it. Contemplate this and be aware of the difference.

Zen Story: Where Did You Put the Umbrella?

But, in the end, what is point of being mindful of objects?

Again: While only a small amount of effort is usually needed to be attentive, mindful, remembering to make that effort can be problematic.

  • The importance of the third point: It is not about being attached to certain beliefs or opinions. The fact that you agree and even sometimes feel that you are not the body but a general reality is not enough. This is the illusion that keeps many people asleep.We imagine that if we agree that our essence is eternal, and we think about it now, this is the reality we experience. But we may miss the direct experience of this truth, which is not just thinking.The difference is evident when for a brief moment we have a vibrant and astonishing glimpse of that ineffable, which is so fulfilling and clear. When the whole perspective is so obvious, we are sure that we’ll never forget it, and then we still forget it. We definitely don’t forget it as a memory, but we forget it as a direct taste—the freshness of Truth.I smile when somebody comes to tell me enthusiastically that they discovered the strategy to constantly stay in the Heart. Because there is no “strategy.”

    “When Joshu asked his teacher Nansen, ‘What is the Tao, the Way?’ Nansen replied, ‘Your everyday mind is the Tao.’”

    Naturalness comes through effort—a paradox I’m going to speak about tonight… Therefore, because being Self-aware tends to be too vague for some and is so easily forgotten, we can be supported by different specific exercises.

  • Such formal practices are the finger, not the Moon. They are definitely not the ultimate Truth, or moral rules on how to live our life. There is a risk of getting caught up in viewpoints and turning technical practices into “teachings” and instructions.“You may have a magic ring—but you must be a Solomon, master of invisible powers, to make it work.” –Rumi
  • Rumi’s interpretation of the biblical story of Zuleika and Joseph: “She loved him so much, she concealed his name in many different phrases, the inner meanings known only to her. When she said, ‘The wax is softening near the fire,’ she meant, ‘My love is wanting me.’ Or if she said, ‘Look the moon is up,’ or ‘The willow has new leaves,’ or ‘The branches are trembling,’ or ‘The coriander seeds have caught fire,’ or ‘The roses are opening,’ or ‘The furniture needs dusting,’ or ‘The water carrier is here,’ or ‘It’s almost daylight,’ or ‘These vegetables are perfect,’ or ‘The bread needs more salt,’ or ‘The clouds seem to be moving against the wind,’ anything she praises, it’s Joseph’s touch she means, any complaint, it’s his being away.”The same is with such practices we give them the supreme meaning of Pure Presence…Samsara and Nirvana seen together.
  • Each instance is like seeing a jewel in a place where before was just the profane.

The Story of the Jeweler

There is a real story of a jeweler in Birkenhead, Cheshire, England. He wanted to get people into his shop. He handed out 3,000 stones to people in the street. They all looked like real diamonds, but all but four of them were glass. He explained, in a leaflet given to each recipient, that there were real diamonds among the giveaway stones. Whoever got a stone of any kind was invited to visit the jewelry store, to find out if they had been lucky. Out of the 3,000 people who got the stones, only one woman actually turned up at the shop. She was right: she had a genuine diamond. All the rest of the people, presumably, thought that they had fakes.

  • If transmission happens, when a teacher points a finger at the Moon, we can easily see the Moon. But the problem comes when the thing at which formal teachings (these religious and philosophical fingers) are pointing is looked at with the same intellectual mind and supposed to be understood.Indeed, for the mind this seems to be vague or nonexistent. People try to look toward the Moon, and it seems that there is nothing there, so they go back to the finger, the direction seems correct, but it seems that they simply cannot see what it’s pointing at. Then they get attached to the finger. Like attachment to a doctrine, philosophy, or religion, concepts like God, or a guru, etc.… They try yoga, the methods indicated, it doesn’t work as they hoped, then they attach to the person and may remain stuck there for the rest of their lives. Or, the opposite would result in the skepticism of atheism and materialism…
  • But even with atheists, often the problem is not the absence of the Heart, but rather of the head, lucid intelligence. Some are just pretending to be atheists (or better said materialists, in the sense of denying transcendence). They just believe that they are atheists simply because they were pushed by their grandmother in the church when they were children, so out of a kind of trauma or psychological reaction, or simply because they didn’t really inquire into themselves, they didn’t bring this topic into the focus of their wisdom. The declared atheist is usually somebody who excluded, ignored the question, not somebody who went into its depth and came to such a conclusion. You really can be an atheist if you pursue this question with sobriety and depth, not simply because you turn your back and ignore it. Otherwise, it is like metaphysical insensitivity, callousness.
  • Such exercises can be very simple and may appear trivial or meaningless to the intellectual or sophisticated mind. We simply cannot evaluate the efficiency of a practice just by hearing and thinking about it but applying it constantly.
  • There may be the concern that such exercises can only be efficient temporarily, because even they can turn into mechanical gestures, without the awakening pointing power. It is not a problem with the technique itself, just that it shows that we are missing of one of the two superior elements: either attention (mindfulness), or its associated meaning. It ceased to point to the Moon, to echo in you in a deeper sense.
  • It can point to Being or to Pure Love, or Re-collection, or Present Moment, the Eternal Now, or Spanda.
  • An awareness exercise provides an opportunity for Self-awareness, but this quantum leap is always our responsibility. When a practice seems to lose its magic, it just tells us to stop a little longer and recreate the connection between the gesture and its higher meaning.
  • There is always so much sacred meaning passing through us that we do not realize. Purified of “negative” emotions, we begin to hear, to see it.
  • Often, the novelty of a practice in itself generates increased attention. That kind of inherent focus of the mind is by itself an energy-inducing feature of the practice, which makes us more present.
  • This emotional intensity can be very efficient, and this is the reason many mystics prefer to create an intense tension of attention that releases higher amounts of energy: think about the self-flagellation of St. Teresa of Ávila, or dikr, or Sufi whirling, or lovemaking in Tantra. From outside, flagellation seems a cruel method, but somehow, it works and shows the importance of such intensity of presence. Of course, these are just methods, fingers. This is why we cannot really evaluate their efficiency according to their form or expression. The whole situation now, with this pandemic, brought an intensity—created an opportunity for awakening.
  • So, an adequate quantity of tension (at the physical, intellectual, and emotional levels) can be helpful in such practices. Self-awareness will sublimate, transform, that strain or tension into spanda which supports and intensifies the sense of Pure Presence, aliveness.
  • When is still rooted in the personal will, attention (mindfulness), at first feels that it takes energy because it is using something we are not accustomed to use. But later on, when it becomes real Self-awareness, it gives energy, enthusiasm, and insight.
  • Nevertheless, too much tension can activate ego reactions, automatic defense mechanisms, too strongly, grabbing all attention and making mindfulness very difficult.
  • For example, try rhythmic breathing when you are driving in a crowded city as well as on an empty highway… Of course, there are significant differences between different people. Try to see where an exercise is relaxing and easy and when it starts creating reactivity, agitation, or nervousness.
  • Usually, in normal exercises that initial freshness will wear off after a while. The honeymoon is with the technique, but the life commitment is to Reality. Instead of abandoning it or just modifying it (which can be just a limited strategy), try to observe what specifically was lost, how that freshness is missing, and how it can be reawakened. (This contemplation is so precious in reawakening love in a relationship.) With simple gestures, like breathing (for example), freshness is much easier to learn—you make it longer, deeper to give time for dropping the identification with the mind. I said abandoning the practice is a limited strategy because it just maintains the common tendency of the mind. So, don’t abandon such conjunctural practices, but amplify the openness of their sacred meaning. For example, if the act of passing through a doorway is your anchor, stop at the threshold of a door until you are really aware…
  • The difficulty with exercises that require a certain way of acting as well as attention, is that the act can become automated and conditioned. When this happens, there is a strong tendency for our mind to have a fantasy about being attentive in that situation instead of actually being attentive.
  • Nevertheless, we can emphasize and give more attention according to the case, to some new practices or to old ones, to associate Self-awareness with them, to remember their real meaning—the Moon. (For example, you can be aware of passing the threshold of a doorway, but it ceases to provide the proper spiritual meaning.)
  • Another way of learning about the relativity of a finger (the technique) is to consciously drop such a method for a while and start it again later. You drop the habit, the reaction, but keep Presence.
  • Also, the taste of Self-awareness that a technique carries in itself can make the practice more meaningful.“Not only the thirsty seek water, the water seeks the thirsty as well.” ­–Rumi
  • It is about “adding” more wonderment, seeing grace in little things… You cannot feel grace, you cannot experience synchronicities, unless you are open, Present.
  • Start enjoying this sense of Presence. Just trying to control ourselves and be concentrated all the time or for long periods of time will create a kind of struggle and the sense that it is not working for us. So, we do them with a sense of playfulness.
  • Allow yourself to forget. Don’t be hypercritical with yourself. But, if you remember the attitude, a few seconds after the actual gesture happened you can even go back and pass through the doorway again as a way to better associate the gesture with attention, mindfulness, and further with Self-awareness. Or, you can still stop after you passed through the doorway and acknowledge the pure “I”-feeling.
  • When we realize that an exercise we use to do consciously is now done without awareness, this is a sign to charge it again with much more attention. Make the commitment to repeat it more consciously.At the end of the day, we can evoke such moments of attention and see how efficient the practice really was. Then, we can make a commitment to consciously maintain it.
  • Start with just a simple gesture and increase it gradually when you are satisfied with its results…

 The Threshold-Crossing Exercise

self-awarenessBe mindful whenever you approach a doorway and control your pace so you first step across the threshold with the foot nearest the door’s hinge. Doorways thus serve as a reminder to be mindful. Life is full of thresholds to cross, so this integrates easily into everyday life. You can add the repetition of a mantra, together with contemplating its meaning…

(University of Notre Dame: Walking through doorways causes forgetting—memory representation an “event model.” Walking through a doorway is a good time to purge your event models because whatever happened in the old room is likely to become less relevant now that you have changed venues.)

You may also do this practice every time you sit on a chair or the toilet.

  • Changing perspective in 3 steps: 1) While writing a message on WhatsApp (or writing on a computer), on a terrace, or on the beach, 2) raise the head (breaking the limited attention) and look at the beach (or nature)—you become mindful, zoom out and 3) be aware of the Seer.
  • If you have glasses or sunglasses, become aware of them: they are transparency but still change the whole way of seeing. Then remember the Seer—Self-Remembrance. You are also, like eyeglasses, a conscious transparency in which all perception, thinking, feelings happen…

The story of the Rabbi who didn’t want to wear eyeglasses while studying Kabbalah: “Nothing should stay between me and God.”

Psychological Flexibility and Spiritual Centeredness—The Swing Principle

  • In general, it is important to begin to observe how we behave, how we act in daily life. If we have no idea how mechanically we act, then we cannot really speak about a real inner transformation. Because of this, Re-collection (the zooming out attitude that brings a whole perspective about ourselves, leading to the pure “I”-feeling) reestablishes a real reference point to start from—ourselves.
  • Otherwise, we have no idea where to start and we are severely limited by subconscious tendencies, buffers, repetitive unconscious behaviors, false images about ourselves, etc.
  • If you want to change something outside you, start by changing yourself. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” (That is, it starts inside us, like a spy inside our heavily guarded fortifications)

The Idea of Yes and No (Like and Dislike, Raga and Dvesha)

“God turns you from one feeling to another
and teaches by means of opposites,
so that you have two wings to fly,
not one.” –Rumi

  • Our mechanical part, which is our structure of thoughts, emotions, and feelings can only work in terms of Yes or No.This brings a brutal division between like and dislike, Yes and No. The materialism of dualistic emotions. Lacking the subtlety of spontaneity, intimacy, art, inspiration, grace, excitement, enthusiasm—God within. Forgetting about God within…
  • Maya (“illusion”)—from matri to measure. Perception gets caught in details, forgetting Wholeness and the Seer, the Witness. The spell of maya brings separation as the wholeness of pure light passing through a prism is perceived as separate colors. This prism is the mind. All the world is divided like this.
  • Because the mind is trained to function like this, like a machine in binary logic, digital 0 vs. 1; Yes vs. No. Digital refers to information expressed as series of the digits 0 and 1. People discuss, argue only in terms of Yes or No.
  • At the level of the Heart, beyond maya, this contradiction of Yes or No does not exist, because in the infinite space of Pure Awareness, there are no contradictions. (This is another way of saying there is no contradiction or duality in God.) Where there is no Yes or No, there is a union of the two: a Yes and Our ordinary thought and language utterly fail here.“Abandon boasting of intellect and learning, for here intellect is corrosive, and learning is foolishness.” –Hakim Jami, a great Sufi poet (died in 1492)
  • Somehow, it is in the very expression of attachment to always reject one side of a situation in favor of the other side. It is the nature of the discursive mind to take sides all the time.
  • On the other hand, people are regarded as weak if they don’t have strong opinions. Of course, confusion is not a superior solution. It is just a constant, paralyzing oscillation between a strong Yes and a strong No. So, we divide ourselves into opposite domains, as maya involves.
  • We continually hypnotize ourselves by believing that a thing surely must either be true or not true or that a person is either good or bad, and so on.
  • At this level, we have no idea how to bring opposites together and find a unifying solution which is neither Yes nor No, but Yes and No, paralogical thinking.
  • The law (or principle) of the excluded third, or the excluded middle, in Latin: Principium Tertii Exclusi. Another Latin designation for this law is Tertium Non Datur: “no third [possibility] is given.” It is a law of the mind which can function in logic as a mathematical model, but not in life.
  • Even this duality mind-heart we use out of convention is also a quite limited view: an emotion is not just an emotion, a thought not just a thought. The mind is not separated from affectivity. Any idea can have its fire, pathos, its emotional support. Sometimes people with just ideas can be more hysterical than those with just emotions. On the other hand, the emotions can be well-structured, able to be expressed beyond just tears or drama. Biological emotions have a projection on the brain as well. This separation is therefore artificial.
  • In the pure “I-feeling” all (different emotions, thoughts) is integrated and then absorbed. Therefore, duality dissolves.
  • In the space of the soul, things are infinitely more comprehensive and inclusive. We make a dogmatic Yes or a dogmatic No—but experience shows us that this one-sided solution doesn’t offer a chance of escaping from the game of maya.

“Life does not cease to be funny when people die any more than it ceases to be serious when people laugh.”
–George Bernard Shaw

All Satsang Notes