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Advanced Yoga Practices
Main Lessons
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Note: For the Original Internet Lessons with additions, see the AYP Easy Lessons Books. For the Expanded and Interactive Internet Lessons, AYP Online Books, Audiobooks and more, see AYP Plus.

Lesson 329 - Pitfalls of the Mind  (Audio)

AYP Plus Additions:
329.1 - Stop Meditating when there is Some Abiding Inner Silence?  (Audio)
329.2 - Can the Mind Understand Ignorance?  (Audio)
329.3 - Practices After Awakening?
  (Audio)

329.4 - A Revelation on the Importance of Regular Practice  (Audio)

From: Yogani
Date: May 10, 2009

New Visitors: It is recommended you read from the beginning of the web archive, as previous lessons are prerequisite to this one. The first lesson is, "Why This Discussion?"


The mind is a marvelous machine, capable of performing many great feats of analysis, deduction and discovery. It is also the mind that enables us to create the sense of "I" within us. "I am Mary." "I am this body." "I am this mind." "I was born, I am living, and someday I will die."

The purpose of self-inquiry is to use the mind to question and transcend these assumptions that are associated with "I am."

When combined with the presence of the witness resulting from daily deep meditation, self-inquiry reveals that we are not our name, our form, or even our sense of "I." What we are is the stillness behind and within all that is being projected. So, the first pitfall of the mind is identification. That is, the identification of our awareness with all the things that are projected out into time and space. 

Indeed, identification may be the only pitfall of the mind. The mind has a tendency to ramble on about our life experiences, whether they be in the past, present or future. And the mind will paint it as positive or negative, according to our mood. It is always about one thing the mind wrapping us up in something.

Is this the mind's fault? Is there something inherently dysfunctional about the human mind? Or is it something else? After all, the mind is only a machine. Do we blame the automobile when it skids off the road into a tree? Do we blame the hammer when it hits our thumb? Well, maybe some of us do. And perhaps that is a symptom of the underlying problem. If the driver will not take responsibility for the automobile, and the carpenter will not take responsibility for the hammer, then who will? Likewise, if the inhabitant of the mind will not take responsibility for its actions, who will?

Who is the inhabitant of the mind? It is we who are aware, to whatever degree we are aware. The less aware the inhabitant of the mind is, the less likely will the mind be performing as it is designed to, as a servant. Then the mind will be more likely to be operating as a sorcerers apprentice, feigning leadership and casting a web of confusion over life. Where there is a vacuum of awareness (the witness not present much) the mind will rush to fill the void with the only thing it can fill it with lots of thoughts and false perceptions, which are in turn translated to be, "I am these objects of perception" rather than, "I am the subject, the eternal awareness interpenetrating all these objects" 

So, the first step in helping the mind get back to its rightful purpose is to make sure the inhabitant of the mind will be present and fully awake. This is the witness, and we know the prescription by now daily meditation. With the inhabitant of the mind moving in and taking the reins, there will be steady improvement in the operation of the mind. As the clamp of identification is loosened, the functioning of the mind will improve all the way around. 

But the full integration of inner silence with the mind is not an overnight affair. It takes time. Even with the natural emergence of desire to engage in self-inquiry, there is still a long road to travel to enlightenment. Along the road there are some particular pitfalls of the mind that may jeopardize our spiritual progress. These are the kinds of pitfalls we'd like to address here, because they can have a bearing on our ability to sustain practices and continued progress on our path:

  1. Infatuation with or fear of spiritual experiences.

  2. Over-analyzing and over-philosophizing.

  3. Overdoing self-inquiry or other yoga practices.

  4. The illusion of attainment, or of having "arrived."

  5. Denial of the need to engage in practices.

  6. The non-duality trap denying the world.

Such pitfalls of the mind can hamper a spiritual aspirant at any stage along the path. Advanced practitioners are equally susceptible to be drawn off course, perhaps more-so when visited by dramatic experiences of the vastness of pure bliss consciousness, ecstatic bliss, and miraculous powers of one sort or other. These kinds of experiences can rock the mind if inner silence (the witness) has not yet been cultivated to a sufficient level of maturity in the nervous system, enabling the practitioner to take advanced spiritual experiences in stride.

So, whether we are just starting out on our path, or are quite far along, cultivating the witness will be the best insurance we can have to guard against the pitfalls of the mind. 

Infatuation or Fear about Experiences

Spiritual experiences come in many forms and, if we are utilizing effective yoga practices, such experiences will always be associated with purification and opening occurring within us. When experiences come, we will be inclined to think something about them. How we regard them will be a function of our understanding of the processes of yoga and the degree of presence of inner witness we have. 

When experience is dramatic, when we are overcome with a large energy flow or a vision of our vastness and unity with all things, then we may become identified with the experience. A kind of infatuation can happen then, or even some fear about what we have gotten ourselves into, especially if the internal energy flow becomes excessive, which can lead to a variety of physical and psychological symptoms also referred to as kundalini symptoms. 

If we have been approaching our practice from the point of view of our limited self, rather than from the point of view of the witness, we may become infatuated in a way that is similar to romantic infatuation. All infatuations do pass, of course, and in the meantime, we will be wise to favor our practice over the experience. When we are engaged in sitting practices, we can just easily favor the practice we are doing over visions or energy experiences that are coming. If we are in our daily activity, then we can just carry on with our work, whatever it may be. 

If experiences overwhelm us to the point where we become fearful that we may be losing control of our life, then it can be helpful to stay engaged in life, particularly in activities that are grounding. These are physical activities, and activities that are about helping others. At the same time we can temporarily reduce the kinds of activities that stimulate spiritual energy flows, such as attending spiritual gatherings and too much spiritual practice. We have mentioned in many previous lessons that this temporary ramping down of spiritual stimulation is called self-pacing. Such regulation is a primary consideration in the AYP approach, where an integration of powerful practices is being utilized in a self-directed manner.

Infatuation will pass and fear will subside as inner purification advances and we find a natural integration of the divine within us in every day living. This is why it is best to carry on with our life, no matter what our spiritual experiences may be. Ultimately, enlightenment is about marrying the spectacular with the ordinary. What remains is spectacular ordinariness.

Over-Analyzing and Over-Philosophizing

Whether we are having spiritual experiences or not, constant analysis and philosophizing about our condition (past, present, or future), will not be of much benefit. In fact, this tendency is one of the most common forms of non-relational self-inquiry.

When an experience comes up, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional, we will have a tendency to analyze it. It will be good to understand that taking this to the point of obsession is a common pitfall of the mind. 

This doesn't mean we do not analyze or seek confirmation of our path in the scriptures and philosophies that have been written over the centuries. But if we make analysis or philosophy the object of our path, we will be veering off on a tangent that can undermine our commitment to yoga practices and relational self-inquiry. When analysis and philosophy creep up to the point where they become ends in themselves, then we have entered into the realm of building castles in the air, which is non-relational and not effective spiritual practice. 

In that case, we can just observe and let go of the excessive analysis in favor of cultivating the witness in our sitting practices, and going out and living our life fully. 

Overdoing Self-Inquiry or other Yoga Practices 

A common pitfall of the mind is found in the idea that if a little of a particular practice is bringing us some results, then a lot more of it will bring even more results. 

For example, if we have asked ourselves, "Who am I?" and a flash of inspiration comes, we might conclude that we should be asking ourselves "Who am I?" twenty-four hours per day, seven days per week.

Likewise, if we have been engaging in daily deep meditation twice each day for twenty minutes (a balanced practice), and find a noticeable presence of the inner witness coming up, then we might conclude that meditating much longer and more often will be better.

In either case (non-stop self-inquiry or non-stop deep meditation), we will be stepping into a mental pitfall that can actually slow our spiritual progress. Overdoing practices will only produce excessive purification and strain that will limit our ability to practice effectively until balance has returned.

While some teachers preach the possibility of instant enlightenment, that all we are is here and now, it does in fact take some time to open up the nervous system to our greater possibilities within. It is a process which can be accelerated in particular ways, but not on a flight of fancy that more is always going to be better. The path to enlightenment involves a process that takes time, no matter what methods we are following, and there are few shortcuts that can bypass the need for self-pacing in practices. 

Rome was not built in a day; and neither is the process of human spiritual transformation completed in a day. If we are steadfast in applying tried and true methods over time, the result will be there. The journey to enlightenment is a marathon, not a sprint. 

The Illusion of Attainment or of Having Arrived 

Enlightenment, the direct realization of who we are, is unassuming and does not proclaim itself, except by compassionate assistance offered for the benefit of everyone. Conversely, where there is the assumption of attainment or of having arrived, actions can be distorted accordingly, leading to a rigid teaching, proselytizing, sectarianism, and a shift in focus from spiritual practices to the one who has supposedly arrived. It is a common pitfall of the mind that may be found in the teacher, the student, or both. 

When consciousness is identified with the mind, there will be a great need to proclaim victory over the forces of ignorance. This breeds more ignorance, of course. There can be no enlightenment proclaimed on the level of the mind. The functioning of the mind can only be seen as a symptom of the illumination which comes from within, or the lack of it. We may conclude that an inner flow is occurring or not, but we can never proclaim with accuracy that we have arrived, for that is beyond the province of the mind. 

By definition, both the cause and the destination of true self-inquiry are beyond the mind, in the abiding inner witness, which never assumes or proclaims anything. It just is. 

When there is some proclaiming going on, it is wise to ask, "Who is proclaiming?" and then let go in stillness. 

Denying Practices

There are rare cases of individuals who reach what seems to be an enlightened state in this life with little or no effort in spiritual practices. It is natural for such individuals to promote the idea of enlightenment requiring no practices from their unique point of view. They routinely will say, "There is nothing to do. You are there already." 

It is like the New Yorker who mysteriously wakes up in Los Angeles one day, not knowing how he got there, and then calling all his friends in New York to tell them they can do the same. If only...

This kind of teaching is flawed, to say the least. While the destination may be true, the means will be lacking for nearly everyone. So, when a teacher tells us that we need do nothing to reach enlightenment, and we do not find ourselves there in that instant, then it will be wise to review additional means that are available. In this case the conclusion of the enlightened one is a mental pitfall (yes, they do have them), and to follow such a teaching to the exclusion of everything else is a mental pitfall in the student. 

A common symptom of the illusion of having arrived can be a loss of recognition of the value of spiritual practices. It is one of the greatest risks for advanced practitioners falling into the belief that our journey to realization is done. The next thought the mind will produce is, "I don't have to practice any more." And wherever we are on the path at that point, that is more or less where we will stay until we wake up enough to realize that our spiritual progress never ends, and therefore the need for spiritual practice will never end either. Practices may change according to our ongoing purification and opening, but the need for them will never end. 

The reason is because there is no such thing as individual enlightenment in the ultimate sense. As we are approaching individual enlightenment, we begin to know ourselves to be all that is around us. Then the condition of consciousness of all who are around us is seen to be our condition. So we will not be fully enlightened until everyone is enlightened. This is why so-called enlightened people continue to work for the benefit of all. Their liberation will not be fulfilled until everyones is. And neither shall ours. There is much joy and fulfillment to be found along the way, as long as we continue with our practices, yielding ever-increasing expansion to the infinite!

The Non-Duality Trap Denying the World 

Sages may tell us that the world is not real, but only a projection occurring via our senses and the perception of objects through the identification of our awareness. On the other hand, it has been said that perception is 100% of reality, and this is also true. Our reality is what we perceive it to be. But the sage will say that it is all illusion, and that if we deconstruct the machinery of the identification of our awareness with our perceptions, we will find that there is nothing here at all. 

Well, true. We learned it in high school quantum physics. But is this a useful view of our world? Can we continue to function with such a view when taken on the level of the intellect alone? Not likely. 

While the logic of non-duality is impeccable, the assumption that it can be realized instantly by everyone is incorrect. Those teachers who disregard the perceptions of others (100% of their reality) and refuse to meet them where they are will fail to help them. In fact, damage can be done by encouraging students to reach far beyond where they are without offering intermediate steps. 

We know that if we try to run before we have learned to walk, we will land flat on our face, and may find ourselves in serious trouble with our motivation and ability to function in the world. For the vast majority of practitioners of self-inquiry, laboring to deny the existence of the world is destructive. While we can certainly find inspiration in the concept of Oneness without second, to attempt to live that in the mind is a huge pitfall. This is because Oneness (non-duality) is not of the mind. As soon as we try and live it there, we will find much of our life to be meaningless, experiencing a false rejection of every day living, and this is very unhealthy. This is non-relational self-inquiry at its worst.

The paradox in this is that the experience of Oneness is highly meaningful in all aspects of life, and is the source of all love and sharing in unity. The non-dual condition is an experience of unity, of radiant love and joining, not an experience of separation not a denial of the world at all.

If we are doing self-inquiry with the presence of the witness, we will not fall into the trap of denying life as it is. Instead we will find ourselves coming more and more into the condition ofbecoming life as it is, which can also be described as being in the world but not of the world. This is real Oneness, real non-duality, real advaita-vedanta. Not the divisive non-relational kind of self-inquiry that can lead to years of struggle and misery. There is a much better way of affirming the sacred proclamation of the sages that "All are One." Let's do it!

The guru is in you.

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Note: For detailed discussion on the practical utilization of self-inquiry, and how to avoid ineffective uses of self-inquiry, see the Self-Inquiry book and the Liberation book, and AYP Plus.

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