Mind without thoughts
The mind-emptiness practice is the final approach of the mental training for Step I. By carefully examining the development of the previous exercises, we realise that it is the natural conclusion of a path started with the conscious observation of thought, followed by the synchronisation between ideas and action and the mastery of thought itself through one-pointedness of mind.
These practices aim to acquire familiarity with a state other than the cerebral one. The brain’s function consists of processing the data perceived through the sensory apparatus to return an interpretation corresponding to our human condition. In this sense, it is a reflective organ, which limits itself to creating an image of reality suitable for our being in the world. The brain never stops processing thoughts. Believing to mitigate mental flow by silencing brain function is like emptying the ocean with a spoon; therefore, we need a paradigm shift.
Being inside the brain function when a thought occurs limits our perspective vision, preventing us from tracing the phenomenon’s origin; using an analogy, we are like the eye that can see everything but itself. In previous practices, we have learned to raise our level of awareness, which allows us to shape brain output to achieve the desired result, control of thought and its emancipation from the normal learning process. That means we are approaching the precognitive point that anticipates forming ideas, words, etc. It is a potential that reveals itself as inner silence, the state in which the ego ceases to identify with the succession of thoughts and instead focuses on the void between them. This emptiness, far from being an absence, is the foundation of the higher consciousness, the self, which precedes the formation of the subject-object dualism.
As for the practice, Bardon is relatively sparing of explanations, clearly addressing an audience of practitioners with whom he was in close contact. The method is as follows: sit comfortably in an armchair or lie on a bed with your eyes closed. Whenever a thought arises, forcefully push it away until you remain in a blank state of mind. At first, it will be a few moments, but the periods of thought absence will lengthen with practice. The purpose of the exercise has been achieved if one remains in a state of emptiness for ten minutes without getting distracted or falling asleep.
This practice is perhaps the most difficult to work through of Step I mental exercises. Bardon’s way of proceeding is simple but requires willpower and perseverance. You also have to be careful not to think about eliminating thoughts because that is another thought. It is a method that requires absolute presence and the ability not to be distracted by deceptive thoughts capable of subtly diverting attention from the intended purpose. The same goes for emotions, another source of distractions, especially the positive ones.
Another method of proceeding is to begin the practice of emptiness from the state of concentration on one point. In this way, we start from an advanced attention phase, and we do not have to deal with a jumble of thoughts. As an alternative to this system, you can focus your attention on an external element – in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, for example, a letter of the alphabet is used – but a simple graphic or geometric symbol may be acceptable. Some use the attention on the breath to divert attention from mental processes, but this generally serves to quiet the mind, not emptying it of thoughts; however, it can be experienced as a starting technique.
A student of average ability usually takes four to six weeks to get some results. Of course, being the first Step, absolute perfection is not required; we must attain the aptitude to direct the mind using the will consciously. Reaching mental emptiness is essential for the next stages; therefore, we should constantly improve the practice over time.
Are there any signs that offer a clue to the practice’s success? It depends on the stage reached. The actual absence of thoughts is the first stage, which is then accompanied by the ability to instantly awaken the state of emptiness. Some particular experiences indicate an ever-greater integration of the self into the mental habit; for example, you may experience some sort of blocking of thoughts, similar to water suddenly freezing in a tube or a condition of clarity that is difficult to describe.