A Quiet Mind
--Controlling Discursive Thought; Cultivating Pure Awareness
A quiet mind, and human wholeness, are available through controlling discursive thought and developing nondiscursive perception. Like learning to walk or to talk, using the mind well is a matter of patient repeated efforts. This course provides a simple method for controlling discursive thought; and for making nondiscursive awareness your primary perspective, through which discursivity is guided in creating a flourishing life and a flourishing Earth.
The program can be summarized simply:
- Pure awareness,
- A simple life,
- Ceaseless practice.
This course is based on the booklet A Quiet Mind.
The objectives of this course are to:
- Practice quieting your mind,
- Learn to transcend discursive thoughts and experience pure perception,
- Increase your ability to pay attention to the world as it unfolds around you,
- Practice distinguishing thoughts from reality, and
- Increase your ability to flourish as a human being.
There are no specific prerequisites to this course.
This course is part of the Applied Wisdom curriculum.
This course uses gender-inclusive language that may be new to students. Please read this note on gender inclusive language.
Questions posed by students are answered by Richard Hawley.
You should know.
The nature of thought edit
Very few humans alive today control, or can control, their own mind. Almost all are controlled by their mind: by its habits, fears, desires, and fantasies. And although happiness, serenity, and wisdom depend on a well-trained mind, few make the effort to train the mind. Humans have little understanding of what it means to train the mind.
The difference between thought and reality is not clear to most people, whose lives are fundamentally influenced by thoughts that may have little relation to reality. As a consequence, they go through life without actually paying attention. They are accompanied and ruled by an unending mental commentary, and never investigate where the commentary comes from. Endlessly interpreting experience and never dissolving the veil of interpretation to perceive reality. Running around a hamster wheel of daily tasks without questioning.
There is no other way to become a complete human being than by controlling the thoughts in the mind. In order to finish the journey, you must control your own mind. You may be certain of this: If you cannot control your mind, you will be controlled. Whether you are a billionaire or a street person collecting bottles, if you do not control your thoughts, other forces are exercising that control.
You can learn to control the discursive or thinking mind. It may be frustratingly hard at first, and it may take a while. What are the options? Control the mind or never know freedom from automatic, intrusive, and uncontrollable thoughts; freedom from the prison of all discursive thought.
You can learn to anchor awareness and attitude in your full cosmic context, so that you never “sweat the small stuff.” And you will know what is and what is not small stuff. That which is created by thought—interpretation of experience—is small stuff. The matrix from which thought arises is not small stuff. The ego, the organism, the container and channel of energy, is small stuff. Flourishing in and as part of the context is big stuff. That is love: the act that integrates while rejoicing in distinctions. Love is more real than the body in which it appears. The body is a transformer of energy which goes beyond the body.
The landscape of the mind edit
A quiet mind, and human wholeness, are attained by understanding the role of thought in the transformation of energy. Picture the landscape of the mind as consisting of three realms:
the body-mind. The complex reactions of the body are determined with speed beyond conscious awareness. This is the “wisdom of the body.” Fantasies and emotional scripts arise from the body-mind operating with the thinking mind.
the thinking mind includes all discursive thought: language, symbols and formulas, concepts. Discursive thought works with the material provided by the world, representing it as mental images of some sort. Discursive thought does something: figures something out, analyzes, plans, reflects. It is “thinking about” something.
pure perception. Awareness without the filter of labels, concepts, images. Pure perception is the ground in which discursive thought grows. Yet it is not thought or restricted to any form. It is “direct experience.”
Discursive thought, nondiscursive experience edit
Everyone who can read this page is familiar with all three minds. They constantly work together. However, pure perception is rarely recognized for what it is. Humans invariably focus on feelings, thoughts and beliefs, rather than their source within. The source is a bit more difficult to know. At this moment you are learning to live in unison with the source. In that way, the thoughts of the thinking mind will be better attuned with reality: with the energies, rather than with interpretations of details.
Thoughts are interpretation of what is perceived. All language and concepts are interpretations of prior experience. Everything built on language and concepts is artificial. It is not simply “reality.” Words, concepts, and world views, are created in order to make sense of the world. It makes no difference what belief: religion or science. All texts and statements are attempting to describe a larger context and can never be more than an interpretation of a prior experience. Dogma is interpretation; what matters is the experience.
Modern empiric science excludes pure perception, because nondiscursivity is by nature nonquantifiable. It is unnameable. It cannot be studied by methods requiring that experience be formulated in discursive terms. Yet even with unlimited power: nuclear power, genetic engineering, robotics and nanotech, all the wonders of science—humans unable to control their own mind will never create a flourishing Earth. Inability to control the inner self distorts relations with the external world.
Neither religious texts nor science can go beyond the filter of discursivity. Writing and mathematics are discursive. They are an effort to describe something that exists prior to the description. No explanation can communicate the entire ‘something.’
The world has no labels. You are the world: you arose from within it and live within it. Labels and beliefs carry us into particular interpretations. You have the opportunity while in human form to become pure self-aware perception, from which all interpretations arise. You can go first where all will follow, doing consciously what humans have so far done unconsciously. This is to heal the Earth.
A Quiet Mind describes the process of quieting the discursive mind so that you live in the discursive world as nondiscursive awareness. The nondiscursive mind attains the vision of the world. The discursive mind interprets this vision, which is beyond labels, into the human world of labels.
All three minds work together harmoniously for a complete human being. However, humans are only beginning to realize the implications of the fact that a) perceptions, thoughts, and interpretations create one’s reality; and b) We are responsible for our perceptions, thoughts, and interpretations.
There is not some ready-made experience to figure out. There are sub-systems that can be more or less figured out (e.g., family, school, social interactions, workplace, society). It is discursive thought that figures out how to function in these, because discursive thought made the rules in the first place. Initiation into complete humanity consists in centering awareness in nondiscursive perception, and using discursivity as a tool for flourishing. This is completion of human development: beyond this one is self-aware energy, and can no longer be accurately identified as primarily a physical organism.
In sum: Discursive thought arises from nondiscursive experience. Discursive thought is the way creatures make sense of the world. All discursive thought is interpretation; it is not the experience itself. Going from experience to interpretation is usually done unconsciously. You make it conscious.
There is one fundamental reality: all things are connected in a single system, in which all strives for completion and wholeness.
It is possible to divide up parts of the system, identifying them as individual organisms or objects—but this is an artificial abstraction made for the convenience of operating within the system. And even then there is still a direction, and only one, in which all things develop: from incompleteness toward maturity and completion. Complete development transcends the material or discursive realm, and includes it, by definition. The discursive realm excludes nondiscursivity by definition.
Making distinctions is the task of discursive thought. The parts it distinguishes keep growing greater and at the same time smaller. Thought never ends, and the distinctions it creates are endless.
Interpretations are necessary: the error lies in believing that a particular interpretation is ultimate or exclusive. Interpretation is the servant of perception. It is a human’s responsibility to choose what he or she perceives, what E pays attention to, and how E responds.
As pure awareness becomes a familiar experience, many common attitudes and values appear childish. Shiny toys and wonder stories dazzling the naïve. The realm of ego, of separate objects and the material world, is now perceived to be a crude way of representing reality. There is much more going on, and descriptions far more flexible and sensitive to the world as we experience it.
The discursive is playing sorcerer’s apprentice to believe that the maps it creates can master reality, or even know reality beyond a superficial level. Or that discursive thought that excludes context can resolve crises of context. Nor can the therapies of discursivity ever bring a quiet mind.
Humans are entranced by their creations: religions and science and philosophies. Like savages dancing around a fire. Enslaved to assumptions and to incomplete, immature thinking. Hypnotized by the discursive mind. There will be no end to this until we wake up and perceive energies that transcend all boundaries, and that the entire material realm is only an interpretation of those energies.
One cannot be fully human without the use of language. Complete human development is not achieved until one controls hir own mind. Until you and I recognize discursivity for what it is and function skilfully in the realm of pure perception.
This is not rocket science. It is our own mind! The abilities to walk upright and to use symbolic language were attained by proto-humans with effort over many generations. Learning to use the mind well will occur in the space between thoughts.
To experience the silence within which thinking arises, remove the veil of discursive thought blocking it. Here you are one with the cosmos, perceiving the direction all are following, even when led astray by their interpretations and partial thought. As above, so below. There is a saying that, “In the space between thoughts lies reality.” By controlling discursive thought you stop telling stories about the world and allow it to be.
It may be hard to find that space at first. When you do, you know yourself, all beings, and the divine, without labels or wishful thinking. There is an end to doubt. You know how you fit, in union with the whole and the energy which cares for life. You are free of the creations of the body-mind. Better still: you have found your true self. Centering in the matrix brings birth to a new life. It is only the beginning.
If you want it, you can succeed. This is natural human development. Here is a basic exercise for moving the lens of awareness to pure awareness, or nondiscursivity. The goal is to objectify, as it were, the thoughts of the discursive mind and perceive them as individual objects. Thus the misty stream of consciousness takes form. It is like waking up. Internalize a trigger—exhalation—that brings you to pure perception: prior to, inclusive of, and beyond form. Aware.
The basic exercise edit
Wherever you are right now, as you take your next breath, visualize the air coming in through the nose and throat to the lungs, and returning back into the world. Concentrate solely on the breath. When you notice you are thinking, drop it and be present. Don’t feel you must finish the thought. Here are no explanations or voices, planning or dozing. In this alert silence, the uninterpreted energy of the cosmos communicates. The chaos of discursivity vanishes. This is the zone.
Stop the mind before it falls into “thinking about.” Don’t think: pay attention. Training the mind not to fall into thought is like training a bird not to startle at sudden motion.
The mind works extremely fast, and you are slowing it down to observe “pre-thought” arise—and then choosing to receive, and transmit, wholeness according to Nature. Wholeness does not exclude the intuitions of the spirit.
Focused training. edit
Sit in a place, quiet if possible, where you will not be disturbed. Close your eyes if you want, but there is a tendency then to fall asleep. You can train the ability to improve wakefulness as well.
Use a timer: a gentle sound, set at a reasonable length for you, from ten minutes to an hour. Experiment. Practice without a timer. Practice until it is time for your next activity.
Tell yourself, All senses are open and alert. Not thinking: aware.
As you breathe, focus in open, observing, attentiveness. As breath enters, you take in perceptions from the external world from further and further away. As air goes out, awareness travels from the lungs outward farther into the world. You are in a world of pure awareness. The breath is center and link.
The goal is to stay in this attentive mode for the entire exercise period. When a thought arises, mark it well. Discursive thoughts consist of reflexive contractions of consciousness, which seem to be as natural as breathing. They are not. Drop the thought. Relax, breathe. Continue the basic exercise. No matter how many times you fall into thought, encourage yourself gently. Guide the developing mind, start again. You can do it. A door will open. When you learn, you will see it is not that difficult.
Even the sense of being an observer creates an unreal barrier. While it is good to consciously perceive the breath, sensations, and mental activity, eventually drop the perspective that “I am observing x”, and simply be aware with no labels. In time the center of consciousness settles just outside the body, a light shining inward and outward.
That is all there is to pure awareness. It is quite simple. Discursive thought adds the labels, judgments, interpretations, plans, fantasies, explanations, analyses, descriptions, and emotional stress. Free of their confusion, mind finds the channel it was meant for.
- Success in controlling discursive thought depends entirely on 1) remembering to go to pure perception, 2) knowing where that is, 3) overcoming resistance.
Urges and thoughts that strongly resist control are discursivity that has been hijacked by the body-mind. Distract the mind when it gets stuck. Pay attention to anything but discursivity. If mind absolutely can not stay still, repeat a prayer. Energies far greater than discursive surround you. You must surrender the ego to experience them. Each exhalation triggers a micro-experience of pure perception. Not every exhalation brings you there. You are making a habit: nondiscursivity becomes the default perspective. Discursivity is used when you engage intentionally in the discursive world.
Aids for remembering pure awareness edit
The breath is your greatest support. When lost, focus on the breath. This is home. Drop off body and mind. Breathe.
A mantra is a single word or short phrase, repeated constantly. Eventually the mantra gently molds your entire being. “Peace”, or a word with no associations that simply helps you remember.
Scanning is a quick survey of outer and inner worlds. Mentally observe the body from head to foot, noticing sensations. Open mind and senses to perceive energies. You can do this continually, making the rounds with each breath. Like waves on the shore. When thought arises, nip it. With practice, you get good at stopping thought even when it has strong energy to take control of the mind.
Ultimately, you shift back and forth from discursivity to pure awareness seamlessly throughout the day.
Here are two other exercises. Once you get the hang of it, improvise and make up your own.
A mental inventory edit
An inventory of thoughts is a first step to orientation in the landscape of the mind. By identifying thoughts that unbalance pure perception; and making a list of “what’s on my mind”, one perceives the pattern of discursivity. As old thoughts are experienced in this new setting, their invisibility and magic control both vanish.
Make a note as you recognize that a thought has taken over the mind. Even using an abacus is okay, although the feedback is limited. By making conscious note of the thought, you put closure to it and start afresh. The thought can no longer hide in a murmuring cloud of babble. Discursivity becomes so habitual we don’t realize it is occurring. Allowing the mind to wander, and go in and out of fantasy, is easy and pleasant. The habituated pleasure of discursivity, along with ignorance of another option, keeps the mind enslaved.
To start: Sit in the focused training position, this time with paper and pen. You are going to write down every thought (in few letters: make up a shorthand) that takes control of your mind as you hold the intent of simple awareness without thinking. Don’t record every vague wisp of discursivity, but thoughts and feelings that carry you away.
Even if it seems pointless at first, make note of those thoughts that capture attention despite the resolve to maintain open focus. It is important. You will soon notice that the world of discursive thought fits into a limited number of processes. Something like: Plans, Analyses, Figuring out, Rehearsals, Explanations, Fantasies (often bearing powerful emotional energy), Memories, Associations, Insights, Drift…Combinations, Subprocesses.
Triggering events change, the processes repeat, engraining interpretations ever deeper. Observe and guide the process by the light beyond name and form. Once you control the impulse to contract into discursivity, the bird has learned not to startle at the slightest stimulus.
In addition, you may notice a sort of muttering in the mind occurring as “undertalk.” It is like background conversation. You will work with this later. The first step is to become familiar with spontaneous discursive mental activity; to spot different processes in the flow of discursivity, and their individual manifestations. Dissolve the mist. Break the spell of discursivity. All you have to do is look.
When you are familiar with recognizing discursive thought as it arises, and capable of intervening in what formerly was an automatic unconscious process of thought formation, you are slowing the mind down enough to catch embryonic thoughts in the instant between appearance as energy, and their formation as thought-intent. A vast space appears as you tune in to nondiscursivity and are aware of more. And not simply aware of more. You create the space in which things that were insignificant and invisible, are perceived to be parts of a new pattern.
Thoughts percolate up from a deeper region of the mind. One instant a bit of energy, and suddenly full-bloomed thought. We are so used to this that we do not think it remarkable that words burst from the mouth in meaningful combinations without having been planned. Or that long forgotten events suddenly appear fully present.
Most humans live without ever loosening the knot of discursivity. Once a person has a clear idea of what to do, and why, it can be accomplished. Basically, you no longer constantly reinforce discursivity. You 1) limit discursive input (e.g., from media), 2) notice and control your own discursivity, and 3) experience pure perception for longer periods. It is like learning to walk. Or to fly.
When you can balance attention suspended, without sinking into self—once you are riding the tiger, you could say—it won’t be long before you master the ability. Note also: thought attracts more thought; movement attracts thought. Silence attracts silence. Noise attracts thought. Sound draws one deeper.
The following exercise is also useful with variations.
The finger path. edit
The finger path provides more support for fledgling ability to concentrate. Sit as before, but here paper and pen are optional. Each breath conveys the attention from one fingertip to the next, like a little mental walk. Begin with the thumb of the dominant hand, continuing to index, middle, ring, and little finger, opposite hand little finger, ring, middle, index, thumb. You can visualize it as a stroll in a garden; or as a bicycle ride, a flight, or journey. The goal is to make the circuit without falling into the discursive. One breath at a time. Don’t count as you go, visualize.
Use a mantra for additional support: While inhaling, visualizing breath traveling to the lungs, begin the mantra, e.g., “this…” As breath reaches its apex and begins exhaling, continue: “...breath.” You maintain pure awareness for this one breath. You are pure awareness.
These are strategies for constructing a framework on which will appear a new perspective. Further support: imagine the positive energies from the nondiscursive realm, urging you toward healthy control of your own mind. The energies have no particular form, but can appear as spirit guides in forms natural to the human. They are always en-couraging, never impatient. You escape the shell of ego and emerge into the open air of pure awareness without shutting yourself up in the box of any discursive system. Simply pay attention. You can call for support from these energies. They are there for you, and invincible to discursivity.
They are the realm from which discursivity arises.
Maintaining a quiet mind through the day. edit
Nondiscursivity can be practiced in any situation: as you exhale, drop off thought. Simply pay attention. Most of the things you do, do not require full attention every instant. You can train the mind to return reflexively to pure awareness when not engaged in discursive, systolic activity—at least for an instant. The master key is to remember. You can learn to remember always. No matter how long you have forgotten, this breath is what counts. Internalize other reminders, such as Centering Before Entering. Practice them (or one) always.
The three minds work together in systolic / diastolic rhythm: systolically narrowing in on a particular part of the environment in order to interact (discursive), and then diastolically drawing back to a larger mental view (non-discursive).
Centered in pure awareness, one is immovable by forces of the discursive world. The discursive self has been transcended.
Once non-discursive perception can be recalled with facility, even though not perfectly, attitude and values relax and open up. One can grow. New connections appear. Desires, fears and events of the day, no matter how upsetting, are perceived in the cosmic context. You don’t sweat the small stuff, and everything discursive is relatively small stuff. Anything discursive can be reinterpreted. Separateness is only half the story.
This exercise and awareness become your life. Body and discursive mind have dropped off. There is no death in the context. You are the context, an emanation of the energy that gives life. Labels, identities and beliefs were all tossed on top of that awareness. The worlds of the discursive mind are great and glorious...dreams.
Drills for particular situations. edit
Situations such as encountering people, work, personal and household maintenance, transitions, shopping, eating, official appointments, difficult situations, etc., are ideal for practicing and training the three minds to work together. It helps to prepare and rehearse simple routines to use as supports, to maintain nondiscursivity while engaged in rather demanding discursive activity. Here is an example, a Drill for human interactions:
Go to pure perception. Tell yourself: I am pure aware. Observe, no name, no judgment. Energies, how they manifest. Positive-neg. My body-mind, space and time.
Return to pure perception. All are striving to completion. All is complete in the living context.
Practice this in all encounters. You do in performance what you have done a thousand times in rehearsal. Rather than getting caught up in the situation, you are using discursivity as the means toward the end of flourishing. This is a learning process. If you persist you will succeed.
Create drills for other situations. The plan must be simple enough to withstand habit and physical urges trying to kidnap attention. Eventually, nondiscursive perceiving becomes natural.
4 gold keys. edit
More heavy keys. They may seem impossible to wield. Don’t be discouraged. It is a long journey, but a good and natural one. One breath at a time.
- Eliminate haste. Give all things proper attention. Live at your proper pace. Only you can discover what that is. The geological clock ticks away a million years at a time. You are the Earth.
- Eliminate clutter. Material, mental, & schedule clutter. Get rid of teevee, radio, electronic devices. Stuff. Limit reading. All of these hook one into a discursive habit of perception. It is incorrect to say, “It is not material things that are a problem, but attachment to them.” By daily involvement in the discursive world of material things, it becomes habitual to think in their terms. One never withdraws enough from the situation to see it fresh, in a different context.
- Emotionally accept, here and now, whatever happens. It may not be good; it may need to be changed. But it is what it is. Negative emotions indicate where one’s own growth must occur. Welcome events that trigger negativity as opportunities you have been given.
- The entire purpose is to flourish as context. Be loving and be here now.
The human journey consists in replacing that which is natural and more tangible with the less tangible, that which is learned by guiding natural inclination.
Living the nondiscursive life. edit
As you perceive nondiscursively, sleepwaking—and all the chatter in the mind: the endless mental plans, explanations, rages and fears—fall silent. They are interpretations of experience. Free of their noise, you are free of their pressures. You create peace with each breath. Conflicts dissolve. Stress, worry and anger soften. You are more patient with yourself and others. You are far more observant because you are not wrapped up in your own thought world. You are free to appreciate the little joys and beauties of the day, and to recognize the sublime. Life gets better daily, as you take control of your thoughts and feelings, and enter the world beyond labels.
Transitioning from a discursive-centered to a nondiscursive-centered life occurs through perceiving and experiencing a new pattern, while at the same time ceasing to reinforce the current pattern of the discursive mind. Any interpretation not subordinated to its context is incomplete. To quiet the discursive mind: minimize engagement, and need to engage, in the discursive world other than as pure perception. You are growing into a new life, beyond the body-ego. This includes the discursive: discursivity is used as the tool of nondiscursive perception. All things are part of one system, all following the invitation, and compulsion, toward self-actualization. No man, nor any being, is an island. We are one. Taking control of the mind is done moment by moment. The master key is to remember. Never be discouraged: return to pure perception in all activities. Use aids such as a mantra and scanning. Daily training is essential if you are to change default consciousness from discursive commentary to nondiscursive awareness.
A daily training regimen. edit
Success in this natural developmental process depends on you. If you were training to be an Olympic athlete, or opening your own business, how great an effort would you make? In this case, you are becoming a complete human, able to control hir own mind.
In addition to practicing during daily activities, take time in the morning, afternoon, and evening for focused training. Every training session is a little adventure, as a new world unfolds. In daylight, sit with the clipboard (or without it) and make explicit note of the thoughts carrying you away from the resolve to “be here now.” You notice a difference as soon as you lay down the burden of thought: discursivity requires a lot of energy, and by uncluttering awareness you release this energy, channeling it for flourishing in and as context. You will see that training the mind is the most satisfying thing you can do. You accomplish the human task and find peace. This has been my experience. You must judge for yourself. With love, ~Damartias
All people will be able to flourish in a flourishing natural environment.
Every person matters.
Every creature matters.
Everything we do matters.
- Trowbridge, Richard Hawley (2013). A Quiet Mind. Rochester, NY, USA: The Flourishing Earth.