It’s nearly impossible to calm the waves of the mind completely, but we can learn to dive under them. You don’t have to make all the waves calm. The Bhagavad Gita says that the mind gets tossed like a boat on the surface of wavy water. It’s very hard to keep the mind quiet, so don’t fight it too much. Instead, become the observer, the inner witness.

It is in meditation that you can learn to become a witness, an observer. In meditation you can observe your own happiness, unhappiness, frustrations, and joy. As a witness, you are putting yourself into a different level. You are not identifying with your thoughts or your mind. You are detaching yourself from the mind, and become an observer. This was the approach of sage Ramana Maharshi. Whatever the problem, whatever was asked of him, he would say, “Who is that asking?” When somebody comes and says, “Oh, I’m really unhappy, what am I to do?”, he will reply, “Oh, you are unhappy?” “Yes.” Then he will ask, “Who is that? How do you know you are unhappy?”

The person who knows that they are unhappy must be different then the person who says, “I am unhappy.” Find out who is unhappy, who is hungry, who lost something, who gained something. Ask, “Who am I, who am I?” It’s a direct inquiry. This idea is explained in the Vedic scriptures. It says to inquire directly, like a bird shooting itself toward a fruit. All other approaches are equally good, but they are slow. Not everybody can fly directly like a bird. Some will crawl to the fruit like an ant. They go slowly from the root to the trunk, to the branch and it takes time to reach the fruit. That’s Bhakti Yoga, the Yoga of devotion. It goes slow and steady and then you get the fruit.

Those who are in a hurry shoot for the fruit directly. But remember, the bird that flies fast catches the fruit and then flies away. Have you seen the big birds sweep down, catch a fish, and then fly away? They can’t stay in the water. And with that very fast movement, they can catch the fish, but they can also drop it—the fish may slip. There is that danger of slipping also with direct inquiry. So people who don’t have that kind of energy, that kind of clear vision, take the slow speed. You can also go slow and steady and you will still win the race. It’s not that only whoever gets there first, will win the cup. There is not only one cup for all the millions of people. No. Everyone will reach the goal in their own time and will also get a cup, because God has plenty of cups. There is no loser here; everybody is a winner. It is just a question of time.

Observation is a very beautiful approach to meditation. You immediately get out of your problems. You detach yourself. If somebody uses a word that would anger you, immediately the blood boils. Then you find you are about to do something or say something that may be unkind or cause injury. But, if you immediately put yourself as the observer, you think, Who is getting upset? What did he say, and to whom? The person might have said, “You are stupid.” So then you can analyze, Who is stupid here? Am I, or my mind, or what? As you begin to analyze, your anger dissolves. While you are doing this inner inquiry and finding find out where the stupidity is, you forget to get angry toward the person who called you stupid.

So the cultivating the inner witness keeps you away from all the problems. You can properly cultivate the witness during meditation. You don’t have to be sitting and only repeating the mantra. Suddenly the thoughts will come. When they come, take a little time and inquire, Where do they come from? How did they come, why did they come? What shall I do with them? Analyze them without identifying with them.

If it’s too much to analyze, use another approach. Just ignore the disturbing thoughts and put in new thoughts. I call it a grease job. When you take the car for a grease job, what does the mechanic do? He’s not going to take out every part, clean off the old grease and put new grease. Instead, what does he do? Under nice pressure using a grease gun, he squeezes in the new grease and when it goes through, it pushes out the old grease. That’s what I learned from the mechanic shop. You don’t have to worry about the old grease. However old or dirty it is, just inject some new grease. And if you can’t do it by yourself, come and get injected. That’s where sangha, the good company comes in. That’s what sage Shankaracharya said. If you can keep good company, you cannot be in the bad company at that moment. And then because you are in the good company and not in the bad company, you are not deluded. Your mind is clean. Your mind does not get shaken up and there is no attachment, or clinging on to things, so the mind becomes steady.

Once you get that steadiness of the mind, that is called liberation. When you attain the ultimate liberation you are known as a jivanmukta—liberated while living. Some of us used to think that liberation only occurs when you are dead and gone. Not necessarily. Even if you are dead and gone, you can still be bound. That’s not real liberation. You have to liberate yourself from the constantly changing, vibrating, fluctuating, and fleeting mind—while you are alive.

All the restlessness comes because of our attachments, our likes and dislikes. We are constantly bombarded with these two. Our entire lives are based on that. Either you like something or you dislike something. It’s one or the other: I like him, I hate him. There is constant turbulence in the mind and that is all because you are depending on something on the outside for happiness.

Of course, in the beginning it’s alright to depend on something. Depend on good company, but ultimately, you should not even be depending on good company. You become totally independent. That’s when you see your own happiness, you experience your own inner happiness. Happiness never comes from outside. Because you look for happiness, you may think your happiness is coming from something outside. Then you attach that reflected happiness to the person or the thing and you like it. But, after some time, you see another side of the thing or the person and you say you dislike it because you seem to be losing your happiness. So now you say, “It makes me miserable.” Nothing makes you miserable. Nothing is interested in making you miserable. You make yourself miserable.

The saintly South Indian poet, Avaiyar advises: The good and bad that you encounter, the likes and dislikes that you encounter, are not given to you by somebody else. You create them because you are dependent on something and you think you are happy by having it. Anything that comes and makes you happy cannot be with you always. Nothing is permanent; when there is a coming there is a going.

There is even such a rule in architecture. Where there is an entry door, there must be an outlet door. You cannot build a hall with only one door. So anything that comes in, will be looking for a way to go out. Happiness is also like that. Pleasure and pain are inseparable. Everything has its opposite. So it’s not an advisable thing to depend on anything for our happiness or unhappiness. Even if you want to be unhappy don’t depend on anything for that either!

Your happiness is completely in your hands and that is understood very well only when you take time to go within. Almost all the problems could be solved if a person is regular in meditation. But even then, ultimately don’t even depend on sitting meditation. When the morning bell rings you go sit and close your eyes for half an hour and that’s what we call meditation. No. That’s where you learn to meditate. Having learned to meditate, you meditate everywhere—in the process of your day to day life. Once you learn meditation, you can meditate on your eating, on your digestion, sleeping, walking, talking. It’s called all time puja, all time worship. That is sahaja samadhi. Life should be an all the time meditation.

What we practice at certain intervals during the day or evening, those are just the beginning and it certainly helps a lot. People who complain too much about their lives don’t seem to meditate properly. The Bhagavad Gita says that the best practice is meditation. It is the most important practice. However busy you are, you can always find some time. You have to find the time. You find time to make money, you find time to spend money, you find time to sit and gossip. Be sure to find time to meditate also.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda