For Yoga meditation, one learns to let the thoughts “flow without interruption.” However, something comes first, before we can neutrally witness the entire stream of thoughts flowing.
First we need to practice with individual thoughts, consciously practicing allowing some single thought to arise, just so we can observe the way in which it naturally drifts away, returning to the still, silent place from which it arose.
There is a strong temptation to just block all of the thoughts by focusing on some object, or by chanting a mantra. This is a serious mistake for a meditator to make. It puts a veil, or maybe better to say a wall between our conscious state and the deeper parts of our being, including the bliss we are seeking and the center of consciousness. What can start out as an effort to meditate ends up just another method of suppressing thoughts and emotions, and this is definitely not useful.
What we want to do here is to sit quietly, breath smoothly, and then from within our mind field, intentionally allow some random thought impression to arise. Usually what happens is that we don’t even notice these single impressions come up, and then we get caught in a long train of thinking process. Next thing we know, we have a headache!
Here, we want to catch the thought, spot it, or detect it as it arises. This is actually quite fascinating to notice the way in which a single thought pattern breaks through from the unconscious into our conscious field. The object may be something very simple and mundane, such as a piece of fruit, some object around your house, or a scenic view you saw some time ago.
It does not matter what the object is–just allow the image to arise on its own. Also, it does not matter whether you literally “see” with your inner eye or not. Whether you “see” or do not “see” with your inner eye, you still are well aware of what images or impressions are arising.
The next part, which is quite intriguing to observe is to allow that thought to go, to let it drift right back to the silent, still place from which it arose in the first place. This is not some complicated meditation practice. Anyone can do this, and will gain tremendous insight from the practice, if done regularly as a foundation practice of meditation.
You will come to see that if we allow it, it is quite natural for these thought patterns to do two things:
It is natural for them to arise, and
It is natural for them to gently fall back to the place from which they arose.
We usually engage that single thought pattern and turn it into a whole train of thought patterns, as if we are all Hollywood movie producers in our mental stage. That single impression arises, and then off we go! More and more thought impressions get drawn into the drama, and along comes our emotional reactions as well. (Here, we are not being critical of thoughts and emotions and their exploration. These can definitely have a useful place as adjuncts to meditation, but here we are talking of a specific practice related to Yoga meditation.)
With a little experimentation we can learn that it really is easy to just let the thought drift away, and not turn it into a movie. This letting go is a skill unto itself. Learning to literally let go of a thought is a far superior skill than some technique of getting rid of, or blocking thoughts and emotions.
Imagine you are a ticket taker at a theater, and that there is a long line of people coming into the theater. What do you do as a ticket taker? Is it not true that when a person comes to hand you their ticket, you greet them in a friendly way? You are open to them, and acknowledge them with a gesture, a few words, or maybe both. But how do you get them to go on into the theater? Or, for that matter, do you need to do anything to get them to go into the theater? Isn’t it true that they will generally just go on into the theater on their own?
So what is the action that you would naturally do as a ticket taker, when you have just taken the last persons ticket? Wouldn’t you turn to the next person in line, and maybe say “Next!” as you greeted, accepted, and acknowledged that person as well? The previous person will just move on, automatically. This is exactly what we can do with those individual thoughts standing in line to come forward into consciousness when we sit for meditation.
To have an attitude of quieting thoughts by stopping them would be like stopping the line of theatergoers from coming in the door. They might get pretty upset and start to cause trouble. Instead of having the attitude of getting rid of thoughts, have an attitude of inviting them to come, “Next…. Next…. Next….” Then let them go by.
This literally can be practiced, one individual thought at a time. This can be done without having an object on which you are meditating. You just sit there and invite the thoughts, one at a time, to come forward, so that you can observe them come, and can then observe the beautiful way in which they go, on their own.
Or, the practice can be done while at the same time remembering your object on which you are trying to focus for meditation, whether that be breath, an internal image, or a mantra.
It is the skill itself, the art of letting go that we are trying to learn. It is an ability that few of us have ever been trained to do, but can we can train ourselves in this extremely useful skill.
As this skill of learning to witness and let go of thought patterns is developed, it becomes more clear how this goes along with the practice of concentrating the mind. Then, instead of the concentration being a means of suppressing thoughts and emotions, and thus preventing meditation, concentration and witnessing work together. The mind is concentrated, while at the same time the field of consciousness is expanded from a witnessing stance, and deeper meditation is experienced.