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Trataka is an external concentration practice in which one gazes steadily at some small object without blinking, while the eyelids are held slightly more open than usual. The practice is continued until the eyes strain and water. They should then be closed and the eyes rolled gently a few times, followed by rinsing them carefully and gently with cold water. Another method of relaxation involves contracting the muscles around the eyes and then relaxing them. The purpose of this practice is to coordinate the impulses of the sensory and motor nerves, which assist in producing a state of calmness and tranquility necessary for concentration. Trataka preserves and maintains good eyesight, and provides immunity from diseases of the eyes.
During this exercise, one makes an effort to consciously cut off each thought at the very moment of its appearance in the mind. One should keep a steady watch for each new thought as it is forming and stop it there. This will be quite difficult fir the mind in the beginning. If the mind cannot be controlled, it should be allowed to flow. Relax completely and observe its fantasies, its digressions, and its roaming here and there. As one’s practice improves, the stream of ideas, rather than being cut short, will seem to arise even more rapidly.
This is an indication that the practitioner is making significant progress and that his mind is becoming clearer, and his observation sharper. This is the actual state of the mind’s normal operation, but previously it had not been observed. A state of tranquility is reached when the thoughts seem to arise so fast that they are without number. To attempt to hinder thinking seems to have created more thoughts and thinking. From this point on, one should only act as an observer, letting the mind follow its own course. In this manner it will slow down on its own, and each mental process or operation can be inspected carefully and minutely. The ultimate result will be that the entire movement of the mind is brought under control.
Various sounds may be heard due to the motion of prana in the nadis. One should not be anxious about these noises, and they may be used for the fixation and concentration of the mind. As the mind becomes absorbed in meditation, these sounds will pass away.
Meditation on a Flame
To perform this practice, assume any meditative posture with the head, neck, and trunk comfortably erect. Allow the mind to become calm and collected. and let the breath become serene, even, and regular. Gently open the eyes and gaze fixedly at the flame of an oil lamp (deepam) or candle which is placed at a distance of two to three feet in front of the eyes. Continue to focus on the candle until the eyes water. When this occurs, do not rub the eyes, as this water is impure. Instead, close the eyes, make a cup-like shape with the palms of your hands, and place them over the eyes. Then you will see an afterimage of the candle flame. Retain this image, keeping it in your mental vision as long as possible. If it moves up, down, or sideways, try to hold it stationary. It is helpful to move it about willfully. As a result of this practice, the eyes are strengthened, making them bright and attractive. The exercise also acts upon the solar plexus and is said to add to one’s charm. It is held in high regard as a practice in concentration.
As one continues this practice he will eventually be able to establish this image of the candlelight in the mind’s eye without the assistance of the candle. The aspirant will find that he becomes delighted with this image and that he wants to follow after it when it begins to diminish or disappear. When this visualization comes under one’s conscious control, he may focus on the center of the light and anything he wants to know will be revealed to him as long as his intentions are unselfish.
Various exercises of concentration on light are suggested in the yoga sastras. Concentrating on light between the eyebrows is called subtle concentration. One may also concentrate on an ocean of light in his heart, or on the image of a flame in the region of the navel. Other forms of light may appear from within as a result of the predominance of one tattva or another. The lights of the tattvas are dull, while mental lights are bright. The light of ojas is seen when there is no consciousness through the senses. If concentration is done consistently on these lights whenever they appear, one will develop a powerful intentional force or resolve, and a time will come when one will be able to recall these lights at will.