For most people, the mind is always active with an internal commentary or dialogue running as people react to situations or try to solve various issues. As the mind is trained to undertake intellectual processes, it follows a process of logic and organisation that is used to understand and act upon things in the world. The process we call “thinking” is a step-by-step and detailed internal system that tries to work its way through what many call a “decision tree”. This process naturally focuses on a specific object, goal or problem to be solved, narrows the focus, fragments the attention to this one thing that needs to be resolved, and then creates a series of steps to move from where the mind is now to where it needs to be to find and implement a solution.
When confronted with the idea of silencing the mind, we naturally are fearful that we will either lose our ability to think and solve problems or issues; or that we will simply become dull and unable to function. At the same time, it is necessary to appreciate that the higher realms of awareness, which Sri Aurobindo calls ‘higher mind’, ‘illumined mind’, ‘overmind’ (and eventually ‘supermind’) function under an entirely different set of principles, through the presentation of a comprehensive or universal view that sees connections and inter-connections and does not narrow itself down in a single ‘train of thought’. For these to become functional it is necessary for the normal mental process to subside and stay in a status of silence, albeit, an alert, receptive silence, not a dull, distracted, dark or intoxicated state of blankness of the mind.
Sri Aurobindo writes: “The thinking mind has to learn how to be entirely silent. It is only then that true knowledge can come.”
“The turmoil of mental (intellectual) activity has also to be silenced like the vital activity of desire in order that the calm and peace may be complete. Knowledge has to come but from above. In this calm the ordinary mental activities like the ordinary vital activities become surface movements with which the silent inner self is not connected. It is the liberation necessary in order that the true knowledge and the true life-activity may replace or transform the activities of the Ignorance.”
“To think and question about an experience when it is happening is the wrong thing to do; it stops it or diminishes it. Let the experience have its full play — if it is something like this ‘new life force’ or peace or Force or anything else helpful. When it is over, you can think about it — not while it is proceeding. For these experiences are spiritual and not mental and the mind has to be quiet and not interfere.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 9, Transformation of the Nature, Transformation of the Mind, pp. 240-245