There was a monkey, restless by his own nature, as all monkeys are.
As if that were not enough, someone made him drink freely of wine, so that he became still more restless.
Then a scorpion stung him. When a man is stung by a scorpion he jumps about for a whole day, so the poor monkey found his condition worse than ever. To complete his misery a demon entered into him. What language can describe the uncontrollable restlessness of that monkey?
The human mind is like that monkey; incessantly active by its own nature, then it becomes drunk with the wine of desire, thus increasing its turbulence. After desire takes possession comes the sting of the scorpion of jealously of others whose desires meet with fulfillment, and last of all the demon of pride takes possession of the mind, making it think itself of all importance. How hard to control such a mind!
The first lesson, then, is to sit for some time and let the mind run on. The mind is bubbling up all the time. It is like that monkey jumping about. Let the monkey jump as much as he can; you simply wait and watch.
Knowledge is power says the proverb, and that is true. Until you know what the mind is doing you cannot control it. Give it the full length of the reins; many most hideous thoughts may come into it; you will be astonished that it was possible for you to think such thoughts. But you will find that each day the mind’s vagaries are becoming less and less violent, that each day it is becoming calmer. In the first few months you will find that the mind will have a thousand thoughts, later you will find that it is toned down to perhaps seven hundred, and after a few more months it will have fewer and fewer, until at last it will be under perfect control, but we must patiently practice every day.
As soon as the steam is turned on the engine must run, and as soon as things are before us we must perceive; so a man, to prove that he is not a machine, must demonstrate that he is under the control of nothing. This controlling of the mind, and not allowing it to join itself to the centers, is Pratyāhāra.
How is this practice? It is a long work, not to be done in a day. Only after a patient, continuous struggle for years can we succeed.
Therefore, beware of everything that takes away your freedom. Know that it is dangerous, and avoid it by all the means in your power. He who has succeeded in attaching or detaching his mind to or from the centers at will has succeeded in Pratyāhāra, which means “gathering towards,” checking the outgoing powers of the mind, freeing it from the thralldom of the senses. When we can do this we really possess a character, then alone shall we have made a long step towards freedom; before that we are mere machines.
This section is key:
“Until you know what the mind is doing you cannot control it. Give it the full length of the reins; many most hideous thoughts may come into it; you will be astonished that it was possible for you to think such thoughts.”
We require deep conviction and the resulting trust in order to not fall into doubt when we really open up to the most hideous thoughts that may arise when we give the mind “the full length of the reins”. This is definitely what is called ‘the dark night of the soul’. Indeed, until we have probed our mind and penetrated to its full depths we will not know our own mind and it will continue to subjugate us.