Human Landscape – a Holy Task of Self-Enquiry


theatre arunachala j&d8

Following on my last post – a portrait of Alan Jacobs –  I abridge here a chapter we wrote together on “Diving into the Heart”.  This practice is at the core of Alan’s sadhana and devotion to Ramana Maharshi. The chapter appeared in a booklet we published in 1994, called The Holy Task.  After that …  another portrait gallery.

“In the inmost core, the Heart 
shines as Brahman alone 
as I … I, the Self aware. 
Enter deep into the Heart 
by search for Self, or diving deep, 
of with breath under check – 
thus abide ever in Atman.”

Ramana Maharshi in “Ramana Gita” by Ganapati Muni

This metrical verse that Ramana Maharshi himself translated from the Sanskrit original into English, is considered by many devotees to be the essence of his teaching.

Self-enquiry does not mean an endless analysis of the non-Self or personality, but a direct probing into the nature of Reality.  The actions and identifications of the personal ego are impartially witnessed, observed, noticed by normal self awareness, when we are not too carried away by external objects and events.

For those in the great majority – if we are honest with ourselves – who have not the strength of attention to hold the I thought in its source and investigate its movement, or who are riveted by the cares of the world, Ramana gave us a great aid:  the control of breath or pranayama.

In verses 28, 29 and 30 of the Forty Verses, he states,


As in a well of water deep, 
dive deep with Reason cleaving sharp. 
With speech, mind and breath restrained, 
exploring thus … discover the real source of ego-self. 

The mind through calm in deep plunge enquires.
That alone is real quest for the Self. 
“This I am” – “mine is not this” – 
these ideas help forward the quest.  

Get at the Heart within by search. 
the personal bows its head and falls. 
Then flashes forth another “I” … 
not personal, but the Self supreme.”


The paradox of Self enquiry is that it is intimately transpersonal.  I substituted ‘personal’ for the word ‘ego’ which has variable interpretations.




Alan extracted a technique based on a practice somewhat similar which he found in The Technique of Maha Yoga by N.R.Narayana Aiyar.  It is advisable to ground this practice in a working knowledge of pranayama (the science of breath), physiology, and one’s own innate capacity.

Sit on the floor, kneeling or at ease.  Take in a deep inhalation for four or eight counts (as Ramana explains in Self Enquiry), then hold the breath for another four, while turning inward. On the full retention, take the normal focus of concentration which is say, between the eyebrows, and implant it in the spiritual Heart centre just to the right side within the chest, mirroring the physical heart.  This is what Ramana experienced, and how he indicated it:  “Nam Yar – I, who?”   Visualise him inside, and feel this question.

Let it penetrate deeply through the veiling of the mind – which varies in resistance according to the play of the Gunas – into the innermost flame which shines in the cave of the Heart eternally.  It is one’s own, yet universal.  Allow the intuition of this source or beingness, to generate itself as I AM.  Or let go and discover it in the receptivity of the stillness itself.

We may find that the diver is “I” but the receptivity is “Amness”.

wave break

After the maximum penetration attained – perhaps four to eight counts –  release the breath gently; exhale.  The movement of the breath and the birth of thought are linked.  Restraint of the one quietens the other.  It might be said that prana is that essence of the indrawn and outgoing breath which becomes our awareness.

This practice may be repeated, depending on the practitioner, as often and wherever he or she wishes.  It will vary in depth and intensity, but no effort is in vain.  The power of concentration related to the harnessed breath will increase, and gradually over a period of time, awaken a subtle vibrance or sphurana within the chest and centre spine, a little to the right.  Though the Spiritual heart has no physical location, this area through Ramana’s own experience – and our own – serves as its point of support in the bodymind.   Continual practice benefits the nervous system overall, acting as an anchor for Self-remembering, and an instrument of change.

As a byproduct of diving into the Self, there may be a few observable changes in one’s attitudes and innate tendencies.  It is a radical procedure, bypassing the mental circus.

On exhalation, one lets go of the world, of darkness, fret and ignorance, like so many old clothes.  On inhaling deeply, it may be with some sacred silent image, a mantra sound, or any loved symbol of the Self.  On the retention, dive inward by letting the thought-world float away downstream from here;  immerse for a moment as if underwater, in being.  A sense of urgency may be brought to “who am I?” by thinking of one’s death.

clear sand exhale

The retention or kumbakha may also be practiced after exhaling and before inhaling, as the Technique of Maha Yoga suggests.  In this case, the analogy is with the tide going out;  an open sandy beach cleansed of impurities, before the incoming wave of inhalation.  In both methods, the root of the breath is watched, as it swells from ‘no where’.  We may dive into fullness, as into emptiness.  “The mind through calm in deep plunge, enquires.”

What does “to dive into the Self” mean?  It is to abide, to be calm and concept free, to be not drawn forth, yet present.  Ramana told Ganapati Muni, “Find out wherefrom this ‘I’ springs forth, and merge at its source, this is tapas.  Find out wherefrom the sound of the Mantra in japa (repetition of the divine Name) rises up, and merge there;  this is tapas.”   Nothing more.

Results should not be sought, for these are of the mind’s own machination.  When the inner and outer guru are ready, some direct understanding may occur, as a descent of grace strong enough to control the wandering thought, or as a pull from within – a lessening of interest in one’s worries, a tendency to bathe in the mystery of the Source;  to trust.

Our minds are very rajas, accustomed to straying outwards for many lifetimes.  Gradually as the inner guru pulls us from within, an alert dispassion develops.  We need to get to know and hear this inner guru!  It is a purifying process:  there may be some nervous “churning” as kundalini wakes, and the notion that the vasanas are increasing in strength.  Like silt stirred up from the river bed, ALL must come out to be impartially witnessed, in the light of awareness:  the worst along with the best.  Grace is given.

pearl fishers

At this stage, in Alan’s experience, to dive into the Self is beneficial and therapeutic.  It opens the way to an intenser God-love, or bhakti.  One should never strain in this act, nor let it be a mechanical chore.  Ramana’s general recommendation was to watch the natural breath without involvement, and to let the diving into the Heart happen of its own accord.  Sattvic or receptive moods encourage it;  as does the urgency of one’s death – “to love life, to do service and to die consciously”.  Our tiny effort mirrors the effortless and unimaginable power of the guru within.   The inner guru dispels the darkness, primordially.

We should also be properly informed first, about our physical and spiritual anatomy, and the science of kundalini.  There is no point in practising anything without a genuine interest in how it works.

bhagavan Ramana

Use strength without strain.  It is a non-verbal gesture inward, of enquiry and discrimination.  Paradoxically, the strength of the mind leads it to turn inward and surrender its own notions, like wheat to be harvested;  the grain to be bread.  “Who is this ‘me’ I’m so concerned about?”

When thoughts stray outward, impelled by preference, fear and political tendency, the mind is weak because it is unfocused.  A radical means is needed to pierce the veil of life.  In some persons, whose devotional calling is strong, the breath spontaneously slows and stills as they enquire;  without the pranayama.

We all have specific vasanas or inherited tendencies, for inner work and witnessing.  The nervous system – the network of nadis – must be gradually and systematically purified before the mental engine and all its predilections can safely approach its Source.  The diving is a preparatory and cleansing sadhana;  Atman the Self in due course takes over, and grips the mind, melting it into the heart;  one’s centre of being.

The inner guru pulls the outer circumstances of life in towards the Centre, gradually highlighting aids and techniques which help the quest;  and also the time for them to disappear.

Alan practiced diving and plunging as described, for some years.  He can honestly say that it helps his all round understanding.  It undermines the verbal or conceptual level towards a fuller Self surrender, and deeper insights into the teaching.  Ramana’s key  unlocked his prison.



I have not practiced it for a long time, and it is about time I did!   However, the diving happens in many ways.  The secret is to engage an ancient Mantra or sound, with the living breath, instead of just repeating it verbally, or expecting it to do some magic for you.  The secret is to embody it and take it with you to pay the bills.

The resonance enters blood and bone, and returns transposed;  it is Alchemy.  For instance:  the sanskrit “SO (inhale) HAM” (exhale).   I remember doing this while hiking along the trails in Sedona;  Robert Adams taught it.   In Kabbalah, we inhale and exhale similarly the syllables of Angels and names of JHVH.   We bring them into our pranic being.

A long time ago, I linked the Tetragrammaton (JHVH) to the four lines of the tsarets Prayer of the Heart, and breathed them in and out.   I remember doing this on the puffer-train from Exeter to Barnstaple – a very beautiful winding valley.

But it takes practice and commitment, and these I have to say, I have lacked, in recent years.  I get overwhelmed by my local troubles.  The sign of an untrained and unfocused psyche is when she tries to push the sides of the train.


GALLERY – more memories!


When creating new Life – any spiritual practice – it needs to be given patience, love, attention, time and space.  Nothing grows in just a weekend.   Vera Moore, my old piano teacher, would have her students wrap each note like a baby in a shawl, and re-discover it with that tactile tenderness.

So I am glad to recall now, what Alan and I practiced together, and teased each other about, and argued and muddled along with.  Added to that, is the full palette of life, aging and … the way my understanding ripens since that time.   And his.  A lifetime is a parabola – a curve of manifestation:  Malkuth.


holy men of tamil nadu





My adventure invites fellow travellers.  I am a poet, an artist and a seer.  I welcome conversation among the PHILO SOFIA, the lovers of wisdom.

This blog is  a vehicle to promote also my published work – The Sacred India Tarot (with Rohit Arya, Yogi Impressions Books) and The Dreamer in the Dream – a collection of short stories (0 Books). Watch this space.

aquariel link

All art and creative writing in this blog is copyright © Janeadamsart 2012-2013. May not be used for commercial purposes. May be used and shared for non-commercial means with credit to Jane Adams and a link to the web address

6 thoughts on “Human Landscape – a Holy Task of Self-Enquiry

  1. Ahhh. Thank you again Jane. What a wonderful way to start my day! The Pelicans of course pulled me in!
    I too have found myself, distracted, caught up in my illusions, pushing against the sides of the train, pranayama abandoned, far too long.
    Timely reminders. I love the Sun/Moon interpenetrating Pelicans. ( Hmmm, could that work in the physical world, I wonder?). The Capricorn/Scorpio in Cancer signature, a powerful BindRune.
    Thank you again for your inspiring words and art.

    • Hello Dan, I am just writing you a letter. Oh! those were Runic days indeed, and gorgeous to share. I’ve got another post on the way, which is about those illusions which cover my face daily – like cloths to keep a sculpture in process damp … and so on and so forth, and living with them and lifting the cloths away when I can. The Pelicans are all about the physical world at its best, ha ha.

      Actually that is a Capricorn-Virgo-Sagittarius-Cancer rune, with Sagittarian arrow on the end of Virgo glyph like a scorpio. Alan is Virgo with moon in sagittarius; Jane is Capricorn with moon in cancer.

      I remembered to do a little of the diving pranayama this morning. It is very calming. Do it really gently like the edge of the sea in pools – no pushing it – but with attention, and just feel that point or bindu, deep deep within, like a star. Can practice at any moment, any where.

      Another thing I used to do, if out on a walk, was not to ‘dive’, but to have the landscape, the things I see, dive into me. Same kind of thing. And it is indeed, alchemical Pelicans.

  2. Dear Jane.
    I also am Capricorn with moon in Cancer. I found your site quite by “accidental roaming in the web landscape”. I want to thank you for sharing that you have practiced the diving deep little in the recent times. I feel that Kundalini/urgency…this morning I was reminded / inspired by you to dive again. Thank you for the nudge …. Happy Birthday,Ann

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