Any exercises prescribed on the way of mastering yourself have one goal: to master your attention. Releasing attention from the power of desires is quite difficult, but still possible.
All the exercises can be divided into active and passive ones by their essence. The passive exercises are fundamental, basic ones when it comes to awareness. The purpose of the passive exercises is to decouple consciousness from the body, mind and emotions, so the latter are not used in there. The main effort is focused on observation and witnessing.
Witnessing is manifestation of a witness the same way as an observer is associated with the concept of observation. In this case, a witness to the inner processes is our consciousness perceiving everything with detachment.
The purpose of the exercise can be observation of breathing, emotions, bodily tension etc. It does not actually matter what is within the field of our attention. First of all, the main thing is to prevent it from merging with the object of witnessing. Secondly, we must be able to hold our attention on the object of observation as long as possible without distraction.
The point is to learn how to hold your attention by managing it in the manner required by the corresponding method. The effort made to hold your attention helps creating a gap in its customary mechanical following of desires and emotions. It is a step to its freedom and an opportunity of its absolute mastering.
The best-known passive techniques are vipassana, zazen, and hearing. There are some other ones, for instance, the exercise of getting fully aware of different parts of the body given by Gurdjieff to his followers.
The state of awareness is also passive as we just witness external and internal situations and processes, but do not couple with them and are concurrently capable of acting in the surrounding world.
The essence of all the passive techniques is that we use only attention as a pure function of consciousness without engagement of the body, emotions and mind.
It might seem that the exercises associated with concentration of attention, during which man looks at one point or candle flame without interruption, are also passive, but this is not true. In these cases, the body is used to conduct the energy of attention, and man needs to make effort to avoid twinkling, looking away, or at least sit still. The same way, recitation of mantras, practices with koans and famous Advaita concentration on the question “Who am I?” are the active techniques engaging the mind and body as their tools.
A deep prayer is expression of our gratitude and awe which affects all the bodies at the same time. Dynamic meditations, expression of emotions, and different visualizations are all versions of the active practices. These practices always have the purpose and are used to accomplish specific tasks in the Seeker’s being. They are similar to the crutches helping a cripple. Many of the active techniques are designated to resolve certain issues faced by the Seeker on his Path and are of utilitarianistic significance only. However, those Seekers who are unaware of that and try to base their practice on such techniques fail.
Most religious traditions and paths existing in the world combine application of both active and passive techniques, often concurrently. In this case, the active techniques enable overcoming the existing obstacles and clearing our inner space for a deeper plunge into passive techniques. In the other words, targeted expression of suppressed fury that has been creating continuous pressure inside makes us a bit more relaxed, and we can go a little deeper by seeing what has been hidden behind.
The active techniques create the conditions under which our consciousness finds it easier to decouple and crystallize. The passive techniques are the process of decoupling itself and redirection of the energy from the mind and body into consciousness. The active techniques help resolve the issues in our inferior bodies whereas the passive ones harmonize them. Both types of practices supplement each other and help the Seeker reach the main goal provided that they are properly used.