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Little Help Please?
Answer
12/31/10 5:11 PM
Dear all

I got this from one of Nikolai H's posts (thank you) as a way of deconstructing the sense of self.

One way to see what's happening is to observe vibrations/sensations on a leg. Try and keep your attention there for as long as possible without it shifting. You will find that it shifts automatically back and forth and at a very fast rate to the centre point of self. Back and forth creating the illusion of the self being the watcher. This shows how the formation of self is very impermanent and not-self as well.


Had a go at this earlier. 30 min sit. 10 mins to get to equanimity, bit slow, am rusty. Christmas eh? Chose strongest physical sensation, which was the pressure of my hand against my upturned foot. Focused on this sensation/group of sensations.

Normally I practice with my eyes open and initially, I noticed no shifting of the attention, so I closed my eyes. My sight appears to be the sense that I most strongly associate with my self. So I figured that disabling this sense might help. So it proved. Almost immediately I noticed my focus flicking back to physical sensations in my head; specifically the sensations of the movement of my eye muscles. Also about half the time I got visual flashes showing the location of the sensations in my hand relative to the rest of my body. Some of the time, this was a clear visual picture but most of the time it was just a "knowing" of distance.

I started to "push" my sense of center into the sensation(s) in my hand. My intent was either to move my sense of center (still firmly rooted behind my eyes) or collapse the sense of distance, not sure which. But I succeeded briefly in shifting my sense of a center point down to my hands. The result was to "liberate" the sensations in my hand such that they floated free, but then they appeared to drift up to my head. Clearly there must have been some, what shall I call them, mapping sensations, indicating this apparent movement; another "knowing" of distance perhaps. Unfortunately, I was unable to spot any.

Okay, long story short. Maintaining all this got so concentrated that I ended up in Jhana, don't know which one as I have no formal experience of Jhana. But I was certainly drifting in a soft jhana direction. This was unfortunate because it was not what I set out to do and rather cut short my experiment.

So my question is, how do I approach this kind of practice without ending up in jhana?

One obvious solution would be to throttle back on the concentration. The trouble is that I had a lot of distractions encroaching on my attention as the practice developed so I had to amp up my concentration to compensate. This "crowding" of sensations is usually a sign that I am too tight in my practice and need to loosen up my attention. Bear in mind that I do Vippassana pretty much exclusively these days. What probably happened was that I ended up solidifying the hand sensations in to a jhana, and ended shutting out all sensations, as well has the ones in my head that I was interested in. So I need to find a sweet spot that keeps the sensations I need in focus, but is'nt so tight that it shuts down the practice completely, but also keep a weather eye on activity in the head area. Probably going to need to practice this a few times before I can get any consistency.

In hindsight, trying to "push" my sense of self down to my hands was probably a mistake. I have a long and very eventful history with practice that uses intention or will. For example, if you do a lot of chakra work you end up being able to fire them up just by resting your attention in the general area were they normally reside. However, if one appears to move around, as they often do, you can chase them around a bit, increase or decrease the sensations by shifting your attention or sometimes just by an act of will. The problem with this is that you can get carried away and end up with your head planted firmly in your back-side. Which is one of the many reasons why I no longer do this kind of practice.

So when I report that the hand sensations appeared to move up to my head, or that I was able to shift my sense of center down to my hand area, does this mean anything? Or just an object of my will, a party trick if you like. Since the object of the excercise was to investigate the sense of self, has it been illuminating? Not sure, the location of my sense or self appears to be malleable and mobile. But is this just an illusion? But wait! The sense of self is an illusion anyway, right? So, being able to manipulate an illusion does not sound so clever after all. I think my head is now planted frimly in my back-side.

Little help?


Howard

RE: Little Help Please?
Answer
12/31/10 7:16 PM as a reply to Howard Clegg.
just a suggestion - try opening up your field of focus so that it's more inclusive of your whole body, or at least more of it. could be helpful to feel the effects of breathing on the body more thoroughly. (no special effects in particular, just how the fact of breathing can be felt throughout the body). don't worry about whether you're doing vipassana or jhana at this point - i think you're past any need for such concerns. if you find your concentration lacking, consider having mindfulness established even before you sit down to begin, and maintain the intensity of your awareness (like you're an animal in the woods that just heard a rustle in the bushes nearby and so are keeping both still and keenly alert at the same time). if you find your head tight and buzzy, pay more attention to the lower parts of your body, such as where your seat contacts the cushion, and relax more with the breath, particularly on the exhale.

RE: Little Help Please?
Answer
1/1/11 3:43 AM as a reply to tarin greco.
Thank you Tarin

just a suggestion - try opening up your field of focus so that it's more inclusive of your whole body, or at least more of it. could be helpful to feel the effects of breathing on the body more thoroughly. (no special effects in particular, just how the fact of breathing can be felt throughout the body).


Now you come to mention it, I do feel my breath down to my fingers and toes these days. It's one of the reasons that I'm so happy all the time. It's just that I've never thought to pay any particular attention to it. My approach of late has been to try to trap and pin down my sense of self to enable further investigation, even though I know the thing will dry up and drop off eventually. This intensely analytical approach can get very precious and fragile. I will relax and broaden my focus a bit. See what presents.

don't worry about whether you're doing vipassana or jhana at this point - i think you're past any need for such concerns.


What a relief!

if you find your concentration lacking, consider having mindfulness established even before you sit down to begin, and maintain the intensity of your awareness (like you're an animal in the woods that just heard a rustle in the bushes nearby and so are keeping both still and keenly alert at the same time). if you find your head tight and buzzy, pay more attention to the lower parts of your body, such as where your seat contacts the cushion,


Will do

and relax more with the breath, particularly on the exhale.


The Zen people I sit with are particularly keen on noticing the exhale. Interesting.

One last point, do you think I should stay with the practice I was investigating as outlined by Nikolai?


Thanks again

Howard

RE: Little Help Please?
Answer
1/1/11 6:56 AM as a reply to Howard Clegg.
Tarin

Probably worth reporting this even though it was only a 30 minute sit, cut short.

I stayed with the out breath as you suggested, as a way of expanding my focus to my whole body. I was a bit distracted when I sat down but even so I had immediate and strong sensations of full body throbbing and bliss waves. Some not so pleasant. I stayed with the out breath and the not so bliss waves for a while until I got sick of them and remembered this;

maintain the intensity of your awareness (like you're an animal in the woods that just heard a rustle in the bushes nearby and so are keeping both still and keenly alert at the same time).


I applied this awareness, shifted it to include external sensations and immediately everything snapped into focus, pin sharp, and the throbbing cut off like a switch being thrown. I'm thinking A&P, normally I don't notice the nanas, its just unpleasant stuff I have to put up with on the way to equanimity. This however, was persistent and collapsed every time my attention softened even a little with throbbing coming back and things getting fuzzy. My attention is usually much more resilient. I had a strong sense of balancing on a razor's edge.

It was surprisingly difficult to maintain, again not something i'm used to these days. But I had two good attempts lasting a few minutes. Now, normally I see a lot of vibrations, my body is always a mass of flickering pulsing stuff anyway on and off the cushion. My visual field always vibrates a bit too. Portions of it, or individual objects, odd "lighting" effects ect. This is amped-up a great deal when I sit. This time something new happened. Both experiences were more than a moment, maybe 10 to 15 seconds each time.

The first time, just my visual field flickered very fast like a light bulb. But the whole field, together, to the extent that I could see the darkness in between the pulses. Very fast though. Needless to say I got very excited and lost the plot a bit.

The second time I was not expecting anything as experience suggests that when you go looking for these things they rarely re-occur. Not until you stabalise the technique that is. But this time my whole sensory field flickered including my hearing which is usually very stable.

At no time did I feel that my sense of the observer was not present and time continuity was strong so I'm pretty sure this was not a cessation event.

However it did leave me feeling troubled and dissatisfied. My practice usually follows a well trodden path. Rise to equanimity, investigate some stuff, alarm goes, say thanks, feel generally better about things. This time I'm not sure I accessed equanimity at all, felt a bit like it, but I was way too busy to notice. Also I got up five minutes before the alarm, I hate doing this because I think its a bad habit to get in to. But I just could not abide sitting any longer, more than simple aversion. I don't think I can place the feeling.

A rather eventful 25 minutes.

So in the time honored tradition of DHO "what was that?"

Howard

RE: Little Help Please?
Answer
1/1/11 1:08 PM as a reply to Howard Clegg.
The second session was much more disciplined. 30mins, equanimity after about 5 mins.

I gained a great deal of stability by balancing this:

Try opening up your field of focus so that it's more inclusive of your whole body, or at least more of it. could be helpful to feel the effects of breathing on the body more thoroughly. (no special effects in particular, just how the fact of breathing can be felt throughout the body).


And this;

if you find your head tight and buzzy, pay more attention to the lower parts of your body, such as where your seat contacts the cushion, and relax more with the breath, particularly on the exhale.


Against this;

maintain the intensity of your awareness (like you're an animal in the woods that just heard a rustle in the bushes nearby and so are keeping both still and keenly alert at the same time).


I was in the mood to push both a little and found each to be an excellent foil for the other. The effect was to produce a very stable mind space that felt like a higher level of equanimity than I am used to. I have been here before but by accident. This feels much more reliable.

There was a lot of activity in my solar plexus. I feeling of release and ease, but also of activation, as if my attention was emanating from here. Followed by a mild burning sensation that passed. Also a feeling of stretch, as if my torso was being gently pulled upwards and downwards at the same time.

No flickering of the visual field this time but my visual field lost its depth perception for long periods, objects lost their visual meaning and became just shapes. This was coupled with a washing out of most colors in favor of yellow or golden tones. Light effects appeared softer but brighter. I opened my eyes very wide to be certain that this was not the product of diffraction patterns created by my eyelashes and half closed eyes, but the bulk of these visual effects persisted. This normally happens to my visual field in equanimity but was much more intense today.

I like this way of practicing, is there any reason why I should not do this at every session? How can I apply this mind state? What do I investigate while here ect?

Thanks again

Howard

RE: Little Help Please?
Answer
1/2/11 10:28 AM as a reply to Howard Clegg.
Howard Clegg:
Tarin

Probably worth reporting this even though it was only a 30 minute sit, cut short.

I stayed with the out breath as you suggested, as a way of expanding my focus to my whole body. I was a bit distracted when I sat down but even so I had immediate and strong sensations of full body throbbing and bliss waves. Some not so pleasant. I stayed with the out breath and the not so bliss waves for a while until I got sick of them and remembered this;

maintain the intensity of your awareness (like you're an animal in the woods that just heard a rustle in the bushes nearby and so are keeping both still and keenly alert at the same time).


I applied this awareness, shifted it to include external sensations and immediately everything snapped into focus, pin sharp, and the throbbing cut off like a switch being thrown. I'm thinking A&P, normally I don't notice the nanas, its just unpleasant stuff I have to put up with on the way to equanimity. This however, was persistent and collapsed every time my attention softened even a little with throbbing coming back and things getting fuzzy. My attention is usually much more resilient. I had a strong sense of balancing on a razor's edge.

coming and going, hardening and softening .... sometimes an animal gets lunch, sometimes an animal lives to have lunch another day. is balancing a compromise between the two options? no, finding balance is finding focus.


Howard Clegg:
Tarin
It was surprisingly difficult to maintain, again not something i'm used to these days. But I had two good attempts lasting a few minutes. Now, normally I see a lot of vibrations, my body is always a mass of flickering pulsing stuff anyway on and off the cushion. My visual field always vibrates a bit too. Portions of it, or individual objects, odd "lighting" effects ect. This is amped-up a great deal when I sit. This time something new happened. Both experiences were more than a moment, maybe 10 to 15 seconds each time.

The first time, just my visual field flickered very fast like a light bulb. But the whole field, together, to the extent that I could see the darkness in between the pulses. Very fast though. Needless to say I got very excited and lost the plot a bit.

The second time I was not expecting anything as experience suggests that when you go looking for these things they rarely re-occur. Not until you stabalise the technique that is. But this time my whole sensory field flickered including my hearing which is usually very stable.

At no time did I feel that my sense of the observer was not present and time continuity was strong so I'm pretty sure this was not a cessation event.

However it did leave me feeling troubled and dissatisfied. My practice usually follows a well trodden path. Rise to equanimity, investigate some stuff, alarm goes, say thanks, feel generally better about things. This time I'm not sure I accessed equanimity at all, felt a bit like it, but I was way too busy to notice. Also I got up five minutes before the alarm, I hate doing this because I think its a bad habit to get in to. But I just could not abide sitting any longer, more than simple aversion. I don't think I can place the feeling.

A rather eventful 25 minutes.

So in the time honored tradition of DHO "what was that?"

Howard

that was the territory getting wider, in both the experience of pulsations/vibrations and of stable attention.

RE: Little Help Please?
Answer
1/2/11 10:44 AM as a reply to Howard Clegg.
Howard Clegg:
The second session was much more disciplined. 30mins, equanimity after about 5 mins.

I gained a great deal of stability by balancing this:

Try opening up your field of focus so that it's more inclusive of your whole body, or at least more of it. could be helpful to feel the effects of breathing on the body more thoroughly. (no special effects in particular, just how the fact of breathing can be felt throughout the body).


And this;

if you find your head tight and buzzy, pay more attention to the lower parts of your body, such as where your seat contacts the cushion, and relax more with the breath, particularly on the exhale.


Against this;

maintain the intensity of your awareness (like you're an animal in the woods that just heard a rustle in the bushes nearby and so are keeping both still and keenly alert at the same time).


I was in the mood to push both a little and found each to be an excellent foil for the other. The effect was to produce a very stable mind space that felt like a higher level of equanimity than I am used to. I have been here before but by accident. This feels much more reliable.

oh, good.


Howard Clegg:

There was a lot of activity in my solar plexus. I feeling of release and ease, but also of activation, as if my attention was emanating from here. Followed by a mild burning sensation that passed. Also a feeling of stretch, as if my torso was being gently pulled upwards and downwards at the same time.

No flickering of the visual field this time but my visual field lost its depth perception for long periods, objects lost their visual meaning and became just shapes. This was coupled with a washing out of most colors in favor of yellow or golden tones. Light effects appeared softer but brighter. I opened my eyes very wide to be certain that this was not the product of diffraction patterns created by my eyelashes and half closed eyes, but the bulk of these visual effects persisted. This normally happens to my visual field in equanimity but was much more intense today.

I like this way of practicing, is there any reason why I should not do this at every session? How can I apply this mind state?

'I was in the mood to push both a little and found each to be an excellent foil for the other. The effect was to produce a very stable mind space that felt like a higher level of equanimity than I am used to. I have been here before but by accident. This feels much more reliable.'


Howard Clegg:

What do I investigate while here ect?

what do you notice while here?

RE: Little Help Please?
Answer
1/3/11 11:44 AM as a reply to tarin greco.
Hello Tarin,

Long answer to a short question I'm afraid.


Tarin

what do you notice while here?


Several things, I've sat couple of times since last posting so I will give a summary.

If I do just this;

Try opening up your field of focus so that it's more inclusive of your whole body, or at least more of it. could be helpful to feel the effects of breathing on the body more thoroughly. (no special effects in particular, just how the fact of breathing can be felt throughout the body).


I get strong lower body chakra activity, strong pulsing and throbbing. Base, belly and solar all like large pounding hearts. Strong whole body bliss waves on both in and out breath, though much stronger on the out. These bliss waves are available off the cushion if I so incline my mind. Chakras not so much. On the cushion this is very seductive and spent one session just relaxing here. Relaxation is very pronounced.

This feels like part two of a process that started before Christmas. I had something very similar but only heart, throat, and brow. I went through a period of intense crown activity too. Now its all about the bottom 3.

These sensations are variable, during my first session yesterday they were not so pronounced, but much more so later. I feel is if I have some control over the intensity, but that it is easier for me to intensify them than to diminish them.

This;

and maintain the intensity of your awareness (like you're an animal in the woods that just heard a rustle in the bushes nearby and so are keeping both still and keenly alert at the same time)


needs this;

try opening up your field of focus so that it's more inclusive of your whole body, or at least more of it. could be helpful to feel the effects of breathing on the body more thoroughly. (no special effects in particular, just how the fact of breathing can be felt throughout the body)


to work, but doing both at the same time is more difficult than I first thought. Its like learning to drive stick-shift or manually tuning a radio. I am familiar with this kind of learning experience though, I think its just a matter of practice.

So in answer to your question I am noticing the management of the process itself. A fair amount of verbal commentary, and anxiety sensations which are counteracted by this;

if you find your head tight and buzzy, pay more attention to the lower parts of your body, such as where your seat contacts the cushion, and relax more with the breath, particularly on the exhale.


which works very well, too well in fact. It shuts down the anxiety and commentary but also the tuning/balancing that I am trying to achieve. The bliss waves are just too strong sometimes and I have a pronounced craving for them.

I am also having problems accessing this;

and maintain the intensity of your awareness (like you're an animal in the woods that just heard a rustle in the bushes nearby and so are keeping both still and keenly alert at the same time)


I use a visualisation of me as a deer, in the woods, surprised ect. or trying to "hear" with my whole body, works too. Which is a lot of effort at the moment and takes me away from the other elements of the practice. I know that in time i will start to remember this sensation and just "go there" but at the moment its all work. I also know that I can just open my solar chakra with an act of will and make it happen. However experience suggests that this is not the whole story and will not capture all the nuances of the sensation. Also, this may work in the short term but will corrupt the practice eventually.


I think what you were actually asking about, is what I see when all the bits are working together properly, rather than all of the above. Truth to tell, I spend most of the session trying to get to this fully functioning state. When I do Its much like "normal" equanimity but stronger. Normal equanimity is like this:

It feels like being under the sea or at some kind of other great depth and pressure. I feel pressure all over my body.

The light changes some how. I have avoided describing this for a long time because I've not wanted to sound like the hundreds of spiritual books I have read over the years. How to make it sound fresh and not too new agey. I think matter-of-fact is best. Bullet points, why not?

- Its like everything is its own colour but also yellow/gold and a lighter shade. Both things at once.

- All objects have a "standing wave" around them. Like when a object vibrates so fast it appears like it has two edges. Exactly this.

- Sometimes everything looks like its made of putty or clay. I could push my finger through it. But also not. Everything is solid.

- Light comes from a point souce but is also diffuse. The point source of light is more of an idea than a fact.

- Things do not "glow", but the light comes from somewhere. Oh all right then! The space between things glows a bit. Happy now!

- Space between things feels not so much solid but "full" like soup or treacle.

- Neon effects at the center of my vision.

- Depth perception goes, my vision goes "flat."

- Objects loose their meaning and become just shapes.

- Occasional "white out," like stepping in to the sun from a darkened room on a mid-summer's day.

- The flickering thing I described before was a one off.

- My eyes feel bigger and fuller and are pressurized from within.

- Objects or bits of them "blink" like pixels flashing on and off, the pixels vary in size. The deeper I am, the bigger the pixels.

- Everything shimmers a bit, very faint. Like a heat haze.

- My vision judders with the effect of the blood pulsing in my eyes.

- The edges of my vision, i assume the edge of the lenses in my eyes, becomes very clear and sharp. Looking out from two portholes. This is one of my reliable markers for equanimity. Always happens.

- On one memorable occasion everything became glistening/golden and all objects became a continuity with individual sensations pushing out from the fabric of reality like bars on a graphic equalizer display. Then some kill joy asked me a question (I was in a meeting) and ruined it for me. Some people have no respect.

I think that's quite enough of that.

This is by no means a full list and all of these effects do not necessarily present at each visit to equanimity. But all of these effects are much more pronounced since I started to follow your most recent practice advice. Also a lot of these effects are present in daily life to a greater or, mercifully, lesser extent.

I have tried to test these sensations to destruction. So much goes on with the vision sense that we are not normally aware of. The eyes are always moving and focusing/refocusing. We blink a lot more than we realise. Diffraction effects from eyelashes. Changes in ambient light. Also the eyes are not perfect. The are marvelous mechanisms, but are also physical processes with clear functional limits. A lot of what I first thought of as funky and exciting turned out to be just me noticing the physical limits of the vision sense. Interesting, but I'm not sure if this qualifies as liberating insight.

I'm fairly sure that the sensations I have described above appear to be more than just the eyes doing their thing. In any case, in equanimity eyesight appears to be much more stable and less prone to jumping about.

But something that I have noticed about all of the sensations is that they are directly effected by my attention. As equanimity deepens I have to work harder and harder to maintain "normal" vision. If I keep my focus tight some effects come to the fore if I loosen my attention others manifest. But "normal" pretty much disappears. More flux, less stability, more ambiguity, less sharpness.

As I said before I have deliberately avoided talking about any of this precisely because it is all so hard to pin down. Maybe that's the point, maybe that's exactly what I am supposed to notice.

Regards

Howard

RE: Little Help Please?
Answer
1/3/11 6:06 AM as a reply to tarin greco.
Tarin:
coming and going, hardening and softening .... sometimes an animal gets lunch, sometimes an animal lives to have lunch another day. is balancing a compromise between the two options? no, finding balance is finding focus.


Practice appears to be variable in its very nature. I try not to get too hung up on performance issues. But as a middle aged white guy, sometimes I just can't help myself.

Tarin:
that was the territory getting wider, in both the experience of pulsations/vibrations and of stable attention.


good to know its not just random weirdness.