Awareness of thoughts VS other senses

Ian, modified 3 Years ago at 7/15/20 4:32 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/15/20 4:32 PM

Awareness of thoughts VS other senses

Posts: 11 Join Date: 7/15/20 Recent Posts
My question is regarding the difference in the experience of thoughts vs other sensations, such as hearing. 

It seems that when a though arises I cannot simply observe it, as I would a sound or bodily sensation. It's as if my awareness becomes contracted to just that thought, and once I notice I am thinking it passes away and I return to a state of awareness in which I can observe and experience my other sense facualties. I can't maintain the same sense of distance when thoughts arise, I can be aware of them directly before and after they occur, but while they're occuring it really seems like I am 'thinking' as opposed to observing thoughts happening. 

Am I missing something or does this just reflect a fundamental difference in the way senses and thoughts modulate our awareness? Any pointers would be greatly appreciated. 
Martin, modified 3 Years ago at 7/15/20 11:25 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/15/20 5:00 PM

RE: Awareness of thoughts VS other senses

Posts: 802 Join Date: 4/25/20 Recent Posts
I think that the mind paints a feeling of agency, a sense of being in control, onto a whole range of experiences. Take running. There is no way the conscious mind could control that many motions at that kind of speed. But feels like we're in control. I sometimes notice it with the breath. It feels like I am doing the breathing but, at the same time, individual breaths just do their own thing. I can't even predict how long or short the breath I am in the middle of breathing will be, and yet the sense that I am controlling the breath is often there at the very same time as another part of me is noticing that what the breath is doing and what I predicted it would do, a half a second earlier, are completely different. The sense of agency is obviously an overlay on an independent biological function.

Thoughts are the same way. They feel deliberate, purposeful, motivated. But they come up out of nowhere, unbidden, even unwanted, and they unfold according to patterns and causes that we often can't even guess at. There's no control there. But it feels like there is. That feeling of agency is like a spicy sauce added to an otherwise bland dish. It grabs our attention. What is more, the contraction of attention on the thought itself creates an even stronger sense of agency.

As you mention, pre-thoughts, and the spaces after thoughts, where the disposition of the mind is the same as during the thought, but there is no verbal content, are easier to observe without the sense of agency. I find that, if the mindfulness is strong, I can see the pre-thoughts and stay with them. Sometimes fully formed thoughts can take shape and end just as they are, without the overlay of agency. Just the plain ingredients, no spicy sauce.

For me, it has been, and still is, a matter of practice and incremental increases in the ability to see them as they are.
Pepe ·, modified 3 Years ago at 7/15/20 9:17 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/15/20 5:48 PM

RE: Awareness of thoughts VS other senses

Posts: 715 Join Date: 9/26/18 Recent Posts
Hi Ian, welcome to DhO. It's always better to present yourself in your first post, telling us what style of meditation you're practicing, how long have you been doing this, if you have a teacher/mentor, etc, as that would help in answering you.

Thoughts are composed of sound, visual and body elements. It's not clear what you call a thought, if it's an image, a word/sentence, an intention (usually have some body clues), or a combo of two or more elements.

What I have done is this:

(1) follow the breath, do some body scanning or else in order to calm somewhat your mind (thoughts still appearing) 
(2) Switch to follow the mind-flow. You'll find restful moments in between thoughts. Enjoy that mini-relief. Observe that that restful state is connected to a breath, body, visual or sound element. In my case it's the volumetric space in front of me, or sometimes a sense of an ocean underneath
(3) if thoughts don't appear, take that restful state as the object of concentration

By repeating this again and again, the thoughts go to the background and the space/image/sound comes to the foreground. You switch roles. And so, thoughts would start to appear distant, not coming from your conscious you, but from the unconscious (sub-minds in Culadasa's TMI). Thoughts will start to appear decomposed in their components. Later on you'll watch how thoughts are created.

Obviusly, this may work better or worse depending where you are in the Progress of Insight (A&P or lower, Dukkha ñañas or Equanimity). Also, how well slept you are, whether you have been watching TV or listening music or drinking alcohol before meditation, if you have emotional/psychological issues, etc. If you have a history of mental health problems, better check with a qualified doctor first.

Ni Nurta, modified 3 Years ago at 7/16/20 12:51 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 7/16/20 12:51 AM

RE: Awareness of thoughts VS other senses

Posts: 1104 Join Date: 2/22/20 Recent Posts
Sensual processing is processed in something that looks and feels like layers. These layers are processed by parts of your brain and usually when you do not do anything to them their configuration stay fixed. They naturally shift over time but given short amount of time they just are active in the way they are. Sensual stimuli comes one way and processed stuff comes the other way with usually nothing that happens in the middle coming to your awareness/consciousness.

Thoughts on the other hand activate more of your brain in short burts. You could say it also happen in similar layers but what is more important is that they also need to be presented on such layer for you to perceive and in this they are just like any other perception of senses.

Now by default we come with all these layers configured in such a way that awareness sees the output layer and all relevant experiences must be shown on it because you do not experience middle layers. If you can experience all layers (they are transparent) then you have all sense synesthesia and probably can see these layers clearly enough for this post to not sound like nonsense but from description of it you do not have this capability developed.

So when thought comes it is stronger than sensual perception and your brain much draws on the layer of perception that you do experience and so you cannot perceive senses on it at the same time.

Another thing to note is that any perception shifts people experience including dissolving of ego is merely caused by changes in what gets processed on this layers of perception and in which order. Having transparent layers and thus experiencing deeper sensual processing processes is very rare. From people descriptions almost no one reconfigure his/her perception in this way. Why beats me, but probably this is caused by not taking Buddha words about investigating senses and perception very seriously. If you only work with perception of self/doer then you can push it further behind what you can not see through. Out of view out of mind as they say.

I personally like my layers transparent as it makes sensual experience much nicer and richer. I can eg. experience everything about what I see or think about so if there is hint of other sensual experiences (eg. I see food andI know how it smells like or tastes like I will experience these senses) and behind it all there is Nibbana shining through it all. It also makes managing how much brain allocates resources and controlling how many layers my perception uses (eg. reduce them to conserve power or increase to make experience super rich or change brain part to layer allocation when neurons get tired from activity to avoid suffering) much easier if at all possible. You cannot really control/improve things you do not clearly perceive. This is why Buddha stressed importance of investigating sensual perception.