Message Boards Message Boards

Toggle
Visualisation and Vipassana
vipassana noting goenka body scan visualisation
Answer
12/19/11 10:03 AM
(Cross-posted at the KFD for maximum yogi response)

This is a question about Vipassana practice generally, but specifically with regard to Goenka/Ledi/U Ba Kin body scanning. I’d be very grateful if yogis could give their two cents, as this has potentially big implications for how and what exactly I practice.

Yesterday, I finished my first ten day Goenka retreat. I really put a lot of effort into mastering the body scanning technique and was practicing formally for 10-11 hours each day, and sitting through 11 out of the 15 sits where you are encouraged not to open your legs, arms or eyes. I was able to feel sensations on every part of the body, after working hard at hazy areas like the ears, scalp and belly. I was able to get ‘free flow’ regularly down the arms and up the back, and got pretty good and distinguishing between toes with no movement. On three occasions, I was able to sweep from the top of the head to the toes of the feet, as the gross sensations dissolved into subtle vibrations and a cool flow of energy went throughout the body. On the evening of the ninth day, I experienced this sweeping/flowing for about three minutes, and tried my best to remain totally equanimous and unfazed by what was a fairly impressive fireworks display. I was able to dissolve pain, into unpleasant and then just hot/prickling/fiery/throbbing sensations, and sit through stuff that would’ve previously turfed me off the cushion. So I thought I was doing fairly well.

But in the final discourse, Goenka warned students not to visualise while they were doing the body scanning practice, and my heart sank. I had been visualising all week. Not deliberately, not in an artificial way, but simply because that is how my mind works and I cannot even conceive of feeling a sensation without the visual faculties of my consciousness exploiting that experience in order to spatially orientate myself. It’s not that I am deliberately imagining something, it’s just that my own proprioception is extremely visual.

I went to ask the assistant teacher what I should do. His solution was that I should realise when I am visualising, relax my eyes, make sure my head is straight and then continue. I have since tried to do this, but doing it rigorously would mean that I would need to do it after every single felt sensation. But the teacher said that if I continued to visualise I would miss the truth of Vipassana practice, and also strain my eyes. And it’s certainly true that after retreats, I almost always have a strong throbbing or ache somewhere in the centre of my head (the bottom of the nose, the centre of the skull, this time it was the middle of the brows and bridge of the nose). I have also tried ignoring the images, and plunging deep into sensations, but the images are still there.

I felt a bit annoyed that this wasn’t made clearer at the start of the retreat. In fact, it was the opposite. Goenka talks of ‘observing’ sensations and of ‘blind’ and ‘blank’ areas where you can’t feel sensations, and the assistant teacher compared the free flow experience to ‘a CAT scan’ or even ‘painting’ sensations onto the body. All these are hugely visual terms. Even the idea of ‘moving’ or ‘placing’ your attention has connotations of spatiality, which surely involves the visual part of the brain.
So, my questions are:

  • Is it true that I will miss the truth of Vipassana practice by continuing to visualise, even in the non-deliberate manner that I am currently doing?
  • If so, how do I drop visualising? (At the moment, it feels a bit like asking a birth-blind person to imagine what colour is)
  • Is visualising compatible with other forms of Vipassana, such as Mahasi noting? Noting was my main practice before the retreat, and although I was visualising occasionally, because noting is free form, the mind wasn’t able to create such a comprehensive picture from sensations, because attention is pulled from one part of the body to the other as sensations arise and pass away. And anyway, I could always note “imaging thought” if a very well formed picture popped into my mind’s eye. In fact, this was my most frequently used label relating to thoughts.

RE: Visualisation and Vipassana
Answer
12/19/11 11:18 AM as a reply to Andy W.
Andy W:
But in the final discourse, Goenka warned students not to visualise while they were doing the body scanning practice, and my heart sank. I had been visualising all week. Not deliberately, not in an artificial way, but simply because that is how my mind works and I cannot even conceive of feeling a sensation without the visual faculties of my consciousness exploiting that experience in order to spatially orientate myself. It’s not that I am deliberately imagining something, it’s just that my own proprioception is extremely visual.


Can you describe the "visualizing" experience more clearly? Re-reading your post, I am still not clear what it is that's happening which you think is problematic.

I cannot experience a "free flow of sensations" without simultaneously seeing it (visually) as a mass of colorful spatiotemporally-located stuff in my body, i.e. it is not possible for me to experience these sensations without those sensations having a visual component. Similarly, depending on what you mean by "visualizing", what you're describing could simply have to do with the way your mind works, which would not be under your control, and would not interfere with your vipassana practice.

RE: Visualisation and Vipassana
Answer
12/19/11 11:30 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
You might find this distinction to be helpful:

* One form of visualizing involves seeing an image of the part of your body that you're scanning, perhaps complete with a component of that image showing your attention moving along it, i.e. a mental representation of what you're experiencing and doing.

* Another form of visualizing involves each sensory experience on your body having a visual quality, i.e. the sensory experiences look a certain way.

If your experience most closely matches the second type of visualization, you will likely find it impossible to change this, although you can stop any interplay between the way the sensations look and higher-level imagination and mental representation based on that.

RE: Visualisation and Vipassana
Answer
12/20/11 3:00 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:

* One form of visualizing involves seeing an image of the part of your body that you're scanning, perhaps complete with a component of that image showing your attention moving along it, i.e. a mental representation of what you're experiencing and doing.

* Another form of visualizing involves each sensory experience on your body having a visual quality, i.e. the sensory experiences look a certain way.

If your experience most closely matches the second type of visualization, you will likely find it impossible to change this, although you can stop any interplay between the way the sensations look and higher-level imagination and mental representation based on that.


Hi EiS, thanks for the prompt response.

The answer is that it is a bit of both and also somewhere in between.

With regards to the latter, like you, I find that sensations have their own visual representation. For example, a prickling sensation "looks" sharp and jagged, a mass of tension is a blob that shifts and moves, heat is dark, coolness is light, Vibrations and tingles are obviously made of smaller blobs or dots that move around.

But as sensations become more subtle, and more uniform, moving from gross tension or touch to fast vibrations, I can "see" what the part of the body looks like because these vibrations create a kind of pointillist painting in the mind's eye. As I scan my arm, I "see" these little bubbles and vibrations making an outline of the elbow, forearm, wrist, hand etc. It's a little bit like these ten seconds from the creation scene from Fifth Element except that there are bubbles, dots and blobs rather than straight lines and that whatever is "created" by the scan, disappears from view more or less as soon as it appears, rather than staying as it is here.

Finally, and this is more like the former of your two distinctions, I suppose I am finding that I visualise a body part in a more deliberate manner when I'm trying to place my attention there. For example, right now, it is no problem to feel my butt because I feel the pressure and warmth from the seat I'm sitting on. But in order to put my attention onto the top of my head and see what subtle sensations are there, I would need to "think" of the head in someway, and this inevitably means I end up seeing some image. In trying to tackle what Goenka called the "blind" areas of the body, I suppose I did end up visualising in a more deliberate and imaginative way. But again, I wouldn't know how to "place my attention" anywhere without this.

I hope that makes sense. Thanks for taking the time to reply.

Andy

RE: Visualisation and Vipassana
Answer
12/20/11 7:23 AM as a reply to Andy W.
Andy W:
End in Sight:

* One form of visualizing involves seeing an image of the part of your body that you're scanning, perhaps complete with a component of that image showing your attention moving along it, i.e. a mental representation of what you're experiencing and doing.

* Another form of visualizing involves each sensory experience on your body having a visual quality, i.e. the sensory experiences look a certain way.

If your experience most closely matches the second type of visualization, you will likely find it impossible to change this, although you can stop any interplay between the way the sensations look and higher-level imagination and mental representation based on that.


Hi EiS, thanks for the prompt response.

The answer is that it is a bit of both and also somewhere in between.

With regards to the latter, like you, I find that sensations have their own visual representation. For example, a prickling sensation "looks" sharp and jagged, a mass of tension is a blob that shifts and moves, heat is dark, coolness is light, Vibrations and tingles are obviously made of smaller blobs or dots that move around. (...)


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia

You should consider whether this is what you're describing. Read the article, google around, etc. and see whether you're describing synaesthesia or something else.

As for the rest, it sounds like there is some kind of interaction between these potentially synaesthetic experiences and typical visualization / mental representation. As far as Goenka-style vipassana is concerned, synaesthesia does not count as visualization, but the other stuff does and can be let go of...however, you will likely find it much harder to let go of some of it than a typical person would, and in my opinion it is not likely to be a significant problem (because you are not putting effort into actively visualizing, which would be actively trying to dissociate from the experiences you're having). But as for the grossest kinds of visualization you talk about, such as

Finally, and this is more like the former of your two distinctions, I suppose I am finding that I visualise a body part in a more deliberate manner when I'm trying to place my attention there. For example, right now, it is no problem to feel my butt because I feel the pressure and warmth from the seat I'm sitting on. But in order to put my attention onto the top of my head and see what subtle sensations are there, I would need to "think" of the head in someway, and this inevitably means I end up seeing some image. In trying to tackle what Goenka called the "blind" areas of the body, I suppose I did end up visualising in a more deliberate and imaginative way. But again, I wouldn't know how to "place my attention" anywhere without this.


I think you'll find that you have to resort to this kind of thing less and less, as your ability to perceive sensations along your body increases, so long as you keep in mind that this kind of visualization is ultimately counterproductive, albeit potentially useful at the moment.

If there is a synaesthetic aspect to your experiences, then you may find that there is another way to experience that aspect...shifting the visual quality out of your "[spatiotemporally-extended] mind's eye" and into the pure sensory world. This would not be possible for vibrations or tingles (as they are, in a sense, fundamentally imaginary), but it might be possible for sensations such as pleasure, warmth, coolness, etc. I am not sure how to explain how to do this, but you might want to play with it for a bit and see what you come up with.

You also might want to take an inventory of your experience to see whether there are other aspects of your experience that are synaesthetic which you assumed everyone experiences...it may give you some insight into your mind, and be personally interesting as well.

If you have questions about synaesthesia and its relationship to meditation, feel free to ask!

RE: Visualisation and Vipassana
Answer
12/20/11 7:39 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia

You should consider whether this is what you're describing. Read the article, google around, etc. and see whether you're describing synaesthesia or something else.


Thanks, man. Yeah, I know a bit about synaesthesia: my girlfriend has it way more than me, to the extent that for her certain words, sounds and musical notes have colours and so on. She's even helped out researchers who are looking into it. I remember being genuinely astonished when I discovered that people could experience language without images. Just typing this I can see the exact junction in the city where my girlfriend and I discussed her experience with the research. I can also see an image of a paper I read recently about synathesia. I rather like the idea that most of us have a more or less synathesic experience. The philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty pointed out how we routinely talk of 'hard' sounds, or can hear hardness in, say, the sound of a horse's hooves on a tarmac street.

End in Sight:
I think you'll find that you have to resort to this kind of thing less and less, as your ability to perceive sensations along your body increases, so long as you keep in mind that this kind of visualization is ultimately counterproductive, albeit potentially useful at the moment.


That's what I'm hoping!

End in SIght:
If there is a synaesthetic aspect to your experiences, then you may find that there is another way to experience that aspect...shifting the visual quality out of your "[spatiotemporally-extended] mind's eye" and into the pure sensory world. This would not be possible for vibrations or tingles (as they are, in a sense, fundamentally imaginary), but it might be possible for sensations such as pleasure, warmth, coolness, etc. I am not sure how to explain how to do this, but you might want to play with it for a bit and see what you come up with.

You also might want to take an inventory of your experience to see whether there are other aspects of your experience that are synaesthetic which you assumed everyone experiences...it may give you some insight into your mind, and be personally interesting as well.

If you have questions about synaesthesia and its relationship to meditation, feel free to ask!


I can't quite picture (see? again with the synaesthesic language!) what you're talking about in this first paragraph, but I'll definitely try to play with it. And I'd certainly be interested in hearing anything else you might have to offer about synaesthesia and meditation. I have realised recently that my reaction to any particular idea/project/place is at least partially based on whether I like the image that crops up when I think about it. Now presumably that image is there because of a more reasonable like or dislike, but its certainly another interesting locum of craving/aversion.

If you have any extensive musings and feel like sharing them, then please DM me and we could talk on Skype or something.

Really appreciate your responses.
Much metta
Andy

RE: Visualisation and Vipassana
Answer
12/20/11 8:13 AM as a reply to Andy W.
Andy W:
End in Sight:


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synesthesia

You should consider whether this is what you're describing. Read the article, google around, etc. and see whether you're describing synaesthesia or something else.


Thanks, man. Yeah, I know a bit about synaesthesia: my girlfriend has it way more than me, to the extent that for her certain words, sounds and musical notes have colours and so on. She's even helped out researchers who are looking into it. I remember being genuinely astonished when I discovered that people could experience language without images. Just typing this I can see the exact junction in the city where my girlfriend and I discussed her experience with the research. I can also see an image of a paper I read recently about synathesia. I rather like the idea that most of us have a more or less synathesic experience. The philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty pointed out how we routinely talk of 'hard' sounds, or can hear hardness in, say, the sound of a horse's hooves on a tarmac street.


I am not sure why you would associate these experiences with synaesthesia...my experience is that, for visual forms, it consists in the identity of the visual quality with the stimulus that generates it, and the visual qualities are generally abstract (colors or shapes rather than pictorial imagery).

(EDIT: I suppose this could be an example of the way that synaesthesia feeds into imagination...as I suspect that visual synaesthetic experience predisposes a person to non-synaesthetically visualize more frequently.)

End in SIght:
If there is a synaesthetic aspect to your experiences, then you may find that there is another way to experience that aspect...shifting the visual quality out of your "[spatiotemporally-extended] mind's eye" and into the pure sensory world. This would not be possible for vibrations or tingles (as they are, in a sense, fundamentally imaginary), but it might be possible for sensations such as pleasure, warmth, coolness, etc. I am not sure how to explain how to do this, but you might want to play with it for a bit and see what you come up with.

You also might want to take an inventory of your experience to see whether there are other aspects of your experience that are synaesthetic which you assumed everyone experiences...it may give you some insight into your mind, and be personally interesting as well.

If you have questions about synaesthesia and its relationship to meditation, feel free to ask!


I can't quite picture (see? again with the synaesthesic language!) what you're talking about in this first paragraph, but I'll definitely try to play with it.


Instead of seeing it in your [spatiotemporally-extended] mind's eye, see it on the sensation itself. That's the best cue I can think of.

If you can do this successfully, I think you'll probably come to regard the mind's-eye imagery as comparatively ugly and unsubtle in some way.

And I'd certainly be interested in hearing anything else you might have to offer about synaesthesia and meditation. I have realised recently that my reaction to any particular idea/project/place is at least partially based on whether I like the image that crops up when I think about it. Now presumably that image is there because of a more reasonable like or dislike, but its certainly another interesting locum of craving/aversion.


In my experience, synaesthesic experiences tend to be woven through cognition in a surprising way, so examining this can be fruitful.

If you have any extensive musings and feel like sharing them, then please DM me and we could talk on Skype or something.


There's a thread on KFD in which I was trying to work some issues relating to synaesthesia out for myself (as it somehow never occurred to me that a wide range of experiences I had were uncommon), which you might be interested in reading...

The main thing I've thought about which is likely to be valuable is the ability to shift synaesthetic experience onto the external sensory field, which is important if you are pursuing AF / traditional enlightenment...as the mind's-eye imagery (as I experienced it) is a form of becoming that arises in reaction to the experience in the sensory field, and which can be abandoned / ignored.

RE: Visualisation and Vipassana
Answer
12/20/11 9:07 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
Perhaps a bit tangential but I found this article on how the senses are mixed as a matter of course very interesting:

The new science of our cross-wired senses: Yes, your ears can change what you taste. What discoveries about cross-sensory perception are revealing about the brain. http://bostonglobe.com/ideas/2011/12/11/the-new-science-our-cross-wired-senses/IfpoigwWte5paCkNy6xmgJ/story.html

Compare:

"Friend, there are these five faculties each with a separate range, a separate domain, and they do not experience one another's range & domain: the eye-faculty, the ear-faculty, the nose-faculty, the tongue-faculty, & the body-faculty. Now what do these five faculties — each with a separate range, a separate domain, not experiencing one another's range & domain: the eye-faculty, the ear-faculty, the nose-faculty, the tongue-faculty, & the body-faculty — have as their arbitrator? What experiences their ranges & domains?"

Mahavedalla Sutta: The Greater Set of Questions-and-Answers, MN 43, i 292

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.043.than.html

RE: Visualisation and Vipassana
Answer
12/21/11 9:35 AM as a reply to )( piscivorous.
The article seems to be about how one sensory experience can change another, whereas the sutta excerpt seems to be about how each sensory experience exists in its own modality. Quite compatible.

Even my experience of synaesthesia agrees with the sutta excerpt...a percept may have qualities that span sensory modalities, but each modality is distinct.

Jake may have a different opinion on things, however.

RE: Visualisation and Vipassana
Answer
1/21/12 6:51 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
If you aren't deliberately visualizing there is no problem. As you progress further it will naturally start to fall away. That being said you should also put atleast a little effort into doing what the AT said.

RE: Visualisation and Vipassana
Answer
1/21/12 9:21 PM as a reply to Andy W.
Andy W:
  • If so, how do I drop visualising? (At the moment, it feels a bit like asking a birth-blind person to imagine what colour is)


  • You may try doing this:
    1. Sit and meditate.
    2. Do some stretching exercises while being aware of the sensations.
    3. Sit and meditate again and see if you experience difference between the two sittings.

    RE: Visualisation and Vipassana
    Answer
    12/7/12 12:03 PM as a reply to Change A..
    Hey bro, having sat a ten-day Goenka myself, I found myself facing similar questions. When I am experiencing sensations arising and passing away, it would often feel like bubbles popping and fizzing along my skin. As my meditation progressed and my focus would get more expansive and it would appear to me than everything around me was popping and fizzing. I would see the popping and fizzing right in front of my eyes. Eventually, states of consciousness would pop and bubble and fizz as well. Was this real, or imaginary?

    At one point during one of my sits I felt like I could direct very high powered concentration out throughout the room towards the people sitting around me, to the point when I could be aware of their their subtle body shifts, breathing, and how well their sit was going psychologically, even their emotions. Was this real, or imaginary?

    After a very powerful sit where I had very quickly hit High Equanimity I went outside and had a small insect land on me and for a moment I felt that I experienced it as a mass of sensation arising and passing away, bubbling and fizzing, and I had the insight that all things are just sensations which arise and pass away, and that we are connected by this. It was a very powerful moment/insight. Was this real, or imaginary?

    After working my concentration up to second vipassana jhana or something like that it would feel like my "consciousness," or perceiver or something like that, would recede into in the center of my skull, as if in a vast dark cave. Feeling this way was always how I knew my concentration was shifting. The first time this happened I felt like I was lifting or floating up into my head, I experienced a little bit of flashing lights, and I had some bliss. When in this state of concentration I would scan my body but I came to my face I would experience it as if from the inside, as if the surface of my face was floating a few inches in front of me and I could feel the sensations on the face as if from the inside. Aside from the palms of my hands I would often feel the most subtle and interesting sensations on/inside my face. Was this real, or imaginary?

    My buddy came with me on the retreat and he later told me that at one point he felt his whole body was a mass of sensations/vibrations and he could cut through them all just like he was just wriggling pulsations and nothing more. Was this real, or imaginary?

    The point is, who the fuck knows exactly what is "real" or "imaginary!" I was at no point trying to imagine or visualize, but these are how things presented themselves to me repeatedly. At a certain point I wanted to ask the teacher how to know whether what I was experiencing was real or imaginary and did it matter, but I didn't ultimately ask because how could he know if they were real or not. This was what I was experiencing, and one should just note what you are experiencing. Weird or mystical experienced happen when meditating. They are all just sensations/phenomenon to be noted. After the A+P, stuff starts happening "too you," and its not like you can control all this stuff. Your lack of control is kinda the point. Even when Dan talks about the "powers" in his book, or on the Buddhist Geeks podcast, he discusses the weird line between real and imaginary and how it is difficult to separate them.

    When I'd scan, say, my arms, I would often imagine I could see the arm, or the point of the arm where I was noting. I think this is quite normal. It is a byproduct of trying to rove your awareness all over the place.

    My point is don't get too weirded out over the divide, the line, the binary opposition between imaginary and the real, because once you get into these higher states it gets real blurry.

    Here is a section from The Reformed Slacker's Guide to Stream Entry by Tarin which may resonate here:
    "On that front, here's something bizarre that, while it is not necessary to see – indeed, some people may simply never see it this way – I think may help some: understand that you can't imagine a fruition, but don't exclude the parts of your experience you think of as 'imaginary' from practice. Indeed, there is something imaginary about all this. I have strong reservations saying this sort of stuff because it can be so easily misconstrued, but if you haven't gotten path yet, a fruition is what you're looking for, the entrance to a fruition arises out of the 4th vipassana jhana (equanimity regarding formations), and 4th jhana is hella imaginary. I personally thought I must be crazy thinking things like this until I noticed that a quite-realised Dharma friend of mine's email address contains the phrase 'imaginationrealization'. It sanks into place that very moment. I'm at a loss for a better way to explain what I mean and have considered removing this section entirely, but opted to include it for people who might benefit from having it addressed, however many or few there are. If this paragraph seems strange or irrelevant to you, just skip it over. Then again, if it strangely was just what you needed to hear.. there you are."

    RE: Visualisation and Vipassana
    Answer
    12/11/12 9:07 PM as a reply to Andy W.
    My first response is, I think you're probably not doing the technique wrong, to begin with. I think in "placing your awareness" on a particular body part, there is going to be some sort of spatial recognition going on in your brain, and can be confused with visualizing. You're probably like me, a visual learner and perhaps this tendency to subtly visualize is more resonant with you than with some people, but I don't think you're doing the technique wrong. Try this:

    Bring your awareness to your hand. See how that presents itself to your mind.
    Now visualize or imagine a hand, that's not actually there at all, but you're just creating it in your mind.
    Do you see how these two experiences are different?

    Now, bring your awareness to your hand again, and notice the perception of awareness on your hand as you normally would (same thing as before).
    Now imagine or visualize that same hand (your hand) in your mind (i.e., what you think the hand looks like, the image of the hand).
    This is probably less gross of a fabrication than the first, but it probably still varies between just bringing your awareness to your hand.

    If you had no sense of where feeling was on your body, how would you be able to scan it, let alone function as a human?

    You're probably not doing the technique wrong. Just keep following the instructions and try to feel the feelings without any added bullshit. As in, just keep trying your best to feel, and not see, like you or anyone else would. Because like, what else can you do right? Nothing. Just keep practicing and do your best.