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Vipassana: Noting/Mahasi Style

Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts

I like what I've gotten from trying to describe what I've been experiencing and will continue to do so for now. If anyone is interested in saying "I think I know what that part is," you'd have my gratitude. If not, this is good for me anyway and maybe good for someone else. If you think I should move this somewhere else, I can try to figure out how to do that too. Thanks to Tom O. for the example in this.
End Edit

My overall strategy when sitting for 30-40min is to begin with a concentration practice which gives me some sort of visualization and then insight on the visualizations.

Concentration part:
My goal here is to sharpen my focus so that I can stay with my visualization object. I use the breath in my nose as the object as narrowly focused as I can. As things impede my focus (like sitting a row behind someone with a fat head), I shift to peripheral information which implies the breath in the nose as I had perceived it. Commonly I'll feel pockets of blocked energy in my forehead, roof of my mouth, or top of my head and take these to be "three characteristics" artifacts and a cue to start insighting.

Insight part:
I like to focus on what I would call my 'viewscreen.' My eyes are closed, but I have a generally dark canvass with dim colors; greens and blues. Something like the night sky in New Jersey... it's not dark like a country sky and there's something of an color to it.

I scan this viewscreen to find something to focus on. At first, it's typically something like:
-where the diffuse edges of color are
-what part is dark, what part has light
-to what extent are the dark/light parts changing shape in time

As time goes on, I'll get some bursts of light and color which I take to be A&P events. I'll also get sharp points of dark or light which flicker in the 5-20 Hz range. This might transfer over to an auditory or tactile perception of vibrations and I'll stay with them as long as I can. And if I'm lucky, something that feels 3Dish, though I get too excited and lose them.

If my concentration wanes, I'll go back to the breath for a while and do a couple sets of ten counted breaths to build back up.

I feel like I'm focusing on the impermanence of my visualizations as my bread and butter. Occasionally, I'll go into a no self streak of trying to remove myself from the experiences with a repeated "it ain't me" (I recommend different words, or you'll get lost in CCR's "Fortunate Son" very quickly). Since impermanence is my normal practice, no-self will invariably get colored with it in a back and forth fashion of "oh, that's moving... it's not me... it's moving... etc.."

I assess me as being in dark night and maybe low equanimity on the better days with my goal being high eq. and stream entry. For the sharp bunnies out there, how does this sound as a practice? Any pointers or critiques?

RE: Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts
2/10/10 2:58 AM as a reply to Jeremy P.
Hello Jeremy,

If you are able to post with more detail, myself or another may be able to give you some feedback. Time durations of these events you mention, supporting details of the self diagnoses of being whatever stage you think you're in, more detail on the "bursts of color/light" etc. Try to mention what's going on in each sense field with detail, so when describing the "feels 3Dish" phenomena, does it really feel 3D or does it look 3D, or does it sound 3D, or does it really feel 3D, or is it all of them?


RE: Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts
2/11/10 12:18 PM as a reply to Trent ..
I'll do my best. I should also encourage any other newbies to go through this exercise, since wanting extra attention for reporting purposes feels like engaging the practice more strongly.

This is mostly from yesterday's sit and this morning's lying since I wasn't sleeping anyway.

I'm getting tactile vibrations during the day when I take a moment to relax at work. I also noticed these as soon as I sat down. They feel to be on the surface of my body in my legs, arms, torso, back, and face. Fairly gentle and in the 5 Hz range. They'll last from 10 seconds (when first sitting yesterday) to several minutes (5 minute break from work two days ago).

back to yesterday's sit: in my basement, lights off, eyes closed, facing toward a small window. It began as many do with dim lighting which I described like an urban night sky. I see fuzzy boarders to the lights like what you might make with a simple computer paint program.

The light and dark areas began to swirl and translate and my muscles conspicuously relaxed. This progresses to the blobby areas shrinking to nothingness, only to be replaced by another one which formed from the boarders. Like a tunnel, but it doesn't have depth. I also see bars of this luminousness, also fuzzy, moving across my perceptual field.

At this point, the ~5 Hz vibrations came back in my cheeks. I think I hear them too, but I might just be recalling music... It's not clear where the sound perception is coming from. What I hear is very similar to the cello (?) that comes in around 30 seconds in Reich's music for 18 musicians
(Music worth owning!)

My attention changed to the tinnitus in my right ear, which was stronger due to some guitarring. It beeps very quickly and keeping up with it caused a few wobbles in my body (only 10 seconds or so). I've learned that noting the wobbles robs them of their motive power. This sounds something like morse code at double speed.

Attention back to the shrinking nebula/blobs/dim lights. The boarders are more defined now and have flames on them. I mean the shape of how we draw flames, nothing crazy here.

Get a flash or two of pink... but not like what I was talking about. This is only spatters of brighter light against an otherwise black background. What I saw before was more Yellow Submarine-ish, minus the cartoon Beatles. These have only been flashes in recent days.

There are sharper points in the field now, some light some dark. These are pulsing at the 5-10 Hz range.

end of sit... I stopped several times over the 50 minutes to write notes.

lying in bed this morning: Begin with breath, move to visual field, note as much as possible.

Rough session and things felt pretty unpleasant, but did my best to brave the discomfort. Faster vibrations now and more auditory. Sounded similar to the spin cycle on a washing machine. Sometimes this would mix with a slower pulse, making something like a horse's gallop sound, but with a white noise/guitar distortion sound instead of the "clop clop" from hooves.

A lot of effort was required to stay with and come back to meditating, which didn't mix well with the subtler times when sensations weren't so strong. I'd say I was in the tough phase for 40-50 minutes of the hour I was working on this. And I mean an ordinary sense of effort. I've watched myself try to control things before in a funny visual fashion, but this wasn't that and honestly, I haven't experienced that again in a few months.

Lastly, I got some time with a 3Dish thing. It was the head of a spoon. I knew it was the head of a spoon and it was fairly stationary in front of me facing downward. It was metallic in the sense that it had a dull sheen. The sheen was mildly colored with green and pink, though not technicolored like the Yellow Submarine flashes. I could definitely see it. I heard it too. It was making a periodic "fling fling fling" sound, which I associated with what would result from quickly rubbing across the edge with my thumb... though I didn't see my thumb. I can't say that I felt something tactile in any part of my body associated with it. This only lasted 10-20 seconds and was a little stronger than what I had mentioned before. Those objects had a similar look, but I don't remember as much detail nor sound.

Thanks for prodding, Trent. Writing this has already been helpful.

RE: Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts
2/12/10 10:40 PM as a reply to Jeremy P.
As I mentioned in the edit which begins this discussion, I'm going to keep documenting interesting things in my practice to, if nothing else, keep me sharp.

10pm, 40 minutes eyes closed followed by 20 minutes eyes open. Normal indoor brightness with off-white carpet. I had an espresso around 1pm and don't rule out it's lingering effects. I'll only have one dose of caffeine per week.

I had a good sit today in the sense that I felt fairly focused and able to keep my attention on noting. At the end I opened my eyes slowly. As I was starting to, I saw some blinking dots and decided to open my eyes very slowly to see what would happen to my vision if I kept up with the vibrations. I set my gaze easy on the carpet in front of me, maybe 6 feet ahead.

I quickly began to see patterns in the carpet. A regular array of shadows that was too ordered to be part of the carpet itself. As I stayed with it, the patterns shifted from a field of spots sloping 45º top-left to bottom right to 45º bottom-left to top right... something like that. They became raised to 1-2 inches tall and changed between dime-sized and densely packed to rope like with a loose weave of 6-8" spacing at max. At times they swirled clockwise about the center of focus, but only for seconds at a time.

A piece of dark fuzz caught my attention and I decided to stay on that as well as I could. First, my periphery became white and cloudy with no detail available at all. This experience would show up one or two more times. Next the patterns in the rug changed very rapidly and I could see the area of my best visual focus, though it seemed less sharp than what was immediately around it.

I had set my intent on staying on that fuzz, but the stuff around it was too wild, so I let my attention note the periphery... by this I mean anything within that 2-4 foot radius from the fuzz. The cloudy periphery from before was as wide as I could see.

Anytime something caught my attention, the next thing I would notice would be somewhere else. I felt like a cat trying to catch a laser pointer held by an owner with shaky hands. The other objects in the room (bed, lamp, support beams, etc. were almost gone maybe 1/4 of the time. I got little bits of them, but they lacked their normal continuity. Eventually, my interest in this game waned and I stayed on the fuzz more steadily.

Overall assessment: a rockin good time that I hope to revisit emoticon

Post session, I feel a little exhausted from the chase. I should sleep well.

RE: Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts
2/16/10 10:56 PM as a reply to Jeremy P.
Two followups on the the open-eyed meditation visuals.

One is a little more basic description: After my mind settles on the patterning (which I think stems from a basic artifact of how the eye processes information), the contrast gets ramped up with the light parts being brighter and the darks darker. Yellow and purple imbues the images at times and the overall brightness of the image will sometimes change suddenly, which I think is my pupils expanding or contracting in short jerks.

Two is on empowerment: I see this idea passed around and I think it's an important one for those of us who are mostly practicing on our own. Anytime I read a "you can do it" it injects some life into my practice and I gain a little success. The open eyes practice did a similar thing in taking my vision and undeniably altering it. It was a reminder that I was doing something, when my sits were otherwise giving very similar experiences.

All the same, indulging in them has left me a bit rocked. Lots of nervous type vibrations on my body these days and a tough time focusing when I'm trying to interact with people. Nothing destructive, just difficult. When I sat tonight, it helped to note the uneasiness as it arose and passed and arose and passed... and arose... what a bastard! Oh, I guess I should accept it. Ok, less judgement next time.

RE: Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts
2/17/10 12:27 AM as a reply to Jeremy P.
You might like candle-flame:

This from MCTB in the section on Bill Hamilton's Model in the Vipassana Jhanas chapter:

"The retreat when I first really nailed down the details of the vipassana jhanas was a seventeen day retreat that I went on when I was an anagami (the third stage of awakening in one of the models of awakening, to be discussed shortly). I didn't begin playing with this territory until around the second week of the retreat, and by that point my concentration was very strong and flexible. It didn't take me more than a day before I could go through the following cycle. Initially, I would stare at a candle flame until I really could stay with it, then there would be a natural shift, I would close my eyes, and I would see the visual purple phenomena where the afterimage of the flame was burned onto my retina.

This would fade in a few seconds to be replaced by a red dot in the center of my visual field. The red dot was clear, very round, pure, bright and seemingly stable. However, within a minute or so it would begin to shake, roll off to one side, and I would notice all sorts of things about how intention and observation messed with the position, stability, and clarity of the dot. First seeing the dot is the first samatha jhana, and in this case is the equivalent of Mind and Body, where mental phenomena become clear external objects. Noticing things about intention influencing the position and stability of the dot is cause and effect.

Shortly thereafter this would become irritating and the dot would begin to shake, shudder, split up, spin off to one side or the other, and generally seem to misbehave quite on its own. This was the entrance to the Three Characteristics. After a while of this, practice would shift, become naturally stronger, and this slightly larger red dot would appear in the center again that stayed there on largely its own, but it had a gold spinning star in its center that would spin on its own with a speed and direction that varied with the phase of the breath, which I noticed when I broke my focus enough. This addition of motion, the image happening on its own, and somewhat wider attention (wider dot), not to mention bliss when I broke my concentration a bit and focused on my body, is the entrance to the second vipassana jhana.

The red dot with the spinning gold star would gradually acquire purple, green and blue rings around its outside, and then there would be a sudden shift where the red dot would vanish and be replaced by a slightly larger black dot. The black dot initially would seem to be a good focus, but quickly the area around the black dot got more interesting, with many very complex multi-point stars all circling slowly around it, getting wider and wider, with the interference patterns between them getting more and more complex, while the black dot faded somewhat, but to what was unclear. This addition of a problem perceiving the center but with complex patterns of experience with multiple frequencies going out to the periphery marks the early and middle phases of the third vipassana jhana. Further, as the thing got wider, there was this slightly disconcerting feeling that attention was out of phase with the visuals.

As the complex patterns around the outside began to become more spherical as the edges wrapped around towards me, they began to be made out of lines that had more of a rainbow quality to them, with many complex motions and manifold symmetry. This was harder to pay attention to and simultaneously comprehend it all, marking the mature third vipassana jhana and the later stages of the Dark Night. Note, as this was being done with almost no fixation on psychological content and with very strong concentration, I did not have any of the typical feelings that sometimes accompany this territory when it cycles through with less concentration. Instead, it stayed at the level of geometry, image and light except when I widened my attention somewhat to notice other aspects.

This complex sphere on which was unfolding more and more complex patterns would then shift to something far more inclusive of space and the center of attention, thus becoming much more three-dimensional. At this point, things seemed to happen on their own, but in a silent, clear, all-encompassing way that was way beyond the second jhana, and this marks the entrance to the fourth vipassana jhana.

As things would organize, there would arise all sorts of images, from Buddhas to black holes, from brilliantly formed Tantric images (Vajrasattva with consort, etc.) to complex abstract, three-dimensional designs that included the whole field of attention, all made of rainbow lines, luminous, living, and very clear. I could end the cycle with essentially any image I wished with an ease I had never previously achieved. If I had not previously determined an image to end with, the surprises were just as good as anything I came up with and sometimes better. The point is that if you get your concentration strong enough, you can do these things also.

Shortly after the clear image would arise, attention would shift to include the fundamental characteristics of the whole thing at a level that was perfectly inclusive of what ordinarily would be called subject and object, and Fruition would arise as the whole thing vanished through one of the Three Doors, but with a clarity that is rare. Then I would open my eyes, stare at the flame, and do it all again. Each cycle took about ten to fifteen minutes, but I could linger in each stage for longer if I consciously resisted the pull to move onward."

RE: Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts
2/18/10 9:19 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Thank you, Daniel. I remember reading about this in your book, but forgot the details; details which I think will be helpful for finding myself on the maps as I continue. It does seem very similar to what I'm doing and I've played with retina burns, but not seriously.

Can you give me a few practical details as to how this can be done well. For example, is this candle across the room which produces a small point of light? Is it only a few feet away and the staying with it involves following the dancing of the flame? If it's close, should I limit my time with my eyes open to protect them from retinal damage (of course, I'm fully accepting the responsibility of protecting my eyes... just looking for pointers)? Is the rest of the room very dark, twilight, or light?

And while I have you here, Thank You for writing your book and setting up this website. They have been enormously helpful in giving me focus and direction in meditation and instrumental in establishing a steady practice in my life.


RE: Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts
2/28/10 1:43 AM as a reply to Jeremy P.
Dear Jeremy,

Sorry for the late reply. I have been working a lot.

I put the candle flame about 6-8 feet away, typically.

I try to find a room with minimal air currents so the flame stays more stable. A oil lamp works also and the fluted glass cover will keep it steady, but if it moves it is not that big a deal.

I don't think the flame will cause retinal damage, as it is too dim.

I tend to use a dark or somewhat dark room, although I have done this in a room with windows open in daylight and so long as I could see the flame it worked.

Glad you like the book and website,


RE: Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts
2/28/10 9:56 PM as a reply to Jeremy P.
If you find that your eyes become painful, sensitive to light, and/or red after keeping them open for a long time as in kasina practice, or if you get lots of tears that are interrupting your concentration, you may want to look into a gel formulation of artificial tears. A good brand, though a bit expensive, is GenTeal. You would want to look for packaging information along the lines of "for moderate to severe dry eye," or "for severe dry eye."

It should be in a form where you drop the gel into the eye, not an ointment that you put on your finger and apply to the eye. Ointments tend to cause lots of blurriness, which could be distracting. It shouldn't be just a regular, non-gel lubricant eye drop because that won't be strong enough to lubricate your eye if you're keeping it open for the amount of time sometimes called for in kasina meditation.

Of course, if an eye specialist or medical professional advises you to do something different, you should do that. But I have ocular rosacea and sometimes dry eye too, and I find that using a gel eye drop worked great for kasinas. Pain and the feeling of needing to blink can be very distracting. If you're having to consciously suppress the blink reflex, that's definitely sapping your concentration.

RE: Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts
3/1/10 1:45 AM as a reply to J Adam G.
I wouldn't stare at it so long that you begin to cry.

I typically stare at the flame until I feel some sort of shift into steadiness on the color, which usually takes less than a minute, and then close my eyes and stabilize the visual-purple afterimage into a stable countersign and then go from there.

RE: Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts
3/3/10 11:23 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
thanks for the pointers, Daniel. I've only had marginal success with this and will get back to it in a few days after getting my concentration back up, which seems to be sorely lacking this last week.

red candle in a glass jar with small flame. The jar I have has crazy convection currents and the flame dances like mad. I'm going to buy another candle just to try out a more stable setup. A dark room was much preferred to a light one, but the fast changes in through-eyelid light from the candle flickering was a bit distracting. This is primarily why I'd like a more stable flame.

Generally I'll stare at it for 1-3 minutes allowing blinking to happen on its own. I don't find blinking to be a distraction, nor does it seem to reposition my eyes from the lock I'm trying to achieve.

I was surprised how similar some of your descriptions were to what I perceived. Here's what came my way:
-closed my eyes to see a purple rectangle burn from the candle body
-some 5-10 seconds later, I'd get the first blinks of the candle flame spot; pale green and dim with blue and purple halo. It's pretty small compared to the actual flame, about the size of a lowercase 'o' from your book, held about 8 inches from my eyes. The eyes open flame was ~as tall as a dime in the same scaling.
-this would blink every half second or second before stabilizing into a vibrant green circle of the same size
-no hints of pulsing, just a steady vibrant green spot
-An obscuring dark circle would keep me from seeing this spot during some sits at this point. The spot would be gone for 90% of the time and blink back in to remind me that it was there
-green would fade and a vibrant red circle would appear. It's a pretty red and I have to say I like staying with it.
-red circle would get a little dimmer as it started scattering around the perceptual field.
-no more spot
-game over

I didn't note any connection between my intention and the spot's motion, just that it started going nutty before disappearing. I also didn't get anything afterwards that sounded like the A&P. I would ask then, when the spot disappears, does the larger A&P spot follow right away for you? If not, do you just note the other things coming up until it does? I guess this means I'm thinking of this as a Vipassana exercise.

Work is racking my brain right now and my last two attempts with this gave paler experiences: smaller spots of dimmer colors that persisted for shorter times. I'll be back to it specifically after some chill out time and a new candle.

RE: Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts
4/18/10 4:09 PM as a reply to Jeremy P.
handling life and it's meditation consequences
lessons from last day and weekend retreats
candle tiny progress; noting/over-noting

handling life and it's meditation consequences
Sometime around february I had a talk with my graduate advisor about graduating. It didn't go well and didn't take that so well. There are some tough times in grad school and getting out is typically one of them. Besides waking up pissed off just about every day, I found I wasn't getting my old experiences in meditation. No calm, no fancy visuals to watch/note, nothing but sitting there. Psychologically, I had a real need for some escapism and was looking for it in meditation. I had some really strong desire to chill out in some jhanic states and didn't like not getting them one bit. This lasted a good month

one day retreat: back on track
I hit up a Sandra Weinberg's one-day retreat at NYIMC to try to get some momentum going. Her intro talk included a statement about letting go of whatever we expected to get out of the day, which apparently was what I needed to hear. I made it my work to identify where I was-- yeah yeah, I know, but it just didn't seem like it would work-- which meant noting things like: this is me being pissed off, this is me waiting for something to happen, this is staring at no images, this is waiting. I was really just experimenting and didn't think it'd do anything, but boom, things started progressing real fast and I felt like I got back a lot of territory in the first sit. The rest of the day was focused, but rocky. I was fine with the rockiness (whole body twitches, pulsing lights, etc.), because I got what I was looking for.

I met with her during the day and talked about what all was going on. She clued me in that I was neglecting daily life kind of stuff, not accepting what was going on. I think I was getting too attached to tripped out states.

weekend retreat: conflict and resolution
Matthew Daniell leads a weekend retreat with phildelphia meditation center a few times a year that mixes mindful yoga into the sit-walk-sit-walk routine. I got a lot from it last year, so I figured since I was back on track this year would be even better. So gearing up my expectations again...

Wow, ever try meditating at a dry cleaner? About 2 or 3 of these hell demons at the retreat were breathing as loudly as the industrial clothing presses. Actually, clothing presses don't hold their breath and gush it out incessantly. Despite repeated calls by Matthew for quiet breathing, one was convinced that loud breathing was what he should do, the others... I just don't know.

For those of you who don't get bothered by this kind of thing, laugh it up, but certain sounds drive my mind batty. Batty --> difficultly concentrating --> no perceived progress --> anger --> judgement... oooh yeah, some fantastic judgment going on. That was day 1. The aforementioned demons were taking my precious retreat away from me and I was getting seriously pissed off about that. All I had for noting was my short, tight breath being interrupted by distractions. I was looking for subtle and not seeing my huge aversion to the human sounds.

Late saturday, I decided to change strategies and calm down at least. I got into my breath and any time I felt tension in my body from my aversion, I would let it sink into the breath. This was agonizing work, but diligence paid off. I remember getting about 2 minutes of silence and that was enough to calm my body down and give me a place to work from. Diligence refers to the constant irritation I felt and work to concentrate hard and calm down.

--Side note: this weekend was on par with the worst of the dark night that I've ever felt. I'd be quick to chalk it up to that if I saw an obvious A&P event or something like that. In general, I'm putting down the maps as I find them more distracting than helpful. Having an awareness of what can happen is helping me, but I don't see the movement of one state to the next so clearly.--

Payoff: after a good bit of ignoring the judgement/self-pity/stories and grounding in the tension/non-tension of my body, I got a nice release, if only for a short while. I felt like I was disappearing in the sense that I wasn't resisting these sounds (that now included several snorers!!!). It was a profound feeling of non-resistence and the sounds were traveling right through me; I could lightly note them and move on. I had a sense of my whole body at the time, but I was getting thinner and thinner, until I just felt like a skin-bag that was nicely inflated. No rush of joy, but a good chill feeling that was a much welcome reprieve from before.

I was hoping it would last, but these breathers were careful students of my anger button, so the rest of the retreat was mostly maintenance of returning to the body. A general feeling of my head being wrung out like a towel was a common backdrop, but I was better able to handle it.

Candles: clenching notes
No candles at the retreat center?!! but I wanted to... ok. I tried things out again after I got home with some tea candles (much better than my jarred ones for steadiness of flame). I got the old images: green dot, red and black dots, jumpy dots. This got replaced this time by a diffuse yellowish spot the size of a nickel 5" from my eyes with the small dot in the middle. I don't see a clear 6 pointed star, but a red or green spot with a sharp dark outer edge. It's spiky and dances, but I'm not steady enough even if there were clear rotations in one direction or the other.

This would go in and out of my experience as I would squeeze my face and eyes. I think the squeezing makes things easier to see, so my grasping at the images manifests in squeezing. I even saw some flashes of highly symmetric stuff, but it was too fast to describe. Something in the purple and green (dim colors) with an object in the center and replicates of it around it. Problem is that I get excited and latch on with my noting, my face squeezes, and its gone. I think I'm trying to get absorbed in it, because I think it's cool.

The momentum of the retreat is gone and its back to the home cushion.

RE: Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts
4/20/10 10:57 AM as a reply to Jeremy P.
Jeremy Pronchik:
Matthew Daniell leads a weekend retreat with phildelphia meditation center a few times a year that mixes mindful yoga into the sit-walk-sit-walk routine. I got a lot from it last year, so I figured since I was back on track this year would be even better. So gearing up my expectations again...

Wow, ever try meditating at a dry cleaner? About 2 or 3 of these hell demons at the retreat were breathing as loudly as the industrial clothing presses. Actually, clothing presses don't hold their breath and gush it out incessantly. Despite repeated calls by Matthew for quiet breathing, one was convinced that loud breathing was what he should do, the others... I just don't know.

I was at that retreat and you're not exagerating about the breathing. It was like half speed Darth Vader breathing with pauses.

RE: Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts
4/21/10 12:44 PM as a reply to Eric B.
Imagining Vadar in the back of the retreat is a pretty funny image. Especially when it comes to the question and answer sessions emoticon

I'll make sure to say hi if I catch you at one of these things again. Who knew you guys existed in real life?

RE: Looking for critique/pointers on insight attempts
6/15/10 9:09 AM as a reply to Jeremy P.
I recently had an exchange with Florian who gave me some advice on visualizing the breath outside of the body. It was something I had an interest in after hearing a buddhist geeks interview in which someone was adamantly stating that the anapanasati spot was not on the skin. I found Florian's warmup and exercise helpful:

Florian Weps:
Eyes closed: yes, I keep them closed for this.

Visualization: a thumbnail-sized "gateway" positioned between upper lip and tip of the nose, through which the breath passes. It arises along with the sense of space/direction/orientation, i.e. I try to place my attention in that place, and the visualization is a product of this.

Here's a little exercise for moving attention around: with eyes closed, where is "behind me"? (attention leans to "back there"). Okay, where is "in front"? (attention swings around to "up in front"). Where is "below"? "Above"? "left, right"? That was the warm-up. Now: where is the tip of the nose? where is the upper lip? (these are easy, because there are sensations there, right?) Now, do the "behind, in front, etc" with the tip of the nose as reference point, with the lip... This way, you can zoom in on the spot.

Initially, I would catch myself dreaming when I'd try this. I wouldn't say I was lucid the whole time, but noticing that I was dreaming let me watch the tail end of the image. Visuals were formed (though I'm not sure about what 'formations' are yet, so I'm not really saying that here) and familiar (e.g. a figure of a man walking). When I would catch myself dreaming, the image would fade into an ordinary nebulous brighter patch in the visualization field. Post-game analysis guesses that my mind is interpreting these spots when it gets absorbed in them.

I'm not working on that drill specifically anymore, but I have gained more skill in locating. If I'm doing vipassana where I note physical sensations, I like to note where they are with respect to me. I seem to be somewhere near the back of my skull unsurprisingly. That has led to more 'no self' type experiences, though I wouldn't describe them as true no-self. Several times after a lapse in concentration, I've caught myself thinking a train of words, but now it seems that the words have their own life and I'm outside of that. I feel like this is a perspective worth cultivating and a way I've found to do so.