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formations or willo the wisps
Answer
4/30/10 2:52 PM
I currently sit twice a day most days for 1 1/2 to 2 hours in total. I get about 3 - 4 hours per day most weekends over 3 - 4 sittings.

I would tentatively place myself in re-observation and am currently experiencing amongst other things pseudo sensory representations. These are of two sorts.

The first kind tend to be scenes with visual, auditory and motion components. Sometimes I see myself in the scene sometimes not. The scene may be one of remembering or rehearsing and event and I note it accordingly.

The second type is the one that I would appreciate some views on. It is usually fleeting - often too fast to establish content - it is visual, though 'muddy' in clarity. May be accompanied by a phrase of speech external to the scene. I am usually not part of it and the 'people' in it can often be grotesque in some way eg have sharpened teeth. The following occur during meditation.

Example 1: a female character dressed in leather 'Nazi' uniform leans forward and brutally backhands a kneeling helpless figure.

Reflecting after the meditation I associated it with an emotion of aggression / hostility and recognised in retrospect this was how I had been feeling prior to the sit though without being aware of it at the time.

Example 2: A line of dialogue "can they be trusted?" is followed immediately by the image of a figure thrusting a Bee towards my eye and my body rocks back and I feel fear.

Reflecting after meditation I realise that several such occurrences have preceded involuntary movements, i associate the experience with some doubt about people in my work and I notice the 'eye' being threatened.

I recognise that these 'new' types of image may have been there all along but now my concentration is such that I can perceive them, that I may have discovered how my emotions may be embedded in mental objects that move me (I am not an emotionally literate man, and my conscious awareness of subtle feelings is limited).

My dilemma is that I can't work out if these fantasy images are 'formations' and I should investigate them in the sitting (which would be difficult as they move fast) or if I should merely note 'fantasy' as there is a risk that they would a) monopolise my sitting, b) psychologise my practise and c) promote identification with these mental objects.

Thanks to any who navigate the wall of text. Any views gratefully received.

RE: formations or willo the wisps
Answer
4/30/10 3:51 PM as a reply to William David Bodell.
William David Bodell:
My dilemma is that I can't work out if these fantasy images are 'formations' and I should investigate them in the sitting (which would be difficult as they move fast) or if I should merely note 'fantasy' as there is a risk that they would a) monopolise my sitting, b) psychologise my practise and c) promote identification with these mental objects.

Thanks to any who navigate the wall of text. Any views gratefully received.


Hi William,

The first thing you need to know is that Daniel's use of the word 'formations' is unique to his teaching. The Pali word for 'formation' is 'sankhara', which means, "that which has been put together," and refers primarily to mental dispositions resulting from volition. It is basically a "conditioned thing."

For a reason that I haven't been able to figure out, Daniel describes a certain type of phenomenal manifestation that arises for him in the 11th ñana as "formations," mostly likely due to the long name for the 11th ñana being "Equanimity in relationship to formations." He sees some interesting 3D luminous manifestations, and calls them "formations" by association with the title of the corresponding ñana. But if we look at what "sankhara" actually means, the title is really describing "Equanimity in relationship to conditioned things or mental dispositions."

So, were you experiencing conditioned, compound phenomena? Sure. But it doesn't really matter what you saw, so long as you continue to note. The quality of equanimity will arise as you do so, regardless of whether or not some special manifestations arise.

~Jackson

RE: formations or willo the wisps
Answer
4/30/10 6:38 PM as a reply to Jackson Wilshire.
For me now that I am relatively practiced at vipassana and can notice a lot of what is going on very quickly in a mental image sort of way I am amazed at what odd things I'll see. I lot of it is violent or sexual in nature and then a lot of it is pretty and sentimental or just boring. My take is that it is just more fodder to be seen as always changing, unsatisfying, and not me. which reminds me that I need to look with more of a 3 C's attitude at these things (which is bare attention, etc.) rather than what I often do which is identify with the images and often feel a little ashamed or embarassed - which itself should be noted.

RE: formations or willo the wisps
Answer
5/2/10 2:30 AM as a reply to Jackson Wilshire.
Over the years I have gotten a lot of comments on the particular way I define formations, some for, many against, and that is likely to continue.

However, there are good reasons I define formations the way I do and those who have strong insight and concentration skills who understand what it is I said about them, as something integrated, will hopefully find some use for my particular definition.

That said, not everyone will see them with the degree of clarity that I have and not everyone will understand why the definition and writing about them are important and not everyone who is actually seeing things the way I describe them will even be able to recognize that they are so, if the definition I put forward doesn't help, ignore it. It has nothing to do with images or something like that necessarily, but is a particular way that the sense doors get put together in that mode of attention and in that strata of mind that one either notices or one doesn't when one is there.

Further, those who are noticing how the Three Doors present will, if they are good and careful phenomenologists, which not many are, realize that there is descriptive merit and accuracy in the way I talk about them and hopefully will appreciate something of the clarity of the descriptions and why they are important and better than what has come before on the topic.

For those who don't see them or don't realize they are seeing them: look more carefully and find what those descriptions are pointing to, as doing so leads one right to the edge of really good things.

RE: formations or willo the wisps
Answer
5/2/10 12:10 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Hey Daniel,

I actually remember talking with you on the phone, in the days/weeks before I got first path, and you were able to recognize what I was describing to you as seeing formations, and it was actually quite helpful for pin-pointing where I was on the map. The strange and almost startling perceptual changes that occur in high equanimity for some people can really through them off, as they did me, and it was good that you know what was going on. So in that way, I'm glad you pay attention to the perceptual phenomena you refer to as "formations" and are thus capable of helping people figure out what's going on.

I do, however, think it is confusing to use a term to label this particular phenomenon that is already for something else. If one were to read Practical Insight Meditation, and replace what he means by formations and what you mean by formations, they will end up utterly confused; at least that's what happened to me, which is why I did additional research.

You're going to call them what you're going to call them, and that's OK. I do think it would be less confusing to a lot of people if you used a different term.

~Jackson

RE: formations or willo the wisps
Answer
5/2/10 1:35 PM as a reply to Jackson Wilshire.
Alright, what term would you suggest?

RE: formations or willo the wisps
Answer
5/2/10 2:54 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:
Alright, what term would you suggest?


I don't really have an answer for that question, at least not right now. Perhaps we could revisit the characteristics of this phenomenon and go from there.

Though, since the experience you describe as seeing formations is only perceived in the Equanimity stage, particularly High Equanimity, why assign a special term at all? Why not just say, "One clue as to whether one is experiencing the High Equanimity stage is that they may perceive sensate phenomena (via all six sense doors) as one cohesive, fluctuating, interdependent, nearly indistinguishable field of experience." -- or something like that. I'm not sure what value there is in giving the experience any special label other than "High Equanimity" or "4th Vipassana Jhana".

Also, part of the problem in explaining this phenomenon is that it is more of a verb than a noun -- more of an active happening than an isolated thing. I think is part of why people are always asking, "Was that a formation?" For, what's special about the experience is the way in which reality is perceived, not necessarily what is being perceived. It's more like switching a lens than adding something new under then lens, if that makes sense.

I don't know. What do you think?

~Jackson

RE: formations or willo the wisps
Answer
5/3/10 6:40 AM as a reply to Jackson Wilshire.
I am one of those people who asked about formations because I never really got what they were. I think I posted a thread on it on the old DhO wetpaint site. In fact I still don't know what you are referring to, Daniel. But it didn't stop me getting 1st path. I think eventually, I just gave up on experiencing exactly what was explained in MCTB and stopped looking for something. It was quite frustrating at times not being able to relate to what you guys were talking about. I knew I was getting up to high equanimity. I guess I was paying attention to something else, because I was just being equanimous with all the sensations, observing all the sensations and images of "I" that blipped in and out. That got me across the line. But i'd still like to figure out what Daniel's take on formations are...hmmm.