Practice in a fish tank

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Barbara Tielemans, modified 5 Years ago.

Practice in a fish tank

Posts: 2 Join Date: 4/7/15 Recent Posts
Dear dhamma overground community,

I have been on this page on and off, it inspired me and I learned quite some insightful things that helped me in my practice. I have never had the urge to write something about my own practice, because I did not feel I had any clear questions or wanted specific feedback. Basically the last two years I was not practicing all too much as my daily life demanded too much of me to muster the dedication needed to sit and do the stuff I know I should be doing as well.

Off late I have been able to return to regular practice, at minimum one hour daily, and it seems now I am in need of some feedback every once in a while. I would like to share my latest developments in order to hear if anyone has something to contribute that might prove of interest and of help to me in any way.

So, short intro. I have been introduced to insight, vipassana, meditation “Goenka style” some 10 years ago, in 2004. I have participated in over 15 courses over the years, 10-days, sati’s, one 20-day. Served quite a bit as well on and off courses. I have not given any other technique any serious attention in my practice. I have experienced great benefits in my personal and professional life due to a more detached experience of whatever situation presents itself and a decreased identification with my emotions. Generally I feel comfortable with vipassana meditation Goenka style and I feel I can still develop further using this technique.

Among others, I have been inspired by the writings of TJ Broccoli on this forum. Especially items suggesting less of a minute micro focus, detailing every sensation, aiming not to miss anything, and rather adopt a more spacious awareness, resting in being, maybe using sounds, and doing everything in your power to stay in the here and now.

I am aware of Daniel’s warnings against mixing techniques or not sticking to what is taught in a certain retreat. For myself, I do not feel that the suggestions of TJ conflict with whatever the instructions by SN Goenka tell me to do. I do not feel that I am playing around or experimenting outside the boudaries. I have on various occasions checked my practice with teachers on site and got confirmation that I was working well and in line with the teachings. Thus, so far I feel confident that I am on track Goenka-wise.

During my last retreat I had a nice practice going. For some days I played a game challenging myself to find the exact moment that my concentration left me, or rather that something popped into my mind that was not an object in the here and now. This was usually an image or a thought. It was fun and did heaps for my motivation. I realize this is more of a concentration practice than an insight one. And I also notice that I can BY NO MEANS play this game at home, off retreat.  Concentration is just not up to speed.

Then I wanted to set another aim that would work for my practice at home. Setting aims works well for me. In my research I work on borders, empirically determining where a border is drawn instead of assuming it is where we expect it to be. This inspired me to challenge myself to empirically determine the boundary of my body, instead of just continuing with the same up and down observation as I always do, thinking I know where my body is and where it is not.

This did rather a lot for me. I noticed that I had been going about this up and down thing somewhat mechanically. Obviously I know this is not the way to go about it, but knowledge is not the same as experience. I was paying attention, being aware in a way, but I realized I was actually reproducing the same expected experience over and over again. Ok, that needed to change! So I stayed with this empirical boundary searching thing for a while and noticed it not only changed the perception of my body and the sensations, but also the quality of my attention.

At this point I noticed a shift in my focus. Currently  I perceive my attention to be rather with the quality of the awareness, of the observation, instead of with what I am observing. Rather than an interest in the sensations that I experience, I feel my interest is drawn to something I can only call a balance of mind, a certain stability in the observation itself. The sensations are present at the back and my effort is on retaining a certain level of concentration (which for me at the moment means here and now presence) in order to keep my mind balanced. Sometimes the attention is drawn to the sensations and I instantly feel my mind getting unbalanced.

I am a rather visual person when I explain my experience, so here goes. It feels like I am sitting in a fish tank, sometimes a small one, just some 10 cms around my body, sometimes much bigger. The water feels like a sphere of awareness and there is this body that is manifest in its constant “quivering” of various frequencies and intensities (the “sensations”). If concentration levels are high and identification with the sensations low, the water is still and attention moves steadily over my body. As soon as concentration levels drop, due to whatever reason, I perceive currents and turbulence in the water, in the sphere of awareness.

So, when I sit at home I now actually direct my attention to this quality of awareness instead of at the sensations. I try to “feel” if the water is still or turbulent, while also moving up and down and simply acknowledging the sensations in the background. I try to “keep” the water still by any means possible, usually focusing in some way on the here and now and continuing the scanning as soon as possible. It’s like I say to my attention: “don’t get distracted, just get back to work, this scanning is your only task at this moment, no need to get all worked up about anything.” I feel that I am training the quality of equanimity in my mind in this way.

I also noticed that since I work in this way I move at least twice, sometimes even thrice as fast, as I did before when doing the up and down scanning. I know it is not about speed, but I have been working [at home] at the same speed for years and years, so this feels to me as a rather significant change. Also, it seems that now, when I sit, I identify rather with the space of awareness, the water, instead of with the object, the quivering body. To put it bluntly: I am the awareness and I observe my nature or quality (still/turbulent), instead of observing the nature or quality of the bodily sensations, my object.

Finally, I would just emphasize that this feeling of the balanced/unbalanced mind, the still/turbulent water, is really quite “tangible”. Even though I am sitting still I experience “currents” of mind moving through my body, blurring the perception of sensations and shaking things up even more. When it [the water] becomes quiet and still again, perception [of the sensations] becomes much more clear even if the sensations themselves are running wild.

At this point I cannot describe it more clearly than I have done above. Possible questions of your side might sharpen my account.

I think my own major question is if it makes sense to perceive awareness in this way? And to work with it in the way that I describe. I just want to make sure that I am not interpreting, making sense of my experience, in a way that is eventually detrimental to my practice. I might be making sense of things while I should not be making sense in any case, but my mind has this tendency to make sense if I let it.

Thanks in advance for any comments.

PS As English is not my native language, I might have messed up some words here and there, I hope my basic story comes across well enough in order for you to understand me.
Rist Ei, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Practice in a fish tank

Posts: 500 Join Date: 7/14/13 Recent Posts
Especially items suggesting less of a minute micro focus, detailing every sensation, aiming not to miss anything, and rather adopt a more spacious awareness, resting in being, maybe using sounds, and doing everything in your power to stay in the here and now.

One working idea is to stay alert, so you wouldn't miss a knowledge what arises. And avoid those signals what are always there and try to suck you into sleep.
When i try to be "here and now" i do it because then my changes to see the knowledge is higher.
I need to prove myself wrong, repent, purify etc so again my changes to meet the knowedge rises.

During my last retreat I had a nice practice going. For some days I played a game challenging myself to find the exact moment that my concentration left me, or rather that something popped into my mind that was not an object in the here and now. This was usually an image or a thought.

thoughts pop up in mind and they are important what pops up. These thoughts contain the interdependent connections between things you are tied with. Once you see the main cause it drops.

 If concentration levels are high and identification with the sensations low, the water is still and attention moves steadily over my body. As soon as concentration levels drop, due to whatever reason, I perceive currents and turbulence in the water, in the sphere of awareness.

this is requered skill, both variants are needed. Yielding and firm. That means there is a stage where you need one or another to get to a next stage.

The sensations are present at the back and my effort is on retaining a certain level of concentration (which for me at the moment means here and now presence) in order to keep my mind balanced. Sometimes the attention is drawn to the sensations and I instantly feel my mind getting unbalanced.

I play too with my conscentration, to get the exact tone what propells me another area.

So, when I sit at home I now actually direct my attention to this quality of awareness instead of at the sensations. I try to “feel” if the water is still or turbulent, while also moving up and down and simply acknowledging the sensations in the background. I try to “keep” the water still by any means possible, usually focusing in some way on the here and now and continuing the scanning as soon as possible. It’s like I say to my attention: “don’t get distracted, just get back to work, this scanning is your only task at this moment, no need to get all worked up about anything.” I feel that I am training the quality of equanimity in my mind in this way.

I think you know your thing.

I think my own major question is if it makes sense to perceive awareness in this way?

yep it makes sense.
Not sure what literature you have read. But there are some typical experiences happening on certain stages and to put it all together to be expressable its not easy.

there are some signs. 

when you are in your awareness and look the surroundings then the surroundings should be one with your awareness.
Also things when you are on your awareness mode should be nonsolid, they seem to move.
Moving sensation becomes stronger.
Can sense the moving sensation even not on formal meditation.
the list goes on and on, discovering new aspects what becomes normal but weren't there before.

*my nontraditional reply emoticon
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Wings, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Practice in a fish tank

Posts: 2 Join Date: 4/7/15 Recent Posts
Thanks for your reply to my post. It has been instructive and motivating to read. I have some questions that I would like to ask in reply.

thoughts pop up in mind and they are important what pops up. These thoughts contain the interdependent connections between things you are tied with. Once you see the main cause it drops.

I have not been paying much conscious attention to the content of thoughts. I interpret your reply as though I might do this a bit more. However, I do no think that I should be looking for patterns consciously while on the cushion? Should I be actively looking for the main cause or let it come as a "revelation" so to say, trusting that I will see it at one point whenever it will present itself? This is generally my attitude, not searching, just working on concentration and awareness and trusting this practice to bear me fruits of insight.

this is requered skill, both variants are needed. Yielding and firm. That means there is a stage where you need one or another to get to a next stage. 
- I think somewhat related to - 

I play too with my conscentration, to get the exact tone what propells me another area.

Do you mean the same thing here when talking about "stages" and "areas"? I guess I should refresh my memory on these parts in order to recognise tresholds. I do have a distinct sense of certain types of concentration (which I can control) putting me in a certain mode, but if these "modes" as I experience them signify another area I do not know. I read Daniel's book some years back, I can reread, and are there be other books you would recommend? 

when you are in your awareness and look the surroundings then the surroundings should be one with your awareness.
Also things when you are on your awareness mode should be nonsolid, they seem to move.
Moving sensation becomes stronger.

Can sense the moving sensation even not on formal meditation.
the list goes on and on, discovering new aspects what becomes normal but weren't there before.


First, when you mention surroundings, what does this signify? Would there be an awareness of "things" even with closed eyes? When on the cushion I always meditate with closed eyes. You talk about looking at the surroundings, I can relate to "seeing" beyond direct sight, but have not exeprienced this for let's say a chair that might be next to me... Maybe it is with open eyes that you talk about?

Second, awareness and surroundings being one. I guess I need to experiment with this somewhat in order to recognise what is going on. I cannot as yet imagne the sense of them really being one. A clear penetration of awareness in the nonsolid state of my body is very clear, but I guess this is something completely different from them actually being one. Just continue my work I guess ;)

Third, the movement you mention. In my experience, this can be big and small, sometimes there is for example a sense of being drawn into a vortex or squeezed between two glaciers, while at other times the movement is much more subtle, just small vibrations or a slow moving current. Previously any movement seemed to be a movement of my body, belonging to it. Now it often seems rather like the movement is something of itself, my body is just being affected by it and my awareness affecting it in return. When not on formal meditation I can defenitely sense vibrations as soon as I put the slightest attention in that direction. It feels simply like matter being alive (my interpretation) and showing kinetic activity, sometimes rather relaxed and at other times quite exited. Do these things seem similar to your use of the word "movement" above?

I like your last sentence very much, and actually for me it rather feels like discovering aspects that were lying just outside my conscious circle of experience, but when drawn into that cirlce are so very much familiar that it feels like I have known them for a long time but lost touch, somewhat like reconnecting with old friends emoticon

Thanks a lot!
Rist Ei, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Practice in a fish tank

Posts: 500 Join Date: 7/14/13 Recent Posts
I have not been paying much conscious attention to the content of thoughts. I interpret your reply as though I might do this a bit more. However, I do no think that I should be looking for patterns consciously while on the cushion? Should I be actively looking for the main cause or let it come as a "revelation" so to say, trusting that I will see it at one point whenever it will present itself? This is generally my attitude, not searching, just working on concentration and awareness and trusting this practice to bear me fruits of insight.

If it works for you. I do the same too.
I do everything i can what should lead to the core modification(i use intension, force, all emotions, virtues, disciplines) and avoiding things what seem to be fabrication or a surface level activity what can't be "it".

I have to combine different things together(like acting good, thinking good) to reveal something and then meditate on that. What makes it difficult is that some things are repeated tens of times to finally get a result but not knowing it then it causes suffering if nothing happens in a long time.

Thoughts are coming up "randomly" and these thoughts are like facepalm(embarassing) thoughts from past what then propells me into repentance and remorse. Adjusting discipline and thoughts into betterment. Aiming always for the higher good. Seeing how things actually are done and then seeing my own perverse thoughts, instant change and remorse or wtf event.

thinking -> emotion -> movement.

First, when you mention surroundings, what does this signify? Would there be an awareness of "things" even with closed eyes? When on the cushion I always meditate with closed eyes. You talk about looking at the surroundings, I can relate to "seeing" beyond direct sight, but have not exeprienced this for let's say a chair that might be next to me... Maybe it is with open eyes that you talk about?

yep, seeing beyond direct sight. What i believe is that my own awareness field is reacting to the objects what are there and these should trigger impulses in my noumenonal senses. But im not that far. What i was thinking was your own awarenss field and when you watch it then everything(whatever there is, maybe nothing or blackness if eyes closed) is in it.

Overall i think its noumenonal(wikipedia help) awareness. "Noumenon" - A new word i recently picked up and learned. Little bit like irony for phenomena following people.

"Movement"- what i meant is that in that awareness movement starts at some point. I think what you there described suits it well.

What i have noticed lately is that whatever i read i believe in it and then i read conspiracy about it then i believe in that. There seem to be a mind what takes everything as truth in relative to its impressiveness. Also that mind is narrowminded, it get used to what it is and then fear losing its position. First variant is surface level, mind knows that these changes doesn't affect its status. Second case is where it tries to defend and here comes mediation needed to see the core meaning through why. 

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