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TMI: A contradiction or no?

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TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/1/18 8:38 AM
I'm trying to resolve an apparent contradiction in some of the basic instructions in The Mind Illuminated

I just listened to a Culadasa guided meditation on peripheral awareness/attention. A key to these early stages is to savor the moment of coming back to the breath. In the guided meditation (No. 2), the instruction really does seem to be to notice how, when attention is brought back to the object, everything in peripheral awareness sharpens up and there is this wakefulness to be savored.

In this framework, though, if it involves a conscious choice, it's attention. Everything else (choiceless) is peripheral awareness.

With the instruction above, to do this savoring/noticing is to make a conscious choice. It is an act involving attention--a switch of attention off of the object and onto something else (noticing how everything sharpens up).

So the instruction seems like a contradiction. We're being told to take attention off of the object in order to notice what peripheral awareness is like when the mind is on the object. But attention is now off of the object and onto this savoring/noticing, right?

I either don't get the instruction or the instruction is nonsensical. If it's true that attention can only focus on one thing at a time, and that when it seems as though attention is focusing on more than one thing at a time, in reality, it's just switching rapidly between objects, then the instruction here must really be to switch your attention back and forth between the breath and noticing the quality of what it's like when the attention is on the breath.

But if your attention is off the breath in order to notice what it's like when your attention is back on the breath, how does that make sense?

If you, say, 'No. You're noticing what peripheral awareness is like when you bring your attention back to the breath,' then you're still saying 'notice what peripheral awareness is like'--i.e., you're being told to make a conscious choice to notice something other than the breath. 

Probably this is overthinking and not important, but if the attention/peripheral awareness framework is so critical to The Mind Illuminated then I want to make sure I understand it. 

RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/1/18 9:35 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Each TMI stage has different goals, and stable attention on the object isn't one of the Stage 2/3 goals.  Instead the intention is to reinforce the tendency to get back to the breath.  So when you notice that your attention has wandered and you have the chance to redirect it consciously, you take a brief detour towards appreciating that you woke up and then you try to return attention to the breath.

RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/1/18 9:47 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
I agree with your detailed analysis of the instruction. At the same time, I don't think it matters much in the bigger picture. I'd go with the fact that the mind is rapidly switching between objects of attention and just keep going with the TMI process.

For example, I can savor the process of this; having mind's attention on one chosen object, having it wander randomly and then come back to that original object.  There is another object that arises at that point that feels like "Aha! That's the object I'm supposed to be attending to!" The literal step by step process I observe is faster and more erratic, with mind going to any number of objects of attention in rapid succession, some of those appearing to be random and others appearing to be the result of some kind of self-direction or agency. The recognition of what's happening is one of those objects. There is an object in the process that I'd describe as attention landing on "the background" (which I suppose is what's meant by "peripheral awareness") but that's another object that isn't really a bunch of things but rather a map mind constructs to describe the immediate environment. The mind then attends to various "pieces" of that as separate objects; sounds, visual objects, feelings, touch, and so on. At some point, another "Aha!" object arises and the process iterates.

Watching all of that play out is what matters, IMHO.

Please ignore this if it's not relevant to your question. I've read Culdasa's work but I've never extensively practiced the TMI process.

RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/1/18 10:01 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
I don't think you are overthinking. It seems to me that the more I dig into meditation, the more of these types of contradictions and questions appear. I think the key is letting yourself ask the questions (and finding teachers who aren't threatened by these kinds of questions) and work toward resolving the contradictions, while not obsessing to the point that it derails your practice.

I've been troubled so much by the contradiction you are mentioning. I feel like this is a very similar issue to some of the concerns I've brought up in a few other threads. Here is some more of my thinking on the subject, for what it's worth:

What if you can place your attention on multiple *objects* at a time, but on only one *sensation* at a time?

I just tried this. I said "let me focus on that pillow over there for five seconds." So, I looked at the pillow and counted to five. No problem. The pillow stayed in my awareness for the whole five seconds.

And yet...I was aware of my counting. I was aware of the flickering of the ceiling light. I was aware of the sound of the air purifier.

So, my attention must have been moving from one sensation to the next, as I noticed the various images and sounds. But I had no sense of the pillow ever having disappeared.

What if the objects don't really "exist" in your mind? What if your mind recreates them moment-to-moment, based on the sensations you are experiencing? What if the sense of continuity is itself just another "object" of the mind? I feel like I've gotten glimpses of this now and then.

So, what if the instruction "keep your attention on the breath" is not a literal instruction to fix your attention in one spot? What if it means to focus on the mind-object of 'breath', and observe whatever sensations happen to catch your attention as you do this. Some of those will be sensations relating to the act of respiration itself, and some of them will be other things that crop up (but really, where do you draw the line?). As you practice this more, I think you might start to see the process in higher resolution (and in the process, more and more objects will appear, thus driving you even more insane, and fueling more rage towards your teacher), and your concept of what is "breath" and what isn't might refine itself further.

RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/1/18 10:12 AM as a reply to spatial.
What if the objects don't really "exist" in your mind? What if your mind recreates them moment-to-moment, based on the sensations you are experiencing? What if the sense of continuity is itself just another "object" of the mind? I feel like I've gotten glimpses of this now and then.

Yeah, what if?

Nice. 

What's the difference between an object and a sensation? Where is each of those things located?

(Sorry, I can't help but do some pointing when I see these observations.)


RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/1/18 10:30 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
What if the objects don't really "exist" in your mind? What if your mind recreates them moment-to-moment, based on the sensations you are experiencing? What if the sense of continuity is itself just another "object" of the mind? I feel like I've gotten glimpses of this now and then.

Yeah, what if?

Nice. 

What's the difference between an object and a sensation? Where is each of those things located?

(Sorry, I can't help but do some pointing when I see these observations.)


OK, let me speculate on this....

"Object" seems easier to define. An object is anything that my mind tells me exists. They aren't real in an objective sense. They are part of my narrative of my experience. Objects have nothing to do with what is actually out there, in the realm of physics. They are like characters in a story. 

So what is "sensation"? This is harder, because it seems that the moment I experience a sensation, my mind creates an object out of it. So can I experience sensations? I think so...but my memory of that event is itself an object. Although, I have the sensation of having the memory...

Sensations change. Objects don't change. Sensations are verbs, objects are nouns. Sensation is whatever my experience is independent of the story-telling layer of the mind. So, because the mind is left out of this process, maybe that's all I can say about what they are...? You can sense, but the knowing of the sensing is not part of the sensing itself.

I think you've given me an interesting question. 

RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/1/18 11:21 AM as a reply to spatial.
The mind is a lot faster than we realize. It's able to process sensations at an amazing rate. What mind cannot do is push all those sensations into consciousness. So while sensations are vibratory, almost digital in nature and very, very fast, thinking, in consciousness terms, is not. This is sort of like watching a movie where individual frames of the film, actually a series of still images, are seen as smoothed over, seamless activity. So experience is made up of projections that may or may not accurately represent nanosecond level sensation, and sensation itself represents only a small part of our environment. And we never get to grab onto anything that appears to be "out there" to the conscious mind. Which begs the question I asked before - where is all this stuff?

I feel like I'm hijacking this thread. But this stuff is so critical...

RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/1/18 12:45 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
I feel like I'm hijacking this thread. But this stuff is so critical...

Hijack away, Chris! This is great stuff! I'm in the middle of work crap right now but will respond later. Very helpful! Thanks! 

RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/1/18 12:53 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
The mind is a lot faster than we realize. It's able to process sensations at an amazing rate. What mind cannot do is push all those sensations into consciousness. So while sensations are vibratory, almost digital in nature and very, very fast, thinking, in consciousness terms, is not. This is sort of like watching a movie where individual frames of the film, actually a series of still images, are seen as smoothed over, seamless activity. So experience is made up of projections that may or may not accurately represent nanosecond level sensation, and sensation itself represents only a small part of our environment. And we never get to grab onto anything that appears to be "out there" to the conscious mind. Which begs the question I asked before - where is all this stuff?


Culadasa talks extensively about the mind-moment model. It's a big part of his view here. What threw me off was thinking that the instruction was about maintaining utterly continuous attention on the breath--like a firehose trained on a wall--but then also feeling that Culadasa was simultaneously telling you to do other stuff as well (noticing, savoring) using this faculty that is supposed to only be able to focus on one thing at a time. 

If looking at a pillow for five seconds involves untold thousands of tiny mind-moments, though, then there's huge potential for rapid switching that lends the appearance of continuity. It would also follow that, say, 800 mind moments of attending to the breath could produce 800 units of pleasant wakefulness, with cascading effects on the whole body, which could then be noticed by 200 mind-moments of noticing/savoring, and then back to the breath, if that makes any sense. (Wait. I was supposed to be getting back to work.) 

RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/1/18 1:04 PM as a reply to JP.
JP Lewicke:
Each TMI stage has different goals, and stable attention on the object isn't one of the Stage 2/3 goals.  Instead the intention is to reinforce the tendency to get back to the breath.  So when you notice that your attention has wandered and you have the chance to redirect it consciously, you take a brief detour towards appreciating that you woke up and then you try to return attention to the breath.
Thanks, JP.
Yeah, this makes perfect sense. I was indeed seeing a need for continuous attention there. Appreciate it! 

RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/1/18 1:21 PM as a reply to spatial.
spatial:
What if the objects don't really "exist" in your mind? What if your mind recreates them moment-to-moment, based on the sensations you are experiencing? What if the sense of continuity is itself just another "object" of the mind? I feel like I've gotten glimpses of this now and then.

So, what if the instruction "keep your attention on the breath" is not a literal instruction to fix your attention in one spot? What if it means to focus on the mind-object of 'breath', and observe whatever sensations happen to catch your attention as you do this. Some of those will be sensations relating to the act of respiration itself, and some of them will be other things that crop up (but really, where do you draw the line?). As you practice this more, I think you might start to see the process in higher resolution (and in the process, more and more objects will appear, thus driving you even more insane, and fueling more rage towards your teacher), and your concept of what is "breath" and what isn't might refine itself further.
Yeah, I see that I'm conceiving of the breath as quite a solid thing. Hopefully I can take any insanity that arises from that ... as object! :-D 
Thanks, Spatial! 

RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/1/18 10:50 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Tashi Tharpa:
Chris Marti:
The mind is a lot faster than we realize. It's able to process sensations at an amazing rate. What mind cannot do is push all those sensations into consciousness. So while sensations are vibratory, almost digital in nature and very, very fast, thinking, in consciousness terms, is not. This is sort of like watching a movie where individual frames of the film, actually a series of still images, are seen as smoothed over, seamless activity. So experience is made up of projections that may or may not accurately represent nanosecond level sensation, and sensation itself represents only a small part of our environment. And we never get to grab onto anything that appears to be "out there" to the conscious mind. Which begs the question I asked before - where is all this stuff?


Culadasa talks extensively about the mind-moment model. It's a big part of his view here. What threw me off was thinking that the instruction was about maintaining utterly continuous attention on the breath--like a firehose trained on a wall--but then also feeling that Culadasa was simultaneously telling you to do other stuff as well (noticing, savoring) using this faculty that is supposed to only be able to focus on one thing at a time. 

If looking at a pillow for five seconds involves untold thousands of tiny mind-moments, though, then there's huge potential for rapid switching that lends the appearance of continuity. It would also follow that, say, 800 mind moments of attending to the breath could produce 800 units of pleasant wakefulness, with cascading effects on the whole body, which could then be noticed by 200 mind-moments of noticing/savoring, and then back to the breath, if that makes any sense. (Wait. I was supposed to be getting back to work.) 

I think that's where Culadasa and other teachers use relative conventions for convenience of understanding the meditation principles. We cannot say there is a 'mind' but only a process of continuous changes taking place, but it's still easier to refer to a solid mind that one observes the state of. Just as it's easier to talk of having attention on the breath and peripheral awareness on the other sense doors simultaneously or breath and metacognitive awareness of mind states simultaneously. Of course, on the ultimate level, objects are being known at a rapidly changing rate and not simultaneously. Even dividing 'attention' and 'awareness' seems an illusion, when all you're doing is allocating how many mind moments you devote to each object being known. But it would be unnecessarily complicating the earlier stage meditation instruction.

For my own practice, I think its important not to let these natural questions derail the practice, as i think that is just the hindrance of doubt manifesting and also the desire of seeking out new techniques and books to distract from meditating. I've had my own issues in the goenka tradition with only observing body sensations and then getting annoyed that vedana is translated as only bodily sensations and not mental feelings, and why cant we observe all sense doors at the same time etc etc' that i unnecessarily let derail a retreat with doubts.

RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/2/18 5:15 AM as a reply to What is happening in this moment.
What is happening in this moment:
I think that's where Culadasa and other teachers use relative conventions for convenience of understanding the meditation principles. We cannot say there is a 'mind' but only a process of continuous changes taking place, but it's still easier to refer to a solid mind that one observes the state of. Just as it's easier to talk of having attention on the breath and peripheral awareness on the other sense doors simultaneously or breath and metacognitive awareness of mind states simultaneously. Of course, on the ultimate level, objects are being known at a rapidly changing rate and not simultaneously. Even dividing 'attention' and 'awareness' seems an illusion, when all you're doing is allocating how many mind moments you devote to each object being known. But it would be unnecessarily complicating the earlier stage meditation instruction.

For my own practice, I think its important not to let these natural questions derail the practice, as i think that is just the hindrance of doubt manifesting and also the desire of seeking out new techniques and books to distract from meditating. I've had my own issues in the goenka tradition with only observing body sensations and then getting annoyed that vedana is translated as only bodily sensations and not mental feelings, and why cant we observe all sense doors at the same time etc etc' that i unnecessarily let derail a retreat with doubts.
Yes, I think this was a combination of (1) honestly trying to understand the framework and 'do it right' and (2) doubting the framework. (The length of my original post is a good indication of the latter.) But I take your point--frameworks are rafts that eventually have to be discarded. Still, questioning them can be important. For example, I think you're exactly right that Goenka's method pays inadequate attention to the role of mind states in dependent origination. That's a huge flaw given the connection to suffering. Seeing it clearly sounds pretty wise to me, although you wouldn't want to obsess over this on retreat, as you point out.   

RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/2/18 10:20 AM as a reply to What is happening in this moment.
 Even dividing 'attention' and 'awareness' seems an illusion, when all you're doing is allocating how many mind moments you devote to each object being known. But it would be unnecessarily complicating the earlier stage meditation instruction.

Well said!


RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/2/18 11:33 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Just gonna try and weigh in my thoughts here, I haven't gotten really into TMI system but here's my take on the questions...

So the instruction seems like a contradiction. We're being told to take attention off of the object in order to notice what peripheral awareness is like when the mind is on the object. But attention is now off of the object and onto this savoring/noticing, right?

Yeah I think so, its off the breath, very briefly.


I either don't get the instruction or the instruction is nonsensical. If it's true that attention can only focus on one thing at a time, and that when it seems as though attention is focusing on more than one thing at a time, in reality, it's just switching rapidly between objects, then the instruction here must really be to switch your attention back and forth between the breath and noticing the quality of what it's like when the attention is on the breath.


I think its important here to bring up what Culadasa says about how meditation training is like programming subtle and nuanced intentions into the mind.
You're programming the mind to summon up that noticing and that reward whenever the breath is remembered

If its true that attention can only focus on one thing at a time, that ultra-rapid switching is not something you are doing, its part of the mechanism of attention, so it doesn't change the instruction at all.
So you choose to notice the pleasantness and the peripheral awareness etc [eg program the intentions] and then continue as usual. Its not that "you" have to do any rapid switching ever.

But if your attention is off the breath in order to notice what it's like when your attention is back on the breath, how does that make sense?

If you, say, 'No. You're noticing what peripheral awareness is like when you bring your attention back to the breath,' then you're still saying 'notice what peripheral awareness is like'--i.e., you're being told to make a conscious choice to notice something other than the breath. 

I'd say this is probably accurate and its not a problem or a contradiction. You just notice that aspect whenever the breath is remembered, and after its noticed you continue with the breath, no problem

In other words if the instruction is that whenever the breath is remembered, you briefly take attention off the breath and onto to those other aspects before resuming following the breath, that needn't be a problem or contradiction afaict

RE: TMI: A contradiction or no?
Answer
6/2/18 4:05 PM as a reply to Andrew S.
Thanks, Andrew. That all makes sense!