Saturday, October 31, 2020

No-self is not Nihilistic

Someone in a discussion forum commented that the doctrine of no-self made them depressed. I think they might have been reacting to this article which I posted to the forum before blogging it here.

I replied that "no-self" doesn't give me that feeling at all. I wrote:

Buddha never said there is no self, he just said that none of the things we form attachments to should be considered self because they are impermanent and not completely under our control. And being attached to them inevitably leads to suffering so that we will be happier if we give up those attachments.

It is a recipe for happiness not an argument for nihilism.

To me it means I don't have to suffer from attachments to self - which is the cause of all mental anguish. Imagine that, no more mental anguish. To me that is wonderful. Like on the same level as "Jesus Saves" is to Christians.

(I am a Spiritualist and I believe in an afterlife. Buddha also believed in an afterlife. Where is there room for nihilism in that?)

Here is one way to understand no self:

  • Close your eyes notice the feeling of your body, your thoughts, your emotions, they create a sense of you being in your body, a sense of you as the entity having a body, having thoughts and having emotions. (When I do this I get a sense that I am observing a person in my body who has a mood (whatever my mood is at the time) and that person is me - someone else might experience it differently.)

  • Now open your eyes and look around you and notice what you see. Now you are aware of only what you see, you are not thinking of your body, or your thoughts, or your emotions, and those things are not producing a feeling of you being in your body.

Is that so bad? If you have physical discomfort or emotional pain, focusing outside yourself will ease the emotional anguish more or less depending on your level of concentration. That's good isn't it?

Actually this is an interesting way to practice to understand how the mind produces the sense of self, repeatedly alternating between focusing inward and focusing outward, focusing on feeling self, focusing on not feeling self.

Noting (a type of vipassana or insight meditation) has a similar effect. When you are noting, the same phenomena that otherwise contribute to your sense of self: awareness of body, thoughts, emotions etc., are experienced as a series of separate disconnected moments of awareness, so they do not produce the feeling of being a self.

When you suffer, it is because the self-thinking arises, the less you engage in "identity view" the less you suffer. How you use your mind, thinking about the environment outside your body, or observing the phenomenon of consciousness, doesn't change anything about reality. It doesn't prove or disprove anything such as the existence of a soul.  It is simply a different way of looking at the same things - one that greatly diminishes suffering.

This kind of "no-self" is not thinking "I don't exist", it is simply thinking about something other than "myself". Maybe there is a self maybe there isn't, but empirically we know that thinking "myself" results in suffering, so why think of it? Some people might choose to, but others who want to reduce suffering might decide they prefer to train themselves to stop thinking of "myself" all the time.

If you think about it as deactivating the default mode network in the brain and activating the experiential network, you are simply using a natural ability you've always had and been using from time to time all your life.

Or think of it this way: instead of seeing everything filtered through your ego, you can remove the ego filter and see things as they really are:

What it is, is the ability to see without any interruption of the ego, without any filtering of the ego. And since we are all walking around seeing things through our ego filter almost all the time, to suddenly be able to see without that filter is a surprise. But it is nothing that we have ever not had.

They say that the mind of a baby is something that we can compare this to. A baby isn’t seeing things from an egoistic place. It is seeing directly and clear. It is the exact same kind of thing when we are seeing without the ego filter.

- Shodo Harada Roshi

"But it is nothing that we have ever not had."

Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Metta Meditation

Metta meditation is a type of meditation that produces feelings of goodwill or love.

Someone on a discussion forum was having trouble with the form of metta meditation they were trying. It wasn't working, and they were asking for help. They didn't like working from a script which reminded them of unpleasant memories of ritual prayer. I suggested the following technique which the person reported worked for them right away.

  • Think of someone you love. Visualize them. Observe the feeling of love you feel for them. It could also be an animal or a spiritual figure. That's all. No script. Just observe the feeling of love you feel for one other being. You don't have to do this during your meditation session, you can try it when you are lying in bed going to sleep.

  • It might not work every time you try it, there are all sorts of things that can interfere with your brain chemistry that can affect it, (diet, stress, etc). If it isn't working on a particular day, don't worry about it just stop and try again on another day. But if it works sometimes, then keep trying every day.

  • After a number of sessions if this works with one being, you can add another being. Over the course of a number of sessions add more people, add people you are not as close to - gradually widening to groups of people and eventually to all beings.

  • Later on, if you want to add a script to help you remember everyone and all the groups, make one up yourself, something that means something to you. But also visualize and observe your feelings. If you feel love at the beginning of a session but the feeling stops before you get to everyone on your list, then stop. Don't push it if you don't feel it. Stick to what you can sincerely feel love for. If that means you stick with one person that's okay. Metta is metta.

  • If you have trouble feeling metta for even one being: Think of yourself, visualize yourself, think of compassion for yourself for all the difficulties you've had in life. Then try to feel love for yourself. If that works, move on to one other being etc. as above. (You can do this for yourself even if you are able to feel love for another being). Again, no script, just visualize and observe  your feelings.

  • If you have trouble finding a being to love, it can be anyone from your past, they don't have to be alive, it can be someone from a novel or movie you feel compassion for, you can even make up a fictional person. The point is to find something that triggers the feeling of love when you think about them. You can even try an object to start with, like maybe your first car. Some people believe all matter is conscious, and everything that exists or existed in the physical plane also exists eternally in the spiritual plane. So whatever you love most can work to get the process started.
If you want to try a more traditional form of metta meditation I recommend the one on this web page:

Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

A Quick Guide to Producing Bliss with Meditation

Here is a quick guide to producing bliss with meditation. For more complete instructions and information see my page on meditation on my web site. And please read this section on the dangers of meditation before you try the instructions below.

  • Sit comfortably the way you normally do.

  • Breath in a relaxing way, somewhat deeper and slower than normal. Relax and notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale.

  • The feeling of relaxation is pleasant and if it makes you want to smile, go ahead and continue breathing with a half-smile. That's important because the nervous system is organized into networks of interconnected neurons that work together. Because they are interconnected, when some neurons in a network are activated, the other neurons in the same network become activated too. In this way, smiling triggers the "happy network". 

  • Be patient, let the feeling of wanting to smile come naturally from the pleasant feeling of relaxation, and let the bliss come naturally from the even more pleasant feeling that comes from relaxing and smiling. Be patient. Don't force it. If you feel the pleasant feeling of relaxation, that in itself is the seed of bliss and in a sense you already have bliss, so just let it grow naturally.

  • I find relaxation is more important than concentration. I think in terms of "access relaxation" not "access concentration". So doing relaxation exercises first is very helpful. I usually find bliss is immediately accessible using the above technique when I do these relaxation exercises first: http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/2020/08/preparing-for-meditation-with.html

  • There are many things that can influence brain chemistry: stress, diet, etc. so if it doesn't work one day it might on another. Try it a few times and if it works sometimes don't be discouraged if it doesn't work every time.

  • One of the biggest obstacles is wanting to experience it too much, or trying too hard. So if you are sitting and feeling grumpy, stressed, or craving because it is not working, it is definitely not going to work under those conditions. Just meditate to relax, let go of your intention, desire, expectations. Tell yourself, "okay it's not working today I will just meditate and relax". If you feel the bad mood lift after that, it is a good sign, keep at it for a while longer. Once you have experience with this you know when you are doing it right and even if you don't feel bliss you know you are doing it right from the feel which is a big help in dispelling craving and attachment.

A few of other suggestions: 

  • Try this when you are naturally happy. Meditate on the feeling of happiness. That should produce the feedback loop that produces intense bliss. Once you experience that, you understand what is involved and the rest will be easier. I don't think it is that good to routinely push the bliss to intense levels. I prefer to keep it at a constant low level - too much of anything, even bliss is tedious and might not be good for you.

  • Try after a meal because sometimes eating elevates your mood.

  • If you haven't eaten in a long time there is something called a "fasting high", where your mood is elevated from not eating. that can also help give you a boost.

  • Sleep deprivation can make you feel silly, that can give you a boost too (I am not  recommending intentional sleep deprivation).

  • Thinking of something you like can help make you want to smile.

  • Noticing the sensations in different parts of the body can also trigger bliss. Noticing the sensations in your lips might help. Or try turning your palms upward and imagining "energy" coming down into them from above.

  • Metta meditation is similar to the technique for producing bliss. Try thinking of someone you love and meditate on the feeling of love. If that feels nice, let yourself smile and focus on the feeling of pleasure and that can trigger bliss. Be patient.

Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The Five Aggregates of Clinging

Someone on a discussion forum asked about the five aggregates of clinging. The person asked about their meanings and how to practice with them. I also have a lot of trouble understanding the meanings of the Pali words. There is a good reason for this. The Buddha used the term "aggregates" (piles or heaps) instead of "categories" because they are collections of dissimilar things. That is why they are hard to understand and also hard to remember. We want nice simple easily defined categories that we can understand and remember in one word - but the complexity of reality does not conform to our desires.

Shinzen Young gives a good analogy to explain the aggregates. He says if a TV screen is displaying something white and you look closely at it with a magnifying glass you will not see anything white, you will only see red green and blue pixels.

If you look at self closely you will only see aggregates.

Look closely at self (everything you consider "me" and "mine"). What do you see?

Work out your own aggregates. They don't have to match the orthodox definitions of aggregates because they are aggregates (collections of dissimilar things) not categories. This is good to do because it will make it personal and more meaningful and easier for you to remember. 

This is in part what I see when I look at everything that is "me" or "mine". You might come up with different elements:

  • Body
    • Brain
  • Possessions, other people my friends family etc, my groups I like (sports teams etc), groups I am a member of (ie Americans)
  • Mind:
    • Mental activity: thoughts, emotions, impulses etc
    • Sensory input: sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, vibration, rough/smooth, hard/soft, temperature, body sensations including body sensations that accompany emotions.
    • Concepts: I am an entity, a person, an owner (my car), a haver (my friends), a doer, a controller, a thinker, feeler, (just examples: a student a teacher, and employee a boss, a spouse, parent etc etc)

(You can study the orthodox definitions if you want to make sure you have everything covered.)

Look closely at your self and understand everything you consider "me" and "mine".

The next time you experience a egoistic reaction, ask yourself where in those aggregates is the entity that is offended, insulted, threatened, losing, wrong, inferior, rejected, etc?

Is a thought an entity? Is an emotion an entity? Is a brain cell an entity? Is a concept an entity?

Everything that can be considered self, if looked at closely, is made up of things that are clearly not any type of being or entity.

The full term is not "the five aggregates" the full term is "the five aggregates of clinging".

All those things that make up self (things that are "me" or "mine") are the things that we cling to that cause us suffering.

But what is the use in clinging to the aggregates if there is no entity or being in them?

Can you let go of all those things?

Ouch!

The pain of letting go is really the pain of not wanting to let go, and it is similar to the pain of actual loss.

Just contemplating letting go is hard. It produces a distinct feeling.

When you examine this feeling, you see it is the same as the common factor found all forms of dukkha. "I don't like this.", "I don't want this.", and more or less fear.

By recognizing this feeling in unpleasant emotions that arise during the day you recognize it as the feeling of letting go, or a reminder that you should let go.

Letting go.

My advice on how to learn to let go has multiple features.

  • Observe the emotional pain and be conscious of the cause.

  • Try to see how emotional pain is caused by attachment to "self", and how unnecessary that is because there is no "entity" in any of the components that combine to form your sense of self.

  • At the same time use some type of relaxation, meditation, or mindfulness technique to ease the emotional pain and reduce the stress response, but not to suppress thoughts or emotions.

  • Shinzen Young describes a similar process he calls purification. He says it is an acquired taste like the taste for spicy food. Spiciness is caused because the spice molecules bind directly to pain receptors. Spiciness is pure pain. But just like you can learn to like spicy food, you can learn to like letting go. It is a change in attitude. Instead of looking at emotional pain as something to avoid, if you look at it as the path to freedom, everything changes and you start to appreciate it rather than run away from it. Shinzen advises that equanimity can be maintained by not pushing away thoughts and emotions while at the same time not getting carried away by them, and not judging people, yourself, or your thoughts and emotions.

I will discuss the process of letting go in greater detail below, but it is helpful to have an understanding of how the process works before getting into the details. The following overview should provide that understanding.

Overview of letting go:

  • Let yourself feel unpleasant emotions, don't push them away.

  • But don't let them go uncontrolled or let your stress reaction go uncontrolled.

  • Be a detached observer not a participant.

  • Don't judge.

  • Soothe unpleasant emotions with meditation and other techniques.

  • Mentally review the situation and any sensations that caused the emotion.

  • Dig deeper for layers of emotions covering other emotions.

  • Understand that feeling emotional pain is needed to let go of it and that letting go leads to freedom.

  • Try to see how emotional pain is caused by attachment to "self", and how unnecessary that is because there is no "entity" in any of the components that combine to form your sense of self (bodily tissues, individual thoughts, individual emotions, etc.).

  • Accepting the pain is preferable to resisting it.

  • There is a great reward for putting aside your ego. Surrender is smart.

The goal of letting go is to be able to think of or experience a situation with much less emotional pain.

It can be difficult to recognize when you are paying too much attention to unpleasant emotions or not paying enough attention to them. Too much of either is not good. Each person has to work this out for themself. Here are some things to consider when letting go of attachments that cause unpleasant emotions.

  • Try to be relaxed.

  • Notice the emotion. "Notice the emotion" means you let yourself feel the emotion, but it doesn't mean you let it get out of control or that you let your stress levels get out of control. At the same time you are feeling the emotion, try to soothe it, or calm it by breathing in a relaxed way or using some similar technique. But don't push it away or suppress it.

  • Notice the sensations in your body that accompany the emotion. If you notice any tension in your body try to relax it.

  • Try keep an attitude of being a detached observer rather than getting caught up in the emotion as if you were watching a move and forgot where you were and were so caught up in the movie you thought it was real. Remember you are observing your emotions. They arise from the unconscious unasked for uninvited. You don't have to believe they are reality.

  • Don't judge other people, yourself, sensations, thoughts or emotions.

  • Notice that common factor in all dukkha - it makes unpleasant emotions easier to bear because it is familiar.

  • Remind yourself, "This emotion is showing me an attachment, I should let go. Letting go leads to freedom."

  • Try to see how emotional pain is caused by attachment to "self", and how unnecessary that is because there is no "entity" in any of the components that combine to form your sense of self (bodily tissues, individual thoughts, individual emotions, etc., which are all governed by unconscious processes). Notice that emotional pain is caused when something that produces the sense of self is threatened. Why do you have these painful attachments when there is no actual entity in any of those things that are threatened? Ask yourself, what you are protecting, the atoms that make up your body? A thought or emotion that arises by unconscious processes unasked for and uninvited?

  • While trying to stay relaxed, review in your mind the situation that the emotion is about, any physical sensations that are involved such as unpleasant sounds, smells, physical pain, emotional sensations, the feeling of "I don't like this" etc. Relax any tensions that arise. Doing this reduces the force of the emotion. It conditions you to think about it without reacting with an unpleasant emotions. This is what "letting go" means. Letting go is not forgetting. It is not suppressing. Letting go is being able to think about something without emotional pain.

  • Ask yourself why you feel the emotion and repeat the question to dig through layers of answers. Repeat the above review process for the answers you find.

  • Surrender - Acknowledge the truth of the situation, admit those things about the situation or yourself that you don't really want to admit, and accept them.

  • There are various techniques that will elevate your mood, lessen the intensity of emotions, and/or reduce the stress response. They can be used in two ways: easing the pain of emotions can reduce them to the point where they don't bother you at all, or reducing them to the point where it is easier to review them and let go. Each person has to figure out for themself which use is appropriate at a given time. These techniques involve:

This is how you let go of emotions, noticing them calmly while you are relaxing and easing their effect, allowing yourself to feel them, and understanding their source.

Letting go will set you free.

Awakening is the process of letting go of attachments to self.

Practicing this way in daily life with dukkha as it arises is more important than understanding the orthodox definitions of the aggregates. If you want to find everything that belongs in the aggregates, you can work backward from your emotions to see what you are clinging to.

The Buddha understood the pain of letting go. That is why he taught meditation and mindfulness techniques that help to us to bear the pain of unpleasant emotions.

Samatha meditation produces tranquility and gladdens the mind. Jhanas produce bliss. Metta is really a lot like jhana. Mindfulness greatly reduces the intensity of emotions.

  • Samatha meditation activates the parasympathetic nervous system which turns off stress.

  • Mindfulness deactivates the default mode network in the brain which has the effect of greatly reducing unpleasant emotions.

  • Jhana and Metta meditation cause the brain to produce neurotransmitters and endorphins, and lower levels of stress hormones.

Practicing this way can produce a gradual awakening without the need for mystical "enlightenment experiences" or "realizations".


Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

No-Self Moments

In an interview, On Enlightenment – An Interview with Shinzen Young, Shinzen Young discusses the difference between an enlightened person and non-enlightened person. He says the difference is that during moments when a person is entirely focused on a sensation, the enlightened person recognizes them as moments when there is no self. Shinzen says that non-enlightened people have these moments hundreds of times a day but don't recognize them for what they are.

If you are interested in understanding what enlightenment is, you may find it very instructive to learn to notice these no-self moments - moments when something you percieve with your senses such as seeing or hearing catches your attention and you are aware of it without thinking about anything else.

Going out for a walk is a good activity to do when trying to notice no-self moments. When you are walking outdoors, you are moving through the environment, things in the environment maybe moving around you, there are various sounds, and maybe smells, and also various weather phenomnea are possible, so there are many opportunities for sensations to catch your attention.

It will also help if your mind is quiet from practicing relaxation exercises and mindfulness. Relaxation exercises activate the parasympathetic nervous system which turns off the body's stress response. Mindfulness will deactivate the default mode network in the brain which will greatly reduce mental chatter and the strength of emotions.

While walking, try to relax and practice mindfulness by noticing the sights, sounds, and sensations that come to your attention and also try to notice what happens when something catches your attention fully so that in that moment you are not thinking about anything else except the sensation. If you plan to try this, please be sure to read this warning about the dangers of meditation first.

https://www.lionsroar.com/on-enlightenment-an-interview-with-shinzen-young/

On Enlightenment – An Interview with Shinzen Young

BY ANDREA MILLER| SEPTEMBER 10, 2009

...

The only difference between an enlightened person and a non-enlightened person is that when the feel-image-talk self doesn’t arise during the day, the enlightened person notices that and knows that to be a clear experience of no-self. The non-enlightened person actually has that experience hundreds of times a day, when they’re briefly pulled to a physical-type touch or an external sight or sound. For just a moment there is just the world of touch-sight-sound. For just a moment there is no self inside that person but they don’t notice it! But just because they don’t notice it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened.

An enlightened person sees everyone as constantly experiencing brief moments of enlightenment during the day. So paradoxically being an enlightened person doesn’t make you that special. Now you can say, “Well, but they don’t realize it,” that’s one way to look at it, but it’s also undeniable that they are. From that perspective it’s very misleading to separate enlightened people from non-enlightened people.


Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Letting Go of Unpleasant Emotions with Relaxation and Mindfulness

In previous posts, I have discussed the subjects of relaxation and mindfulness. In this post, I want to explain how relaxation and mindfulness work together to help you let go of unpleasant emotions that arise from cognitive processes (emotions that arise from organic causes are a different matter and are outside the scope of this article).

Relaxation activates the body's parasympathetic nervous system and deactivates the sympathetic nervous system. This turns off the stress response in the body. When you are completely relaxed and the stress response is off, you are not experiencing any unpleasant emotions.

Mindfulness deactivates the default mode network in the brain. The default mode network is active when the mind is wandering and thinking about the past or future etc. And when the default mode network is active, emotions can get out of control and feed on themselves amplifying their effect. However when the default mode network is inactive, emotions are not amplified, they are reduced to faint shadows that hardly cause any trouble.

Relaxation and mindfulness work well together. It is easier to be mindful if you are relaxed. It is easier to stay relaxed if you are mindful.

One aspect of the stress response is to become fixated on the source of stress. When the source of stress is emotional, this tendency toward fixation draws you into the default mode network where emotions become amplified. Relaxation helps break the fixation caused by stress and makes it easier to keep the default mode network inactive.

Mindfulness deactivates the default mode network which keeps emotions from amplifying, producing emotional pain, and causing a stress reaction.

There are various ways to practice relaxation and mindfulness together.

  • Do relaxation exercises. The attention needed to do relaxation exercises is a form of mindfulness.

  • Focus your attention on the pleasant feeling of relaxation while you breathe in a relaxing way. You can do this as a form of meditation or while you are doing other activities. Notice if your mind wanders, or if you feel stronger emotions, or if you feel stress, and when you do, try to restore relaxation and focus.

  • Try to relax while doing mindfulness exercises. To relax, breathe in a relaxing way, notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale, and move in a relaxed way if you are active. Mindfulness exercises can be as simple as being aware of what you are doing as you are doing it, or noticing all the sensations that come into your awareness, or focusing you attention on your surroundings. You can do mindfulness exercises as a form of meditation or while you are doing other activities such as taking a walk or washing the dishes.

This article is about letting go of unpleasant emotions. There are also times when it is helpful to let out emotions, ie. to explore their source.

Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Hacking Your Brain Part II: Turning Off Unpleasant Emotions by Deactivating the Default Mode Network in the Brain

(Part I is: Hacking Your Brain Chemistry Without Drugs.)

This video is an interview with Daniel Ingram about what it is like to be enlightened. In the video Daniel explains how you can reduce unpleasant emotions by changing the active network in your brain. (A transcript of the video can be found at the end of this article.)

It is quite interesting. Putting the information in the video into practice seems relatively easy to do.

Most people who have done some form of meditation are familiar with the experience of losing their concentration and finding themselves lost in thought, noticing it, and then returning to the object of meditation.

When you are lost in thought, the default mode network in the brain is active. In that state emotions can be troublesome. When you return to meditation, you get out of the default network and into the experiential network where emotions are much less troublesome.

If an unpleasant emotion arises in the course of a meditation session or during daily life, then you are probably in the default network. Getting out of the default network is easy. Just observe something, like your surroundings, or your breath, or even the emotion itself if you treat it as an object of observation rather than an experience you are immersed in - although it can be difficult to avoid getting drawn back into the default network if you are observing the emotion.

The trick to using this phenomenon effectively is to remember to use it when it matters most: when a very strong emotion arises. Strong emotions tend to take over your mind, they grab your attention and draw you into them even for people who are used to meditating.

It also takes a certain amount of maturity, or insight, to recognize that when you have a strong emotion your suffering is not caused by the problem you are reacting to, your suffering is caused by how you are reacting to the problem. You can solve a problem with compassion and reason without reacting with unpleasant emotions, but people have a tendency to think the emotions are right or reality. As Daniel said in the video, like a person who doesn't like being drunk but keeps on drinking anyway.

But if you understand what is in the video, it possible to have the presence of mind when you have a strong emotion, to extract yourself from the default network and activate the experiential network. If you can do this a few times and observe it easing your suffering, it shouldn't be too hard to make a habit of it - even if you are not yet awakened to the point where you are out of the default network full time. The positive reinforcement from the reduction in suffering should help you habitualize it. And practicing on smaller issues should help develop the skill or habit to make it easier when a strong emotion arises.

This also provides an answer to an important question: how to let go of an emotion without suppressing it. If you find an unpleasant emotion arising and you shift out of the default network into the experiential network by observing something while also observing the emotion - you are not suppressing it.

All of this reminds me of what Michael Singer wrote in his book The Untethered Soul. He uses the phenomenon of lucid dreaming to explain how to develop a sense of detachment to unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and impulses.

He says that in a regular dream you think it is real, but in a lucid dream you know you are dreaming.

To be lucid with respect to your own mind means to be aware of the activity in your mind as if you were an observer, not a participant like when you are watching a movie and become so drawn in to it that you forget where you are and react as if the movie was real. To be lucid with respect to the activity of your mind, is to observe your thoughts emotions and impulses but not to get drawn into them so that they take over your mind and you forget you are observing them and start reacting to them.

By staying lucid, by remaining an observer, you stay out of the default network where emotions can be so much more troublesome.

What it is like in practice

Using this technique you can try to keep your default mode network inactive by practicing mindfulness.

When you try to observe emotions with the default network inactive, they seem to be "wispy little things" as Daniel describes them in the video. And you don't get caught up in the story they are telling as if it was reality. So it is much easier to see emotions as impersonal sensations rather than facts of reality that need a defensive or aggressive response.

As impersonal sensations, emotions no longer seem like they are "mine", or that they are telling a story about "me". They are more impersonal like seeing something outside your body is impersonal. So you don't feel egoistic reactions like offense, or outrage, or defensiveness, or aggressiveness, when "unpleasant" things happen. It's like if a child tried to throw a snowball at you and missed. All of those reactions would reinforce your sense of self. Without that reinforcement your sense of self diminishes.

You can also see how emotions, when you think they are "mine", cause you to deduce the existence of a self.

All of this also provides a way to understand physical discomfort. When you notice physical discomfort, try to notice the emotions caused by the physical sensations and observe how the emotions change when the default mode network becomes inactive.

So it can be very instructive to observe emotions from a mindful state where the the default mode network is inactive. By a "mindful state" I mean just noticing your surroundings, or just being aware of what you are doing as you are doing it, or noticing all the sensations that come into your awareness. You can tell when you get distracted and the default mode network becomes active, it's just like when your mind wanders during meditation. When you notice that happening, just go back to your mindfulness practice. Another thing that tells you the default mode network is becoming active is if you feel more than just a wisp of an emotion. That is a very sensitive indicator. It acts like a biofeedback signal that reminds you to remain fully mindful.

A very nice way to do this practice is to go for a walk and notice what you see, hear, and feel with your sense of touch, as you look around you may also notice a feeling of spaciousness. It produces a feeling of a lack of separation.

What about Self?

In the video, when Daniel explains what enlightenment is like, he says his emotions are reduced to "wispy little things" because keeping his mind focused on the outside deactivates the default mode network. He doesn't mention anything about understanding the true nature of self.

Many people believe the emotional changes that bring about the end suffering attributed to enlightenment are due to having a correct understanding of the illusory nature of self and it is that understanding that produces the emotional changes. However as I mentioned above, when the default mode network is deactivated one stops acting egoistically. I know this from my own experience.

When you try to observe emotions with the default network inactive, they seem to be "wispy little things" as Daniel describes them in the video. And you don't get caught up in the story they are telling as if it was reality. So it is much easier to see emotions as impersonal sensations rather than facts of reality that need a defensive or aggressive response.

As impersonal sensations, emotions no longer seem like they are "mine", or that they are telling a story about "me". They are more impersonal like seeing something outside your body is impersonal. So you don't feel egoistic reactions like offense, or outrage, or defensiveness, or aggressiveness, when "unpleasant" things happen. It's like if a child tried to throw a snowball at you and missed. All of those reactions would reinforce your sense of self. Without that reinforcement your sense of self diminishes.

It seems to me that implicit in Daniel not mentioning it when explaining what enlightenment is like, is that understanding self is just a satisfying realization of "truth" for truth seekers, but the emotional benefits come from a kind of permanent mindfulness produced by a lot of meditation.

If that is right, it has implications for how people primarily seeking to end suffering should practice meditation: they should focus mostly on training to keep their default mode network inactive.


Below is a transcript of the video, edited slightly for readability:

Tom

I got a question for you Daniel. As we were leading into this podcast I was trying to think of what listeners might be thinking at this moment. And so with regard to this aspect of enlightenment, people are curious right? They really are wanting to understand what that means. So can you just maybe give us a reference point of how is enlightenment?

Because at one point you hadn't completed the path of insight, and now you have. So there's a pre, let's call it, fully insight awareness stage. And now there's the post stage that you've been in many many years. Can you just give us a bit of a comparison on how that looks on a daily basis like how how it's similar or different?

Daniel

So to most people I'm going to look pretty ordinary. I mean I tend to be pretty positive. I have a lot of energy. But that was true in some ways before. Not to the same degree, I'm a lot happier now. So it definitely helped reduce some suffering, and add some mental clarity, and some emotional resilience, there's no question.

And to try to bring this down to earth: I was talking to someone a few days ago and they had reached some difficult stage of practice. So they had gone through the spiritual high where they were super excited about this app they were using, the waking up app by Sam Harris. And they were like: mind had gotten so powerful. And then all of a sudden they felt like they were disappearing, and they couldn't think, and like they didn't have control of anything. And then they got terrified. So they went through the high stuff, and they got to the difficult stuff. They started freaking out. And they thought they were broken, or like they were scared, or they were going to lose control, or whatever. And they were having a very hard time relating to their fear.

And I said, "Well let's do an exercise." And they said, "Okay." And I said, "Okay, first of all we're going to take the room as frame. All the experience is in the room. Right? So you're sitting in a room and you've got, you know all these sights, all these sounds, this big volume. And let's hold that sort of evenly in the mind with eyes open as the frame of experience. Now think one of these really scary thoughts you've been having, right, until you start to feel it in your body. But keep the room as frame so you've got the sense of it. While you're thinking these thoughts and having these feelings, you want to notice how big and strong they are in the room. Right? What percentage of your experience are those sensations? How strong are they actually?"

And they said "Okay." And you know they were like and sort of starting to close their eyes.

I said "No, no, eyes open. Remember the room."

And they were like, "Okay."

And I was like, "Do you have a thought?"

They're like, "Yeah."

"Do you have the feeling?"

And they were like, "Yeah."

And I was like, Remember the room right?"

And they're like, Yeah, I can't do it, I can't make the fear stick. It's just disappearing. It's just disappearing. I can't do it right now with holding the room as frame."

I was like, "Yes. Right. Exactly. That's the point. That's the point. Right?

It doesn't work. You can't because in order to to exaggerate our feelings and emotions we have to sort of do this thing where we activate what's called the default mode network. We activate something called the PCC in our brain which is the posterior cingulate gyrus. When we do that, the room kind of disappears for a second and our thoughts become super big and strong. Whereas if we were holding the room as frame with our PCC very deactivated, our thoughts are these wispy little things in the room. I mean in comparison to like you know physical sensations or colors or whatever, you can barely even find them. Right?

And so this is basically that, just you know the vast majority of the time in other words. So whereas most people's default mode network is to have thoughts and feelings be the predominant experience and the room is there when they need to pay attention to it. You know, they can take a whole shower, or drive to work, and not even remember any of it. You don't even know if you washed something because you weren't there, you weren't present. Well if you train to really be present, you can flip over into this other way where it goes, wait a second when just everything is sort of evenly perceived and thoughts are just these wispy little things. Well then the amount of trouble that all that used to cause is vastly less. And so that's sort of one example that helps to explain what this experience is like.

But in other ways I'm just an ordinary dude. Ordinary mammal you know. Dude hanging out. Doing dishes. Sweeping the dust bunnies off my floor.

Tom

So when you say that you hold the room as frame, as an example, that is your, sort of, your reality? For the most part you're grounded?

Daniel

That's that's the default, right. So as most people's default is what's called the default mode network which is internal thoughts, worries, thoughts of past, and future ruminative thoughts. That's where their brain lives if you don't give them something else to do. Well, me given nothing else to do, the room predominates and thoughts are these wispy little things in it.

Tom

Gotcha cool.

Daniel

They can still convey their message right? And there might be a little feeling, and the're little sensations here, or whatever you know. But it's what percent of experience, like this much [gestures to show tiny amount] right? I mean, it's like, what percentage is this little thing happening here? These little sort of thoughts somewhere here? Like it's almost nothing. So they can convey their message but they don't become exaggerated. And because they don't become exaggerated, there's nothing like constantly re-triggering of all these, you know, adrenaline, and cortisol, and stress chemicals, and stuff, in the same way that used to happen before.

I mean what most people do with their emotions is like, they may be just walking along in a safe place but then they remember something that happened to them that was really bad, right. You know, and they get angry about it or something. And then those anger chemicals flood their body. And then they lose touch with the space they're in. And more thoughts come up that are angry. And then those thoughts re-trigger more angry chemicals. And then they get angrier because they don't have this perspective right. And then they just keep re-triggering the chemicals because the perspective is now lost, sort of amplified by the chemicals that are the angry chemicals or whatever, the angry pathways in the brain, or the desirous pathways, or the sad pathways, or whatever. And so it just gets worse and worse and worse.

And somehow they think this is a good idea. It would almost be like a drunk person who realized they were drunk, and, and then didn't like it, but they just kept drinking you know? And they, they just keep slamming them back and getting drunker and, you know. And just more and more of these sort of things start flooding their brain, and they're losing more and more touch with perspective. And yet they just keep knocking them back, you know? Just like whoa man, you know? And so it's nice to have a brain that has been trained to not do that. It's not like continued stimulation can't cause reactive chemicals, they do. But they're they're triggered by what's going on in the world in a way that is not like the world disappearing, thoughts becoming this huge thing, and then spinning like that. And that doesn't mean that I don't feel feelings, or that I have perfect intelligence, or clarity, or anything like that because I'm still a mammal. But it is much better. It's much better to not have that being caught and stuff be the default mode.


Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Easy Meditation

This article describes a form of meditation which is a bit simpler than what I have described on my web site. As with any type of meditation, before you begin to practice it you should be aware that there are some risks involved.

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair the way you normally sit.

  2. Breathe in the way that is most comfortable and relaxing, it could be your natural way of breathing or breathing more slowly or deeply. What you find most comfortable might change from time to time so it's okay to change how you breath. Breathing in a relaxing way is an important part of the process because it activates the parasympathetic nervous system which helps to turn off the body's stress response.

    You can try meditating this way now if you like. There are a number of additional instructions below which you can read and add to your technique at your own pace.

  3. Try to keep your attention focused on your breathing. Focusing your attention on your nose or an area just below the navel works well. (I don't recommend focusing on the chest.)

  4. Try to relax as you do this. Notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation as you inhale and exhale.

  5. Your concentration should be wakeful and alert but not too intense, it should be relaxed. Like the difference between searching intently for a lost object vs looking at a beautiful sunset. One is stressful and unpleasant, the other is relaxing and pleasant.

  6. If you find it hard to concentrate, you can count breaths up to five or ten (or any number you like) and then start over at one, or say "in" and "out" as you inhale and exhale.

  7. In addition to the breath, notice what your senses are perceiving. Noticing what you see, hear, or feel with your sense of touch will help to deactivate the default mode network in your brain which will have the effect of reducing the intensity of unpleasant emotions and reduce mental chatter. Don't think too much about what you are sensing, just be aware.

    You don't have to be aware of everything at once. You can let your mind shift naturally, or stay focused on one sense, or intentionally shift your awareness, just don't forget about breathing in a relaxing way and noticing the pleasant feeling of relaxation.

    You can meditate with your eyes closed or open. If you want to try meditating with your eyes open, be aware of seeing, but without thinking too much about what you are seeing. You don't have to focus your attention on any particular spot or object you can just take in the scene in front of you as a whole.

    If you meditate with your eyes closed, you can try to be aware of the colors and shapes you see when your eye lids are closed.

  8. If unpleasant emotions arise, don't push them away, but also don't get carried away by them. Let yourself be fully conscious of the emotion, any physical sensations in your body associated with the emotions, and any thoughts that caused the emotion and then return to meditating. During this process, try not to judge yourself, other people, your thoughts or your emotions.

    If you experience a lot of unpleasant emotions coming up during meditation, it can cause your stress levels to rise. Try to be aware of this possibility and put extra effort into relaxing if you see it happening.

    You will have to workout for yourself how much of observing your emotions is right for you. Too much or too little can cause problems.

    If you are experiencing an unpleasant emotion during your meditation session, try not to focus on it, try to focus on your breathing, the pleasant feeling of relaxation, your sense perceptions. I don't mean you should try to suppress any thoughts or emotions just that for the meditation session the instructions are to focus on specific things and to not focus on other things. If you focus too much on an unpleasant emotion during meditation it can have the effect of reinforcing and increasing the emotion. If you find that happening, it might be better to stop meditating at that time and try again later or do relaxation exercises instead.

  9. After your meditation session is over try to keep your meditative mood. You can also meditate this way, with your eyes open, doing different activities in daily life, doing the dishes, taking a walk, etc. When walking, instead of counting breaths you can count steps per breath. And be aware of your surroundings - only meditate when and where it is safe to do so.

I also find it helps to prepare for meditation with relaxation exercises. Actually, relaxation exercises are like a form of meditation, you can just do them if you want.

If what you read below ever seems to be too complicated, confusing, or overwhelming, you can come back here to the first section and just follow this and enjoy relaxing meditation.

Why Meditate?

People sometimes wonder why anyone would meditate. One reason is that when you experience a state of consciousness during meditation that is clear and seems to be more natural and relaxed than ordinary consciousness, and it seems to dispel a kind of mental fog and strong emotions that are present during ordinary consciousness, and it seems that ordinary consciousness is confused and made turbulent by attachments and aversions, then you will want to spend your time meditating so that you can exist in clarity rather than confusion.

It is as if you realized you were dreaming and you wanted to wake up, or someone had the TV playing too loudly and you wanted to turn it down, you wouldn't need will power, it would be natural to do it.

To find this state try to notice what it is like after a meditation session when your mind is quiet (how does your mind feel?) and other times in daily life when your mind is turbulent (how does your mind feel then?). Which do you prefer? Which is a better quality of existence? Can you just sit with this clarity?

Being Lucid

Michael Singer, in his book The Untethered Soul, uses the phenomenon of lucid dreaming to explain how to develop a sense of detachment to unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and impulses.

He says that in a regular dream you think it is real, but in a lucid dream you know you are dreaming.

To be lucid with respect to your own mind means to be aware of the activity in your mind as if you were an observer, not a participant like when you are watching a movie and become so drawn in to it that you forget where you are and react as if the movie was real. To be lucid with respect to the activity of your mind, is to observe your thoughts emotions and impulses but not to get drawn into them so that they take over you mind and you forget you are observing them and start reacting to them.

There are various ways to cultivate lucidity. While you are meditating and observing your breath, notice when thoughts, emotions, and impulses arise, and observe them but try not to get drawn into them. If you find you do get lost in thoughts and emotions, just go back to meditating and being an observer while you remain aware of the thoughts and emotions. They should gradually fade. Notice if the thoughts and emotions were unpleasant that they are less so when you are an observer rather than a participant. This is because being an observer deactivates the default network in the brain.

In daily life, if you try to focus your attention on what you are doing while you are doing it, that should help to keep you from being drawn into your thoughts etc. Another technique you can use while meditating or in daily life is to notice what comes to your senses as well as any activity in your mind. And just as you do when meditating, try to maintain the perspective of an observer, don't get drawn into your thoughts. If unpleasant thoughts or emotions arise, try to go back to just observing while being aware of them and notice them fading.

Awakening

Awakening is the process of letting go of attachment to self.

In this context, "self" means anything we consider "me" or "mine". It could be the body, the mind, our thoughts, emotions, and impulses, our social status, our possessions, people we care about, and groups of people we care about or belong to, etc.

Attachment to self results in a lot of emotional pain when something that is "me" or "mine" is threatened.

One way to let go of attachment to self involves learning to stay both lucid and also physically and mentally relaxed. Relaxation and lucidity work together. Lucidity helps you to develop a sense of detachment from your unpleasant thoughts, emotions, and impulses and from unpleasnt physical sensations. Relaxation turns off the body's stress response. You can cultivate both relaxation and lucidity at the same time by being relaxed and breathing in a relaxed way while you observe the activity of the mind and or sense perceptions in meditation and in daily life.

Awakening doesn't entirely eliminate unpleasant emotions, you still feel emotions, but it creates a sense of detachment that diminishes their unpleasant quality and keeps them from taking over your mind. Traditionally, the process of awakening is described as occurring in stages, and very few people ever perfect it - so if you are interested in awakening, you should have realistic expectations.

If you want to try to stay physically and mentally relaxed when you are not meditating, try to notice if you are tense during the day and try to relax your mind and body. Relaxation exercises can help you learn how to do this. Also try to move in a relaxed way anytime you are active. And it will also help, while you are learning, if you can avoid things that make you tense or upset.

When you notice unpleasant emotions arising, don't try to push them away. Allow yourself to feel emotions, you don't have to like them but try to accept them rather than resist them, and also try to stay physically and mentally relaxed. It is the resistance, the rejection of what is, that causes a lot of mental anguish. (It will help you learn to notice when emotions arise if you also try to notice the physical sensations in your body that accompany emotions.)

Relaxation is not entirely mental. It is physical too. Relaxation is something you do with the mind that affects the body. The effect on the body in turn affects the mind. It is an indirect way of influencing emotions.

In addition to reducing emotional pain, letting go of attachment to self diminishes your sense of duality, the sense of the separation between self and other.


Copyright © 2020 by ncu9nc All rights reserved. Texts quoted from other sources are Copyright © by their owners.