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.

(It can be helpful to prepare for the sitting meditation described below by doing relaxation exercises first. Relaxation exercises are a form of meditation, they require attention and mental focus. When time is limited they can be done instead of sitting meditation.)

  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.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Seeing Things As They Really Are.

Seeing Things As They Really Are

Becoming conscious of suppressed thoughts can ease the emotional pain they cause. Digging through layers of denial and suppression and becoming conscious of the root cause of unease can provide relief from unpleasant emotions when they are caused by suppressed thoughts.

Suffering arises when reality conflicts with our attachments. When we don't have what we want, our cravings are unsatisfied. The mind may resist acknowledging these conflicts, it may invent stories to explain them and suppress the truth. When this happens, the mind is ignorant and deluded.

However, when the mind accepts that reality does not coincide with our attachments, it accepts reality, it does not hide the truth or invent stories. It sees things as they really are. The mind feels a little pain, but much less. It is not ignorant or deluded.

To end ignorance and delusion, to see things as they really are, you have to learn to allow emotional pain to come through to consciousness unhindered, to accept and acknowledge unsatisfied cravings. It can be painful to release emotions this way, but over time it leads to less suffering.

You can learn to be more aware of your emotions by being mindful of the physical sensations in your body because emotions are often accompanied by physical sensations.

When you notice an unpleasant emotion, ask your self, "Why do I feel this way?" Repeat the question through multiple layers of answers. Revisit it again at a later date if necessary.

Meditation can help if it quiets the mind so you can see what is happening within it and not get carried away by strong emotions. And meditation can create a feeling of tranquility that eases the pain of emotional release.

Freedom From the Fetter of Identity View

Our attachments tend to reflect our innermost beliefs about how we think we should relate to the world around us, ie. about our beliefs about the distinction we make between self and not-self. We tend to be tolerant of and care a lot about self: ourselves ("me") and things we consider ours ("mine" - our possessions, friends, family, favorite sports team etc), and we also tend to be intolerant of and care less about not-self: anything that is not "me" or "mine".

This distinction between self and other, caring about self and intolerance of not-self is the source of most of our attachments and so is the source of most of our unpleasant emotions.

When you learn to see things as they really are, learn to be conscious of your emotions, remove from your mind ignorance and delusion about your emotions, you can begin to see how this distinction between self and not-self, between self and other, is the source of your suffering. This understanding of how things really are helps to free you from the fetter of identity view.


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

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

When you can't find Tranquility

Sometimes it is hard to concentrate during meditation, or reach a state of pleasant abiding through meditation, even if you prepare for meditation by doing relaxation exercises first. If something is on your mind and it keeps going round and round and you can't focus in meditation, or if you are feeling a persistent unpleasant emotion, it can help to use the following method described by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. He uses anger as an example but it can be used with any emotion.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/concmind.html

The Path of Concentration & Mindfulness
by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

...

One technique I like to use — when anger is present and you're in a situation where you don't immediately have to react to people — is simply to ask yourself in a good-natured way, "Okay, why are you angry?" Listen to what the mind has to say. Then pursue the matter: "But why are you angry at that? " "Of course, I'm angry. After all..." "Well, why are you angry at that?" If you keep this up, the mind will eventually admit to something stupid, like the assumption that people shouldn't be that way — even though they blatantly are that way — or that people should act in line with your standards, or whatever the mind is so embarrassed about that it tries to hide from you. But finally, if you keep probing, it'll fess up. You gain a lot of understanding of the anger that way, and this can really weaken its power over you.

It is often very helpful to keep digging this way because often the things you are not thinking about and are not conscious of are the real trouble makers.

This has some important implications for awakening. Letting go of attachments and aversions results in less suffering. And while it seems obvious that we might have a hard time letting go of attachments to those aspects of self we like and or want to protect: the body, our opinions, social status, possessions, people and groups we care about, what is less obvious is that to let go of the sense of self, we have to be conscious of it, and often those aspects of our sense of self that we don't like, our faults, failures, and unpleasant past experiences etc. sometimes get pushed away out of the forefront consciousness. So some of the big aversions we need to let go of, the things we need to surrender to, are hidden or pushed to the side unless we really go looking for them. This hidden aspect of the sense of self is one of the things that makes awakening such a difficult undertaking, and facing the emotional pain of acknowledging our faults, failures and unpleasant past experiences is one of the things that causes dark nights, and difficulty in maintaining a consistent and continuous meditation practice.


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

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Self and Not-self. How to Suffer Less

Introduction

Suffering (mental anguish) is to a large extent caused by our attitude toward "self". By changing your attitude, you can gradually reduce the suffering you experience. This gradual change will be in proportion to the effort you put in, but you don't need to wait for "enlightenment" or some type of a "BIG CHANGE" to experience the benefits in your life.

We are intolerant of what is not "me" and "mine".

When someone you dislike does something annoying, it could cause you to feel anger.

But if someone you love does the same thing, it might not bother you at all.

And if you did it yourself, you might not even notice it as a potentially annoying act.

We are tolerant of people we love because we think of them as "ours". Our friend, our child, our parent, our spouse.

We are very tolerant of "me" and "mine": our-self and things that belong to our-self.

We are less tolerant of things that are not "me" or "mine" of things that are not-self.

We worry about "me" and "mine"

If you learned of property damage in some far away country or even if you heard about the death of a person you never met, It might not bother you much.

But if a friend or loved one was harmed, or if your car was damaged, or if you yourself suffered some physical harm, you would probably be upset.

We worry more about "me" and "mine".

How to Reduce Suffering

This is how our ideas about self can cause us suffering: We are tolerant of self ("me" and "mine") and intolerant of not-self. We worry about self and are much less concerned about not-self.

The way to reduce suffering is to reduce your attachment to self, to reduce your attachment to "me" and "mine".

When you become less attached to self, you become less averse to not-self. The distinction between self and not-self is diminished. You become less concerned with personal loss and you become more tolerant of other people. You suffer less.

Some people may have a philosophical aversion to diminishing the attachment to self. That is their right. But others may want to try diminishing their attachment to self because they want to benefit from reduced suffering.

What can you do to change your ideas about self and not-self, what can you do to reduce your attachment to self?

There are several things you can do.

  • Observe in your own life how your ideas of self and not-self cause you to suffer. Most people should be able to do this: notice how you are less tolerant of people you don't like, and how you worry more about yourself. When you are conscious of this, you start to recognize how your ideas of self and not-self are making you suffer. When you experience loss or when someone does something annoying, you recognize it is your ideas of self and not-self that are causing you to suffer. If you maintain consciousness of this over time, this understanding, reinforced by repeated observation, will cause you to become disillusioned with your attachment to self because you are constantly reminded of how it causes suffering for you. This disillusionment will tend to encourage you to begin to let go of your attachment to self.

  • Relaxation - Relaxation exercises (actually a kind of meditation) can help you relax and relieve stress. When you are relaxed, your stress levels go to zero. When you are stressed you are focused on yourself. Stress hormones cause us to be fixated on the source of the stress, we become fixated on "our" problem. When you are relaxed you are much less irritable, less self-centered. You are less attached to self.

  • Quieting the mind - Meditation quiets the turbulent mind. Thoughts of self and not-self are less frequent and less intense when the mind is tranquil. If we think less about self and not-self, our attachment to self is reduced.

  • Spiritual feelings. Certain meditation techniques can produce spiritual feelings such as compassion, forgiveness, goodwill, humility, equanimity, serenity, surrender, contentedness, joy, and connectedness. When we have these feelings we are much less attached to self. When you experience these emotions, either from meditation or in the course of ordinary life, you see how true it is that when you love others and aren't focused so much on yourself, you suffer much less. Annoying people don't bother you as much, and feelings of disappointment and loss are diminished. You understand the way to reduce your own suffering is to love others and let go of your own sense of self-importance. It might sound contradictory and impossible, but loving the people you "don't like" and stopping worrying about yourself reduces the suffering you experience. When you see this from your own experience, you will likely want to do it for your own benefit, letting go is a natural reaction. (Sometimes people think this means you should ignore your own needs or ignore that harm others may be doing - that is not what this means).

    And these spiritual feelings are pleasant, we like to have them. When we notice what causes these feelings to dissipate (unpleasant emotions caused by attachment to self) we also become disillusioned with our attachment to self and begin to let go of it. In addition to the meditation linked above, samatha meditation and metta meditation can have a similar effect and are somewhat easier for many people to do.

  • Goodwill. If you can produce feelings of goodwill through relaxation exercises, samatha meditation, or metta meditation (.mp3), and extend feelings of good will to people who are not "yours" and to people doing things you don't like, you bring those people into self, they stop being "other" and become "yours". Extending metta in this way increases your freedom from identity view.

  • Meditation can also allow you to understanding how the mind creates the separation between self and not-self. This distinction happens when your mind is aware of sensations (sight, sound, smell, etc) and it recognizes the objects they represent. The moment when that recognition occurs is when the mind makes the distinction of self and not-self. This happens so rapidly and so often that, just as the frames of a movie create the illusion of motion. it creates the illusion of a continuous self that becomes ingrained in our world view and is taken for granted. But when you see directly it is an illusion, the attachment to self becomes diminished.

Conclusion

It is rare for anyone to completely eliminate their attachment to self (to "me"and "mine"), but most people if they want to, can reduce the suffering they experience by reducing their attachment to self. This will not automatically make someone a better person or a nicer person if they don't want it to. But if you do want to experience those kinds of changes, reducing your attachment to self can help.


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

Friday, September 11, 2020

A Practical Exercise for Eroding Identity View

This article describes a practical exercise that will help you put into practice the ideas I discussed in two previous articles: Experiencing Anatta and Varieties of Non-Self and Non-Dual Experiences. The purpose of the exercise is to help you to suffer less from some types of unpleasant emotions. You will get more out of this exercise if you meditate first to quiet your mind which willl make it easier to notice all that is happening within it.

For the purpose of an experiment, suppose you are not in control of your thoughts, emotions, impulses etc. Suppose they just arise in your mind from unconscious processes. And suppose sense perceptions: sight, sound, smell, etc. are the like that too, you don't try to hear you just hear when there are sounds. Suppose if you are not in control of your thoughts and impulses then when you go about your daily tasks, say washing the dishes, there is no conscious control over your movements, they just happen because of unconscious processes. And there is no conscious control over your use of reason when you try to solve a problem. Even when you seem to be trying to do something, the sense of intention is just an illusion, it comes from unconscious processes too and just appears in your mind. It might seem like you are an observer but even the idea or feeling of being an observer is just something that comes from the unconscious and anyway it is absurd because if you sense there is an observer then you are observing it so who is observing the observer?

(Be aware that none of the above or any of what follows necessarily has to be logical or true. This is not a mathematical proof. It is an attempt to communicate a feeling using words. Feelings are not logical.)

This is all very interesting as a thought experiment, but to make it real, to use it to erode the fetter of identity view, you have to put it into practice.

To do that, go ahead and make all those suppositions, even supposing there is no observer or that the feeling of being an observer is an illusion. Then do something like washing the dishes and just let one thing happen after the next. Notice how thoughts and emotions arise and pass away. Notice how you see, feel, hear, etc. and those sensation arise and pass away also. Notice how your hands and body move while you wash the dishes, but you don't feel in control. Notice that behind every intention to carry out an action was a decision that was made by unconscious processes. Noticing these things gives you a sense that you are not responsible for anything.

The feeling that you are not in control, that you are not responsible, gives you a feeling of being liberated. You are freed from responsibility. It is like a huge weight being lifted from your shoulders. You become more resistant to emotional pain because you are not in control, you are not responsible. Emotions may come and go but you don't get carried away by them. This freedom does not make you callous or nihilistic or irresponsible. It makes you more compassionate and considerate because you don't need to be as protective of yourself as you were before, you can think of others more than you used to.

After a while practicing this way, noticing what is happening in your mind and body and noticing sense perceptions, you don't have to make any suppositions, you just experience reality that way.

Actually, if you meditate to quiet the mind, to slow it down so that you can see what is doing, and then observe the activity of the mind, you will see that all those suppositions are true. It sounds disconcerting but the actual experience of it is very nice. It's nirvana. (Although perfecting it can take some time.)


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

Thursday, September 10, 2020

When Seeing Just See, When Hearing Just Hear

If you can observe it, it is not you.

When you look at an object and recognize what it is, in that instant of recognition something of great significance happens.

When the mind understands what an object is, it recognizes it as not-self. (If you can observe it, it is not you.)

And when the mind creates not-self, that by necessity implies self. You can't have not-self without self.

That is how the mind creates the sense of self. Moment after moment, perception after perception, recognizing objects it sees, hears, tastes, smells, touches, etc. which imply a self because of the recognition of objects that are not-self. Like the frames of a movie, each recognition is distinct but because they happen so fast one after another, they blur together to create the illusion of continuity, the illusion of the continuity of self.

Try looking around at objects when your mind is made quiet by meditation and try to experience what consciousness is like without making that recognition. Try to experience what consciousness is like before it makes self and not-self. Just look at things. Let your quiet mind be quiet, not thinking about what it is seeing, but just seeing.

A Zen master called this "The before thinking mind".

It won't necessarily be a huge realization the first time you try it. You might just get an inkling of a feeling of experiencing reality in a different way. But if you can get a glimmer, then with practice you can grow the experience.

First try this with one object at a time. Then try to do it with your whole visual field.

And don't just practice with seeing. Practice with all the senses: hearing, taste, smell, bodily sensations etc.

You can do this while sitting and meditating, or standing in the kitchen washing dishes, and at other times.

The same Zen master said, "When seeing just see. When hearing just hear."

Try doing that.


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

Monday, September 7, 2020

Neutral Meditation

UPDATE: I have written a newer article which I recommend instead of this one. There is a lot more information in the newer article. It's okay to read this article too, but I am concerned that this article could encourage readers to suppress emotions including the pleasant feelings that relaxing meditation can produce and that was never my intention in writing this article.


In this article, I describe a form of meditation I call "neutral meditation" that may be best for people who want to try meditation but don't want to experience the intense effects produced by the method of meditation described in the main article on meditation on my web site. Neutral meditation is good for relieving stress and producing a tranquil mind and spiritual well-being. It also helps you learn to avoid bad moods by teaching you to let go of unpleasant emotions before they become entrenched.

Most forms of meditation are intended to quiet or slow down the mind so it produces fewer thoughts and impulses. Focusing the mind on the object of meditation and returning to the object of meditation when the mind wanders quiets thoughts. Sitting still quiets impulses. Neutral meditation additionally reduces the arising of various attitudes (which can lead to emotions) within the mind, so it produces a even quieter mind. Quieting the mind is beneficial because a quiet mind produces fewer unpleasant thoughts and emotions, and when the mind is quiet you are better able to see what is happening within it which make understanding the nature of your own consciousness easier.

To do neutral meditation, meditate by noticing your breath. Try to be as neutral in your attitude and emotions and expectations as possible, while not pushing anything away or forcing anything anything into your mind. Do try to notice if you have an "attitude" that is extra that you don't really need to to have and let go of it. If you can have a neutral attitude without suppressing anything that is good. There are forms of meditation that produce intense bliss, but sometimes people unknowingly stumble on to a similar method that produces unpleasant emotions. The point of this meditation is avoid pushing any kind of mood, good or bad, on yourself when you meditate. During your meditation session, try to notice if any attitudes sneak back into your mind. This could happen because of distracting thoughts, events going on around you, or for other reasons. Asking yourself, "What emotion am I feeling?" can help you recognize if your attitude changes. If you notice any attitudes arising, try to return to a neutral frame of mind.

When you meditate this way you can sit in a chair they way you normally sit. It's good to relax, but don't try so hard to relax that you cause yourself stress. One of the differences between letting go of emotions and suppressing emotions is that letting go tends to involve relaxing and suppressing tends to involve tensing. When you take a neutral attitude and when you let go of emotions try to do it in a relaxing way not "resisting" or "fighting against" but relaxing.

Don't try to concentrate intensely just gently notice your breath in and out. If you notice you have become distracted and your mind is wandering, just go back to noticing your breath. Don't be upset if your mind wanders it is normal and to be expected. It can be useful to notice what topics you are thinking about when your mind wanders. At first the topics are likely to be things that are giving you the most stress, after a time those issues may settle down and the distracting thoughts will be about various of events of the day, and after that more random issues about your past or future may arise. Noticing this can help you recognize the progress you are making in calming your mind and help you recognize how much meditation you need to do.

If you have a lot of trouble concentrating, there are a couple of things you can try. Doing relaxation exercises before you meditate can help quiet your mind. It can also help you to stay focused when you meditate if you count your breaths to yourself up to ten and then start over at one. You can count inhalations, or exhalations, or both. The number doesn't have to be ten. It can be whatever feels right at the moment. Two, four, or five sometimes work well. Or you can say "in" and "out" as you inhale and exhale.

If your natural mode of breathing is relaxed, you can breath that way if you want to, or you can choose whatever depth and rate of breathing feels most comfortable. If your're not sure where to focus your attention, focusing on the air going in and out through your nose is okay, also focusing on your whole body or on a point slightly below the navel are also okay. Sometimes focusing on the diaphragm or the chest may be confusing and produce discomfort when breathing. If you like to focus on those areas it's okay to do so, just be aware if you have problems, try focusing on a different location. And if you feel short of breath while meditating, try exhaling slowly through pursed lips.

If you find meditating this way produces a pleasant mood, don't try to produce that mood, stick with neutral meditation and let the pleasant mood come by itself.

A beginner will need some guidance on how much meditation to do. My suggestion is 20 to 30 minutes once or twice a day. However, eventually I believe each person should decide for themselves how much meditation to do. I don't believe you should need willpower to mediate. You should meditate because you want to. There are a few reasons I believe it is worthwhile to meditate: 1) It helps relieve stress and produces tranquility. 2) It produces spiritual feelings that help you live according to your spiritual values. 3) It feels good - it produce a pleasant relaxed mood. Other people might have other reasons. I don't meditate because I expect to get some benefit in the future. I meditate each day for the benefits I get that day. After someone has been meditating for some time, I believe they should meditate as much as they feel is worthwhile in order to to relieve stress and or to produce the pleasant and spiritual feelings that they want to experience. And the amount they meditate could vary from day to day depending on the circumstances.

If you try to bring the mental habit of attitude neutrality into daily life, it may help you to recognize that many unpleasant emotions that arise during the day are easy to avoid if you notice them forming early but can seem to be "involuntary" if you don't pay attention and let them accumulate. For example, if you are reading the news and you read a disturbing article, you might be able to let go of the emotion easily if you notice it and make the effort. But if you read one news story, and another, and another and don't realize until later you are in a bad mood, at that point it can be hard to let go. I suspect part of the problem involves stress hormones. Once levels of stress hormones start going up, I believe, you need to physically relax before you can let go - either through natural relaxation (which can be infrequent in modern life), a moderate amount of meditation, or a shorter period of relaxation exercises. Neutral meditation develops a mental habit that can prevent "grumps" before they start. However it should be understood I am referring to emotions that have a cognitive basis (a basis in thinking), other types of emotions that might be due to genetic or developmental effects on brain chemistry might be a different matter. And you also have to be sensitive to emotions and avoid suppressing them which is not the same as letting go.


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

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Empathic Brain Network and Spiritual Development

In my previous post Natural Awakening Without Intense Meditation I discussed an article in which Buddhadasa Bhikkhu uses the term "spiritual well-being". I believe this state of spiritual well-being is referring to a state where the empathic network in the brain is active. Having the empathic network active will enhance any type of spiritual practice.

Research has shown that because of the structure of the brain, analytical thinking and empathic thinking are mutually exclusive.

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/252241.php

Scientists have discovered that the brain circuits we engage when we think about social matters, such as considering other people’s views, or moral issues, inhibit the circuits that we use when we think about inanimate, analytical things, such as working on a physics problem or making sure the numbers add up when we balance our budget. And they say, the same happens the other way around: the analytic brain network inhibits the social network. ... When not doing anything in particular, our brains switch between social and analytic networks. But, when working on a goal-directed task, healthy adults engage the appropriate neural pathways, say the researchers.
The analytical network has a tendency to produce callous thinking. This is believed to by why some economic and political policies fail because they ignore human realities. The policy makers were out of balance, thinking only analytically and not empathically.

When the empathic network is active, it can produce a spiritual feeling  or a "pleasant relaxed mood", where feelings of compassion, forgiveness, goodwill, humility, equanimity, serenity, and connectedness are common and where the jhanas are easily accessible.

It is possible to learn to recognize when your empathic network is active and learn to activate it at will if it is not active. Just knowing about the two networks might help you understand your own experiences and allow you to activate the empathic network whenever you want to.

If you are not sure what it feels like to have the empathic network active, try metta mediation, or samatha meditation, or jhana meditation, or relaxation exercises. When your empathic network is active, you may experience a pleasant relaxed mood with feelings of compassion, forgiveness, goodwill, humility, equanimity, serenity, and connectedness.

Having the empathic network active will enhance any type of meditation practice.

I recommend meditating with the empathic network active. Analytical thinking is good for many things and I think both networks should be developed to be in balance. But I think it is more likely that the relief from suffering, the insights, and the realizations people are seeking from meditation are more likely to come from the empathic network than the analytical network. And having the empathic network active has a soothing, healing, influence on the mind.

It is often said that intellectual understanding alone is not enough to trigger awakening. Also, a lot of suffering comes from analytical thinking. We worry about the future, we over analyze things, we go over the past repeatedly, we obsess about status etc. This is all analytical thinking. 

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn is Professor of Medicine Emeritus and creator of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He explains, using slightly different terminology for the brain networks, how having the wrong network active in the brain causes suffering.

https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mindfulness/2010/10/living-as-if-it-mattered-an-interview-with-jon-kabat-zinn/

One pathway is a mid-line pathway, very akin to what is called a default mode, that seems to be functioning when nothing else is supposed to be happening — like being or mind wandering, or something like that, which is what they call the narrative network for self. So like what you tell yourself about who you are, where you’re going, how things are going, how stressed you are, how great it’s going to be in the future, how horrible it was in the past, or vice-versa, how wonderful it was in the past, or how horrible it is in the present. So it is a narrative ongoing story of me. And that occupies a certain kind of brain territory.
In a podcast, Dr Kabat-Zinn descrbes this kind of thinking as "the story of me."

But what if you could reassign neurons away from the network that produces suffering and "the story of me" and reassign them to producing feelings of compassion, forgiveness, goodwill, humility, equanimity, serenity, and connectedness? This is possible because of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain's ability to rewire itself, assigning neurons to pathways that are used more often and reassigning neurons away from pathways that are used less often.

That is exactly what Buddhadasa Bhikkhu is saying to do when he says:

".. we simply encourage (nirvana) to come about of its own accord, naturally, by developing, day and night, the joy that results from mental purity, until the qualities we have described gradually evolve. ...We do it just by making our own way of daily living so pure and honest that there arise in succession spiritual joy, calm, insight into the true nature of things, disenchantment, disentanglement, escape, purification from defilements, and finally peace, nirvana."
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu says you can do this without a meditation practice. 

But you can also do it in conjunction with any meditation practice. Try to learn to recognize when you empathic network is active, and get a feel of how to activate it, and then live and meditate with your empathic network active.


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