The Mind Illuminated, a journal: Day 5


These are reflective notes on my experience of practicing Culadasa’s 10 stage meditation system. The notes in this post are from my fifth day of practice in the system. For an introduction to this project, see this page. Occasionally I will post-edit the journal. Any post editing is [in square brackets like this].

Re my note in the margin above: this is a question I continue to hold about the MI system, and samatha-vipassana approaches generally. To what extent does the focus on positive, wholesome experience, to the exclusion, rejection or ignoring of its opposite, create an unseen dissonance? And if so, what unintended results might that have?

In shi-ne practice, one regards all sensations and arising emotions in the same light, that is, as representatives of a spectrum. The method is to ‘remain uninvolved’ – to develop the capacity to maintain awareness ‘in all directions’ around the arising emotion, to resist ‘collapsing in’ on it. The motivation is the same in samatha: to resist awareness becoming fully caught up in the arising emotion/thought. But the technique is significantly different. In samatha one intentionally disregards some emotions and sensations by ignoring or moving focus away from them ‘unidirectionally’. Rather than expanding awareness out in all directions around the thought, one intentionally shifts attention to a different mental space. This unidirectional movement to a concentrated focus accentuates the experience of a foreground and a background.

This reflects experientially, how the Sutric path tends towards dualism (and Vajrayana towards monism).

[The rejection of negative internal states of mind in favor of intentionally dwelling on wholesome, positive experience feels really good. I suspect that, at some point, this experience begins to cause psychological friction (because positive response, however much it is physically embodied and genuinely felt, is an artificial default response, an imposition in the worldly reality of interrelatedness).] 

Day 5

1 hr 40 mins sit: 

  • Right eyelid still won’t close without concentrated effort. I think the eyelid twitching is distracting from a more even, intense concentration. Bringing concentration inward to the nose & breath is requiring more effort than I’m used to exerting. I’m finding it quite disruptive to awareness: i.e. the focus shifts between the twitchy muscle contractions & the breath, so it’s kind of uneven. 
  • Lots of involuntary twitchings in facial muscles, but almost none in rest of body. 

During the day: 

I experienced a scintillating scotoma. [Without an associated migraine headache as apparently is the case sometimes.] I’ve never had one of these before. Possibly it’s connected to the virus I’m getting over. But intuitively I think it’s a result of switching from my usual practice to concentration meditation, given the plethora of neuro-physical effects I’ve been experiencing so far. At its peak I lost over half my vision, couldn’t read text. It was like looking through a crystal or a prism. All colors of the spectrum moving things around in a bubble of colorful, transparent triangles. It was cool. Stood still for 10 – 15 minutes while it happened because I couldn’t see to walk properly, texted David when I could see well enough. He knew what it was & sent me a link to the wiki article & some eye tests to check I wasn’t going blind. No other symptoms. After it faded I felt good, like my head was super clear.  

1 hr sit: 

  •  Body twitchies seem to have subsided.
  •  Ok, so finally my right eyelid fully closed and the left one popped open. wtf? The unit tests were fine. 
  • Still experiencing some minor tension at back of the roof of my mouth and right side of face, but it’s much less now.
  • Comfortable sit, stable, still and calm, focused on breath throughout. 
  • At this point I am not sure, experientially, how this concentrated focus relates to the experience of né-pa (a clear, bright, expansive awareness without thought/stuff arising in mind). The experience of né-pa is much ‘wider’ than this – and more clear. I had the sense during this last meditation session that né-pa would naturally arise if I were to intentionally leave the breath focus, relax and expand my presence of awareness outwards. However, that’s not the practice, so I didn’t. Remained very still, calm, quiet. 
  • Near the end of the hour, the last five to ten minutes, I felt a pressure build in the crown of my head. Then there was the sensation of a very thin, slight crack, like an eggshell splitting but not breaking. 

4 thoughts on “The Mind Illuminated, a journal: Day 5”

  1. Interesting to me that you got aura without migraine! I get these, unfortunately always with the migraine. It’s hard to work out a particular trigger, but stress is definitely part of it, and I often get tension in my neck/face around the same time, so your explanation makes a lot of sense to me.

    (Enjoying reading these btw. I haven’t done much meditation, but a fair chunk of the small amount I have done is following this book, so it’s interesting to see what you make of it. I also like the format with the photo of your notes at the top.)

  2. Thank you for sharing all of this, very inspiring. Made me want to learn more about vajrayana and to start journalling, too 🙂

  3. In my understanding of Pure Shamatha, one cultivates the positive as it reinforces concentration. but while doing Pure Vipassana, one investigates all without favour.
    Check out Leigh Braisington for some pure shamatha Jhana (eventually the good feelings subside and level out into equinamity as one raises through the jhanas).

    I think in Theravada generally one cultivates Jhana and then exits to do vipassana with a concentrated mind, but the option of Dry vipassana, having never cultivated jhana, is there as well but regarded as a more rocky road.

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