The Mind Illuminated, a journal: Day 7


The Mind Illuminated, Stage 3, p. 100

These are reflective notes on my experience of practicing Culadasa’s 10 stage meditation system. The notes in this post are from my seventh 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].

Stage 3 introduces a technique of analysing the breath. Analysis is a practice method found in Buddhist Sutrayana. It’s peculiarly fitting to the Sutric path because of its observing, inquiring nature. Sutrayana is dualist: it intentionally creates a division between an observer and an observed, to better understand the nature of the world. To do this, Sutra employs concept-concsiousness as method. Eventually the path leads to the experiential discovery of the illusion of the duality and the experience of ‘no-self’.

Vajrayana methods are non-analytic. The discovery mode is almost entirely through expanding the repertoire of experience. To do this Vajrayana employs sense-field-awareness as method. Concept-consciousness is regarded as one of the senses and treated in the same light. Vajryana method changes one’s experience of the sense-fields, initially by  remaining uninvolved. Once one has stablized uninvolvement, all the sense-fields are regarded as method: they become the ground for transformation.

1 hr sit:

  • I became very sleepy immediately as I sat down. First 10 mins or so were cotton woolly, no thoughts, but required effort to maintain focus on the breath.
  • Continued with the positive regard as suggested, mind cleared. Mostly still, quiet, aware of the breath for the hour, nothing much to report. 
  • Noticed peripheral sounds were a little more clear than previously, concentration on breath somewhat more ‘locationally focused’. 
  • Experienced some sciatic pain. Regarding pain, the attitude suggested, including self-talk, is: ‘let it come, let it be, let it go’. So I did that. It decided to be more than go; I supported its choice. 
  • Got sleepy again towards the end of the session & required some more concentrated effort to remain with the breath. 
  • Noticed some impatience, wanting the hour to end, about 10 mins before closure. Reminded myself about the internal self-talk, the instruction to reinforce positive regard and motivation for sitting. Did so. It works really well actually, this gentle, intentional reminder that I’m choosing to meditate, and to appreciate the opportunity for quiet. Impatience immediately dissipated. 

The occasional mental talk feels a bit weird to me as it’s not a technique I’m used to, but it’s not interfering with my concentration. I’m not sure it’s helping much with the concentration itself, either, but it’s quite calming.

Today I read stage 3 of the book after sitting, and wrote:

Note to self: don’t intentionally exclude extrospective/peripheral awareness by concentrating on the breath. “Emphasizing both attention and peripheral awareness at the same time increases the total power of consciousness” (p. 99). I have noticed peripheral awareness becoming dull sometimes, so I’ll widen my sphere of awareness now without losing focus on the breath.

Ironically, there’s a section on drowsiness which is common at this stage, so it seems like my experience is quite neatly fitting the system. This doesn’t surprise me. I suspect that systems that work well induce a positive reinforcement cycle between the method, the obstacles to overcome, and success as defined by the approach – that is, that the method gives rise to specific obstacles which you can then develop skill in working with.

The main techniques to employ at this stage are quick, simple labelling and checking in, gently & briefly, with a ‘snapshot’ of the mind’s current activity.

There’s a suggestion to cut back on self-talk, which fits with my experience earlier today.

The guidelines to analyze and investigate seem like extra, unnecessary mental activity to me. I’m resisting the idea of doing that during my next sit. Still, it’s my intent to know this system experientially so I’ll follow the guidelines closely. Could also be helpful with the subtle dull and drowsy states.

The purpose of the analysing technique: “In making these kinds of comparisons, you’re not just investigating the breath to sharpen and stabilize your attention. You’re also learning another way to detect and become more fully aware of subtle and changing states of mind”  (p. 100).

Second 1 hr sit:

  • I have the feeling at this point that the practice is cultivating a hard split between attention to breath and content of mind, in such a way that content of mind becomes accentuated and is somehow actively encouraged. 
  • I sat with this, feeling kind of puzzled & noticing the strength of the split. I experienced it as a really strong ‘magnetizing’ kind of pull between stuff arising and the focus on the breath. 
  • I played with moving the attention between keeping the breath in the foreground & then in the background. It really does produce a mental gestalt of background/foreground, in such a way that you can develop the capacity to alternate figure & ground. This is very different to shi-ne practice, where awareness of everything going on in your mind, including the breath and all sensory experience, is the ‘ground’ around which you develop your faculty of awareness. 

After the sit, decided to experiment: sat without any focus on the breath, in shi-ne posture with eyes slightly open, intentionally expansive without concentrative focus. I was able to sit with very clear, empty mind, nothing arising, calm, expansive awareness. Yeah, so I continue to think that the practice itself produces the obstacle…not that this is a bad thing. It’s a different path & method, so the obstacles and antidotes that arise are congruent with the method. I’m still interested to discover experientially where this will lead.


2 thoughts on “The Mind Illuminated, a journal: Day 7”

  1. You are using the words “attention” and “awareness” but not sure you grok the implications.

    As you have experienced, concentration without awareness tends to be expereinced as dullness, especially if a person is used to maintaining a strong awareness component of meditation.

    Strong awareness with no attentional component is crystalline pure and bright, as you describe so well as né-pa.

    Culadasa’s point in teaching Shamatha (via his 10 stages of TMI) is that it cultivates both aspects simultaneously, concentration and awareness, Samadhi and Satti, setting one up to have a strong vipassana capacity and increase the likelihood of breakthrough/ insight/ realization/ path attainment..

    1. Thank you for this and your other comments.

      As you have experienced, concentration without awareness tends to be expereinced as dullness, especially if a person is used to maintaining a strong awareness component of meditation.

      Strong awareness with no attentional component is crystalline pure and bright, as you describe so well as né-pa.

      Am I right in understanding that the attentional component eventually leads to strong awareness in the TMI system, in the sense that it becomes superseded by, or ‘consumed within’ the crystalline, bright experience? (Or does it bring something else by addition to the strong awareness? i.e. Is “strong awareness with strong attentional focus” an aspect of the path, as well as “strong awareness with no attentional component”?) My experience to date suggests the former, but that could be due to my background. It would be good to understand this from the perspective of an expert in the system!

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