The Mind Illuminated, a journal: days 17 and 18

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The Mind Illuminated, Stage 8, p. 306

These are reflective notes on my experience of practicing Culadasa’s 10 stage meditation system. The notes in this post are from my 17th and 18th day of practice in the system. There is a page summary of my TMI series with links in the site overview. 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].

The passage above stood out to me as interestingly different. Up until this point in The Mind Illuminated, the practice aims, in the language of this system, to “subdue the sub-minds.” Until now in the TMI system, sub-minds have been tamed of their apparent agency and subdued by a dominant awareness. Now, once they are tamed and subdued, some limited agency is returned to them and employed in service of an overarching “metacognitive introspective awareness” to increase its capacity for powerful mental control.

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What happened to July?

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A few readers asked whether I finished posting my TMI journal? No – I have several draft pages ready to comment and illustrate before posting, and more to say about my continuing exploration of Culadasa’s system. I am posting the journal pages in retrospect,  as and when I get a moment to do so. The TMI journal posts on this site are not synchronous with the practice sessions they describe.

I decided to spend some time this month changing the look and feel of the site. I thought the old site design was looking naff: its wordpress.com theme was ten years out of date. So instead of writing more pages, I spent some time over the last couple of weeks subduing CSS and updating to a more recent theme.

I also met up with Michael Taft from Deconstructing Yourself and we chatted about the changing scene of American Dharma, Buddhist Tantra and True French croissants. We had some fun playing Pokemon Go until we were slaughtered by an armoured Mewtwo and the Berkeley campus turned into a Pokemon charnel ground. We later recorded an episode for the DY podcast, which will likely be published sometime in August. Michael asked me about my experience with TMI; I also talked about the engineering mindset and how it translates well to approaching Vajrayana practice.

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The Mind Illuminated, a journal: days 14 to 16

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The Mind Illuminated, Stage 7, p. 277

These are reflective notes on my experience of practicing Culadasa’s 10 stage meditation system. The notes in this post are from three consecutive days of practice in the system, a fortnight in. 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].

Day 14

30 mins sit:

  • Moving in & out of the concentrated state. I felt somewhat less deeply, internally focused than I have been in my sitting practice recently.
  • Had the sense that I was naturally giving up intentional effort, but that released out of the concentrated, deep, internal state, so my mind was kind of alternating between a light, expansive state and a more intentional, internal focus.

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The Mind Illuminated, a journal: Day 13

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

Mastery of stage 6 involves consistency in “subduing subtle distractions”. You have “complete control over your scope of attention, allowing you to examine any object with as broad or narrow a focus as you choose…subtle distractions are more or less completely absent. Thoughts may intrude once in a while but are often absent even from peripheral awareness. Sensations and sounds continue in peripheral awareness, but only rarely become subtle distractions. When they do, they are quickly and automatically corrected for.” (p. 233)

I feel I’m at quite an odd stage with this practice. I can intentionally sit without thought, in a quiet, calm state. In this state, in the language of the system, ‘distractions are absent’. I chose to quote the passage above, because of an optional experience of ‘peripheral’ sounds that has begun to occur. When sounds arise, if I don’t regard them as distractions and allow them to be as they are, fully present in my awareness, there’s no sense of distraction. I can remain aware of the sounds within the field of awareness without losing concentration on the breath, no probs. However, if I make a slight mental shift and regard the sounds as distractions, increasing the ratio of concentration to peripheral awareness, I notice I get a little irritated. An example of this occurred today when I was sitting and David was fighting a rhinoceros in the kitchen. I decided to take the opportunity of readily available peripheral noise to experiment with the different states of mind.

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The Mind Illuminated, a journal: Day 12

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

‘Awareness’ is used across meditation systems to mean consciousness of the present moment; cognizant experience. I’ve been using it generally to mean ‘presence of awareness’, a phrase I’m familiar with in connection with Dzogchen practice. ‘Presence of awareness’ may, or may not, include the presence of thoughts and other stuff arising in mind. Presence of awareness is harder to maintain with conceptualization than without it, but it’s still possible for the quality of awareness to remain sharp, clear, full and bright when thoughts are around, even when they are abundant.*

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The Mind Illuminated, a journal: Day 11

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These are reflective notes on my experience of practicing Culadasa’s 10 stage meditation system. The notes in this post are from my eleventh 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 6: 

The first step of stage 6 is to achieve ‘exclusive attention, also called single-pointed attention’. No alternation from the focus to ‘subtle distractions’. Peripheral awareness remains present.

This leads to sustaining exclusive attention so that mental objects fade from awareness. The instruction is to “completely ignore everything outside” the scope of attention.

The second step in stage 6 is developing metacognitive introspective awareness.

The technique in stage 6 is to alternate between exclusive attention to the breath at the nose and whole body (or a part of the body) sensations, related to the breath. Maintain exclusive attention without any distractions at the nose for as long as you can. Once exclusive attention fades, return to the whole body breath.

“Completely ignore subtle distractions.” 

This is a different instruction to the four naljors practice in which you maintain awareness of any content of mind without intentional ignoring. The difference here is between ‘remaining uninvolved’ and ‘ignoring’. These alternate methods lead to different experiences. Remaining uninvolved involves no shift of focus, in that the method favors no one locational priority over another. ‘Ignoring’ involves a shift in mental focus to a foreground other than the form (thought/image/emotion) arising, with the intent for that which is ignored to become background. It’s not intentionally stopped, but it is intentionally disregarded. Expansive awareness has omnidirectional intent; concentrated awareness has unidirectional intent. It cultivates a foreground against a background.

I’d like to say a little here about my experience of expansive practice:

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The Mind Illuminated, a journal: Day 10

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

The passage from the chapter on stage 5, above, describes an increase in “the feeling of gentle pleasure” as one progresses through the stages. This is in keeping with my experience of the system so far. I think it’s also true to say, as predicted, that my “overall energy level” during meditation has dropped somewhat, alongside the increase in pleasant contentedness.

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