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.
1 hr sit:
- Tons of noise emanating from the kitchen.
- Normally this would make little difference to practice. Today I used it as an experiment to move between a ‘foreground-background’ state of attention with peripheral awareness and a more inclusive, open state of attention to the breath and ‘full,’ open awareness.
- These two states of mind, once I got into them, were significantly different. The first was slightly unpleasant. I think that was mostly because I was attempting to increase concentration and felt like my attention was ‘fighting’ with the sound in order to do so. The other state was just normal.
- I also kept wanting to laugh but didn’t. [Normally in practice if I were to have a strong urge to smile or laugh, I would do so.]
Today I read about stage 7 in the overview & the chapter. The bizarre sensations and involuntary body movements are associated with this stage. In the four naljors, these would be viewed as ‘nyams,’ (experiences arising). Generally, in that system, they’re said to occur during the first few years of practice while you’re still settling into the mode. That was also my experience: I’ve not had many ‘nyams’ in meditation for the last 20 years, so it’s been interesting to start experiencing them again in a different context. Intuitively I feel the inward focus, exclusive directed attention and the attention on the body was causing them. At stage 7, the antidote to weird ‘nyam’-like stuff is to relax the effort. This makes a lot of sense to me and fits with the movement of the four naljors towards effortlessly sustained presence of awareness. The first new practice introduced at this stage is ‘close following,’ that is, minute attention to the vibratory quality of the pulsing sensations of the breath. I’ve never engaged in this specific practice, but I think I’m familiar, from Long-dé1 practice, with one of the results as described: the experience of the whole body as a ‘shimmering process of sensation’.
The second new practice introduced is to use pleasure jhanas as the ‘meditation object’. Focus on the quality of pleasantness, rather than the sensation giving rise to it.
The third practice is to intentionally let go effort in periods of stable clarity.
I had an unexpectedly strong, emotional response to a story that Culadasa tells in this stage chapter. After a long period of ‘dry’ sitting, he had a session in which flies started crawling around his face, causing him to exert great effort to maintain concentration on the breath. When they finally left he was able to relax: “prior to the flies, I had reached a point where effort was no longer needed, but I hadn’t known it. So I didn’t take that last step toward effortlessness. I’ve been grateful to those flies ever since” (p. 276). I felt an immense empathy, with gladness on his behalf for that experience, combined with a sense of the pain of the effort. It’s a touching story.
Second sit, 1 hr:
- I practiced the new ‘close following’ technique for the hour.
- This made concentration easy. Quite quickly I felt the rapid pulsing in the sensation of the breath. However, I didn’t get the second phase described, the deep vibratory quality of experience. I was able to focus on the rapid sensation for most of the hour, occasionally alternating out into the detail of the sensation of the breath, but mostly I maintained concentration, with a focus in the pulsing quality of the sensation.
- This was a deeply absorbing experience. Crashings and bangings from around the place, traffic on the road, were entirely peripheral to the experience. They were there, but ‘external’, as in, ‘not relevant’ to the central focus of absorption.
Third sit, 1 hour:
- Continued with ‘close following’ technique. Pretty much the same experience as this morning, somewhat less absorbed, moving between light, general attention to the breath & the pulsing sensations.
- Experienced some tiny trembling around my lips.
- 1.Long-dé (Tib: kLong sDe), is the second of the three series of Dzogchen. It is associated with spacious expansiveness, particularly with experiences of the subtle body, or psycho-physical awareness.