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:

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:

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.