Monday, October 24, 2011


New meditators (like me) tend to think that we should immediately, or very quickly, be able to sit without thinking. But I think the truth is we are practicing not how to stop thinking (or that is a later goal), but to bring the mind back once we do start thinking. Meditation is just practice, a very relaxing and often pleasant practice, but just practice. It's in daily life that the ability to bring the mind back is the most powerful and useful. So I should become distracted a thousand times in meditation, so that I can easily come back the one time when not in meditation!


I read today Eckhart Tolle saying the ego is afraid to die: afraid to die at any moment, to lose consciousness or be forgotten, not just to die with the body. Well, actually, maybe it is not afraid, but it uses fear to keep us from letting go of our identification with the mind.

This is related to my entry on identification with the object of concentration. I have, after that first satisfying experience, had a very difficult time letting go and leaving the supposed home of my consciousness in the physical brain and moving into the location I am focused on in my body. While I can feel those sensations there, I am very separate from them, and I can feel a strong fear of wrenching myself from that seat in the brain and moving into the "object". I have to let go of something, I can't really tell what, but my reaction to it is a painful fear. It is like I will go insane or lose all control if I move out of my brain. I know from experience it can be done and in fact it is quite enjoyable, but the fear makes it difficult to make that leap again. I was something that "happened to me" before, not something I had complete control over, so I react to it with a fear of losing myself, losing control.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I'm going to define karma, if only for myself: karma is the intrusion of the past (and future?) onto the present.

We continue to think about the past as a way of defining ourselves and thus making ourselves more "real". If I know that I went to the store yesterday, I can locate myself in the store, and in all the events that happened in that store and around that time. But really, that store is no longer there: there is (probably) still a store located in the same position at the present moment, but that has no relevance (even if it sure as hell seems relevant). I might have scars, or blood on a shirt, or an angry wife, but none of these give a solid reality to the past, because in fact the past does not even exist. That I have an angry wife in the present is the action of karma moving in the present, but the past that caused her anger, flirtation with a waitress or an unkind word, does not exist anymore, except as karma, the shared expression of the past intruding on the present. The consequences are there, but the event is not.

This might lead to the conception that by denying the past I can escape consequences for my actions. I guess karma enforces these consequences? I'm not sure.And I have to ask if karma keeps, say, the store in existence. The Buddha ended the acquisition of karma, but he did not disappear at that moment, so is karma only mental?


Many years ago I was on a bus in some city I don't remember. I don't remember the circumstances, but I was alone, on a bus in a city I wasn't familiar with. I was looking at a baby in its mother's lap. I have no recollection of when it started, but I suddenly noticed that I was no longer (meaning I felt no longer) in my body, but had moved to the focus of my attention. I was somehow in the baby's body, experiencing that location. It's not as if I was the baby, I wasn't really anything but concentration, a focus, but there was no space between myself and the baby. While I was in this state, I don't think I really felt anything, any emotions, though before and after I felt a great delight in looking at the child. Afterwards I felt a powerful sense that something had just happened, but unfortunately I don't remember anything that happened after that incident.

I have recently begun meditating as a way to let go of some of the crazy obsessions and disappointment I have felt so many years. I'm beginning to see that as my mind is focused on a very small, contained set of things, I notice more readily when my mind is disturbed: for example, when a dog barks, or my back hurts, or some thought arises about a loved one or some obnoxious person. It's not that I didn't feel the disturbance before, but it is more pronounced because in meditation which focuses on simple things like my breath and the sensations of my body, I don't feel disturbed. It is like a stilled (or more still) pool of water: any changes on the surface are much more pronounced than a pool of water constantly in motion.

Most of the time these disturbances come and go, and my mind follows them like a magnet. One disturbance arises and I run after it; I may pursue it for a while. Then a related or different disturbance comes up and I follow that one.

Being able to see these disturbances come up one at a time, I can now decide whether I need to follow or not. Well, sometimes. During meditation, as a practice of letting go of these disturbances, I try to ALWAYS let them go, at least right now. But this makes it easier to focus, then decide what to do with them, when I am not meditating, when I am pursuing my daily activities. Sometimes I do follow them, just to discover where they came from and why, if I can. I admit I haven't had much success with that, because I often get just too caught up in "living" these disturbances: I'll see myself in conversation with someone that is hurting me (meaning I think they are hurting me) and I just can't help but talk to them, engage with this dream world. But sometimes, sometimes I can let go, let the thought be there and I can look at it as if outside. There I just nudge it to see if a little non-reactive observation will break it. Nothing has yet, but I can feel it loosening.

I'll come back to the story that began this, but first I want to explain how I meditate. At first I tried to just sit there. Then I tried counting breaths, or noticing my breathing without giving it a name or number. But I found all of these methods very mentally painful: it was, at the time, almost impossible to sit there without these disturbances, like a magnet under the table, drawing me around my inner world.

Finally I read about a form of Vipassana meditation where you draw your mind around the body, inch by inch,  attempting to feel the sensation of each part. I think this can be done in a number of ways, but what has worked for me is to close my eyes and spend no more than a minute focused on the skin there, trying to feel an itch, or a breeze, maybe just the sense of a pore or a bump. The next paragraph is a detailed description of the path I follow.

I start with a bump at the top of my head, then go slowly down my forehead, the space between my eyebrows, my nose, on down to the front middle of my neck, across my collarbone, up my neck on the right to my right ear, then over the right temple, the eyes and nose again to the left ear, down again to the middle of the throat. From there I go down through the middle of my chest to my belly button, to the private parts, around back, up my spine to the back of my head. Again I go up to that bump on the top of my head, down to my nose and throat, then over to my right shoulder, elbow, wrist and each of my fingers. I am usually sitting with my hands touching, so I jump from right hand to left and go back up the left wrist, elbow, shoulder, then begin to go down my left flank to my hip, thigh, shinbone, left ankle, heel, then toes, jump over to the right leg and up the right flank all the way up to the top of my head again.

It is very interesting how, depending on my state of mind, this process of shifting concentration can be frustratingly difficult or refreshingly easy. Sometimes I have to fight with myself for several minutes to get any sensation on my forehead, or the tip of my ear, or my throat, while my mind rages about some stupid thing that happened in the day, or decades ago, or that I imagine will happen tomorrow. Other times (this is rare so far!) it is the most natural feeling in the world, and I feel nothing but that part of my body.

After I have done this, though, I usually find it much easier to focus on my breathing: the sensation of my breath entering and leaving my nostrils feels like a river going through me.

And so the connection to the beginning of this entry. The first time I did this was the most incredible. I started out following the method I described above. I went very slowly, and I thought about nothing. It wasn't easy, but I started to find that I could sense each part of my body, something I hadn't feel possible before. I noticed how my spine was just in constant pain because of my posture, something I've grown inured to, but that is clearly affecting me every moment of the day. The point isn't to fix, or even really notice, these problems, so I just let them go. But this might clarify how a sharp focus like this can bring out the problems that are there at all times, but covered up by the noise of daily life and constant repression by the mind.

This first time I sat for an hour and forty five minutes. Before 20 minutes was standard, thirty was an especially good session. I was just so absorbed that I didn't even notice the time. In this time I went around my body two and a half times.

The beginning of the third time I was so focused that I began to see myself IN the part of the body I was concentrating on. Usually I feel myself solidly seated in the middle of my head, and I feel distance between that place in my brain and the place I am focused on. Sometimes I notice I am even turning my head unconsciously to "look" with my head at the place I am concentrating on! But this time there was no distance, and just like that time on the bus, I was actually inside, or one with, the "object" of my focus. I could clearly see a tiny ball of white light floating down my face in each spot I was moving my focus through. I was a aware of movement, but I did not actually feel I was moving, it was just happening, though I was somehow involved in that movement. Somehow this broke (I think my timer chimed) and I lost the sensation. I didn't feel I could force that feeling again at that time, and I stopped meditating.

I have heard for many years about the "third eye", and I believe that this comes from this sort of concentration. It is a point just above the midpoint between the eyes, and for me it causes a strong sensation that is often easy to concentrate on: it is actually a very tense feeling there. But I think this is the place on the skin closest to this weird "brain observer" that I mentioned, the one that turns my head when I am focusing on a part of my body but am not focused enough to actually "be" in that place. I haven't tried it yet, but I think it might be very productive to spend a session focused on this point, perhaps separating this brain observer from its false location in the brain and putting it somewhere else, more easily than I have been able to while just focusing on parts of my body.