Mindfulness in 'head' region (citta sati?)

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Mindfulness in 'head' region (citta sati?)

Postby umop_3pisdn » Tue Oct 08, 2013 8:20 pm

I've been meditating for about a couple of years but it has generally been an exercise in frustration for me. Recently I've been noticing more clearly that it's due to a tendency towards indolence and frustration, and a misapplication of energy that leads to me oscillating between periods of laxity and striving. I find the more consistent feature of my practice is that I can move towards 'trance' states but arousing mindfulness is difficult, and I would characterize them as 'trance' states because being lacking in the awareness aspect I experience a general dulling of my faculties. So with this in mind I shifted my former focus which was more towards samatha, to perhaps what it should have been all along, developing more of the sati-sampajanna aspect, in tandem with some samadhi. It basically took me those two years to get my priorities sorted out.

Since I've started I've predominantly been practicing anapanasati at the 'anapana spot'. I haven't really concerned myself with the diversity of tradition or eclecticism of technique because at my stage of practice it was all fairly basic and minimal anyways. I would try to affix my awareness at the location and try to observe the breath as continuously as possible, sometimes counting or noting the inhalation or exhalation, sometimes just trying to sensitize my awareness to the sensation, with the intention of cultivating sati and samadhi. My practice was marked largely by experimentation, but that seems somewhat unavoidable especially in the absence of a human teacher, the main detour I would take would be what I mentioned earlier about not exercising the discernment or awareness faculty (sampajanna?) and losing the object while drifting into a state of dullness.

For further background because it ends up being pretty significant, my frustration lead me to looking into supplementary aids like EEG neurofeedback. Though I would claim I had no delusion of technology being able to do the work for me, and no intention of fetishizing something extraneous, ultimately due to my tendency towards indolence I do seek the path of least resistance in everything. Though in earnest I had the intuition that it might make some aspects of my practice more apparent to me, or perhaps help me to correct some maladaptive tendencies more within the purview of clinical therapy. Since mindfulness seemed to be what I lacked, I thought that a tool that might clarify mental qualities that I was numbed to would count as skillful if it worked well enough and I was able to contextualize it appropriately so it did not serve as a distraction. I used a particular modality for a while, while attending to the auditory feedback as the object, and it did clarify my tendency towards striving, but apart from that it seemed to further promote my tendency towards undiscerning 'trance' states, because that became more frequent, so I put that aside for a while.

Then I stumbled onto another application of that technology that was intended to be geared more towards mindfulness, which my experience confirmed. My first marked experience with it, which I would describe as observing mental characteristics, so as to assess the effect of the feedback (they felt more like 'mental sensations' in a way, but I could relate them to brightening awareness or making my head feel more spacious, etc) resulted in a resensitization to my experience to the degree that I would liken it to my past experiences with LSD (only more productive). I immediately became aware of a persistent low level of anxiety and I realized that I was numbing myself to it, and that my other problems with numbed awareness stemmed from this. Considering that this went so opposite to my normal mode, which I would describe as narcotizing myself to unfavorable things due to a kind of ignorance or selective focus, I felt that my intuition about the personal usefulness of this technology was confirmed even though the effect was a bit on the bold side.

Since then I've returned to practicing anapanasati as I had before, but with the neurofeedback tones playing in the background. The neurofeedback did help me to better discern how to apply effort, when my mind wanders, and it even lead me to 'move' my previous 'anapana spot' to one that now works better, but practicing anapanasati with this neurofeedback lacked even half of that 'sensitization' effect that I described. It seemed like I was still practicing some samatha variant, just more productively and with more mindfulness and discernment. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but after momentarily trying out the 'mindfulness of awareness-sensation' again (citta sati?) I got a similar result.

So I'm wondering, why might I find such a strong effect from placing my attention there, and what canonical practice would that be if there is one? Am I right that it's citta sati or the third foundation of mindfulness? It feels like the mental equivalent of sensation, if that makes sense, and while I would locate it decidedly in my 'head', my 'head' feels way more spacious and airy and the perception of my body seems to be falling into the background. I kind of feel like I'm placing my awareness while not on awareness itself, a more obvious signifier or feedback mechanism of awareness, and I'm not talking about the neurofeedback, it's kind of like I'm turning the 'awareness' knob more directly than I was before and I can watch it brighten or dim in due course. It's also way more strenuous and I can do it only for shorter periods. With mindfulness being the more hard-won faculty for me, it got my curiosity about how viable of an avenue this would be for me.

I feel like this is a weird thread considering, I'm hesitant of getting steered off course and I'm ultimately not interested in novel states for their own sake, but using neurofeedback as a tool has clarified a lot of things for and I feel like I'm only now on the path of becoming more 'awake', so while I feel better able to discern some obstacles and detours, it has raised this particular question for me that I have difficulty finding the context for. What am I doing and how can I contextualize it?

Thanks to anyone that bothered to read this.
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Re: Mindfulness in 'head' region (citta sati?)

Postby kirk5a » Tue Oct 08, 2013 11:04 pm

I would say you are observing varying characteristics of "the mind," and so yes, I agree that is basically what is emphasized by Cittānupassanā.
"When the mind is constricted, he discerns that the mind is constricted. When the mind is scattered, he discerns that the mind is scattered. When the mind is enlarged, he discerns that the mind is enlarged. When the mind is not enlarged, he discerns that the mind is not enlarged. When the mind is surpassed, he discerns that the mind is surpassed. When the mind is unsurpassed, he discerns that the mind is unsurpassed. When the mind is concentrated, he discerns that the mind is concentrated. When the mind is not concentrated, he discerns that the mind is not concentrated. When the mind is released, he discerns that the mind is released. When the mind is not released, he discerns that the mind is not released.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Speaking from experience, I would recommend being cautious about developing too much emphasis in the head region, as this can cause imbalances. Something to explore is the principle of "conscious awareness throughout the body" and experimenting with the location of the "anapana spot" as explained here by Ajahn Lee.

5. Become acquainted with the bases or focal points for the mind — the resting spots of the breath — and center your awareness on whichever one seems most comfortable. A few of these bases are:

a. the tip of the nose,
b. the middle of the head,
c. the palate,
d. the base of the throat,
e. the breastbone (the tip of the sternum),
f. the navel (or a point just above it).
If you suffer from frequent headaches or nervous problems, don't focus on any spot above the base of the throat. And don't try to force the breath or put yourself into a trance. Breathe freely and naturally. Let the mind be at ease with the breath — but not to the point where it slips away.

6. Spread your awareness — your sense of conscious feeling — throughout the entire body.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... ml#method2
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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Re: Mindfulness in 'head' region (citta sati?)

Postby IanAnd » Wed Oct 09, 2013 7:06 am

Hello umop_3pisdn,

That's a bit of a clumsy handle you've chosen there. Mind if I refer to you as umop?

You've provided us with a very detailed and articulate description here. And that is very helpful. Thank you. Not everyone who posts here is able to do this.

It appears that you have discovered a back door method of being able to practice mindfulness (sati). Once I'm able to discern more about what it is that is happening, I'll be able to tell you more about it. I'm still not totally clear about what it is that you are doing that is working, but clearly you seem to have had a positive response to the method you've discovered. I'm trying to visualize what you are describing, but am having a problem understanding what you mean by certain descriptions. Although I can positively answer one of the questions you ask.

You asked: "Am I right that it's citta sati or the third foundation of mindfulness?"

From your description of what you are doing, this is not the canonical equivalent of what is meant by mindfulness of the mind or mind states (citta ayatana). For a clearer understanding of the method of satipatthana that you wish to practice, you will do well to obtain the book Satipatthana, The Direct Path to Realization by Ven. Analayo (if you haven't obtained it already).

In it, he describes this practice (and I concur from personal experience, which is why I am mentioning it) as directing "awareness to the ethical quality of mind, namely to the presence or absence of lust (raga), anger (dosa), and delusion (moha)." The instructions are:

    "He knows a lustful mind to be 'lustful', a mind without lust to be 'without lust'; he knows an angry mind to be 'angry', and a mind without anger to be 'without anger'; he knows a deluded mind to be 'deluded', and a mind without delusion to be 'without delusion'; he knows a contracted mind to be 'contracted', and a distracted mind to be 'distracted'; he knows a great mind to be 'great', and a narrow mind to be 'narrow'; he knows a surpassable mind to be 'surpassable', and an unsurpassable mind to be 'unsurpassable'; he knows a concentrated mind to be 'concentrated', and an unconcentrated mind to be 'unconcentrated'; he knows a liberated mind to be 'liberated', and an unliberated mind to be 'unliberated'." (MN 10.34, i 59)

I will have to get back to you on your other questions. I don't have the time at the moment to analyze what you have given us.

So, it is sound tones that are playing in the background that you are using while practicing anapanasati. I prefer the silence, but whatever works for you in order to establish mindfulness is acceptable.

All the best,
Ian
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Mindfulness in 'head' region (citta sati?)

Postby IanAnd » Thu Oct 10, 2013 6:35 am

Hello umop,

Prefaced with: "The neurofeedback did help me to better discern how to apply effort, when my mind wanders, and it even led me to 'move' my previous 'anapana spot' to one that now works better, but practicing anapanasati with this neurofeedback lacked even half of that 'sensitization' effect that I described. It seemed like I was still practicing some samatha variant, just more productively and with more mindfulness and discernment. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but after momentarily trying out the 'mindfulness of awareness-sensation' again (citta sati?) I got a similar result."

You asked: "So I'm wondering, why might I find such a strong effect from placing my attention there, and what canonical practice would that be if there is one?"

Just prior to asking this questions, you wrote of two different efforts, the second one being using the "mindfulness of awareness-sensation." I'm just endeavoring to follow what you wrote and to figure out what you are referring to. My question to you is: which method are you referring to when you say "placing my attention there"? Do you mean the first (anapanasati with the neurofeedback in the background) or the second method? (I'll look at the paragraph that contains this question, and comment on it in more depth below.)

In all truth, there is no good reason why one person experiences a positive result practicing in one way as opposed to practicing in another way. You work with whatever comes up and go from there. If working with sound helps you to improve mindfulness for the time being, then that is a good thing. Use it and endeavor to discern why it is working so well for you (if you're a curious sort, that is). Over time, you may be able to switch to the breath, which is always with us and therefore can be a useful object in the development of mindfulness and clear seeing outside of meditation in the heat of the moment (once you've trained the mind to obey your intentions).

Using the breath as a meditation object can be useful in many ways. If the mind ever becomes inattentive or unfocused, simply placing attention back on the breath for a few seconds usually revitalizes and re-establishes mindfulness (sati). At least, this is what I have experienced. It doesn't happen automatically; you need to do it with the intent to re-establish mindfulness. Contrary to how some may perceive this ability once it begins to be developed, this doesn't have anything to do with the development of a magical mind (or a mystical mind), but rather with disciplining the mind to obey your commands when you give them (or as you say when you "apply effort").

The fact that you are using your intuition and experimenting with different approaches speaks well for you. Also, you are correct in your impression of sampajanna being a reference to a discernment faculty ("clear seeing or knowing" or "clear comprehension" are its usual translations).

    "The neurofeedback did help me to better discern how to apply effort, when my mind wanders, and it even led me to 'move' my previous 'anapana spot' to one that now works better, but practicing anapanasati with this neurofeedback lacked even half of that 'sensitization' effect that I described. It seemed like I was still practicing some samatha variant, just more productively and with more mindfulness and discernment."

This is good that you have discovered how to "apply effort" to keep the mind from wandering, that you can use your intention to affect the wandering. And, as I'm sure you are aware, there's nothing wrong with "more mindfulness and discernment" (sati-sampajanna) since this is what keeps us from stumbling into more dukkha, and thereby it leads to wisdom. You may also want to develop a sufficient level of concentration (samadhi) in order to keep the mind stable and focused in order to begin developing a deeper practice in satipatthana.

    "I immediately became aware of a persistent low level of anxiety and I realized that I was numbing myself to it, and that my other problems with numbed awareness stemmed from this."

This might be something that you may want to look into in terms of contemplation in order to discover more about it and how it is triggered within you. Once you can see what the triggering mechanism is, it will help you to avoid that condition or to find a way to deactivate it. Your journey in meditation and contemplation consists of the practice of using both concentration and insight in developing wise attention (yoniso manasikara) toward those things that cause various phenomena to arise (such as dukkha).

    "So I'm wondering, why might I find such a strong effect from placing my attention there, and what canonical practice would that be if there is one? ... It feels like the mental equivalent of sensation, if that makes sense, and while I would locate it decidedly in my 'head', my 'head' feels way more spacious and airy and the perception of my body seems to be falling into the background. I kind of feel like I'm placing my awareness while not on awareness itself, a more obvious signifier or feedback mechanism of awareness, and I'm not talking about the neurofeedback, it's kind of like I'm turning the 'awareness' knob more directly than I was before and I can watch it brighten or dim in due course. It's also way more strenuous and I can do it only for shorter periods. With mindfulness being the more hard-won faculty for me, it got my curiosity about how viable of an avenue this would be for me."

Until I know which method you are referring to here, I am not able to definitively comment, but only to speculate.

What I am able to comment upon is the following:

Whichever method you are using that is "more strenuous," you should know that developing concentrative awareness is not meant to be strenuous. It should be easy and natural and effortless. People who decide to pursue a development of dhyana meditation do so with the idea of developing a pleasant abiding. Once they are able to reach that abiding, time and time again at will, it becomes associated with the pleasantness of the experience, thus setting up a natural biofeedback mechanism that they can access at will. This, then, can lead to the devopment of appana samadhi (or fixed concentration) upon the object of meditation. This type of samadhi looks and feels very similar to the fourth level of dhyana meditation, and is the perfect condition in which to practice insight, because the mind is workable, malleable, established, and imperturbable making it easy to incline it toward knowing and "seeing things as they really are."

Your description of the sensation happening in your head is typical of someone who has found that natural biofeedback mechanism. For example, there is a sensation that I experience (and which is fairly common among experienced meditators in general) in which there is a slight pressure in the center of the head (similar to a headache, but not as unpleasant in my opinion) that I have always associated with the strengthening of a state of concentration. I've been associating it that way since I was a child when I noticed that my level of concentration increased whenever I experienced that slight pressure (similar to a balloon expanding inside the head in the region of the forehead). If this is what you mean by "mindfulness of awareness-sensation" then, yes, this is it! That natural biofeedback mechanism.

From the fourth level of dhyana meditation, the mind can go in one of two different directions depending upon which intention one is directing it toward: it can go either toward developing a deeper calm (with the intent to explore the four arupa or immaterial dhyanas) or it can go toward developing insight about an object of observation. This happenstance may explain why some refer to this phenomenon as one's being in either a samatha jhana or a vipassana jhana.

You may find something of interest to explore in an older thread I started entitled The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness. In it I highlight the process one undergoes on the path toward awakening, and the role that mindfulness plays in that process.

Does any of that help you to begin making sense of what you experienced?

All the best,
Ian
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Re: Mindfulness in 'head' region (citta sati?)

Postby umop_3pisdn » Thu Oct 10, 2013 7:02 am

kirk5a wrote:I would say you are observing varying characteristics of "the mind," and so yes, I agree that is basically what is emphasized by Cittānupassanā.
"When the mind is constricted, he discerns that the mind is constricted. When the mind is scattered, he discerns that the mind is scattered. When the mind is enlarged, he discerns that the mind is enlarged. When the mind is not enlarged, he discerns that the mind is not enlarged. When the mind is surpassed, he discerns that the mind is surpassed. When the mind is unsurpassed, he discerns that the mind is unsurpassed. When the mind is concentrated, he discerns that the mind is concentrated. When the mind is not concentrated, he discerns that the mind is not concentrated. When the mind is released, he discerns that the mind is released. When the mind is not released, he discerns that the mind is not released.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Speaking from experience, I would recommend being cautious about developing too much emphasis in the head region, as this can cause imbalances. Something to explore is the principle of "conscious awareness throughout the body" and experimenting with the location of the "anapana spot" as explained here by Ajahn Lee.

5. Become acquainted with the bases or focal points for the mind — the resting spots of the breath — and center your awareness on whichever one seems most comfortable. A few of these bases are:

a. the tip of the nose,
b. the middle of the head,
c. the palate,
d. the base of the throat,
e. the breastbone (the tip of the sternum),
f. the navel (or a point just above it).
If you suffer from frequent headaches or nervous problems, don't focus on any spot above the base of the throat. And don't try to force the breath or put yourself into a trance. Breathe freely and naturally. Let the mind be at ease with the breath — but not to the point where it slips away.

6. Spread your awareness — your sense of conscious feeling — throughout the entire body.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... ml#method2


Thanks kirk. I've read that developing mindfulness in the head region can be problematic because most of our sense doors are there so it calls for more care in guarding them. Conscious awareness throughout the body also has a kind of sensibility to it, seeing awareness as located in the head feels inaccurate or reductive. Thank you for referring me to Ajahn Lee's work, I wasn't familiar with any locations for observing the breath outside of the nostril or upper lip area and the abdomen.

I think I'm going to mostly continue with anapanasati anyways, because the breath is a more stable phenomenon that I can more readily grasp day in and day out, I don't really think I'm that prepared to place my emphasis on more subtle phenomenon.

IanAnd wrote:Hello umop_3pisdn,

That's a bit of a clumsy handle you've chosen there. Mind if I refer to you as umop?

You've provided us with a very detailed and articulate description here. And that is very helpful. Thank you. Not everyone who posts here is able to do this.

It appears that you have discovered a back door method of being able to practice mindfulness (sati). Once I'm able to discern more about what it is that is happening, I'll be able to tell you more about it. I'm still not totally clear about what it is that you are doing that is working, but clearly you seem to have had a positive response to the method you've discovered. I'm trying to visualize what you are describing, but am having a problem understanding what you mean by certain descriptions. Although I can positively answer one of the questions you ask.

You asked: "Am I right that it's citta sati or the third foundation of mindfulness?"

From your description of what you are doing, this is not the canonical equivalent of what is meant by mindfulness of the mind or mind states (citta ayatana). For a clearer understanding of the method of satipatthana that you wish to practice, you will do well to obtain the book Satipatthana, The Direct Path to Realization by Ven. Analayo (if you haven't obtained it already).

In it, he describes this practice (and I concur from personal experience, which is why I am mentioning it) as directing "awareness to the ethical quality of mind, namely to the presence or absence of lust (raga), anger (dosa), and delusion (moha)." The instructions are:

    "He knows a lustful mind to be 'lustful', a mind without lust to be 'without lust'; he knows an angry mind to be 'angry', and a mind without anger to be 'without anger'; he knows a deluded mind to be 'deluded', and a mind without delusion to be 'without delusion'; he knows a contracted mind to be 'contracted', and a distracted mind to be 'distracted'; he knows a great mind to be 'great', and a narrow mind to be 'narrow'; he knows a surpassable mind to be 'surpassable', and an unsurpassable mind to be 'unsurpassable'; he knows a concentrated mind to be 'concentrated', and an unconcentrated mind to be 'unconcentrated'; he knows a liberated mind to be 'liberated', and an unliberated mind to be 'unliberated'." (MN 10.34, i 59)

I will have to get back to you on your other questions. I don't have the time at the moment to analyze what you have given us.

So, it is sound tones that are playing in the background that you are using while practicing anapanasati. I prefer the silence, but whatever works for you in order to establish mindfulness is acceptable.

All the best,
Ian


Thanks Ian. umop is fine.

I'm not really sure what's happening either, it occurred to me that it might be some kind of incomplete or pseudo nimitta, if such a thing exists, but I'm not sure if I have any reason to think that. What made me consider it is that it seems to be easier for me to find it if I've already established some degree of tranquility, and also that my awareness and concentration seemed kind of coupled to itself in a way, like when my effort would lag I'd immediately see it in the 'content' I was observing and I could make really fine momentary adjustments in an unperturbed way that for me was unprecedented, and there was a more natural eagerness or energy where my attention would lag less even though it called for more energy, kind of like my mind knew it was observing itself so it immediately became more interested in what was going on :P I've heard of nimittas as being described as a kind of feedback mechanism before, and this felt like perhaps a crude or unrefined form of that, and it does seem to be bolstered by the neurofeedback I'm doing, since that seems to somehow inform my ability to find it. But I also don't really know how that can be a satisfactory explanation if I don't know what the 'content' or 'sign' is exactly, which is itself pretty baffling!

All I can really conjure up are flimsy similes, kind of like I was exercising some unknown muscle to 'brighten' my awareness, I would say there was a quality of 'brightening' to it, like I think there are a few factors or mental qualities that together kind of describe 'insight' but if so I only remember that vaguely, if it had some degree of one of those it seemed to be 'luminousness'. Or sort of like if you spent most of your time idly sitting on a chair, but then you decided to stand up. But it's weird because both times I've reliably found it I seemed to find it in a slightly different way, so I'm really not sure how consistent it is at all. I tried to locate it again today but I failed, so any eagerness I have for adopting this as a consistent or practical method may be premature! At one point I'm fairly sure that it seemed like my visual field was becoming brighter as well, but this was so featureless and in the background relative to what I was attending to that I'm not even sure if that actually happened, and it may have been a 'mental quality' rather than a 'visual quality' that accompanied the 'brightening' sensation, so I don't know what if anything to make of that. There was also like some subtle movement stuff going on in my head, like when you observe the subtle sensations of the breath throughout the rest of your body, but they didn't really seem noteworthy to me in any way.

How you describe satipatthana agrees perfectly with what I read in one of Bhante Gunaratana's books (I need to read Analayo's book), and I'm inclined to agree with that. I think you're right that it's not satipatthana, or the kind that a person would be inclined to practice for "setting up mindfulness" of the mind.

Thank you again, I'm going to try to gather more experience so I can at least describe the phenomenon a bit more confidently.

I think often times I would prefer silence too, but my mind is so meandering that I don't really mind compromising on it. I turn the volume pretty low and the way the feedback is set up with the particular software that I'm using, the main positive feedback is actually silence, and there is a sound that serve as inhibitory feedback, and an additional sound for an 'above normal' reward, so it's much less 'noisy' than my other experiences with neurofeedback. It is still definitely more noisy than silence, though! And I do sometimes notice some potential for distraction in the added stimuli. I think it's probably something that has a limited usefulness mainly for less experienced people, I know I'm hoping that I reach a point where it becomes a more definitive nuisance :P

edit: I just noticed your second post, I was actually just about to go to bed, I'll have to digest that and return with a response.
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Re: Mindfulness in 'head' region (citta sati?)

Postby umop_3pisdn » Fri Oct 11, 2013 7:21 am

IanAnd wrote:Hello umop,

Prefaced with: "The neurofeedback did help me to better discern how to apply effort, when my mind wanders, and it even led me to 'move' my previous 'anapana spot' to one that now works better, but practicing anapanasati with this neurofeedback lacked even half of that 'sensitization' effect that I described. It seemed like I was still practicing some samatha variant, just more productively and with more mindfulness and discernment. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but after momentarily trying out the 'mindfulness of awareness-sensation' again (citta sati?) I got a similar result."

You asked: "So I'm wondering, why might I find such a strong effect from placing my attention there, and what canonical practice would that be if there is one?"

Just prior to asking this questions, you wrote of two different efforts, the second one being using the "mindfulness of awareness-sensation." I'm just endeavoring to follow what you wrote and to figure out what you are referring to. My question to you is: which method are you referring to when you say "placing my attention there"? Do you mean the first (anapanasati with the neurofeedback in the background) or the second method? (I'll look at the paragraph that contains this question, and comment on it in more depth below.)

Sorry for being unclear, I meant the second method, or the practice that wasn't anapanasati.
IanAnd wrote:In all truth, there is no good reason why one person experiences a positive result practicing in one way as opposed to practicing in another way. You work with whatever comes up and go from there. If working with sound helps you to improve mindfulness for the time being, then that is a good thing. Use it and endeavor to discern why it is working so well for you (if you're a curious sort, that is). Over time, you may be able to switch to the breath, which is always with us and therefore can be a useful object in the development of mindfulness and clear seeing outside of meditation in the heat of the moment (once you've trained the mind to obey your intentions).
Using the breath as a meditation object can be useful in many ways. If the mind ever becomes inattentive or unfocused, simply placing attention back on the breath for a few seconds usually revitalizes and re-establishes mindfulness (sati). At least, this is what I have experienced. It doesn't happen automatically; you need to do it with the intent to re-establish mindfulness. Contrary to how some may perceive this ability once it begins to be developed, this doesn't have anything to do with the development of a magical mind (or a mystical mind), but rather with disciplining the mind to obey your commands when you give them (or as you say when you "apply effort").

That's actually really helpful, I often find myself using the breath to re-establish mindfulness, but I’d have a kind of doubt about it for some reason, like I’d feel like I needed to be more committed to that object to the exclusion of others or like it was some kind of half measure. I think I can get pretty attached to the sheen of ‘traditionalism’ or 'orthodoxy', neurofeedback aside I guess, I assume it’s an extension of some kind of perfectionism or something, at least it’s similarly irrational. Viewed with more practical consideration I can see a lot of more meaningful/less compulsive reasons to place an emphasis on anapanasati.
IanAnd wrote:The fact that you are using your intuition and experimenting with different approaches speaks well for you. Also, you are correct in your impression of sampajanna being a reference to a discernment faculty ("clear seeing or knowing" or "clear comprehension" are its usual translations).

    "The neurofeedback did help me to better discern how to apply effort, when my mind wanders, and it even led me to 'move' my previous 'anapana spot' to one that now works better, but practicing anapanasati with this neurofeedback lacked even half of that 'sensitization' effect that I described. It seemed like I was still practicing some samatha variant, just more productively and with more mindfulness and discernment."

This is good that you have discovered how to "apply effort" to keep the mind from wandering, that you can use your intention to affect the wandering. And, as I'm sure you are aware, there's nothing wrong with "more mindfulness and discernment" (sati-sampajanna) since this is what keeps us from stumbling into more dukkha, and thereby it leads to wisdom. You may also want to develop a sufficient level of concentration (samadhi) in order to keep the mind stable and focused in order to begin developing a deeper practice in satipatthana.

I think you’re right. I went from an extreme of placing almost all of my attention on samadhi, to placing almost all of it on mindfulness. I think I started to appreciate the damage that I could do if I had a high degree of samadhi without mindfulness or clear comprehension so I desperately wanted to guard against it, which is actually pretty funny :tongue: Developing both together seems better still.

IanAnd wrote:
    "I immediately became aware of a persistent low level of anxiety and I realized that I was numbing myself to it, and that my other problems with numbed awareness stemmed from this."

This might be something that you may want to look into in terms of contemplation in order to discover more about it and how it is triggered within you. Once you can see what the triggering mechanism is, it will help you to avoid that condition or to find a way to deactivate it. Your journey in meditation and contemplation consists of the practice of using both concentration and insight in developing wise attention (yoniso manasikara) toward those things that cause various phenomena to arise (such as dukkha).

I think this is really true, in fact my aversion to actually investigating it has been cluing me in to how important it is. A more vague knowledge of it has already loosened it a bit so I can only imagine how I would benefit from a finer knowledge of it. I know it's a result of a kind of social sensitivity and self-image problem, and the bulk of my maladaptive habits seem to be rooted in the same place, I think it's probably the most important immediate thing I can do on a personal growth basis.

IanAnd wrote:
    "So I'm wondering, why might I find such a strong effect from placing my attention there, and what canonical practice would that be if there is one? ... It feels like the mental equivalent of sensation, if that makes sense, and while I would locate it decidedly in my 'head', my 'head' feels way more spacious and airy and the perception of my body seems to be falling into the background. I kind of feel like I'm placing my awareness while not on awareness itself, a more obvious signifier or feedback mechanism of awareness, and I'm not talking about the neurofeedback, it's kind of like I'm turning the 'awareness' knob more directly than I was before and I can watch it brighten or dim in due course. It's also way more strenuous and I can do it only for shorter periods. With mindfulness being the more hard-won faculty for me, it got my curiosity about how viable of an avenue this would be for me."

Until I know which method you are referring to here, I am not able to definitively comment, but only to speculate.

What I am able to comment upon is the following:

Whichever method you are using that is "more strenuous," you should know that developing concentrative awareness is not meant to be strenuous. It should be easy and natural and effortless. People who decide to pursue a development of dhyana meditation do so with the idea of developing a pleasant abiding. Once they are able to reach that abiding, time and time again at will, it becomes associated with the pleasantness of the experience, thus setting up a natural biofeedback mechanism that they can access at will. This, then, can lead to the devopment of appana samadhi (or fixed concentration) upon the object of meditation. This type of samadhi looks and feels very similar to the fourth level of dhyana meditation, and is the perfect condition in which to practice insight, because the mind is workable, malleable, established, and imperturbable making it easy to incline it toward knowing and "seeing things as they really are."

I’m really glad to get clarification on this, the quality of the ‘effort’ you use in dhyana has confused me for such a long time. I’ve heard that samadhi generally seems to have a ‘forced’ quality to it and can be cultivated by force, but dhyana is often called ‘tranquility meditation’ which is antithetical to striving. I’ve gradually moved away from striving, I think, simply because if that’s what my meditation was it wouldn’t be long before I quit doing it and I'd be happier with half measures over nothing, that was always my reasoning anyways, but I think that’s one of those individual lessons that will keep coming up over and over for me, because it has so far :P

I did find that I was significantly exceeding the normal span between ‘attentional blinks’, and I was actually seeing the 'attentional blinks' themselves (as much as I could at least) and it felt really vigorous, but normally I resent vigorous activity and this felt invigorating, yet some faculty did tire so that does seem kind of paradoxical, and if it is strenuous enough to be uncomfortable with how you've framed dhyana practice that would definitely be counter productive.

IanAnd wrote:Your description of the sensation happening in your head is typical of someone who has found that natural biofeedback mechanism. For example, there is a sensation that I experience (and which is fairly common among experienced meditators in general) in which there is a slight pressure in the center of the head (similar to a headache, but not as unpleasant in my opinion) that I have always associated with the strengthening of a state of concentration. I've been associating it that way since I was a child when I noticed that my level of concentration increased whenever I experienced that slight pressure (similar to a balloon expanding inside the head in the region of the forehead). If this is what you mean by "mindfulness of awareness-sensation" then, yes, this is it! That natural biofeedback mechanism.

I didn’t apprehend it as having a pressure sensation at the time, it felt airy and light, but I have felt that pressure in the past, and I actually felt that when I tried again today along with a lighter airy sensation at the same time (I hope that isn’t an example of confirmation bias), so I’m not sure if maybe that just wasn’t a quality I was noticing at the time. The sensation of expansion seems like a common trend across all of the experiences that I can remember, though. It’s really interesting if this is a nimitta, I experienced a milder form of this phenomenon once not too long after I started meditating, but I ignored it as just a ‘queer sensation’ and it began to happen less. I guess this is a good example of why a teacher is a good thing to have!
IanAnd wrote:From the fourth level of dhyana meditation, the mind can go in one of two different directions depending upon which intention one is directing it toward: it can go either toward developing a deeper calm (with the intent to explore the four arupa or immaterial dhyanas) or it can go toward developing insight about an object of observation. This happenstance may explain why some refer to this phenomenon as one's being in either a samatha jhana or a vipassana jhana.

You may find something of interest to explore in an older thread I started entitled The Practical Aspects of Establishing Mindfulness. In it I highlight the process one undergoes on the path toward awakening, and the role that mindfulness plays in that process.

Does any of that help you to begin making sense of what you experienced?

All the best,
Ian

Thank you very much, you’ve been a great help.
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Re: Mindfulness in 'head' region (citta sati?)

Postby IanAnd » Sat Oct 12, 2013 6:53 am

Hello umop,

In addition to adding some further commentary, I'd like to clarify the intent of some of my comments that you replied to so that you have a clearer perception of what was meant. This medium of the written word is often deficient in what it allows one to imply without limiting other possibilities and therefore providing what might be perceived as a somewhat false impression of what was meant. In spoken communication, one can clear up such perceived misconceptions right away during the course of the conversation.

umop_3pisdn wrote:
I often find myself using the breath to re-establish mindfulness, but I’d have a kind of doubt about it for some reason, like I’d feel like I needed to be more committed to that object to the exclusion of others or like it was some kind of half measure. I think I can get pretty attached to the sheen of ‘traditionalism’ or 'orthodoxy', neurofeedback aside I guess, I assume it’s an extension of some kind of perfectionism or something, at least it’s similarly irrational.


Yes, what you are describing here about "doubt" in using an object that you feel needing to be more committed to or like it was some kind of half measure, is typical of an indecisive or intractable mind. The mind can be somewhat persnickety at times. Once you've programmed it to respond in one way, you think that that is the only way that you can use. But once you begin to open up your awareness to the use of a tool (like the breath in this instance, for re-establishing mindfulness) which helps you achieve an intended goal, that begins the process of mentally letting go of the conditioning you've previously set the mind up to follow. Generally, all it takes is a quick realization that this is what you are doing for the process to self-correct and allow you to use a variation on how you've conditioned the mind to perform (for example, allowing it to go from one object of observation to another without raising any doubt or whatever).

On the other hand, there's a difference between an intractable mind (one that finds it difficult to shift gears in mid-stream) and a mind that strives after perfection in execution of detail. There is nothing wrong in the pursuit of exactitude; just make sure that it doesn't cause havoc with the pursuit of some other goal. In other words, be able (flexible enough) to let go of something when it doesn't serve you, and be aware enough to recognize the difference.

umop_3pisdn wrote:I think you’re right. I went from an extreme of placing almost all of my attention on samadhi, to placing almost all of it on mindfulness. I think I started to appreciate the damage that I could do if I had a high degree of samadhi without mindfulness or clear comprehension so I desperately wanted to guard against it, which is actually pretty funny :tongue: Developing both together seems better still.


This is an easy mess to find oneself in. Especially, to use a related example, when much of the instruction that people read about these days separates samatha (calm) practice from vipassana (insight) practice making it seem like two separate practices. They are not. They are meant to be practiced together. And the same is true of samadhi (concentration) and mindfulness (present moment awareness). Although these are both distinct states of mind, the closeness of their expression (concentration is focused on a narrow field, while mindfulness is focused on a broad field) make them similar in their scope and easy to relate to one another.

Actually, samadhi (and dhyana samadhi in particular, I've found) helps to bolster mindfulness in the form of passaddhi, or "the continuation of calm" and stillness that follows after one comes out of meditation. When I first experience it, the description that came to mind was a "profound inner peace." The concept of passaddhi is something you need to become aware of in order to make a more expansive connection between concentration and mindfulness. Each helps to promote and strengthen the other, even though they are two distinct activities. Yet they are closely enough related that the connection between them becomes inescapably obvious.

You've already experienced this in some manner of speaking when you mentioned: "I did find that I was significantly exceeding the normal span between ‘attentional blinks’, and I was actually seeing the 'attentional blinks' themselves..." Just substitute "calm" (which is the perfect condition for developing mindfulness) for the recognizing the expansion of the span between "attentional blinks," and you're there! It's the same concept of expanding what starts out as momentary calm into longer and longer periods of calm. And when you begin to notice this taking place, it plays into the development of mindfulness.


umop_3pisdn wrote:
IanAnd wrote:
umop_3pisdn wrote: "I immediately became aware of a persistent low level of anxiety and I realized that I was numbing myself to it, and that my other problems with numbed awareness stemmed from this."


This might be something that you may want to look into in terms of contemplation in order to discover more about it and how it is triggered within you.

I think this is really true, in fact my aversion to actually investigating it has been cluing me in to how important it is. A more vague knowledge of it has already loosened it a bit so I can only imagine how I would benefit from a finer knowledge of it. I know it's a result of a kind of social sensitivity and self-image problem, and the bulk of my maladaptive habits seem to be rooted in the same place, I think it's probably the most important immediate thing I can do on a personal growth basis.


I can relate to the issues you bring up: "social sensitivity and self-image problem." I had similar issues. These are issues likely brought on by conditioning and contributing to a person's self-outlook as being introverted or shy. These issues can be tackled head on and quickly remedied, or can be approach from a more psychotherapeutic angle and be gradually dissolved. Contemplation on it can eventually yield answers as long as one is willing to confront (in terms of painful events) what one eventually sees and begins to see it as it actually is. There are other training modalities that can deal with this in a more straightforward manner that may involve momentary embarrassment, but work incredibly well at dissolving the fear and trepidation at the thought of experiencing embarrassment.

umop_3pisdn wrote:I’m really glad to get clarification on this, the quality of the ‘effort’ you use in dhyana has confused me for such a long time. I’ve heard that samadhi generally seems to have a ‘forced’ quality to it and can be cultivated by force, but dhyana is often called ‘tranquility meditation’ which is antithetical to striving.


Yes, it can be difficult to describe dhyana meditation to one who has no idea or way to relate to what one is talking about. I'm not sure that describing samadhi as seeming to have a "forced quality that can be cultivated by force" is conducive to comprehending it as a meditative state. One doesn't force samadhi to happen. It occurs naturally during the course of established mindfulness during meditation, which is why Gotama emphasized the practice of dhyana. Dhyana leads quite naturally to samadhi. Yet (and here's a paradoxical thought) if one knows what samadhi feels like (that is, how a concentrated mind feels when it becomes fixed and established imperturbably on an object), one can bypass the necessity to experience dhyana and go straight to samadhi.

And yes, dhyana meditation is (or can be) a directed (fabricated) experience wherein you create it based upon a pleasant sensation while observing an object, or it can happen quite naturally as a result of the mind settling in at ease on observing an object. Getting these two seemingly conflicting ideas across to someone who has never experienced it and who has been conditioned not to see it can be exasperating and frustrating at times. So, the meditative state of dhyana can be attained through the practice of tranquility meditation or through directing the mind to an activity that gives rise to a pleasant sensation which is then extended into tranquility meditation.

umop_3pisdn wrote:
IanAnd wrote:Whichever method you are using that is "more strenuous," you should know that developing concentrative awareness is not meant to be strenuous. It should be easy and natural and effortless....

I did find that I was significantly exceeding the normal span between ‘attentional blinks’, and I was actually seeing the 'attentional blinks' themselves (as much as I could at least) and it felt really vigorous, but normally I resent vigorous activity and this felt invigorating, yet some faculty did tire so that does seem kind of paradoxical,...


That invigorated feeling is viriya (or energy) one of the traditional seven factors (bojjhangas) of enlightenment. The other six factors are mindfulness, investigation of phenomena (dhamma vicaya), rapture (piti), tranquility (passaddhi), concentration (samadhi), and equanimity (upekkha).

umop_3pisdn wrote:I didn’t apprehend it as having a pressure sensation at the time, it felt airy and light, but I have felt that pressure in the past, and I actually felt that when I tried again today along with a lighter airy sensation at the same time (I hope that isn’t an example of confirmation bias), so I’m not sure if maybe that just wasn’t a quality I was noticing at the time.


That is just fine. When I first began to practice dhyana meditation, the objects I was choosing to observe had the same effect: an airy and light feeling to them. Gradually, that gave way to becoming absorbed in the object. I had to learn how to apply mindfulness (sati) in order not to experience that dullness of mind (or a trance-like state). Over time, that airy, light feeling gradually gave way to the pressure sensation as concentration was being developed. The airy, light feeling turned out to be a gateway to the development of concentration (samadhi) using absorption. Soon, I figured out how to go directly to samadhi without having to undergo the intervening of the dhyana progression of levels.

umop_3pisdn wrote:"The sensation of expansion seems like a common trend across all of the experiences that I can remember, though. It’s really interesting if this is a nimitta, I experienced a milder form of this phenomenon once not too long after I started meditating, but I ignored it as just a ‘queer sensation’ and it began to happen less. I guess this is a good example of why a teacher is a good thing to have!


Yes, it can be used or seen as being a nimitta, heralding the oncoming tranquility and stillness that leads to dhyana. And yes, ignoring it can be detrimental to its cultivation.

And I agree that this is a good example of why having a trusted guide can be ultimately beneficial. Especially one from one's own culture who can help to translate the intended meaning of the suttas in one's own language. The problem has always been that Asian teachers often translated the Pali using English words that were not quite exact enough for the Western mind to comprehensively grasp the intended meaning.

All the best,
Ian

P.S. Now I see why Benjamin referred to you as "upside down." Clever arrangement of letters!
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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