I just wanted to share the following meditation experience I've had a few times over the last couple of days.
With all this talk of sankharas
I've been quite vigilant over the last week in observing the five aggregates... which is pretty good for me, because usually in day to day living I opt for the six-sense bases because I can't get a grip on the lower level mental constituents during daily activity. Anyway, I've been mindful not only of these aggregates, but also the process of subtle volitional formation that lies behind it all. Even the slight shift of an eye is something I've observed as being a volitional act. Now, don't be under the impression I've been doing this 24-7, but it's been reasonably constant. I've been keeping in mind also that principle of idappaccayata, which underpins dependent origination, namely "When there is this, that is. With the arising of this, that arises. When this is not, neither is that. With the cessation of this, that ceases." The 'this' has generally been formations (certainly unwholesome ones, but even wholesome ones too), and the 'that' has generally been dukkha, probably scoped out best by Thanissaro's definition of 'stress'.
OK, so that's been the current modus operandi. I've meditated a few times as well lately, and over the last couple of days have had some interesting results, both in sitting meditation, and lying on my back. I start with some basic breath meditation and attempts to prevent the arising of papanca. When I've been determined and focused, I've actually managed to do that, and achieve a certain 'spaciousness' and 'openness' about the meditation where the mind relaxes yet remains clear, which is good, because I don't always get that, but it is in itself nothing new. What has been new is that I've been taking in with me this commitment to observe sankharas and to use the meditation as a means to still them further, so even in the 'spaciousness', I've endeavoured to observe even the slightest volition to move or redirect my attention to anything else. In order to still volition, I've held my awareness at a point in my forehead (I suppose you'd call it 'third eye', though I don't really buy into all that), or (if this makes sense) a point perhaps 30cm direct outside, in front of the body at that height. That's helped to keep my eyes (even though behind eyelids) pegged to a certain spot... like training an elephant, I've held them there. Cruder sankharas like greed and ill-will aren't present, and when relaxing into the spaciousness, even wholesome formations seem inherently stressful or obscuring compared to their absence, so letting go of those too has been possible too.
All good. At this point then, I start to hear a ringing in my ears, the body starts to 'cloud over' and I feel a blissful clearing of the mind in the temporary absence of any (observable) sankharas. This has happened about 6 times to date, and each instance has lasted anywhere between maybe 5 and 45 seconds. When it finishes (particularly in the session where I was lying on my back) it was possible to observe the sankharas that had been re-introduced into the equation (which doubtlessly was the cause behind the ending of the blissful state) and attempt to re-still them through bringing all activity back to that aforementioned point and not empowering them with any movement. From there, the blissful state could be reapproached.
In all of this, I'm pretty sure that none of it is jhana. I'm not doing the anapanasati long enough for that (10-15 minutes maybe?) - I just do it long enough to get to a point where keen interest in the observation exceeds the tendency to mentally proliferate. The total meditation session may be 50-90 minutes in duration.
If anyone who has been around the traps in terms of meditation would like to give me any recommendations, I would be most appreciative. I'm half expecting to hear the Ajahn Chah-esque, "Well that's just another thing for you to let go of" (particularly if Tilt sees this), but I feel that what I've been doing has been very beneficial and that precisely whatever it is that I've been doing, is a good form of mental cultivation and something worth repeating, if I can keep the mind appropriately disciplined and interested. I'm not doing it for the 'buzz', but for any wisdom that can be developed through it - that is all I care about.