Being Mindful of Mind States

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby christopher::: » Thu Oct 28, 2010 12:25 am

I've listened to this dharma talk by Ajahn Sucitto a couple of times over the last year and have found the insights to be very helpful. The concept of "mind states" is both in line with the dharma and modern western psychology. It's a useful way to think about how the aggregates arise interdependently as clusters of feeling/perception, imo.

:anjali:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby Ben » Thu Oct 28, 2010 1:22 am

Hi Christopher,
Welcome back, its been a while!
Thanks for the link. If you're interested in cittanupassana, I also recommend Ven Analayo's 'Satipatthana' as it covers it in his work.
kind regards

Ben
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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby christopher::: » Mon Nov 08, 2010 4:02 am

Hi Ben. Thanks so much.
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Nov 08, 2010 4:48 am

Funny thing about that talk was when Ajahn said something to the effect that: "You don't get dukkha from your ears" (picking some supposedly innocuous body part). In fact, often when I meditate in the morning, after a shower, my ears itch like hell as the water dries out...

I did a three-day retreat a couple of years ago with Ajhan Tiradhammo
http://dhammatalks.org.uk/index.php?opt ... &Itemid=67
who encouraged us to work though the mindfulness sections through the retreat, so first day we concentrated on the body, second on feelings, third on mind states (he then joked we'd have to come on a longer retreat to do dhammas...). This was actually really useful, first day got us grounded with walking and breathing, second we were encouraged to look for the feelings generated by the body, so I was seeing how some body parts were warm some were cold, and the cold bits were unpleasant (we was walking outside and it rained a bit...). On the third day I could start to see how the feelings were affecting my mind-state, and I managed to catch one time when my mood changed as I turned around at the end of the walking path. I suddenly went from happy to sad (or vice-versa...). Which sounds pretty lame when you write it down, but I generally find that catching a change in mind state is quite hard, and I also find that one or two slightly insightful moments per weekend is all I get...

:anjali:
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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby christopher::: » Thu Nov 25, 2010 5:33 am

mikenz66 wrote:Funny thing about that talk was when Ajahn said something to the effect that: "You don't get dukkha from your ears" (picking some supposedly innocuous body part). In fact, often when I meditate in the morning, after a shower, my ears itch like hell as the water dries out...

I did a three-day retreat a couple of years ago with Ajhan Tiradhammo
http://dhammatalks.org.uk/index.php?opt ... &Itemid=67
who encouraged us to work though the mindfulness sections through the retreat, so first day we concentrated on the body, second on feelings, third on mind states (he then joked we'd have to come on a longer retreat to do dhammas...). This was actually really useful, first day got us grounded with walking and breathing, second we were encouraged to look for the feelings generated by the body, so I was seeing how some body parts were warm some were cold, and the cold bits were unpleasant (we was walking outside and it rained a bit...). On the third day I could start to see how the feelings were affecting my mind-state, and I managed to catch one time when my mood changed as I turned around at the end of the walking path. I suddenly went from happy to sad (or vice-versa...). Which sounds pretty lame when you write it down, but I generally find that catching a change in mind state is quite hard, and I also find that one or two slightly insightful moments per weekend is all I get...

:anjali:
Mike


Thanks for the link, Mike, and that example. When you say "catching a change in mind state is quite hard" do you mean that observing it is difficult, or observing and then not falling into the new mind state, seeing it for what it is (an impermanent mindstate) so that it passes as quickly as it came... or something different?

I find i'm aware of my mindstates quite often, just that "awareness" differs in the attachment, immersion, etc. Numerous times during the day i'm totally lost in the spin of the arisings, though often i see emotions/preferences for what they are - yet have no control. What is rarer is to see a mindstate or emotion arise and have some insight and no identification with it, staying calm and detached, not acting on it.

In those cases the state will frequently dissipate and there is a sense of greater freedom. Like- "Ah, this dharma practice is working"...

:tongue:

Is your experience similar?
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Nov 25, 2010 5:37 am

Hi Christopher,

I mean that I find catching the change in mindstate is difficult. For me it's easy enough to realise "I'm angry", or "I'm calm" but so easy to see the point at which it changes.

Whereas seeing a change in bodily feeling, or thoughts coming and going, is much easier.

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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby christopher::: » Thu Nov 25, 2010 5:42 am

Okay, thanks. How about identification, how these are observed? For example observing "I am angry" is different from "An angry mindstate has arisen" right?

These thoughts reflect differing levels of insight, no? At least it seems that way for .... errr........ "me"

:juggling:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Nov 25, 2010 8:46 am

Hi Christopher,

I think you're reading too much into my description. I wasn't trying to make such distinctions in my brief note! If I were doing mediation I'd note "anger" rather than "I'm angry", etc...

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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Nov 25, 2010 8:57 am

christopher::: wrote:Okay, thanks. How about identification, how these are observed? For example observing "I am angry" is different from "An angry mindstate has arisen" right?

These thoughts reflect differing levels of insight, no? At least it seems that way for .... errr........ "me"

:juggling:

The inverted commas are not strictly necessary. The Theravada sees you or me as real ...or at least, as real as any other" compounded thing ". We arise from certain sets of conditions and cease when those conditions cease. While the conditions are present the convention that we exist is as good as any assumption.

Just so, anger arises...hearing arises...attraction arises...aversion arises. We note and return.
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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Thu Nov 25, 2010 1:39 pm

mikenz66 wrote:I mean that I find catching the change in mindstate is difficult. For me it's easy enough to realise "I'm angry", or "I'm calm" but so easy to see the point at which it changes.


I think mind states are more general than this, eg a cloudy or distracted mind - as opposed to the arising of particular thoughts and feelings.

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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby christopher::: » Thu Nov 25, 2010 1:42 pm

What i've noticed is how sometimes the sense of "I" is stronger, sometimes mind identifies with emotions as being me or mine, other times when calm and detached they are seen as just passing patterns of belief, emotion, meaning, memory, etc...

Spiny O'Norman wrote:
mikenz66 wrote:I mean that I find catching the change in mindstate is difficult. For me it's easy enough to realise "I'm angry", or "I'm calm" but so easy to see the point at which it changes.


I think mind states are more general than this, eg a cloudy or distracted mind - as opposed to the arising of particular thoughts and feelings.

Spiny


Actually, mind states are very specific in structure, shifting constantly, at least according to the scientific evidence on brain activity. We can see actual pictures of these various configurations now, thanks to modern imaging technologies. Each state of mind we experience has a corresponding pattern in the brain, something Buddha noticed thru careful observation 2,500 years ago, science has now confirmed.

Image

reading hearing thinking speaking
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Nov 25, 2010 2:10 pm

We have in this thread the term" mind states" being used in two different ways. This in part is a result of a western construct of mind being imposed onto a Buddhist model. What is shown in the illustration is not " mind states" but brain functionings that occur as a result of cognition or perception etc. These are not pictures of "the mind" they are images of synaptic activity in response to certain stimuli. Now its arguable that this exctly what the " mind" is....but that is an entirely different topic.
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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby christopher::: » Thu Nov 25, 2010 2:49 pm

Hi Sanghamitta

Well, this is the "Theravada for the modern world" forum, so.... it might be interesting to discuss? I would not say that these photos show what the mind "is" but they do (imo) correspond with what we each notice when carefully observing various patterns of cognition and emotion, attention changing within us.

The shifting images of the movie Casablanca on your TV is just light patterns changing. They correspond to Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman's actual movements over 60 years but what is on our screen is not the actors.

To say the movie in my living room is "just" light patterns is not a complete explanation, to say they are real people is not complete either. What these MRI images "really" are and what mind really is may be unanswerable.

But they correspond directly to how Ajahn Succito is speaking about "mind states" in the dhamma talk linked in the OP, in my opinion.
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby Sanghamitta » Thu Nov 25, 2010 3:06 pm

They are not light patterns. They are clusters of firing dendrites , electrical activity which is then translated into coloured light patterns by the use of technology for ease of observation.These are no more pictures of " mind" than an ECG is a picture of "love". They are happening in various parts of the brain which have evolved for the purpose. If those parts of the brain suffer trauma other parts of the brain can be trained to take up that activity.There is no ghost in the machine.
This is indeed interesting, but has no direct bearing on mind states as defined by the Buddha in the Pali canon...he certainly did not suggest that one becomes aware of specific physiological brain activities. He was using mind states in an entirely different way. More to do with mind set and awareness of mind set. And the way that mind set influences physiological activity. To understand the Buddhas model of "mind" it is necessary to have recourse to the kandha model.
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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby mikenz66 » Thu Nov 25, 2010 9:27 pm

Hi Christopher,

I (and others here) assumed that when you said "mind states" you meant the third satipatthana:
http://what-buddha-said.net/library/Bud ... th%C4%81na
3: He further clearly perceives and understands any state of consciousness or mind cittānupassanā: whether it is greedy or not, hateful or not, confused or not, cramped or distracted, developed or undeveloped, surpassable or unsurpassable, concentrated or unconcentrated, liberated or unliberated.

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

A rough, but useful, alternative translation would be "mood". It's because "mood" tends to last for quite a while (minutes, hours, days...) that I said that it is difficult to catch it changing. Whereas thoughts, memories, etc, as you say, float past, and are clearly changing. (Those would, I think, belong in the fourth satipattahana.)

So, picking up on the "I" thing, one can be seeing thoughts, memories, pains, etc, rising and falling rapidly, but the "calm and concentrated meditator" mindstate can last a long time and therefore be identified with.

:anjali:
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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby Spiny O'Norman » Fri Nov 26, 2010 10:43 am

mikenz66 wrote:I (and others here) assumed that when you said "mind states" you meant the third satipatthana:
A rough, but useful, alternative translation would be "mood". It's because "mood" tends to last for quite a while (minutes, hours, days...) that I said that it is difficult to catch it changing. Whereas thoughts, memories, etc, as you say, float past, and are clearly changing. (Those would, I think, belong in the fourth satipattahana.)


Yes, that's how I was thinking of it. Mind states as the 3rd foundation of mindfulness, what I think of as the "background state" of the mind which may persist for longer periods of time and change more slowly. As opposed to mental objects, the 4th foundation of mindfulness, eg thoughts and feelings which arise and pass more quickly.

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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby christopher::: » Sat Nov 27, 2010 2:32 am

Hi guys. Sorry about not responding sooner.

I went back and listened to the first half of Ajahn's dharma talk repeatedly since yesterday. The central point he was trying to make is that mind-states are composed of 3 factors, mainly- which he referred to as feeling, perception (of meaning) and then he used a pali word i couldn't catch, sounded likesankara? He purposefully used that term in a limited way to refer to reflexive patterns of activity that arise psychologically- in our minds- prior to our carrying the behaviors out. Here's the first 14 minutes of the talk...



I took some notes (below) to try and clarify, because sometimes Ajahn used terms (like feeling) in more then one way. Also, while he talked of "feelings" as being first he later said they are triggered by perceptions, so here the 3 factors are again with a bit more detail, and reordered, putting perceptions first, feelings second and response patterns third.

Mind-States are made up of 3 Inter-related factors

1) Perception- We take in information from our environment and interprete its meaning, to us- friendly/unfriendly, safe/threatening

2) Feelings- Once we have arrived at a perception of meaning feelings are triggered, chemical rush of emotions such as pleasure, displeasure, fear, anger, sadness, joy, etc.

3) Response Patterns - Our feelings and perceptions then activate response patterns, what to do, how to react and respond to the situation. Flight or fight, argue, go lie down, push away, hug, scream, walk out the door. These are patterns of behavior which first arise in the mind and then activate actions in the world.


He then goes on in the talk (linked in the OP) to speak about how our role as meditators and practitioners is to observe these psychological factors arising and learn to *not* react, not act in knee-jerk ways, recognize also how a sense of "self" is created by the above- through our identification with these states of mind.

The MRI scans I presented of brain patterns relates to all the above but most closely to this last area, and also how our minds shift into different feeling/perception/activity patterns throughout the day...

BUT my point was tangential and is not as important as Ajahn's focus here, imo. Please just ignore these images if they are not helpful and don't fit with your understanding.

:anjali:
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby Sanghamitta » Sat Nov 27, 2010 8:19 am

Its an interesting tal Christopher, but you have inserted something...... " in our minds" These factors feelings, perception and then the response, simply arise. They ARE mind states. They shift ...which is actually more like an ocean wave which gives impetus to the next ocean wave . These processes do not happen in our minds. To all intents and purposes they ARE our minds. Do you see ? Another way od considering this is to look at the way that the Canon describes the kandhas ( skandhas in sanskrit ).
Awareness does not consist of seeing these processes with our "minds".
It is the arising of bare attention directly.It is awareness that enables the acting or not acting.
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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby rowyourboat » Sat Nov 27, 2010 9:08 am

It is possible to remain focused on these mental qualities such as feeling, perception and reaction/sankhara:

"Furthermore, the monk remains focused on mental qualities in & of themselves with reference to the five clinging-aggregates. And how does he remain focused on mental qualities in & of themselves with reference to the five clinging-aggregates? There is the case where a monk [discerns]: 'Such is form, such its origination, such its disappearance. Such is feeling... Such is perception... Such are fabrications... Such is consciousness, such its origination, such its disappearance.'

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Re: Being Mindful of Mind States

Postby christopher::: » Sat Nov 27, 2010 11:47 am

Hi. While there are some differences in the words we're using to describe this, it sounds like we're all pretty much on the same page. Key thing is to observe mind states carefully, have insights and so that one eventually gains "freedom" from the patterns of feeling, perception and reactive behaviors that create suffering and difficulties for us, right?

Freedom from fetters, attachments, aversions- our hindrances...

Do you have any specific examples (that you might wish to share) where this approach has been successful, where a troublesome pattern from the past "died off" - no longer continues to arise, or if it arises you see it for what it is now, no longer go with it? Any really difficult patterns you've been working on but haven't been able to unravel or gain insight into yet?

I used to get angry with my wife when she would get angry with me (perceiving her words as an attack on my "self"), and then go with a "fight" pattern of argument, being defensive of "my" positions that i have thankfully gained greater freedom from. She still gets angry and says things but i'm now usually calmer, don't percieve the attack personally and no longer over-react by arguing vigorously with her. I do respond, but not in the same way I did with speech patterns fueled by anger.

On the other hand, the mind-states that lead to overeating are something I've yet to "see" with complete clarity and release successfully.
"As Buddhists, we should aim to develop relationships that are not predominated by grasping and clinging. Our relationships should be characterised by the brahmaviharas of metta (loving kindness), mudita (sympathetic joy), karuna (compassion), and upekkha (equanimity)."
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