xuenay: (Default)

Since the page that I previously used to link to for a description of how to do tranquility meditation has died, I’m reposting the instructions here. I found them very useful in getting started with meditation, and they seemed to work better for me than any other instructions. Original credit for writing them goes to Jasen Murray.

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Very brief summary:

Use either the breath or metta as your object of meditation. Do not focus all of your attention on the object, merely maintain constant awareness of it while also experiencing your entire physical body. You will experience tension in the body (particularly in the head) especially when distractions such as thoughts arise. Let the distraction go, neither following it nor trying to suppress it, while releasing any tension that you notice. Release tension by maintaining uninvolved awareness of the tension, reminding yourself that it is ‘happening on its own’ (I explain this in the detailed instructions below). Keep on doing this. You will pass through the jhanas. Move through them by the same process of releasing tension while maintaining awareness of you object. Eventually, after hanging out in the 8th jhana for a while, a complete cessation of perception and feeling will occur. When perception and feeling return, you will clearly see how attachment is produced and thus be able to release it. The first time you do this is ‘stream entry.’ Repeat until fully enlightened.

More detailed Summary:

You pick an object of meditation. Bhante V. prefers metta (loving-kindness) first and the breath second. He says both he and his students have found metta to produce the fastest results.

If you choose the breath:

Be aware of your breathing. Do not lock your attention on a particular subset of body sensations such as those at the nostril or abdomen, just be aware of whether you are inhaling or exhaling and the length of each inhalation and exhalations.

Now, as you breath in, experience your entire physical body. As you breath out, experience your entire physical body.

If you choose metta:

Start by remembering a time when you were happy until you can feel that happiness, perhaps as a warmth in your chest. Once you can feel it, wish yourself happiness, perhaps in the following manner: “May I be happy. May my mind be peaceful and calm. May my mind be filled with joy. May my mind be clear, and alert.” Really feel the wish, radiating loving-kindness toward yourself. Use this feeling as your object of meditation. If it starts to fade, make the wish again. If you choose this object, the feeling will transform into the other Brahma Viharas as you pass through the jhanas. That’s fine, let it. (more below).

Either way, you will notice tensions, particularly in your head when a distraction (such as a thought) arises.

These tensions arise whenever there is attachment to a sensation. So long as there are such tensions, there is attachment.

In the normal state, there are too many layers of mental activity to see the low-level process of attachment with sufficient clarity such that it can be released.

The purpose of this meditation is to gradually relax your body and mind while maintaining clear, alert mindful attention until all perception ceases in a moment of cessation. When perception returns, you will get a clear glimpse of ‘dependent origination’ and thus see how attachment occurs so that you can stop doing it. I don’t have a good model of this yet, but I’m working on it.

People seem to have a difficult time describing how they relax these tensions. They often say things like “Relaxing this tension is not really a matter of ‘doing’ anything. It is the ‘doing’ that is the source of the tension. Let go of all doing.” There’s something to that, but it is easy to misinterpret. The confusion comes from the mistaken belief that the feeling of ‘effort’ or ‘control’ is produced by the processes responsible for generating the relevant behavior in the same way that the experience of color is produced by the processes responsible for sight. Those feelings are actually just the result of more attachment to sensations. They are produced by the same processes that resist information (in this case, my guess is the resistance is to the fact that experience is happening on it’s own and thus cannot be controlled and that there is no solid permanent ‘you’).

So, maintain awareness on the breath, remind yourself that all experience is happening on its own and cannot be controlled and simply be aware of the tension while leaving it be. It will eventually feel like there is an outer layer to the tension that is softening, breaking up and melting away, leaving a smaller, lighter tension behind. Repeat the process.

If thoughts arise, tension will arise along with them. Let go of the thought, even mid sentence and release the corresponding tension in this way.

If you keep this up, you will get more and more relaxed and pleasant feelings will begin to arise in your body. These signal the beginning of 1st jhana and will grow into an intense joy.

The different levels of relaxation are called ‘tranquility’ jhanas. I do not know if or how these correspond to the ‘absorption’ jhanas or the ‘vipassana’ jhanas. You move through them by continuing the processes of letting go of any tension that you notice. It goes something like this:

1st jhana – intense joy throughout the mind and body, maintaining attention on meditation object feels effortful. Remember that the feeling of effort is just tension and let go of it.

2nd jhana – more intense joy throughout the mind and body, effortless attention on meditation object. Eventually the intensity of the joy will feel a bit too coarse and you will notice some attachment to it. Release this tension.

3rd jhana – less intense comfort/happiness throughout the mind and body. Eventually the feeling of comfort/happiness will seem to coarse and you will notice attachment to it. Release this tension.

4th jhana – equanimity, very peaceful and still, even unpleasant sensations do not seem to be a problem. The next tension to release comes from attachment to distinctions/diversity.

5th jhana – base of infinite space. ‘physical’ sensations take on a formless character, distinctions are not held on to and the feeling of the body seems to dissolve out into the space surrounding ‘you.’ If metta was your object, it transforms into Karuna (compassion) here. This is experienced as radiating compassion in all directions into infinite space (hence the ‘infinite compassion’ of a buddha). Something like continuity of ‘consciousness’ is still being held on to.

6th jhana – base of infinite consciousness. The illusion of a separate, continuous ‘observer’ consciousness breaks down and each seems to be aware of itself. This is difficult to describe, but very cool. It seems as if everything in your sense fields is a tiny bit of ‘you’ looking back at itself. Karuna now transforms into mudita (sympathetic joy). Something like ‘form’ or consciousness is still being held on to…I bit shakier on the next transition as I’ve only experienced it a few times.

7th jhana – nothingness. The black or blank space around sensations becomes more prominent than the sensations themselves. Very peaceful. Mudita now turns into upekkha (equanimity). Perception, if only of nothingness, is still being held on to.

8th jhana – neither perception/feeling nor yet non-perception/feeling. I’m not sure about this one. I may not have experienced it yet. People describe it as a moving back and forth between minimal perception and very minimal perception in which there is still awareness of some kind. This is the same regardless of the object you started with. Some say that you can only tell that you were in the 8th jhana rather than asleep by looking back on your memory of the time spent meditating.

There really can’t be any further instruction at this point because there’s too little going on. You just continue practicing. Eventually, perception and feeling cease completely for some amount of time. When they return, you get a glimpse of what Bhante V. calls ‘dependent origination’ and ‘nibanna.’ This is ‘path’. ‘Fruition’ in this model is apparently something different (though I’m not yet sure what) that comes a bit later after more practice. There are various levels of enlightenment (the 4 paths) that correspond to the number of times you’ve experienced cessation followed by fruition.

Although releasing tension is an important part of the instructions, it is critical that you don’t get carried away and go looking for tension. The instruction to ‘look for’ some aspect of your experience usually leads people to carry out the same kind of operation that produces tension – trying to force your experience to conform to your expectations. Just stay with your object of meditation ( but not too tightly) and let go/allow any other sensations to happen.

Originally published at Kaj Sotala. You can comment here or there.

xuenay: (Default)

Germund Hesslow’s paper Conscious thought as simulation of behaviour and perception, which I first read maybe three months back, has an interesting discussion about anticipations.

I was previously familiar with the idea of conscious thought involving simulation of behavior. Briefly, the idea was that when you plan an action, you are simulating (imagining) various courses of action and evaluating their possible outcomes in your head. So you imagine bringing your boyfriend some flowers, think of how he’d react to that, and then maybe decide to buy him chocolate instead. Imagining things is a process of constructing a simulation of them. Nothing too surprising in that idea. Here’s how Hesslow puts it:

What we perceive is quite often determined by our own behaviour: visual input is changed when we move our head or eyes; tactile stimulation is generated by manipulating objects in the hands. The sensory consequences of behaviour are to a large extent predictable (Fig. 2a). The simulation hypothesis postulates the existence of an associative mechanism that enables the preparatory stages of an action to elicit sensory activity that resembles the activity normally caused by the completed overt behaviour (Fig. 2b). A plausible neural substrate for such a mechanism is the extensive fibre projection from the frontal lobe to all parts of sensory cortex. Very little is known about the function of these pathways, but there is physiological evidence from monkeys that neurons in polysensory cortex can be modulated by movement[33].

But the “buy flowers or chocolate?” example concerns relatively long-term decision-making. We also simulate the short-term consequences of our actions (or at least try to). And what I had not consciously realized before, but what was implied in the excerpt above, was that very immediate consequences will be simulated as well.

Discussing this paper with a friend, we considered the subjective experience of such anticipatory simulations. Suppose that I want to open a door, and start pushing down the handle. Even before I’ve pushed it all the way down, I seem to already experience a mild foretaste of what having pushed it down feels like. I know what it will feel like to have completed the action, a fraction of a second before actually having completed that action, and it feels faintly pleasing when that anticipation is realized.

Which was interesting to realize, but not particularly earth-shattering by itself. But the real discovery came soon after reading the paper. I was doing some vipassana-style meditation, focusing on the feeling of discomfort that came from wanting to swallow as there was excess saliva gathering in my mouth. I realized that what I thought of as “discomfort” was actually a denied anticipation. I wanted to swallow, and there was already in my mind a simulation of what swallowing would feel like. I was already experiencing some of the pleasure that I would get from swallowing, and my discomfort came from the fact that I wanted to experience the rest of that pleasure. When I realized this, I focused on that anticipated pleasure, trying to either make it stop feeling pleasant, or alternatively, strengthen the pleasure so that I could enjoy it without actually swallowing. My clock rang before I could fully succeed in either, but I did notice that it made it considerably easier to resist the urge.

On my way to town, I started observing my mental processes and noticed that that tiny anticipation of pleasure was everywhere. Coming to the train station, there was an anticipation of not needing to wait for long. Using a machine to buy more time on my train card, there was an anticipation of the machine working. Waiting for the train, there was an anticipation of seeing the train arrive and getting to board it. And each time that I experienced discomfort, it was from that subtle anticipation being denied. Anticipating the experience of seeing the train being there on time could have led to frustration if it was running late. Anticipating the experience of boarding the train led to impatience as the train wasn’t there yet, and that sequence of planned action that had already been partially initiated couldn’t finish. Suddenly I was seeing the anticipatory component in every feeling of discomfort I had.

When I realized that, I started writing an early draft of this post, which contained the following rather excited paragraph:

That’s what “letting go of attachments” refers to. That’s what “living in the moment” refers to. Letting go of the attachment to all predictions and anticipations, even ones that extend only seconds into the future. If one doesn’t do that, they will constantly be awaiting what happens in some future moment, and will experience constant frustrations. On some intellectual level I already understood that, but I needed to develop the skill for actually noticing all my split-second anticipations before I could really get it.

Unfortunately, what often happens with insights gained from meditation is that one simply forgets to apply them. Or if one does, in principle, remember that they should apply the insights, they’ll have forgotten how. Being able to isolate the anticipation from the general feeling of frustration, and then knowing how to let go of the attachment to it, is a tricky skill. And I ended up mostly just forgetting about it, especially once my established routine of meditating once per day got interrupted for a month or so.

I did some meditation today, and finally remembered to try out this technique again. I started looking for such anticipations whenever I experienced a feeling of discomfort, and when I found any, I just observed them and let go of them. And it worked – I was capable of meditating for a total of 70 minutes in one sitting, and got myself to a pleasant state of mind where everything felt good. That feeling persisted for most of the rest of the day.

But after that session, it feels like my earlier characterization of the technique as “a cessation of attachments to predictions” would be a little off. That description feels clunky, and like it doesn’t properly describe the experience. “Letting go of a desire for sensations to feel different” sounds more like it, but I’m not sure of what exactly the difference is.

This probably also relates to another meditation experience, which I had about two months back. I was concentrating on my breath, and again, I noticed that the sensation of saliva in my mouth was bothering me. At first I tried to just ignore it and keep my attention on my breath; or alternatively, to let go of the feeling of distraction so that the sensation of saliva wouldn’t bother me anymore. When neither worked, I essentially just thought “oh, screw it” and accepted the sensation just as it was, as well as accepting the fact that it would continue to bother me. And then, once I had accepted that it would bother me… the feeling of it bothering me melted away, and vanished from my consciousness entirely. I was left with a warm, strongly pleasant feeling that lasted for many hours after I’d stopped meditating.

I haven’t been able to put myself back into that exact state, because as far as I can tell it, getting into it requires you to genuinely accept the fact that you’re feeling uncomfortable. In other words, you cannot use the acceptance as a means to an end, thinking that “I’ll now accept this unpleasantness so that I’ll get back to that nice state where it doesn’t feel unpleasant anymore”. That’s not genuine acceptance anymore, and therefore it doesn’t work.

Anyway, it feels like the “isolate anticipations and let go of them” and “accept your feelings and discomforts exactly as they are” techniques would be two different ways of achieving the same end. The feeling of pleasure I got today wasn’t as strong as the feeling of pleasure I got when I managed to accept my discomforts as they were, but it seemed to have much of the same character.

Some – though not all – meditators report a lack of achievement after reaching high levels of skill. They’re just happy with doing whatever, with no need to accomplish more things. And after meditating today, I too felt happy with whatever would happen, with no urgency to accomplish (nor avoid!) any of the things that I had planned for today. There seems to be a fine line between “use meditation to get rid of your disinclination for doing the things you want to do” and “use meditation and get rid of your inclination to do anything”.

In any case, I will have to try to remember this technique from now on, and keep experimenting with it. Hopefully, having written this post will help.

Originally published at Kaj Sotala. You can comment here or there.

xuenay: (Default)
Yes, I know that I'm way behind on my reports: session III was over a month ago. Better late than never.

I've been thinking about global workspace theory on and off in the context of meditation. Haven't come up with anything particularly insightful, basically just a repetition of the argument in the Dietrich paper: in meditation, attentional resources are used to actively amplify a particular event such as a mantra until it becomes the exclusive content in the working memory buffer. This intentional, concentrated effort selectively disengages all other cognitive capacities of the prefrontal cortex.

Put into GWT terminology, normally sensory systems and "thought systems" within our brain generate a number of (bottom-up) inputs that compete for control of the global neuronal workspace (GNW), and some process of top-down attention picks inputs that get strenghtened until they dominate the neuronal workspace. In meditation, the practicioner seems to train their attentional network into only choosing a specific set of stimuli (e.g. their breath, a mantra, the sensations of their body, etc.) and ignoring all the others. As they concentrate on these stimuli, those get transmitted into all the brain regions that receive input from the GNW. Since this is an abnormal input that most of the systems can't do anything with, they gradually get turned off - especially since the it doesn't matter what output they produce in response, as the successful meditation practicioner pays no attention to it. Of course, it will take a lot of practice for a practicioner to get this far, since the brain is practically built to "get sidetracked" from meditation and concentrate on something more important.

It's interesting to ask why this would lead to perceptual changes, such as an increased tolerance for pain. A straighforward guess would be that if the GW/GNW gets taken over by a very simple stimulus, and that stimulus gets broadcast into all the different systems in the brain, then there are systems related to learning that can't help but to analyze the stimulus. If a meditation practicioner consciously begins to break a sensation into smaller and smaller components, or begins to note and name individual sensations, then the implict learning systems will pick up on this and learn how to do it better. Also, as the meditator forces his brain to analyze very simple inputs, the brain allocates disproportionate computational resources into analyzing them and begins to find in them increasingly subtle hidden details - which the meditator then dismisses, forcing his brain to go to even more extreme lengths to find something. Over time and with enough practice, he learns to feel and notice these subtle sensations even when not meditating.

Of course, it's a bit of a misnomer to talk about the brain "finding" subtler sensations, since those sensations are themselves also generated by the brain. Rather what's happening is that there is a hierarchical process in which simpler inputs get increasingly complex layers of interpretation applied on them, and meditation strips away those layers of interpretation. Thus information that's usually thrown away during earlier processing stages becomes revealed and accessible to the conscious mind. That'd my guess, anyway. It's also interesting to note that savant abilities are also hypothesized to be created via having access to lower-level brain processing, but so far I haven't heard of anyone becoming a genius savant through meditation, even if it should be theoretically possible.

As I noted the last time, there's still the puzzle of how the attentional networks find out about an input that might be worth promoting into the GNW, if the GNW is already dominated by another input. A hypothesis that might make sense is that we're actually rapidly cycling a lot of content into and out of consciousness, and the attentional networks decide which stuff gets the most "clock cycles" (here's an obvious analogy to operating systems and multiprogramming). E.g. this text gets processed within the GNW, then I hear a sound coming from outside and that input pushes its way to the GNW for a brief moment, and then an attentional system decides that it isn't important and gets back to the task of writing this text. While the outside noise has pushed the text out of the GNW, it's still locally active in the brain regions that were most heavily involved in processing it, and the attentional network can home into the activation in those regions and strenghten it again.

Alternatively, this whole hypothesis of swapping stuff in and out might be unnecessarily complicated, and there could just be cross-region communication that wsan't conscious. There are a number of results saying that cross-modality integration of sense data can happen without consciousness. E.g. in ventriloquism we see a talking puppet mouth and hear sound coming from the puppeteer's closed mouth. Somehow this conflict gets resolved into us hearing the sound as if it were coming from the puppeteer's mouth, without us being consciously aware of the process. Also the results of the paper below, which suggest that attention and consciousness can both occur without each other, would support that hypothesis.

None of that actually has anything to do with the third session, though - it's just stuff that occurred to me while thinking about some of the seminar papers in general. So let's get to the actual topic...

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The third Neuroinformatics presentation covered Giulio Tononi & Christof Koch (2008) The Neural Correlates of Consciousness: An Update. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. The paper was pretty packed with information, and there was a lot of interesting stuff mentioned. I won't try to cover all of it, but will rather concentrate on some of the most interesting bits.

In particular, the previous Neuroinformatics papers seemed to come to close to equating consciousness and attention. If input from our senses (or from internal sources like e.g. memory) becomes conscious if it is chosen to be promoted to consciousness by attentional processes, does that mean that we are conscious of the things that we pay attention to? Subjectively, I'm often conscious of experiences that I try to direct my attention away from, though that might just mean that a top-down attentional mechanism is competing with a bottom-up one. Introspection is notoriously unreliable, anyway.

Tononi & Koch argue that the two are not the same, and there can be both attention without consciousness and consciousness without attention. Let's first look at attention without consciousness. Among the studies that they cite, Naccache et al. (2002) is probably the easiest to explain.

The experimental subjects were shown ("target") numbers ranging from 1 to 9, and had to say whether the number they saw was smaller or larger than 5. (They were not shown any fives.) Unknown to them, each number was preceded by another ("priming") number, hidden by a geometric masking shape. In some versions of the experiment, the subjects knew when they were going to see the number, and could pay attention around that time. In other version, they did not, and could not focus their attention specifically at the right window in time. When the subjects were paying attention at the right time (and therefore also paying attention to the priming number), there was what's called a priming effect. Their reaction times were faster when the prime number was congruent with the target number, i.e. either both were smaller than 5 or both were larger. When the numbers were incongruent, the reaction times were faster. When the subjects couldn't focus their attention on the right time period, the priming effect didn't occur. Tononi & Koch interpret these results to mean that there can be attention without consciousness: the priming numbers were always seen too quickly to enter conscious awareness, but they caused a priming effect depending on whether or not the subjects paid attention to them.

The opposite case is consciousness without attention. There are experiments in which the subjects are made to focus their attention to the middle of their visual field, and something else is then briefly flashed in their peripheral field of vision. Subjects are often capable of reporting on the contents of the peripheral image and performing some quite complex discrimination tasks. They can tell male faces from female ones, or distinguish between famous and non-famous people, even though the image was (probably) flashed too briefly for top-down attention to kick in. At the same time, they cannot perform some much easier tasks, such as discriminating a rotated letter "L" from a rotated letter "T". So at least some kinds of consciousness-requiring tasks seem to be possible in the absence of directed attention, while others aren't.

Tononi & Koch conclude this section by summarizing their view of the differences between attention and consciousness, and by citing Baars and saying something akin to his Global Workspace Theory:

Attention is a set of mechanisms whereby the brain selects a subset of the incoming sensory information for higher level processing, while the nonattended portions of the input are analyzed at a lower band width. For example, in primates, about one million fibers leave each eye and carry on the order of one megabyte per second of raw information. One way to deal with this deluge of data is to select a small fraction and process this reduced input in real time, while the nonattended data suffer from benign neglect. Attention can be directed by bottom-up, exogenous cues or by top-down endogenous features and can be applied to a spatially restricted part of the image (focal, spotlight of attention), an attribute (e.g., all red objects), or to an entire object. By contrast, consciousness appears to be involved in providing a kind of “executive summary” of the current situation that is useful for decision making, planning, and learning (Baars).


As has often been the case lately, I wonder how much weight I should actually put on these results. A study that has not been replicated is little better than an anecdote, and while Tononi & Koch do cite several studies with similar results, there have been previous cases where the initial replications all seemed to support a theory but then stopped doing so. So for all that I know, everything in the paper (and the previous papers, of course) might turn out to be wrong within a few years. Still, it's the best that we have so far.

Like some of the GWS/GNS papers, this one also suggested that non-dreaming sleep involves reduced connectivity between cortical regions, and the regions communicate in a more local manner. That's also interesting.
xuenay: (Default)
For those curious, basically all of my meditation has been tranquility meditation.

Friday, March 9th. 30 minutes. Attempted to meditate while lying on my back, figuring that I wouldn't fall asleep since I'd just had my morning caffeine. Not very successful. I was maybe a little too relaxed, my thoughts wandered and I had difficulties feeling my breath in order to concentrate on it.

Sunday, March 11th. 20 minutes. Attempted to meditate in the morning, noticed that I was basically just falling asleep, then took a cold shower and tried again. Felt nice, though not particularly exciting.

Monday, March 12th. 50 minutes. I had the timer on 30 minutes, but I just ignored it at first. Somebody had recommended drinking green tea about half an hour before meditating, so I gave it a try. I only had bagged tea at hand, but I put two bags in the same cup to get a stronger effect.

Something happened, though I am not sure what it was. I ended up concentrating on various feelings of pain and bidding them welcome - not in a masochistic way, but rather in such a way where I genuinely welcomed pain and didn't consider it something that would cause suffering in the first place. I dug up memories of various situations where I'd been embarassed or ashamed, and each such memory seemed to make the state of concentration deeper. It felt nice.

From this point on, each of my meditation sessions has been preceded by a cup of green tea, made using 2-4 tea bags.

Tuesday, March 13th. 60 minutes. I sat meditating with my fingers crossed, and at one point relatively early on I freaked out as my fingers started feeling incorporal. They also felt like they were drifting to be inside each other. Then the frightened surprise pulled me out of that state, and although I tried to reach it again, I could not.

Wednesday, March 14th. ~45 minutes. I started gradually losing feeling in my fingers and feet, after which the numbness spread to the rest of my body. Only my head and part of my chest (where I was too conscious of my breathing) retained feeling. Then at some point I realized that although large parts of my body were without feeling, I still remained aware of where the borders of my body parts were. After I realized this, feeling pretty quickly returned to them.

After that, the lack of feeling came and went for the rest of my meditation session. There were moments when I noticed, noted, and let go of feelings whose existence I hadn't even realized before. I started to get a small inkling of what the complete cessation of sensation that's said to come with the deepest meditative states might be like. I became aware of having a sense of time, a feeling of presence in my own head, and a feeling of moving my attention around. I attempted to focus on those to make them vanish as well, but was for now unable to do so.

I also felt really good and happy for the rest of the day.

Thursday, March 15th. 20 minutes of meditation, bathroom break, 40 minutes of meditation. At the end of the second meditation session, I got a clear feeling of something happening, but I don't know what it was. After it had happened, I got a sense of this session's leassons had now been learned. It told me that I could stop meditating now, since I wasn't going to learn anything more before the next time. My concentration seemed to grow considerably more shallow at the same time.

Whether that feeling actually meant anything or whether it was just a trick of my brain is an interesting question. I'm presuming that it was just a random feeling: to use a computer metaphor, meditation practice seems to be about exploiting some accidential glitch in the brain which likely never played an actual evolutionary role. Given that, whatever subconscious system produced that "this lesson is now over" sensation is probably just as clueless about what was going than the rest of me was.

This turned out to be a "let's practice meditation / concentration all the time, everywhere" day. Pretty much no matter where I went or what I did, I used the opportunity to do concentration practice and dismiss unwanted thoughts or feelings. When waiting for a bus, for instance, I picked the feeling of impatience and pretty much just got rid of it. I started thinking that if somebody could learn to do this reliably and for any feeling / emotion, it would let them have complete control over their own mind, only suffering from the fears and dislikes that they wanted to suffer from. I don't know whether that's actually possible, but the possibility is exciting to think about.

Friday, March 16th. 20 minutes, break, 40 minutes. Nothing particularly exciting happened on this day.

Saturday, March 17th. 60 minutes. At one point, I noticed that my meditative state was failing to deepen because I was clearly waiting for it to deepen, and the feeling of expectation messed things up. I then tried to rid myself of the expectation, and I was kinda successful, though through an unexpected route: by visualizing and looping in my head the Sean Den Förste Banan video. (Yes, you may point and laugh at me now.) As I did so, I felt my concentration clearly deepen.

After a while of doing that, I switched to counting numbers. Suddenly I realized that I was not experiencing them as raw numbers, but as my age. For instance, when I visualized in my head the number 15, I also saw images of myself when I was 15. As I got past my current age, the images grew more abstract. As I approached age 100 I felt/saw myself get older, but then apparently radical life extension was invented and my body stopped getting frail. Past age 100, there was a feeling of having lived for a long time and having seen everything, and of living in a drastically different world than pretty much anyone who wasn't as old. I think I died, presumably in an accident, around age 180 or so, but I kept counting until I reached 300. "While I was dead" I think there was a feeling of stillness and a lack of motion, possibly combined with a sense of things continuing to happen all around me.

Eventually I concluded that nothing more was happening and started exploring impermanence by studying the various sensations of my body and trying to break them into smaller and smaller components. Most of it I did to the sensations from my feet. Soon my feet started feeling odd, as I had no idea of whether my muscles were relaxed or tense - they felt like they could have been both.

Monday, March 19th. 65 minutes. Mildly altered states of consciousness, nothing particularly special. Again, I noticed that I was expecting something interesting to happen, and that expectation prevented me from just being a neutral observer of my own mind. I tried to get rid of the feeling of expectation, but then I realized that this too implied an expectation of change - trying to will something gone involves expecting that it will be gone. So then I tried to just let go of it without specificially trying to let go of it. (Yeah, I can't explain it any better than that.) Not too good at that yet - I think I might have had momentary successes, but each time they caused an "oh, I did it, something's happening now" feeling which ruined it. I'll just have to keep practicing.

Since last Wednesday, meditation has frequently led to me losing feeling in my fingers and feet, but I haven't experienced the almost-whole-body lack of feeling again.
xuenay: (sonictails)

For those curious, basically all of my meditation has been tranquility meditation.

Friday, March 9th. 30 minutes. Attempted to meditate while lying on my back, figuring that I wouldn’t fall asleep since I’d just had my morning caffeine. Not very successful. I was maybe a little too relaxed, my thoughts wandered and I had difficulties feeling my breath in order to concentrate on it.

Sunday, March 11th. 20 minutes. Attempted to meditate in the morning, noticed that I was basically just falling asleep, then took a cold shower and tried again. Felt nice, though not particularly exciting.

Monday, March 12th. 50 minutes. I had the timer on 30 minutes, but I just ignored it at first. Somebody had recommended drinking green tea about half an hour before meditating, so I gave it a try. I only had bagged tea at hand, but I put two bags in the same cup to get a stronger effect.

Something happened, though I am not sure what it was. I ended up concentrating on various feelings of pain and bidding them welcome – not in a masochistic way, but rather in such a way where I genuinely welcomed pain and didn’t consider it something that would cause suffering in the first place. I dug up memories of various situations where I’d been embarassed or ashamed, and each such memory seemed to make the state of concentration deeper. It felt nice.

From this point on, each of my meditation sessions has been preceded by a cup of green tea, made using 2-4 tea bags.

Tuesday, March 13th. 60 minutes. I sat meditating with my fingers crossed, and at one point relatively early on I freaked out as my fingers started feeling incorporal. They also felt like they were drifting to be inside each other. Then the frightened surprise pulled me out of that state, and although I tried to reach it again, I could not.

Wednesday, March 14th. ~45 minutes. I started gradually losing feeling in my fingers and feet, after which the numbness spread to the rest of my body. Only my head and part of my chest (where I was too conscious of my breathing) retained feeling. Then at some point I realized that although large parts of my body were without feeling, I still remained aware of where the borders of my body parts were. After I realized this, feeling pretty quickly returned to them.

After that, the lack of feeling came and went for the rest of my meditation session. There were moments when I noticed, noted, and let go of feelings whose existence I hadn’t even realized before. I started to get a small inkling of what the complete cessation of sensation that’s said to come with the deepest meditative states might be like. I became aware of having a sense of time, a feeling of presence in my own head, and a feeling of moving my attention around. I attempted to focus on those to make them vanish as well, but was for now unable to do so.

I also felt really good and happy for the rest of the day.

Thursday, March 15th. 20 minutes of meditation, bathroom break, 40 minutes of meditation. At the end of the second meditation session, I got a clear feeling of something happening, but I don’t know what it was. After it had happened, I got a sense of this session’s leassons had now been learned. It told me that I could stop meditating now, since I wasn’t going to learn anything more before the next time. My concentration seemed to grow considerably more shallow at the same time.

Whether that feeling actually meant anything or whether it was just a trick of my brain is an interesting question. I’m presuming that it was just a random feeling: to use a computer metaphor, meditation practice seems to be about exploiting some accidential glitch in the brain which likely never played an actual evolutionary role. Given that, whatever subconscious system produced that “this lesson is now over” sensation is probably just as clueless about what was going than the rest of me was.

This turned out to be a “let’s practice meditation / concentration all the time, everywhere” day. Pretty much no matter where I went or what I did, I used the opportunity to do concentration practice and dismiss unwanted thoughts or feelings. When waiting for a bus, for instance, I picked the feeling of impatience and pretty much just got rid of it. I started thinking that if somebody could learn to do this reliably and for any feeling / emotion, it would let them have complete control over their own mind, only suffering from the fears and dislikes that they wanted to suffer from. I don’t know whether that’s actually possible, but the possibility is exciting to think about.

Friday, March 16th. 20 minutes, break, 40 minutes. Nothing particularly exciting happened on this day.

Saturday, March 17th. 60 minutes. At one point, I noticed that my meditative state was failing to deepen because I was clearly waiting for it to deepen, and the feeling of expectation messed things up. I then tried to rid myself of the expectation, and I was kinda successful, though through an unexpected route: by visualizing and looping in my head the Sean Den Förste Banan video. (Yes, you may point and laugh at me now.) As I did so, I felt my concentration clearly deepen.

After a while of doing that, I switched to counting numbers. Suddenly I realized that I was not experiencing them as raw numbers, but as my age. For instance, when I visualized in my head the number 15, I also saw images of myself when I was 15. As I got past my current age, the images grew more abstract. As I approached age 100 I felt/saw myself get older, but then apparently radical life extension was invented and my body stopped getting frail. Past age 100, there was a feeling of having lived for a long time and having seen everything, and of living in a drastically different world than pretty much anyone who wasn’t as old. I think I died, presumably in an accident, around age 180 or so, but I kept counting until I reached 300. “While I was dead” I think there was a feeling of stillness and a lack of motion, possibly combined with a sense of things continuing to happen all around me.

Eventually I concluded that nothing more was happening and started exploring impermanence by studying the various sensations of my body and trying to break them into smaller and smaller components. Most of it I did to the sensations from my feet. Soon my feet started feeling odd, as I had no idea of whether my muscles were relaxed or tense – they felt like they could have been both.

Monday, March 19th. 65 minutes. Mildly altered states of consciousness, nothing particularly special. Again, I noticed that I was expecting something interesting to happen, and that expectation prevented me from just being a neutral observer of my own mind. I tried to get rid of the feeling of expectation, but then I realized that this too implied an expectation of change – trying to will something gone involves expecting that it will be gone. So then I tried to just let go of it without specificially trying to let go of it. (Yeah, I can’t explain it any better than that.) Not too good at that yet – I think I might have had momentary successes, but each time they caused an “oh, I did it, something’s happening now” feeling which ruined it. I’ll just have to keep practicing.

Since last Wednesday, meditation has frequently led to me losing feeling in my fingers and feet, but I haven’t experienced the almost-whole-body lack of feeling again.

Originally published at Kaj Sotala. You can comment here or there.

xuenay: (sonictails)

I’ve finally been achieving some progress in meditation, so I figured I’d give you a report and also write things down so that I won’t forget.

About a month or two ago, an iRL friend of mine found Daniel Ingram’s Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha and started doing meditation practice. Since he had done things involving concentration practice before, he made rapid progress. Inspired by his practices and partially because I’d so quickly lost my position as being the superior meditation guru of us two, I too started making attempts at meditation again.

On a Monday maybe three weeks ago, I realized that something had clicked. You know that thing when you try to learn a skill, spend a long time being bad at it, and then suddenly one morning you wake up and realize that you’re suddenly good at it? That happened to me and my concentration ability: concentrating on just one thing felt easier in an almost qualitative way, and was far less frustrating.

I reached the first samatha jhana the following day, the first time since my only previous jhana experience last summer. I put myself in the first jhana several times afterwards (including once while walking next to a noisy road), and also tried doing some noting practice. Suddenly I was using almost all available opportunities to do concentration practice, like when I was preparing a sandwich snack. I also thought about the Three Characteristics a lot.

On Friday that week, I woke up in the morning and turned on the lights. The first thing that I happened to look at was the back of my hand (which I’d just used to turn the lights on), and I was startled to realize that I was seeing in it far more details than I’d done before. When I looked around me, I could see details of things jumping out at me in a way they hadn’t done before. While looking at a fantasy map on my wall, I noticed the names of the different regions for pretty much the first time – previously I’d only looked at the “big picture view” of the map. Things also looked sharper somehow, as if I’d just gotten stronger glasses.

I expect that if I’d done meditation practice at this time, the effect might have become permanent. As it was, I didn’t have the chance as I had promised to go see a friend. By the time I got back home, six hours later, my perception had gradually faded back to normal.

For some reason, this caused a longer interruption to my practice. Getting to the first jhana felt more difficult, and I lost my inclination to keep doing concentration practices all the time. This might have had something to do with the fact that the noting practices had made it more difficult to really try to solidify any emotion, since I’d just been trying to think of them as impermanent. For a while, I was basically unable to meditate while at home, though for some reason I noticed that getting to a very light first jhana was still possible if I was walking outside. Sitting still at home, though, not much luck.

Then a while later, I decided to try out tranquility meditation. The first time, recalling a time when I’d felt happy and using the way I had felt as my concentration focus, felt quite nice, and I think I got to the first jhana. Unlike my previous jhanas, it was almost entirely lacking the irritation of needing to constantly maintain the feeling.

My next attempts at tranquility meditation fared worse. Using feelings of happiness as an object became harder, because for whatever reason, I suddenly had difficulties recalling my feelings on occasions when I’d felt happy, or indeed recalling any occasions when I’d been happy in the first place. And there was again the thing about having difficulty solidifying anything, feeling included.

So after some days, I decided to use the breath as an object instead. Now, there had been *one* lasting effect from that one Friday: I had briefly done some meditation on the way to my friend, and thought that I could see faint lights even with my eyes closed. And those lights had began to show up on later meditation sessions, as well. They don’t seem to be *entirely* hallucinatory, since they are clearly stronger when I’m meditating somewhere well-lit, but I have also seen a much weaker form of them when when meditating in total darkness.

So this time around, I was doing tranquility meditation with the breath as an object, and I began to really notice the lights. Mostly I seem to sort of see them from the corner of my (closed) eyes, and if I try to focus my attention to them I’m not sure if I’m actually seeing any light at all. Now however, there were times that they got strong enough to persist when focused on, and I could follow them as they moved about in my visual field. They also seemed to work as feedback – when I e.g. focused on a feeling of tension and tried to let it go, the lights got considerably stronger. In general, they seemed to intensify whenever I was doing “the right thing”.

I seemed to get quite strongly into… something, not entirely sure what. Some sort of jhana, I suppose. There was a feeling of movement, and my body seemed to grow heavy and slightly numb, with all sensation in the region around my head, where the lights were and where I’d also been focusing on some tension. Something seemed to be happening, but I wasn’t sure of what.

When I emerged from meditation, I had an odd feeling, pretty close to how MCTB describes the first vipassana jhana, Knowledge of Mind and Body. I also seemed able to visualize things more vividly. I meditated two more times that day, though I didn’t get an equally strong experience from those occasions, and I think my mental state actually faded back towards normality during them. On the third time I also got rather drowsy (I guess I hadn’t slept enough that night), and ended up feeling drowsy for the rest of the day, unable to get much done. By evening I was feeling rather normal again.

That was yesterday. This morning I started with some more meditation, which went roughly the same, though again my experience wasn’t nearly as strong and I didn’t seem to get as deeply into it. Part of this was probably that I couldn’t decide how to act regarding the lights: should I treat them as feedback but essentially ignore them, e.g. keep doing the things that made them stronger but not particularly focus on them? Or should I try to gradually shift from using my breath as a focus to using them as a focus? Or should I do neither, just treating them as yet another observation to be noticed and then let go? I think I instinctively did whatever the “right” thing was before, but I can’t remember what that was.

I also made a tentative observation that I might be able to reverse the causality with the lights: e.g. usually when I’d let go of a thought, the lights would get stronger. On a few times, I tried instead making the lights stronger, thereby letting go of the thought. I’m not really sure if it worked, though, since on most occasions the thought still seemed to be there when my attention “got back” from the lights.

When I stopped meditating today, I again had a slight Mind and Body-ish feeling, but it was much weaker and also faded much quicker than on the first time.

Originally published at Kaj Sotala. You can comment here or there.

xuenay: (Default)
I've finally been achieving some progress in meditation, so I figured I'd give you a report and also write things down so that I won't forget.

About a month or two ago, an iRL friend of mine found Daniel Ingram's Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha and started doing meditation practice. Since he had done things involving concentration practice before, he made rapid progress. Inspired by his practices and partially because I'd so quickly lost my position as being the superior meditation guru of us two, I too started making attempts at meditation again.

On a Monday maybe three weeks ago, I realized that something had clicked. You know that thing when you try to learn a skill, spend a long time being bad at it, and then suddenly one morning you wake up and realize that you're suddenly good at it? That happened to me and my concentration ability: concentrating on just one thing felt easier in an almost qualitative way, and was far less frustrating.

I reached the first samatha jhana the following day, the first time since my only previous jhana experience last summer. I put myself in the first jhana several times afterwards (including once while walking next to a noisy road), and also tried doing some noting practice. Suddenly I was using almost all available opportunities to do concentration practice, like when I was preparing a sandwich snack. I also thought about the Three Characteristics a lot.

On Friday that week, I woke up in the morning and turned on the lights. The first thing that I happened to look at was the back of my hand (which I'd just used to turn the lights on), and I was startled to realize that I was seeing in it far more details than I'd done before. When I looked around me, I could see details of things jumping out at me in a way they hadn't done before. While looking at a fantasy map on my wall, I noticed the names of the different regions for pretty much the first time - previously I'd only looked at the "big picture view" of the map. Things also looked sharper somehow, as if I'd just gotten stronger glasses.

I expect that if I'd done meditation practice at this time, the effect might have become permanent. As it was, I didn't have the chance as I had promised to go see a friend. By the time I got back home, six hours later, my perception had gradually faded back to normal.

For some reason, this caused a longer interruption to my practice. Getting to the first jhana felt more difficult, and I lost my inclination to keep doing concentration practices all the time. This might have had something to do with the fact that the noting practices had made it more difficult to really try to solidify any emotion, since I'd just been trying to think of them as impermanent. For a while, I was basically unable to meditate while at home, though for some reason I noticed that getting to a very light first jhana was still possible if I was walking outside. Sitting still at home, though, not much luck.

Then a while later, I decided to try out tranquility meditation. The first time, recalling a time when I'd felt happy and using the way I had felt as my concentration focus, felt quite nice, and I think I got to the first jhana. Unlike my previous jhanas, it was almost entirely lacking the irritation of needing to constantly maintain the feeling.

My next attempts at tranquility meditation fared worse. Using feelings of happiness as an object became harder, because for whatever reason, I suddenly had difficulties recalling my feelings on occasions when I'd felt happy, or indeed recalling any occasions when I'd been happy in the first place. And there was again the thing about having difficulty solidifying anything, feeling included.

So after some days, I decided to use the breath as an object instead. Now, there had been *one* lasting effect from that one Friday: I had briefly done some meditation on the way to my friend, and thought that I could see faint lights even with my eyes closed. And those lights had began to show up on later meditation sessions, as well. They don't seem to be *entirely* hallucinatory, since they are clearly stronger when I'm meditating somewhere well-lit, but I have also seen a much weaker form of them when when meditating in total darkness.

So this time around, I was doing tranquility meditation with the breath as an object, and I began to really notice the lights. Mostly I seem to sort of see them from the corner of my (closed) eyes, and if I try to focus my attention to them I'm not sure if I'm actually seeing any light at all. Now however, there were times that they got strong enough to persist when focused on, and I could follow them as they moved about in my visual field. They also seemed to work as feedback - when I e.g. focused on a feeling of tension and tried to let it go, the lights got considerably stronger. In general, they seemed to intensify whenever I was doing "the right thing".

I seemed to get quite strongly into... something, not entirely sure what. Some sort of jhana, I suppose. There was a feeling of movement, and my body seemed to grow heavy and slightly numb, with all sensation in the region around my head, where the lights were and where I'd also been focusing on some tension. Something seemed to be happening, but I wasn't sure of what.

When I emerged from meditation, I had an odd feeling, pretty close to how MCTB describes the first vipassana jhana, Knowledge of Mind and Body. I also seemed able to visualize things more vividly. I meditated two more times that day, though I didn't get an equally strong experience from those occasions, and I think my mental state actually faded back towards normality during them. On the third time I also got rather drowsy (I guess I hadn't slept enough that night), and ended up feeling drowsy for the rest of the day, unable to get much done. By evening I was feeling rather normal again.

That was yesterday. This morning I started with some more meditation, which went roughly the same, though again my experience wasn't nearly as strong and I didn't seem to get as deeply into it. Part of this was probably that I couldn't decide how to act regarding the lights: should I treat them as feedback but essentially ignore them, e.g. keep doing the things that made them stronger but not particularly focus on them? Or should I try to gradually shift from using my breath as a focus to using them as a focus? Or should I do neither, just treating them as yet another observation to be noticed and then let go? I think I instinctively did whatever the "right" thing was before, but I can't remember what that was.

I also made a tentative observation that I might be able to reverse the causality with the lights: e.g. usually when I'd let go of a thought, the lights would get stronger. On a few times, I tried instead making the lights stronger, thereby letting go of the thought. I'm not really sure if it worked, though, since on most occasions the thought still seemed to be there when my attention "got back" from the lights.

When I stopped meditating today, I again had a slight Mind and Body-ish feeling, but it was much weaker and also faded much quicker than on the first time.
xuenay: (Default)
http://www.cogsci.ucsd.edu/~pineda/COGS175/readings/Dietrich.pdf

It proposes that what we experience as consciousness is built up in a hierarchical process, with various parts of the brain doing further processing on the flow of information and contributing their own part to the "feel" of consciousness. It's possible to subtract various parts of the process, thereby leading to an altered state of consciousness, without consciousness itself disappearing.

The prefrontal cortex is usually associated with "higher-level" tasks, including emotional regulation, but the authors suggest that this is due to the prefrontal cortex refining the outputs of the earlier processing stages, rather than inhibiting them:

"In such a view, the prefrontal cortex does not represent a supervisory or control system. Rather, it actively implements higher cognitive functions. It is further suggested that the prefrontal cortex does not act as an inhibitory agent of older, more primitive brain structures. The prefrontal cortex restrains output from older structures not by suppressing their computational product directly but by elaborating on it to produce more sophisticated output. If the prefrontal cortex is lost, the person simply functions on the next highest layer that remains.The structures implementing these next highest layers are not disinhibited by the loss of the prefrontal cortex. Rather, their processing is unaffected except that no more sophistication is added to their processing before a motor output occurs."


Their theory is that several altered states of consciousness involve a reduction in the activity of the prefrontal cortex:

"It is proposed in this article that altered states of consciousness are due to transient prefrontal deregulation. Six conscious states that are considered putative altered states (dreaming, the runner's high, meditation, hypnosis, daydreaming, and various drug-induced states) are briefly examined. These altered states share characteristics whose proper function are regulated by the prefrontal cortex such as time distortions, disinhibition from social constraints, or a change in focused attention. It is further proposed that the phenomenological uniqueness of each state is the result of the differential viability of various [dorsolateral] circuits. To give one example, the sense of self is reported to be lost to a higher degree in meditation than in hypnosis; whereas, the opposite is often reported for cognitive flexibility and willed action, which are absent to a higher degree in hypnosis.The neutralization of specific prefrontal contributions to consciousness has been aptly called ‘‘phenomenological subtraction’’ by Allan Hobson (2001).The individual in such an altered state operates on what top layers remain. In altered states that cause severe prefrontal hypofunction, such as non-lucid dreaming or various drug states, the resulting phenomenological awareness is extraordinarily bizarre. In less dramatic altered states, such as long-distance running, the change is more subtle."


And about meditation in particular, they hypothesize that it involves a general lowered prefrontal activity, with the exception of increased activation in the prefrontal attentional network:

"It is evident that more research is needed to resolve the conflicting EEG and neuroimaging data. Reinterpreting and integrating the limited data from existing studies, it is proposed that meditation results in transient hypofrontality with the notable exception of the attentional network in the prefrontal cortex. The resulting conscious state is one of full alertness and a heightened sense of awareness, but without content. Since attention appears to be a rather global prefrontal function (e.g., Cabeza & Nyberg, 2000), PET, SPECT, and fMRI scans showed an overall increase in DL activity during the practice of meditation. However, the attentional network is likely to overlap spatially with modules subserving other prefrontal functions and an increase as measured by fMRI does not inevitably signify the activation of all of the region's modules. Humans appear to have a great deal of control over what they attend to (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968), and in meditation, attentional resources are used to actively amplify a particular event such as a mantra until it becomes the exclusive content in the working memory buffer. This intentional, concentrated effort selectively disengages all other cognitive capacities of the prefrontal cortex, accounting for the a-activity. Phenomenologically, meditators report a state that is consistent with decreased frontal function such as a sense of timelessness, denial of self, little if any self-reflection and analysis, little emotional content, little abstract thinking, no planning, and a sensation of unity. The highly focused attention is the most distinguishing feature of the meditative state, while other altered states of consciousness tend to be more characterized by aimless drifting."


They do not discuss permanent changes caused by meditation in the paper, but if the prefrontal cortex is involved with last-stage processing of incoming sensory data, then prefrontal regulation would fit together with meditators' reports of being able to experience sensory information in a more "raw", unprocessed form. Likewise, if the prefrontal cortex unifies and integrates information from earlier processing stages, then meditation revealing the unity of self to be an illusion would be consistent would reduced prefrontal activity.

Vipassana jhanas, or other forms of meditation aimed towards reaching enlightenment, would then somehow involve permanently reducing or at least changing the nature of prefrontal processing. Meditation practicioners speak of "the Dark Night", an intermediate stage during the search for enlightenment, which is experienced as strongly unpleasant and where "our dark stuff tends to come bubbling up to the surface with a volume and intensity that we may never have known before". This is achieved after making sufficient progress in meditation, and will continue until the practicioner makes enough progress to make it go away.

Under the model suggested by the paper, the Dark Night would then be an intermediate stage where the activity of the prefrontal cortex had been reduced/changed to such an extent that it was no longer capable of moderating the output of the various earlier emotional systems. Resolving the Dark Night would involve somehow finding a new balance where the outputs of any systems involved with negative emotions could be better handled again, but I have no idea of how that happens.
xuenay: (Default)
Note: Various traditions use various names for the different stages of meditation. I'm basically going by the classification scheme in Daniel Ingram's Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha, An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book. It divides the stages of meditation to the eight concentration (Samatha) Jhanas and the sixteen insight ñanas.

I think I finally hit the first (Samatha) Jhana. I hadn't been doing meditation exercises in a while, because I had gotten sick and had very little energy to try out anything. But this morning I'd finally recovered and thought I'd give it a try after a long while.

In fact, I believe that taking a break probably helped me. Paradoxically, I had been too motivated before. Previously I'd set out to meditate with this solemn determination to get something happening, and when I failed to get access concentration I'd grow frustrated. This time around I didn't have that solemn determination, just a feeling of "hey, let's try this and see what happens".

I was already in a good mood when I started. As is my habit, I'd taken a caffeine pill to help me wake up, which frequently gets me energetic and in a good mood right from the morning. Getting up, I had taken a few moments to reflect on the things that I was happy and grateful about in my life. I put a pizza in the oven and decided to try meditating while waiting for it to get warm.

I sat down, took a moderately comfortable position, and closed my eyes. As I was already feeling good, for a moment I tried to concentrate on that feeling from the start, but it was a bit elusive. Then I experimented a bit, trying out various things I could concentrate on and seeking the one that felt the best. My breathing, the general feel of my body, the wind outside, the sounds my oven made as it warmed up. For a while, I concentrated on all four simultaneously. But this seemed too much like noting practice and insight meditation territory, when I wanted to get concentration meditation mastered first. So I narrowed it down to just my breathing, as has been my usual practice.

Hitting access concentration was really easy. This may have had something to do with the fact that I'd just woken up and didn't have many thoughts in my mind yet. Basically I just concentrated on my breathing and observed it, not trying to exert conscious control on it but just letting it become faster or slower as felt appropriate. As I was still feeling energetic, my breathing got rather fast at one point, almost to the point of hyperventilation. I was still suffering from a cough left by my cold, so I couldn't take very long deep breaths, instead preferring quick shallow ones. This made it both easier to avoid coughing and, I think, easier to avoid exerting conscious control and easier to just observe. Whenever a thought came to my mind, I tagged it with a simple label and then let go. "Cough" was the most common label.

Soon enough, I felt a dampening of the senses. This interview mentioned the metaphor of being inside a car with the car windows suddenly rolled up, which described my feeling pretty well. I noticed that my feet were growing a bit uncomfortable from having been in the same position for so long, but the feeling didn't really bother me. It was a muted feeling, and the sounds from outside were muted as well. My awareness had shifted inwards.

Now having access concentration, it was the time to move to the first jhana. Leigh Brasington's article adviced to seek out a pleasant feeling and shift my concentration to that. I happened to be wearing clothes which I really liked, to the point of them making me feel physically good, so I shifted my attention to that feeling. I started thinking about how I liked those clothes and how I was living at my own and could wear and do whatever I liked. This made me both naturally shift my position into one that felt more comfortable, and it made me smile. Really, really smile in a way I'm not sure I've done before. I could feel a strong sensation of pleasure and happiness in the region around my mouth, radiating to the rest of my body. The thought came to me that I love myself, I love being me and I love being alive. Repeating those thoughts in my mind helped me maintain my good feeling.

Most of the good feeling was still in my upper body. Spontaneously, I visualized and felt my happiness and good feeling pushing out from my shoulders, sprouting out as an angel's wings which then moved to embrace and enfold the rest of my body. I imagined the feeling of resting my head against them and caressing my right wing with my hands, though I did not actually move my hands or head. I maintained this for a while, and although it felt good, I was also growing a bit impatient for my pizza to get ready as maintaining it required constant effort and I was getting a bit tired.

After a while, the oven clicked as a sign of my food being ready, so I stopped to get my breakfast and write this description. So far, I'm still feeling great and even more energetic than before the exercise.

I note with some curiosity that this experience is somewhat different from the descriptions of it I read in Ingram's book and Brasington's article. Those seemed like one was supposed to just concentrate on a specific feeling, not actively think any verbal thoughts or play with visualizations. On the other hand, those were things that came relatively naturally, and other parts of the way the first jhana is described - a feeling of sustained happiness, relief from the discomfort of sitting still, the gradual annoyance of needing to expend effort, the experience being addictive - all fit. I already want to do it again.

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