Practice log: Otto’s muscle – part 6

Apart from sinking into the breath felt at >2 locations, I have tested a couple of other ways to help the appearing of the multi-focal awareneness as explained above.

A very fast way to engage the „covert attention mode“ is to feel into the vertigo of a merry-go-round or rollercoaster-like. I feel the movement in various parts of the body from within, without directing the (mind’s, if closed) eye on the body. I need to hold the clear intention of not moving the body in any way, in order to create a feeling of the change in gravity which is completely mental. After a bit training I can now do this also with eyes open. It’s also a nice tool to combat socially difficult situations, or to counter the bubbling up of fear.

I believe there is a connection to what Stephen LaBerge calls „spinning“ as way to prolong lucid dreams.

What also helps is to put more weight on 3D (or no-dimensional) modes of perception:

  • Sound à la Kenneth Folk’s „Mahamudra and the Ships in the Harbor“. This particular open receptivity is clearly a kind of covert attention in the sense explained above.
  • Also effective is to hear hear a mantra from within, vibrating with the word, feeling the energy emenating from it, from the inside, in an all around way.
  • Smell: Pull the air into the top part (frontal sinuses) and the behind part of the nose (ethmoid sinuses), to experience and all-around feeling. It needs to be really meant to smell something barely perceptible but still out there somewhere with unknown direction, so that we get an all-around body feeling.

I do a lot of walking in the woods. What I learned is that I can complement the normal way of focused seeing with an unfocused seeing from the corner of my eyes, by attending covertly to the parallax of the barren trunks of the trees. The trees are gliding past, gliding past, gliding past. Quietness ensues.

Another way of taking the perspective out of the visual perspective-making is to imagine that I drag the whole world with me while a walk, a bit like an all-around cape which wraps around me. This is often enough to make awareness drop inside, which is accompanied by a kind of opening into the outside. Very resting; difficult to explain; loss of words; needs more research.

Practice log: Otto’s muscle – part 5

As mentioned in the previous posts, the practice is not not about visualising but rather about imagining. Because the visual sense is so strong, I hold an explicit intention to connect to lived experience in a certain volume of the body. Imagining such a space rather than the body surface helps to keep the mind’s eye at bay: Firstly, because visual attention needs a surface to fixate on. Secondly, lived experience of the felt body just works the other way around – – it cannot know surfaces, only volumes. Consequently, the intention works in both direction: it attenuate visual attention and it strengthens interoception.

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Practice log: Otto’s muscle – part 4

After two full days and long nights of diligent practice in the context of said „meditative experiment“ it seems as if I have found resonances between „the muscle“ (involuntarily twitching right levator muscle of the nose and upper lip, see above) and „stances“ (lived experience of ensembles of mind and body, felt from within).

TL;DR: Contractions cease when I stop trying to visualise the muscle and rather feel it from within, while at the same time holding one or more meditation objects
in awareness.

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Practice log: Otto’s muscle – part 3

It turns out that it is quite difficult to suppress the twiching actively. Furthermore, all that efforting to keep in mind to relax the leads to a confused experience: Sometimes it is not possible to disguish between the muscle being sore, relaxed or tense.

I am therefore working with an even tighter focus than just on the muscle itself: I now try to intercept and freeze the moment where I tick. The protocol starts with a light samadhi w/o piti, just to gather focal resolution. I then begin with the in-breath, pause it, relax the levator muscle, then continue with the next stretch of the in-breath, pause, relax and so on, until the in-breath transitions into the out-breath. After a couple of minutes have passed I can try to reduce the number of pauses per in-breath. For now I ignore what’s happening on the out-breath, because I experience the pausing on the out-breath to be more forced than on the in-breath.

My first idea to stop the twiching was to tense both the right and the left levator muscles and hold them in balance. It works, but it obviously defeats the purpose: I want to relax any holding, not duplicate it. Furthermore, this technique does not always succeed in tricking the tick into pacification, by no means. The rate of success seems to depend on how symmetric the holding sensation in both levators is. The slightest imbalance is enough to let the contortion on the right side express itself forcefully.

Even if I succeed for an in-breath I can feel the twitching beneath the surface. Eventually the muscle ticks and disturbes the attention. For a very slight moment it feels as if I was oriented somewhere else, a moment ago. Before and after that moment I am in close contact with the meditation object, but suddenly the right levator ticks and there is some time-out happening. I do not experience the interruption, but I know it happened because the mind feels for a moment as if it lost its step.

What is striking is that the levator muscle often ticks at the same points in the breathing cycle, i.e. energises and releases after the same fraction of time has passed since the onset of the in-breath. This helps me to time the pauses correctly, i.e. immediately before the contortion of the muscle. This feels like a promising approach because the pause is an opportunity to check my „stance“ – – how I feel from within, mind and lived body. The whole practice presents as an invitation to train certain stances, not yet targeted directly at the tick but on the stance with which I greet the moment of the twitch.

I have made progress with a stance which feels from the inside as if I was fully behind the breath, symmetrically. I find it easier to do so when I hold some breath energy in the belly and replenish it on the in-breath. This acts as a counterbalance and lightens the load on the holding in the nose. As a result, the muscular action in the levator has softened. It is still impacting the attention but the jolts are less disorienting. I don’t trust this development yet, though.

The twiching of the levator muscle continues to be captured by the intention to attend to it. As a result the practice is more like a dialogue between the attending to the muscle tonus and the sensing of the stance, not a coming together of both attentional qualities at the same moment. There is nevertheless a quiet promise of a wholesome resonance which helps me to stick with the practice. Samadhi is strong and has been getting brighter the last days.

I need to be careful that the twitching does not relocate from the levator muscle to some other place in the bodymind. There is a knowing that the energetic phenomenon is able to sign up other muscles to help it to hold onto something. Intention: strong and relaxed shoulders, psoas, pelvic floor.

Practice log: Otto’s muscle – part 2

I have now practiced about two weeks with Otto’s muscle and feel reasonably sure about the phenomenology of the twitching to write about the progress.

My practice in the first week was anapanasati with focus on the upper lip, while at the same time trying to feel the fluttering of the right levator muscle, as it happened while breathing in and breathing out.

The first days it was actually quite difficult to experience those contortions clearly. Even with slow or shallow breathing there is movement happening in the nasal passages. The sinuses excert a minimal counterforce on the in-breath; the movement of the breath changes the temperatures in the inside of the nose; the in-breath thouching the palate and the back of the throat conjure a feeling of depth. The complex of facial sensations masked at first the contraction of the levator muscle.

Because I had to look closely there was the positive side effect of an increase in alertness. This helped me to decipher what was happening on a micro-level and develop a feeling for the „signature“ of the particular contraction: how it builds up, how it releases and how it feels from within. This in turn helped me to carry the practice into the daily life. With the increased resolution on the fluttering of the muscle it became evident how (very) often this muscle contracts.

Originally I had planned to correlate the contortions with what I call „stances“ – – certain coming-togethers of mind and living body, felt from within (e.g. extensions and orientations of awareness, changes of perspectival vantage points, gradations of being in the body). The problem was, though, that the levator muscle basically always twitched, even in deeper samadhi. I followed a number of hunches with regard to stances but the tick was stronger. It is so habitually ingrained in the breathing process that it seems to have a life of its own, a kind of parasitic energy. Attending to the muscle (or even just intending to do so) increases the propensity of the muscle to tick. Or put differently: At the end of the first week I had the feeling that by attenting to the phenomenon I am actually feeding it.

So instead of experimenting with different stances with the hope of letting conditions materialise by themselves which would lead to less twiching, I decided to try to simply suppress the twitching actively with brute force. At the end of the first week I therefore switched the meditation object, from upper lip to the tonus of the levator muscle, with the explicit intent to thwart the contortions.

Practice log: Otto’s muscle – part 1

In this practice log I am going to collect my work relating to a certain muscle: Levator labii superioris alaeque nasi, „lifter of both the upper lip and of the wing of the nose“, also called „Otto’s muscle“ (from here on just „the muscle“). I suspect that the tonus of the muscle has an impact on my practice of mindfulness of breathing.

The reason why I put my musings in a practice log is twofold: Firstly, I want to up the ante – – exposing my progress to a public should increase my diligence. I feel it’s worth it; I hope it works. Secondly, working with the body is imaginal practice, and by writing about the phenomenology I intend to help me to imagine more skillfully.

Above image shows the muscle in bright orange. It runs the full length of the nose, from the nasal root down to the upper lip. There are two of the same kind, one on each side of the nose, but it’s the right one which tells me I should care more about it. I have removed some other muscles on the right to show where it is situated.

The muscle is attached to a central facial bone structure (the maxilla) which girdles breath passageways and sinuses and which connects to other bone structures which reach far into the centre of the head. The muscle is also in close vicinity of a major artery (red) and the major central facial nerve (yellow).

All kinds of things we do with our central part of the face are mediated by the muscle: flaring the nostrils, dilating them, snarling, but also (and for the purpose of this log) really ephemeral twitches and ticks alongside and deep in the nose, both volitional and spontaneous.

Backstory: On a retreat, a couple of years ago, I noticed that I am able to make a certain internal movement with (what I then thought) my eyes which helped to generate piti. The image I had in mind was that the parts between the eye and the nose pushed or sucked inwards. It’s wildly exeggerated, but the image below can give you an idea about the energy and the direction of this „vortexing“.

The vortex somehow obscured my thinking and somehow opened me up towards samadhi. But in the end it felt too muffled and the prolonged holding was too painful to be used as a valid samadhi trigger.

For the last months a big part of my practice was whole-body breathing to get into and stay in samadhi, less so detailing the minute sensations coming along with the breathing. For quite a while now, though, there has been an urge to swing back to a more vipassana way of meditating to work on countering dullness.

Recently I have thus been blowing up the magnification of the sensations of breath in the nasal passageways… and there is a kind of intermittent holding around or in the nose going on, both for the in-breath and the out-breath. It occurs somewhere on the stretch of the two directional breaths, usually in the first half. It’s as if the moving breath slips into a groove which leads to a build-up of energy and subsequent release into a very brief but palpable bracing. This slight moment of constriction is accompanied by a blank-out of the awareness of the breath sensations, a very brief disorienting drop in one-pointedness.

And this is actually happening all the time, for many if not most of the in- and out-breaths, on and off the cushion. It might have been going on for I don’t know how long, barely above the threshold of perception.

From what I have been able to ascertain this contortion does not emenate from any of the eye muscles (as I had originally suspected on the retreat), but rather from the area where the said levator muscle does its work. This might be the reason why I had never been able to really get a handle on what’s happening behind the vortex-like samadhi trigger. It sometimes above the horizontal middle axis of the eyes, sometimes below, sometimes with a muscular touch, sometimes felt more in the sinuses… but always having this quality of holding, of bracing myself.

The newfound blank-out has the same felt sense, only happening involuntarily and transient. Knowing that the „vortexing“ was efficient but ultimately a strained dead end, I would now like to understand the related micro-movement better – – and defuse it, if necessary.

My plan for practice is to feel my way into the structure of the contortion, to find out what the conditions are for its onset, for its duration and for its passing. I intend to look for ways of sensing and possibly also breathing which reduce the strain, with the hope of making the contact of awareness and breath at the tip of the nose more continuous, without the blank-out.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu: The Body from the Inside

Im folgenden ein etwas älterer Dharma-Talk von Thanissaro Bhikkhu, einem hochangesehenen Buddhistischen Mönch der Thailändischen Waldtradition, einer Linie im Theravada.

Ajahn Than, wie Thanissaro Bhikkhu auch genannt wird, ist Abt des Metta Forest Monastery, wo er an sehr vielen Tagen im Jahr morgens einen kurzen (2-5 Minuten) und abends einen etwas längeren Dharma-Talk (10-20 Minuten) hält. Mit diesen Talks richtet er sich sowohl an die Mönche als auch an interessierte Laien, die aus dem Umland von San Diego zu ihm kommen.

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Gedanken-Nailing mit Karteikarten

Bei der offenen Meditation beim Platzprojekt letzte Woche bin ich während der Meditation auf eine Idee gekommen…

Von Martin Stern habe ich eine Technik namens „Nailing“ gelernt. Wenn andere Meditationsübungen bei mir mal nicht so gut laufen und ich etwas Spaß beim Meditieren haben möchte, habe ich diese schon des Öfteren genutzt.

Die neue Idee war es, das Nailen der Gedanken, also das Aufmerken und Festpinnen des Gedanken, der gerade aufgestiegen ist und erkannt wurde, nicht nur rein im Geist durchzuführen, sondern in die äußere Welt zu tragen.

Das funktioniert folgender Maßen. Ich habe bislang 2 Variationen entwickelt, die beide ihre Qualitäten haben, die ich aber nicht in eine Form verschmelzen würde, da es sonst für meinen Geschmack mit zu viel mentaler Aktivität und Analyse einhergeht.

Grundlage für beide Variationen: Du nimmst einen Stapel Karteikarten (aber im Prinzip geht fast alles, was du in ca. 20-30facher Ausführung im Schoß halten kannst) und setzt sich in die normale Meditationshaltung. Jetzt praktizierst du die Meditationsübung, die gerade richtig für dich ist. Dabei setzt du zusätzlich besonders die Intention darauf Gedanken, die aufsteigen möglichst früh zu erkennen. Immer wenn du einen Gedanken bemerkst ziehst du nun eine Karte.

Variation 1: Bei der ersten Variante sortierst du die Karte bzw. den Gedanken, den du bemerkt hast, vor dir nach Stärke ein. Ich mache das so, dass ich 5 Stapel bilde. Ganz links sind Gedanken, die mich so stark in ihren Film gezogen haben, dass ich die ganze Meditationsübung vergessen habe und > 1-2 Minuten komplett weg war. Daneben kommt ein Stapel mit Gedanken, die mich zwar mitgezogen haben, die ich aber doch innerhalb von unter einer Minute erkannt habe und die mich fast haben vergessen lassen, was ich eigentlich gerade tue. Dann geht es weiter, bis ganz nach rechts. Dort sind Gedanken, die ich quasi im Entstehen bereits bemerkt habe. Hierzu muss man besonders wach sein, wie ich festgestellt habe, deshalb ist der Stapel meistens recht klein. Wie genau man die Gedanken einsortiert muss jeder für sich feststellen und sollte auf keinen Fall zu noch mehr Nachdenken führen. Ist finde es reicht vollkommen, wenn man das nach Gefühl macht. Ich führe tatsächlich sogar Protokoll, um einfach mal zu schauen, wie sich die Gedanken mit der Zeit so entwickeln. Ohne, dass ich es darauf anlege besonders wenige Gedanken zu haben. Mehr zu dem, was man bei der Übung beachten sollte weiter unten…

Variation 2: Du bildest Stapel zu den verschiedenen Themen, die dich beschäftigen. Sehr hilfreich ist es, wenn du dir vor deiner Sitzung überlegst welche Themen dich wahrscheinlich während der Meditation beschäftigen werden. Angenommen du hast am nächsten Tag einen wichtigen Termin, für den du heute mehrere Stunden etwas vorbereitet hast, dann ist es sehr wahrscheinlich, dass zu diesem Termin Gedanken auftauchen werden. Immer wenn du an diesen Termin denkst legst du eine der Karteikarten auf einen dafür vorgesehen Stapel. Taucht ein Gedanken zu einem anderen Thema auf, bildest du einen neuen Stapel. Was sehr hilfreich ist, ist wenn du sogar zu allen Gedanken, die sich mit der Meditationsübung beschäftigen einen Stapel bildest. Das verhindert ein wenig, dass du ins Überanalysieren deiner Gedanken verfällst. Generell ist es total faszinierend, wie sich Gedanken zu einem Thema immer und immer wieder durchmogeln wollen und meistens immer den gleichen Inhalt transportieren.

Einstellung zu der Übung und zu Gedanken allgemein: Ich finde es unglaublich wichtig, dass man die Übung nicht mit Verbissenheit durchführt. Das würde auf keinen Fall zu einem klaren Geist führen. Ich sehe das ganze wie ein Spiel. Ich freue mich, wenn ich einen Gedanken bemerkt habe und ärgere mich nicht darüber. Die ganze Übung orientiert sich an den Artikeln zu den 6Rs von Frank (Hier zu 1. Teil). Getreu dem Refresh your smile bin ich froh wieder im Jetzt zu sein, statt mich über den vergangen Gedanken zu be-schweren. Ich finde es einfach faszinierend zu beobachten, was für Gedanken in mir auftauchen und auch, wie sich die Gedanken im Laufe einer Meditation verändern. Bei Variante 1 fällt mir zum Beispiel auf, dass das Risiko für Gedanken der Stärke 3 oder höher nach 10 Minuten deutlich zunimmt. Ab da heißt es also vermehrt für mich darauf zu achten nicht in die subtle dullness und ins mind wandering zu verfallen

Die Übung im Alltag integrieren: Auch wenn ich die Übung erst seit wenigen Tagen praktizieren ist es doch erstaunlich welch positive Auswirkungen sie auch auf meinen Alltag hat. So kam es neulich vor, dass mein Date für den nächsten Tag abgesagt hat, was mich normalerweise etwas beschäftigt und dafür sorgt, dass ich unnötig viel hineininterpretiere, ohne die Ausgangssituation komplett kennen zu können. Da ich sowieso gerade mit etwas völlig anderem beschäftigt war und keine Lust hatte noch einen Tab (ich vergleiche Gedanken manchmal mit Browsertabs…) zu öffnen habe ich mir innerlich meinen Karteikartenstapel vorgestellt und eine Karte für den Gedanken an das abgesagte Date gezogen und vor mich hingelegt. Schwupp war mein Kopf wieder viel freier und ich konnte mich wieder mit dem beschäftigen, mit dem ich mich gerade beschäftigen wollte.

Ich finde das verknüpfen einer Meditationsübung mit der äußeren Welt, indem man doch wieder nicht komplett still und ruhig sitzt, ist eine zweispaltige Angelegenheit. Es geht nicht ganz nach den alten Traditionen, aber gerade für westliche Menschen wie mich, die sich nur 15 Minuten pro Tag fürs Meditieren nehmen ist soetwas doch echt hilfreich.

Ich würde mich freuen, wenn ihr die Übung mal ausprobiert, selbst eine Variation kreiert und hier einen dazu Kommentar da lasst.