Ich tue, was ich tue, weil ich es tue.

Ich gehe, weil ich gehe.

Ich atme, weil ich atme.

Ich denke, weil ich denke.

Als ich am Samstag Abend nach einer schönen Segeltour mit meiner Familie und meiner Freundin abends im Park in der Hängematte lag, war ich in einem Geisteszustand, wie ich ihn in den letzten Wochen und Monaten öfter am Wochenende hatte: Meine Gedanken wanderten wie von selbst zu der Frage, was ich denn als nächstes tun wolle. Doch alle Ideen, die mir kamen wirkten nicht so, als würde mich etwas davon wirklich befriedigen können, als würde immer irgendetwas fehlen. Als wäre ich noch nicht auf die richtige Idee gekommen, was ich denn tun müsste oder was ich denn ändern müsste, damit ich wirklich glücklich werde.

Was mir dann auffiel war, dass es nichts gab, was ich ändern wollte, nichts, was dagegen gesprochen hätte, genau jetzt an diesem schönen Spätsommerabend glücklich und friedvoll in die Blätter der Bäume zu schauen. Was sollte es denn noch schöneres geben?

Da wurde mir klar: Das Problem war (wie so oft) mein Geist, der keine Ruhe gab. Mir wurde klar, dass ich eigentlich alles, was ich tue, aus zwei Gründen tue: Um etwas zu bekommen, oder um etwas zu beseitigen.

Tja und da lag nun auch der Grund, warum mir keine befriedigende Idee kam, was ich als nächstes tun wollte. Es gab nichts mehr, was ich bekommen oder beseitigen wollte, weil ja schon alles in diesem Moment in Ordnung war… – nur mein Verstand schien dies bis dahin noch nicht wirklich begriffen zu haben.

An diesem Punkt entschied ich mich dieses offensichtlich leiderzeugende Nachdenken, was ich als nächstes tun könnte einmal ruhen zu lassen und mich darin zu üben den perfekten Moment, als perfekten Moment wahrzunehmen.

Zumindest versuchte ich es, denn der Philosoph in mir stellte sich natürlich die Frage: „Wenn jetzt bereits alles da ist und du keinen Grund mehr hast etwas zu ändern. Warum tust du dann das, was du gerade tust? Du willst doch weder weg von hier, noch unbedingt irgendwo anders hin…“

Da fiel mir quasi der 3. Grund dafür ein etwas zu tun. Ich nenne ihn Kurzschlussgrund. Er lautet: „Ich tue, was ich tue, weil ich es tue“.

Ich nenne ihn Kurzschlussgrund, weil er eigentlich keinen Sinn ergibt und das ist genau das Ziel. Der Verstand sucht immer nach dem Sinn etwas zu tun, und wenn der Sinn etwas zu tun genau das ist, nämlich es zu tun, dann kapituliert mein Verstand, wie bei einer Art Kurzschluss und ich lande da, wo es mich im tiefsten Sinne hinzieht: Ins Hier und Jetzt.

Mir geht es nicht darum sich gar keine Gedanken mehr zu Dingen zu machen und ich klammere mich auch nicht an die Vorstellung irgendwann so erleuchtet zu sein, dass ich alles, was ich tue einfach nur tue, weil ich es tue.
Nein, manchmal möchte ich Dinge eben ändern und manchmal zieht es mich zu etwas hin und damit meine Handlungen dem Wohle der Menschen, der Tiere und des Planten zu Gute kommen muss ich auch darüber nachdenken, wofür ich meine Energie einsetze.
Aber manchmal, da ist eben auch alles in Ordnung und man braucht nicht weiter nachdenken. Ja, vielleicht sagt einem sogar das eigene Herz, den nächsten Schritt…

Und darin möchte ich mich üben, dass auch mal alles in Ordnung ist und „man“ nichts tun muss.

Vielleicht magst du dir mal die folgenden Sätze durchlesen und schauen, was es mit dir macht:

Ich lese, weil ich lese.

Ich denke nach, weil ich nachdenke.

Ich esse, weil ich esse.

Ich arbeite, weil ich arbeite.

Kalte Duschen als Achtsamkeitsübungen

Wie der Titel schon verrät geht es ums kalte Duschen.

Ich habe schon öfter Zeiten gehabt, in denen ich kalte geduscht habe. Meist deshalb um wach zu werden oder um mich aktiv aus meiner Komfortzone zu bewegen und frisch und aufgeladen in den Tag zu starten.

Dabei war mir schon öfter aufgefallen, dass es weniger anstrengend und schmerzhaft ist, wenn man versucht sich zu entspannen und die Kälte zu akzeptieren (ich weiß das hört sich einfacher an, als es ist… ;)).

Seit gestern habe ich jedoch noch mal eine völlig neue Perspektive bekommen.

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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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