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.

Keeping e.g. the breath in mind in a certain part of the felt body is not really effective, though, if I just have one sole part I pay attention to. Even with the intention to only connect by feeling, not by seeing, I usually feel the levator muscle get into action after a couple of seconds. It feels like I do not really sink into the felt body but rather still connect superficially, thus the fallback into perspective-making.

What helped (see TL;DR in my previous post) and continue to help is to let the mechanism of covert attention help me soak the awareness more strongly into the felt body. If I manage to hold multiple targets in mind simultaneously (i.e. multiple volumes in or immediately around the felt body) then perspective-making is significantly reduced. The experience is a bit like how I feel when covertly attending in the visual field – – having the primary attentional focus land somewhere and at the same time relax into peripheral awareness. I know that the Abhidharma says it’s impossible to focus on mutliple objects in a truly simultaneous fashion. This might be true for the so called overt attention (what we usually call „focus“), but for me it is entirely possible to hold even a couple of visibiel points in covert attention simultaneously.

I got good results (as measured as reduced levator twitching) with e.g. feeling the breath in three places at the same time: in the abdomen, at the nose and between the shoulder blades. Even then there is some visual perspective-making wanting to happen, but I relax the eyes into covert attention then there is less perspective-making going on. As a result, the awareness can sink into the feeling of breath. The three volumes are thoroughly soaked with awareness. Mental chatter falls away.

I welcome any feedback on this phenomenon, on what happens when there is a sharp drop of perspective-making when tuning into (multi-focal) covert attention.

There are other practitioners who seem to use this effect. Here a quote from an interview with Bodhipaksa: „I realised that it was when I was paying attention to a lot of different things that mymy mind was at its quietest. So I began to start my meditation by paying attention to what was going on outside of me – to the sense of space and sound and the light through my eyelids, for example, and then I also included in my attention the body and the breathing. Simultaneously paying attention to two separate sensations in this way creates a stretch. Because your mind is moving in two directions at the same time, it makes it much harder to be distracted.“

A while ago there was a discussion on Dharma Overground about Russians who do a practice called „deconcentration of attention“.  According to Russian sources, that kind of multi-focal covert attention is used to modulate not only awareness but bodily function, e.g. in the context of deep diving.

I can corroborate the sudden quieting of the mind Bodhipaksa talks about, as well as this very particular feeling of suddenly dropping into the body which is used by the Russians to regulate their bodily function before and while diving. There is a visceral collectedness which even allows for thoughts, although they take on a much more wispy quality.

Bodhipaksa calls this „bandwith flooding“, but I experience it more as shifting of the bandwith, to a more panoramic mode. The less there is perspective-making happening, the more multiple impressions across a certain mode (e.g. lived experience of the felt body) and even simultaneous impressions across different modes are possible. It’s like seeing, feeling, hearing, even smelling with the whole body. It’s actually quite beautiful.

Looks like the experiment with the levator is coming to an end, though. On the cushion there is basically no twitching anymore when covert attention is happening. Consequently the muscle lost a bit of its appeal as a „biofeedback device“. On the other hand, it really did its job. My main attentional focus on the meditation object (i.e. focus of my overt attention) is rock solid now. On a good stretch of the practice there is no displacement of the attention happening anymore. The staying can get very continuous. Very easy access to Jhana, literally in seconds.

The levator wakes up when I do walking meditation, so there is still some work left and some value in continuing with the experiment.

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