Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dharma Talk 009: "Cheating" on Breath Meditation

I rarely do breath meditation these days.  Lately, if I do it at all, I focus on the breath at the so called anapana spot, specifically the subtle sensation of the breath as it touches the outermost part of the nostril, or sometimes just the overall sensation of the breath as a whole while remaining focused on that one area.

On the nostril, the way I sense it, there is a surface sensation, and then there is a little bit of a more diffuse sensation that spreads out underneath that.  That's just a small pointer that there is a lot of detail there, some subtlety that someone might gloss over or not notice right away.  Don't assume that the sensations of your body are what you theorize they are, be curious and find out what's actually there.  There might be more than you think.

A few years back I would occasionally do breath counting.  There are many variations, but I would typically count the outbreath until I got to 10, and then start over from 1.

Anyway, one time I did that for 40 minutes without losing the count.  Maybe that's impressive, maybe not.  The fact is, I cheated.  Kind of.

What I did was to come up with a kind of visualization to help me keep track of where I was in the count.  I visualized something like a telephone keypad, but only 9 numbers, or actually just the spaces or locations, a nice little 3 x 3 matrix.

When the count was one, I oriented my visual attention to the upper left.  When the count was two, I oriented to that middle upper location, and so on until I was at the bottom right.

When the count was 10, I would visualize the entire "keypad" area, which was bigger and different, and that would help clue me in to the next move, the most important move in the whole sequence, the change to go back to one, to the upper left.

So I was cheating in the sense that I was using a technique, a device.  But I was thinking about it today, and it struck me as something fairly useful.  As someone with perhaps a decently strong visual orientation, I translated the problem into a purely visual device, a relatively simple visual pattern rather than the arbitrary numerical symbolic sequence.  The numeric sequence makes the problem much harder, because we are so terribly overtrained on counting numerical sequences.  The numerical counting becomes automatic, and it is very easy to go on autopilot and go beyond the count of ten.

It also struck me in hindsight that I had changed the problem, in some little ways, into a slightly more nondual friendly format.  I literally didn't have to even use numbers, although I did.  It could be done with just those locations and sizes.  In this way, the sequence could be grokked in a slightly more direct way.  Although it is still conceptual.

Again, in hindsight, I like the idea of taking this particular problem away from the left brain a bit, I think this is the direction that meditation of all types needs to lean towards.

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