There are concepts in meditation that are strongly ephemeral. You get an insight during practice, but in an instant, it could leave your mind and never return.
Here, we’re documenting these epiphanies.
Finding The Meditator
A very useful insight when it comes to identity & self is that they don’t truly exist.
One way to experiment with that is to meditate in a traditional fashion: focus your attention on your breath, and as you get distracted, bring your attention back to the breath. Once you have some stability in keeping your attention there, turn your attention back to see who is meditating. ie. Try to find the meditator.
One common reaction to this is your mind visualizes you, as you usually perceive yourself, turning back to look back at you. Right before the turn is over, things get confused. How can you turn back to look back at you?
Another possible reaction that usually happens after you’ve become aware of the first one is your mind skips that visual turn. It realizes that there’s no need to imagine a turn, since there’s really nothing turning. So it looks back instantly and usually lands on nothing. Just blankness1.
These reactions have an essential insight: imagining you turning back to see you plants the seed of realizing that how you think of you is a construct of the mind. How can I look back to see I? The blankness you see when you look hard enough is a signal that there’s no I to find.
Now that you know your mind built this you and it has parts that don’t seem congruent with how things really are, you may start working on taking them out and replacing them with parts that fit better.
Shifting Your Center
For some strange reason, we tend to think of ourselves as centered somewhere behind our eyes and between our ears. Go into meditation and focus on the breath. Now, ask yourself, where am I focusing from. The answer will most likely be somewhere around that region.
Keeping with the meditation, thank your mind for all it has done for you and ask your awareness to move from your mind down to your jaw. You are not making your awareness move, nor are you focusing from your previous center down to your jaw. You’re making a request for awareness to be in your jaw. The feeling here is not a directional awareness from previous center to jaw, but rather, feeling your jaw from within your jaw, as your jaw.
This subtle shift of center is what we’re after.2
You’ll succeed for a bit, but as if by gravitational force, your awareness will go back up to the head region. Just repeat the process of asking your awareness to live in your jaw again so your jaw is your new center.
One of the ways your mind might make this difficult for you is by making you believe that since the brain is where your mind is and your mind is where thoughts happens, it follows that that’s where your center should be. Another perspective to see this from is just as when you thought your center was in your mind and you could feel your jaw, now your center is in your jaw, but you can feel your mind, along with the thoughts that it might be producing. So when you shift your center and then later notice thoughts emanating from your head region, it’s expected. We are not trying to exclude the mind. Just moving center to where it should be in the current context.
This isn’t limited to thoughts. It encompasses all your senses. So hearing with a center shifted to jaw means that you’re hearing from your jaw center. Not your mind center. From your mind center, you react differently to sounds than you would from your jaw center.
As you gain more stability in shifting your center and staying there, at first, closer to the mind, then farther; continue until you identify a place that makes you feel the most connected. Usually around the heart area. Try doing this in your practice enough times so that it can stay with you post practice. Instead of going about your day with a mind center, try it with a heart center.
Remember, wherever you awareness is, you’re not aware of it from your head region, you are aware of it from where it is, as it is. Your head region is just one of the things that’s there and that should be acknowledged and given some of the attention as needed. Just like when your center was in your mind, it too gave attention to other parts of your body. It deserves the same treatment.
When you’re listening to music, try shifting your center to your ears. When you’re dancing, to your hips. When you’re listening to a friend, to your heart. When you’re solving a problem, to your mind 3. When you’re trying to sleep, to all the points of contact your body is making with the bed. You may observe that what you do or say next, might be very different than when you had your awareness mind centered at all times.
- How did your face look like before even your parents were born?
- The wind is not moving. The flag is not moving. Your mind is moving45.
The posture of mind here is not one of going out to find the meditator. Rather, it’s a receptive posture. Mode is receive, not seek. ↩
In order to feel this shift more clearly, you need to distinguish between attention and consciousness. They are not the same thing. Attention is the feeling in your mind that it’s focused on something. Consciousness is an all encompassing awareness that includes attention. ↩
The mind might have different centers as well. Think focused center and diffused center. ↩
After a 10 year retreat in the jungles, a well known Zen monk was walking back into his monastery to find two monks arguing under a flag pole. One was insisting that the flag is not moving, but the wind is. The other, was insisting the opposite, that the wind is not moving, but the flag is. The famous monk came up to them and said this. ↩
This one is extremely useful in situations where you feel like your mind has been completely taken over and is contracted. Visualize the flag on the flagpole and allow it to represent your state of mind. You’ll probably see it moving violently. Now re-visualize it as flaccid. There’s no wind to move it and it has no motion. Let this new visual represent your mind. It’ll calm down to represent the flag. It’s a two way street. I use this technique when in hot yoga and my mind is screaming for me to get out of there. ↩