DavidM

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Meditation, insight, and rationality. (Part 2 of 3)

The first paragraph isn't about vibrations. That's just visual junk. Looking at it closely will make vibrations apparent.

The second paragraph sounds like it's about vibrations. The rapidly-changing graininess is overlaid by another pulse, yes? How do you know that it's a pulse, unless you can almost-sort of see the fluctuation from "nothing" to "something" to "nothing"? (In stage 2 the "something" is clearest, so don't expect the "nothing" to be overwhelming.)

If you can't label "pulse" or "seeing" fast enough, try "that." If you still can't do it fast enough, simply see the vibrations without being distracted, or count them. Balance just seeing with labeling if distraction is a problem. Re-read my stage 2 advice in the post.

I'll be away for a few days, starting now, so you're on your own for awhile. Sounds like you'll be fine.

Meditation, insight, and rationality. (Part 2 of 3)

The twitching is typical, like I said. Not in the sense that every time you meditate, from now till forever, you're going to have it. But it's common enough in stage 1. There are also related things that can happen in stage 2, but they're not quite the same. So I'd say that they might be gone by stage 2 and probably will be by stage 3. Your body will get over it eventually. Think of it as your body trying to adapt to doing this new thing; it takes some time to iron the kinks out.

Good luck with your practice! Let us know if anything interesting happens.

Meditation, insight, and rationality. (Part 1 of 3)

The factory & lenses metaphor seems like a good argument for why meditation should work in the sense of allowing a flawed process to discover and improve itself despite its own flaws. But: the key part of that metaphor is that using a flawed lens one can discover the flaws of the lens, by confronting contradictory evidence caused by flaw; and people are notoriously prone to not reaching the correct conclusion when presented with contradictory evidence.

Well, the metaphor only goes so far. This process does not ask a person to explicitly apply what they learn in meditation. (If it did, the possibility for bias and error would be quite large, as with most things.) Rather, cultivating attention and perception allows the defects to be seen clearly, and one's brain somehow manages to correct them "under the table," leaving it somewhat mysterious how that happens.

This is something I planned to write about in Part 3. To be honest, I find it surprising and somewhat bizarre that this can happen, and that it can happen in such a regular way, in discrete steps. If anything strains my own credulity about the whole process, it's this. (In my experience and the experiences of others it has worked this way, which makes it merely surprising to me. That information probably doesn't help you, though.)

The problem I see with your request is not that you want something that meditation causes which is observable by a third party (there are lots of potential ideas in the comments), but you want something that meditation causes which is observable by a third party which your goal structure approves of. Which, in principle, is fine, but I can't say I know what your goal structure is. I have continually emphasized that the value of enlightenment for a person depends on their particular goals. (There are things about it that I think would benefit most people or everyone, but it doesn't help much to say that when people can't conceptualize those things and so can't judge now whether they actually would want them.)

Adelene, who counts as partially enlightened according to my model, describes being able to see multiple senses clearly enough and close enough to simultaneously to be able to transcribe her synaesthetic experiences on paper. Would that be a benefit for you? Perhaps it depends on whether you have visual synaesthesia or a fertile imagination.

I suggest that "wide perceptual width" (a side effect of enlightenment) may lead to strong improvements in the ability to observe and describe parts of one's visual field that are not actively being focused on. Would this be a benefit for you? In principle many people might be indifferent to it...apart from visual artists, for whom it might be anything from really important to life-changing. Or police offers, for whom it might one day spell the difference between getting killed or not.

I spelled out some other possiblities in Part 1, and I think there are even more in the comments. And there are others which I haven't mentioned yet, but am working on. And there are even others which I haven't thought of in the first place.

So, I can't help with your question unless I know your goals.

I understand where the desire for third-party verification comes from. But you wrote

your procedure seems like something I’d like to try, but only if I can ask someone else to judge the results.

which makes it sound as if you think this is just a cute way to improve some mental abilities and want to be sure that you can tell whether it worked. I hope my posts so far didn't give you the impression that I think this is a good idea. I would strongly suggest not meditating unless you're prepared for potentially large changes in the way you see yourself and the world. If that's something you're interested in, the side effects can be really awesome. And if you want the side effects badly enough, perhaps that's a good reason, too. But your attitude seems very casual, which in my opinion is likely to lead either to you getting more than you bargained for, or to you quitting at stage 3 because you don't have enough commitment to the end result and thereby causing yourself a lot of pointless, avoidable suffering. (But if I'm misreading you, just say so.)

So, think about it.

And, the clarification that you asked for:

you seem to claim that after achieving enlightenment the changes become permanent, but it’s not clear if that means “as long as you keep meditating an hour a day” or not; people into meditation seem to do it more-or-less until they stop being interested in meditation, but it’s not obvious if they stop because it didn’t work or because they’re done—and, as I said, I pay attention to statements from people like you but not to most practitioners of such methods.)

Let me start off by saying that I don't speak for anyone else, so I can't comment on why specific people stop. If you look at the population of people who have stopped, probably the whole range of reasons that people stop doing any kind of self-cultivation will be represented (e.g. same as for practicing a musical instrument, writing fiction or poetry, drawing, etc.).

Once you reach any stage of enlightenment, it's permanent; no more meditation (and no more anything, except maybe food and air) is required to maintain and upkeep that attainment. In principle a person could completely forget about meditation and everything related to it and go on their way, and still retain all the benefits. (Most likely their attention and perception have been cultivated so much that they can't help but do meditation-like things when going through daily life, so they might continue to make some progress anyway.)

The cognitive side effects of enlightenment, i.e. the benefits that aren't enlightenment but are related to it such as e.g. perceptual improvements, can wax and wane like anything else related to mental functioning, but seem to be pretty stable in the long run without appearing to require maintenance or upkeep either.

Once you reach full enlightenment, there is no more need to meditate in this style ever again. There is nothing left to get out of it, and the only reason I can think of to do it would be to review what it's like so as to explain it to others.

Even fully enlightened people may continue to meditate in other styles for unrelated reasons. Full enlightenment produces a surprising amount of mental pliability, and one can pursue meditation aiming at altered states of consciousness, relaxation, bliss, etc. surprisingly easily and effectively at this point. But that isn't the same process, even though we have the same word ("meditation") for it.

By the way, the previous paragraph is rather easy to test if meditating for pleasure is approved by your goal structure. Even the first stage of enlightenment makes that sort of thing a lot easier. (The process of doing that will probably push you towards further stages of enlightenment, so testing it happens to also be a commitment to working towards full enlightenment.)

Meditation, insight, and rationality. (Part 2 of 3)

The model for higher stages of enlightenment is not one that I can fit into a blog post.

One reason is that I agree with what muflax said: the most-correct model I know of will have a fractal element, which will be hard to represent in a simple way. In my opinion, for the first four stages, this fractal element is less important. Afterwards, it's more important.

I don't think a model with a fractal element is necessarily the most useful one, though. I think a linear model (like the one I gave for the first four stages) can go pretty far. Problem is, I don't think the really important stuff that happens after stage 4 is anything that I can describe in a way that makes much sense until you get past stage 4, fractal or not. For example, in this model, I describe lots of stuff that is easy to understand: mood changes, attention changes, etc. Most of what's interesting about post-stage 4 is not really like that. Post-stage 4 stages involve repetitions of the qualities of earlier stages, but that's not what's interesting about them.

If you want a flowchart, it will be pretty unremarkable:

stage 1 --> stage 2 --> stage 3 --> stage 4 --> first stage of enlightenment --> (some stuff) --> second stage of enlightenment --> (some stuff) --> third stage of enlightenment --> (some stuff) --> full enlightenment

"Some stuff" is not me being evasive, I just see no useful way to write about it here. Nothing under "some stuff" is scarier than what I wrote about stages 2 and 3, so I'm not declining to share anything that can ruin your life.

Keep in mind that this model, including only the first four stages, is itself simplified in relation to the more precise models that it is derived from.

I think the four stage model of enlightenment is insufficient (needs more stages), but I can't easily explain what's wrong with it, and the model I prefer is not very precise in the places that it differs from the four stage model.

EDIT: Just for clarity, "stage 1" through "stage 4" are not related to the four stages of enlightenment in any straightforward way. Not related at all unless you use a model with a fractal element. "Stages 1...4" are one thing, and the four stages of enlightenment are another.

Meditation, insight, and rationality. (Part 2 of 3)

Should be noted that I take Zoloft and Lamictal in case those are influencing any of this.

Before you continue with this, I'm formally recommending that you run what you're doing by your doctor and get your doctor's permission before you do it.

Not because I think this practice is (or isn't) going to be problematic for you, but because I don't know what your mental health situation is, and your well-being is important enough not to put solely in the hands of someone on the internet.

Also, I strongly suggest explaining what you're doing to a close friend, and having them check in with you every so often to make sure you're OK.

The rest of what I write is predicated on your having checked with your doctor and gotten his or her approval to continue.

(If you don't mind saying, what is the exact diagnosis that you're prescribed those medications for? Feel free not to say if you don't want to share publicly.)


So, taking Zoloft and Lamictal probably is influencing this. My guess is that Lamictal will alter or suppress the mood / emotional stuff that can happen in stage 2. Zoloft probably has some effect, too, but I have no idea what.

Let's talk about your visual field. I don't know the cause of what you're describing, and I think it's common enough, but what you mention about it pulsing is probably different. It might be vibrations. Here's how to find out.

Look closely at any part of your visual field with eyes open, when you can see the graininess. (Make sure you're looking at a static scene.) I'll suppose you're looking at a quarter. It should appear to you that the graininess is commingled with the image of the quarter, or that the image of the quarter is "arising out of" or "formed by" the grain. If the pulses you're describing are vibrations, then the grain / quarter is the "something." Label every pulse that you see, and label very quickly. If you label fast enough (or can see enough pulses) it should become obvious to you that there is also a moment where the grain and the quarter simply aren't there; this is the "nothing" (lack of visual field where your attention was).

(Looking at my own visual field, it sometimes appears that the grain is there, and then the quarter is there. Both of those are "something." "Nothing" is when it appears there are blank frames, without visual qualities, that surround instances of grain or quarter or the grain / quarter complex.)

If you can see the "something" and the "nothing," these are vibrations. If visual vibrations are clearer to you than tactile vibrations (e.g. in the movement of your abdomen), then your new object of meditation should be any part of your visual field (attentional width as wide or narrow as is comfortable for you, eyes closed or open as you prefer), and you should label the pulses with the label "pulse" or "seeing" (making sure to see both the "something" and "nothing"), and label any distractions as well. When the tingling thing happens, you can move to that while it's there if you like.

As I said, I think Lamictal may suppress the mood stuff associated with meditation. So, to recap...bizarre visualizations, probably seeing vibrations in multiple sensory modalities, body tingling during meditation, other physical sensations continue after meditation ("buzzing" in your head), expected energy and mood changes potentially dampened or altered: stage 2.

The interesting part is if you've always sort of noticed the "pulsing" of your visual field but never paid attention to it. Then your situation is more complicated and "stage 2" may not be a perfect representation of it. However, the advice for your situation would be the same either way, so it doesn't matter much.

Meditation, insight, and rationality. (Part 2 of 3)

After concentrating a while on my abdomen a painful wave grips my attention and physically throws me off my meditation posture.

Try to observe that carefully every time it happens. You said that you can sometimes see negative feelings as mental objects and not "yours," so you're definitely on the right track. Consider ways that you may not be fully seeing them as mental objects. For example, are the negative feelings afflictions for you? How do you know? If you know because they feel as if they are, make sure you recognize the feeling "being afflicted by negative feelings" or the impression "having negative feelings present in my experiential field" as a mental object too. (This "affliction" is part of the non-standard meaning of "aversion" or "hatred" which is shared with Buddhism.) It's a little hard to get across what I mean here, but if you see it, you'll probably recognize what I'm trying to say.

The vibrations I've picked up so far have been physical twitching of the abdomen, an in and out fading of the sensation of the abdomen, the abdomen themselves phasing in and out of existence and finally my attention itself setting and resetting itself. None of these experiences are very clear so I might be making them up.

Apart from the twitching, it sounds like you can perceive vibrations pretty well.

If you're in stage three, the "lack of clarity" is related to the fact that the "fading out" is is the clearest part. (Imagine a video of the moon waxing and waning using time-lapse photography, and imagine that the waning is extremely clear and the waxing is hard to discern.) That's simply how they present, and you may not actually be missing anything, which would mean you're doing a good job.

If you additionally feel that the vibrations aren't clear, that feeling is a different mental object; label it. Feeling that they aren't clear, and simple fact of their being unclear (or reporting on their unclarity using the word 'feel'), are different.

My concentration is still a mess but I'll try to find out the exact qualities of these experiences.

If you additionally feel that your concentration is a mess, that's a mental object too.

It is very hard to improve concentration in stage three, so if that's where you are, for now I wouldn't focus too much on trying to get a lot better at it than you already are.

Meditation, insight, and rationality. (Part 2 of 3)

Well, not having conscious experience isn't like anything. It just seems to me that being asleep is like something.

Not along the lines of having a sense that time is passing (one only seems to have that sense after waking up, so it's really "having a sense that time passed," as if the brain has some kind of built-in chronometer), but in having some kind of experience that can't be described normally.

Meditation, insight, and rationality. (Part 2 of 3)

Please let us know how meditation is going for you once your retreat is over.

Meditation, insight, and rationality. (Part 2 of 3)

It sounds like you may be describing vibrations, in one sensory modality only. What do you mean by "nothing"? Absense of a tingle? Absense of all physical sensation?

Physical sensations are a good place to look for vibrations because there are a lot of physical sensations that everyone seems to recognize are made up of fluctuating stuff. Most people are more attuned to this kind of fluctuation than to fluctuations in other modalities. Vibrations in other modalities are actually kind of similar, except that they don't "tingle", they just...fluctuate. Maybe tingling is a good metaphor for that.

Two main possibilities that I see:

1) Your concentration is relatively good, and when it gets to a certain point, it produces this effect, but the effect distracts you, your concentration falls apart, and the effect disappears. ("Concentration" here means something like "ability to keep your attention on one object," which is different from the typical meaning, and isn't the same process as concentrating during everyday tasks.) If your concentration was better, the tingling would become stronger, and very pleasant. Concentration simultaneously brings on this particular sensation and breaks it up into easy-to-discern vibrations.

2) You are somewhere in stage 2 (probably the beginning, but who knows), which has random pleasant (or simultaneously pleasant / weird or pleasant / unpleasant) tingly sensations as a characteristic of it.

So, you can distinguish between these possibilities as follows. Next time you get this tingling, don't label it 'that', but label it 'that-that-that-that-that-that...', one label for each fluctuation you can discern. Try to see each fluctuation clearly, from the "something" to the "nothing". Even if you can't see all 10 or 20 per second, do your best. If the tingling is caused by good concentration, this will likely make it go away quickly. If the tingling is caused by being in stage 2, this is more likely to extend it or intensify it or bring on another round of it, and your concentration may increase.

If rapid labeling intensifies it, that's good, you should focus on doing that, and try to label faster in general. If you can sort of notice 10-20 tingles per second, you should set a goal of generating at least four labels per second when there isn't any tingling around.

I assume that if you're in stage 2, you're in the beginning, because you didn't report any mood or emotional effects. You did report some bizarre visualizations, which is definitely stage 2-esque (especially because of their bizarreness), but for now I'm attributing that to being sleepy. But it could just be the way that stage 2 manifests for you, especially if you don't typically have imagery like that.

If I'm wrong about where in stage 2 you are, you might get a BIG rush or a series of rushes of tingly sensations from labeling rapidly. And if this happens, at one point, at the end of the rushes, you may feel like your attention is much less precise than before, which would be a decent indication that you may have entered stage 3, so hold on. (But in that case I would say you have an aptitude for this style of meditation, and think that you'll probably get through it quickly if you keep going. Also, if you haven't reported many emotional side effects, you may not be susceptible to them.)

Do you feel any different when you're not meditating? Tingles? Weird visualizations? How's your mood and energy level?

Meditation, insight, and rationality. (Part 2 of 3)

The world does, subjectively, appear to be enormously fresh and interesting to me (compared to before I went down this particular path), which may be related to what you read.

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