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Zooming in
November 18th, 2013

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

Zooming in… or out

In meditation, it regularly happens that the mind drifts.

When practising concentration meditation, one would usually re-focus as soon as vigilance notes that the discursive consciousness has lost its pre-chosen object (e.g. some bodily sensation associated to breathing).

When practising insight meditation, one would usually make a 'note' (without a 'I') of what the object of discursive consciousness currently is, without necessarily pulling it back to a pre-defined object, simply observing how the mind shifts and shifts (without obvious central direction or master, in spite of the delusion of the 'I').
There is however an anchor (e.g. the breath): it is to be used when the discursive consciousness starts 'looping' or 'obsessing' on a particular object. However, the classical advice is to "dive in" prior to coming back to the anchor, in order to realise the emptiness of this object, and to use the anchor only when the dive stops producing insights.

For example, if the mind starts obsessing about some event that happened earlier e.g. someone said some word that did hurt, the way to "dive in" is to question the assumptions we make:
• Is what we understood really what the doer meant?
• Is the intention we assign to the doer really the only intention they could have had?
• Was it really directed against us specifically, or was it unconscious aggression toward the whole world?
• Was it about us (we're prone to think so: "centre of the world" delusion), or was it because the doer was hurt by another previous (possibly unrelated) event?
etc. When the exploration is no longer going 'deeper', one may come back to the anchor.

Or for example, if the mind starts obsessing about some physical pain, due to the (possibly inaccurate) posture while meditating, the way to "dive in" is to question the assumptions we make:
• What precise body part is painful (is it really the 'whole' knee, or is it only the front of it)?
• Is the pain constant or varying?
• Is it changing as one inhales or one exhales?
• Is shifting the attention 'into' it changing the experience itself?
• Is a shift in posture having an effect?
etc. When the exploration is no longer going 'deeper', one may come back to the anchor.

That's introspection, and this is a classic tool to realise the emptiness of phenomena: the more you "dive in", the more you realise that there's no absolute essence to them, no 'core' that is unmovable.

In some circumstances, of course, it may appear that there is an intangible barrier… but the more you practise, the more you perceive how such barriers arise out of the mind refusing to dive in further, rather than out of actual impossibilities.

Two truths

The above are very useful techniques, but sometimes meditators get locked into habits about these: as soon as the mind loops, hop!, a dive takes place, "What's going on here? What is this phenomenon? What am I experiencing exactly right now? …"
This is a wholesome habit, no doubt, but still a habit!

So, for the non-beginner meditators, I believe it's worth mentioning an alternative when the mind loops: instead of zooming in, zooming out!

Instead of seeking the emptiness of the object in consciousness, which is only one of the two truths, try to explore the other of the two truths… by accepting that the mind is currently looping, taking this as a fact, and zooming out!
• Why do you loop right now?
• What is your intention behind looping?
• What of the context are you trying to leave in the background by obsessing on this particular foreground?
• What are you avoiding, or seeking, thanks to this momentary obsession?
• Why pick this particular object of momentary obsession rather than another?
When the exploration is no longer going 'wider', one may come back to the anchor.

In short, instead of asking "what is this?"  by taking a closer look, one may ask "what is this?"  by taking a step back and relating it to the conventional context!
Two truths, and your experience is in the Middle…

Happy exploration!

#Buddhism   #meditation  
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