Insight Meditation Class, Fall 2007, Consciousness and Its Objects, Class 2: October 2, 2007

[Notes for Class 2 were handed out during the class.]

This transcript has not been 'cleaned' to make it into a dharma talk, just reviewed for typographical errors.

Barbara: … Bring attention now to the body, feeling the buttocks on the cushion or the chair. Rock the body and forth and sidewards, back into center…

Breathing in, breathing out. Aware of the breath touching the nostrils and upper lip. Right there with consciousness of touching, be aware that there is contact. The body touching the breath, the sense organ of touch is touching the object of the breath. And with contact, consciousness arises…

Right there in the breath, be aware of the texture, the feeling of pleasant or unpleasant, or neutral. And the perception, knowing this as the breath…

If any thought arises, for example, a judgment about the breath, that it should be softer or firmer or different in some way, know it as judgment…

If an impulse energy arises to try to control the breath in some way, know it as volition...

Whatever arises, let it be, don't try to change anything. Mind settles into a choiceless awareness, willing to be with whatever is present just as it is…

If an object takes you away from the breath, do not call this wandering. It's just part of the choiceless awareness. If a sensation arises in the body like an itch or throbbing and draws attention away from the breath, don't resist the object, simply be with it. Contact.

Perhaps it's a sound that drew you away, the traffic noise, maybe, or somebody in the room coughing. Sense organ of ear, touching the object sound. And with that contact, hearing consciousness arises. Feeling—pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. Perception, knowing the sound as a sound, knowing the cough as a cough and the car horn as a car horn. Perception files things, categorizes too. And then volition. If the traffic is loud, there may be an aversion that arises, wanting to get rid of the noise, hearing not as sound but as noise.

If aversion or grasping arise, they may bring a contracted energy. This is an important point in your practice. If there is a contraction, that becomes the new object. Don't get caught up in, 'This is an aversive thought, this is a grasping thought' with attempt to change them. Simply watch the body and the contraction you may experience.

The whole experience of contracting is the object. The body as sense organ, touching that object. Consciousness arising with contact. Pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Perception noting, 'This is a contraction.' Can the contraction just be there without further contraction around it? It arose out of conditions. It's impersonal, impermanent. Let it be. As the contraction dissolves, come back to the breath.

In the same way, if a thought arises, perhaps a memory, mind touching on a memory, contact and consciousness, feeling, the unpleasantness of the memory, perception, 'this is an unpleasant memory.' A mental formation, moving into aversion. It might be aversion toward the people involved in the memory. It might be a judging thought to the self, such as, 'I shouldn't be remembering,' or 'I should be angry.' It's just a thought. It's impersonal, impermanent. It arose out of conditions. There's nothing there you have to believe in. It's often helpful to find the body contraction there with the aversion because aversion is such a big experience in the body and the mind. You're not avoiding or denying the aversion to bring attention to the contraction, it's just a way of staying centered through this difficult memory or difficult body state. As it changes or dissolves, come back to the breath.

When we practice in this way, slowly the body settles down. The mind settles down. From choiceless awareness practice as the tool that we're using, we open into access concentration where the mind starts to pick up each mind and body state with choiceless awareness as the tool. Without a self, nobody choosing this one or that one or trying to get rid of this one or that one. Everything arising or passing away. Resting in full presence, access concentration.

You feel a shift. The contractions stop. Aversion and attachment really stop. They're just objects arising and passing away, some pleasant, some unpleasant. Those that are pleasant will remain pleasant. Those that are unpleasant will remain unpleasant. But there's no reverberation from that pleasant or unpleasant experience or neutral experience.

We'll sit now for 20 minutes.


Did all of you see the transcript from the last class? If you did not see it, it's on the Deep Spring website, please look at it.

We asked you last class to practice in this way and see how it felt to bring in this precise noting, knowing contact as contact and consciousness as consciousness. The feeling—pleasant, unpleasant, neutral. Perception. And then if a mental formation or volition arises out of this impulse energy, or a thought, 'it should be this way or that way', noting judgment, aversion, or grasping if that arises, to really see that as a new object. This is basically what I led in the guided meditation tonight. And this is the way we establish both choiceless awareness and access concentration.

So I'd like to go around and hear from you what experiences you had in these last 2 weeks, working with this, either frustrating ones or joyful ones or some mix of both. Also, questions you may have. Let's just go around here…

Q: There was a mix. (I) have a question. There seemed to be consciousness or awareness, whatever, all the time. (I) saw the contact with object and then consciousness about that, like hearing consciousness or sensing body consciousness. But underlying all of it, there seemed to be consciousness.

Barbara: When you say underlying it all there seems to be consciousness, do you mean not sense or mind consciousness but some deeper level of awareness? Okay, good point. Yes.

So what you're saying here is that the mundane consciousnesses are picking up mundane objects, and what seems to be simultaneously, there is a deeper level of supramundane awareness that's touching some bigger field than just this sound or that pulsation. So that the mundane consciousnesses are within that bigger field, but they don't pick up an identity of importance as this or that, so much. It's like watching the ripples flowing on the surface of a pond, but you don't identify each ripple, but only know that there are ripples. But you're also aware of the vast water, the depth of the lake, and so forth.

Q: yes.

Basically this is, it's hard to articulate this… Supramundane awareness, what we call pure awareness, is simply one level of consciousness, but it does not take a mundane object, it takes a supramundane object. All the mundane objects continue, they don't go anywhere, but they're experienced as ripples on the surface so we don't get caught up in them. If mindfulness is sharp, we still see them.

It's like the looking-through-fingers exercise. If you focus on the fingers, there's just the fingers. If you look through, you may entirely miss the fingers. But you can see both. I didn't really hear a question, just that this was your experience. I'm trying to articulate it more precisely for others. Was your experience that, or did you lose touch with the mundane objects?

Q: Sometimes there was just emptiness but many times there were objects with consciousness; it was like looking through a wide angle lens…

Barbara: Okay, and am I correct in guessing that there was not a lot of contraction around the specific objects? Maybe not any? (Q: not much) I can't tell you at this point if this is access concentration or pure awareness, which one is predominant. It sounds more like access concentration.

Q: My sense is that in pure awareness, there is not such a direct experience of an object and consciousness with that object.

Barbara: That is a very clear distinction between them, yes. So with access concentration, you're more focused on the fingers, even though the space is very much there. With pure awareness, the fingers are there but there's very little notice of them. There's the vast space. Two different forms of consciousness, two different predominant objects.

What's the use of this? I want to keep tying what we're doing in this class back to daily life. I had my teeth cleaned this week. I have good teeth; it's never a terrible process, but of course it's unpleasant getting one's teeth cleaned. There are stabbing sensations and scraping, and… it's not as much fun as floating on the lake in a kayak! So this is a wonderful place to practice. I always try to make it a practice experience.

So I was just noting the scraping and, because of my hearing or non-hearing, perhaps I feel the vibration of the scraping maybe more than many people do. Chills running up my spine—scraping! A little too hard—tension, tension. Watching, really settling down into access concentration and watching each of these arising and passing away, and reaching a point where I wasn't taking any of it personally. Eventually mind and body were relaxed and at one point I almost fell asleep! The tension dies out of experience and there's just this progression of various sensations, some more unpleasant than others, none of them really pleasant. And then it's finished.

Taking this to something bigger. An injured foot. Pain, cast, unpleasant. Or taking it to, rushing to the airport in a traffic jam and missing your plane, or getting a phone call about a loved one's illness. Different objects that come up.

The question in terms of our daily life is how are we going to relate to these objects? When we relate from the place of self, it's like, I just used the example of the ripples on the lake. The wind was blowing one day and there were whitecaps on the lake. I was trying to swim and waves were hitting me in the face. Now, I have a choice. I can take it personally, 'Why do these waves have it in for me? Why are they smacking me in the face?' Or I can just relax, 'This is the way waves are. When there's a wind, the water blows into waves.' So I can turn around and do a different stroke. I can do something different. I can relate to the waves in an openhearted way, just knowing this wave is literally arising from conditions. When the conditions cease, it will cease.

So, for me, with this practice, when the mind settles down into this precision, it really frees me from taking it personally and getting caught up in the story, 'This shouldn't be this way, this should be that way, this isn't fair, I don't like this, I want that.' Stories. It doesn't mean I don't act skillfully. If the waves are smacking me in the face, it's probably not skillful to try to keep doing breaststroke right into the waves—I'll keep coughing and getting mouthfuls of water. So I respond appropriately, but there's no self in the response. There's no fear or grasping or aversion in the response, just skillful response.

So let's continue going around, and as you talk, I'd like you also to talk about this: in what ways did what you experienced practicing in this way, help you in your daily life? What insights did it give you? P, do you want to add anything to that?

Q: I recognize that when a thought pulled me out of access concentration, I saw how that was a separation. Focusing on the thought separated the consciousness from the way it feels in access. So it just reinforced the separation that mind can create.

Barbara: And that separation is an object. It's not real, it's a concept arisen from conditions. It's literally almost impossible to keep access concentration going through your tennis game or your driving in traffic, or whatever. But having worked with access concentration in sitting, mind is much less likely to react to the sudden horn or the driver on your right who gets a blowout or whatever, much less likely to relate by getting caught up in the story of it. You catch the story much faster, usually, based on the stability of this practice.

New Q: I did not catch the detailed watching that you are asking for. I noted when I was in access concentration, but I will now really watch for contact, consciousness, feeling. That seems to happen so fast.

Barbara: It happens fast. It's like Ajahn Chah's story of falling through the trees and all the branches just go flying past, and then the thud. With that thud, suddenly there is anger or there's judgment or there's fear, thud! And if mind says, 'Oh, there's anger,' and gets caught up in it, that's a lot different than saying, 'Ah, here's a volitional formation, wanting, or a mind filled with aversion. Here is a mental formation. Oh look, isn't that interesting.' Thud! And then you don't have to figure out how it happened, just, 'Okay, breathing in, I am aware of anger, or judgment or fear. Breathing out, present with this object. Is it pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral?' So however it comes, we take it into the practice rather than getting on it and riding it off into the sunset.

Q: Access concentration is like knowing the field as well as the figures. Do you know what I'm saying? So last week we were at a theater festival and not every play was engrossing for me, but I was sitting, of course. So I could know the people and players and audience and all that but I wasn't connected to the story.

Now, some, I was, but when I wasn't connected, St. Joan, for instance, which went on for hours—Bernard Shaw writes very long plays and I got disconnected but I got connected to the field of the whole thing.

Barbara: And it's interesting because you see the whole thing so much better when you're not absorbed into one part and lost in it.

Q: Immediately after last class for a few days, the instruction was very clear, and I was able to see the contact, consciousness, perception, and able to go quite deep into the object, even mundane objects. As the 2 weeks progressed, it got muddier. What I missed was the undercurrent of tension that I seem to carry all the time. When I saw that, I got out of the loop of object, aversion, object, aversion, object, aversion, and took the tension as the new object. And then things opened up for me.

Barbara: I'm glad it opened up.

It can start to feel very mechanical to try to live your life with contact, feeling, perception. We can't do that 24/7. When there's a place where you start to get caught, though, or mind moves into some story, and you feel the energy field in the body contracting around maybe a judgment or feeling sad or angry, contracting, instead of going into the, 'Here's anger, or fear,' or whatever, if you just note the contraction or tension as you did. Bringing yourself back into the body and feeling the experience of the contraction—unpleasant, contracting, tension, tension. And probably it's unpleasant, and recognizing it as tension, and then looking at the question, 'How am I relating to this tension? Can there be open heart? Instead of judgment, can there be an open heart with this tension?' But if there's judgment of the tension, that's just another object, more tension. So you can't get the whole thing, there are too many objects. If at that point thud, you hit the ground, crash, ask, 'What's going on?'

This is the place where there can really be some freedom, where you can find freedom from these habit energies. Just by starting to see them without being so much inside of them, and to know intellectually, 'Okay, this is where mind is in this process. This is what just happened.' That can be very helpful. Not in disassociation from it, that's not what we're after, but just not being so deep that we're caught in it. It's a very different experience to be caught in a swamp of hip-deep mud or standing on a hill looking down at it and knowing, 'That's deep mud. I don't have to wade through it this time, I see the path around it.'

Q: My practice has been in a phase of low energy and poor concentration. This has been going on for several months.

Barbara: Is the low energy and concentration just in the formal sitting or through the day?

Q: Just in sitting.

Barbara: How long are you sitting?

Q: 45 minutes.

Barbara: I would like to suggest this week trying 10 minute sittings with a 5 minute walking period in between. 10 minute sitting, 5 minute walking, 10 minute sitting, 5 minute walking, 10 minute sitting, 5 minute walking. Using the walking to help bring up more energy. You can do slow walking but you can also do fast walking, just noting, 'Stepping, stepping.' Just back and forth, not out in the fields taking a walk. But it doesn't have to be very slow walking. But then after 5 minutes of walking, roughly, you don't need to use a timer, but after a few minutes of walking, then sit again so that you're not asking yourself to stay focused and bring up energy for 45 minutes, just 10 minutes. For 10 minutes, can mind stay settled down into this flow of objects? Okay. (Q: Yes)

Q: Like J I have also had very low energy in practice, for about 4 or 5 minutes. So this class has been helping me re-enter the practice again. I feel very discouraged about it.

Barbara: Low energy can happen for many reasons, but often it's a result of resistance of some sort. Force is not the answer. But some degree of self-discipline is needed. So trying what I suggested to J—short sittings, instead of walking for 5 minutes in between, you can just stand up and move the body a little to stretch and reflect, 'What if there was good concentration now? What is low concentration enabling me not to see? What might I experience if I had good concentration?' This is not to try to dig out some answer, it's just to reflect it's okay. There's probably something, some place of fear here, and it's okay, I can move into this. Whatever it is that I'm afraid of, whatever fear is there, I'm willing to see it.

Sometimes low energy is related to the stage of insight. I don't know if this is true for either of you or anyone in this circle, but as we move through these insight knowledges, sometimes in meditation there's an experience where everything does seem to dissolve and a feeling that there's nothing one can hold on to. The deeper concentration goes, the more there is this feeling, 'I can't hold on to anything.' And there's a fear. We talk about it as standing on the edge of the cliff asking ourselves to jump off. It's scary. What will happen to me? Will I dissolve? Everything is dissolving. The body is dissolving. Moment by moment. Mind is dissolving. There's nothing solid.

At this stage of insight where everything is dissolving and there's a… almost a 'nothing matters anymore' feeling, this is a normal stage of practice. So with this often comes low energy. When there's low energy, we can't say, 'Oh, you must be in that stage of practice.' But usually in that stage of practice, there's low energy. We just want to back out and stop. And the only answer is to note, 'Here is fear. Here is this feeling of depression and nothing matters. And okay, let's just take this as an object.'

When concentration becomes very weak in that stage of practice, the answer is to invite and nurture concentration because concentration on no-concentration brings up energy and creates concentration. It's circular. When we say, 'There's no concentration, I can't do this,' then we're on that horse riding into the sunset. But when we say, 'Okay, there's no concentration. What is the direct experience of no concentration?' with no stories about it, just how does it feel, feeling empty, a toppling over kind of experience, no firm ground. It's unpleasant, there's not much control. Uncomfortable. Feeling very shaky.

As consciousness takes that feeling, that experience, as an object and just watches it like every other object, impersonal, impermanent, we stay with it for awhile and it changes. And suddenly you find yourself concentrated. And with concentration comes energy.

I'll email some more out to all of you. (Pasting a small section into the transcript; we're speaking of #8, Contemplation of Disenchantment) The Teachers' group worked with the complete grouping of insights and knowledges at the Teachers Training Weekend this summer. For those of you who are not in the teachers' group, I think that material is on the website, Library/Transcripts/Other transcripts… (Group: It is.)

Part of the Path of Knowledges and Insights:

  1. Knowledge of Contemplation of Dissolution
    Attention moves from arising to dissolution. Everything dissolves
  2. Knowledge of Contemplation of Appearance as terror
    Terror about this dissolution. Nothing to hold on to.
  3. Knowledge of Contemplation of Danger
    We begin to see the danger, how easily we could get caught back into taking anything as solid, see into the danger of formations and our attachments to them.
  4. Knowledge of Contemplation of Disenchantment
    Disenchantment with everything, the conditioned realm, practice, - everything is seen as part of the process of becoming, and an obstacle to freedom.
  5. Knowledge of Desire for Deliverance

From Matt Flickstein, Swallowing the River Ganges:
Knowledge of Disenchantment
    As a consequence of seeing the danger in grasping at any of the aggregates, we naturally become disenchanted with all material or mental formations. This is called the knowledge of disenchantment. This disenchantment arises from wisdom and is accompanied by equanimity, as opposed to aversion.
    The experience of disenchantment may extend to all areas of our life and we may discover that we cannot find comfort anywhere. At this point in our practice we may feel quite alone in the world. When the sense of disenchantment becomes intense, we may once again consider giving up our practice, believing that our meditation has led us to a dead end.

Deep aspiration arises to continue the path and find freedom.

Q: I have nothing to say right now. I'm happy to be here.

Q: There were a couple of things that happened, but I'll just talk about one. At a group sitting, for the last 3 or 4 weeks, there have been 3 very loud people. They were there snoring. They were sent to us for a very special practice. I have lived with a snorer for 47 years, so it is particularly galling to me to have this happen.

Barbara: The sitting is the place that should be free of it! (laughter!)

Q: Right, right! But I also happened to know the cause of the sleeping of at least 2 of these people, and it softened my distress.

Barbara: What did you note?

Q: I know the reason for their snoring. They are on medicine for very difficult conditions. And I was able to note the contraction that was happening for me, anyway. And I took that as the primary object and I was astounded how that opened up a whole field. It was amazing.

Barbara: And the experience didn't change, the snoring was still snoring.

Q: The object was the real contraction…The snoring did not change. But I didn't hear it much.

Q2: You took out your hearing aid! (laughter!)

Q: The opening that happened really was like a flow, like a river flowing by. And it had nothing in it. The river flowing by is not really an accurate statement because there just was nothing.

Barbara: Were you in access concentration?

Q: I don't know the difference.

Barbara: Was mind alert and picking up objects? (Q: Yes) But there was no going out to them and pushing them away? (Q: Yes) This is access concentration. It's an amazing experience. The objects are still there. It's not like suddenly a heavy veil has descended, the objects are still right there, full presence.

Q: But without inherent value.

Barbara: Yes, exactly. Thank you for your witness here to the power of this practice.

Q: Let me tell you the other one, too, because I'm not sure how this fits in. Clarence Thomas has written a book and there have been a lot of interviews and reviews of it this week. When his Supreme Court appointment hearing was going on, I was very involved in that and had a lot of opinions about it. And what I saw in the interviews and what I heard from the reviewers was that this was a very bitter and angry man. I was watching one interview and he certainly was bitter and angry, but I thought, this is a man who wants to be dedicated to doing a good job on the court, and yet I'm not seeing that. He was not able to convey that with words. I thought, here's a man who grew up in the segregated south. He has every right to the bitterness he feels about what I'm sure were terrible experiences.

With that, in a very mundane situation, things really opened up and I began to see him as a person differently than I had before. My husband was saying some fairly uncomplimentary things, and it just occurred to me, and I said, 'This is a very complicated situation.' It was like the same sort of thing happens as an opening in meditation where everything was one. He fit in the equation as much as I did or anybody else. That seems to be the application of practice.

Barbara: These are wonderful examples, thank you. I don't want to get into a long discussion now of what you've said, just that at that point, when there's access concentration, or when there's the heart of compassion and seeing 'judgment' and not getting caught up in the stories of judgment of the self or other people, there's the possibility to really heal the karma and open to a different path, rather than just going the same way all the time. When we keep batting our heads against the wall thinking finally the wall's going to break down, all we do is end up with a very sore head, instead of looking for a different way through, which is letting go of the identification with the stories. Right there is really the healing of karma, because when your heart opens in compassion like that to somebody, this is the place where the karma shifts. I'll talk about it after the break, it's called the active moment. It goes with the volitional formations that I was talking about earlier. We'll come back to it.

Q: I was not here. I did not have the assignment.

Barbara: Okay, work with that from here…

Q: I am very, very happy to be here.

Q: I'm enjoying this class so much and I'm staying with it, and I'm going to learn how to do a little signing myself.

I have had in the past 2 weeks a special opportunity to make contact with sensory experience. Our regular yoga teacher has been away and we've had a teacher who has offered us new poses. After every class that I have on Friday, I leave with massive cramps in my back. We're doing wild things like standing on our hands, I've never done before. Acting like peacocks! And my back is full of spasms tonight. I need to stretch…

So I've become acquainted with aversion and fear because I have a condition, gastric reflux, which can produce backaches in people who have a serious version of gastric reflux, with esophageal—changes in the cellular composition in one's esophagus. I have lived in fear for some time.

The last class was helpful to me because I took to heart the message that whatever comes to the foreground in experience can become the object of attention. That's very helpful. Often, paying attention to the pain itself has not made it go away. But there was one night when I couldn't sleep. I came downstairs and the living room was filled with moonlight coming through the window. And I sat on the landing of the stairway and just contemplated with my eyes open. And the pain was there but I had a different relationship to it because the moon was part of my interior landscape.

So I wasn't really actively reframing anything. It's like what we talked about earlier…that the objects of attention take on a different quality. There is no fear. I felt the pain but it was part of a larger scene. Just in doing that, I experienced relief.

Barbara: Good. What you're saying feels to me more like an experience of resting in awareness than access concentration. We talked briefly about the distinction earlier, that access concentration tends to take up each object very precisely, but there's no attachment or aversion to it. There's no value judgment placed on it, no contraction around it. But it's still right there, like an object bouncing up and down on the waves. Whereas awareness takes you up a ways above the waves, watching them ripple under you. They're there but there's also all that space.

So I can't say for certain but it sounds more like an experience of resting in awareness. It doesn't matter that much which it is. The usefulness of knowing which it is is simply to know, ... let me explain this briefly to everybody.

Resting in awareness. The citta, the consciousness which are capable of perceiving the Unconditioned, are present, but we still need to come back into access concentration. So resting in awareness is a way of opening to the space that supports the opening of access concentration. It's not yet access concentration. But resting in awareness in itself is a very valuable practice just because it teaches us how not to get caught up in this story, to see the space and just take care of the fingers (Barbara holding up hand and wiggling fingers; looking at both the fingers and he space beyond them). So there's a balance.

The texture of access concentration is important; it can become too fine-tuned. There can be tension within it. It poses as access concentration, but it's not completely access concentration. For me, when my practice gets into that place and I'm starting to try too hard, Aaron just says, 'Relax. Open your eyes. Just spend some time doing pure awareness practice.' Ahh. And then close your eyes again 10 minutes later, and return to the noting but with more space. So the space can support the access concentration.

So what I am suggesting to you here is if this kind of situation comes up again and there's this feeling of space, and the pain isn't so unpleasant any more, it's just pain, there are no stories around it, then maybe you can close your eyes and start to be more focused on the arising and passing away of sensation. You see that it changes. It's not one sensation, it moves a little but it gets stronger, it gets weaker, it moves from the front to the back and back to the front again, just watching it changing and knowing it's not one object, it's a series of objects arising and passing away, impermanent and not self. This leads into deeper awareness of impermanence.

So use the resting in awareness as the base and then once that base is open, come back into a formal sitting, closing your eyes, and just being present with these difficult sensations. Okay?

Q: I have been totally away from my practice. I have been very involved in this seminar that we put on a week ago. So absorbing, it was. But something has surfaced and that is that I have noticed that since returning from the seminar, I've been involved in some unskillfulness. It's been very interesting because it has caused me some contraction. A lot of contraction. So, the last time this happened—it's happened 3 times—with the contraction, I made a decision that I would just sit and sit and sit, a long time. And then I decided to journal about what came up in the sitting. I also am taking S's class on Wednesdays, and this was something we talked about in her class.

Then I did a self-breathe practice and came to complete clarity. It was amazing. And I came back to a place of complete equanimity. So that doesn