Working with the Feeling Modality
I’ve been developing meditations lately which work exclusively with the feeling body. This was partly inspired by the following Shinzen Young video (The Reptilean Brain, Skinnerian Training & the Experience of God), though I was already moving in this direction anyway:
The video talks about different approaches towards reprogramming your mind and body responses. It explains that the verbal mode will barely touch the surface of the subconscious, visual images will penetrate a little into the subconscious, but the only way to really go deep is via body sensations. (As a side note, this is also why affirmations don’t work.)
So, last night I performed the following meditation for around an hour before going out. I am not sure how accessible it will be for beginners, but I’ll provide it anyway in case you want to try.
I started off by lying down on my bed. While staying absolutely still, I turned my attention towards any feeling of movement anywhere in the body. So, my instruction to myself was simply, “Find some sensation of movement somewhere in my body”. The mind will usually find one pretty quickly, but the hands are a good place to start if you’re lost. It doesn’t matter where the movement is found, or if attention jumps to some other body area. As long as the mind is focusing on sensations of movement, it’s doing its job.
What I found from this practice is that there is always some sensation of movement, somewhere. The sensations might be extremely gentle, and barely perceptible, which is a good sign since it means the mind is resolving the body to ever finer vibrations. Eventually, my mind was detecting movement on an extremely fine vibratory level. These vibrations were being perceived in the three main sense fields, “feel”, “hear” and “see”. In the feeling mode, sensations were felt as very gentle vibrations. I could also “hear” these vibrations, despite them being completely silent (I have discussed this paradoxical “hearing of silence” in other posts). The vibrations also manifested visually as waves sweeping across awareness.
I find it hard to place such states on the jhana spectrum, since I often fail to notice the ascension points. I therefore have to guess retroactively based on the jhana factors present. While there was definitely warmth and pleasure at the start of this meditation, by the time it had reached the state described above it had become strongly equanimous (upekkhā), meaning neither a preference for or against any aspect of experience arising in consciousness. I had very little inclination to do anything but continue meditating, and felt I could have lain there forever. The body was essentially non-existent at this point, too, instead being resolved to silent flowing vibrations across a wide field of awareness. Since these vibrations were being perceived simultaneously through the three main sense doors, this suggests to me one-pointedness of mind (ekaggatā). These factors taken together indicate fourth jhana.
The equanimity persisted strongly as I got up and walked to the pub to meet some friends and take part in the quiz. Despite it being extremely cold outside, this did not bother me at all. For the next two hours there was very little sense of self, and events seemed to move “through” me – though I did not feel depersonalized or manifest any of the unpleasant side effects of No-Self that meditators sometimes experience. The state was in fact pleasant in its “neither pleasant nor unpleasant” kind of way. One interesting thing is that my state of no preference for or against anything made choosing a meal from the menu almost impossible. I basically just chose something at random in the end, and it tasted neither good nor bad.
A friend of mine showed up who has a mildly annoying habit. I won’t say what, because it doesn’t matter. But he started doing that habit, and something very, very interesting happened: I noticed the exact moment that a “self” began to form on my side in response to his habit – a kind of formation developing on the border where my perceptions and his bad habit interact. Seeing this in a very, very clear way led to me hearing the words “let it go” in my mind, at which point I immediately dropped that “self” like a hot coal. A literal feeling of warmth spread across my face, which persisted for a few seconds – and his habit never bothered me again. While most meditation work happens exclusively below the level of conscious awareness, it is always nice to see the five percent or so that does poke above the waterline.
A few beers later, my self was back and my equanimity was mostly gone, proof (if we needed it) that any carefully crafted meditation state can be destroyed by alcohol. I still have no inclination towards giving it up, though.