Enlightenment bells and whistles can be unmysterious and straightforward (symphonic mastery takes a lifetime)

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I liked the article below, and I hope lots of people read it, but it’s got boring, tired tropes like, “mysteriously kill your thoughts; mysteriously kill your ‘self’” :


>> Over time, Weber figured out that it wasn’t that all his thoughts had disappeared; rather a particular kind of self-referential thinking had cut out, what he calls “the blah blah network.”

Good writing; sharp details. But, the article, as usual, unreflectively, makes out the attenuation of self-referential cognition to be this glorious thing. I have no doubt that this experience can be a profound relief …and I also believe it’s very attainable and not at all mysterious or even elusive. A few years ago, I did this:

>> With carefully stabilized attention, I search with my “inner peripheral vision.” I tenuously, manage to find and place my attention on my sense of “I.” I hold my peripheral attention on that “I sensation” for long seconds. I exhaust it, deplete it. Finally, I relax. And that sense of “I” is gone. I feel hollow, like a shell. Self-referential cognition goes into a void, or “grounds out.” Any thought that has “me” involved hits that void and doesn’t continue on. It’s very scary. “Oh, shit,” what’s left thinks. “Now I’ve done it,” it says on autopilot. The part of me on autopilot figures that it’ll probably fade. And it does, after ten minutes. I decide not to try that ever again.


So, yeah, inner peripheral vision. “Self” is just another experience in consciousness, in order to give rise to the experience of “me” looking at “something.” The two arise together. And, the self experience is elusive, it sort of always moves “behind” whatever you’re looking at in the foreground. But you can attend directly to that self-sense with developed inner peripheral vision. You can fiddle with it and play with it and tweak it with inner/mental muscles you didn’t know you had.

I want to focus though on the negative aspects of doing this. As I say above, far from being “exactly what I had been looking for all this time,” it was pretty horrible, for me. (I mostly stay away from my self-sense except in the most gentle way. And, for me, that’s plenty profound, having present-moment contact with its constructed, functional nature, without messing with it too much.) Shinzen Young says that, indeed, sometimes enlightenment, at least initially, goes bad. But, he says that, in those cases, it can ultimately go good:

>> This is serious but still manageable through intensive, perhaps daily, guidance under a competent teacher. In some cases it takes months or even years to fully metabolize, but in my experience the results are almost always highly positive.


(More on “dark night” stuff here and here.)

Of note, there does seem to be a thread of people (i.e. not just me) experiencing and then rejecting classical enlightenment experiences:

https://meditationstuff.wordpress.com/2014/09/29/deeply-valuable-experiences-meditation-zombies-and-planning-preview-2700-words/ [This is a pretty sketchy and ranty post.]

Anyway, the points I wanted to make are that these sorts of articles, while interesting and almost certainly a net good, at this stage of the game, I think can still set up a bad inner stance towards thoughts and experience. And, even with the neuroscience, there’s still a tendency to make the meditation and phenomenology aspect of it really “mysterious.” I think we can do better. And, finally, there’s that fetishization of one aspect of one kind of enlightenment experience, which in fact can be experienced negatively, which can be transient, which can be graded (not all-or-nothing), which can be non-monolithically attained (à la carte).

So, I hope people will get analytical and technical, and, maybe not a boring, irresponsible sort of “Penn and Teller” skeptical, but certainly less reverent. Because, I think being irreverent and treating all of this as sort of a non-mysterious, dry, technical endeavor… Well, I think that makes it easier to access profound meaning, surrender, sweeping experience. The felt experience of meditation for me is anything but dry; it’s rich and pervasive and intense and powerful and sensuous. But I think, perhaps ironically, the best way to help some people reliably enact that (or whatever they’re looking for) is unsentimentally, and without awe and dogmatism.

I may be arguing at a straw (i.e. maybe not that many people would disagree with me), and this is just my personal, sketchy take on this. (And, side note, again, I’m really glad that this research is being done and that these sorts of articles are getting written.)

Anyway, for some people, perhaps, the awe, reverence, sacredness, and mysteriousness can be powerful enablers or intrinsically valuable. Different people need different things. But that should probably be treated as an explicit option rather than a tacit reality. That seems more ethical to me.

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