A brief how-to: sense field exploration

 

I find sense field explorations interesting and helpful.

Here is a very simple version I use for myself:

To stabilize attention, bring attention to the sensations of the breath at the nostrils. Just notice the sensations. Nothing else is required. If attention strays to thoughts, bring it back. It’s all fine. Just notice when it strays, and gently bring it back to the sensations at the nostrils.

After a while, when attention seems more stable, bring attention to sounds, to whatever sounds are here. Notice the sounds. There is no need to do anything about them, just notice.

Then notice sensations in the body. Notice the sensations up and down the body. Noticing is all that’s needed.

Now notice taste. Just notice. And now, smells. Notice the smells that are here.

Notice sight. Even if the eyes are closed, something is there in the visual field. Notice it. It’s all very relaxed, just notice what’s there.

With the eyes closed, notice the images that are here. The images of your body. The images of what you are sitting or laying on. The images of the room. The images of the building. Of other people. Of the city. The sky. Trees. The country. The earth. Notice all these images. They are all images, all imagination.

To explore how the mental field overlays other fields:

Now bring attention back to the sensations in the body, and notice how the images of your body helps locate these sensations. There is a sensation, an image of your right calf, and a thought that the sensation is an itch on the right calf.

Notice the sounds. Again, notice how your images helps locate the sounds in space, and offer an interpretation. There is a sound, an image of where it comes from, and an image of children playing.

Exploring space and time:

Now notice how there is an image of space, and how other images are placed on this image of space. There is an image of space, and overlaid on this image is an image of your body, the room, the building, the garden, a street with cars, the city, the country, the Earth.

Think of something that happened this morning. Notice it’s an image, it’s imagination. Think of something that may happen later today. Notice it’s an image. Think of what’s here now. Notice that’s an image too. Now notice the image of time that tells you that one is from this morning, in the past, one is about later today, in the future, and one is about what’s here now. Is this an image of a continuum? Does it contain divisions of past, future, and present? Are these divisions solid or a bit fuzzy?

Exploring boundaries

With eyes closed, notice the image of your body. Notice how it creates a boundary, an inside and outside. Notice how it’s all an image, it’s imagined. (The word imagined is here used in a neutral sense, it points to what is.)

Notice a sensation in your body, for instance an itch or pressure of the heels on the ground. Notice your image of that sensation. Notice how the image has a boundary, and an inside and outside. Does it have a well defined boundary, or is it more fuzzy?

Exploring labels:

With your eyes closed, imagine the room you are in. Notice the thought “room”.

If there is a sound, imagine who or what made that sound, for instance children playing outside. Notice the label “children”.

Can you find it outside of your images?

With your eyes closed, notice the image of the room you are in. Can you find the room outside of this image?

Notice your image of children playing outside the building. Can you find these children outside of your image of them?

Notice your image of your body. Can you find your body outside of this image? Notice sensations without this image, do they really make up a body?

Solidifying images vs notice as images

Bring attention to a sensation in your body, for instance an itch. Notice the sensations. Stay with the pure sensations.

Then notice the image of a boundary of this sensation, with an inside and outside. Notice the label “itch”. How is it if this label is taken as real and true? Does it feel more solid, more substantial, more real? Does it come with additional thoughts, such as “I need to scratch it”.

Now notice that the image of a boundary is imagined. Notice the thought “itch” is a thought, a label, perhaps just an innocent question. How is it?

(How was it to bring attention to the sensations? How is it if the label “itch” feels real and solid? How is it if you see that the label is just a label, an image, imagined?)

Impermanence

Bring attention to sounds. Notice they are always new.

Notice there may be a memory of sounds that just passed, and this is just a memory. Notice there may be an anticipation of sounds that may come, and that’s just an anticipation. It’s all imagined.

Bring attention to a sensation in the body. Stay with it. Does it stay the same? Does it shift, change into something else?

Notice your images. Do they parade through?

What seems most solid in your experience now? Bring attention to it? Does it stay the same? Does it shift? Is it always new?

A sense of I

Bring attention to your sense of “I”. What feels most like “I” in your experience? Where is it located? (For me, it’s in the head area, specifically somewhere behind the eyes.)

What makes up this sense of “I”? Bring attention to the sensations making up this sense of “I”. Where are they located?

Notice the images making up this sense of “I”. Is it an image of a center? Perhaps a small person in your head observing, doing?

Can you find the sense of “I” outside of these sensations and images?

Revisiting

As with all of these explorations, it may be helpful to revisit. How is it to explore this over some time? Revisit it? How is it to bring this into everyday life? How is it to apply it to stressful situations, for instance a stressful memory, stressful thoughts about the future, pain in the body, nausea? How is it to revisit this exploration of my sense of “I”? How is to notice what this sense of “I” is really made up of, in my immediate experience?

Note

This type of sense field exploration seems to have almost infinite possibilities. It really reveals how my experience – and my world – is created. It reveals what happens when I take my images as real and true, and how it is when they are recognized as images. It can be quite freeing and liberating, and really, it’s just a noticing of what’s already here, how my experiences are created. I think this type of exploration is typical for the Theravada Buddhist tradition, although I don’t know for certain. I learned the basics of it from the Center for Sacred Center in Oregon.

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