Allowing experience has an element of curiosity: what happens if….?
What happens when I resist experience?
What happens if I allow experience? What happens if I open my heart to it?
We mimic what we are, as well as we can, until we notice that we already are just that. That which all happens within and as. The Ground of all, and all as the play of this Ground.
Choiceless awareness is also wordless inquiry. What happens when there is a shift into choiceless awareness? What happens to the sense of a center? The sense of a doer and observer? Is the center, doer or observer content of experience, as any other content of experience? Is it what I really am? What happens when I identify as a center, a doer, an observer? What happens when identification is released out of it? How is it to function from here? How is it to bring this into daily life?
Choiceless awareness is devotion. It is a devotion to truth, to kindness, to what we are and everything is, to Ground, to God. Devotion to living from this in daily life.
Choiceless awareness also includes stable attention. An attention stable enough to not (so easily) get absorbed into images and stories, and to catch itself when it does.
I find it fascinating to explore the different flavors of allowing experience: Shifting into Big Mind or headlessness. Choiceless awareness. Asking myself can I be with what I am experiencing right now? Shifting into gently and quietly meeting experience as it is. Bringing in a sense of kindness and the heart. And so on.
When I shift into allowing experience, I see, feel and love it as it is, for its sake. And the emphasis on each shifts between and within each form of allowing.
In Big Mind, headlessness and choiceless awareness, it seems that the seeing of experience is in the foreground, with feeling it anywhere between background to foreground, and the possibility of loving it is there are well – coming and going.
When I intentionally bring in the heart, the love for experience as it is comes into the foreground.
And there is also a way of being with experience where the felt sense is in the foreground. The sensations are invited in center stage, and welcomed there as they are.
Each one has its own flavor, and each one can be a helpful and valuable exploration. What happens when experience is resisted? What happens when it is allowed and welcomed? What happens when the seeing of it is in the foreground? The felt sense? Love and kindness?
In each case, a shift from (being caught up in) resistance to allowing is a shift from a sense of separation to that field which holds it all. When the felt sense is brought in, I “get it” with the body. I feel the difference. When love comes in, there is a sense of appreciation and gratitude for experience, as it is and for its sake.
And in terms of healing and maturing as who I am, this human self, that seems to be invited in when the felt sense and kindness is in the foreground.
When I first learned the labeling practice, differentiating the six sense fields of sensation, taste, smell, sound, sight and thought, thoughts came up saying thought, that is not really a sense field, but OK, I can see it can be called that to not make it too complicated.
But the more I explore thought, the more I come to see it as a sense field, similar to the others in several ways.
The thought field is similar to the other fields in that it…
So in immediate awareness, the thought field is not so different from the other sense fields.
Yet it is also different in an important way.
Thoughts create an overlay onto the other sense fields, sometimes making it difficult to sort out what is what unless we look. This is how conglomerates are made, or gestalts taken as solid and real and “out there” in the world if not noticed as gestalts, or as simply an appearance made up of for instance sensation and thought when they are.
This is how an emotion comes to appear as real and substantial in itself, when it is really just a sensation and a story.
(Most obviously, the label, the story of which emotion it is. Then, possibly stories saying it shouldn’t be there or go away, which creates resistance which in turn makes it appear even more substantial and real. And then also, initially and often fueled throughout the process, the stories of how what is or what may be should be different, which triggered the emotion in the first place.)
And also a sense of extent, of perception spread out in space and each one appearing in a different location in space. Of continuity, a stitching together of thoughts such as memories of what was, thoughts of what is (which is really just a memory of what just was), and scenarios of what may be. Of an inside and outside, formed by an imaginary boundary which lassoes certain areas of the sense fields saying it is inside (a selection of sensations, sounds, sights, tastes and smells, which thoughts say comes from this human self, and also most or all thoughts.) Of a center and periphery, with the center located in a specific place in space. Of subject and object, with the subject often located in space at or close to the center. And finally, of an I and Other, which is created through imaginary boundaries such as inside/outside, of an overlay of center/periphery, and subject/object.
When I explore content of awareness these days, and especially the content centered in the head area of space, I can more clearly see how a sense of subject and object is created.
In short, the sense of subject and object, or seer and seen, comes from thoughts (ideas of subject and object), placed on or oriented in relationship to sensations, all overlaid on ideas of space and continuity, in turn overlaid on pure perception.
It sounds hopelessly abstract when expressed that way, but is something that can be seen directly as it happens.
For instance, there are sensations in the forehead area, and these serve as an anchor or location for the idea of a subject or a seer. Anywhere else in the field then becomes a potential seen or object. And when something comes into a conscious focus as an object, there is a polarity between seer (located somewhere in the forehead area) and seen (located somewhere else). And it all unfolds on top of an image of space, distributing it all in space, and also of continuity, memories of what was.
I also see that the image of a seer is often located a little out and above from the sensations in the forehead, so these sensations serve as a reference point for this image, more than an identical location for it. Since what is seen, in these explorations, happens mostly within and around the head area, placing the sense of a seer just outside of this area makes sense. It creates more space and distance between the idea of seer and seen, so they can more easily be kept apart and distinct from each other.
And that is, of course, exactly how the whole impression of a seer and seen, and the separation between the two, is created and maintained. And when the gestalt of it all is taken as real and substantial, and not inquired into this way, the sense of a seer separate from the seen appear very real and substantial as well.
Exploring perception and the overlay of thoughts can yield a great variety of insights, and one of the most effective ways of exploring this that I have found so far is the choiceless awareness practice, differentiating the sense fields and thoughts through labeling.
The practice helps me see how thoughts are overlaid on perception to create a sense of extent and space, continuity and time, a center and periphery, inside and outside (not in my case, but I see how it can happen), and related ones such as seeing and seen, seer and seen, a doer, a chooser, and so on.
The practice also helps me in seeing how these thoughts come in different forms.
In general, I notice how thoughts mimic the sense fields. There are image thoughts, sense thoughts, sound thoughts, smell thoughts, and taste thoughts. Thoughts create a whole imaginary sensory world, and make up its own sense field.
Then there are the discursive thoughts, the ordinary self-talk (“I wonder how the presentation tonight at Luna will be. At least the beer will be good.”)
There are also image thoughts overlaid on perception. One type of these are interpretations and suggestions for what the perceptions are, such as in image of a car put on top of a particular sound. Others are overlaid on perception and create a sense of extent, continuity, center and periphery, and so on.
This noticing is in real time, as it happens, during more formal practice sessions and also daily life.
And this differentiation of the sense fields, and particularly thought, also helps me see how gestalts are formed through the combination of sense fields.
For instance, what may appear as an emotion is just a sensation and a story about this sensation. And what appears as a separate self emerges from the combination of perceptions in a particular area of space (bodily sensations, and sights and sounds from this human self) and image thoughts of a separate self. The image thoughts of extent (space), continuity (time), center and periphery, seeing and seen, seer and seen, doer, and so on, helps flesh out this particular gestalt, making it appear very real if not see directly as this conglomerate of components.
As I continue to explore the thoughts through choiceless awareness practice (labeling the six sense fields, including thoughts) it becomes easier to directly see thoughts, and their effects, as they arise here and now. The jumble of perception and thoughts mixed in with each other is differentiated, which makes it easier to see what they are in their selves, and also how they combine to create gestalts.
It is especially interesting to explore the image thoughts, thoughts mimicking the visual field. These are overlaid on most perceptions in different ways, and serve as cues for emotions and reactions, and as a source of material for discursive thoughts.
The basic image thoughts include…
They are all image thoughts, organizing and mapping perception, serving as cues for emotions and reactions, providing material for discursive thought, and much more. And they are all directly seen as they arise, overlaid on naked perception.
Labeling practice is very helpful, which helps me see how image thoughts are placed on top of just about any perception. A sound, then an image of a crow. A sound, an image of a car on the road. A sensation, an image of the ankle. A taste, an image of the mouth and tongue, and an apple.
Simple experiments are also helpful, such as first visualizing my left hand with eyes closed, then move the hand and notice how the image of the hand moves with it, then opening my eyes and notice the perception of the hand with the thought image of the hand overlaid.
Lately, as I go about my daily life, I can especially see how identities only come from image thoughts, overlaid on pure perception.
During the most recent CSS retreat, the teacher mentioned how thoughts are most embedded in the visual field, as opposed to the other ones (sensations, taste/smell, sound).
When I explored it for myself, I found that thought seems equally “embedded”, or rather laid on top of, each of the sensory fields. In my case, and I assume this is somewhat common, there is a layer of visual thought images put on top of each sensory field: There is a sound, and a faint image of a car is put on top of it. A taste, and an image of the nose/mouth/throat area and an apple. A sensation, and an image of an ankle with a mosquito bite.
This is the same for each sensory field.
What is different, is that with the visual field, visual thought images are put on top of visual perceptions. There is visual on top of visual, which can make it more difficult to differentiate the two.
One way to differentiate, which we did during the retreat, is to close the eyes and become aware of, for instance, the visual thought image of the body, particular body parts, and how they move in anticipation of a movement of the body, or to keep track of current movements of the body. Then, we can open the eyes and get a sense of how the visual thought images are placed on top of the visual perceptions. With some practice, they become quite distinct.
At the two CSS retreats I have been to, Choiceless Awareness has been the main practice, and I can see why. It can be a finely tuned tool for exploring the workings of the mind, the mechanisms of samsara, and what is (already) more true for us.
The main progression, over the course of the retreat and also within each session, is from stability practice (focusing on an object such as the breath or a mantra), going through the sense fields and noticing what arises in each (sensations, sight, sound, taste/smell, thought), and then inquiring into a particular process or area in more detail.
When we go through the sense fields, we can do it one by one (seems useful to get into it), then label whatever attention goes to (sound, sight, taste, thought, etc.), and we can also move into just noticing which field something arises within without the self-talk, and finally shift into Shikantaza, just sitting, or true meditation as Adyashanti calls it.
Some of the inquiries we can engage in using this tool…
This is obviously a very limited list, mainly because I have a quite limited experience with it so far. It strikes me that this form of inquiry is quite similar to in the Big Mind process, with choiceless awareness with a more narrow focus, and the Big Mind process spanning a much wider range of areas of inquiry.
I just returned from another excellent CSS retreat, this time led by Todd who brought a wonderful fullness of heart and emotion into it along with the usual (unusual) clarity about Ground awakening that any of the teachers at CSS express.
Some of the things that came up for me using the choiceless awareness practice (labeling the six sense fields, then in this case exploring thought specifically)…
First, the new stuff…