We see our images


I imagine that famous people or people who are in the public eye are more aware of this than most of us.

Other people don’t see us. They see their images of us. And sometimes, they put a lot into that image that’s not exactly how we experience ourselves.

And that’s how it is from our end too. We put our own images on other people, and also on ourselves, situations, and the world.

We see our images, not the person in him or herself, not the situation in itself, and not the world in itself.

Thoughts give sensations meaning, sensations gives thought charge

Through inquiry, this can become quite clear:

Images and words give sensations meaning.

Sensations give images and words charge.

Images and words give sensations meaning Sensations in themselves are simple sensations. They are bodily sensations without any inherent meaning. When images and words become associated with them, these images and words gives the sensations meaning. They label the sensations and may also tell a more elaborate story about what the sensations mean. The simple label may be pain, hurt, sadness, fear, anger, frustration, discomfort, joy, elation, threat, craving, or compulsion. The more elaborate story may be a story about me or the world, for instance that I am not good enough, unloved, or superior. Or that the word – or something in it – is dangerous, or welcoming, or anything at all. The mind tells itself what the sensations mean with the use of images and words. Sensations give images and words charge When images and words become associated with certain sensations, these sensations lend a charge to the story told by the images and words. They lend the story a sense of substance, solidity, and reality, and gives it charge. There is a story, and the sensations the mind associates with the story lends the story a sense of reality, substance, and solidity, and gives it a charge. Temporary and chronic bodily contractions In order for the mind to take it’s own stories as real (substantial, solid, with a charge), it needs to find sensations to associate them with. And in order for the mind to reliably find sensations, it needs to contract muscles in certain areas of the body to create sensations that these stories can be associated with. These contractions can be temporary and created “on command” as needed. If the stories are more core and recurrent, the contractions can become chronic and very familiar to us. Inquiry Inquiry can help us recognize how stories and sensations come together. It can also help us separate out the stories and sensations, so they become “unglued” and the sense of solidity and charge of the stories soften or fall away. This can help with anxiety, depression, compulsion and just about any other stressful experience the mind creates for itself. Read More

Looking at mental images


Here are three ways to look at mental images:

  1. See it out in front of you. Move it out in front and slightly up. (Viewpoint stays and what’s viewed is imagined moved out in front of you.)
  2. See it where it is. See a body image where it is on the body etc. (Viewpoint and viewed stays where they are.)
  3. Step back and look at it where it is. (Viewpoint changes and the viewed stays.)

The first one may be easiest in the beginning, and sometimes the third (when looking at body images). The second may the most natural and easiest with time and experience.

We can also do several things to help the mind “get”in a more visceral way that it’s a mental image:

Change the size of the image. Change the location of it (move closer in, further away). Imagine touching the surface of it. See it in a frame, a book, a screen etc. Look at the elements of the image, one at a time (lines, colors, shapes, texture). Look at the space around the image, and between you and the image.

Basic images about nature, animals, our body, gender, future generations etc.


In our western culture, we have tended to see parts of our world as inferior – nature, animals, our bodies, women, children, future generations – and treated it accordingly. We split the world in our minds, take this imagined split as reality, see one part as less valuable than the other, and then take this imagination as true as well.

There are historical, cultural, philosophical and religious reasons for this.

More immediately, it’s about the images we have in our own minds. Images transmitted from our culture, and that are there whether we consciously agree with them or not.

So it can be very helpful – and illuminating – to explore these images, for instance through the Living Inquiries.

When I bring my body to mind, what images do I see? What words? What sensations are connected to these images and words?

What do I find when I bring animals to mind? Animals vs. humans? Women? Women vs. men? Children? Children vs. adults? Future generations? Future generations vs. our current generation?

I see this as an important part of illuminating the stereotypes we all carry with us, and – at least somewhat – live our lives from, whether we are aware of it or not.

Note: In our western culture, influenced by a certain version of Christianity, we tend to split the world into good and bad, less valuable and more valuable. And the dividing line has been drawn between body and mind, women and men, children and adults, nature and humans, future generations and the current generation, with the former of each of these pairs seen as less valuable, less important, less respectable. And that’s behind many of the troubles we see today. For instance, we couldn’t have developed such a deeply unsustainable way of doing business, economics and production if it wasn’t for images in our minds telling us that (a) there is a split between humans and nature, and (b) humans are more important than nature. This is what has allowed us to pretend, for a while, that we operate separate from (the rest of) nature, and that we can mistreat nature without mistreating ourselves in the same way.

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It may be obvious, and yet perhaps not completely for most of us. It may not be seen thoroughly, felt thoroughly, and lived thoroughly. There is always more to explore and let sink in.

God is a projection. God is an image that’s here. The qualities and characteristics it refers to is here. The image of me and God is here. The image of here and there is here.

And the same with the world. That too is a projection.

My world is a projection. My God is a projection. The image and what it refers to, and all the other images it rests and depends on, they are all here.

And the same with time and space. And me and I. My perception of time and space, my perception of a me and I, are all filtered through my own world of images. Whatever image I have of it all is my images. The images are here. What they refer to is here.

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Own world of images


The world I see and relate to is my own world of images. It is what happens in the sense fields, with an overlay of images to help this human self orient and function in the world.

This mental field overlay creates a sense of extent (space) and continuity (time) and places whatever happens within that sense of space and time. It creates images of a me as this human self, and images of others and a wider world. And it creates images of a separate I as a doer or observer.

All of this is my own world of images, helping this human self to make sense of and function in the world.

And I can notice it as it happens. I can notice that overlay of time and space. Of a me relating to other people and the wider world in general. Of an I doing as this human self, or observing as awareness itself.

I also notice how all drama happens within this world of images. It comes from images of me/I relating to images of others and the wider world in a certain way. It comes from relationships between images of me and the wider world, when these relationships do not align with images of how it should be.

It is amazing and beautiful.

And I notice how I see myself in three ways here…

I see and relate to my own world of images, whether I recognize them as an imagined overlay or take them as true.

I see qualities and dynamics out there, in the wider world and the past and future, that are also here, in this human self.

And all I see is awakeness itself. What happens in the sense fields and the overlay of images, including the images of me and I, is all the play of awakeness.

There is a great freedom in noticing this, especially as it happens in daily life. I notice that all I relate to is my own world of images. So I can make use of it a practical way. I can use this world of images as a temporary guide for this human self in the world. But I don’t have to take it seriously. I know it is only my own world of images. There is no truth in it.

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A world of images


Exploring the sense fields, it is pretty easy to get a sense of how we imagine the world.

The mental field creates an overlay of images of what is here (in the other sense fields) and what is not here.

And that world of images is – in a very real sense – my world, when they are taken as true.

Whatever drama I experience all comes from the characteristics and relationships among these images. It comes from the characteristics of each image, and how it relates to all the other images.

In the beginning, it may be easier to notice this through a sense field exploration session. Sitting or lying down, and notice how the mental field creates image overlays on each of the other sense fields (interpretations), and also how the past and future is imagined in the same way.

After a while, this happens throughout daily life as well. As I go about my daily life, I notice the image overlay on the other sense fields (interpretations of what is happening) – and also the image overlay that is free from the other sense fields. (Images of past, future, what is not present in a physical sense.)

Again, it is pretty simple, but can have a profound effect when recognized throughout daily life. I notice – in an immediate way – how the drama is created and happens within my own image overlay.

It is, quite literally, imagined.

If it is not recognized as imagined, there is a sense of being caught up in drama. The image overlay – including that of a doer and observer – seems very substantial and real.

When it is recognized as imagined, the layer of drama tends to weaken or fall away. And what is left is the image overlay as a very helpful – and essential – tool for my human self to function in the world.

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High dynamic range photography: a simple how-to


I haven’t used my film SLR camera for several years, and one of the reasons was my frequent disappointment with the limited dynamic range of the photos. Very often, details in the light or shadow areas were lost, merging into a flat white or black hole in the picture. The only remedy was to get out my camera only in low contrast conditions such as overcast weather, or just before sunrise and after sunset. Even then, the shadows or highlights would often lose detail.

With digital SLRs, it is now easy to take high dynamic range photos, provided the subject doesn’t move too much. Since I got my first digital SLR a couple of weeks back, I have experimented some with HDR and am surprised of how easy it is to get decent results.

The hdr workflow is simple:

  1. Take three or more differently exposed photos of the same scene, respectively exposed normally and for details in highlights and shadows
  2. Import them to Photomatix or Photoshop CS2 or other hdr software and output the result through tone mapping
  3. Edit in Gimp, Photoshop or other image editing software

Here are a few more details:

  1. Taking the source images
    • Since the source images are combined into one, it works better with subjects that don’t move much. Some movement within the scene is usually OK.
    • It is helpful to use a tripod, but handheld works fine as well.
    • The easiest is to set the camera to auto-bracket the exposure, keeping the aperture constant and changing only the exposure time.
    • Feel free to break the old rules and choose high-contrast images: shoot into the sunset, include a bright light in the scene, or a backlit subject.
  2. HDR processing
    • Photomatix is free for most of its functions, and about $100 for a full featured version. Photoshop CS2 also has an HDR function, but is more expensive.
    • When importing, remember that the resulting image has a tonal range far greater than what your computer screen can deal with, so it may well look awful on the screen. Don’t worry. It is supposed to.
    • Experiment with the tonal mapping to translate the raw hdr image into something that can be shown on a screen or printed on paper. Try several settings and choose the best one. Save it as a 16 bit tiff file.
  3. Final editing
    • Import the tone mapped image into your image editing software. GIMP is a good choice since it is free (open source) and does most of what Photoshop does.
    • Edit as you would any other image. Although you have a wide dynamic range in your image, don’t be locked into the idea of having to preserve all the detail in the highlights and shadows. Some images work better when the contrast is a little higher, and you have more freedom to play with this when your source image has a high dynamic range.

Here is a scene that normally has too high contrast: a wall in the shade with a bright sky in the background.

I took three handheld exposures of this Portland street scene, using the auto-bracketing feature on my camera. The first image is normally exposed, and the two following under- and over-exposed two stops. (Three exposures and two stops either direction is the maximum on my camera, which is OK but a little limited for hdr photography. Five exposures and three or four stops cover a greater range and may be needed for extremely high contrast scenes.)

Normally exposed image with good details in the mid range.
Underexposed image, with details in the sky and clouds.

Overexposed image with information in the darkest shade areas.

I then imported them to Photomatix, and got this result on the screen. Moving the cursor over the image shows the area details in a separate window. (I have included two examples, one of details over the door and one in the clouds.) Photomatix automatically align the source images, and does a good job even with handheld exposures.

The hdr combination of the three source images, with information in the lightest and darkest areas.

And tone mapped it using the tone compressor option, and experimenting with the different settings to include as much information in the final image as possible.

The tone mapped output, ready for final editing.

The colors on the tone mapped image can get a little weird (it depends on the settings you use), so for the final editing, I like to keep the normally exposed source image up on the screen as a color reference. I used level, curves, color balance and hue adjustment layers for this image, and also masks to treat the sky slightly differently from the rest of the image. The final editing in Photoshop gave this result:

The final image, after editing in Photoshop. I went for a vivid but still relatively realistic look.

If you have questions, I’ll be happy to answer to the best of my (very limited) ability. Just post them below.

Here are some resources I found helpful when I first explored it:

Visual on visual


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.

Images of self


Some thought-images of self I notice through choiceless awareness…

  • Images of a particular identity at human level, used to differentiate this human self from other ones (coming up in contrast to what I see in others)
  • Body image(s), placed on top of sensations, and used to interpret sensations and guide attention
  • An image of a separate self, which…
    • Is located in the same general area of space as this body
    • Creates a sense of center here and periphery out there
    • Creates a sense of a hearer, seer, senser, doer
    • Is split into a separate self as an seen and seer, object and subject, which are located in slightly separate areas of space (for me, as seen a little ahead of the body, and as seer in or a little behind the head)
    • Is anchored in certain sensations in the body, generally in the head area
      • The exact sensations may change, especially if attention is brought to the one currently used as an anchor (another sensation may then become an anchor)
      • If an appropriate sensation is not available, or needs to be intensified, muscles tense up to create a clearer or stronger sensation
      • These sensations are “projected” to the appropriate area of space. For instance, an image of self as seer, hearer, doer may be located in the center of the head, but in the absence of sensations there, the closest sensations – for instance in the neck and throat, are used as anchor and now appear to be located in an area of space corresponding to the center of the head. Another thought is placed on it saying it is in the center of the head.