Exploring sense fields

I have enjoyed exploring sense fields for a little while now, and appreciate how simple and practical it is. A great tool for exploring some of the basics such as what arises in each sense field, how thoughts and the other sense fields combine to create appearances, and the dynamics that makes these appearances seem very real and substantial.

As always, what I write here are questions rather than statements, even if the question marks may be missing.

And they are more a reminder for myself than anything else.

  • In terms of sequence for each practice period, it seems helpful to…
    1. First, allow attention to stabilize. It can be helpful to take a minute to let the mind unwind without doing anything in particular, and then bring attention to the breath, for instance the sensations at the nostrils at the out and in breath. If attention is especially scattered, it can be helpful to count the breaths or label the in/outbreath.
    2. Then, bring attention to each sense field, staying with each one for a few seconds up to a few minutes, to notice what arises in each. The six sense fields are sight, sound, smell, taste, sensations, and thoughts.
    3. Then, go on to more specific explorations, for instance some of the ones below. For each of these, it can be helpful to label the sense field something happens within by thinking to yourself “sensation”, “sound”, “thought”, and so on, at least in the beginning.
  • Differentiate each sense field, either by exploring what arises in each, one at a time, or bringing attention to what happens in awareness and note which field/s it happens within.
  • Explore the thought field.
    • See how thoughts mimic the other fields. Close the eyes and invite imagination to conjure up (memories of) tastes, smells, touch, sight, sounds. See how easy it happens.
    • Initiate a story about something, and allow attention to get absorbed into that story. Follow a story for a while. Then bring attention to the thoughts as just thoughts, without going on the inside of them. What is the difference? How is it to see a thought as just a thought?
    • What is a thought made of? Is it substantial? Ephemeral? Nothing? Something? Awareness?
    • Bring attention to where thoughts come from. What do you find? Do they come out of thin air? Do they seem to think themselves? Live their own life, on their own schedule? Also, what happens to the speed of thought production?
    • Generate a specific thought. Then allow it to pass away. And generate it again. Is this the same thought as the previous one? Different? When the content of the thought seems similar or identical to a previous one, is it the same thought, or a different – distinct – one?
    • Close the eyes, and notice how the thought field mimics vision to suggest where the body is, where the different body parts are, how they move, how the surroundings look, where they walls are, what is outside of the room, and so on. Open the eyes, and notice how this visual imagination is an overlay on the visual field.
    • Notice how the thought field produces suggestions for what sounds are. There is a sound, an image of a bird, and then the suggestion that the sound is a bird singing. Or another sound, an image of a car, and the suggestion of the sound of a car. Notice how these image labels/suggestions serve as starting point and material for discursive thoughts about those sounds.
    • Close your eyes and visualize the space your body and it surroundings happen within. Notice how this sense of space is a thought image only, and how it is used to map the other sense fields. Open your eyes, and see if you can notice how the same image thought creates a sense of space, and maps the other sense fields, even with the eyes open. Is there any sense of space outside of this image thought?
    • Close your eyes and bring attention to the sound field. Bring attention to a relatively sharp sound. Then notice how it lives only in the thought memory of it after it is gone. Also notice how sound memories are combined with images of current sounds to create a sense of continuity, and how these sound images are combined with sound image suggestions of future sounds to stretch this sense of continuity into the future. This can be especially helpful to explore when listening to music.
    • When something happens in a sense field, and there is a thought about it, does it happen at the same time or a little after? Also, if the thoughts are suggestions for something that may happen in the future, what are they based on? Memories about the past? Something else? [Notice how thoughts always are about something that happened. Something arises in a sense field, and the thought about it comes in just a little later. They are about something that happened, even if it was just now. Even if they project the future, they are based on memories of what has happened in the past.]
  • Explore how thoughts combine with the other fields to create gestalts.
    • For instance, say there is what appears as pain. Bring attention to the sensation aspect of this phenomenon. Does it still appear as pain? Something else? What happens when it combines with a thought of pain? Does it appear differently? Does it appear differently if the gestalt is taken as a gestalt, a whole in itself, or if I bring attention to the sensation components only, or see how the gestalt is made up of sensations and thought? Any bodily sensation, emotion, mood or feeling can be explored in this way.
    • Notice how a sense of an I and a center is created. For me, I find that a sense of a separate I, or a center, is a combination of sensations in the neck/head area and an image thought of a separate I and a center. (An image thought similar to the one creating a sense of space.)
    • Notice how this sense of a separate I is anchored on certain sensations, and how muscles tense up to make these sensations more prominent, especially if attention goes on the inside of stories fueling a sense of a separate I.
    • Notice how these sensations, especially when muscles tense up to make them more prominent, seem to lend a sense of substance and reality to the sense of a separate I.
  • Notice the impermanence within each sense field, one at a time. Is anything stable? Is there a flickering even in that which thoughts may tell me is stable? As soon as attention is brought to it, is it already gone?
  • Bring attention to each field, one at a time, or to whatever arises in any field. Where do sensations come from? Sounds? Smell? Taste? Thoughts? Do they happen out of, and within, thin air? Do they live their own life, on their own schedule? Is a doer needed? A thinker?
  • What is whatever arises in each field made of? Is it substantial? Ephemeral? Nothing? Something? Awareness itself?
  • Notice what arises in each as content, living its own life, coming and going on its own schedule. Yet, something does not come and go. What is it that does not come and go?

Some of the effects of these explorations…

  • Gradually learn to trust what we see happening in immediate awareness, here now, such as…
    • How gestalts are formed.
    • All living its own life, on its own schedule.
    • No separate I found outside of a sensation-thought gestalt. (Also goes for a sense of doer, thinker, etc.)
    • Impermanence.
    • All happening as awareness.
  • As I explore this in practice session, it becomes easier to notice in daily life as well, especially if I take a few seconds to bring attention to it. For instance, if pain, emotions, moods or a sense of separate I/center arises…
    • I can bring attention to the sensation component of pain, emotions, moods, and a sense of separate I/center. It reveals the sources of those gestalts as something quite different, and how they are created by a combination of sensations and thoughts. The gestalt falls into its components, while also being seen as a gestalt.
    • I can notice how muscles tense to create a better (more readily available, substantial) anchor for a sense of a separate I, when stories requite it. (When I go into reactivity, closed heart/mind, and so on.)
    • I can notice whatever arises, whether the gestalt and/or its components, as awareness. (This utter simplicity which in words can sound complex, such as nothing/something/awareness.)
    • I can notice the impermanence of whatever arises. Flickering. Having already happened.

I notice how all of this sounds very “figured out” when written in this way, but these are all questions. If I look for myself, what do I find? Something similar to this? Something different? A different differentiation?

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