12 May, 2019

The 4th 30-day Vipassana – Wisdom Creeps In

Hardly a mature Vipassana student with my brain injury making concentration difficult, I can at least say they are some positive changes that I notice with wisdom more firmly seated. It is important for me to say this wisdom is NOT intellectual knowledge, but experiential and once seated impermanence of everything is apparent.

I am usually out walking a lot after meals or after mind storms, and even using the pagoda stairs as my stair-master, but on day 2, I decided this is all too agitating, if I want to maintain as much concentration as I can. Instead, I would either clean up the men’s dorms, rest or even sit an hour earlier than scheduled full from lunch until I needed rest, 1 ½ hours later. The wisdom signs I noted, were doubts arising and falling way faster, impermanence, Ah ha. I also attributed partly to the fact that if I quit and leave what path will I attempt next? This made it seem like a foolish idea if I reflect how far I have come, since I have already seen personality changes, and a better easier home-life. Other signs were when the mind-storms arise and have some steam, I was able to name them as craving or aversion and thus quietly let the steam out and they would fade out way faster. It did not mean, the mind-storms would necessary not have any kick, but they definitely would end way faster then previous years. I also noted that when I could not resolve them in a sit or a short walk to the bathroom and instead finally lay down, if I did fall asleep I would download one craving or aversion sankara(mental defilement) and then quickly awaken refreshed. That was new for sure and it became more and more obvious what was happening.

The few things that I should do to improve my concentration especially in anapana would be to wear a hoodie, to keep my wandering eyes down(eyes and ears are enhanced since I lost my speech the first few years with my brain injury as a compensation). It may be interesting for you readers that any loss with an injury, the body tries to compensate. Losing my left side and facial sensory nerves, and thus its proprioception lead my eyes to take care of it, instead of it happening in my brain. So this means that in order to walk and not have my left leg or arm hit anything, the eyes determined their location in space. This does not play very well when you are trying keep the mind concentrated watching the breath which in turn allows you to pin-point body sensations while you scan in a sit. I have yet to meet anyone with a simple stroke who I can compare my bi-lateral experience with. Things like focusing on the area below the nose and above the upper lip in anapana when you lost all your facial sensory nerves is very challenging, and yet on day 26 I finally felt “ants crawling” there. This can lead to losing concentration way easier than normal people. I tried writing the AT(teacher) about this, but after awhile even that seemed foolish because what could he do but send metta(loving kindness) my way same as person in the outside world. Impermanence was no longer just a concept, but actual observed reality in many forms. Another thing is being as inconspicuous as one can be, to not disturb others concentration. Awareness takes many forms. Seeing my post sit notes this time over previous 30-day sits, and building on this newly found wisdom. Combined with observed pain and pleasant sensations moving around, with even more concentration than last time. This actually reinforced my devotion and appreciation for the wisdom of Buddha. Thank you again all my dhamma brothers, some of which sat every year with me.

16 February, 2019

How the body and mind talk to one another
to understand the world

This reprint I found it helps identify why Vipassana works, and how Tomatis helps people. How Vipassana helps you identify anger in the body sensations, way before it expresses itself in words or actions. With Tomatis it helps removes the traumas which are stuck which may throw one into repeated anger or sadness over and over, based on that stuck feeling from way in the past. Seeing the sensations at the root level or even removing traumas altogether, will free one up tremendously from false physical signals, perhaps.— Was Once

Have you ever been startled by someone suddenly talking to you when you thought you were alone? Even when they apologise for surprising you, your heart goes on pounding in your chest. You are very aware of this sensation. But what kind of experience is it, and what can it tell us about relations between the heart and the brain?
When considering the senses, we tend to think of sight and sound, taste, touch and smell. However, these are classified as exteroceptive senses, that is, they tell us something about the outside world. In contrast, interoception is a sense that informs us about our internal bodily sensations, such as the pounding of our heart, the flutter of butterflies in our stomach or feelings of hunger.
The brain represents, integrates and prioritises interoceptive information from the internal body. These are communicated through a set of distinct neural and humoural (ie, blood-borne) pathways. This sensing of internal states of the body is part of the interplay between body and brain: it maintains homeostasis, the physiological stability necessary for survival; it provides key motivational drivers such as hunger and thirst; it explicitly represents bodily sensations, such as bladder distension. But that is not all, and herein lies the beauty of interoception, as our feelings, thoughts and perceptions are also influenced by the dynamic interaction between body and brain.
The shaping of emotional experience through the body’s internal physiology has long been recognised. The American philosopher William James argued in 1892 that the mental aspects of emotion, the ‘feeling states’, are a product of physiology. He reversed our intuitive causality, arguing that the physiological changes themselves give rise to the emotional state: our heart does not pound because we are afraid; fear arises from our pounding heart. Contemporary experiments demonstrate the neural and mental representation of internal bodily sensations as integral for the experience of emotions; those individuals with heightened interoception tend to experience emotions with greater intensity. The anterior insula is a key brain area, processing both emotions and internal visceral signals, supporting the idea that this area is key in processing internal bodily sensations as a means to inform emotional experience. Individuals with enhanced interoception also have greater activation of the insula during interoceptive processing and enhanced grey-matter density of this area.
So what is enhanced interoception? Some people are more accurate than others at sensing their own internal bodily sensations. While most of us are perhaps aware of our pounding heart when we are startled or have just run for the bus, not everyone can accurately sense their heartbeats when at rest. Interoceptive accuracy can be tested in the lab; we monitor physiological signals and measure how accurately these can be detected. Historically, research has focused on the heart, as these are discrete signals that can easily be quantified. For example, a typical experiment might involve the presentation of a periodic external stimulus (eg, an auditory tone) that is time-locked to the heartbeat, such that each tone (‘beep’) occurs when the heart is beating, or in between heartbeats. Participants state whether this external stimulus is synchronous or asynchronous with their own heart. An individual’s interoceptive accuracy is an index of how well they are able to do this.
It is also possible to measure subjective indices of how accurate people think they are at detecting internal bodily sensations, ascertained via questionnaires and other self-report measures. My work shows that individuals can be interoceptively accurate (ie, good at these heartbeat-perception tests) without being aware that they are. In this way, interoceptive signals can guide and inform without fully penetrating conscious awareness.
Individual differences in interoception can also be investigated using brain-imaging methods, such as through brain representation of afferent signals (eg, heartbeat-evoked potentials expressed in a neural EEG signal). Functional neuroimaging (fMRI) can also be used to investigate which areas of the brain are more active when focusing on an interoceptive signal (eg, the heart) relative to an exteroceptive signal (eg, an auditory tone).
Our hearts do not beat regularly and, while we can identify that our hearts race with fear or exercise, we might not fully appreciate the complexity of the temporal structure underlying our heartbeats. For example, cardiac signatures are also associated with states such as anticipation. Waiting for something to happen can cause our heartrate to slow down: this will happen at traffic lights, when waiting for them to go green. These effects of anticipation, potentially facilitating the body and mind to adopt an action-ready-state, highlight the meaningful composition of internal bodily signals.
Internal bodily signals can be deeply informative, which is why sensing them can provide an extra channel of information to influence decisionmaking. Gut instinct or intuition during a card game can also be guided by interoception. Bodily signatures (heart rate, skin-conductance response) can signal which cards are good (ie, more likely to be associated with a positive outcome) even in the absence of conscious knowledge that a card is good. Thus, the heart ‘knows’ what the mind does not yet realise, and access to this bodily signature can guide intuitive decisionmaking to a better outcome. In a real-world extrapolation of this, I visited the London Stock Exchange to work with high-frequency traders. These traders claimed that their decisions were often driven by gut instinct, when faced with fast-coming information that the conscious brain could not yet fully process. My colleagues and I demonstrated that interoceptive accuracy was enhanced in those traders who were most adept at trading, potentially grounding their intuitive instincts in a capacity to sense informative changes in internal bodily signals.
An appreciation that bodily signals can guide emotion and cognition provides potential interoceptive mechanisms through which these processes can be disrupted. Alexithymia, defined as an impaired ability to detect and identify emotions, is associated with reduced interoceptive accuracy. Autistic individuals, who often have difficulty in understanding emotions, have also been shown to have impaired interoceptive accuracy. Neural representation of bodily signatures are altered in borderline personality disorder (also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder), and interventions designed to focus on the body, such as mindfulness, have been shown to reduce anxiety. Insight into the nature of these embodied mechanisms opens up potential avenues for further understanding and targeted intervention.
As well as telling us about our own emotions, our bodies respond to the joy, pain and sadness of others. Our hearts can race as loved ones experience fear, and our pupils can adopt a physiological signature of sadness in response to the sadness of others. If you pay attention to your heart and bodily responses, they can tell you how you are feeling, and allow you to share in the emotions of others. Interoception can enhance the depth of our own emotions, emotionally bind us to those around us, and guide our intuitive instincts. We are now learning just how much the way we think and feel is shaped by this dynamic interaction between body and brain.Aeon counter – do not remove
Sarah Garfinkel
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.

11 February, 2019

Uncreated Nonsense

Having completed “Sonic Birth” phase of Tomatis Mozart Therapy, one is more able to quiet down all the stuff that used to surface. This is a great adjunct for daily sits, where you observe body sensations, to cement the knowledge that everything in life changes and thus you have no need to hold on or act out. It allows you to just exist, putting all environmental stresses, judgments and papancha (Pali word for mental proliferation) aside. The therapy is the last phase and it exposes of all traumas one accumulates from your birth and in the womb. Without getting into the particulars of my case one thing that is great is the traumas are unseen and unnamed, mostly disposed of in dreams. This allows you to walk in the world without all your nonsense, and just deal with things as they happen. Usually you no longer over-react to things based on triggered fears laid deeply in your sub-conscious from your birth or from your life experiences. What others feel and hopefully see, when they see you is a blank slate, so they feel like you won’t attack, judge or fling negativity at them. So truly being the light in the world. It might be also seen as pure unattached love, because you love yourself without all your nonsense… naturally. This is not romantic love, it is more like resting in the self. Smiles and laughter flow and they not forced or masked with criticism.  With Sonic birth this time I no longer have to let go, I just don’t create the things you need to let go of.

30 December, 2018

Moments of Light

My practice, which manifests itself for me mostly as a gradual unfolding. It is very subtle, as we know patience is the first virtue. Perhaps you might see one more second before you react allowing one to take the wiser path. Steering one away from potential anger or further difficulties will hopefully repeat more and more as a new happiness habit. That is because one is the first victim of any difficult states of mind. I visited family for the second time this year, and my sister noticed, and Mom felt the need to outline why my life was difficult with my father. Meaning she felt comfortable, not pinned down or accused…more relaxed. The extra second helped many times, but is imperative to be rested and fed with my brain injury. I am no saint, always perfecting and maintaining my wisdom intention goal before life comes to a screeching halt.

I recently saw someone speak about healing traumas as an essential first step on any path. Some traumas are passed down through every generation, and for me it is imperative that they stop here even though I have no children. I completed my second full course of Tomatis Mozart Therapy this year, where we focused on my emotional traumas instead of trying to heal the brain injury with a program designed for me. We both came to the conclusion the happier and more resolved I am, the faster I heal. And what I don’t heal will not bother me as much. All emotional expectations from previous life experiences as well as current drop away thus letting the purity of my being shine through. “Me” as I currently present myself, with less of the frustration of being unable to communicate with speech.

Many years ago, when I returned home from the hospital, and my lover then and I split, compounded my difficulties. I would roll in the “why me”, anger and crying running between each. I had started on my speech therapy, and acupuncture with the idea I need to realign my chi flow. Back then I was taking the bus to each. It was one day when I bussed home, laying on my back looking up through a skylight I had in my home, exhausted from crying that it became a bit clearer that this emotional moment was the furthest from healing I needed to do to move on.  Wisdom does come in small tastes, and not a five-course meal. So my original intention carries deep down in my psyche was to live and heal that, and I would lean there when life presented itself as a problem. Later another wisdom tidbit presented itself as “it is not always about me” and lead me to helping others where I volunteered in post-stroke readjustments in a hospital setting with new survivors, which I detailed in past posts. I will never forget the young man paralyzed from the neck down from a bike wreck. I wrote a heart felt letter to him, detailing why he should never get down on himself and carry any blame, it could have been me when I got my first dirt bike at 14. I saw myself in him. My letter said focus instead on healing, be proud and happy to be alive. And try, try, try, and relax.  I am still letting go, unfolding, becoming lighter and laughing at myself and hopefully helping others.

27 September, 2018

Mantra, the movie

A little comment about how this helped me on my path to wisdom through meditation, when I really needed a connected “embrace” of strength to go beyond my current ideas of myself(this was in 2005). Looking back, I needed some kind of universal power at that time, because there was some rawness and unknowing what would turn up with meditation, that I just started to unravel in 2004. I would never expect to be sitting two hours a day, and going on long sits as I do now.
Luckily, I had a few cues from people I have met in my life, but it was still up to me to use these for inspiration, and continue as I have.

04 June, 2018

Fruits from my Third 30-day Vipassana

Offerings, give to get idea
After our trip to Sri Lanka, I got a last minute email from being wait-listed for my third 30-day Vipassana. I knew that it would be hard again for my partner, so I sat on the email for 24 hours, asking him when it was a good time to do so. So, when he said Ok, I confirmed and said good-bye for another month, and he stoically said to me, “don’t cry”. It was not like I have done this many times before, but I did not want him to feel that it was done to punish him. Off I went in April, better prepared mentally for what I about to do, more training of the mind.

Things fall into Place
It became pretty obvious, that this being the third time I felt like I could sit through “storms” of the mind, instead of feeling like I had to go walk it off. Most all sleepiness, instead of being laziness was purely a consequence of morning and lunch time digestion falling like clock-work at exactly the same time. Even though I ate lightly. I only missed one sit in 30 days in the hall or my cell, when the weather was stormy and sat in my room, but have always felt like the room sit was far less productive then the cell or the hall. Believe me, the cell is only you with all your mind stuff, the hall less so, but there it has the power of having many others sitting or the knowledge of having sat there in the past.

Real, but artistic rendering
On day 14, I had a worry storm hit my mind and spun on it for several hours, even feeling like I wanted to go. Later in our final sit of the day at 8-9pm, I got into a zone in my cell, and did not hear the final gong. At 9:40 pm a man who was further down in the pagoda, snapped his fingers, as a sign it was time to go. I left and returned to my room and my whole left side which is numb from my brain injury was vibrating amazingly. I just watched it for two hours until I fell asleep, knowing everything is impermanent. This was more a sign of enough brain(what I have left, HA!) concentration to power up the nerves that are still there. But later in the 30-days, when worry mind came up again, I had enough wisdom to recognize and release it immediately. This came from a felt sense that nothing comes from worry except mental distress.

Upon returning, it became obvious to me and my partner that more and more of my anger has subsided. If I do get angry, it doesn’t stay around long. He detailed how much I have changed and yet, I know I am still a work-in-progress. What was really the fruit of this sit, was seeing my partner join me in about one half of my evening sits, without asking or prodding. This was remarkable, because even though Buddha’s wisdom is born into him as a suffering Thai and his history as a monk at age 13 for a year…surprisingly, he has never meditated with me in our 17 years. I still let him decide when to do it, but I continue two hours a day, one hour at 5am, and the other around 7pm.

Some takeaways for those contemplating a 10-day for the first time is to just let your base intention be to want a happier life that will guide you through your own rough spots. As each hour, each day and every meditation is slightly different...so go with your flow. Your hindrances are very different than mine, and the great thing is you are teaching yourself through awareness with a path laid out by Buddha.

30 May, 2018

Sri Lanka Revisited for Plan B

Dana Service cleaning Mihintale

We went to Sri Lanka for a month with everything up in the air about my husband’s green card. One, to visit an old favorite of the two of us, and two to explore options in case our case never was granted in our favor. It gave us time to put it away, and have fun because we had not left the country since he arrived for our marriage. With his extension stamped inside his passport we were off, and got to go up north to Jaffna and circle back along the east coast, two new places within the island we never got to. Trincomalee, was where we first encountered all the trash burning which included plastic bottles right in front of our guest-house. Something I had never been totally aware of any other visit, and ended up playing a key minus when we looked at condos in Kandy(which also had smoky air from the same problem). I knew from recent news before going that a dump near Negombo had collapsed killing several people, but never had encountered the increase in tourists brought so much trash…Everywhere
We began to feel responsible by the time we saw more of the same in Mirissa, which was totally developed, compared to the quiet of our visit in 2004. Never-the-less we visited important Buddhist sites to make offerings and to inspire us both. I had big plans to meditate at sites, having signed up for another 30-day Vipassana Meditation November 2017 for April 2018 when I returned. But I never got to, just alone in guest house or hotel each day. We did enjoy the people, even witnessing a Sri Lankan wedding and meeting indigenous Sri Lankans, the veddas.

By the time we left after our month taking off for the Maldives for a quick taste of a local island, we both decided this was our last time sadly for Sri Lanka. On our last week we got the good news from our lawyer that our case ruled in our favor, after a 5 year grueling test our of 17 year relationship ending for now our Plan B pursuits.
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