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TOPIC: Manipulation

Manipulation 08 Mar 2019 09:56 #110739

Are there any meditation practices which are not used to try to manipulate experience? Or is it that most forms of contemplative spiritual practice can be used to try to get something, if that's where we happen to be? ie if we are watching thoughts, it's in the hopes that thoughts might go away. If we are counting breaths, it's in the hopes it might bring about relaxation or concentration states. If we are 'just sitting' it's in the hopes that there might be some kind of insight.

What do you think?
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Manipulation 08 Mar 2019 10:25 #110741

Ona Kiser wrote:
Are there any meditation practices which are not used to try to manipulate experience? Or is it that most forms of contemplative spiritual practice can be used to try to get something, if that's where we happen to be? ie if we are watching thoughts, it's in the hopes that thoughts might go away. If we are counting breaths, it's in the hopes it might bring about relaxation or concentration states. If we are 'just sitting' it's in the hopes that there might be some kind of insight.

What do you think?

This is intended to be only party snarky: if you're doing a practice to get to a state where you're not manipulating experience, are you manipulating your experience?
Last Edit: 08 Mar 2019 12:38 by Andy. Reason: added missing words
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Manipulation 08 Mar 2019 12:27 #110743

This reminds me of the dzogchen-stuff I've been reading lately. As I understand it, these teachings are designed to lead to a continuous view of rigpa/awakened awareness/primordial awareness, which is self-sustaining and continuous. No effort is needed, all experience self-liberates instantly leaving no trace. The idea (again, as I understand it) is that all the habits and tendencies of the mind to grasp, reject and accept obscure the nature of the mind, which is vast and clear and has the potential of effortless knowing. When there's no doing/effort/manipulation on experience on the level of mind, the nature of the mind shines forth. (Please, take this all as a dzogchen-newbies attempt to describe his limited experiences and what he's read. :) )

To get there I'd imagine most people need to do a lot of practices that are "manipulative" and take the gradual approach.

This is a topic that I used to think about when switching from noting/mindfulness-practices to more Tibetan oriented stuff. I have to say, my teacher did a perfect job with the timing in presenting these new practices, a month earlier and I would have been really hesitant to start doing visualizations etc. precisely because I would have found them too manipulative. :)

I'm curious, what brought this topic to your mind Ona?
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Manipulation 08 Mar 2019 13:02 #110746

What brought the topic to mind: I was talking to a friend yesterday and she said she was so glad to have gotten back into daily sitting, after a lapse of nearly a year (where sitting was done very irregularly), because it gave her the tools to better cope with sorrows or fears that arose day to day. And I was pondering that this morning and wondering if we are always trying to use practice as a way to manipulate how we feel? And what are the ways in which we might manipulate reality? When we sit don't we normally 'put on a mental posture' of some sort? Like "now I am going to concentrate on spaciousness" or something like that. Or, in the case of my friend, I am going to see sorrow arising and remember that it is a passing thought, like a cloud going by. And I thought, is there something wrong with feeling sad, that one might want focus on its impermanence? Would one likewise want to focus on the impermanence of a pleasant or relaxing state? ("Manipulation" is probably the same as clinging and aversion?).
Anyway, I didn't come to any answer, so I wondered if anyone else had pondered.

Perhaps one way to ask it: when you sit, are you aware of manipulating experience? if you are aware of it, what evidence (felt/experienced evidence) lets you know that? ie how do you know?). If you aren't aware of it, no point in bothering with the question.

(To add, I've many times been aware of this quality in my own prayer (I do a half hour or more of silent sitting per day, which would be called contemplative prayer, plus various recitations of spoken prayer, such as the rosary or Vespers.) But I'm not sure how I know that. I'll try to catch it happening sometime and notice how I know. If I try to perceive it on purpose just now, i can't really figure out how to imitate the scenario.
Last Edit: 08 Mar 2019 13:07 by Ona Kiser. Reason: parentheses
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Manipulation 08 Mar 2019 13:07 #110747

Andy wrote:
Ona Kiser wrote:
Are there any meditation practices which are not used to try to manipulate experience? Or is it that most forms of contemplative spiritual practice can be used to try to get something, if that's where we happen to be? ie if we are watching thoughts, it's in the hopes that thoughts might go away. If we are counting breaths, it's in the hopes it might bring about relaxation or concentration states. If we are 'just sitting' it's in the hopes that there might be some kind of insight.

What do you think?

This is intended to be only party snarky: if you're doing a practice to get to a state where you're not manipulating experience, are you manipulating your experience?

Surely, no?
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Manipulation 08 Mar 2019 13:41 #110748

Interesting topic!
A couple of things spring to mind:
- Just as a hypothesis: is it possible that we're constantly manipulating our experience all the time anyway? Meditation might therefore be the act of stopping this manipulation.
- Manipulation implies that there is some agency. I've been doing some of Shinzen Young's Unified Mindfulness, and have just looked spontaneity. In "Auto Move", which you can do while walking you basically just watch what happens spontaneously, i.e. you watch the things that you do without thinking about. When things happen without trying to make them happen, I think might count for a non-manipulative practice.
What do you think?
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Manipulation 08 Mar 2019 14:23 #110749

Just a thought but you can't actually manipulate your experience, assuming (as I do) you define "experience" as that which hits your senses. What you can do is to manipulate your reactions to your experience. This process is, as I see, it, a feedback loop. That said, we never have the opportunity to manipulate what we hear, see, feel, taste, smell or think. We process the meaning some time after the events occur. So we're in the situation of always reacting, never manipulating. Inside this feedback loop is where the stuff we call "suffering" or "dissatisfaction" gets added on, including the sense of "I/me/mine."

Thoughts?

Reactions? :silly:
Last Edit: 08 Mar 2019 14:24 by Chris Marti.
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Manipulation 08 Mar 2019 14:36 #110750

I see your point Chris, and no, i wasn't using the word "experience" that way. Just more generically. As in my friend saying "I feel sad. When I meditate, I remember to watch sadness coming and going like clouds. Then I feel better." And the sense of "manipulation" being if nothing else the desire to change reality (make the sad feeling go away), even if one can't.
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Manipulation 08 Mar 2019 14:56 #110751

And the sense of "manipulation" being if nothing else the desire to change reality (make the sad feeling go away), even if one can't.

Okay, I get that.
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Manipulation 09 Mar 2019 09:55 #110760

Ona Kiser wrote:
Are there any meditation practices which are not used to try to manipulate experience? Or is it that most forms of contemplative spiritual practice can be used to try to get something, if that's where we happen to be? ie if we are watching thoughts, it's in the hopes that thoughts might go away. If we are counting breaths, it's in the hopes it might bring about relaxation or concentration states. If we are 'just sitting' it's in the hopes that there might be some kind of insight.

What do you think?

What is interesting to me is that if we change the word "manipulate experience" into "become sane" or "develop as a human being" then that puts a whole other slant on practices. So really, the lens determines the interpretation in a tautological way. So the same practice could be used or interpreted as manipulative, it could be healing, it could be respectful, it could be repression, avoidance, etc. Frankly, the practioner's intention is probably more important than the observers interpretation.

I may not be saying it quite well but do you get my point?
Last Edit: 09 Mar 2019 09:56 by shargrol.
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Manipulation 09 Mar 2019 10:00 #110761

Chris Marti wrote:
And the sense of "manipulation" being if nothing else the desire to change reality (make the sad feeling go away), even if one can't.

Okay, I get that.

But looking at this more closely, it it really manipulating experience to influence a future that hasn't yet happened? Experience is staying the same, but the practice is making the future reoccurance of it less likely, perhaps. Since the future hasn't happened, how is that manipulating experience?

People are allowed to have desires for less suffering, nothing manipulative or wrong about that.
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Manipulation 09 Mar 2019 10:59 #110763

shargrol wrote:
Ona Kiser wrote:
Are there any meditation practices which are not used to try to manipulate experience? Or is it that most forms of contemplative spiritual practice can be used to try to get something, if that's where we happen to be? ie if we are watching thoughts, it's in the hopes that thoughts might go away. If we are counting breaths, it's in the hopes it might bring about relaxation or concentration states. If we are 'just sitting' it's in the hopes that there might be some kind of insight.

What do you think?

What is interesting to me is that if we change the word "manipulate experience" into "become sane" or "develop as a human being" then that puts a whole other slant on practices. So really, the lens determines the interpretation in a tautological way. So the same practice could be used or interpreted as manipulative, it could be healing, it could be respectful, it could be repression, avoidance, etc. Frankly, the practioner's intention is probably more important than the observers interpretation.

I may not be saying it quite well but do you get my point?

Is your point that a given spiritual exercise, such as 'watch the breath' (just for random example) can be done with a wide variety of intentions (healing, avoidance, etc as you describe)?

If so, I think that was more or less my original question. Is it possible for a given practice to have a variety of ways of relating to it/engaging with it, except you said it more clearly.
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Manipulation 09 Mar 2019 11:30 #110764

I think the concept of "not manipulating experience" is basically out of line with the doctrines of karma & emptiness. I could sub in modern/secular phrases for those last 2 buddhist terms & may try to later. But there's a basic element of "participation" that is inherent to inhabiting a body that is implicit. I wouldn't differentiate "manipulation" from "participation" in this context.
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Manipulation 09 Mar 2019 12:52 #110766

But looking at this more closely, it it really manipulating experience to influence a future that hasn't yet happened? Experience is staying the same, but the practice is making the future reoccurance of it less likely, perhaps. Since the future hasn't happened, how is that manipulating experience?

Assuming the commonly accepted view of how time works (flowing from past to future), I believe manipulation requires a future orientation. You can't manipulate something in the past and you can't manipulate something that is coincident.
Last Edit: 09 Mar 2019 12:52 by Chris Marti.
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Manipulation 10 Mar 2019 03:40 #110780

Such an interesting question Ona. And so many interesting replies. So I will hazard my own ... :unsure: There is a practice that does try to not manipulate experience. It is Tibetan non-meditation. And it stops manipulation by stopping the aspects of experience that could be subject to manipulation. From a Christian context, I guess this could be something like just resting in the awareness of the holy spirit. But I'm just a newbie, so probably way off base. :)
Last Edit: 10 Mar 2019 03:43 by Curious Malcolm.
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Manipulation 11 Mar 2019 07:11 #110795

Curious Malcolm wrote:
non-meditation

!

:whistle:
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Manipulation 11 Mar 2019 10:25 #110799

Curious Malcolm wrote:
Such an interesting question Ona. And so many interesting replies. So I will hazard my own ... :unsure: There is a practice that does try to not manipulate experience. It is Tibetan non-meditation. And it stops manipulation by stopping the aspects of experience that could be subject to manipulation. From a Christian context, I guess this could be something like just resting in the awareness of the holy spirit. But I'm just a newbie, so probably way off base. :)

I would hazard a guess that 'non-meditation' doesn't 'stop aspects of experience...' but rather non-meditation occurs (spontaneoulsy) when the other stuff (trying to have certain kinds of experiences, etc.) isn't happening. ie the causality is kind of the opposite.

I think the traditional Christian terminology most similar might be 'self-forgetting' - that is, one is just carrying on with ones duties (household, monastic, job-related, whatever they may be). It's sort of the non-meditation/chop wood, carry water thing, I think.

I tend to be a bit vague on the 'resting in awareness' concept. I think people sometimes use that to describe a temporary state of mild bliss and relaxation, with a quiet mind? I think I used to assume it was that. I don't know what I think about it now.
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Manipulation 11 Mar 2019 11:25 #110800

Ona Kiser wrote:
I think the traditional Christian terminology most similar might be 'self-forgetting' - that is, one is just carrying on with ones duties (household, monastic, job-related, whatever they may be). It's sort of the non-meditation/chop wood, carry water thing, I think.

Neat, yeah that sounds right.
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Manipulation 11 Mar 2019 12:09 #110801

Curious Malcolm wrote:
Such an interesting question Ona. And so many interesting replies. So I will hazard my own ... :unsure: There is a practice that does try to not manipulate experience. It is Tibetan non-meditation. And it stops manipulation by stopping the aspects of experience that could be subject to manipulation. From a Christian context, I guess this could be something like just resting in the awareness of the holy spirit. But I'm just a newbie, so probably way off base. :)

I'm not sure we're referring to the same thing, but I have some limited experience with non-meditation on a micro level. After 30-40 minutes of following the instructions to return to what's already here and rest, I can sometimes get into a state where I can notice the tiny little "tugs" as each experience arises and as I react wanting it to be different that it is. With further letting go and resting in this flow of experience, a certain kind of stillness arises and that hooking no longer happens. Each experience then arises, presents, and passes away on it's own without any involvement or manipulation or reactivity from me. Experience is still there, clear, vivid, luminous, often changing many times a second, but there's a smooth, clean, all-happening-on-it's-own feel to it.
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Manipulation 12 Mar 2019 03:26 #110812

Andy wrote:
Curious Malcolm wrote:
Such an interesting question Ona. And so many interesting replies. So I will hazard my own ... :unsure: There is a practice that does try to not manipulate experience. It is Tibetan non-meditation. And it stops manipulation by stopping the aspects of experience that could be subject to manipulation. From a Christian context, I guess this could be something like just resting in the awareness of the holy spirit. But I'm just a newbie, so probably way off base. :)

I'm not sure we're referring to the same thing, but I have some limited experience with non-meditation on a micro level. After 30-40 minutes of following the instructions to return to what's already here and rest, I can sometimes get into a state where I can notice the tiny little "tugs" as each experience arises and as I react wanting it to be different that it is. With further letting go and resting in this flow of experience, a certain kind of stillness arises and that hooking no longer happens. Each experience then arises, presents, and passes away on it's own without any involvement or manipulation or reactivity from me. Experience is still there, clear, vivid, luminous, often changing many times a second, but there's a smooth, clean, all-happening-on-it's-own feel to it.

Yes that final sentence is just what I was referring to. There is a kind of shamatha that has a sense of the joy of the body in space, but it's not the same as that. Rather, it is a cleaner, less dull, non-dualistic experience, with a slight sense of wonder and happiness about the joy of phenomena. I haven't actually talked to any Tibetans about it, but it seems pretty obviously to be rigpa (the four visions of togal), and non-meditation, once stabilised.
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