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TOPIC: Focusing the eyes

Focusing the eyes 03 Oct 2019 05:51 #111654

After a couple of years I've recently re-watched the series of videos on "Riding the Jhanic Arc via the Witness". In those videos (from 2010!) Kenneth and Nick traverse the 4+4+5 (rupa+arupa+pure land, vipassana-styled) jhanas and explore them phenomenologically.

It's interesting to see how my attitude has changed over the years. I remember that on the first watching I was rather taken aback about their ability to talk during the ride, or open the eyes, or generally move. My reading list at the time (2014 I think) was Focus and Fearless by Shaila Catherine and Practicing the Jhanas by Snider/Rasmussen. Having trained with Pa-Auk Sayadaw, those practioners teach commentarial "hard jhanas" which are characterized by extreme absorption into a (usually visual) nimitta. Although this way of practicing was totally over my head then, I still had the audacity to deride the videos in my head as obviously displaying scripted pseudo-jhanas :dry: I remember that I also skipped the jhana section in MCTB for the same reason. Some kind of spiritual bypassing, not very skillful, I now.

The last years I've actually managed to get into the jhanas quite a bit, and lo and behold, I am now able to take on a different stance on the videos and on MCTB(2 in particular). I might be a bit unhappy with naming those lighter jhanas "vipassana jhanas", or feel that "pure land jhanas" point to something different than jhanas. But the quality, the texture, the felt sense of what Kenneth and Nick describe matches very much what I can experience as "jhanas" in my current practice.

In order to get a bit more out of the videos than just following along I collected the phenomenological hints from the videos (up and down the Arc, see also the transcript) and also from Antero's overview of the Pure Land Jhanas in a phenomenological matrix of the 13 jhanas (link to a Google sheet). Of course the "dimensions" (like e.g. quality of body and mind, eye and attentional focus, vibrations, space, energy level and vortexes etc.) are pretty much arbitrary, but that's what I've come up with after mulling a while over it. Let's see how the matrix looks like when I add the MCTB2 phenomenology. Feedback is welcome! I'm very much interested especially in the change of phenomenology from one jhana towards the other.

Now, at last, my question to you: When you meditate in very collected mindstates, do you hold your eyes still or do they move?

With "Moving" I mean muscular activity like holding the focus on a certain spot, or rolling the eyes, or flickering, or chained straining and relaxing. I don't mean the "mind's eye", that which can go anywhere regardless of where the physical eyes look.

In the above-mentioned videos there is quite a bit of eye-rolling going on (sometimes called "mudras"), thus also the dimension of "eye focus" in the matrix. I think I've also read here on AN and also elsewhere that practioners in the Bill Hamilton lineage sometimes trigger fruitions with eye flickering.

I've never been able to relate to a practice which involves straining the eyes, due to the following reasons:

  • In order to hold the focus e.g. on the 3rd eye (or even on the tip of the nose) I need to strain my eyes. Why is this (or any) straining useful?
  • Because we are such visual animals the focus of the eye has a strong influence on the focus of the mind, or interferes with relaxing focus. Why confuse the practice?
  • Focusing the eyes somewhere manifests the perspectival cone "at the other end". Why actively conjure up someone who's looking?
  • I know from working with EEGs that the eyes have a strong influence on the electrical activity of the brain. Why rock the boat?
  • I can do all kinds eye movements which put me into an altered state of mind. But isn't that cheating? ;)

But I am open to suggestions, especially in the light of how eye movements might help less experienced practioners to explore uncharted territory.
Last Edit: 03 Oct 2019 06:25 by Frank. Reason: spelling, grammar
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Focusing the eyes 03 Oct 2019 21:26 #111656

I don't deliberately do anything in particular with my eyes when in deeper states of prayer, but experimenting at the moment briefly I think they probably move here and there as they wish. I find if I "look" somewhere with my mind's eye, my physical eyes usually flick briefly in that direction naturally, assuming I don't try to do anything deliberate. Just a little motion, usually. It's also normal for me in lighter states of prayer to look up or down or at imaginary images (not in a structured/ritual way, but just, for instance, a mental image of a saint or Jesus may come to mind and I may look at his/her face or hands or something. The physical eyes tend to follow the minds eye in this case.

I'd agree that straining is not useful. Though the kind of effort described as 'perseverance' is, I think. But it takes time and practice to figure out how all that works (what is straining, what is not straining, what is perseverance, etc.).
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Focusing the eyes 04 Oct 2019 13:48 #111658

Ona Kiser wrote:
I find if I "look" somewhere with my mind's eye, my physical eyes usually flick briefly in that direction naturally, assuming I don't try to do anything deliberate. Just a little motion, usually.

Thank you for sharing this observation. I find this a really peculiar aspect of the mind's eye, happens with me, too. My meditation practice is geared towards "staying in contact" with whatever object I choose. What happens, though, is that the staying is unvariably shaken off (albeit for an only very very short moment) when the physical eye flickers. It is as if even the mind forgets itself while the eye moves. It feels like any such moment of forgetfulness of the staying puts out an invitation for thought activity - - yet unformed but still potentially distracting.

For a while I intentionally suppressed the eye movement. That was quite difficult in the beginning, but works quite well nowadays, without putting any force on it (it's less a doing, more a particular internal stance). The staying has gotten more continuous, but it still depends a bit on the movements of the mind's eye.

It's also normal for me in lighter states of prayer to look up or down or at imaginary images

Do the mental images appear in the same spot (i.e. same distance, same angle from your vantage point)?

I don't have any experience with devotional practice, but I've read about Tibetan Buddhists visualizing e.g. certain deities above their heads. I wonder from which vantage point they imagine the figure... would have to happen from a point outside their imagined body, I suppose, to look above their head.

But it takes time and practice to figure out how all that works (what is straining, what is not straining, what is perseverance, etc.).

This is a skillful answer, yes, I agree. "Straining" is a whole spectrum of efforting.
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Focusing the eyes 05 Oct 2019 12:15 #111662

Frank wrote:
Do the mental images appear in the same spot (i.e. same distance, same angle from your vantage point)?

I don't have any experience with devotional practice, but I've read about Tibetan Buddhists visualizing e.g. certain deities above their heads. I wonder from which vantage point they imagine the figure... would have to happen from a point outside their imagined body, I suppose, to look above their head.

Off the top of my head I only know of one deliberate Christian visualization exercise, which dates back at least to Saint Ignatius. That is to read a description of a Biblical scene and imagine yourself being there. Ideally you (on different days) repeat the scene imagining yourself as different participants. The scenes are generally the 'mysteries of the rosary' which are standard meditations on different significant events in the life of Christ, such as the birth of Christ, the carrying of the Cross and so on; the idea being to imagine that you are Saint Joseph; or that you are one of the angels who has come to adore Christ; or that you are one of the shepherds; or the innkeeper who didn't have room; or whatever. The point being to inspire a sense of intimacy with the teachings, and to exercise ones self-awareness (ie how does it feel to be one of the men driving the nails into Christ's body? how does it feel to be one of the women weeping by the side of the road as Christ passes by, falling and bleeding? how does it feel to be the guy asking for his servant to be healed?). The other common scenes are meditations on heaven, hell, death and so on, these forming the preliminary exercises meant to inspire enthusiasm for practice (which is not unlike some Tibetan preliminary practices, actually).

The other 'visualizations' tend to be using real objects: a crucifix or skull, for instance, to remember ones own mortality and to point to intimacy with suffering. Or a beautiful image such as a painting, icon, statue or other art to remind one of goodness, beauty, love, etc.

On the other hand if spontaneous images come to mind in meditation, in my experience they tend to imitate one of the above two patterns: either appearing as if you are in the scene, much as a dream would; or appearing in front of one, as if one is looking at an item on a table, shelf, wall etc. in front of one. It may be out of habit that this is typical. There isn't really any scenario where things are visualized above your head, for instance, so it might not happen spontaneously just because it's not familiar/habitual.

Does that make sense?
Last Edit: 05 Oct 2019 12:16 by Ona Kiser.
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Focusing the eyes 05 Oct 2019 16:21 #111663

Thank you for describing the different modes of visualization in prayer. The excercise of Saint Ignatius is a beautiful example of how riveting it can be to live the answer to "how does it feel like?". Just from reading your examples I can feel the pull of that prayer.

It needs visualization, but more like as if looking through the eyes of the participant, embodied. For me that's exactly the difference of "putting attention on something" (looking from the head) vs "being aware as something" (feeling the lived body from inside). The latter feels much more centered and panoramic; inner and outer can dissolve.

either appearing as if you are in the scene, much as a dream would; or appearing in front of one, as if one is looking at an item on a table, shelf, wall etc. in front of one

Exactly. The first is living-as, the other is looking-at.

Maybe some day I get the chance to engage with practioners from a Tibetan background, to ask them in which of those modes they practice their visualizations.
Last Edit: 05 Oct 2019 18:59 by Frank. Reason: chance, not change
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Focusing the eyes 05 Oct 2019 19:36 #111667

In the jhana work that I have done, I found using the eyes helpful in directing the transition from one to the next. For J1, my eyes tend to be super focused and feel crossed. I find that if I don't do it deliberately, they tend to do it of their own volition. Moving through J2-J4 does involve me "looking up", in part to ease up on the hyper focused J1 and in part to induce a wider and more expansive absorption. Can't comment above J4...never been there.
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Focusing the eyes 07 Oct 2019 21:03 #111670

Not the biggest jhana expert maybe, but I am familiar with the territory. My eyes don't seem to do much. If I'm staring at something (kasina), sometimes they will focus on the object, sometimes they will look through it. I don't try to do much of anything, other than focus on the object and relax. I don't strain the eyes or try to put them anywhere. I would say somewhere around what I believe to be 8th the attention goes more to the brow, but I'm not necessarily looking there, and I'm not manipulating the eyes in any way. There is no strain.

I still tend to believe that there's a fair amount of woo/belief in the Kenneth/Nick videos. But I'm sure they are experiencing some absorptions. I find it a more than a little curious that we don't have some kind of one to one matchup between the Buddhist jhanas and the Hindu samadhis. If these are specific natural absorptions, that should be a lock.

I just go to the most relaxed place. The first jhana I was sure about was 5th, and 2-3 have relatively little meaning for me. To me there's more of a continuum from 2-4, but I appreciate the traditional descriptions. And in my experience there are many more concepts that one can be absorbed into than the traditional locations of space, etc.

Once upon a time I tried to really understand all those details and so forth, but it doesn't seem to matter much to me now. I guess I wouldn't worry so much about all those specifics, but whatever floats your boat.
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Focusing the eyes 09 Oct 2019 10:11 #111678

Frank, here's a set of posts by Nikolai from back in 2011 on the since deleted KennethFolkDharma. He talks specifically about the eye focus experience in the 8 jhanas.
(I've squashed the posts together, but if you want to see the originals, follow the links below.)



NikolaiStephenHalay, from kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/thread/46...et=317&maxResults=20

I've thought about this lately. Some things might be off on first glance without really investigating:

1st jhana focus: When i am directing the mind in a very concentrated way towards an object and the focus is very narrow and precise and their is some effort in trying to make out what I'm looking at, this reminds me of the 1st jhana focus.

2nd Jhana focus: When the focus widens slightly and there is no effort to make out what is being looked at, this is the 2nd jhana focus. It's like there is a fly on the wall and the 1st jhana focus has the mind look to see the details of the flies wings with some effort to make them out. Then the focus shifts to just looking at the fly but without looking at the minute details, without the sustained effort to make out the details.

3rd Jhana focus: To continue with the fly , the fly goes out of focus and the rim of the eyes' vision, the outer periphery comes into focus sort of. It's like the focus I have when something is happening to the sides of me but I don't wish to look head on, but just catch what's going on in the periphery of the vision. This is the 3rd jhana focus.

4th jhana focus: This is a relaxed panoramic view of everything in the front of the eyesight. It is a gentle focus, not picking on any details. The fly and the whole wall is seen together from this wide panoramic angle.

5th jhana focus: The space around the fly becomes the object. The fly in it as well. But the space around becomes predominant.

6th jhana focus: The focus narrows down onto a single object , the fly. The fly is seen without effort like in the 1st jhana focus. There is this sense of appreciating the form and details of the fly and even the immediate wall space directly around it. Details become obvious. The indentations in the wall, the slight little movements of the fly’s wings. The way its little arms shoot over its massive eyes to clean itself. These little details become more obvious and are quite interesting to watch unfold.

The 7th jhana focus: There is a sense of no mind, no focus, which is kind of the focus. A focus on no focus. It is a gentle resting that has a sense of equanimity to it. Let happen what may happen. From this focus the mind can take it. The fly on the wall is no longer anything in particular to look at. It's just part of the scenery. Not much going on.

The 8th jhana focus: Here the mind rests in the middle. It is a focus where there is no object being taken as object, neither is there the movement to ignore objects. It has a resting quality that allows the mind to just stop a lot of the 'focusing'. There is a signlessness to it. Nothing is being taken as the theme. If I maintain this focus for a length of time, maybe 30 seconds, if I am sitting or lying down, the mind will then get so still that parts of the mind seem to turn off. But there is consciousness still. Hearing is still occurring, yet it is hard to say if the hearing is actually heard. Strange and pretty cool experience when there is the rare thought to hang out in the 8th's focus. Very rare though.



http://awakenetwork.org/forum/kfd-archive-wetpaint/12783-first-ever-practice-journal?start=300#79000

http://awakenetwork.org/forum/kfd-archive-wetpaint/12783-first-ever-practice-journal?start=300#79001

http://awakenetwork.org/forum/kfd-archive-wetpaint/12783-first-ever-practice-journal?start=300#79002
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Focusing the eyes 12 Oct 2019 11:37 #111680

Many thanks for your feedback!

Andy wrote:
Frank, here's a set of posts by Nikolai from back in 2011 on the since deleted KennethFolkDharma. He talks specifically about the eye focus experience in the 8 jhanas.

Thanks for collecting the eye-related info, I've added the "fly" to "Riding the the Jhanic Arc" sheet in the synopsis.

Tom wrote:
For J1, my eyes tend to be super focused and feel crossed

I've added that to the synopsis; it aligns well with Nick and MCTB2. My eyes are slightly crossed when I focus on the breath on the upper lip, less cross when focusing on a kasina.

The default seems to be that the "attentional focus" co-arises with what synchronized eye movement behind the closed eyes, physiologically, especially if "focus" means "where the mental eye is focused at". It doesn't have to be that way, though. I often visualize something with open eyes. Around the moment when I suspend outward looking and turn inwards the eyes flicker into the direction of what I am visualizing. I've learned to suppress this, because otherwise the speed and acuity of the visualization is hampered.

Eric wrote:
I would say somewhere around what I believe to be 8th the attention goes more to the brow, but I'm not necessarily looking there, and I'm not manipulating the eyes in any way. There is no strain.

Yes, for Nick/Kenneth the 8th has a focus on the 3rd eye. You seem to be able to unhook the physical eye movement from the attentional focus. It might be related to the fact that you are "not looking there". Perception in the 8th is probably too sublime to perceive anything in the regular channels. Maybe just a kind of knowing?

I find it a more than a little curious that we don't have some kind of one to one matchup between the Buddhist jhanas and the Hindu samadhis. If these are specific natural absorptions, that should be a lock.

I beg to differ. The type of samadhi, its depth, the complete phenomenology is different depending on the type of concepts I use to enter and stay in a state. Buddhism and Hinduism should generate different absorptions, especially higher on their respective Arcs, simply because of their markedly different self-concepts.

And in my experience there are many more concepts that one can be absorbed into than the traditional locations of space, etc.

That's pretty much what I mean, and that's what makes this interesting for me. My hypothesis is that perception is fundamentally dependently originated and thus empty, or put differently: completely fabricated. If this hypothesis is true then I should be able to see fabrication right where perception happens. States off-cushion are too distracting to see clearly but on-cushion I can use the samadhis and jhanas to simplify things, tuning into certain phenomenological channels. The more skillful the logos in this respect the more responsive the samadhi state is. There is something which likes to be the receiving end of discriminating interest.

This is wonderful from the point of view of meditative joy, but even more so because there is realization happening. I sometimes wonder what's the need to be ever more precise, but at the same time I feel a calling to get better with understanding what's going on in the lived body. As always probably a balance thing.
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Focusing the eyes 12 Oct 2019 17:49 #111681

Perception in the 8th is probably too sublime to perceive anything in the regular channels. Maybe just a kind of knowing?

The 8th jhana is disorienting. I wouldn't call it sublime or having much to do with knowing. When you finally manage to get into it you want to slip "up" out of it into the 9th jhana, which is like escaping through the top hatch of some dark, rocking boat into the daylight. It's not called "neither perception nor non-perception" for nothing.

I'm meeting up with Kenneth tomorrow evening so we can compare notes.
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Focusing the eyes 13 Oct 2019 03:38 #111683

Chris Marti wrote:
Perception in the 8th is probably too sublime to perceive anything in the regular channels. Maybe just a kind of knowing?

The 8th jhana is disorienting. I wouldn't call it sublime or having much to do with knowing. When you finally manage to get into it you want to slip "up" out of it into the 9th jhana, which is like escaping through the top hatch of some dark, rocking boat into the daylight. It's not called "neither perception nor non-perception" for nothing.

I'm meeting up with Kenneth tomorrow evening so we can compare notes.

Thanks for chiming in, I appreciate any additional phenomenological handles on the 8th.

For easy reference, if needed, the point in the video where Nick and Kenneth reach the 8th is here. In the transcript I've also added the description from Kenneth of what's happening when coming from Pure Land Jhana 1 down into the 8th.

Your "escape upwards" simile is a nice one, thanks for that, I've updated the synopsis. Your simile fits the ones of PLJ1 from the video well, "pulling oneself through a whole of the ceiling into the attic", "sticking the head out through the sunroof of the car".

In the video they refer to an attention around the 3rd eye, resulting in an almost cross-sight eye direction. Together with "pulling up" towards the light this sounds certainly as a particular kind of doing. My takeaway from this is that in such an 8th jhana there isn't any focus anymore (i.e. no meditation object to absorb into), but there is still attention going on, even if it doesn't fall on anything. In this view "neither perception nor non-perception" does not equate to "no perceptions". Of course that's at least superficially at odds with what Daniel says in MCTB2, "the vaguest hint of attention to anything specific demolishes this state instantly."
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Focusing the eyes 13 Oct 2019 10:21 #111684

Frank, the 8th jhana is noteworthy mainly for its confusing and discombobulating nature. Attention can't find a "thing" to hold onto, as with the previous 7 jhanas. There is a weird confusion as if the mind had a multitude of strange attractors vying for its attention. So there is a sort of mental tumbling - like being in the dryer in high-speed cycle or in a plane that's lost its aerodynamics. Thre's not focus because there's a bunch of fouses going on all at once, or so it would seem. It's an odd experience. Word don't do it justice, but that's true of all of these states.
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Focusing the eyes 13 Oct 2019 10:52 #111685

Word don't do it justice, but that's true of all of these states.

And yet you manage to give additional clues with your words. Thank you!
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