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TOPIC: "Coming Back" Pattern

"Coming Back" Pattern 22 Oct 2019 16:16 #111729

I've recently thought about a pattern which is prone to turn up in meditation: "coming back". I'd love to learn about examples from your practice.

Of course one of the most typical ways to "come back" is returning to the breat after having forgotton to follow it. It's this flash of mindfulness which we are supposed to savour. We celebrate that we have been shown the way back and we enjoy being at our home base again.

In this sense "coming back" is a pattern with 5 elements:
  1. recognition that we were away
  2. reflection
  3. reorientation towards here
  4. reinstantiation of intention
  5. reprogramming of the mind

The first step can be implicit, like when we wake up to the fact that we forgot the breath. The more subtle the breath becomes, though, the more fuzzy the notion of "away" becomes. Depending on the practice, we might already want to recognize being "away" when we follow the breath less closely than what we've set out as target. Correspondingly for the third step, "here" can also be thought as a spectrum. In any case, coming back feels great.

EDIT: For the "reflection" step see Junglist and shargrol below.

The fourth element, intention, is meant to signify that this "coming back" is not automatic, at least not in the beginning of the practice. An intention is needed to continuously prime the pump. The intention might be the same for each occurance of "coming back", but it might differ depending on e.g. how far away we had been.

As for the fifth step, pattern and result dependendly co-arise: we are reprogramming the mind by inviting it to follow the positive feeling of coming back, by repeatedly coming back. In the case of Anapanasati this self-enforcing application of the pattern strengthens the capacities of patience and mindfulness, but also discriminative power.

Another example for how the pattern manifests is for the "energy body" practice:
  1. I notice that the energy body has shrunken.
  2. I can notice the reason why it happened, e.g. due to a tension or a thought.
  3. I deliberatly stretch the energy body back to where it was before it shrank (just a bit further than the outline of my body).
  4. It feels good to experience the energy field from within, the more fully the better. The more often I come back to stretching the energy body out, the more the sense of the field will stabilize.

Which other instances of the "coming back" pattern have you encountered in your practice?
Last Edit: 24 Oct 2019 14:18 by Frank. Reason: now 5 elements
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The following user(s) said Thank You: Junglist

"Coming Back" Pattern 23 Oct 2019 17:36 #111731

I've been thinking a bit about this as well lately. My example isn't so much about samatha or concentration-type practices, but often I like to just be aware of whatever's going on, so physical sensations, mental talk, feelings, whatever happen more or less continuously. So just basically remain in a position of awareness. Sometimes I can get caught in a thought or some other object, and then notice that I was caught up in it. I think this mode of noticing is almost the same as the original practice, except that the thought of having been away, and maybe what the difference between being away/unaware and here/aware is, especially if everything happens in awareness, then this thought subsides and things carry on.

So perhaps it goes something like this:
1. Noticing I was not aware
2. "What was that unawareness like?" "How is that different to this?" "What is this?" "What was that?"
3. Returning and resting in awareness (also thoughts of having been unaware subsiding)
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The following user(s) said Thank You: Frank

"Coming Back" Pattern 24 Oct 2019 04:12 #111732

Junglist wrote:
So just basically remain in a position of awareness. Sometimes I can get caught in a thought or some other object, and then notice that I was caught up in it.

So you are mindful most of the day? That's something I'd really like to learn. I have to set up "checkpoints", i.e. every time I go through a door, to remind myself to be mindful. And even that only works like every second or third time or so. Any tips you can share to "remain"? Or is it really just applying the pattern until the mind is reprogrammed to stay? I'll have to try this, thanks for the motivation.
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"Coming Back" Pattern 24 Oct 2019 06:52 #111733

I think it's useful to break it into two parts...

The first is actually more of a recognition that coming back happens on it's own. In other words, when we realize we have been lost in trance, in that moment we are already out of trance. Getting lost in trance is beyond our control, coming back from trance is beyond our control. Seeing this takes some of the performance pressure off of meditation practice. We aren't really able to control when we go in and out of trance in the moment.

The second part is learning from the experience which involves recalling what happened. What was being felt or thought about when the trance occurred? Why are those sensations or thoughts so sticky and trance inducing? What was the result of the trance was it helpful or not? (Sometimes trances are helpful, a lot of creativity comes through trances. Sometimes trances are not, a lot of suffering comes through trance.) What can be learned from the experience? In time the learning that takes place in the second part helps create a tendency for less trance and more helpful trances.

Its good to keep these two aspects clear in our mind because there is one we can control/influence (learning) and one we cannot (moving in and out of trance). If we think we need to be responsible for our performance of somehow staying out of trance, it can create a lot of needless suffering.
Last Edit: 24 Oct 2019 06:53 by shargrol.
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The following user(s) said Thank You: Ona Kiser, Junglist, Frank

"Coming Back" Pattern 24 Oct 2019 07:56 #111735

Frank wrote:
Junglist wrote:
So just basically remain in a position of awareness. Sometimes I can get caught in a thought or some other object, and then notice that I was caught up in it.

So you are mindful most of the day? That's something I'd really like to learn. I have to set up "checkpoints", i.e. every time I go through a door, to remind myself to be mindful. And even that only works like every second or third time or so. Any tips you can share to "remain"? Or is it really just applying the pattern until the mind is reprogrammed to stay? I'll have to try this, thanks for the motivation.

Glad to have motivated! I was referring to when I’m practising; it’s harder to say how much of the day I’m mindful, but I’m more than sure most of it would be an overstatement! There are definitely times when I’m more mindful than not, such as stressful and difficult times like when my daughter has a tantrum or whatever, there’s enough mental space to respond from a place of calm, even if there may be confusion, intense feelings or knowing that I don’t know what to do that reduce the palette of skilful responses.

But I think it might be the more apparently insignificant moments when I might not be so mindful - thanks for the pointer and motivation yerself!

As for tips, I know someone who is quite fond of the door thing, it’s been alright for me too, when I’ve remembered to do it... I wonder if this is what the Jewish mezuza is designed for. I still often use the Mahasi-recommended “left right” noting when walking, as well as just notes of what I’m doing. Other things you could do are resolve at the beginning of the day to be as mindful as possible out of meditation, and you could set an alarm to do that. Shinzen’s “microhits” can be good, if you’re familiar with that? and you can resolve to do at least x amount of them at specific points in your day when you think you’ll need to be mindful, or also after a particular event in the day - you can set an alarm to do that too.

Other than that, what Shargrol said innit.
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"Coming Back" Pattern 24 Oct 2019 08:06 #111736

So you are mindful most of the day?
Getting lost in trance is beyond our control, coming back from trance is beyond our control. Seeing this takes some of the performance pressure off of meditation practice. We aren't really able to control when we go in and out of trance in the moment.

To riff on what shargrol posted - can someone explain why being mindful all the time is helpful in the long run as a way to go through life? I know the standard line about this but I'm sure we can't, indeed, control our mind enough to make it work in real-time, real life, in the long run. In my experience you can't be mindful in the way it's being put out there by so many people and at the same time have an intimate experience of anything. Mindfulness introduces a layer of observation and narrative that simply layers on top of our experience. It's like Kenneth Folk's Witness - useful for certain things but, ultimately... not.
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"Coming Back" Pattern 24 Oct 2019 10:50 #111742

Chris Marti wrote:
To riff on what shargrol posted - can someone explain why being mindful all the time is helpful in the long run as a way to go through life? I know the standard line about this but I'm sure we can't, indeed, control our mind enough to make it work in real-time, real life, in the long run. In my experience you can't be mindful in the way it's being put out there by so many people and at the same time have an intimate experience of anything.

Nobody in this topic except you talks about "a way to go through life". I said that I want to learn how to stay mindful, most of the day, Junglist pointed out that he had talked about his practice. No "all the time". So it's a bit of a strawman. Or do you just want to stir up an argument?

Right now I'm in a good mood, practice-wise. I feel that it might strengthen my concentration and my resolve to be a bit more alert, ardent and mindful during off-cushion time. The level of my alertness in particular depends on many factors. I've learned that the more I "guard my senses" off-cushion, the more productive my on-cushion time tends to be.

Mindfulness introduces a layer of observation and narrative that simply layers on top of our experience.

That's not the way it is for me. I can certainly "keep something in mind" without putting it in words. It's a part of my experience, as is e.g. attention, or intention, or actually any mental factor. I don't understand them as just layers on top of something more basic.

With words like "sati" and even more so "mindfulness" there's always different connotations for different people, dependend on through which lenses we look at the concepts. Maybe we mean different things.

It's like Kenneth Folk's Witness - useful for certain things but, ultimately... not.

According to standard Theravada, sati is useful because it helps to get a grip on the force of habit. Not all my habits are a positive force in the world, so I'd rather be mindful of what I do and how I do it. In that I want to be effective and efficient; I want to learn. In this respect a part of my practice (on- and off-cushion) is to detect stirrings in the bodymind - - I welcome all hints how to get better at it.
Last Edit: 24 Oct 2019 10:52 by Frank.
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"Coming Back" Pattern 24 Oct 2019 11:00 #111743

No "all the time". So it's a bit of a strawman. Or do you just want to stir up an argument?

Is asking a question stirring up an argument? Anyway, I'll shut up and leave.
Last Edit: 24 Oct 2019 11:03 by Chris Marti.
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"Coming Back" Pattern 24 Oct 2019 11:31 #111744

Chris Marti wrote:
No "all the time". So it's a bit of a strawman. Or do you just want to stir up an argument?

Is asking a question stirring up an argument?

Yes, no and maybe, take you pick ;) Sometimes having an argument is helpful. Thanks for chiming in.

(I don't know you, therefore I have problems to tell if your questions are rhetorical, both the one above and in your post.)
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"Coming Back" Pattern 24 Oct 2019 11:35 #111745

shargrol wrote:
Its good to keep these two aspects clear in our mind because there is one we can control/influence (learning) and one we cannot (moving in and out of trance). If we think we need to be responsible for our performance of somehow staying out of trance, it can create a lot of needless suffering.

That's really nicely put. Not only no need to chastise myself for something I'm not responsible for, it's actually quite the opposite: How awesome that something brought me back. That's something to celebrate.

Learning about what happened before we went off in a thought-bubble is very important. The more in "retreat-mode" the less reflection is necessary for this learning. Sometimes it's just a certain scent which lingers, a wordless recognition of "ah, this one again", which helps to incline the mind to be more alert downstream. I think this reflection is really important for the pattern, so I've edited the OP.

Using that learning it should be possible to get closer to the source of the distraction. In this sense we might have some control - - not about the onset of the stirring, but size, direction and airtime of the thought-bubble.
Last Edit: 24 Oct 2019 14:17 by Frank.
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"Coming Back" Pattern 24 Oct 2019 11:45 #111746

Junglist wrote:
2. "What was that unawareness like?" "How is that different to this?" "What is this?" "What was that?"

Reflection on what happend is important. I've edited the OP accordingly.

Understanding what the unawareness was like is important because it can be done without lengthy reflection. It also complements nicely the learning from what happened before the unawareness.
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"Coming Back" Pattern 24 Oct 2019 11:52 #111747

Chris Marti wrote:
So you are mindful most of the day?
Getting lost in trance is beyond our control, coming back from trance is beyond our control. Seeing this takes some of the performance pressure off of meditation practice. We aren't really able to control when we go in and out of trance in the moment.

To riff on what shargrol posted - can someone explain why being mindful all the time is helpful in the long run as a way to go through life? I know the standard line about this but I'm sure we can't, indeed, control our mind enough to make it work in real-time, real life, in the long run. In my experience you can't be mindful in the way it's being put out there by so many people and at the same time have an intimate experience of anything. Mindfulness introduces a layer of observation and narrative that simply layers on top of our experience. It's like Kenneth Folk's Witness - useful for certain things but, ultimately... not.

An interesting and important point - you seem to be saying that mindfulness is actually a distraction; is that right?
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"Coming Back" Pattern 25 Oct 2019 08:44 #111753

An interesting and important point - you seem to be saying that mindfulness is actually a distraction; is that right?

I'm actually not sure we're talking about the same thing and I don't want to muddy the waters again. The comments on this topic about the process of not being present and then coming back to being present, combined with shargrol's observation that these processes are not really under our conscious control, prompted me to ask the question I asked about mindfulness, the kind that is often described "being present" all the time. I'm happy to discuss that but on another topic. Just not here since this topic is devoted to a different type of mindfulness.
Last Edit: 25 Oct 2019 08:52 by Chris Marti.
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"Coming Back" Pattern 25 Oct 2019 08:44 #111754

For another domain where "coming back" can be applied see this video by Kim Katami (at the 37:20 mark), crossposted from DhO from today. Katami talks about the trinity of intention (TMI: attention), attention (TMI: awareness) and awareness, the latter being Dzogchen's natural state. A couple of minutes before he mentions his definition of mindfulness: a balance between effort and relaxation, which is not so far from TMI's definition of balance between attention (Katami: intention) and awareness (Katami: attention).

For Katami, "mindfulness practice" is unsurprisingly the sutric "efforting" connected to the first two of the trinity. "Coming back" in this sense means excertion of effort in order to exclude distractions. On the other hand, atiyoga practice does not use effort at all. So how to stay in the natural state when one is not yet familiar enough with it? For this case another "coming back" pattern applies:

If you get distracted you get back to that knowing [the natural state] because it's there also at the basis of being distracted, like if you imagine that in your mind you would be associating ... from one thought to another, kind of ... drifting. ... [T]hen at the basis there is knowing, so just latching to that knowing, coming back to that knowing, again, and from there bringing that cause of being distracted, thoughts, emotions, sleepiness, restlessness, letting all of that be included in this knowing.

That's an interesting take, I think. I suspect that for Dzogchen newbies it would probably be less the natural state at this point but rather something like né-pa as a result from ngöndro shi-nè. But that's even more helpful. Kim explicitely introduces a self-enforcing mechanism in shi-nè ("just sitting") which over time will result in a clear state without thoughts ("né-pa"), which in turn is the basis for vipassana practice (at least in the Aro'gTer framework). That's complementary to how Aro practitioner Rin'dzin Pamo explained it in a recent Deconstructing Yourself interview:

And in shi-ne the starting point is that you would expand out in all directions from the arising thought, so your relationship with that thought changes, the mental experience is different but there is no ignoring. You wouldn’t ignore anything in that practice.

So I understand "coming back" in Dzogchen as the movement of waking up from the trance of thinking, then coming back to the knowing and including the thoughts by expanding the knowing through them.
Last Edit: 25 Oct 2019 14:38 by Frank.
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"Coming Back" Pattern 25 Oct 2019 14:37 #111759

In the light of this post, I'd like to highlight that Kim uses "knowing" as an intransitive verb. Inferring an object (in the sense of the transivitive "knowing of") is a linguistic mistake. Dzogchen says no.
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"Coming Back" Pattern 30 Oct 2019 04:41 #111788

Frank wrote:
So I understand "coming back" in Dzogchen as the movement of waking up from the trance of thinking, then coming back to the knowing and including the thoughts by expanding the knowing through them.

I've discussed this pattern with a Dzogchen practitioner. They suggested to find the 'outside' of the thoughts rather than the 'through'. The details of the process of thought occuring are not important in shi-nè. It's more about maintaining an expansive presence of awareness without any particular focus, at least when aiming for what's called né-pa, completely thought-free clarity of mind.
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