Right: so probably the simplest way to describe insight practice is that it revolves around a clear observation of sensations. Since everything a human can experience is sensations, a clear observation of sensations emanates into a clear observation of everything. The perceptual habits at the smallest microscale reflect those at the grandest macroscale. As above, so below.

Now sensations, by their nature, are empty. That is, they have no inherent meaning or interpretation built into them. They are essentially bits of static, which, when taken together, coalesce into a picture that we can project meaning upon. The early part of every infant’s life is learning how to decipher the ‘blooming buzzing confusion’ of the senses.

The thing you can say is that every sensation has similar features: each has a definite beginning, a definite end, and some kind of afterimage that persists in consciousness in the form of other sensations, which also have beginnings, endings and afterimages. Based on that, you might surmise that human consciousness is mostly composed of afterimages, with a minimal awareness of primary sensations. The fog of afterimages blends together to create the illusions of solidity and continuity that we tend to cling to so much.

The early part of insight practice usually revolves around clear perception of the beginnings of sensations, and this tends to be mildly interesting, moving towards a kind of profound euphoria, as we see how things appear out of nowhere. The underlying vibe, which not everyone can articulate clearly, is a kind of overwhelming abundance. There’s just more and more and it’s all just appearing out of nowhere and it’s pretty ecstatic. This gradually transitions into a a clear perception of the endings of sensations, and this is where it gets tricky.

At first it’s profound and liberatory: all the stuff that bothers you. limits you, and confuses you just vanishes. yay! …however, it quite quickly tips over into things that you’re kind of attached to. Sense of self, ego identifications, familiar body sensations, emotional resonances, all this stuff starts to take on a certain precarious tenor, as the underlying sensations just kind of drop out through the trapdoor and vanish. The best way I can describe it, is that your whole life starts to feel like walking on thin ice. The ice never actually breaks, but a part of your awareness is always tied up in the feeling that it might, at any moment, crack open and spill you into the same nothingness that’s seething underneath all your experience.

Most people experience that underlying vibe as various degrees of anxiety, terror, despair, disgust, depression, anger and hate, desperation, etc… as you consciousness ( hopefully) processes the awareness of the true nature of sensations that you built yourself up out of.

Bit rushed today, but I’ll get into my own mileage with this next time.


3 thoughts on “down the trapdoor

  1. I had an interesting experience lately, which relates to this. I’m currently smoking, something I’m working on quitting. While doing so, I found out that focusing on the physical sensations that prelude the need for a cigarette significantly reduces the actual need.
    It’s like focusing on the actual sensations separates them from the mental association of smoking. It just become another piece of mental “noise”. I found that quite interesting.

  2. yeah, there are some schools of insight that just suggest a diffuse mindfulness of everything that arises, and that over time, your awareness will process and dis-identify with all of it. in simple terms detaching from something enough to investigate it, tends to cut it loose from all the connective tissue of mental afterimages that glue everything together.

  3. The patterns of habits and self-destructive activities are usually about the denial of certain beliefs which one has turned into emotions and then denied the emotions and diffused the uncomfortable memory by manifesting it in a seemingly unrelated habit. Thus by observing the feelings which precipitate an activity, this is the beginning of turning the tables on that construct. This is discussed in psychology, metaphysics, Gurdjieff’s Fourth Way, Krishnamurti’s writings, and so on…. it is the beginning of waking up… as above, so below.

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