LBNL Mindfulness Meditation Group
Come join us for mindfulness meditation on:
Mondays from 12:00-13:00 via video conference. Please use this link to connect to the meditation session: https://lbnl.zoom.us/j/227859147
You can also connect
If there is any change to this schedule or location, we'll let you know. So feel free to bookmark it on your calendars and if you're not on our mailing list you can add yourself or send a request to Mindfulness@lbl.gov
What is meditation?
One definition is: Meditation is when there are three elements present:
1- Concentration, 2- Sensory clarity, and 3- Permission for anything to arise, without interfering with it.
Concentration is the attention, intensely and intently focused on something. That something is often the object of meditation. It could be breath, but it could be many other things. In fact, in this group we will work with many sensory modalities as the object of concentration.
2- Sensory Clarity:
Sensory Clarity is the ability to keep track of what you are experiencing at the moment.
3- Permission for anything to arise without interference (AKA Equanimity):
Equanimity is the ability to allow sensory experience to come and go without push and pull.
We will be developing, applying, and fine-tuning these skills through focusing on sensory events. The main sensory events are Seeing, Hearing, and Body Sensations or Feeling.
For the week of July 22, 2019
Week of Jan 28, 2019
We have been practicing the restful states: See Rest, Hear Rest, and Feel Rest, for the last couple of months. Briefly, these exercises are about keeping the attention on a sensory experience which is restful. For example, in the case of See Rest, with eyes closed, there could be a general sense of visual "quietness" in spite of a certain amount of light still being received by the eyes. As long as there is no imagined visual objects present, focusing on that generalized restful state is the See Rest exercise.
Here are some more precise definitions on the first of the restful states (See Rest):
"1. See Rest: Work with visual rest.
Focus on the visually restful state that comes about when you let go of involvement with outer sights
and inner images. There are two ways to do this. One works only when your eyes are closed; the other
works for eyes open or closed.
Eyes closed: Focus on the darkness, brightness, or mixture of darkness and brightness that you see in
front of and/or behind your eyelids when you close your eyes. We’ll refer to this form of visual rest as
Eyes open: Intentionally defocus (soft focus) your gaze. "Look" but without being too concerned for
what you're seeing.
Most people find the eyes-closed version quite easy to do. The eyes open version is often a bit more
challenging. Both versions are known to create "alpha waves" in the brain. Alpha waves represent a
state that is both restful and alert.
Most people will not detect vanishings (Gone) in the defocus form of visual rest (although some people
may). However, when you’re focusing on the eyes-closed grayscale blank, patches of dark or bright
may disappear. Such a disappearance is a well-defined example of “Gone.”
Every few seconds, note “See Rest.” With your eyes closed, you can See Rest by focusing on the
darkness and/or brightness in front of and/or behind your eyes. With your eyes open, you can See Rest
by defocusing, soft focusing your eyes. (If all or part of the visual rest drops away or drops off, note
Reference from: https://www.shinzen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/FiveWaystoKnowYourself_ver1.6.pdf
Week of June 4, 11, and 18
Why do we train the See, Hear, Feel circuitry of consciousness?
Often when a sensory experience (event) hits us, it contains several sensory components that are tangled up. This can make the sensory event seem scary and unknown. In reality however, the sensory event is composed of a bunch of visual, auditory, and body sensations (See, Hear, Feel), which are activated to various degrees. If you think of such a sensory experience as a vector, its direction could be pointing in any which way and its size indicative of its intensity. But just like an arbitrary vector can be represented in terms of its base components in linear algebra (say the x,y,z directions in Cartesian coordinates), so can a sensory experience be broken down in terms of its constituent sensory modalities: See, Hear, and Feel. In this way, a seemingly uncomfortable event can be decomposed and experienced along a few well-known and familiar directions such as along the See, Hear and Feel axes.
So what’s my point?
We train the sensory modalities of See, Hear, and Feel individually during these Mindfulness practices, to the point where we’re comfortable with whatever arises along these directions. Once we are skilled in dealing with the principle axes of our coordinate system, anything that comes up, no matter how colossal and directionally unknown, becomes manageable since it can be quickly decomposed into a base we’re comfortable with.
Take an event, for example someone cutting you off while driving, which is a collection of Seeing, Hearing, and Feeling to different degrees. Decomposing that event early enough into the bases of See, Hear, and Feel provides the choice and the space to respond appropriately without being overwhelmed. What’s the alternative? The alternative is to “react” (perhaps road rage) based on default programs that are buried in the subconscious mind, programmed in by past experiences, society, habits, and so on. By default and without training, an event hooks onto the tip of an emotional iceberg and pulls up a giant of a response from the subconscious mind, which once done, cannot be easily undone.
One of the powers of meditating is the ability to bring up these subconscious programs, and see how they were put together, optimize or dismantle them, trim them, train them, organize them, erase them, anything but let them run by default without having a say in it.
I digress from the main point of linear decomposition, but the two are closely related topics. The ability to prevent a default program from executing by default is directly related to how quickly we can see that event in terms of its elementary components.
In this way, a main role of meditation is to allow the machinery hidden deep in the subconscious to be brought into the conscious mind, and based on a conscious decision, examined and edited, and placed back into the subconscious again.
So that is one important reason we work with the sensory bases of See, Hear and Feel. One of the goals of our meditation group is to introduce and practice these states until they are more or less second nature in dealing with any event.
If the visual space is considered as mental images (internal), physical sights (external), and no activity (rest), then each modality can be an area of focus. For the next couple of weeks we will work with "See Rest" highlighted below. The instructions for this are as follows:
- With eyes closed, focus on the visually restful state that comes about when you let go of being involved with outer sights or inner images.
- With eyes closed, focus on the darkness, brightness, or the mixture (grayness) that you see in front of, or behind your closed eyes. We will refer to this as the “grayscale blank”.
- Every few seconds, note to yourself: “See Rest” by focusing on the grayscale blank available at that time. This noting achieves two things: first, it brings clarity as to the technique being practiced at that time. And second, it helps the attention to soak deeper into meditation.
Intro and a few definitions of terms:
What is mindfulness?
Depending on the context, the word mindfulness can have many definitions. One definition close to what will be used here is mindful awareness, which is when the three qualities (skills) of concentration, clarity, and equanimity are present together.
Concentration is pretty self-explanatory, it means the ability to focus and maintain a sharp focus, ideally in a sustained manner.
Clarity refers to the resolving power present during a sensory experience and it is the ability to tease apart sensory experience into its basic components with ever increasing resolution. More on basic components below.
Equanimity refers to a radical, non-judgmental permission for any sensory experience to arise. It refers to not pushing or pulling on sensory threads as they become revealed during meditation. You can read more on each of these qualities in the reference provided at the end of this section.
What is the purpose of meditation and mindful awareness?
Meditation, is training your attentional awareness. It is a skill like painting or playing the piano or doing mathematics. Training in meditation helps cultivate and sharpen the three essential attentional skills mentioned above, which in turn provide a fertile ground for mindful awareness. Mindful awareness is an attentional skill, and how we pay attention can influence how we perceive and behave.
Broadly speaking, there are two categories describing the “why meditate?” question. The first is to help improve specific challenges we face, such as bodily pains, or a desire to improve your game, or wanting to be better at (insert your goals here). The second, is increasing your base-level of happiness in general, and drawing a deep fulfillment from life, regardless of the circumstance.
We often tend to be reactive rather than proactive—for example, we go to the doctor when there is an problem with our bodies—but we tend to spend less time on preventative measures such as exercising, eating healthy, and going for regular checkups. Practicing mindfulness without being impelled to do so is like preventative care.
What can you expect from this meditation group?
We will apply, the three attentional skills to the basic sensory pathways of visual, auditory, and somatic, with shorthand labels: “See”, “Hear”, and “Feel”. These are the basic components or the "basis" of the sensory experience. When each mode is activated, we will simply label it as a sensory event using the appropriate shorthand label mentioned. The lack of activation in each mode is labeled as a restful state: "See Rest", "Hear Rest", and “Feel Rest".
As you may already be familiar with, each sensory pathway has two sides or "polarities" labeled here as "In" and "Out". When they are activated by an external source such as seeing a sight, or hearing an external sound, they are labeled accordingly as “Out” “See Out”, “Hear Out”, and “Feel Out” to designate their origin as external. When the origin of the sensory event is internal, such as visualizing something or “seeing in your mind's eye”, then it is labeled as “See In”, and same goes for the other two. For example, when you hear an internal voice, such as the chatterbox in your head, we will label it as “Hear In”. Likewise, experiencing a somatic input such as a feeling in the body as a result of an external source such as touching an object or being touched or feeling the pressure of your own weight, etc., is labeled as “Feel Out”, and any sensations as a result of an internal source, such as a feeling of pressure in the chest due to anxiety, or feeling hot around your face as a result of anger, etc. will be labelled as “Feel In”. These will become clearer as we work with them.
We will begin with the restful state “See Rest”. This is usually available for most people with eyes closed, where you see a dark, gray, or light gray "screen" depending on lighting and other conditions.
Then we will move onto other sensory inputs. The concept of labeling will also be introduced. Labeling simply means naming the sensory pathway and the polarity of it, when we choose it to be the focal point of mindful awareness practice.
Want to read more?
This is just an executive summary of the practice. For more detailed descriptions, I highly recommend reading the article by Shinzen Young called "What is Mindfulness" here https://www.shinzen.org/resources/ , and if you're really intrigued you can proceed on to reading “See Hear Feel".
About the facilitator:
Arthur Montazeri has practiced and taught mindful meditation for the last 10 years, focusing mainly on a Mindfulness based approach. He is a trained facilitator by Shinzen Young whose system is currently being used in several research facilities around the world. Arthur is interested in a scientific approach to meditation and was part of a study conducted at Harvard medical school where brains of long-time meditators were studied in fMRI while applying different techniques.