Asking about who and where the 'I' really is…

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  moln1 2 years, 10 months ago.

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    Hi again,
    While I am having a period of standstill in my formal practice, and am trying to find some skilful means of navigating through this territory I would be very grateful if someone has any input on this topic.
    I have always been very strict about adhering to a practice and not dabble with other techniques, so as to not start skipping around to fast as soon as something felt uncomfortable or so.
    But I guess my current difficulties pushed me to try something different. I have begun asking myself questions along the line of “who is aware of this?”, “who perceives this?”, and similar questions, throughout the day.

    Spoiler warning:
    These questions to me give me (funny to talk about a “me” here) a perception of not being able to find that me/point of convergence where sensations end up. It seems as if all sensations are there by themselves.

    My question: Is this a skillful exercise, or am I setting myself up for problems later on?

    (Sensations also seem to be perceived more clearly when doing this, at times)


    Hi, so just some clarification. When you say you’ve always been strict about adhering to a practice and not dabbling, are you saying you’ve been following the 10 stages practice as outlined in TMI? Also, when you say “current difficulties” are they in relationship to the 10 stages or something else? Also, when you say “setting myself up for problems later on”, what kind of problems? That information might help answer the question of whether it’s an appropriate practice or not.

    be well




    Hi, Matthew and thanks for offering to help!

    Regarding “always” – using absolutes to quantify frequencies of actions is always tricky 🙂 What I mean is that although I have changed meditation technique a couple of times throughout my life, I have been fairly consistent in sticking to that technique for those dedicated years. Now my intention till recently was to follow the book and not mix any other stuff in (practicewise, that is).

    The current difficulties are related to my meditation. I actually had a very stressful 1.5 years before mastering stage three, and have had a much less stressful time almost coinciding with beginning stage four practice. Which sort of surprised me as I thought that the other events in my life and stress would have made things difficult.
    Anyhow, in stage four, I have had this fuzziness, which I realize now must be strong dullness (at first I didn’t think it was reminiscent of anything leading to falling asleep, so I was unsure). And I try the antidotes, and even standing up, my mind just wanders off into some kind of dullness. I got the advice to perhaps try more physical forms, such as walking and perhaps adding some yoga. I think this is very sound advice, and am experimenting with it now. I believe, that walking meditation is very powerful, and hope that apart from perhaps insights, I can translate the practice into advancement along the 10 stage model.

    Regarding future problems, I never wanted to mix in any such exercises as for instance “trying to find the I who is perceiving”, or “asking myself WHO this I really is” out of fear that this could lead to some kind of intellectualizing posing as insight. I believe Mara is quite gifted at stopping us from gaining wisdom :).

    With much appreciation and the hope that this might be helpful to someone else as well.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 10 months ago by  moln1.


    Hi again,
    An additional question. When I do formal meditation I tend to follow the sensations of the breath “in real-time”, i.e. I follow them and notice lots of changes as they occur, but there is very little cognitive processing. For instance, almost nothing seems to be committed to memory. If I ask of myself if that last breath was long or short, I haven’t got much of an idea. But if I intend to “follow” the breath, I know. But then for instance I don’t know the length of the pauses. I have to intend to investigate the length of the pauses to know that.

    So most of my meditation sessions, at least when I didn’t have the troubles I described earlier (where my mind seems to zone out), attention has been on the breath closely, but I could not tell you what was going on.

    Does this sound like meditation according to the instructions?
    Thanks again!

    May all beings be free from suffering soon!


    Kurt S

    Hi moln1,

    I’m not a teacher, but maybe some of what I have to say will be helpful. It’s been a while since I’ve read the book so my terminology may not match up exactly with what’s in there.

    Two things immediately come to mind regarding your comments about not committing anything to memory. The first is that you may be experiencing dullness which is leading to the forgetfulness. The book has a lot of useful advice for getting through dullness, but also it’s something that in my experience takes time and practice to overcome.

    The second thing that comes to mind is the difference between focus and awareness (these may not be the exact words in the book). In my experience, the more narrow your attention is focused the more limited your awareness becomes, and the more you open your awareness the less focused your attention is. There have been times where I couldn’t tell if I was experiencing an inhale or an exhale due to the level of focus on individual vibrations of air through my nostrils.

    However, to me that seems a bit different than not remembering things so I’m more inclined to think that dullness is a factor here.

    As far as your original question regarding whether its okay to contemplate the nature of self, many people find exercises like that useful. Sometimes in my experience, like you mentioned, it seems to give a burst of concentration which can help with dullness.

    There’s an old koan in Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind that goes:

    Zuikan was a Zen master who always used to address himself. “Zuikan? ” he would call. And then he would answer. “Yes! ” “Zuikan? ” “Yes! ” Of course he was living all alone in his small zendo, and of course he knew who he was, but sometimes he lost himself. And whenever he lost himself, he would address himself, “Zuikan? ” “Yes! ”

    Hopefully some of this is useful to you.



    Let’s start with what you describe as fuzziness/dullness. My guess is this dullness is a defense against some sort of difficult material trying to emerge – in other words a purification. This hypothesis stems from the fact that you’re at Stage Four, which is usually when such purifications begin to emerge (see the book). Also because you’ve described a recently stressful 1.5 years. So it’s very possible that one part of the mind is trying to bring up some difficult material whereas another part is defending against it by dulling out. My suggestion: simply invite whatever is there trying to surface to surface. Of course don’t force it, and don’t create an expectation, just a simple, open invitation that if something wants to emerge you’ll let it. If nothing comes up, no problem. It might be helpful to also review Stage Four and the section on difficult material.

    In terms of mixing practices, recall that the Stages do not require you to cast aside other practices. In fact, what you’re doing by practicing the stages is training the mind in attentional stability and powerful mindfulness so that the mind becomes a wieldy instrument that can engage in any practice with greater power and clarity. Thus, while it’s good to stick to a single practice and it’s good to train the mind systematically, I see no problem in setting aside time to include other practices such as “who/what is this.” What you’d do is simply set aside a time to intentionally practice this technique. Setting the intention to do this practice is the key. What would be problematic would be setting the intention to work with the breath and then, if for some reason you felt that wasn’t going well, you’d spontaneously shift to doing some other practice.

    In any case, I would suggest moving through the preparations to practice and the transition to the breath, and then let the breath fall into the background awareness and bring your attention to the question, “what is this?” while keeping your awareness open. Notice that you’re still doing the same type of mental training only now the meditation object has become the question rather than the breath. And remember, when doing this particular insight practice no matter what answer the mind produces, no matter how seductive or seemingly brilliant, you keep asking this question, never satisfied with any answer the mind generates.

    Hope this helps



    Hi Kurt!
    I believe you’re right about the dullness!
    Regarding the memory bit, I guess it’s more like I am attentive of the sensations of the breath and miss out on the whole concept of “a breath”. More like you speak about the focus. If I don’t intend to know the length of the breath, I know every sensation. But I am not sure that I, should you interrupt me, could answer a question of “ok, what was the last sensation you noticed?”. Maybe, but I would have to try hard to remember it even though I was there, knowing it in the moment.
    Don’t know if that makes sense…

    Thank you for the Koan! I will continue investigating the “I” 🙂



    Hi Matthew,
    Initially I thought I had to wait for a certain sense of overwhelming emotion to view it as something connected to purification. BUT I have tried something a couple of times the last couple of times doing formal meditation. It seems to me that the dullness or fuzziness I experience is connected to pressure in my forehead and around the eyes, like the kinesthetic manifestation of fatigue.
    In the beginning I tried ignoring it. But then I started thinking that why shouldn’t I investigate this?
    When I have tried to, every time it seems as the pressure begins lifting after a while, and I get in touch with a sadness. So I’ve tried just opening up to it. But maybe I am still preventing myself from letting this sadness loose fully.

    So this resonates pretty much with what you wrote. But I guess I won’t know until I continue investigating!

    Thank you also for fantastic input on how to practice with the question.


    Kurt S

    I’d also recommend to not really read too much into your experiences and sensations during meditation. There is a strong desire to search for deeper meaning, to find patterns that we can read into, etc. Simply meditate and let whatever happens, happen.



    Thanks Kurt!
    That is great advice.
    It seems to me as a balance between not over-analyzing and trying to assess signs of stages.

    In a sense I was more relaxed when I didn’t know about any stages, but then again, I believe the fact that I actually could progress towards nibbana in this lifetime was not as clear to me at that time.



    As I’ve gotten deeper into my practice, I also note questions when I’m not in a formal sit like “Who is aware of this?” And “Who sees this?”. They naturally arose when my teacher (Culadasa teacher in training) let us know about the interconnectedNess of all life and “no self”.
    Fortunately, I saw a movie called “”What the Bleep do we know?” Many years ago, and understood that physicists are asking the same questions. I trained in cognitive neuroscience many years ago as an undergrad, and never lost my interest in science. Many physicists are connecting spirituality with physics and that reassures me that it’s not just all woo woo. To answer that question for yourself may take some time. Good questions to ask! I honestly can’t articulate my response. I will tell you that as a scientist there is more and more evidence that all life is connected. And that the life force in me perceives through the senses and in meditative experiences, both on and off the cushion, an “interconnected ness.

    Walking meditation is a practice I now do each day, outside, before my formal stationery meditation. It seems to wake up the part of me that perceives interconnected ness and prepares me more for the patience to be stationery. I do some yoga after the walk.
    I hope this is readable. Typing on a tiny phone and can’t see the words as they type.
    I am only following Culadasa’s teachings in “The Mind Illuminated”



    Hi maryhill!
    Yes, I totally agree with you regarding the connections between science and buddhism.
    Sounds like good practice.
    Thank you so much!

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