Thoughts, unifying mind, joy & tranquillity

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This topic contains 3 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Lesley Baker 7 years, 6 months ago.

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    Lesley Baker

    In my practice, mostly self led with the help of listening to Dharma Treasure talks nearly daily, I often come to a place where I need guidance. I live in England and have no Sangha to go to. I also hold a weekly meditation group which focuses more on meditation than Dharma although sometimes it is hard for me not to include both.
    My question is a personal practice question :
    When I reach the state where I seem to pass into the space between thoughts which appears to be ever expanding until a thought limits it, I have a sense of interconnectedness and ‘tranquility’. I have heard Upasaka Culadasa talk of ‘joy’ from unifying the mind being connected to energy. Where are these states linked? When the mind is unified, has it become silent in non conceptual thinking as in the spaces I experience in between thoughts.


    Jesse Fallon

    Hi again Lesley,

    These are great questions, but I think a little beyond me. I’ll let someone else take a stab at them, and if no one does, then I can ask around for someone to. I’m interested to hear the discussion though.

    Thanks for asking!



    Hi Lesley,

    It’s true that a unified mind can produce the spacious and tranquil state of which you speak. When all the different parts of the mind are unified around the intention to focus on the meditation object, they no longer compete for conscious attention to the breath by projecting their own material into consciousness to distract you. The result is a subjective experience of spaciousness, peace, and interconnectivity.

    That said, and as you note, unification of mind is also characterized by the presence of great energy. The experience is often described as one of “exuberance,” “zest,” “elation,” etc. Various physical phenomena and autonomic reactions may also be attendant, such as involuntary hand tremors or salivation, a feeling of “energy currents” flowing through the body, a feeling of weightlessness, seeing light behind your closed eyelids, etc.

    Nobody really knows what’s going on with the brain and nervous system when you experience these (though we have some tentative ideas :-). In general, however, it’s thought that they are the product of the release of mental energy that was previously tied up in other unconscious mental processes. In other words, when your mind grows unified, the parts of the mind that would have produced lots of distractions in the past are now instead participating in the meditation, and the energy that would have gone into producing distractions instead becomes available to the mind as a whole. Finally, as unification matures, the mind becomes a more receptive vehicle for holding all this excess energy. The result is that your subjective experience grows more tranquil, placid, and deliciously cool. The initial arising of energy is like orgasm. This more mature state of unification is like post-orgasmic contentment.

    Now, it is possible to experience the kind of spaciousness you’re describing for other reasons besides strong unification of mind. In particular, it may be due to subtle dullness – and there’s nothing wrong with that in the slightest, as long as you realize what’s going on and take steps in your practice to correct it. In fact, subtle dullness is a sign of progress. It indicates that the mind is settling down. So, the question that we all as practitioners have to ask ourselves is this: is what I’m experiencing due to subtle dullness, or unification of mind?

    If it’s subtle dullness, the state will probably feel something like this: 1.) Over the past several weeks or months (if practicing in daily life), you won’t have gone through the process of arising and calming of energy that I described above. 2.) You may not be able stabilize your attention perfectly on the meditation object; thoughts may displace the object in your attention from time to time. 3.) It will feel very pleasant and peaceful, but also “warm and fuzzy,” to use an analogy – a little bit as if you were resting on a lounge chair by the pool on a beautiful day. 4.) You won’t necessarily feel “dull” per se.

    If it’s due to unification, expect to see: 1.) The ability to perfectly stabilize attention. 2.) You’re far more aware of what’s going on in your mind than you would normally be at your “base line level” in daily life. 3.) A feeling of great clarity, and a quality of refreshment. 4.) Any, or more, or less, of the energetic phenomena I described. 5.) Fully developed meditative joy also often comes with physical pliancy, allowing you to sit for hours at a time without any discomfort whatsoever. The body will feel goooood.

    The Takeaway:

    So, if you conclude you’re experiencing subtle dullness, you’ll need to apply the antidotes Culadasa discusses to cure yourself of the tendency to go into dullness (I won’t delve into the specifics of how to do that here; you can find it easily enough in the DT archives, and Culadasa’s book is coming out around August). If you conclude you’re experiencing the unification of the upper Stages, then there’s one more thing it’s extremely important to understand, and that is the nature of unification.

    Unification of mind isn’t about some special state of expansiveness that can be limited by distracting thoughts, or sounds, or dullness, etc. Unification of mind simply means that the various parts of the mind are unified around some intention. Your mind can, for instance, be unified around a sexual fantasy, or the intention to harm someone. So too can it be unified around the intention to attend to the breath while remaining mindfully aware of the mind’s activities. The result of that will be a state of meditative joy and expansiveness. But, most significantly, your mind can also be unified while investigating the nature of its own experience through various insight practices. (And attending to the breath, while mindfully observing the mind via awareness, is also technically an insight practice because you’re watching the mind.) In other words, the intention the mind may be unified around can be the intention to investigate, examine, and observe.

    The true utility of a unified mind – and the reason we cultivate it through concentration practice – is that a unified mind is the ideal instrument for achieving transformative insight. A mind that’s unified will participate fully in the insight process, and will be fully receptive to digesting those insights. That way, when an insight experience arises in meditation, the various parts of the mind won’t be too busy with their own individual agendas to notice what’s going on in consciousness. The insight can sink deep and produce lasting changes.

    I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any questions, or if any of what I said wasn’t clear. I hope you’re able to find a sangha. I don’t know where I would be without mine.



    Lesley Baker

    Thank you very much for all your guidance. I understand your words and relate to both scenarios. Post your reply I fell down that metaphoric hole again and wondered why I still did. Then an ‘insight ‘ maybe ! Life gave me and I am guessing others very little training in having feelings. They were not voiced, not heard, not permitted, not cared about etc and the lack of acceptance and care for my feelings still continues. I care but don’t really know how to deal with them . Feelings are a bigger hurdle than thoughts. So I am sitting entirely with feelings. If a thought arises, I go to it’s feeling. Body feelings, breath feelings and the feelings of my mind moving but not thoughts. Today read in ANTONIO Damasio’s great book The Feeling of what Happens, body, emotion and the making of consciousness, that he also sees the feeling mind giving rise to all other perceptions and mental formations.
    From sitting with feelings and not thoughts I am able to reach the feeling of an awake unifying mind more readily and seem to be able to see mind unfolding more clearly.
    Thank you for help already given and future help

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