First Fruits of Sensing, Looking and Listening

Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,

Lecture 3, Part 8 of 13 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.

Now I’d like to get some reports from people on what their experience is in doing this sensing, looking and listening (SLL). Particularly report, as usual, if you’re having any difficulties, so I can fine tune the procedure for you.

When you talk to me while we practice this, when you talk to all of us, you might try talking a little slower than usual so you can keep sensing, looking, and listening while you talk. And that takes concentration to do, but it can be done, especially in this group setting.

Student: It seems like there’s some effort but the effort is because I’m trying, but I don’t really need to try to do it. So I’m struggling, but it’s not necessary to struggle.

CTT: Ah. That’s a very interesting observation. Yeah. There’s a funny sense in which this takes energy, but on the other hand when you’re doing this, you’re not wasting a lot of your energy in your usual yackity, yackity yackity up in your head. And you stayed with it pretty well while you were talking about it. That was good.

Student: Once, I was able to do it at the beginning, then I would fall asleep. And when I would miss a step of yours, I would kind of fade in and fade out.

CTT: Do you mean fall asleep in the ordinary (makes snoring sound) sense, or fall asleep in the Gurdjieffian sense?

Student: Probably in the snoring sense.

CTT: You can do the priming exercise with your eyes open if you are very sleepy. You can do it standing up. It’s a little harder to fall asleep when you’re standing up…. although it can be done. ;-(

Student: I noticed when I was focusing on more than one part of my body and the senses, and then when you asked us to split that awareness of both, there was this ever so mild little bit of anxiety, which was odd. Just sort of suddenly both instead of one. I don’t know what that was, but I was very aware that I had that.

CTT: And now?

Student: Now I’m just taking in the world with a child’s eyes, with sharpness, newness. And I can’t quite stop being shifty eyed.

CTT: That’s good!

Student: Yeah.

CTT: The shifty eyed strategy even applies in talking to me. You don’t have to be polite to the professor. Shift in and out of looking at my face. That’s good! Welcome to the present!

Student: I find it takes a lot more of my effort to constantly keep shifting my vision around. I’m not used to it. I have an inclination to stop one place and sort of tune out and jump back inside my head. But continuing to move my eyes around forces me to be aware of outside a little more than inside I guess.

CTT: The eye movement is important. There really is something hypnotic, in the negative sense of the term, about letting your eyes rest too long on any one thing.

Student: I found when you asked us to focus on sound, that the sound became amplified to the point where it was incredibly loud for me. And when you asked us to open our eyes, I opened, but I shut because there was too much information.

CTT: How about now?

Student: It’s a little better.

CTT: A lot of information out here. I’m always reminded of Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality poem when people talk about being present this way. The first stanza is:

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream

The earth and every common sight to me did seem

Appareled in celestial light,

The glory and the freshness of a dream.

Then he switches to “normal” adult perspective in the second stanza:

It is not now, as it hath been of yore,

Turn wheresoere I may, by night or day,

The light which I have seen, I now can see no more.

We’re too busy to be present to reality, to important, too “normal.” ;-(

Now if you feel overwhelmed by this SLL exercise at any time, you can scale it back. You can experiment with the right way to scale it back for you. Sometimes closing your eyes for a few seconds, kind of refocusing on your body will help. Or just kind of wiggling your arms and legs for a minute to increase the sensations in them to help you anchor in the present moment. Or taking a deep breath….

If you find it hard to keep track of the sensations in both arms and legs and listen and look, you could scale it back to just keeping track of your legs or, in the most extreme instance, one hand, or something like that. But keep some part of attention following body sensations, because that’s an important anchor in the here and now.

What else are people experiencing?

Student: I find that it’s really difficult to listen and pay attention to my body at the same time. And that whenever I listen, my body just sort of… I feel colder, or my body will jerk to get me to pay attention.

CTT: So is it like your body wants you to pay attention to it?

Student: Yeah, I think so. But then I can’t hear anything.

CTT: Good observation.

Student: So, well, I tune out the other noises except for your voice.

CTT: Yeah. Now I describe this process as simultaneously sensing, looking, and listening, and it can work that way. At least it seems simultaneous. Some people can give you a theoretical argument that we can’t really pay attention to three sensory streams at a time, but it can certainly feel like that.

But other people will experience it as rapid fluctuation between them. You can sort of listen more intensely for a moment, and then sense your body, and then look, or bounce back and forth in various ways that way. Whatever way works for you.

One comment

  1. I have to admit that I totally skipped out on doing this stuff last weekend. That is usually a bad idea, and truthfully I had a pretty rough weekend. Usually when I don’t meditate I end up feeling very badly about myself. In the past, just a few days without any meditation typically has resulted in a visit to my counselor where I beg him to refer me to someone who will treat my anomalous experiences as a pathological medical condition. He always refuses, but I still ask.

    For some reason, that didn’t happen this time. It should have. I had one hell of an anomalous weekend, the sort of experiences that could have led anyone to want a cure. But I didn’t want a cure. I just wanted things to work out.

    I think that realization has changed the experience of meditation for me. It isn’t something I have to do anymore. It can be just for fun, or to learn things about myself, or to make the colors louder… It can be for lots of things, but it doesn’t have to be just to be OK. I feel much more curious about what will happen during the process now. I had never really managed the equanimity thing very well before.

    The last couple days I’ve been doing these exercises and it has been pretty good. My only problem it that when my eyes are shut and I’m supposed to be focusing on the sensing part, sometimes I get distracted by the colored lights around things. I can sometimes see the colors even with my eyes closed, and they tend to get louder when I do these exercises. But at least I don’t feel like crying when I see them anymore.

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