Dr. Charles T. Tart, Mindfulness, Institute of Transpersonal Psychology,
Lecture 2, Part 6 of 15 parts. To start class from beginning, click here.
Student: I had two things that I was wondering about. The first one is, when I was watching my breath at one time, it was like I could see inside my breath. I could see or experience emotions from that part; emotions, like stray emotions, which were like reminiscent emotions. So it was like a hallucination. There was something wrong with that because when I was looking at my breath, it was in the breath. So I was focused on my breath, but I was experiencing things that weren’t there.
CTT: Was the experience of these emotions a body experience, an image; a mental-visual imagined experience?
Student: [This paragraph seems to set up the discussion of emotions, but very difficult to understand, so just fragments presented here] It was like; it was like if; like a _____ being like; like it was like being _________ and have the feeling of because the air was cold and it reminded me of the ________. And so as I was feeling the coldness in my nose, it was as if; it reminded me of that feeling of being in the ________. And so I as focusing on; on the breath and it was taking me back to being in that state that I was in in the past.
CTT: Did you stay in touch with the breath?
CTT: Then you were doing well. It’s not like if you focus on the breath, all of the rest of the stuff automatically stops.
CTT: You know we’ve all had 20, 30, 40, 50 years of that stuff going on and on and on. It’s not going to stop just like that. And in fact, while some meditators will talk about that kind of activity stopping, others will say it never really quite stops, it just becomes less important and doesn’t take you away all the time.
CTT: I saw it expressed somewhere recently as some people want to become spiritual because they don’t like their emotional life. So they think somehow, “I’m going to get so focused that I’ll never have an emotion again.”
It’s very appealing if your emotions are really bad for you. You can do something like that.
Have any of you ever read John Lilly’s book, The Center of the Cyclone, his autobiographical book? Do you know who John Lilly was? Anybody who doesn’t know who John Lilly was? (Hardly any hands go up) Oh dear.
This is like about 15, 20 years ago. I was lecturing in my altered states of consciousness class up at Davis and an older woman student asked me about Timothy Leary’s theories about the way the mind works and what I thought of such and such a theory of his. I responded to her and then this sweet young lady raised her hand and said, “Who’s Timothy Leary?” (Laughter) I felt so old. (Laughter) I’m not even going to ask if anybody knows who Timothy Leary was, okay? (Laughter)
John Lilly was a neuroscientist who got involved in the consciousness movement, especially heavily involved in flotation tanks. He’s the one who really pushed the floating in water thing, and started the flotation tank boom combined with psychedelic drugs, and he got way out there. He’s one of the few people who could kid me terribly and make me feel so square. Anyway, he’s dead now so I don’t have to worry about being kidded anymore… <g>
In his autobiography, he told of some very traumatic experiences as a kid when his brother got killed and he spent, I don’t know, three days in a closet crying, or something like that. At the end of that time, he resolved that he was never going to feel anything again. That no way was that kind of suffering ever going to come into his life, and he was successful at that for the next 20, 30 years of his life.
You can learn to focus in a way to keep yourself under control, and you can really keep emotions pretty much out of consciousness. I think people who do that eventually realize that they pay a terrible price for that kind of suppression. That’s the same kind of reason that, in Buddhism for instance, they’ll say the concentrative meditation can take you a long, long way into very profound altered states of tremendous peace, absolutely no suffering, but they haven’t changed you fundamentally. And when something comes along that’s going to stir those things up again, you’re basically not much changed.
You can ignore a threat by keeping your eyes closed, but that often is not a terribly good way to deal with a threat. It requires your attention and some positive action on your part. That’s why the Buddha invented what we translate as Vipassana meditation or as insight meditation, to try to really understand yourself, not simply concentrate.
You could take concentrative meditation and really just push it as control, control, control and get very, very tight about it and there will certainly be some rewards for that. You know, your spouse dies, you stay aware of your breath. Don’t let things bug you. But somehow, something pretty profound hasn’t been dealt with. So maybe we should take this conversation into Vipassana meditation, unless there are other people who’ve been having trouble with the concentrative meditation that I can say something about.