Conversation with Apech (Dao Bums)

Apech: I was trying to remember about some research on the pulse in the cerebral fluid which I think you know about. Do you remember this?

MF: http://www.shareguide.com/Upledger.html–that’s John Upledger explaining cranial-sacral osteopathy in laymen’s terms.

Apech: I have of late been having interesting sensations at the top of my head which feel like pulsing and give the image of an underwater creature like a jelly fish. I was thinking about that cerebral pulse thing and wondering if my practice was having some affect on my head skull. It’s really helpful to read that article again.

MF: You probably know that the medicos would panic to hear you say that you have a pulsing at the top of your head: https://www.healthtap.com/topics/what-causes-pulsating-in-the-head

God, there’s even a thread about it on Dao Bums: http://www.thedaobums.com/topic/30853-pulsing-at-the-top-of-my-head/

Apech: I wasn’t seeing the pulse as a problem – in fact its mildly pleasant – so I’ll keep away from the medics!

I’ll have to read that thread as well.

MF: I would think based on my own experience that the sensation at the top of your head is happening in conjunction with the regular cessation of habitual activity in the movement of breath, and that same cessation will bring the mind to one place or another over time to round out the involuntary activity connected with the sensation.

Apech: I’m not quite sure what you mean by the ‘cessation of the habitual activity in the movement of the breath’ – can you explain that a little?

MF: A lot of the time, the things we do by intention with our bodies dictate the movement of breath. However, we are equally dependent on relaxation that allows the movement of breath to dictate the activity of the body, in whatever posture we find ourselves.

Gautama described the cessation of habitual activity as gradual, occurring first with respect to speech, then with regard to inhalation and exhalation, and finally with regard to perception and sensation. He described successive states of concentration, wherein he said these cessations occur.

The most useful description to me went something like this:

First state, dis-ease ceases. I settle into the stretch of whatever posture I’m in, and the activity of the posture or carriage follows automatically.

Second state, unhappiness ceases. Oddly, the exercise of the senses whose coordination produces the sense of self seems for me to result in a cessation of unhappiness.

Olaf Blanke is a Swiss neuro-biologist studying out-of-body experience, and his hypothesis is that it’s the vestibular organs (sense of equalibrium), otolithic organs (sense of gravity), proprioceptors (sense of placement and motion in the muscles, joints, and ligament), and eyes that coordinate to provide the sense of self. According to his hypothesis, when these organs don’t coordinate properly, some kind of out-of-body experience takes place.

I think the cessation of unhappiness I experience corresponds with the role of these senses in sustaining pressure in the “fluid ball” of the abdomen (per D. L. Bartilink: http://www.zenmudra.com/zenmudra-best-of-ways.html) and the ability of the “fluid ball” to support the posture or carriage of the body in the movement of breath.

Third state, ease apart from equanimity ceases. I wrote the following about this (http://www.zenmudra.com/zenmudra-shikantaza-Gautama-way-of-living.html):

The cessation of ‘ease apart from equanimity’ that marks the third meditative state points to a strenuousness of the posture. Involuntary reciprocal activity in the muscles associated with the major ligaments of the body, such as those that connect the sacrum to the pelvis and the pelvis to the hips, only comes about because the ligaments and fascia are stretched to a point where they themselves generate the impulses necessary to contract the muscles for their resile. The induction of reciprocal, ongoing involuntary activity in the major muscle groups requires stretch that remains on the border of the generation of such impulses in the associated ligaments and fascia. Because of the need for resile that is felt at the level of stretch necessary to the third meditative state, ease does not exist apart from equanimity.

Fourth state, happiness apart from equanimity ceases, and habitual activity in inhalation and exhalation ceases. In the same essay that included the quote above, I wrote this:

As to the cessation of happiness apart from a purified equanimity: I can say that for me, at some point only an acuity in the distinction of sense allows of happiness, yet at such a point there is no experience of sense that does not permit of happiness.

Here’s the latest post in my blog, which really summarizes my approach to states of concentration:

In the Pali teachings, there’s a distinction between consciousness and the mind: consciousness is said to arise from contact between a sense organ and sense object, while the mind is simply considered to be one of the sense organs. Consciousness, said Gautama, is followed by impact and then by feeling, with regard to each of the six senses.

The senses fundamental to the experience of self were not a part of the vocabulary of Gautama’s day, except for the eyes. Sometimes I think that is why he made such a distinction between the mind and consciousness, and why dependent causation begins with ignorance: the senses most involved in the experience of the lack of any abiding self in the activity of breath (and in the activity of perception and sensation) were not known to him by name.

Nevertheless, the descriptions he gave of the feelings associated with the initial states of concentration correspond exactly with these senses; for example, with regard to the first of the initial states:

…(one) steeps and drenches and suffuses this body with a zest and ease, born of solitude, so that there is not one particle of the body that is not pervaded by this lone-born zest and ease. …as a handy bathman or attendant might strew bath-powder in some copper basin and, gradually sprinkling water, knead it together so that the bath-ball gathered up the moisture, became enveloped in moisture and saturated both in and out, but did not ooze moisture; even so (one) steeps, drenches, fills and suffuses this body with zest and ease, born of solitude, so that there is not one particle of the body that is not pervaded by this lone-born zest and ease.

Emphasis here is on equalibrioception (the ‘bath-ball’), and a combination of proprioception and graviception (‘… steeps, drenches, fills, and suffuses… so that there is not one particle of the body that is not pervaded…’). In the experience of these senses, feelings similar to those Gautama described can be found, but it’s the familiarity with these senses rather than any particular modality of feeling that allows for the cessation of habitual activity in connection with breath.

How’s that.

(Apech: thanks.)

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