I have just decided to reconnect with this blog! I think I needed some ‘time-out’ and now that I am about to begin a self-enquiry research project on the process of deepening and stabilizing mindfulness I thought this would be good timing…
You will no doubt notice typos and errors, I don’t intend this blog to be a highly edited piece, otherwise it would never get done, so I apologize in advance if this irritates you.. as an ex English teacher I can understand that!
You will see I have returned to some familiar themes but hopefully I am revisiting them in the light of recent further developments!
I have decided to do this research because I find that many studies in mindfulness don’t necessary communicate a sense of what the experience actually is, and how it can deepen so significantly when we realise that the practice of being mindful of our thoughts, emotions and perceptions is really just the beginning.
Of late I have found that something different has begun to happen. For Franklin Wolff this is a ‘Copernican shift’ and for Wolinksy it is a ‘quantum jump’. It seems that with each new level of understanding a level of limitation is removed. Stephen Wolinksy (Quantum Psychology) sees that there are at least 7 levels or stepping stones ( think he would have way more now though.
In this level once we begin to appreciate we are not our thoughts, feelings and emotions but rather an observing presence. At this stage a process of disidentification gradually begins to occur that ideally provides a gradual bridge to the next level.
Interestingly though Wolinksky sees that many people remain ‘stuck’ at this level for many years and there is a danger that mindfulness practice can entrench a sense of the individual identity rather than deconstruct it, since people can become quite hyper-vigilant as to their self-monitoring of thoughts and emotions etc and can become caught up with an identity around mindfulness, being a ‘good’ meditator etc , doing the ‘right’ practices and trying to improve ourselves,think positive thoughts and perform good works. Sometimes it can also reinforce that other meaning of mindfulness ..’be mindful of your manners’ which has a moral connotation.
At this level there is still very much an ‘I’, a person who is meditating, witnessing, observing etc. This is interesting to me because the importation of mindfulness into interventions designed to increase wellbeing, reduce stress and rumination etc do seem linked with improving individual self building self-esteem, self-regulation, resilience etc . What if all this focus on what Wolinksy calls the false self is actually strengthening it? Also if we think about children’s participation in mindfulness activities we might want to consider when it is that they attain the developmental capacity to witness and observe. Perhaps it is possible to do this earlier and earlier but what are the ramifications of that further down the track?
I think for me the penultimate experience of being a witness occurred during a near death experience at 12 years of age when I observed my body on the beach having almost drowned and ‘I’ knew I was not it. It has taken over 40 years to understand and process this experience….
In this level Wolinksy says we start to realise that everything (thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, associations) is made of energy. This level allows us to remove the labels that categories different facets of experience as being different, with helps to diffuse or neutralise the charge of whatever experience we are observing. It also helps to remove guilt and shame through seeing some emotions as positive and some as negative so builds a sense of peace and acceptance.
Aspects of this occurred for me when I was doing training in Melbourne-(Psychinergy) in the 1980s and we experienced the energies of different emotions and how to work with them on ourselves and our fellow students. its taken a very long time though for me to be comfortable with certain emotions… a difference between meditating at home and holding that space and managing to hold it in the world.
Wolinksy draws here in a really interesting way on the work of physicist Heisenberg and his notion that the observer creates and influences what he or she observes. He writes that in Buddhist teachings emphasis is placed solely on the person doing the witnessing with no mention of the observer-created reality. The importance of this level is that it empowers us beyond the passive position of witness to the active position of creator. It is not simply about cognitively changing our thoughts to move positive ones, it has a much more creative source.
I am not sure I encountered this idea until I read about the Uncertainty Principle in the late 80s – it instantly made sense to me philosophically but I was concerned about how the idea was being manipulated by new age workshop leaders who promoted it as a simplistic cognitive process.
I think I experienced this level very consciously when I had my still-born baby and I experienced two kinds of alternating consciousness: emotional/depressed/dual and expanded/connected/non dual and I saw that how I saw the situation was very different depending on my state of consciousness. Both involved emptiness but one state was lacking and one very full. I now see this through the lens of Wolinsky’s work that the unhappy state was the false self based in a core belief that something in me was lacking, while the expanded state was the state described below in level 7.
Level 4 & 5
Wolinksky discusses both of these levels together. He says at level 4 we learn more about the time aspect of our universe and that time is a concept created by us. At level 5 we move through the spaces that is ever-present and come in contact with the changeless nature of space, and emptiness.
At this level we begin to move into a new (ancient) realm of primal essence and our practice and experience begins to significantly deepen. I first encountered this way of thinking about time intellectually through the work of feminist Julia Kristeva and her idea of linear and monumental time.. she saw these as masculine and feminine respectively. It wasn’t until many years later after the stillbirth and through working with Barry Long that I began to understand this experience of the void consciously.
At level 6 we see that behind apparent differences in our world there lies an experience of underlying unity in which boundaries are observer created. It’s not just the intellectualised new age notion that ‘we are all one’ its the actual experience of a world far the confines of our usual judging and evaluative consciousness where everything interpenetrates everything else, following the physicist David Bohm. This really is ‘going with the flow’. We see that everything overlaps and our individual identities are not so separate after als such that for example Edward’s energy overlaps Lucy’s energy .
At level 7 we realise that everything in the universe is made out of the same substance, something Einstein intuited when he observed that ‘everything is made of emptiness and form is condensed emptiness’.At this level we realise that not only does everything overlap as in level 6 but that it is actually made of the same material and there is a ‘pure, unbroken isness’.Its a wonderful liberation from separated individual selfhood and its anxieties but of course it really challenges the notion of individual boundaries in personal and professional life.
The substance we become aware of at level 7 is energetically real, and was there before we became connected to an identity. To me this substance feels ‘silky’ somehow. I have seen others refer to it as ambrosia, nectar, a golden fluid and the water of life. It feels as if the whole universe is made up of this substance which brings with it an immense feeling of wellbeing, even joy.
Wolinksy describes this as a ‘no state’ state, something like the no-self in Buddhism. He sees though that the false self needs to be gradually dismantled if the no-self state is to be stabilised and held for those of us living in the west and experienced western upbringings which focus so much on the creation and development of an individual self.
I have strongly felt this consciousness when I have visited Asian countries (where it seems so much easier to move into a meditative state even amongst outer chaos. and when all my children were babies. It was as if this silkiness filled the room they slept in. We somehow recognise this feeling because we have experienced it but not consciously. We ‘lost’ the connection when we became linked with our new identity as ‘I’, with a name, identity, relationships etc and we are forever searching for this substantial connection thinking it needs to be provided by a partner or spiritual teacher or…. We think it is outside ourselves but really it is within. We have spent so much time focusing on our ‘I’ our self, improving it, strengthening it through this identification we don’t realise this depth of connection, in fact sameness with the universe was always already there.
I can now see that my early memory of being seemingly dragged out of this state at 3 years old to have my photo taken led to me being forever it seems angry with my mother for doing this to me. When actually this simply was the site of my awakening to individual consciousness and thus the beginning of my belief that the cause of my feelings of separation were outside me.
I have found Wolinsky’s description of the 7 levels entirely liberating and it has precipitated a major shift into an experience of inner freedom and a gradual dismantling of my problematic self with all its conditioned habits and fixities- and belief that there was someone to blame and something to search for.
It must have been the right timing as I have read about these ideas before but I guess we only understand them at a deep level when move ‘up’ a stage. That’s why its tricky to use past teachings – from any spiritual tradition to justify present actions, there is a risk we are relying on faith rather than realisation.
Of course any model needs to be held lightly and is grown out of but I have found Wolinksy’s one (and he has moved on and says he ‘ teach Quantum Psychology anymore so I have plenty of ‘work’ ahead of me!!!) particularly useful in highlighting the beginning stages of mindfulness and where it can lead us. Of course it’s not really a linear model as my reflections show, we can have tastes of the ‘higher’ levels and then slide back down the snakes again as in the old game of snakes and ladders!
I feel the challenge for me now is to stabilise the state as much as I can. Like Wolinksy many years ago I feel I go in and out of this state. I am aware that I move out of it and resume creating fusing with and becoming the experience of my thoughts and feelings,creating my own reality! However the unbroken state of wholeness does become increasingly easy to re-enter.
As Wolinksy (2000) put it:
Although I would pop out of it as often as I popped into it the unity consciousness became an – ever present knowingness or presence that brought tremendous peace to whatever endeavour I was engaged in.
It certainly takes practice until it’s stabilised!
Great to be back blogging again!
Love to hear any responses of course.