Scramble the Image

December 9, 2014

A common habit when you focus on the body is to tense up at the spot where you’re focused—which may help maintain the focus for a while but it’s going to cause problems in the long term. It blocks the flow of the blood, makes you uncomfortable, makes it hard to stay.

So you’ve got to think about your focus in a new way. Instead of thinking that you’re outside the area, boxing it in, you’re inside the spot that you’re focused on. And you’re radiating relaxation out in every direction. Try to hold that perception in mind wherever you’re focused. As for any little patterns of tension that may come up, just see if you can breathe through them. Think of the breath as a solvent that dissolves them away.

Then keep watch. See what kind of breathing helps with this kind of focus. Breathing too heavily can be unpleasant; breathing too lightly can make it hard to stay focused, especially in the beginning. You find that as your ability to stay focused with a sense of relaxation gets more skillful, and that you’re more used to it, then you can stay there as the breath gets more and more subtle, more and more subtle, until it seems like it’s not coming in or going out at all. That’s perfectly fine. You’re not going to die. The body will breathe if it needs to. The fact that the mind is doing a lot less work means you’re using a lot less oxygen, so the need to breathe is reduced.

And if you ask where you’re going, you’re not going anywhere. You’re going to stay right here. You want to be in charge right here, established right here. Then just try to notice if anything comes up that’s going to dislodge you, that’s going to pull you away. Once you feel really established here, then you’re going to notice any movement of the mind that goes out in any direction. If you’re not yet well established, you’ll probably go with it. But as you get more and more used to being here—centered in this feeling of relaxation, this feeling of openness—there’ll come a point when you realize that you don’t have to go with the mind as it runs out. You can see it run out for a little ways and then it stops because you’re not running with it.

If you run with it, you can take it all around the world several times. But if you don’t run with it, it goes out just a little tiny way and then it stops. It’s like a flashlight beam that can go only so far. But if you’re carrying the flashlight and you want to see the end of the beam, you go running after it. That, of course, just keeps the beam going further and further and further away. But if you stay right here, it goes only so far and then it stops.

And you begin to notice that as thoughts form, they form right at the spot where the mind and the body seem to meet. In fact, it’s hard to say whether the original stirring is a mental stirring or a physical stirring. It’s an as-yet-uncommitted stirring right there in your awareness: a little knot, a little swiggle. If you slap a label of “physical” or “mental” on it, it’ll go in that direction. Before that happens, though, see if you can comb it out. It’s like a knot in your hair: You comb it out with the breath and with your powers of perception. You may begin to notice that there’s a word associated with that little knot or a little picture. And you can attack it either from the side of the breath or you can attack it from the side of being a picture or a word. Either way, scramble it.

You’ve probably seen images on a TV where things are going fine, it looks like a person talking on the TV screen, and all of a sudden everything gets scrambled into dots of color. Well, try that with every image that comes up in the mind, once you’re well established and there’s a sense of well-being inside, so that you can step back from the movements of the mind and just watch them as processes. Instead of thinking about how you’re going to gain some pleasure out of this thought or that perception, simply step back and see, “Oh, these are just processes in the mind. They come and they go. They form and then they disband.” See what happens if you speed up the disbanding a little bit by scrambling the image. Anywhere you tend to notice an image forming, scramble it before it even turns into anything that you could recognize. And see what happens.

Try not to lose your foundation here with the breath, or with the sense of the body. You’ll begin to notice that you have a greater sense of control over things going on in the mind. A thought forms and you don’t have to be subjected to whatever it’s going to be or going to do to you.

You also find, though, that there are some thoughts that you tend to like to follow, old video clips that could be either things that actually happened, or things that you would have liked to have happened, that you want to happen in the future, or just things that you find entertaining right now: things that the mind goes toward either because of lust or greed or anger or whatever. When you try to scramble those images, part of the mind will resist. It wants to protect them, saying, “Don’t touch these things. You can throw a lot of things out of the attic, but these things have to stay.” And if you listen to that voice, you never get down to, “Well, why are you so protective of that?” Go ahead and scramble the image. This is one way of digging up unknown attachments—or some old known attachments that you finally decide you’re going to take on. And see what the mind has to say. Whatever comes up—good, bad, indifferent, whatever—scramble it.

Some of the forest ajaans say that if you have an image of the body, think of having a knife that you can use to cut through all the tendons, all the connecting tissues. You could start out by going through the image piece by piece like that, as with the reflection on the parts of the body. But then say, “Okay, what are these parts of the body made of?” And you chop them up and atomize everything. See how the mind responds.

You want to do this when you’re in a relatively calm space, so you don’t immediately side with the hungers that go after the various images that you’ve used to entertain yourself. Some of them seem very deeply lodged, but if you make your stillness of mind deeper than that, then you can begin to understand, “The mind tends to entertain itself with these images, tends to play with them, but what does it get out of them? Nothing. Just these little images that it stitches together, reflections on the water that it tries to stitch into a story.”

Ajaan Lee says it’s like watching a movie. And there are two ways you can watch the movie. Either you can follow the story, and it looks like there really are people or events up there on the screen that you can recognize and you can make sense out of—and that can get you stirred up. Or you can decide, “I don’t need to make sense out of this. I just want to watch this as an exercise in flashes of color: red, yellow, orange, white, green, blue.”

And if the thought was indifferent, well, fine, you just make sure that that hasn’t kidnapped your concentration. If it’s not so indifferent, if there’s more of an emotional pull to that particular image, then it’s even more important that you learn how to scramble it. After all, that’s how you dig out the mind’s ideas about why it needs to protect those things. You can expose them to the light of your awareness, the light of your alertness.

This is one of the ways in which discernment, strengthened by concentration, digs down into things and finds the root causes. Once you can see that there’s really nothing there in terms of the root cause—in other words, nothing you’d really want to follow when you come right down to it—that’s when you can begin to free yourself from the stress and suffering that can come from your fascination with these things.