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Meta-Awareness, Modes of Perceptions, Cycling Insight Stages, Super-Positions and Boundarylessness

The following is an elucidating and enjoyable exchange I had with Dor Konforty after he commented on my Nirodha Samapatti post. Dor is a certified meditation teacher under the guidance of Culadasa, and with his late teacher’s blessing is currently working on a revised edition of TMI, as well as his own book, The Heart Illuminated.


Dor:

Roger, I'm curious -

You laid down the reasons for not going for NS (nirodha samapatti) anymore, but I wonder what it is that’s keeping you alive (i.e. why aren't you killing yourself) if operating from the view of suffering-minimization?


I have more thoughts to share (having experienced cessations, sleep awareness, and having been knocked out for close to a day and waking up with less what-the-fuck-is-going-on-ness than the post-cessation state, heh.), but want to know how you see this first.


(Great writeup! Thank you.)



Roger:

Hey Dor! I'll try and not give a flippant answer. But I think any wise response to this kind of question should acknowledge that people don't have full access/understanding of why they do what they do, and most understandings are rationalisations after-the-fact. Our intellect may not be well hooked up with other parts of ourselves. So that part of ourselves which has a voice and understands the world in terms of cause and effect may not have the real insights, but still may try to justify its behaviour.


With that said:


1. Obviously, deep biology still plays a role and survival mechanisms prompt the organism to stay alive.


2. There is still an invested interest in this world and this life (no doubt the attachment is massively loosened, there is still a deep care about what goes on here and the people around me). In spiritual terms, there is a karmic momentum that is unfolding.


3. I do talk about 'the will to be' and 'the will to not be' having disappeared at 4th path. The sense that there is some intact being here which could or wants to continue living fundamentally doesn't connect in the mind anymore. So the sense of there being a core entity which wants to live, or would want to die, really has become nonsensical in a profound way - this idea can't land anywhere. My experience really is more of being a hive-mind, with the understanding that there is no central command centre and that this mind is not really a 'thing' anyway. So the wish to die or to live don't arise anymore (though they used to a lot). Instead, there are just general prompts of hunger and interest etc.


4. I view suffering as an issue of the universe as a whole. Ending Roger's suffering doesn't begin to deal with that.


But keep in mind what I wrote at the beginning hahaha. I think if you really get into dependant origination, the best answer to ‘why do I live?' is 'because this is how things are' - everything that exists is contingent upon everything else and if I weren't alive things would be different, but they aren't - sounds trivial, but it might actually be the most accurate answer.


What are your thoughts?



Dor:

(Could not have asked for a better answer. Will share my thoughts a little later today. 🙏)


Also wondering what you see as the more liberated mode of perception than aware-awareness. Is it just 4th path? What happened to your capacity to be aware of awareness continuously following 4th path?



Roger:

I view meta-awareness (aware-awareness) as another instantiated model which is ultimately empty. The mind can still generate that model and hold it in attention, but it's not taken in by it as a true view - it's tantamount to perceiving sensations, which is also just an empty construction.


I would describe the more liberated view as what I'm calling the superposition perception - which doesn't reify consciousness and understands that the categories of 'thing' & 'no(-)thing' don't pertain to anything. Those fundamental categories are both delusions.



Dor:

What do you mean by instantiated model?



Roger:

By instantiated model, I mean it's a constructed projection, which does have a certain qualitative/felt signal to it (and could cease to be represented in the mind). I think meta-awareness is a natural realisation that comes with enough meta-cognition - so going from 'there is seeing, hearing, feeling etc.' to recognising what is the universal feature in all these mental processes, 'there is experience/awareness' and now the mind has distilled a much subtler part of the fabrication process - but it's still within the hierarchy of generative models, and I’m suggesting it's not at the bottom of the stack.



Dor:

In my experience, having practiced Dzogchen for a while, meta-awareness often does not require intention or attention to hold anymore - it is there "for free", and feels more comfortable and useful as a vantage point (in ways that I am exploring in my soon-to-be-published writings). Not to say that it's not as empty as anything else, but in terms of a configuration of mind, it seems more able to meet reality skillfully.


I hear you on superposition perception. It's what I believe people refer to when they say "no mind"; i.e. you stop slicing down reality this way, using mind to create some invalidating-duality (or greater dimensional breakdown). In my mind, these two are separate vectors of development, though, despite clearly contributing to one another. Does that resonate?



Roger:

I hope we can resonate hahaha. I think we do for the most part, but maybe I need more clarity here on: which are the two separate vectors you mean? Establishing meta-awareness more and 'no-minding'??



Dor:

Yeah, the vector of being able to put down the "self/no-self" question (and other oppositional questions) and that of maintaining awareness aware of itself, or meta-awareness. My understanding of things is that the more of the mind (reality slicing) you can see through and/or put down, the less effort it takes for awareness to be aware of itself.



Roger:

With the superposition perception I mean something like the following:


1) People start with the sense that when they have their eyes open they are looking at a mind-independent world (most people).


2) They realise that even with eyes open they are actually just seeing a world of ‘mind-qualia, projection, representation stuff’.


3) Then recognising that actually, this world of mind representation is so empty that it's not even anything, it's not a thing - there is actually nothing here - you no longer have the sense that you're actually seeing/looking at anything even with your eyes open.


4) The non-contradictory and simultaneous recognition of all of the above. (1-3 all overlaid on top of each other and instantaneously understood as empty)


I would be very curious to know when your writings may be coming out!



Dor:

I better understand what you mean by superposition perception now. You're talking about seeing both the slicing the mind has made and its innate whimsy-ness, its nature as a construct, empty of inherent being or answery-ness.


My sense is that - and I'd love your input - the superposition comes from awareness being aware of itself and letting go of the attachment to even that, to the model being any particular way. It sounds like you think the meta-awareness part is unnecessary, though? And that there's... something lower in the stack?


Also, still curious about my question from above:

What happened to your capacity to be aware of awareness continuously following 4th path?

(in terms of how often it is on versus not compared to before)



Roger:

It could be we're relating to the same thing, I'm just trying to avoid making a 'thing' out of it, and you're more on the 'thing' side of it?? (Admittedly between 'thing' and 'nothing' we have to pick a side if we are to use language - but ideally I want to somehow avoid closing down on either side while still acknowledging their partial truth value, by evoking a third - which is not a thing).


I do know however, that there is an intermediate step (normally around stream entry) where one takes a new perspective having now discovered a vague, but soft spaciousness in their experience and they believe they are in touch with 'pure awareness' (devoid of any content). And I'm trying to speak past that, and say that isn't what most people think it is.


Pre-4th path, there was a subtle attentional 'move' I had to do to become mindful, to sink into the now, to become 'more conscious' or tune into meta-awareness. And increasingly that move became more and more subtle and accessible and always available, but was still nonetheless a slight gestalty switch.


However, at 4th path I lost that move. I can no longer do something with my attention to go into 'mindfulness mode'. What became patently clear to me is that there isn't any awareness without a sense impression. That awareness co-dependently arises with the sense percepts and cannot be separated from them. You can't have awareness without some subtle feeling (despite that earlier on the path I might have believed otherwise). And with each part of experience self-cognising (instantaneously aware of itself, in its own place) then the notion that a part of experience could not be self-aware no longer registers for me. And so meta-awareness as a noticeable shift in perspective, or 'move', is lost and forgotten. It's a bit like you become less conscious because you lose certain signals - that of being 'meta-aware' and being 'not meta-aware'. So I guess I just don't think about it anymore, except for when you ask me :).



Dor:

Wonderful, thank you. This is exactly what I wanted to hear, and what I meant by "... comes from awareness being aware of itself and letting go of the attachment to even that, to the model being any particular way."


And so I also sense there's nothing you consider "lower in the stack", rather just that "awareness" or any model aren't the lowest.


I am trying to understand whether what MCTB-kids (me being one of them, to be sure) mean when they say 4th path is actually what the Dzogchen traditions call the "self-arising self-liberating" of "awake awareness" rather than what the Theravadans called "arahant". But that's a whole other topic.


Did superposition perception come along with centerless/boundarylessness or did it precede it?



Roger:

Yeah, only since permanent centreless/boundaryless. Before I could only flicker between different lenses of perception (at an increasingly fast rate, but still a flicker nonetheless). The centre slows down perception too much to clearly perceive what's going on at this level. (that's my claim, at least!)



Dor:

Interesting. What lenses were you switching between then?



Roger:

With the different lenses, I was referring to the first 4 pictures in my stages, but there are also other kinds of existential fluxes which relate to the stages of insight for example.



Dor:

You're saying you could switch to a lower level at will? I have heard people claiming they can but never could myself. If I am based in a "higher perspective" and try a "lower perspective move" or mode of attention, it clearly operates "within" the space of the higher mode still.



Roger:

I agree. It's how you describe. Those previous models appear as ghosts of their

former selves.


I’ll add, there is something in the way MCTB describes continually cycling through the stages of insight, which I understand and can relate to, except for me there is also an absence of cycling that changes with enlightenment in a way which I haven’t heard mentioned in this context (maybe I’m wrong). But now, for me, despite that fact that my energy levels and concentration can fluctuate, there is no more of this fundamental change in attitude towards existence itself.


I no longer feel like I’m naturally cycling through moments of fear, frustration, doubt and acceptance etc. at a core level. Which doesn’t mean I can’t feel fear, but that fear isn’t existential like it used to be, and isn’t appearing in predictive cycles as I go through the stages of insight. No self = no relationship to being.

The stages of insight represented with macro and micro cycles

I can still do insight-runs (tracking the stages of insights leading up to cessation), but they don’t come with an emotional, existential angle. So there is this core mood stability in this way. And when I’m talking about this mood stability I’m not evoking a stable ‘rock’ which I can always rely on to feel grounded. I’m not rooting this stability in anything - no ground of unperturbable consciousness here - that’s not what I’m referring to.



Dor:

That's great to hear - I have a different model that I think is simpler, has more explanatory power, and is easier to "practice with" than the stages of insight, and what you say aligns with it well.


(Without saying that the stages of insight "do not exist". Rather offering what I consider a more skillful way of relating to them that makes the whole ride smoother)



Roger:

Oh that's great. I would love to hear it. I do sense we are in like a Copernican epicycle-like understanding with these stages and we need a more refined model.



[Getting back to the discussion on modes of perception]



Dor:

My experience at the moment mostly alternates between 4th and 5/6th jhana states. Occasionally and increasing in frequency, there would be a transcendence of all "states" and the vantage point/awareness clearly stops being dependent on anything happening in the model - i.e. content, mode of attention, whatever. Feels like a complete annihilation of all the restlessness that comes from the delusion that the model needs to be a certain way for "satisfaction".


From there, though, the model and the way attention works can change without impacting the sense of it being imperturbable i.e. I still prefer perceiving in a 6th jhana mode, but there's no attachment to that and the vantage point isn't obscured by any contraction anymore.


Other people who’ve discussed their 4th path experience with me refer to the standard coherence of 4th jhana or the boundarylessness of 5th are as "modes of attention" that come and go versus your description of boundarylessness as "the way things are".


What do you think?



Roger:

So I would describe jhana 5 as a state of mind in which the body schema (the display of their being a unified body) has gone offline, and then it is an active focus on the sense of space. Then you can enlarge this sense of space in all directions, reinforcing the idea that it extends out forever, dispersing any clumps of somatic sensations to the point that they are infinitesimally wispy, which gets you a sense of incredible vastness and lacks normal condensing pressure signals - and if you don’t have this already it will temporarily ‘pop’ the bubble of the mind. But for me the bubble is permanently popped.


But yes it is a ‘mode’ because you have to perform active attentional moves, like choosing to focus on space, in order to bring it about. “Things as they are” doesn’t necessitate that you focus on the sense of space all the time, and in fact there should be an understanding that the space is empty and a projected model as well. I don’t walk around always focusing on the sense of infinite extended space (that’s not what I mean by boundarylessness by default). And also I do have the sense of the body schema often in play in the mind, though it is permanently downregulated and held much more loosely in awareness, meaning it drops out of consciousness quite easily. (This is the down-weighting of amodel perception I’ve spoken of.)



Dor:

Great, this aligns. "walking around" with 5 entails a move, which begins intentionally, and then happens effortlessly (sort of like the move from effort in breath concentration practice to effortlessness and flow), occasionally culminating in a "pop" that then doesn't necessitate any particular mode of attention, or otherwise condition, to maintain what I believe aligns with your superposition perspective, "the unconditional".



Roger:

Now the baseline boundarylessness I talk about - which maybe I should call it something else, because I see how it could be conflated with jhana 5 - is not contingent on any attentional move, or maintaining a propped-up sense of something. It’s not actually a new felt mind model, it’s just inferred via the absence of a previous delusion that is no longer present (just like with the centrelessness, there isn’t a signal constantly screaming “this is centreless!”, it’s simply understood that no part in experience could constitute a true centre.)



Dor:

Currently my perception is having these sensations of boundary in my head, but they are "empty". i.e. they float in "boundaryless" (or at least much less boundaried) space, appearing as the "structure" and "shape" of mind, but also showing their less constructed component sensations and generally not serving as the gravity wells that they would otherwise be.


Because my mind is not currently "popped", I assume that some boundary/center sensations are not seen as empty/lively - in a superposition view - and therefore create "ignorance" borne of "attachment" and that agitating "conditionality of being"/unsatisfactoriness that go away when the mind does pop.


(That I believe I have a major revision to the way we talk about this all and then skillfully untangle is a major driving force in my writing of The Heart Illuminated.)



Roger:

I’ll explain a bit more. The boundarylessness is due to the sense faculties having been critically untangled. I think for a large part what makes up the sense of having a boundary to the mind comes from the edge of the visual field coagulating with somatic sensations in the side of the head creating an impression of a membrane to the mind. For me, that guise has been irreversibly seen through now. “In the seeing only the seen, in the hearing only…” etc. So any sense data point, whether it be a sensation in my inner thigh or the side of my head is no more an indication of the objective boundary of the mind as any other thing to experientially notice. Plus any sense of a boundary to the mind would just be another empty constructed model of the mind and not the ‘real’ edge of consciousness anyway.



Dor:

Yeah, I hear you. And I'll say that for me, your previous descriptions in the medium post about centerlessness and boundarylessness were clear before. But I do have the relevant experiences.


So I'm gathering that we're talking about the same thing WRT superposition view, and that it is "locked in" for you, becoming so upon the complete untangling of all solidity, whereas for me when it happens it's temporary and simply offers a better vantage point for me to continue the untangling process.


I do wonder if the superposition view changes qualitatively upon complete untangling.



Roger:

It's hard to judge how it changes qualitatively because I can't go back. And before when I had glimpses I couldn't extract so much data and examine it like I can now, because it was only temporary and delicate to the touch. But when the shift happened, I was in surprise as I thought: "I've never had something like this before" (despite all the crazy altered states I've been in).


Also, just adding, I don’t think you can have true centrelessness without the boundarylessness. If you have a bought-in perceived wall to your mind, then any objectively defined shape of the mind, despite how strange it is, it will have a general centre (even if it’s not a specific point).



Dor:

They create each other - by definition. 🙂



Roger:

If you say take this doughnut object to be the perceived shape of your mind, which seems like it could have no centre, this really relates to stage 4 ‘Not Self’ in my pictures where there is a perceived void in the heart of being, and this is not the centrelessness I’m referring to at Stage 5. Rather this is just that the point in which attention seems to invert in on itself and hasn’t yet been properly mapped - objectified and de-objectified.


So once the senses are untangled, and the centre is gone and the emptiness of all phenomena are grokked deeply enough, I don’t see how a boundary of the mind could be constructed and believed to be a real standing feature of the mind again, at that point.



Dor:

How were your levels of "something missing and still sucks" in this stage? [Stage 4, Not Self]



Roger:

At what I'm calling the Not Self stage, there was a flickering between “This is it” and “This isn't quite it”. When 'the suck/dukka' was present it was strange because it wasn’t felt as being solid, it had emptiness, there was equanimity, but at the same time it would really get me down (maybe not for that long even, but it was there), and my mood would be coloured by different emotions. And these ‘wills to be’ and ‘not be’ could still rise up. There was a sense of a unified being who would wish, in moments, for oblivion.



Dor:

Yeah, that resonates.


BTW, in my model, these occurrences, fully felt through and integrated (desire for oblivion and whatever lies beneath), is what eventually allows the "unified self" to relax itself.



Roger:

Last point. Honestly, jhana 6 is lost to me now. There used to be a ‘move’ I could to do get into it, to make everything self-reflectively aware of itself - there was a ‘switch’ in perspective that could take place. But now it can’t be that everything isn’t known in and of itself - it can’t, not be like that. There is no going back.



Dor:

Well, of course. It's all already "itself". 🙂 No "observer" to see itself in the reflection of the thing being "observed". 🙂



Roger:

Actually thinking more about Jhana 6, maybe another way it could be framed perhaps is a focus on 'being', on 'is-ness', and just highlighting this fullness aspect of reality.



Dor:

You wouldn't say you've cleared out ALL karmic traces in you, would you? What's your relationship to "being triggered" these days?



Roger:

No, not at all. I still view there as being lots of cleaning up work to do.


Being triggered: It's increasingly rare and subtle, and the processing time is faster than before. And I know enough to notice when I'm not totally in equilibrium and not speak much or act from there.


But I don't really want to make a thing out of this side of my development. I recognise I'm just 27 and still have a lot more maturing to do.



Dor:

Thank you so much for all of this. This is a great confirmation of my model and gives me a lovely boost in certainty, and therefore energy, to keep writing despite not having fully popped.



Roger:

I want to thank you for such a productive and amicable conversation as well! The inspiration is felt all around!


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