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Tibetan Thangka Detail, 2007, from Mcleod Ganj

Tibetan Thangka Detail, 2007, from Mcleod Ganj, India.

Shinzen Young – my mindfulness meditation teacher for the last decade – has reworked the common western categorization of the sensory system into a simplified and elegant model. This TSSFIT chart, particularly when combined with the triple skill-set of mindfulness – concentration, sensory clarity and equanimity –  is eminently practical and effective in helping us to understand how the various constellations of the human sensory system, and our relationship to that sensory system, affects identity and behaviour.

In the west we usually conceive of the sensory system as seeing, hearing, tasting, touching and smelling. External sights and sounds are usually identified as other – other people, other beings, or the world in general as something existing separate in relation to our conventional sense of self. Now when we consider how our conventional sense of self arises, what we most identify as who we are is composed of a combination of our body’s touches (for a simple working model smell and taste will be considered special categories of touch or body space – see chart below) and emotional feelings, and thoughts that have internal visual and auditory components, or T-F-I-T for short. Individually we often refer to this as “my” body and mind. Deeper within the self-referential body/mind system are the feelings and thought combinations arising in F-I-T, or feel, image, and talk space. Our reactivity arises most personally as F-I-T activity – shame, embarrassment, rage, terror, grief, happiness, joy, compassion, etc., accompanied and reinforced through thought. “You’re making fun of me!” “I love you.” “That’s mine!” These sensory components of body and mind are self-referentially reflected and reinforced in the “I”, “me”, “mine” of our language. There’s nothing wrong with this in and of itself, but as we’ll see later, if that’s all we identify with we stay limited within our conventional fixed identity.

Now let’s look at the chart below. Notice how in the right side of the TSSFIT chart the FEEL-IMAGE-TALK, or F-I-T sensory spaces, represent the more subjective “I, me, mine” conventional sense of self. On the left side of our chart the T-S-S sensory spaces represent a more “not I, me, mine”, or a more objective “other” or “world” space.

HUMAN SENSORY SYSTEM – Conventional Sense of Self and World

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