Subtle Dullness and Maximizing Clarity

Defeating Subtle Dullness – Crystal Clear

Like strong dullness, the first step to training the mind is to notice subtle dullness as it arises. This can be a little more tricky than detecting gross dullness because subtle dullness tends to creep in gradually and can be hard to recognize until we know what to look for. There is a sense of fuzziness, a lack of broad awareness, and a shrinking down of the bandwidth of the mind. We may find if we open our eyes there is a sense of spaced-outness and it seems like on a subtle level we are in a more restful type state of mind, not exactly falling asleep, but also not strong enough of a perception to penetrate the impermanence, non-self, and dukkha inherent in all conditioned realilty. Without a certain level of alertness, we only perceive a fraction of the totality of experience, and this translates into a sort of one-dimensional, superficial knowledge of the object in the moment. This makes things feel more fuzzy and spacey than clear and mindfully alert. The key is to train ourselves to have this power of perception and intention to perceive.  

Immediately upon recognizing subtle dullness, the antidote is to challenge the mind – ask it to do something that requires lots of engagement with the object and looking for subtle, subtle sensations.
This automatically engages a part of the mind from which intentions are generated. Here we will learn to perceive the breath sensations in the body, aka “prana”, “inner winds”, Chi,.

With this striving and intending for clarity and alertness, our minds will naturally tend toward more and more wakefulness, and the mind will habituate itself toward more detailed, richer, more comprehensive perception. This is a manifestation of Karma. Body scanning is the go-to practice for dispelling subtle dullness, but the basic idea can be applied to any meditation object. In the body scanning practice, after detecting some level of subtle dullness, or as a normal phase of the meditation for a period, try to place attention on a specific defined portion of the body, for example, a foot. Stabilize that in your attentional field, then inspect very closely for any subtle sensations related to the breath in that area. It doesn’t matter if you sense anything or not, what matters is the intensity, persistence, and diligence with which we maintain the intention to see more subtlety. With this intention in mind, we then look, as intently as possible, at the body part of interest, and try to perceive subtle breath energies in that area of the body. This is by no means an easy task, and a common experience is trying to find the breath sensations and not perceiving anything. That’s ok, just move to an area of the body where you do feel breath sensations, and attempt to expand that sense and make it more rich and vibrant. This intention will eventually, inevitably, blossom into a heightened level of perception compared to the mundane mind. We see that after challenging the mind with body scanning, we may sometimes notice that the mental energy is higher, there is more subtlety, and the mind is more alert than before starting the body scanning. Hold an intention for clarity and alertness and diligently apply the mind toward the object. This intention works in Charging Concentration – (CICC).

This practice, done over a period of time, will increase the baseline level of energy in the mind during meditation, and eventually during daily activities as well. The key is persistence and faith, not giving up or getting discouraged even if the body scanning does not seem to increase perceptual clarity in the moment. It often will not, but the cumulative trend will be toward more alertness across weeks and months of consistently doing this practice. This build charging concentration to establish a neural highway in this intention for clarity. There will be lots of concentrated intention and that will blast through any habitual dullness. 

To notice this increase in perception also requires an increased level of subtlety and rigor in knowing the mind’s activities – meta cognition – compared to the previous stage. The ability for metacognition is gradually developed into its full fruition in stage III samatha. This faculty is simply developed by an occasional intention to know what’s going on in the mind. We want to develop a sense of the object, and also the broader picture and an ongoing awareness of the mind’s activities. 

Metacognitive awareness of the mind’s activities is cultivated by holding an intention to both be aware of the activities of the mind and also center the focus on the object of meditation. This feels like, every now and then, there is a moment of internal checking that you can perceive in the mind’s activities. You are basically checking things out and keeping a watchful “eye” out for anything else arising in the mind and avoiding fabrications related to distracting objects. Entry into Category III concentration is achieved when the mind is continually aware of its activities and does not get pulled away except very occasionally and subtly. When we learn to center the mind around an experience and we are free from the hindrances, the seven factors of awakening are allowed to ripen. We will begin to have a pleasant sense of gratification from meditating, and this is an early sign of mental unification covered in other pages.

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