Attention and the Unbinding of Perception

My relationship to meditation has changed markedly in the past months. The techniques which had heretofore brought most joy and progression are irritating, or rather, a mode of engaging with those techniques has become obviously unsatisfactory. Most meditation consists in repeated intentions to attend to some phenomenon with ex/implicit expectations and assumptions as to what the phenomenon both is and what ought to happen to it and the meditator. This is a fine way of working. I recommend it. There are laudable aims to achieve and myriad means available for their achievement, e.g. attentional stability/acuity and the altered states accessible thereby. Get high and shred the phenomenal world with your suped-up perceptual sampling-speed. See the gaps, the stutters, the flickers unto fading of self and world. However, this process of focused attention and investigation undermines itself eventually. It is like a demolition crew finding their tools indistinguishable from the building they were contracted to gut, and they sometimes feel like they are the tools, and realize bashing down walls with what sometimes seems to be yourself hurts, and if they just, like, relax, man, the walls fade away contentedly without your futzing. I’m saying I’m a tool.

Intentions and attention have been added to the inventory of things which have become consistently, if not constantly, spatialized/objectified in my body schema, i.e. they are integrating impersonally into my proprioception in the same way that emotions have. So, when a series of intentional sensations flexes in a nauseating kinetic attempt at corralling the rest of the unruly phenomenal flux into a more desirable arrangement I am more and more inclined to allow, and engender perceptions of, sensations arising and passing without interference. Attentional/intentional interference isn’t a problem, of course. That too can be released, disidentified from, integrated into the space of impersonal and thereby equanimous awareness. What happens then is interesting. Perception can be unbound from the stricture of an illusorily owned and operated perspectival center. Awareness of sound does not occur in the ear, nor sights in the eye. There is sometimes a twinge of recognition and a subsequent cascade of intentional/attentional activity behind the eyes, but this is not where phenomena are known. This inconstant, unsatisfactory aggregation of interoceptive sensation inside your head is not your mind, it is not you, it is not in control, nor was it ever. Phenomena arise, are aware, and unbind right where they are.

Dogen’s Genjōkōan:

To carry yourself forward and experience myriad things is delusion.

That myriad things come forth and experience themselves is awakening.

To study the buddha way is to study the self.

To study the self is to forget the self.

To forget the self is to be actualized by myriad things.

When actualized by myriad things,

your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away.

No trace of realization remains,

and this no-trace continues endlessly.

Garfield, Jay L. Engaging Buddhism: Why It Matters to Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 2015.

When percepts unbind, so too does perception. The theater’s projector on the fritz. The frames slow and skip, the image distorts, flickers, fades, goes, going, going, and… gone. The theater’s blackout curtain comes down. Like fire for lack of fuel: awareness extinguished. Nirvana. The house lights turn on. Selves who before were shouting admonition and advice at the screen and brawling in the aisles grumble, and, leaving their trash strewn about, all file out. No refunds. Within the empty theater, as the janitor makes their rounds, silent space abides.

Such conclusion, alas, is as yet unfound, but peace, I know, is this mind unbound.


I have wondered quietly for a long time whether there are meaningful phenomenological differences between depersonalization/derealization disorder and certain recognizable stages in Buddhist, or similar contemplative paths’, practice. What seems to be the issue is the persistence of identification with an awareness seemingly apart from the dissociated mind/body/world and belief that one ought not be dissociated from those things, and that reality is as it previously appeared, and they are afflicted by a perceptual disorder. Am I and so many others deliberately inducing states and traits abhorred by many who are debilitated by their functional analogues or relatives? Quite possibly. Also, check out this for a third-person take on attentional models.

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