Trinities • 14 August 2009

I am discovering the most beautiful coincidence.

Breath-Bandha-Drste = Talk-Feel-Image

Two systems, Vipassana and Ashtanga, mapping each other one to one. I didn’t plan this—my own designs are not so elegant.

When the pairs integrate, what I have is three streams of being—Talk, Feel, Image—and three perfectly-fit drainpipes for diverting or even shutting down those streams at will.

Breath covers talk… as bandha covers feel… as driste covers image.

Breath-Bandha-Drste is the holy trinity of the ashtanga practice—the places you lodge the attention so it doesn’t spin off in to something stupid. Breath is what is is; bandha is the deepest movements of the inner body–pelvic floor lightly and diaphragm subtly lifting; and drste (or, if you like, driste) is the gazing point, whatever it may be for the posture.

Eureka! SKPJ's triple esoterica corresponds to Shinzen’s somewhat arbitrary triad—the three major vectors he uses to deconstruct subjectivity. I’ve talked about his model at length in the comments the past month, but here is an outline. Like any map, it is imperfect. But I’ve been rolling with it because, well, because it works and I especially love the number three.

So, say there are three kinds of experience-of-self: emotion in the body, talk around the ears, imagery projected around the head. The shorthand for it is: Feel-Image-Talk.

A sense of "me" arises when the the streams of feelings, mental talk and images come together as an apparently solid thing. For those who have not asked, like William James, “What are the elements of me?” this clog of inner experience appears to be solid much of the time.

Go through life experiencing your self like this—as a pulsing undifferentiated goop of 1) emotions and 2) visualizations and 3) mind chatter—and thus be enslaved as their multiplicative product. For example, mind chatter ramps up emotion, which is in turn exploded by visual fantasy. And so on. But! Part the streams—perceive how the three move together and apart and only flash alive in the briefest moments—and find some home in the chilled-out space between them. Emotion minus image is just body sensation. Talk minus emotion is just words passing. Image minus talk is an artful silent film. Living with space—living spaciously—is still a life. It’s just a life easier to understand, control (no joke), love and enjoy. This is Shinzen's model.

So anyway, I roll out of bed every morning with little use for all this epistemology-ontology Vipassana stuff. Breath-bandha-driste, that’s it. It’s habituated and it’s all I need. And now I’m realizing that all along I’ve been using this system to stem the triple tide of subjectivity. It is a fairly elaborate little tool for keeping quiet: like a Swiss army knife with not only a blade, but a corkscrew and a pick.

In the mornings, what fires up first is the talk-stream. I wake at 4:30 ready to write a thousand words; and the practice is to put that on pause for another four hours. The key for me always is to listen in to the breath and follow it like a passionate devotee. But of course It covers my otherwise dominant auditory thought-stream. If the object in “talk space” is the sound of my breath, the sound of my thoughts fades to the background and increasingly—with time—goes blank.

Image and Feel spaces work the same way. If something triggers a fantasy of any kind, taking the driste from peripheral to harder focus usually makes its imagery fade if not give up and die. It’s so obvious, but I am only now learning to watch that happen. Just try to conduct a good fantasy while you’re devoting your attention to the tip of the nose.

Same for being caught up in emotion. My emotions travel around my chest, belly and jaw. But in the midst of some drama, if I just place the best of my loving attention, I stop being so convinced that those feelings are “me.” If experience is what matters, well, the pelvic floor is equally me; and so is the gazing point; and so is the breath.

The key is this. Breath-bandha-driste are relatively neutral, objective streams of experience. I can hear, physically feel, and actually see them. They are, in a sense, manifestly “not me.” But mental chatter, emotions and imaginings—they are made of unalloyed mindstuff. They feel like my special little creations and are easier to mistake for “me.” As such, they are far more highly charged. Much more likely to high-jack the attention and take it for a ride.

Just compare the energetic charges. Which one of each pair is more radioactive? Breath/Talk, Bandha/Emotion, Driste/Imaginings.

The so-called “tristana” is chill, while its rambunctious twin the subjective triad is anything but.

This ashtanga practice is complex, as humans are complex. This practice doesn’t just throw you a blank wall and ask you to focus on the void, or give you a single mantra and let you dissolve everything in to that. Rather, it provides its bizarre breath-bandha-driste trinity.

It is built for flexibility and the flow of several single points. It is prone to insight. It has the power to create space.

For a long time I thought that this bewildering instruction to focus on many things was too much to ask. But suddenly, knowing myself better, I find that it is and always has been so much to offer.

God it’s a beautiful system.