Acharya Goenka stresses very clearly that there must be no visualization in this meditation whether one is observing sensations or breath. for example You are not allowed to visualize air going in or out of your nostrils. You are not allowed to visualize anything at all deliberately.
Now, I have this problem. While I am scanning my body, let’s say I am at my fingers. Then an image of my fingers comes up. You see it’s not deliberate. But it happens. At least one other meditator has told me he has this too. This has been my case since the start right until now. And it always mildly bothered me. Each teacher has advised me the same thing. If it is not being deliberately done, then there is nothing to worry about. This is just something the mind does. It is it’s habit pattern. Just accept it. But on no account should you help it in the visualization. And on no account should you try to stop the images from coming up either. Your focus must be on observing sensations and not allowing craving or aversion to arise and if they arise to eliminate them. Not on trying to block visuals. If you expend effort on blocking visuals, you are generating aversion. So accept it, ignore it and carry on your job. I am not sure but one teacher might have also told me that the images were coming up because I was trying too hard.
Now every person who has meditated for any while has experienced deep absorption when the mind is effortlessly absorbed in the object. Such has been the case with me while observing sensations. And the damned thing about it was that when absorption happened, the image disappeared all on it’s own. Interesting. Maybe I AM trying too hard. When you are absorbed, there is no craving and there is no aversion. And trying too hard, that is craving.
So during the course, equanimity has it’s own momentum. I can tolerate pains there which I cannot dream of at home. And I focus on not letting craving arise. I have this thing where I just used to hate all these blank spots where there are no sensation. I make effort not to generate craving. And I see the visuals getting weaker and weaker. Aha! The visuals are there because of craving. To try to stop the visuals would be aversion. That would be attacking the symptom. The problem is craving. Eliminate craving and out go the visuals OR reduce craving and they get weaker.
Carrying on about visuals, not only do I visualize body parts. But I also visualize sensations AFTER they have occurred. For instance subtle sensations that rise and fall quickly are visualized as sparks or lights or raindrops. A burning painful sensation is visualized as fire. A gross painful earth element sensation is visualized as something black like a black hole. A dissolving sensation is visualized as a puff of smoke. A sensation caused by secretion of some gland is imagined as a flow of some liquid. And none of this is deliberate. It’s just happening. What is this? Why is this happening? If the sensation has occurred and I am already feeling it, then what is there to crave for? Why are there visuals coming up?
I ask the teacher if this is normal. He says no it is not. I ask him if i should try to stop the visuals. He says no. That would be aversion. But he says not to encourage them either. That would be craving. He says just to accept that they are there and to either consciously ignore them or to just ignore them. Ignoring consciously includes conscious acceptance that the visuals are there, but also a resolve to pay no attention to them. To just ignore means to just not even think about them. He tells me that in the longer courses they talk about how the mind accesses some information. Sometimes as visuals, sometimes as sounds, sometimes as sensations etc etc. Very interesting. Damn, this is mind science. So interesting!
I again notice that in absorption states, when the observation of sensation is effortless and the fact of impermanence so apparent, these visuals drop away. This makes me reflect. Aaah! another data point. Time to reflect. Let’s examine. One of the things I’ve noticed about my mind is that I have a passion for observing impermanence. I want to observe it. I crave (AHA!) to observe it. And I want to observe a sensation long enough to see it change and die off. This requires constant application of the mind to that same sensation. And the mind get’s distracted or bored and tries to move to the next sensation. Then I forcibly (with aversion….AHA!) bring the mind back to the original sensation. Sometimes as the sensation under observation get’s weaker, i have doubt (AHA!). Is the sensation getting weaker or my mind’s focus getting weaker. Being a natural pessimist, I assume it is my mind awareness getting weaker. I generate aversion (AHA!) for my mind. I forcibly increase the focus on the former sensation. There’s your clinging (AHA!). And what my friend do you think increases focus on that sensation? You got it. The visual. The visuals are a result of a combo of craving and aversion.
One thing to realize is that a perceptible body sensation is a result of the interaction between mind and body. The sensation cannot exist without the mind. Thus when I perceive a sensation getting weaker, it is silly to assume that the sensation itself is not changing but my awareness is getting weaker. There is no such thing as a sensation by itself. It is so connected to the mind. So if you perceive a sensation getting weaker or changing, realize that it is changing. Whether it itself (absurd) is changing or the mind is changing is an absurd question to ask. It makes no sense. Your job is to observe impermanence, not to speculate on whether the impermanence is real or simply a perception. Remember, reality is perception. There is no reality independent of perception except for Nibbana. And we are not in that field yet. We are in the field of mind and matter where we have no way to distinguish perception from reality. So give up this vain quest of holding on to sensations for any reason. Whether you are holding on to sensation for pleasure or to observe the minute changes in the sensations (thus building your ego as a master Yogi) or the craving to observe impermanence is immaterial. Clinging is clinging. Stop doing it consciously.
So later on in the course I noticed that the visuals do indeed occur because I am trying to hard. As I develop some ease, the visuals do get weaker. And here is the confounded thing. When I do not visualize pain any more, the pain just dissolves when I as much as glance at it. But with the visual it stays on and on and on. Aaah! The visuals came up due to clinging. And now they themselves are promoting clinging. We have a classic positive feedback loop as they call it in control engineering.
We must observe sensation as sensation. Not as sound, as a visual, as a touch or a taste (this has happened once) or a smell. It is observing sensation as sensation that causes detachment. All other forms just bind you closer to your prejudices and ignorance. Some statements from the satipatthana sutta are inspirational. These regard vedanupassana or the observation of sensations. Thus he dwells observing sensations in sensations internally or externally or both. Thus he dwells observing the phenomenon of arising in sensations, or of their passing away or of their arising and passing away. Now his awareness is established. This is sensation