Q&A: How does one brighten the mind to combat subtle dullness?
Student: I'm not too sure about what level of vivid brightness you should try to cultivate in the mind in order to get out of subtle dullness. I used to go through a very deliberate phase with the smile which induced a very strong feeling of brightness, vividness. But I've now found that I seem to kind of start that practice, and then it goes very smoothly and naturally into a more of a mental happiness. And I'm not too sure if I've slipped into... it doesn't bring with it that brightness of mind, that energized brightness of mind. I've lost... the bodily pleasure response isn't very strong, it just seems to go into more of a mental awareness of quite a pleasurable state of mind. I don't know whether I'm slipping...
Culadasa: What you've lost is the brightening effect?
Student: It feels like it. Because I seem to slip... when my body starts to give a strong pleasure response?
Culadasa: Yeah. What you want to do is don't be too reliant on some particular device; that's what I'd say the smile for brightening awareness is- it's a device that you can use. But don't be too dependent upon that. Primarily there should be the recognition that there is some dullness there and the brightening effect of intentionally focusing in and bringing that level of perceptual clarity up.
So you could use things to help. But the primary thing should be just the ability to focus in on the object and perceive it more clearly and more precisely. You know what I'm saying?
Student: So it's more like a visual awareness almost? Like, how would you describe the "more clarity" on the object?
Culadasa: Okay, well, we're talking about a sensation. It's like the crystallization out of the subtleties of the developing sensation, as you progress through the in-breath. Earlier on, the pause between the in and out breath seems to be essentially without sensation, but as our has our mindful awareness becomes more and more acute, we become aware that there's still some element of sensation there. So that when the... the word that keeps coming to mind is like the "crystallization" out. Do you know what I mean? You've got a solution and the crystals just started to appear. It's like you focus in on the sensation, and the detail starts to come back out to you again, like it crystallizes out of it.
Culadasa: I know, a metaphor that works well for me *Laugh* doesn't necessarily for everyone.
Student: So the bodily response isn't necessary? Is it or is it not necessary for that brightness of mind? If it's truly vivid and bright, would it naturally always give a body response, or would it just go into a mental happiness and then it's bright enough, it's vivid enough?
Culadasa: The perception of the sensations are not dependent upon the other bodily sensations of pleasure or pleasantness. So they don't need to be there. Although they usually are, but they may not always be as intense.
Student: So they could become far more mild?
Student: And then I was worrying, is that a sign that dullness is there?
Culadasa: The criteria for dullness should be... and it too becomes more refined... but the criteria for a dullness is on the side of conscious awareness of whatever it is you're attending to, and not on the side of anything else that comes along with it. So keep that in mind. Because you may have had an intense feeling of either bodily pleasure or mental joy. And because that feeling of pleasure doesn't seem to be as intense, or that feeling of joy doesn't seem to be as intense, doesn't mean that you've lost any mental clarity at all. You may have by, but you determine that on the basis of the mental clarity itself, not what the object focuses on. Because in the development, the physical pleasure, and the mental joy both subside somewhat. They are more intense, and then as you progress towards tranquility and equanimity, they subside and become less intense on their own, they disappear. And so the subsidence of them shouldn't be mistaken for a loss of anything.
I mean, you shouldn't assume that their fading is only due to increased tranquility and equanimity, of course *Laughter* but you shouldn't assume the opposite either, because they do fade. There's mental pliancy, physical pliancy, the bliss of physical pliancy, the bliss of mental pliancy, and then there's the fading of bliss of physical pliancy, and the fading of bliss of mental pliancy. And that's actually the sequence in which it unfolds. So, you may very well be experiencing the fading of the bliss of physical pliancy, and it has nothing to do with dullness.