Mountain Climb, Flat Mind, and a Question

Bamboo overhanging a road at Wat Nong Pah Pong Buddhist temple in Warin Chamrap, Ubon Ratchathani Province of Thailand.
One of my favorite places in the world – Wat Nong Pah Pong in Warin Chamrap, Ubon Ratchathani province, Thailand.

March 8, 2015

I haven’t written here in a while. My foot felt OK today so I climbed the steps to the top of the mountain shrine at this Buddhist temple near our home. I felt great, so I did it again. At the top the second time, I sat by myself in an out of the way spot for a while and looked out at the expanse of mountains – layer upon layer of limestone karst formation. The sun was setting and there was some radiance through the clouds.

As I sat and stared at a spot on the closest mountain  – about 300 meters away or so – I let the mind go flat. I was looking at some video I did years ago and it appears that this flat-mind state has been here for about six years or so now. Wow, that’s a long time. It doesn’t seem that long maybe because I don’t let it go flat on purpose and watch what happens. Not much anyway. I did do it today at the top though, as I stared at the mountain across and below from where I sat balanced on a couple rocks that were balanced on each other.

As usual, the mind went blank instantly. I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like an instant fourth jhana. The mind is completely without thought, and yet it isn’t jhana because I can have my eyes open and look around. I can hear dogs and motorbikes, and the occasional plane fly by. The airport is very close to there. Thoughts are as silent as in fourth jhana.

As I sat staring, I felt the heart slow down, I was wearing my heart rate monitor. Sitting at home typing this I just finished uploading the data online. Usually when I stop climbing the mountain I’m at 170 beats per minute and 47 breaths per minute. It slows gradually to around 90 bpm and 20 breaths per minute. I noticed that as I sat, it went down to 68 bpm for my heart and 14 breaths.

Anyway, it was just a natural relaxation of the body and though there was no thought about it, the mind is active and watches things happen. It doesn’t say what is happening with thought or nailing it to a memory. When the dogs barked or someone dinged one of the many bells hanging at the top of the temple, the mind heard these sounds and didn’t respond at all, but memory is still working during this flatline mind state. I remember now – faintly – the various sounds and what happened next.

What happened then was I brought the mind out of flatline and I thought about something some monks had said I might do when my mind was like this. They said you might start to ask yourself who you are. What was the me, where was the “I,” etc.

I’ve sat in the flatline, or flat-mind state many times over the six years… and it’s a nice state of absolute relaxed mind and body, but honestly, I couldn’t see what good or bad it was doing other than the obvious relaxation benefits, so that’s what I use it for.

Today I thought I’d do something different. I asked myself as I stared at the mountain – what is me, where is me? Then after a few minutes I revised the question – or, it revised itself. I thought I’d go into flatline mind and then keep the idea in my head. Then I would watch what part is able to notice the sound, the sights through my eyes. I wanted to see – was there a me attached to that awareness. I wanted to find out more about that very simple awareness – or consciousness I guess maybe it is.

So I went into the empty mind and sat staring at the mountain. A bell dinged. There was an awareness of the ding – the ring that lasts for ten seconds or so… and yet there was nothing of a ‘me’ in the process. The body kept sitting and the eyes kept staring. A dog barked a few times. Awareness was right on it – and no thought was developing – and yet there was this very light awareness of a question.

Is there any me in this awareness of sound, or, what exactly is noticing the sound?

There was no answer. There was no me, no i. I forced an i to come back and asked – what was the mind like? How could I describe the mind when there was the sound?

The answer came back in the form of an image. Two images. The mind was like a mirror or a flat reflective lake that vibrated with the sounds – and yet didn’t interfere with the sound at all. The sound continued, it vibrated the mind, and yet that was it. No thought. No me at all in that.

So I played with that a bit. When sound came, I tried to see – is the mind like a mirror or a lake that is vibrated with the sound, and that’s it? Also, when I moved the eyes to see something new, what was there of  me that was knowing it or experiencing it?

I don’t know. I couldn’t see a me in that. The mind appeared to be capable of vibrating on its own – with or without a vern in there.

I wondered, is the mind just like hive mind or a universal mind? Is every mind in every person linked to the ultimate – to the one mind – and that is it?

I wondered… what is vern then? What is this personality that comes out during the day and all periods of non flatline mind states?

Seems like vern is just the mishmash of thought that the mind can put together from memory. Seems like vern reacts, and knows itself by the way others react to vern. When someone climbing the steps says, “Wow, how many times did you climb today?” I say twice. They are surprised. The vern inside is a bit surprised they are surprised because at this stage it doesn’t feel like such an amazing effort. I’ve climbed over 1,400 times before, often doing two, three or four times up and down. Still, the question and response from other people provokes the mind in this head to react in a way. To remember what was said. To respond to what was said. Over time, over a lifetime really, there starts to exist this rather tangible idea of the self.

When I am Vern and I’m looking at what Vern is – I don’t know. It doesn’t look like anything is there. There’s nothing tangible I can nail down. It’s just memory acting really. That’s it. Memory responding. It’s funny to look at that happen and think – that’s all vern is made up of.

When memory responds in a a relatively constant way about different things, in different situations, the mind starts to believe that’s how it should respond. That’s where Vern is born. The memory in the mind just knows – this is what this character named Vern does and would do – and that’s how it goes.

It’s a very odd situation, the whole thing.

So, yep, that’s about it. I sat maybe twenty-thirty minutes and looked at these things today.

It’s interesting on some level. I don’t know if it’s interesting enough to continue doing on any regular basis, but I have been going through a really nutty crisis over the last few years – well, about six years. It’s as if I don’t have any passion about anything to do with work any longer. I have many websites and books started, but I have no passion toward any of the subjects anymore. It’s like I try for a bit, a day, two days, even up to five days – and then there isn’t any passion for it at all any more. It isn’t disenchantment, it’s more like – Vern just cannot get excited about any of the topics any more.

I like few things now… I love my daughter. I like extreme exercise a lot. I like photography sometimes.

I don’t know, that’s about it.

So, maybe I should just keep looking at questions while in the flat-mind state. Maybe there is something to be gained there, because in six years I have pretty much ignored it and I’ve gone nowhere with any other passions, any work pursuit.

It’s almost like there is nothing to do except keep going along the path here… looking at the mind and trying to go deeper, further, in the process.

Not sure at all. Been not sure for years now…


vern, or that collection of memories that represents itself as vern !


Letter to Dr. Josipovic – Re: MRI and Meditation

I had this idea today that I would get a brain MRI done here in Thailand. I’d just pay for it and not tell them what I was going to do, but my idea was to go into my brain’s default “flatline” mode and then see what the doctor’s said. Just for curiosity’s sake.

So today I Googled ‘MRI and jhanas.’ I found that Dr. Josipovic did some MRI scans of monks that were meditating. Apparently he was studying the transitions between states.

I wrote him a letter. Not expecting a response, but who knows…

* * * * *

Greetings Dr. Josipovic,

I read about some of your work where you look at MRI scans of monks who are meditating.

I have a peculiar state of mind that has lasted for the last 5 years or so now. I’ve had jhanas 1-8 and I seem to have gone beyond that, or maybe on a different track all together.

My mind appears to have stopped. Flatlined. This seems to be the resting state of my mind. I can “do” – like typing this email out to you. When I stop doing, there is nothing. There is awareness… pure awareness, but there isn’t thought. Thought has ceased, similar to when jhanas come, there is no thought, but there is jhana – those bizarre experiences that just seem to happen on their own.

This state is different. There is no experience, just awareness.

It’s as if there is no ‘watcher’. No do-er. Nobody there to judge.

In that state the body functions fine, the eyes look around, the ears hear, the lungs breathe, and yet the mind is sort of unlinked. Though the eyes may see many things, seeing something doesn’t lead to naming it and thought forming about what is being viewed. The sense objects don’t lead to anything. They don’t start thought up. The mind is at perfect rest. It doesn’t move.

It’s curious because it isn’t something I have to “do” to reach the state. It’s the default. It’s always there when I stop doing. The state comes whether I’m in a crowd of loud people, in a car, in a restaurant, wherever. I’ve gradually become familiar with it and not as bothered by it as I was at first.

I am contacting you just out of the blue like this because I had this idea to go pay for an MRI here myself in Thailand. I would go into the flat state for the duration of the MRI – and see what they told me about the result. I wouldn’t tell them I was going to do it – just an experiment.

But I thought I would ask you if you’ve ever recorded the experience before. Personally I don’t know anyone that has been in this state, and the Buddhist monks here in Thailand are also at a loss for words.

Best of life to you,

Vern​ Lovic