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This has happened to me a few times on Goenka retreats.

When I have been practicing mindfulness of breath and body scanning for a while, near day 7 or so my attention will be moving quite quickly, rapidly, performing a scan of several points in the body every few seconds in a set pattern. By this point in the retreat my attention is flowing smoothly like water so it only takes a second or two for every cycle, which is very fast even if it can get quite tiring.

At some point after this suddenly my attention gets hijacked by some autonomic process, and my attention will hit points in my body in a super complicated but precise pattern (I think it draws a mandala) that I can never hope to consciously replicate. It is ridiculously fast and precise, covering 50 or more points in the body in under a second.

It happens only once, so a second later it is over, and now I note that my habitual set pattern I used to follow to scan the body is now in cruise control mode. I can actually sit back (metaphorically speaking) and let the body scan itself, or so it would seem. My mind will now go do other things, like contemplate dhamma or whatever, and when I return to attention of my body I would find it is still going strong, doing the auto pilot body scanning.

This will usually last a few days, even after the retreat. The funny thing is the attention is spatial. If I get up from the half lotus, the body scan still happens, but it is now hitting empty space near my hip where my thighs and legs used to be folded.

Often this means when I go to my room I won't lie down until I absolutely have to because it feels weird to have the body scan happen only to my upper body and not my knees and toes when I am lying flat.

If I wake up from sleep the body scan is still happening.

After day 13/14 slowly this auto scan will grow less and less pronounced until I can't sense it anymore.

What is happening here?

  • I thought one of the desirable effects of practice is that it becomes second nature? The brain develops functional modules for repeated procedures, just like functions in programming languages. An analogy is practicing a martial art. You learn the right action. In the beginning you have to consciously think about it, which slows your reaction time. But with disciplined practice, it becomes almost instinctual--the mind assumes ownership, goes into overdrive, movement becomes a reflex, and reaction times are dramatically reduced. Are you saying you are not welcoming this body scan automation? – sss4r Jun 23 '15 at 13:03
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    The martial arts analogy would be apt if the body continued to strike poses during sleep. I can wake up from deep sleep and find the scanning operation still on. It seems similar to kundalini kriyas in its autonomous nature. I'm merely wondering what insight is to be derived from this. There's no question of welcoming or not welcoming -merely observing what happens and trying to derive insight. :) – Buddho Jun 23 '15 at 13:42
  • So you think you're doing this in your sleep too? Are you dreaming it? Or does it resume upon wakening? I wish I had an answer for you, I'm curious myself and just trying to understand the phenomenon. Good luck finding out what's going on. – sss4r Jun 23 '15 at 17:19
  • I have no doubt it is going on 24x7 at that point. When I am walking or eating, I may not notice it, but I only have to pause eating a moment to see it is doing its thing. 3-4 days after the retreat the intensity of the sensation fades away, and I can only spot it when I am very mindful. A couple of days later I can't tell if it is there even in meditation, so it stops or at least becomes imperceptible to me within a week. – Buddho Jun 23 '15 at 17:39
  • @sss4r p.s. thanks... it's not super important, plenty of funny things have happened to me, this one is pretty harmless :) – Buddho Jun 23 '15 at 17:45
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While researching stages of meditation, I came across something which could shed some light on your experience. In a section covering Khanika Samadhi (momentary concentration) I found a similar description of your experience. While the author is writing specifically about the noting technique in Vipassnana, I think technically it has relevance to Goenka scanning as well.

Pure Vipassana yogis can appreciate and understand the power of Khanika concentration. For when their noting gains momentum, they can see for themselves how the noting goes on by itself uninterruptedly without a break. The noting seems to run on its own steam without any need for the yogi to make any concerted or deliberate effort. Thus, it is not unusual for a yogi to be able to sit for an hour, and even several hours, absorbed in noting. During good noting, especially at the insight knowledge of equanimity (sankhara-upekkhañana), the mind just stays put on its objects and refuses to wander. Even if one wants to send the mind out, it refuses to go and it recoils back to whatever Vipassana object it is noting.

From KHANIKA SAMADHI: Momentary Concentration

  • Thank you, I think you found it spot on. When I read the description now in Mahasi Sayadaw's Stages of Insight, I appreciate this. This has been my problem with reading this manual - even though I have hit several of the stages of insight I can't pinpoint that this experience is this stage or this aspect of insight. – Buddho Jun 28 '15 at 14:16
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    When this knowledge of re-observation is mature, there will arise knowledge perceiving evident bodily and mental processes in continuous succession quite naturally, as if borne onward of itself. This is called "knowledge of equanimity about formations." [...] Now, in the act of noticing, effort is no longer required to keep formations before the mind or to understand them. [...] It is as if no further effort need be made by the meditator. – Buddho Jun 28 '15 at 14:17
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This automatic body scanning that you mentioned is your ego playing games with you. During meditation, your Self or ego is becoming weaker and weaker. When the ego sees he is dying, ego will do everything to not die. You could hear sounds, vibrations, gain supernatural powers, travel to distant galaxies, predict the future, read minds, gain magical powers, fly through walls, visit astral planes, talk with devas, have out of body experiences, etc.

Ego wants you to cling onto something. Ego wants you to crave. That's why he gives you weird experiences. If you show fear to such experiences, ego will give you experiences that you'll be afraid off. If you show attachment to such experiences, ego will give you experiences that you'll be attached to.

The important thing is not to get attached to these experiences and get beyond them. Don't worry, if the experience arises, just go with it, enjoy, relax, have fun and don't intellectualize. The most important thing: never, ever be afraid. If a bad experience arises, smile, don't worry, just go with it, enjoy, relax, have fun and don't intellectualize.

The closer you will be to liberation, the less such experiences will arise.

  • Thanks, I appreciate the answer. I'm neither afraid not attached, haven't felt either sensation in a few years to be honest. I was hoping someone could point me to references to this in the visuddhimagga, or other literature. Is this an outcome of samatha or vipassana etc. – Buddho Jun 24 '15 at 5:17
  • My reaction whenever I've had strange experiences is a reduction of the sense of self, because it is clear that for powers to work the interconnectedness of consciousness is necessary. So I don't know if those experiences boost the ego for others, but for me it had the opposite effect, reducing my belief in grasping materialism. – Buddho Jun 24 '15 at 6:17
  • "Closer you are to liberation, less such experiences arise " - do you have a source for this? The Buddha and arahats routinely indulged in magical powers like divine sight, peeking into past lives of others and so on. – Buddho Jun 24 '15 at 6:21
  • These experiences are a sign that your ego is ceasing. When such experiences arise, self must be present. After liberation, self ceases. When self ceases, experiences cease too. Unfortunately I don't have a source for this. The Buddha refused to talk about it and disliked it. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miracles_of_Gautama_Buddha buddhist-spirituality.com/suffering-end/the-eightfold-path/… – beginner Jun 24 '15 at 7:48

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