From Scratch

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From Scratch

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: kevin_stanley
Forum: Practical Dharma

I'm ready to cultivate a practice. I would really appreciate input from this community--it looks like there's a lot of experience and wisdom 'round these parts.

Here's where I am: I have some experience with mindfulness meditation a la Jon Kabat-Zinn, but so far I haven't really established a habit. I have read a few books on Buddhist practice and meditation, most recently Daniel's. So I have a bit of a conceptual framework. I also have a strong general interest in wisdom traditions/mystical traditions from various cultures, and those that bridge or transcend cultures. I've read some of Ken Wilber's stuff, for instance, and am a big fan of Aldous Huxley's "The Perennial Philosophy."

So I've been thinking about this stuff for years. And, as I commented on another thread, I think I was working on it before I was even thinking about it as such. As a child I used to alleviate boredom by fixing my attention on something and seeing how long I could keep it there--which used to lead to trance states that seem in retrospect like Jhanas. I had a couple of experiences in my late teens/early twenties that seem suspiciously like A&P events, now that I know that concept, but of course it's hard to be sure. But what I've never done (yet) is to develop a regular, committed practice.

I'm ready to do that now.
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RE: From Scratch

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: kevin_stanley

(continued)

For the last few days I've been sitting for 20-30 minutes at a time as opportunities arrive, usually 2-3 times a day. I gather that my first task should probably be establishing access concentration. I am mostly focusing on the breath, or more specifically focusing on the feeling inside my nostrils, where of course a lot of the action is the feeling of the breath going in and out. I tried noting as described in a pamphlet on Daniel's website yesterday (Interactive Buddha) and felt rather overwhelmed. There was so much going on, I didn't feel able to note it all. By the time the word formed in my mind, I had noticed something else, etc. Also I would get a little hung up at times thinking "How should I label that? I don't know what to call that."

So...advice? Some specific questions I have are:

1) Any words of wisdom on establishing a time or times of day to meditate? I've noticed considerable variation in my concentration over the course of the day, with mid morning generally being the worst and late-ish evening the best. Should I go with what already seems to work best, or do the opposite to strengthen my weak points? Or does it really matter?

2) Any advice on choosing an object to focus on? The breath feelings at the nose seem very noticeable for me, but I find myself wondering if other objects might be somehow better...
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RE: From Scratch

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: kevin_stanley

(continued)

3) Is noting supposed to be like that (i.e. chaotic and overwhelming)? On another thread, I think someone made an analogy to standing in a busy intersection--I really identified with that yesterday. The experience made me wonder: "Am I doing it right? Should I maybe be only noting some particular set of sensations, like breath feelings? Should I wait until my concentration is stronger before I even try noting?"

But really, any advice would be appreciated. I'm not confident I know the best questions to ask--maybe some of you know what questions I should be asking emoticon

Thanks for being here, everyone. Discovering this site has been incredible.
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RE: From Scratch

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: kevin_stanley

Hmm...maybe this thread belongs on the "Discussion Forum" page? I apologize if I posted in the wrong place.
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RE: From Scratch

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Sup & welcome Kevin,

(1) It matters if you care about progress. Play your strengths, don't worry about the weaknesses. If you can't meditate after eating, then don't do it. If you're too sleepy when you wake up or before bed, just don't do it.

(2) Test and find out. Try a candle flame if you wish. Your goal is sustained attention on an object-- whichever you can do that best with, that's what you should use. If you can watch the breath like a hawk, good. If you can watch a candle much closer, even better. Just keep repeating this process of testing and go with what works. Remember, your ability to stick with various techniques, objects, etc will likely change throughout time.

(3) My opinion of course, others advice will differ: either do full on concentration with no insight, or do a mix of both (doing concentration when you first begin to sit, then the insight for the second half or quarter). You'd only need to do the full on concentration until 1st jhana or so, but personally I feel like that's more "access concentration" for insight than anything.

Peace,
Trent
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RE: From Scratch

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: kevin_stanley

Thanks, Trent. Very helpful. I also appreciated your response to Justin on the "To Begin From the Beginning" thread. I'll experiment and find my groove.
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RE: From Scratch

Posts: 0 Join Date: 9/9/09 Recent Posts
This is probably a stupid question, but you know what they say about stupid questions... When you say "a candle flame", do you mean a literal, physical candle flame, or a mental picture of one?
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RE: From Scratch

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: kevin_stanley

I can't really speak for Trent, but I have certainly heard of the technique before using a real candle flame. After developing strong concentration and visualization skills, one can (I'm told) close the eyes and continue visualizing the flame in a convincing way, and then perhaps manipulate it from there. But my understanding is that you would start with the literal, physical flame.
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RE: From Scratch

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Yo,

I mean a real candle flame. Works very well for 1st and 2nd jhana for a few reasons I won't go into. I prefer to place it about 3-4 inches from my eyes (at eye level), and in a place that it cannot move much. Then you can just investigate it's spacial dimensions, such as the cone in the center of the flame. You can look at the light-- where does it start and stop? You can trace the outline of the flame in an arc, back and forth, as well.

Lots you can do with it, but it's simply an interesting object which also has intrinsic properties which support concentration work.

Best,
Trent
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RE: From Scratch

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: xanados

3-4 inches from your eyes? Couldn't that damage your vision? Seems unsafe to be sitting that close to an open flame. You could burn your hair off...
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RE: From Scratch

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Xanados,

3-4 inches is just my preference. The point of the object is just to use something which you can sustain attention on in the most unbroken, consistent manner possible. For me, I like it nice and close.

I do not know if it can damage your vision, but I don't think it would-- does not seem bright enough. You can easily see the edges of the flame, which is not like the undifferentiated light coming from a bright light bulb or the sun.

And, I think if your hair is on fire, you should probably push the flame a little further away. I'll leave that up to you.

Peace,
Trent
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RE: From Scratch

Posts: 0 Join Date: 9/9/09 Recent Posts
Thanks for the answer. I appreciate the help!
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RE: From Scratch

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: kevin_stanley

Small update: I've had some good experiences using the candle flame idea (thanks, Trent) and also a small quartz crystal ball. Both have an interesting blend of inner structure and transparency that tend to make it easy for me to sustain interest and attention on them. The movement of the candle flame can be irritating or very engaging, depending on my state of mind. Similarly, the chaotic internal detail of the quartz (lots of fractures on different planes) can be kind of the same way.