Council needed

David Findlay Glidden, modified 12 Years ago at 10/1/10 5:51 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 10/1/10 5:51 AM

Council needed

Posts: 6 Join Date: 6/8/10 Recent Posts
Greetings everyone!

I've been lurking around on the site for a while and reading all the helpful material that is here, but this is my first call for aid.

I've been practicing meditation, or rather playing with meditation (my practice has been inconsistent until recently) for a few years and have been practicing Reiki for four years now.
About two months ago I had a sort of feeling that if I committed myself to a meditation practice again that I was finally ready to truly practice seriously and this has been the case for the last month.

In general, I arise early in the morning before my wife and daughter to spend 30 minutes in meditation, I find a moment during the day to do a 40 minute meditation, and finally 20-30 minutes at the end of the day before sleeping.

Obviously I'm having some difficulty, otherwise I would spare you all the banal details.

The general mind-chatter is starting to recede for reasonable periods of time, enough to let me focus on the breath (the object I use the most frequently) for perhaps 45 seconds to 1 minute at a time, many times over the course of my sits. One of the problems is that I have found that the extremes of my breath, the very beginning, and especially the very end, tend to recede into darkness, and my concentration wavers just for a millisecond or two. I'd say that 90% of the breath I can observe consistently. This is often accompanied by feelings of waves of sleepiness, although now it seems to have transformed itself into a sort of spinning sensation — my mind almost slips into a sort of lucid dream, but not quite, and I feel my body jerk a bit, as if I'm catching myself from falling.
I'm a bit frustrated by this apparent impasse and would welcome any council.

Do I need to build my concentration to overcome this?
Should I perhaps sit more often, but for shorter periods?
I'm reading The Book (Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha), but life on the cushion is not as easy-seeming as the encouraging words and the maps in the book.

Thanks in advance,
Florian, modified 12 Years ago at 10/1/10 7:25 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 10/1/10 7:25 AM

RE: Council needed (Answer)

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi David, and welcome here at the Dharma Overground.

I think you're doing fine. I'm familiar with the spinning sensation - you must be concentrating quite hard to get it. So I'd say, your concentration is high enough already, I wouldn't worry about that just yet.

Where do you focus when focussing on the breath (e.g. nostrils, abdomen, ...)?

What you can try to do, once concentration has stabilized for a few breaths, is to broaden your focus to include more or even all of the body. You still want to do the "gatekeeper" thing watching the breath go this way, then that way, while staying in place with your concentration; but you make the "gate" larger. Imagine you are breathing through your pores, or with your muscles for example. I find that to be very grounding when freaky stuff like the spinning sensation crops up. Unless you want to explore that sensation, of course emoticon Once that stabilizes, you can try to gently relax this whole body you're breathing with - relax on in-breath, and relax again on out-breath.

To deal with mind chatter, you can combine the breath with a meditation word which you mentally repeat with each breath. It doesn't really matter which word you use, in my opinion.

Sitting more often - I'd say, you've got quite a bit of momentum going by sitting three times a day for a month now. While this is the "Concentration" section of the forum, I'd like to recommend noting practice to you. You've got all this concentration routine going, and you can use that to power noting practice. The length of your sits is fine.

Just in case you read the passage in MCTB where Daniel states how he views 1st Jhana as a requirement for noting practice - well, if you search around here, you'll find posts where he states that this passage is misleading. Do both, and you'll soon hit 1st Jhana and Mind&Body (which is the insight side of 1st Jhana, or "1st Vipassana Jhana" as Daniel calls it).

I hope my post was helpful in answering your questions. Have fun, and let us know what happens, if you like.

David Findlay Glidden, modified 12 Years ago at 10/1/10 9:03 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 10/1/10 9:03 AM

RE: Council needed

Posts: 6 Join Date: 6/8/10 Recent Posts
Hi Florian,
Thank you for your helpful answer — sometimes a bit of encouragement is needed!
I tend to move my point of focus with regard to my breathing: if my mind is scattered I try to focus on my abdomen, if i am feeling sleepy, I try to focus on my nostrils (I find the cool air wakens me a bit).

Honestly, I'm a bit confused with noting: perhaps I'm already doing it. I tend to say to myself "in" when inhaling and "out" when exhaling. When trying to observe too much else for the moment, my concentration wavers. Any noting advice?

I've read the first 100 pages of Daniel's book so far, and am steadily making my way through it.

Thanks again for your advice,
Florian, modified 12 Years ago at 10/1/10 4:40 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 10/1/10 4:40 PM

RE: Council needed (Answer)

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi David,

Regarding the difference between concentration/tranquility/samatha on one hand, and noting/vipassana/investigation on the other, I'd suggest a little experiment:

To get into tranquility, it really helps to relax the body, so do the "relax on in-breath, relax on out-breath". To relax, imagine your favorite bubble bath, or remember how it feels to sink into bed after a hard day's work, or imagine your muscles being warm and heavy. You can combine this with verbal "in" and "out" notes, or a meditation word. You can also do something like PMR (progressive muscular relaxation - google the term, there are many online instructions, and I think it was discussed here recently) before meditating.

To get into noting/investigation, instead of an altered state, closely feel "into" the breath sensation, (whether at nostril or abdomen or wherever - chest is also interesting, as is back of throat, and so on), and then make a note whenever you notice any change in that sensation, such as it becoming faster, slower, cooler, whatever. You want to "slice" it into thin samples, instead of smoothing it down with the meditation word like you did in the above exercise. You can use the same notes, "in" and "out", but use them to note each time you notice you're still breathing in or out, which will be multiple times per in- or out-breath. Go for speed over accuracy, but don't get into a trance of quick automatic notes - that would be again a tranquility practice. You want to notice the sensation, then acknowledge that with a verbal note.

Experiment a bit, and you'll see what is meant by the difference from your own experience.

A nice analogy (if you like analogies) by Kenneth Folk is: imagine you have a pillow case. In Samatha, you don't care what's inside, you put your hand onto the smooth, soft pillow. In Vipassana, you want to put your hand into the pillow case and find out what it is filled with.

I view the vipassana/samatha distinction as a spectrum, with samatha at one end, and vipassana at the other, and many "mixed" practices in between. If you enjoy sifting through archives, there are many old discussions here exploring the difference.

Finally, many people find kasina practice - gazing at a dot or colored disc or candle flame - to be initially easier to develop fixed concentration than the breath, so you might want to give that a try. Oh, and getting stream entry definitely gives concentration a big boost - something to consider even if that's not foremost on your agenda for some reason emoticon

Daniel M Ingram, modified 12 Years ago at 10/2/10 12:35 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 10/2/10 12:35 AM

RE: Council needed (Answer)

Posts: 3232 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
I like all of Florian's advice.

I would add a traditional recommendation: at the end of the out breath, which is where the mind is most likely to wander, just move the attention to where you touch your cushion, then back up to the beginning of the new breath. In this way, you stay with easy objects, and in this way you get lost less often, such that concentration on the momentary sensations that make all this up is easier.

The traditional note for where you touch the cushion is "touching", such that you would note, by way of example "falling, falling, falling, touching, touching, rising, rising, rising, rising, rising, rising, falling, etc." for each time you notice these sensations.

I found this advice very helpful when I was going through the same thing.

I hope that helps and good luck with your practice, oh, and welcome to the DhO!

David Findlay Glidden, modified 12 Years ago at 10/2/10 9:23 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 10/2/10 9:23 AM

RE: Council needed

Posts: 6 Join Date: 6/8/10 Recent Posts
Florian, Daniel,
Thank you both for the clear advice, it is immensely helpful.
Florian: my 'goal' in grand terms is enlightenment, and I'd not considered stream entry as an interim step or object to aim for: perhaps it is a better plan, it will become clear to me I'm sure, and, without a doubt I'll post many more questions along the way. I'll try what you've suggested and keep you posted on my progress.
Daniel: the end of the exhalation is exactly the point in which my focus wavers. It is as if my breath ceases to exist momentarily, which of course it does every moment of every moment. Noting is still a bit of a mystery for me, but I'll get it in time and with practice.
I just want to thank you for your book: I'm not through it yet, but it is what I needed to decide to really go for it, and for that I am grateful.