Message Boards Message Boards

Concentration

Help me understand the TMI/elephant path higher levels

Toggle
So the higher levels of TMI (derived from the Elephant Path) supposedly have as a feature that you are totally free of mind wandering, distractions, and dullness. This just seems implausible and unrealistic.

I don't understand how this is possible. I've been through numerous progress/review cycles of insight and I don't think I've ever seen a stage like that, except maybe for brief periods doing jhana practice or at the height of the A&P or Equanimity, and it doesn't last.

So has anyone managed to actually stay there? Does that apply no matter where you are in the progress of insight? I've noticed that certain stages of the progress of insight tend to have a lot of mind wandering, in particular 3Cs, D for D, and parts of Low Equanimity nana.

RE: Help me understand the TMI/elephant path higher levels
Answer
1/14/19 4:29 PM as a reply to J C.
Hi JC

My current understading is in terms of short term states and long term traits. As practice progresses, you can access and stabilise states where mind wandering, distractions, and dullness are absent. 

At the same time, you may find that overall, in daily life, mind wandering, distractions, and dullness are lessened (a stabilised trait change). 

Can these factors ever be completely eradicated? I guess it's a nice ideal to work towards?! ;) 

RE: Help me understand the TMI/elephant path higher levels
Answer
1/15/19 3:31 AM as a reply to J C.
Hi J C,  

I practiced TMI for a while. For me, the key was doing 60 minute sessions, as progress mainly came in the last 5 to 10 minutes of the hour. I read the book twice and took detailed notes, and then sat every day for about four weeks, and then one day in two for another six weeks or so. All while frequently reviewing my detailed notes.

I can confirm that I totally elimated dullness, and this is a permanent change in my meditation that persists more than a year later. I also totally eliminated gross distractions (losing awareness of the breath) although I do still get subtle distractions (occasional mild discursive thought, but without losing awareness of the breath). For a while I jumped up further in the stages, and my mind unified, but then my practice evolved in other directions. So I may have been higher on the TMI stages at some point, but am now back on stage six. 

On the second part of your question - I would self-diagnose that I had stream entry when I started, so I can't say whether you need a path to before you can eliminate dullness and gross distractions.  But irrespective of that, I did get some really great insights into emptiness and non-duality while doing TMI.

So in short - give it a go. But you need at least 4 weeks and preferably 10 weeks of daily one hour sessions.  I don't think 30 minute sessions will give the same results.  I think Culadasa also recommends 45 minutes to 60 minutes.

Best of luck. Don't hesitate to ask for clarifications about my experiences.

Metta,

Malcolm 

RE: Help me understand the TMI/elephant path higher levels
Answer
1/16/19 6:41 AM as a reply to J C.
I think one point to make is that the two paths of progression are different, so viewing the higher stages of either from the point of view of the other probably won't make sense. And there's not a clean demarcation between the two as Insight can start occuring at stage 6 and is pretty much inevitable at 8 - 10. 

What I've heard from people that have reached stage 10 is that it requires a certain degree of time and "effort" to maintain. In particular, the absence of distractions (or non-volitional thoughts in general) and persistent shamatha require considerable time dedication (at least 2 h sitting a day). It is easy to drop back to stage 8, but the more you hit stage 10 practice the easier it is to stay there. I don't however believe these are permanent states in the same way as having Insight incurs. So once you stop practicing they will eventually erode.

Regards
James

RE: Help me understand the TMI/elephant path higher levels
Answer
1/16/19 7:32 PM as a reply to curious.
curious:
Hi J C,  

I practiced TMI for a while. For me, the key was doing 60 minute sessions, as progress mainly came in the last 5 to 10 minutes of the hour. I read the book twice and took detailed notes, and then sat every day for about four weeks, and then one day in two for another six weeks or so. All while frequently reviewing my detailed notes.

I can confirm that I totally elimated dullness, and this is a permanent change in my meditation that persists more than a year later. I also totally eliminated gross distractions (losing awareness of the breath) although I do still get subtle distractions (occasional mild discursive thought, but without losing awareness of the breath). For a while I jumped up further in the stages, and my mind unified, but then my practice evolved in other directions. So I may have been higher on the TMI stages at some point, but am now back on stage six. 

On the second part of your question - I would self-diagnose that I had stream entry when I started, so I can't say whether you need a path to before you can eliminate dullness and gross distractions.  But irrespective of that, I did get some really great insights into emptiness and non-duality while doing TMI.

So in short - give it a go. But you need at least 4 weeks and preferably 10 weeks of daily one hour sessions.  I don't think 30 minute sessions will give the same results.  I think Culadasa also recommends 45 minutes to 60 minutes.

Best of luck. Don't hesitate to ask for clarifications about my experiences.

Metta,

Malcolm 

Yeah I have a bunch of questions.

Had you gone through review after 1st path when you started? Where were you in the progress of insight during these 10 weeks - were you aware of any insight stages? What made you stop, and what has your practice been like since?

RE: Help me understand the TMI/elephant path higher levels
Answer
1/16/19 7:39 PM as a reply to James Matthews.
James Matthews:
I think one point to make is that the two paths of progression are different, so viewing the higher stages of either from the point of view of the other probably won't make sense. And there's not a clean demarcation between the two as Insight can start occuring at stage 6 and is pretty much inevitable at 8 - 10. 

What I've heard from people that have reached stage 10 is that it requires a certain degree of time and "effort" to maintain. In particular, the absence of distractions (or non-volitional thoughts in general) and persistent shamatha require considerable time dedication (at least 2 h sitting a day). It is easy to drop back to stage 8, but the more you hit stage 10 practice the easier it is to stay there. I don't however believe these are permanent states in the same way as having Insight incurs. So once you stop practicing they will eventually erode.

Regards
James
Agreed on the two paths of progression being different. I'm just skeptical about the TMI path of progression.

As I understand it, insight can occur at any stage, even stage 1, right? I'm still not sure I have ever qualified for any of the stages and I've still been able to make progress in insight.

Yeah, as I see it the TMI stages, if they exist, would have to erode since they're just concentration based. Do they just represent progress on some completely different axis other than the usual concentration and insight axes? I think of the usual concentration axis as jhana, whereas TMI talks about it as more of a consistency over time thing.

RE: Help me understand the TMI/elephant path higher levels
Answer
1/17/19 3:32 AM as a reply to J C.
Hi there, just to respond to some of the discussion.

My understanding is that the point of TMI (or the elephant path) is to build concentration, not insight. But with the intent that concentration can subsequently be used for insight practices. However, Culadasa also says that insight almost always arises during the practice. That was my experience too, and there were three major things that occurred during the TMI process.

1. Some A&P type events - deconstruction of the breath into tiny disconnected granular sensations during sitting, and grade IV (semi-orgasmic) piti off the cushion. The deconstruction of the breath was new to me, although I had previously experienced other A&P events.

2. Insight into emptiness of perceived concepts off the cushion (including perceiving no conceptual difference between my hand, the cat, and the kitchen), associated with strobing of the vision, and flowing into very clear and direct understanding of the three characteristics within that context. This was a new experience, although there was no perceived cessation.

3. Subsequent emergence of some periods of non-duality in daily life, with the sense that walking around the world was like walking around my mind, and the idea that external objects would hurt me being seen as absurd, as they were just part of me. This faded after a couple of weeks, but was also a new experience.

Why did I stop? I don’t know. Why do we do anything? Laziness maybe, Restlessness probably. Difficult and distracting life events almost certainly. But also I had achieved my objective, which was to build stronger concentration to take better advantage of insight experiences.

Coming back to your other questions JC … I don’t practice Mahasi-type noting, but my understanding is that this relies on momentary concentration, for which the TMI/Elephant Path is unnecessary.  So I think they are somewhat disjoint paths. You shouldn’t need TMI for noting, although maybe it helps somewhere. Equally, the nanas may be more a feature of abidharma practices than some other approaches to insight.

On your questions about my own experience, I certainly had what I regarded as a review immediately following my initial breakthrough, followed by some life changes, lots of reduction in clinging, and ongoing wigging out of the mind followed by bliss waves. I achieved the wigging out regularly for a month or so by by meditating, and then taking an object, and progressively bringing each characteristic of the object into my mind (at the same time). Two seemed to be the limit, and on the third one I would get a brief discontinuity of some sort. But I didn’t noticing any cycling through the nanas.

However, the nanas appeared more clearly a couple of years later (and well after TMI).  I started to run through them more obviously including a really nasty reobservation (sorry Daniel).  At one stage I even went through the nanas backwards. But mostly I was in equanimity. I have noticed that pushing for mild insights tends to kick off another small cycle of dukkha nanas, and this has encouraged me to be more sporadic in my practice, and to try to wait in equanimity for bigger insights to mature. (How’s that for a rationalisation!)

To continue to answer your question, my practice has evolved in in the directions of anapanasati, jhana, mindfulness, trying to scrape off the karma and fetters, watching the lizard mound (if you know that sutta).  I tend to wait for progress, rather than forcing it, and this has come in two major ways - developing a high level of samatha (joy in the sense of space in the perceptual field, with unified concentration) and then soon after seeing through the jhanas (like the account of Sariputta’s enlightenment, but in a much much smaller way!)  When I saw through the jhanas the concentration from TMI really helped me to follow it a long way, to bring in Daniel’s advice on perceiving time and space, and to have more formal review period. Now I am continuing to chip away at the fetters, seeking space to rebalance ‘Malcolm’ out of the mind and into the external senses, and hoping that in about 10 years I may reach the end of the journey.

Much love to all.

Malcolm

RE: Help me understand the TMI/elephant path higher levels
Answer
1/17/19 7:43 AM as a reply to J C.
J C:
James Matthews:
I think one point to make is that the two paths of progression are different, so viewing the higher stages of either from the point of view of the other probably won't make sense. And there's not a clean demarcation between the two as Insight can start occuring at stage 6 and is pretty much inevitable at 8 - 10. 

What I've heard from people that have reached stage 10 is that it requires a certain degree of time and "effort" to maintain. In particular, the absence of distractions (or non-volitional thoughts in general) and persistent shamatha require considerable time dedication (at least 2 h sitting a day). It is easy to drop back to stage 8, but the more you hit stage 10 practice the easier it is to stay there. I don't however believe these are permanent states in the same way as having Insight incurs. So once you stop practicing they will eventually erode.

Regards
James
Agreed on the two paths of progression being different. I'm just skeptical about the TMI path of progression.

As I understand it, insight can occur at any stage, even stage 1, right? I'm still not sure I have ever qualified for any of the stages and I've still been able to make progress in insight.

Yeah, as I see it the TMI stages, if they exist, would have to erode since they're just concentration based. Do they just represent progress on some completely different axis other than the usual concentration and insight axes? I think of the usual concentration axis as jhana, whereas TMI talks about it as more of a consistency over time thing.

I think it's a pretty standard path of samatha progression. While samatha involves concentration it's not just concentration. And while jhana can help you strengthen concentration, "samatha concentration" is not necessarily absorptive in the same way as jhana is.

And yes insight can occur at any stage. Insight is an accident and practice makes you more accident prone.

If you never forget the breath when doing anapanasati then you'd be stage 4.
If thoughts never eclipse the breath in attention and you never get drowsy then you'd be stage 5.
Stage 6 is developing exlcusive attention of the breath but in the TMI framework this means that thoughts arise in awareness but the attention never goes to them.
To understand this you really need to get a handle on how attention and awareness differ and are used in TMI. The simplest analogy is to the visual field. Whatever you are focussed on is in attention, whatever appears in your peripheral vision is in awareness. This way you can be aware of a throught arising without knowing the details of that thought, details come from applying attention to the thought.
A big part of TMI practice is distiguishing awareness and attention and then using awareness to strenthen attention before essentially merging them at higher stages.

RE: Help me understand the TMI/elephant path higher levels
Answer
1/18/19 9:36 AM as a reply to James Matthews.
James Matthews:
Yeah, as I see it the TMI stages, if they exist, would have to erode since they're just concentration based. Do they just represent progress on some completely different axis other than the usual concentration and insight axes? I think of the usual concentration axis as jhana, whereas TMI talks about it as more of a consistency over time thing.

I think it's a pretty standard path of samatha progression. While samatha involves concentration it's not just concentration. And while jhana can help you strengthen concentration, "samatha concentration" is not necessarily absorptive in the same way as jhana is.


Thanks - this helps. I have a few questions, if you'd be willing to answer them. I've numbered my questions below.

1. Can you elaborate on how samatha is not just concentration, please? I thought 'samatha' just meant 'concentration.'

2. But I see that there can be absorptive concentration and non-absorptive concentration. Absorptive concentration is the same as jhana, right?

3. And non-absorptive concentration is what TMI is basically all about, right?

4. So, why develop non-absorptive concentration?

5. And why doesn't it become absorptive?

6. How do you prevent it from becoming absorptive? For me, when I started doing concentration practice, I was just focused on jhana and just went into absorption as quickly as possible, so I never got to any TMI stages but just went into jhana.



If you never forget the breath when doing anapanasati then you'd be stage 4.
If thoughts never eclipse the breath in attention and you never get drowsy then you'd be stage 5.
Stage 6 is developing exlcusive attention of the breath but in the TMI framework this means that thoughts arise in awareness but the attention never goes to them.


So people actually attain these stages? I have a hard time believing anyone could never forget the breath, even for a moment when a glimpse of 'peripheral' thought comes in.


To understand this you really need to get a handle on how attention and awareness differ and are used in TMI. The simplest analogy is to the visual field. Whatever you are focussed on is in attention, whatever appears in your peripheral vision is in awareness. This way you can be aware of a throught arising without knowing the details of that thought, details come from applying attention to the thought.
A big part of TMI practice is distiguishing awareness and attention and then using awareness to strenthen attention before essentially merging them at higher stages.
7. So here's what I don't understand - if you look at things moment to moment, whatever comes up each moment is all that is there that moment. So if a thought appears, even if it's in the periphery and undetailed, that's what's there. So at that moment, is there no attention? Or diminished attention? Is awareness just a way of talking about momentary attention? Like a vague general term for anything that crosses your attention for a moment over a longer period of time?

RE: Help me understand the TMI/elephant path higher levels
Answer
1/18/19 10:59 AM as a reply to J C.
OK I'll try but bear in mind I only practice at stages 4-6 so my answers may not satify you.

“1. Can you elaborate on how samatha is not just concentration, please? I thought 'samatha' just meant 'concentration.'”
 
Culadasa uses this definition of samatha:
“A very special mental state achieved through the cultivation of stable attention and mindfulness. Samatha has five characteristics: 1. Effortless stable attention (samadhi); 2. Powerful mindfulness (sati-sampajanna), which means being fully conscious not only of the immediate objects of attention but of everything else happening in the mind moment by moment. 3. Joy (piti); 4. Tranquillity (passaddhi) and 5. Equanimity (upekkha).”

"2. But I see that there can be absorptive concentration and non-absorptive concentration. Absorptive concentration is the same as jhana, right? "
 
Yes


"3. And non-absorptive concentration is what TMI is basically all about, right?"

Yes, but jhanas can be used to help develop attention. Concentration is not used as a term since there are different ways of defining it, as we can see from this discussion.

"4. So, why develop non-absorptive concentration?"

Because in a such a state insight is possible. Rather than insight having to occur after jhana exit. Remember TMI is a yoked samatha-vipassana practice. Culadasa says the development of samatha helps smooth the process of Insight (I know this is somewhat controversial given Daniel and Culadasa’s recent interaction regarding the Dark Night – I’ve not progress on Insight so I can’t comment, I’m just a student)

"5. And why doesn't it become absorptive?"
 
Because of the balance development of both attention and awareness. Nothing is excluded from awareness but at the highest stages those things that occur in awareness are not attended to unless attention is placed on them

"6. How do you prevent it from becoming absorptive? For me, when I started doing concentration practice, I was just focused on jhana and just went into absorption as quickly as possible, so I never got to any TMI stages but just went into jhana."
 
By also developing awareness alongside attention which allows the development of mindfulness (sati-sampajanna).

"So people actually attain these stages? I have a hard time believing anyone could never forget the breath, even for a moment when a glimpse of 'peripheral' thought comes in."

Yes, I've communicated with a number of people practicing at stages 8+.
 
"7. So here's what I don't understand - if you look at things moment to moment, whatever comes up each moment is all that is there that moment. So if a thought appears, even if it's in the periphery and undetailed, that's what's there. So at that moment, is there no attention? Or diminished attention? Is awareness just a way of talking about momentary attention? Like a vague general term for anything that crosses your attention for a moment over a longer period of time?"
 
And this is where I’m going to have to get back to you for a satisfactory answer to this question. The mind model that Culadasa uses is essentially the same as the one presented in the abhidhamma. So, I’ll get back to you once I’ve brushed up on this.
 

RE: Help me understand the TMI/elephant path higher levels
Answer
1/19/19 11:33 AM as a reply to J C.
J C:
So the higher levels of TMI (derived from the Elephant Path) supposedly have as a feature that you are totally free of mind wandering, distractions, and dullness. This just seems implausible and unrealistic.

I don't understand how this is possible. I've been through numerous progress/review cycles of insight and I don't think I've ever seen a stage like that, except maybe for brief periods doing jhana practice or at the height of the A&P or Equanimity, and it doesn't last.

So has anyone managed to actually stay there? Does that apply no matter where you are in the progress of insight? I've noticed that certain stages of the progress of insight tend to have a lot of mind wandering, in particular 3Cs, D for D, and parts of Low Equanimity nana.

How much are you meditating? 

These states are definitely possible. I've done them. But it takes retreat like hours (for me at least) to do them. I'm talking 6-10 hours a day.

Other, more naturally skilled meditators can do it on much less.

RE: Help me understand the TMI/elephant path higher levels
Answer
1/19/19 6:02 PM as a reply to J C.
J C:

7. So here's what I don't understand - if you look at things moment to moment, whatever comes up each moment is all that is there that moment. So if a thought appears, even if it's in the periphery and undetailed, that's what's there. So at that moment, is there no attention? Or diminished attention? Is awareness just a way of talking about momentary attention? Like a vague general term for anything that crosses your attention for a moment over a longer period of time?


I have heard Culadasa explain on youtube videos and on the Deconstructing yourself podcast that the point to this practice is learning to be aware of thoughts and other distractions arising before they reach attention, and then subtly just not engage with them and thus not bring them into attention. Have you ever sensed thoughts approaching before their content is ”unpacked”? I did for a short period, of course at a newbie level and not anywhere near this stage, but because of it this sort of makes sense to me.

RE: Help me understand the TMI/elephant path higher levels
Answer
1/19/19 8:45 PM as a reply to J C.
J C:
7. So here's what I don't understand - if you look at things moment to moment, whatever comes up each moment is all that is there that moment. So if a thought appears, even if it's in the periphery and undetailed, that's what's there. So at that moment, is there no attention? Or diminished attention? Is awareness just a way of talking about momentary attention? Like a vague general term for anything that crosses your attention for a moment over a longer period of time?


Hey JC, this thread and explanation from Culadasa might help: 

https://dharmatreasurecommunity.org/forums/topic/questions-and-clarifications-about-peripheral-awareness

If something (a thought, sound, etc.) is in the periphery and we notice it, no matter how fleetingly, then our attention has moved away from the meditation object (e.g. the breath) and onto that thing. This would be what Culadasa refers to as a subtle distraction. 

RE: Help me understand the TMI/elephant path higher levels
Answer
1/21/19 5:06 AM as a reply to J C.

7. So here's what I don't understand - if you look at things moment to moment, whatever comes up each moment is all that is there that moment. So if a thought appears, even if it's in the periphery and undetailed, that's what's there. So at that moment, is there no attention? Or diminished attention? Is awareness just a way of talking about momentary attention? Like a vague general term for anything that crosses your attention for a moment over a longer period of time?

Ok I did my homework emoticon

The mind model Culadasa uses is derived from the with supplementation from the yogacara school.

In this model a mind moment is what is projected into conscious experience from any one of a number of subminds. These moments can either be moments of attention or moments of awareness. Moments of attention are limited in scope and are detailed; moments of awareness are broader in scope and considerably less detailed.
 
So, at any one time you are conscious of either an attention mind-moment or an awareness mind-moment, and there is a stream of these that differ in their relative proportion depending on whether you are attention or awareness dominant at the time (neurologically attention and awareness are different processes). For instance, an awareness moment might be all somatic sensations in your body, or which the breath related sensations are a small fraction and present with a low degree of detail (ie you know they are there but can’t discern details); or it might be an attention moment of just the breath related sensations at the nostrils with a high degree of clarity.
 
Forgetting is defined as when the breath is in neither attention or awareness over an extended time period.
 
Distractions are divided into gross and subtle distractions depending on:
  1. Whether they are in attention of awareness
  2. How many mind moments contain the distraction vs those that contain the breath.
So, a gross distraction captures attention moments, relegates the breath to awareness moments and the total number of distraction-moments is significant compared to the breath-moment.
 
Conversely, a subtle distraction captures relatively few attention moments, and/or captures a proportion of awareness moments.
 
From this model you can see there is really a gradation of the strength of distraction. The strongest of which will be dominating attention-moments and relegating breath to awareness-moments, the subtlest of which will be only present in a few awareness moments.
From a practical point of view this distinction is useful because the way you deal with gross (at stage 4) is different from the way you deal subtle distractions (at stage 6).
 
Finally, exclusive attention is defined as when the vast, vast, vast majority of mind-moments are either breath-attention moments or awareness that contain the breath, with dominance of the former.
 
I hope that help, and thanks for discussion, that came at a great time in my practice!