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Do I have access concentration?

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Do I have access concentration?
Answer
11/13/10 4:18 PM
Hi,

Daniel said in MCTB that "you'll know when you have it", so if I have to ask, I guess I don't, but I'll ask just in case anyway. ;)

Lately I've mostly practiced (or at least tried to practice) noting, but I did a couple of experiments with breath counting to gauge my concentration. I found that I could at least count (exhalations) to ten without losing count for ten minutes. Occasionally there would naturally be some thoughts, mostly during the inhalations, but they weren't prominent enough to disrupt the counting. Would this indicate access concentration, or is there more to it?

I've noticed quite often lately that after a few minutes of sitting, once my mind settles down, there's a shift in perception where the darkness of my closed eyelids seems to expand into a more three-dimensional space. In everyday life I guess my awareness of my body mostly resides somewhere around my eyes, and once this shift kicks in, it's as if this awareness expands. At the same time, my body starts to feel somehow less solid, or perhaps just more in the background. Does this have something to do with access concentration, or is it perhaps a sign of approaching the first jhana, or something completely different? I can try to describe it in more detail if necessary.

RE: Do I have access concentration?
Answer
11/13/10 8:49 PM as a reply to K N.
K N:

Daniel said in MCTB that "you'll know when you have it", so if I have to ask, I guess I don't, but I'll ask just in case anyway. ;)

Lately I've mostly practiced (or at least tried to practice) noting, but I did a couple of experiments with breath counting to gauge my concentration. I found that I could at least count (exhalations) to ten without losing count for ten minutes. Occasionally there would naturally be some thoughts, mostly during the inhalations, but they weren't prominent enough to disrupt the counting. Would this indicate access concentration, or is there more to it?

Generally speaking, if one is able to maintain focus and concentration on the meditation object for 3-5 minutes without distraction or without unnoticed distraction, then one has reached enough concentration (meaning neighborhood or access concentration) to begin pursuit of absorption concentration (or appana samadhi, which is "fixed" concentration).

If you should reach appana samadhi, you will know it by the qualitative difference it presents. The mind is able to remain effortlessly fixed on the meditation object, undisturbed by any exterior or interior distraction phenomenon. When you are able to reach this kind of samadhi, it makes contemplation on a subject (like the five aggregates, or noting the three characteristics of phenomena) equally effortless while bringing to the surface insight which was before perhaps overlooked. Absorption concentration can be a very pleasant experience, presenting the impression that one could sit "forever" in this state of contemplation. It is qualitatively a superior state, wherein the mind is unequivocally established on the object, pliant, workable, having gained imperturbability. There should be no mistaking it for anything else.

When samatha is the goal of pursuit and absorption is attained, the experience will be one of a deeper and deeper experience of calmness and tranquility. When vipassana is the goal of pursuit during absorption, the experience will be of contemplation and insight gathered about the object of contemplation. The mind will have a tendency to be a bit more active in vipassana jhana than in samatha jhana. Otherwise, the experience of the depth of concentration is quite similar.

K N:

I've noticed quite often lately that after a few minutes of sitting, once my mind settles down, there's a shift in perception where the darkness of my closed eyelids seems to expand into a more three-dimensional space. In everyday life I guess my awareness of my body mostly resides somewhere around my eyes, and once this shift kicks in, it's as if this awareness expands. At the same time, my body starts to feel somehow less solid, or perhaps just more in the background. Does this have something to do with access concentration, or is it perhaps a sign of approaching the first jhana, or something completely different?

It's kind of difficult to say from your description. It might be an indication of this or that; and then again, it may not. If this "three-dimensional space" is a pleasant space associated with the breath, then it may indicate a deepening of the concentration level. If not, then it's just a perceptual anomaly, meaning perceptual fluff that is best let go of.

RE: Do I have access concentration?
Answer
11/15/10 11:32 PM as a reply to Ian And.
I've noticed quite often lately that after a few minutes of sitting, once my mind settles down, there's a shift in perception where the darkness of my closed eyelids seems to expand into a more three-dimensional space. In everyday life I guess my awareness of my body mostly resides somewhere around my eyes, and once this shift kicks in, it's as if this awareness expands. At the same time, my body starts to feel somehow less solid, or perhaps just more in the background. Does this have something to do with access concentration, or is it perhaps a sign of approaching the first jhana, or something completely different?
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It's kind of difficult to say from your description. It might be an indication of this or that; and then again, it may not. If this "three-dimensional space" is a pleasant space associated with the breath, then it may indicate a deepening of the concentration level. If not, then it's just a perceptual anomaly, meaning perceptual fluff that is best let go of.


Might that shift also represent traversing the vipassana jhanas, specifically from first to second? It reminds me of the transition out of floaty-yet-laserlike Mind and Body towards more open, less solid A&P.

RE: Do I have access concentration?
Answer
11/16/10 9:15 AM as a reply to K N.
K N:
Hi,

Daniel said in MCTB that "you'll know when you have it", so if I have to ask, I guess I don't, but I'll ask just in case anyway. ;)


Hmm I haven't found "you'll know it when you have it" to apply to me.. I'm 95% sure I have it now, cause I think I can get into 1st jhana, through the breath where I feel really really pleasant body sensations that I can intensify, and through a candle flame where I see the red dot. But even then, there isn't some huge perceptual shift, at least not for me. I start feeling pleasant body sensations and I focus on those, and I suppose my thoughts are a little less distracting, but it's nothing too dramatic. Maybe it's just very soft jhana, I dnno.

Furthermore, looking back, I got those pleasant sensations (although only a little at a time) even like 1-2 months ago. So I guess I had it then, but I had no idea.

I had that 3D shifty thing too. I don't know what it is, either. it might be going from 1st jhana to 2nd jhana? i think your attention is supposed to widen from 1st to 2nd, both for samatha and vipassana.

I'd recommend trying candle flame meditation, since getting 1st jhana there = seeing the red dot, so it's pretty obvious if you can do it. someone correct me if i'm wrong, i've got no confidence about this stuff.

RE: Do I have access concentration?
Answer
11/16/10 11:53 AM as a reply to Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem.
BBB, sounds like soft jhana to me.

I'm not familiar with kasina practices using a candle flame, but I can talk about open-eyes kasina practice looking at a circular mono-colored object. My suspicion is that the concentration ability acquired from doing candle flame kasina should transfer pretty well to circular objects, and some people find it easier to "diagnose" their jhana in circle kasina. So I'll give a description here in case anyone wants to try it out as a way to get a feel for how the different levels of concentration feel.

Basically, you stare at the circle. And that's the entirety of the instructions. You stare at it. Soft jhana will arise if you keep staring at it, but don't think that bodily sensations will necessarily serve as a very good guide because they won't be particularly dominant; your attention will be focused on vision instead of on bodily sensations (as with breath meditation).

At some point, it's easier to keep awareness of the circle in your mind even when there are distracting things going on. Given that we're talking about soft jhana (at least in the beginning of a person's kasina practice), this represents "soft" access concentration.

Some time after that, you'll be primarily aware of the center of the object, and perhaps some effort to keep the attention there. The distracting thoughts, noises, etc. will still happen, but their "tugging" on your attention will be less compelling. This is the first jhana. If you close your eyes at this point and switch to breath concentration, you may find that pleasant bodily sensations show up without much delay, and then you can do touch-based first jhana. Or you can continue to stare at the kasina to remain in vision-based jhana.

Then you'll be aware of the entire kasina, and the distractions will feel even less compelling than before. The sense of effort fades significantly, perhaps disappearing. While the attention to the kasina itself widens and opens up, the awareness of the background of the kasina usually diminishes when moving towards 2nd jhana.

Eventually, the center of the kasina seems difficult to find, and the edges seem to "stick out" at you. Don't make the mistake of trying to re-focus on the center of the kasina! This 3rd jhana is all about noticing the periphery at the expense of the once-laserlike focus on the center. Kasina practice will really make you appreciate the simile that the 3rd jhana makes your attention seem like a donut, made of edges without a center.

I can't yet give a good description of the 4th jhana in circular kasina practice because my experience with it is very limited. The best I can say is that the awareness of the entire kasina itself equalizes, and any remaining distractions are extremely non-bothersome. In fact, it seems that the entire visual field becomes the concentration object. Unfortunately, I can't guarantee that this paragraph is really talking about the 4th jhana instead of some red herring that I've occasionally chanced upon.

RE: Do I have access concentration?
Answer
11/16/10 5:56 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
Ah thanks for that description! I might try that to see where I'm at.

Candle flame sounds much similar, except you close your eyes once you hit access concentration/1st jhana, wait a bit for the retina burn to fade, and then a red dot appears, which is supposed to be your mind's representation of your object of concentration? I'm not sure why the red dot appears honestly, but it is distinct from the retina burn. Then similar things happen w/ the red dot as you progress through the jhanas.

Actually the only guide to candle flame I know is in MCTB in terms of vipassana jhanas.. see full link here, search for "candle-flame" for the beginning. I'm still not sure how one would focus on going through vipassana jhans instead of samatha ones.. but maybe open-eye vs. closed-eye helps?

Have you experimented with closing your eyes once you reach 1st jhana with the kasinas? I wonder if a similar phenomenon will happen as w/ the candle flame - seeing a dot the same color as the kasina (as opposed to the negative which the retina burn would be).

EDIT: Ah I also want to ask, since you do open-eye meditation... do you ever have your whole visual field just shift around? Including the object you're looking at. This starts happening to me if I get concentrated enough.. it'll like zoom in/out slightly, or just pan around. Any idea what it is?

RE: Do I have access concentration?
Answer
11/24/10 3:56 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
Thanks for your replies everyone; I guess I have been able to achieve access concentration for quite some time now.

J Adam G:

Might that shift also represent traversing the vipassana jhanas, specifically from first to second? It reminds me of the transition out of floaty-yet-laserlike Mind and Body towards more open, less solid A&P.


Hmm, I would be surprised if I had already been on the threshold of A&P, as I can't say that I've explicitly noticed the preceding stages. On the other hand, I'm starting to suspect that I've experienced Mind & Body spontaneously several times during my life, before I even started meditating. (I described that experience as 'the rousing' here.) Is it possible that I could somehow be so used to the state that I could cross it without noticing it?

I also described some of my recent experiences in this post, if that gives you any more hints on where I might be.