Concentration practice and social/work situations

Robert Scott Johnson, modified 10 Years ago.

Concentration practice and social/work situations

Posts: 17 Join Date: 1/25/11 Recent Posts
Hey everyone, lately I've been doing concentration practices on the bus on the way to and from work, I've found that it's very easy for me to get into pretty deep states (well pretty deep for me anyway) using the breath and /or the sounds and movements of the bus as an object of meditation, sometimes I listen to brainwave entrainment programs to kinda get me into the groove a little bit (confidence boosting, self hypnosis, headache therapy, euphoric seretonin release etc.) The bus ride is about 40 minutes which is ideal for me to get pretty into it. Anyway yesterday I used a euphoric seretonin release program for the first 9 minutes of the meditation and focused on the breath for the rest of the time and got into a pretty stable state that seemed like second maybe third Jhana. My timer went off and soon I got off the bus and headed into work. Walking to the office I felt mildly hazy but at the same time it seemed like my surroundings were going a million miles an hour. Then when I got in I ran into some pretty uncomfortable, nervous feelings. I felt extremely self conciouse, shaky, my heart was pounding and I was having no fun at all.

At the office we were having a training meeting. First they had us split into two to practice "rebuttals" ( I work door to door for an energy conservation company setting homeowners up with appointments with energy consultants ) doing the rebuttals with my partner my voice was all shaky and I was extremely nervous, I can be a bit shy at times but this was ridiculous! Next was even worse we split into groups of about ten and played this question game where you go back and forth asking only questions answering questions with other questions. This sort of thing is usually pretty light and fun for me but this time it was hell. I started getting so nervous that people started noticing and asking stuff like "why are you turning red?" " why are you so quiet?" and I had to respond to that stuff with other questions. I can kind of laugh about the experience now, but at the time it really sucked, I was even trying to just feel my sensate universe and be friendly about it but it wasn't really helping the actual experience itself. Sorry to go into so much detail about my job but I want to paint a picture of what happened so everyone can understand better.

It seems to me like what happened was just too much contrast too quickly from being in a no thought state to being in a loud rambunctious environment filled with a bunch of enthusiastic people. I also have been doing vipassana lately and recently quit using marijuana so in general I feel like I have more sensitive perceptions but this was complete sensory overload I mean I was freaking out.

Anyway today I skipped the whole meditate on the way to work thing and focused more on being engaged with the people and surroundings on the bus and was much less of a mess at work. I guess my question is what's a good way to do concentration practice before social situations that don't lead to social anxiety? Or a good way to transition from a deep state to being social and functional?
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Concentration practice and social/work situations

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
My knee-jerk reaction is to say that you had an A&P event because your meditation technique was not leading to pure concentration states. Rather, you were encountering concentrated insight stages, which have features in between those of the shamatha jhanas and the vipassana jhanas.

Since A&P flows naturally into Dissolution, it's natural that you might not have been able to tell whether you were in the 2nd or the 3rd jhana -- you probably encountered late 2nd jhana territory, and then moved into early 3rd jhana territory.

When you stopped concentrating, you were bumped out of the pleasant half-shamatha, half-vipassana practice and thrown into pure insight stages. You entered the office in late Dissolution, feeling hazy and noticing things going by very quickly, so quickly that you couldn't grasp anything that was happening before it was already gone.

The stage after Dissolution is Fear. This explains the unusual nervousness and anxiety reaction that happened as you kept trying to figure out what was going on, i.e. as you kept investigating Dissolution while still in the afterglow of concentration practice.

Other possbilities exist, but really your description seems to perfectly match what usually ends up happening to someone who unintentionally combines the insight and the serenity techniques, thinking they were doing pure serenity meditation.
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Concentration practice and social/work situations

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
Forgot to actually answer your questions.

If you don't want to have reactions like these if you're around other people right after you meditate, then you should stick with pure shamatha meditation. Of course, pure shamatha does not lead to enlightenment -- it's just really enjoyable.

It can be hard to explain the difference between the pure shamatha technique and the shamatha-vipassana technique. But it's worth the trouble to really figure it out. One thing that helps clarify the difference between the two techniques is to translate their names into english. I use different translations than most others, but there's a reason for that.

Shamatha = serenity meditation, or peacefulness meditation. (Literal: "calm abiding") The idea is to maintain a very light, peaceful "touch" with the object of meditation. If you're using the breath at the nose, then you should maintain attention at that spot in a very gentle way. The point is NOT to notice or experience anything about the breath in particular. The only thing you should be doing is peacefully attending to that object. Do not examine the breath, or attend to differences between inhalation and exhalation, or notice phases or cycles in the breathing, or notice what things lead to other things. In other words, don't do anything that resembles investigation or picking apart the breath into components. Not even 2 components, such as in and out, or pleasant and unpleasant. Just put the mind there in such a way that you gradually become more peaceful, calm, and happy as the meditation progresses.

Why should you do that? Well, vipassana literally means "seeing through." A more common translation is "clear seeing." This process, whatever you call it, leads to enlightenment, It isn't necessarily unpleasant if you're doing it at the same time as serenity meditation. But if you don't want to deal with what happens when you quit doing the serenity meditation and you're still in unpleasant insight stages, then you have to learn how to let the mind settle down onto the concentration object without looking at details about the object: how it changes, how it doesn't have a "core" that you can really latch onto, how it isn't ever 100% pleasant.... In other words, if you keep looking at the object and realizing things about it, you'll start realizing the three characteristics sooner or later. If you just want to have some fun, then your ONLY job is to sit the mind down on the object and chill out. Seeing things clearly, or seeing through things, will trigger the progress of insight.

Consider yourself lucky: it's good to be naturally good at combining shamatha and vipassana. Pure vipassana is the fastest method for certain people, at least in the beginning of practice. But it can be miserable, and thus punishing (in the behavioral sense of the term, as the opposite of reinforcing/rewarding), and thus people often roll up the mat because the meditation sucks. If on the other hand you can enjoy your insight meditation by making it serene, then from a behavioral standpoint, you're less likely to quit meditating when you hit the stages that suck. You'll still encounter the insight stages outside of meditation; sticking diligently with a concentrated insight practice will help you move through them more quickly =)

So my suggestions are as follows:
-Learn how to do pure serenity meditation. The litmus test for this is that you love meditating, and the afterglow from a meditation session is enjoyable.
-More importantly, do the combined serenity-insight technique you're already familiar with so you can get to stream entry. Perhaps seek some help to refine it so that you can get stream entry as soon as possible. After all, you're a dark night yogi now, and the best thing to do at this point is to maintain forward momentum in the practice that brought you across the A&P. The cure for your current symptoms is stream entry, whereas pure serenity meditation is temporary symptom relief. Don't hang around in the dark night long enough to find out all the ways it can suck -- just get to the other side. Best of luck, and bring us all your questions!
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Florian Weps, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Concentration practice and social/work situations

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

Yeah, I ran into something like that during Christmas season, with lots of delicate family diplomacy on my hands. The results were unpleasant, to put it mildly.

Just a couple of things in addition to the good points already made: If these side-effects bother you, and you feel the need to ground down a bit, there are traditional recommendations such as physical exertion (I do Judo...), eating pasta and so on, and going easy on the pure concentration stuff.

Oh, and an interesting framework for the advice of "balance your concentration with investigation of the truth" already given is that of the "10 defilements of insight" (I don't have the link right here; google is your friend). This one in particular was quite helpful to me when I was in a similar situation. Another one is "the 5 spiritual faculties" (again, search for them; there's a chapter in MCTB about them).

Cheers,
Florian
Robert Scott Johnson, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Concentration practice and social/work situations

Posts: 17 Join Date: 1/25/11 Recent Posts
Thanks for the helpful hints guys, I didn't associate my experience with an A&P event cause I was doing what I thought was just concentration practices. Another strange tidbit is that when I meditate on the bus or before work it's usually to try to relax, put myself into a good mindstate, and cultivate wholesome qualities so that I can be more productive at work, be a good example for others and in general just be of service to the world. In fact so far all of this meditation stuff has been dedicated to bettering this lump of mind and body for the benefit of all, I take the dedication of merit very seriously and that's one reason why it kind of hurt when I was having negative side effects, cause I could tell that others did not enjoy seeing me in the state that I was in.

Anyway, about this vipassana stuff. So far I've been under the impression that with vipassana you had to really REALLY investigate and intentionally see the three characteristics in everything in order to progress, when I do vipassana I usually get into a strong concentration state and then start investigating. It makes a whole lot if sense that I could have been inadvertently doing insight when I thought I was doing concentration because when I was on the bus I was staying with the breath but also couldn't help but notice other things, what I thought I was doing was just having a broader object of meditation but now that I think about it sometimes while doing concentration practice I become emboldened and start investigating the three characteristics, kind of like sneaking a peek. It also makes sense that just by simply noticing "in breath" "out breath" that this is actually investigating therefore vipassana not concentration. As far as this stuff and it's link to specific insight stages knowledge of fear seems about right cause I was certainly fearful. Today I went ahead and continued my little bus meditations this time intentionally investigating the three characteristics and felt kind of like what is described as knowledge of misery, not as much fearfulness although I'm still kind of a nervous wreck but I just felt kind of blah. Anyway thanks for your response Adam you've encouraged me to continue practicing, and I'm shooting for stream entry (unless this is second path which I think it may be, I'll save that for another post.) Thanks for your comment too Florian I actually think there is a pretty good description on the 10 defilements of insight in MCTB I'm not sure though I'll have to revisit that, and also your right about the physical exertion when I get moving around and stuff that always helps me during some of these weird times.

Thanks y'alls
Peace
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Florian Weps, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Concentration practice and social/work situations

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

Well, the A&P will present in a broad variety of ways. If you've been reading MCTB, the description in there is a kind of "everything A&P", you know, every option added. You may be expecting way too much in terms of spectacular stuff, especially if you're crossing it in everyday life, rather than on intensive retreat.

Also, the distinction between "concentration" and "tranquility" can be useful to explore. Pumping concentration will lead to freaky stuff in most cases; cultivating tranquility is a much more rounded, balanced activity.

Finally, the distinction between "concentration" and "investigation" is increasingly artificial as practice advances, at least as far as my experience goes (and that of quite a few people who report the same). As you've found, it's quite hard not to be curious about what is going on when unusual mind states arise due to concentration practice.

Cheers,
Florian
C C C, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Concentration practice and social/work situations

Posts: 946 Join Date: 3/9/10 Recent Posts
This thread remind me of something.

In all spiritual practices, you're moving your focus away from the ego, right? And yet a strong ego is needed to function properly in the World, certainly in relationships. Nervousness, shyness, awkwardness are all signs of a weak ego. It got diminished through meditation. What's the answer here?
Robert Scott Johnson, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Concentration practice and social/work situations

Posts: 17 Join Date: 1/25/11 Recent Posts
Hey guys thanks so much for your responses, theyve helped alot. CCC your answer explains alot too. I've become very involved in no self teachings and ways of thought in my everyday life, and it's interesting to me how the process of diminishing your illusion of self involves a quick sort of relapse where your obsessd with self, at least that's how it seems to work with me. I've had days where I wake up totally understanding and living no self teachings and other days / moments where they seem confusing. ( "no self? but I'm standing right here")Guess it's just part of the process eh. Anyway I took the leap and started to really get on this vipassana stuff and it's had some great results. I'll post a thread about it soon, I've been pretty busy lately but can always squeeze in time for meditation!

Thanks
Robert
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Beoman Claudiu Beoman, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Concentration practice and social/work situations

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
C C C:
This thread remind me of something.

In all spiritual practices, you're moving your focus away from the ego, right? And yet a strong ego is needed to function properly in the World, certainly in relationships. Nervousness, shyness, awkwardness are all signs of a weak ego. It got diminished through meditation. What's the answer here?


I don't believe meditation will take a strong one (confident, assertive) and turn it into a weak one (nervous, shy). Both for a strong and a weak ego, it would cause them to take a look at what they assume to be true/take for granted (this makes me nervous - I will always be nervous when this happens; I feel I have to assert myself in this situation or nothing will get done), examine it more closely (why does this make me nervous? what is the nervousness? what is the me that is nervous?; why does this make me want to assert myself? what is the feeling of needing to assert myself? what is the me that is assertive?), and through that understanding, those habits may or may not diminish (oh it's just a cause and effect contraction of my ego... well there's no reason to be nervous about that!; oh it's just a cause and effect contraction of my ego... well speaking rationally something still must be done in the situation, so I suppose I can take action, but it would not bug me if I don't).

So while meditation diminishes the ego, it's not in the sense of strong -> weak. I don't think a confident and self-assured individual would become a whimpering weakling (though he might temporarily during the Dark Night =P). It's more of big -> small. big strong ego -> small strong ego; big weak -> small weak ego. And, through AF, eventually ending at no ego, which apparently is a wonderful way to "function properly in the World", though not one in which you will have relationships in the normal sense of the word.

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