Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

Adam M, modified 10 Years ago.

Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

Posts: 9 Join Date: 2/28/11 Recent Posts
Two weeks ago I attained what I'm pretty sure is access concentration, and a little taste of the first jhana. (though I had to look it up to find out what had happened to me).

In the few days after that my meditations were very interesting, and I danced around access concentration/first jhana, touching each several times in my 1 hour daily meditation, but never able to hold on for long. But my mindfulness felt much stronger than ever before.

Since then, my mind and meditations have become very thick, like treacle. I feel an almost constant heaviness in my mind, and like my brain is blocked, or holding on to something unnecessarily (the three illusions I imagine). Along with a feeling of wanting to awaken, throw off shackles. Although sometimes I briefly extraordinarily mindful, most often in meditating I feel less mindful than I have in weeks, a general dullness that is not tiredness. I can follow the breath, but it feels like I'm constantly stuggling and my attention is shallow. I'm also feeling general aching, but I am not ill.

In my search for answers I stumbled upon this forum, and MCTB, which seem to be quite helpful, though I am still confused.

My question is, is this stage "knowledge of the three characteristics"? If so, how should I move forward? Am I on the right track? Should I put my effort into attaining access concentration, or being mindful of the thickness in my head?
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Bruno Loff, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

Posts: 1094 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
You have crossed a stage called "arising and passing away" (A&P), and are now in dark night territory. Keep practicing as best as you can, until you get to equanimity. Then keep practicing some more, and get stream entry.

For most people, the key to overcoming the dark night is to do a powerful insight practice, such as mahasi noting.

Read MCTB all the way, it's a great book, and a lot will be made clear.

Take care,
Bruno
Adam M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

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Thanks Bruno, I wondered if I might be in dark night territory. I'll keep at it.
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Beoman Claudiu Beoman, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

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I heard it described that in the 1st vipassana jhana, or nyanas 1-3, you are good at perceiving the beginnings of sensations. during the 2nd vipassana jhana, or nyana 4, you are good at perceiving the middle of sensations. during the 3rd vipassana jhana, or nyanas 5-10, or the Dark Night, you are good at perceiving the endings of sensations.. which can be really frustrating as you're only catching stuff that is already gone. While reading those descriptions never helped me get anywhere that I can tell, maybe it will help you? I also hear it is good to pay attention to things vibrating during the Dark Night. but generally, just keep practicing, keep noting, try to keep it in perspective (don't let it bleed through), etc. All that assuming it is Dark Night, that is.
Adam M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

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Thanks Beoman.

Spent all night reading through MCTB's stages of insight, and a bunch of posts here. I believe I am in the stage "re-observation". I have flashes of something like equanimity each day, and that stage seems tantalizingly close.

Your description does help, and aligns well with my recent experiences.

It also seems I've spent years going through insight cycles before I learnt to meditate, so this Dark Night hasn't bled through too much since I think I am well practiced in it! Just a little irritable and bit less "sharp", but keeping good humor about it and hoping no-one notices how hard I am finding it to work and concentrate on daily tasks.

I am going to try noting practice in my daily meditation, see if that helps me progress through this stage.
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Jackson Wilshire, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

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Bruno's interpretation that you have already crossed the A&P, and are thus now in dark night territory, is one possible explanation. It's a good guess.

However, there are really two places a yogi tends to get stuck: 3rd ñana (Comprehension/Three Characteristics) and 10th ñana (Re-observation) -- both of which have already been mentioned.

The trick thing about these two stages is that they are eerily similar in many ways. The best way to discover which stage is your current ceiling is to notice what comes before. Typically, if you are able to practice up to 10th ñana you will "cycle" from access concentration, then the first four ñanas (which usually includes some kind of energy rush or release), then into dark night territory. If this is where you get "stuck", you're probably at 10th ñana.

If, however, you've only been able to track progress from a 1st jhana/1st ñana experience up to this "stuck" feeling, you might be at 3rd ñana. How does your body feel in this state/stage? How is your breathing? (smooth, jerky, quick, slow, shallow, deep, etc.)

Whatever the case, I good combination of recognition (noting) and acceptance (surrender), as well as some good investigation (noticing Three Characteristics) should help bring on the next stage, whatever it may be. Do your best not to resist experience, and don't bother spending too much time thinking about what it all means. Do your best to answer the question, "What is happening NOW?" in each moment, and you'll keep moving along.

Keep us posted. Best!

Jackson
Adam M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

Posts: 9 Join Date: 2/28/11 Recent Posts
Thanks Jackson.

Your last paragraph is a very welcome reminder that I will try to keep in mind.

I'm still a little uncertain if this is 3rd or 10th ñana. Though it doesn't really matter that much, I just want to advance past whatever it is - though if solidly identifying the stage will help me go forward, it is worth some effort.

More detail on symptoms: my body is quite achy, though I have had back pain for since before meditating it is much worse now. Most acutely my neck feel really, unusually tight. Also my head is almost constantly tense, like when there are loud roadworks outside your window. My breathing is nice, smooth and deep. Though breathing became unusually shallow and jerky soon after I first touched the first Samatha Jhana.

I'm finding it hard to track what happens in meditations, and day to day because my concentration is terrible! I sometimes feel like I am completing mini-cycles, up to 10th ñana in the space of minutes, or even less. But I'm quite confused generally.

This description of the Dark Night from MCTB seems very familiar:

[indent]"Whereas one might have felt that one’s attention had finally attained the one-pointed focus that is so highly valued in most ideals of meditation during the Arising and Passing Away, during the Dark Night one will have to deal with the fact that one’s attention is actually quite wide and its contents unstable. Further, the center of one’s attention becomes the very least clear area of experience, and the periphery becomes predominant... Those that fixate on staying one-pointed will suffer more than those who learn to stay with what is going on regardless of whether or not it feels like “good meditation.”"[/indent]
Some excerpts from Re-Observation which strongly reflect my state:

[indent]There can be the distinct feeling that it is impossible to go forward and useless to go back... we may begin to see clearly exactly what our minds do all day long, see with great clarity how the illusion of a dualistic split is even created in the first place sensation by sensation, moment to moment, but somehow there is not yet enough spaciousness of perspective and equanimity to make good use of this information... Layers of unhelpful and previously hidden expectation, pressure and anxiety can show their true uselessness, though this beneficial process can be very confusing and difficult. We may get the sense that we have never had such a strong feeling-life, and until we get used to this new awareness of our previously subtle emotions, this stage can be quite overwhelming. [/indent]
Also, this description An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis just about sums it up!

[indent]“At some time in the past, I had white lights, unitive experiences and delightful tingles. Now my meditation sucks and I hate everything.”[/indent]
Anyhoo, I'm going to try and stick with recognition and acceptance, as much investigation as I can muster, and trying to see what is happening NOW.
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Jackson Wilshire, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

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Hi Adam,

I have a few more remarks, which I hope will be helpful to you...

Adam M:
More detail on symptoms: my body is quite achy, though I have had back pain for since before meditating it is much worse now. Most acutely my neck feel really, unusually tight. Also my head is almost constantly tense, like when there are loud roadworks outside your window. My breathing is nice, smooth and deep. Though breathing became unusually shallow and jerky soon after I first touched the first Samatha Jhana.


1.) Neck and back pain were always more prominent for me during trips through the 3rd ñana.

2.) Breathing has a tendency to be jerky throughout he 3rd ñana, especially at first. When one has a lot or practice moving through these stages, it can move by so quickly that it is hardly noticed.

3.) You said that breathing became jerky after you first "touched the first Samatha Jhana." Do you mean that it hasn't been jerky since that time? Also, the jerky breathing following first jhana is a clear sign that you were moving into 2nd and 3rd ñana territory.

It's possible that you breezed past the A&P stuff without really noticing it, but that seems unlikely to me. Usually the A&P stage of any given path cycle is very noticible. It's either like a big rushing ZzzzzooooOOOOMmmMMMM! Or a build up and KaBOOOM! Many people report strange visualizations leading up to, and even throughout, the A&P, which dissolves in to sparks or TV snow when it's over (which is the lead-in to the 5th ñana; Dissolution).

You wrote:

Adam M:
Also, this description An Idiots Guide to Dharma Diagnosis just about sums it up!


“At some time in the past, I had white lights, unitive experiences and delightful tingles. Now my meditation sucks and I hate everything.”


The tricky thing here is that, as I mentioned before, there are two spots where this happens quite frequently - 3rd ñana and 10th ñana. That's what makes this Dharma Diagnosis stuff so tricky. It's difficult to do any kind of thorough assessment without really getting to know the ins and outs of one's practice experience.

Anyway... like we've both been saying, where you're at right now isn't as important as discovering where you'll be next. The only way to do that is through practice. My guess is that you'll either hit an A&P event soon, or work your way through the discomfort into the calm, compassionate space of the Equanimity ñana. I'm looking forward to your future reports.

Keep it up! You're doing awesome.
-Jackson
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
Hi Adam,

Is the physical pain solid and unchanging? Or is it "hard to pin down" and vibratory?

You mentioned having glimpses of the stage beyond where you're having the strong pain. Is that place more intense or less intense than the painful one? How do the vibrations change? Do you start getting more energized and happy, or do you go through an exhausted "giving up" phase followed by a neutral stage?
Adam M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

Posts: 9 Join Date: 2/28/11 Recent Posts
An update: a lot has changed since my last post.

I've been practicing recognizing and accepting as much as possible, and I felt the burden and suffering gradually lifting or dissipating in the last day or two. I do now feel "calm and compassionate".

My meditation today was completely different to the past couple of weeks. Although it lacked excitement, and my concentration was not too strong, the previous thickness, murkiness and pain has mostly gone, and I was able to sit quite comfortably, being generally aware of my mind. I was able to catch and observe distractions much more clearly. I smiled almost continuously for the whole hour.

If I was previously at 3rd or 10th ñana, I'm fairly confident I am now moving beyond whatever it was. I feel like I am probably at Equanimity - or is it possible that I am somewhere between 3rd and 4th ñana? Or perhaps I was at 3rd ñana, and have somehow slipped backwards?


Usually the A&P stage of any given path cycle is very noticible. It's either like a big rushing ZzzzzooooOOOOMmmMMMM! Or a build up and KaBOOOM! Many people report strange visualizations leading up to, and even throughout, the A&P, which dissolves in to sparks or TV snow when it's over

What I think may have been the A&P (which I took for first samatha jhana) did not have this, nor have I ever experienced it. Rather it was more like very strong concentration, and a feeling of deep insight into the workings and flaws of my mind.

Is the physical pain solid and unchanging? Or is it "hard to pin down" and vibratory?

The pain was very solid, unchanging and strong in the back of my head and neck. Some of this remains, but much much less severe.

You mentioned having glimpses of the stage beyond where you're having the strong pain. Is that place more intense or less intense than the painful one? How do the vibrations change? Do you start getting more energized and happy, or do you go through an exhausted "giving up" phase followed by a neutral stage?

Though this has now passed, as I recall the glimpses were of a calmer, less intense, more relaxed place, quite like how I feel now. The glimpses were exhaustion followed by giving up into a calm tranquil place.

A couple more notes from the past couple of weeks: my sense of smell improved markedly. My dreams became very intense. I had one dream where I was steering an out of control car from the back seat, and the accelerator was jammed in position. I sometimes found it hard or impossible to sleep (though I've had bouts of insomnia for years).

There is now a strong feeling of being back to normal, but with broader and clearer awareness. I very much hope this is Low Equanimity. It feels a lot like it. Though if I have gone through the first 10 ñanas, the process has been quicker and less intense than what I understand is common.

Thanks again to all. Any further suggestions for how I should practice now?
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Jackson Wilshire, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

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Hi Adam,

Thanks for giving the latest report. I'm still not certain I know what's happening for you in terms of the stages of the Progress of Insight. Sometimes reports like this provide evidence of a particular stage that is glaringly obvious, and are thus quite easy to pin down. This doesn't appear to be one of those cases... yet ;-) We'll have a better idea based on what happens next.

Here's what I think would be good to do...

Continue to balance applied mindfulness (recognition) and equanimity (friendly acceptance) of whatever you encounter in meditation. And I mean whatever. Practice noting as much as possible, but don't worry about doing it in a rapid fire way. Just make mental notes of what is happening so as to limit the amount of time you spend thinking about practice instead of just practicing. One note/label every second or two is usually fine. It can be helpful to notice the feeling tone of experience, which can be pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral. This tends to reveal the ways in which we either grasp, reject, or just ignore our experience - all things we want to counteract as much as possible in practice.

Do this for at least 20 minutes each day. Some people recommend spending as much time as possible on the cushion, but I think too much effort can result in unnecessary suffering. You can find a good balance between practice time and other important aspects of your life.

If sitting ever becomes totally unbearable for some reason, get up and take a walk outside. Daniel suggests in MCTB that taking walks in nature is good for dark night stuff, and I found that to be true. You don't have to wait for dark night stuff, though. Sometimes difficult times are made less difficult by being outside and getting some exercise.

Keep a journal of your experiences. See if you can recognize a familiar pattern. Continue to post here whenever you feel like it, and I'll do my best to check in and help you if you would like me to continue to do so. I'd be open to private message conversations as well, if you think that would be helpful to you.

I think you're doing really well. Keep it up!

Jackson
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
Your description mostly lines up with Reobservation -> Low Equanimity according to Daniel's table of the nyanas and sub-nyanas. The only exception I notice is the solidity of the pain.

Whatever is happening, you seem to be doing much better now. Keep up the great progress, and let us know how it goes!
Adam M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

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Thanks J Adam G, definitely feeling much better now. Hoping it is indeed Low Equanimity, and that I don't have to go through the Dark Night or anything like it anytime soon. I've got a bunch of work to catch up on now!

Will update if and when something interesting happens!
Adam M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

Posts: 9 Join Date: 2/28/11 Recent Posts
Thanks again for the advice and support Jackson. And thanks for the offer of private messaging, I will take you up on it if it seems necessary, though for now I'm feeling pleasantly calm and collected.

I'm wondering now if it is possible I haven't even reached the map yet, though it sure felt like something big was happening. Either way, I'll try noting meditation, and keep practicing mindfulness and equanimity off the cushion.

Walking is a good suggestion, I have been walking and exercising more than usual, and it has definitely helped.

I really like the journal idea, will be useful for noticing patterns and getting some perspective on events. I've also been a bit concerned I'm selectively remembering in order to fit my experiences into the narrative of the insight map, so keeping a journal should help get a bit of objectivity. I didn't even know there were maps two weeks ago, now I am obsessed with the progress of insight! Think it will be good to take a step back from the map and try to focus on the territory.
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
Adam M:
I'm wondering now if it is possible I haven't even reached the map yet, though it sure felt like something big was happening. Either way, I'll try noting meditation, and keep practicing mindfulness and equanimity off the cushion.


If you are actually in Equanimity (and again, that sort of thing is never 100% certain), you might feel like you're nowhere near any "special mystical knowledge." In some phases of Equanimity, everything seems simple, obvious, easy; it may even bore you. If you're noting, then be sure to note the easiness or boredom or simplicity... whatever you can observe, you can note.

Right now is an absolutely great time to keep up your mindfulness and equanimity off the cushion. If you can increase it further, that would be even better! Let me know if you'd like any suggestions on ways to be mindful in daily life.
Adam M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

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J Adam G:
Right now is an absolutely great time to keep up your mindfulness and equanimity off the cushion. If you can increase it further, that would be even better! Let me know if you'd like any suggestions on ways to be mindful in daily life.


Absolutely! I've been trying to bring mindfulness more into daily life by taking a moment to recognize and accept whatever is going on in my mind whenever I remember, which I think is working quite well. I'd love to hear any more suggestions for being more mindful in daily life.
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
I've learned a few tricks from Thich Nhat Hanh's books, mainly The Miracle of Mindfulness. He has some of the best suggestions. The basic idea is that you introduce mindfulness into daily life one habit at a time. You pick something that happens regularly, like brushing your teeth or hearing a ringing phone. Resolve to be mindful every time you encounter the stimulus. Once you're good at remembering mindfulness every time you encounter that situation, pick a new thing to remind you of mindfulness, and repeat the process.

There's one especially good mindfulness reminder: a watch that beeps every hour. Be mindful for some specific amount of time whenever you hear the beep. Don't try to be mindful of the time period. If you practice trying, you'll only get good at trying. Instead, you should practice succeeding, so you can get good at succeeding. So, you should start with a small amount of time. Wait until the habit is firmly established before you increase the time period to something more challenging.

I'll give a personal example. I'm starting with 10 seconds of mindfulness when I begin the watch-beep technique. The initial challenge is to recognize each beep as a mindfulness cue. Once that's easy, then I'll increase the time period to something more difficult, but still doable.

Note that watch beep practice is sort of an intermediate-to-advanced practice. You must already have some daily mindfulness to notice all those beeps. But once the habit is established, its power increases exponentially as you increase the time period linearly. 45 seconds isn't too different from 30 seconds. But when you're mindful for 10 minutes of every hour, shit gets real.

As for equanimity... it should go hand in hand with mindfulness. Many authors don't even describe mindfulness and equanimity as two separate things. Mushroomy? Yes. But it works quite well in most situations.
Adam M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

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Thanks J Adam G, I like these ideas a lot. Think I'll get The Miracle of Mindfulness.

But when you're mindful for 10 minutes of every hour, shit gets real.


I'd love to get that much more mindful in day to day life. Will definitely work at it.
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

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Glad you like it. Do check out some of TNH's other books. I liked Miracle of Mindfulness, but I haven't read some of his other books which are supposed to be more practice oriented. You might consider checking them out on Amazon, and previewing the Tables of Contents.
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tom moylan, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

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I'm wondering now if it is possible I haven't even reached the map yet, though it sure felt like something big was happening. Either way, I'll try noting meditation, and keep practicing mindfulness and equanimity off the cushion.

Hey Adam,
I hate to introduce any doubt here but from the first answer you received up until this point, I would not have guessed (and that's what I'm doing) that you had reached A&P yet.

To make it clear that this is only a guess, I don't know where I am in my practice at this point. In my practice there have been lots of things (up and down) which I've flown over and mostly forgot.

One question: Are you just doing concentration practice or actively doing vipassana?

In any case ..keep observing!

Cheers,

Tom
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Got access concentration, now my mind feels thick and blocked

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
Hi Tom,

I've crossed the A&P a few times, but not recently. I wasn't ready for the dark night when I hit it. For various reasons, dry vipassana produced faster results than it should have, and dear god -- the cost! Reobservation sucks enough on its own, but I also had dysthymia which the dark night escalated into major depression. It didn't help that I thought, "I'm a psychology major. I know too much about depression to develop it. I'm just having a bad dark night." Yeah, right. The dark night is unpleasant, but it isn't supposed to be literally intolerable.

Talk about "16 year old driving a ferrari." I later swore to stay out of that car until I could drive it without crashing.

So I decided to first cure the depression, then learn pure shamatha, then finally return to insight. Currently, I'm still working on pure shamatha.

In about 6 weeks, I switch to combined shamatha-vipassana. Wish me luck!

BTW, in saying that you don't assume I have reached the A&P, are you saying that my interpretation of Adam M's reports was off? I won't be offended if you say that -- I know the place of a non-stream-enterer in any discussion about insight.

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