Informal Samatha practice

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Rich N, modified 10 Years ago.

Informal Samatha practice

Posts: 64 Join Date: 1/12/11 Recent Posts
As I wrote on another thread I currently want to perform pure samatha practice, as much as possible. I'm a little paranoid about my concentration ability, and as well as not thinking it's sufficient to go all the way with insight and deal with the challenges along the way I actually want better concentration in my every day life as well.

So I'm practicing 1 hour a day formal sitting observing the breath. I'm also reading as much as possible about the Jhanas so I can prepare for their arrival.

However I'd also like to know about the possibilities of practicing informally during every day life. I once heard Shinzen Young speak about meditating while driving, the objects of concentration being the visual field and the physical feel of the body. However he doesn't distinguish between Samatha and Vipassina; in addition I'd heard other people mention that this can be/is dangerous.

People also often talk about walking meditation.

Rather than going through the lists of different meditations, let's just see if I have the principles right for Samatha and then basically I can invent my own.

1. Choose an object.
2. Observe the object as a continuous and whole thing.
3. If the attention wanders, bring it back to the object.

That's it right?

Other instructions I'm not so sure of.

4. Observe the object in as fine a detail as possible (quality wise - as in observing as much detail in one "observation" of the breath as possible).
5. Observe the object in as fine a detail as possible (time wise - as in, making as many observations of the breath as possible in one second).

Also I'm still slightly confused about whether mental images of the object count as part of it, or if they are a seperate "distraction" which should be disregarded as if any other intisive thought.

Rich
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Ian And, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Informal Samatha practice (Answer)

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Rich N:

However I'd also like to know about the possibilities of practicing informally during every day life. I once heard Shinzen Young speak about meditating while driving, the objects of concentration being the visual field and the physical feel of the body. However he doesn't distinguish between Samatha and Vipassina; in addition I'd heard other people mention that this can be/is dangerous.

People also often talk about walking meditation.

You might find the practice of japa to contain what you are looking for in terms of a practical activity you can do to develop and promote mindfulness in waking conscious activities. Japa is a concentration technique used by many Hindu meditation instructors. It can be done either in a formal meditation setting, such as when one closes the eyes and meditates; or it can be done as a mindfulness technique using a mantra (eyes open and following whatever activity one is intent upon) to keep the mind from wandering too far from the present moment.

You can follow the instruction in the link above or do what I used to do while attempting to increase my present-time awareness. It works well with activities like driving without getting you into any trouble with lack of attention on the driving. It's actually meant to increase concentration in the driving (or whatever activity one is performing). What I did was to simply follow my breath, paying attention to the sensation that arose like a pressure in the center of the forehead between the brows. You can add a mantra-like word or phrase (like "budd-ho" or "so-ham" coordinated with the incoming and outgoing breath) to help focus concentration, or simply follow the in-breath and the out-breath (eyes open, obviously) and become aware how this allows a deepening sense of presence in the "now" moment.

Rich N:

Rather than going through the lists of different meditations, let's just see if I have the principles right for Samatha and then basically I can invent my own.

1. Choose an object.
2. Observe the object as a continuous and whole thing.
3. If the attention wanders, bring it back to the object.

That's it right?

Yes, that is correct.

Rich N:

Other instructions I'm not so sure of.

4. Observe the object in as fine a detail as possible (quality wise - as in observing as much detail in one "observation" of the breath as possible).
5. Observe the object in as fine a detail as possible (time wise - as in, making as many observations of the breath as possible in one second).

These instructions should be reserved only for formal meditation sittings and not with a japa type mindfulness practice. The reason for this should be obvious: they require too much attention taken away from the other activity (such as driving or walking).

Rich N:

Also I'm still slightly confused about whether mental images of the object count as part of it, or if they are a separate "distraction" which should be disregarded as if any other intrusive thought.

They can be in such practices as kasina concentration exercises. If you are following a kasina exercise, then follow whatever instruction is given from the source you have chosen.

Personally speaking, I'm not big on recommending mental image focusing, primarily because it invites the mind to interpret what the image might signify. Such invitation can easily lead to metaphysical speculation (or other types of speculation) about the nature of the image and its significance, which leads into conditioned thinking as a source for answers regarding significance. I would advise to disregard any mental images that arise; but then that's just me. You are of course free to do as you see fit.
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Beoman Claudiu Beoman, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Informal Samatha practice (Answer)

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Ian And:
4. Observe the object in as fine a detail as possible (quality wise - as in observing as much detail in one "observation" of the breath as possible).
5. Observe the object in as fine a detail as possible (time wise - as in, making as many observations of the breath as possible in one second).

These instructions should be reserved only for formal meditation sittings and not with a japa type mindfulness practice. The reason for this should be obvious: they require too much attention taken away from the other activity (such as driving or walking).
I should add that for "pure shamatha practice", these instructions border more into meditation that leads to insight.. especially #5. if you wanna avoid A&P and Dark Night and such I'd try to avoid doing things like noticing as many observations per second of your object of choice. Not sure how avoidable it is, though..
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Informal Samatha practice (Answer)

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
About the basic idea of shamatha: if you want pure shamatha, don't observe the object in fine detail. Yes, observing detail can concentrate the mind, but that doesn't make it shamatha. The word shamatha means "keeping the mind pacified" or "staying peaceful." In other words, shamatha is tranquilizing the mind to make it steady.

If you focus the mind by observing sensations with as much detail or speed as you can, that's called "moment-to-moment concentration." It's an insight technique, and it doesn't work for shamatha.

If you focus on the breath and you can see the little "pieces" or phases that make up the cycle of breathing in and out, you're investigating the breath. That's vipassana. If you're tranquilizing the mind while seeing those details, you're doing combined shamatha-vipassana meditation. If you're doing pure shamatha, you won't notice details about the sensation.

Practice treating the meditation object like one big hunk of sensation, rather than a collection of specific components. Your task is to gently hold your attention on that object. If the mind wanders off, then you lovingly return it to the object. That includes if the mind wanders from the unified object to the perception of bits and pieces, or to a detailed perception of how the object changes over time. If that happens, you should go back to seeing the object as an undifferentiated blob. This is described in the suttas as "inclining the mind toward unity, not diversity."

When you get the hang of steadying your attention on the hunk of sensation, you'll be able to catch it almost as soon as it wanders away. This is the first jhana. Eventually, the mind will grow even more steady. The hunk of sensation will present itself to you, and the mind will effortlessly and automatically stay with it. This is the second jhana. You may have already encountered these stages without realizing them, especially if the object was a neutral stimulus (like a kasina, or the breath) instead of a pleasant one.

Fair warning: many beginning concentrators find it difficult to perceive the breath as a single, continuous sensation. As calming as the breath is, it's also pretty complex. It's better suited for combining shamatha with vipassana.

To learn pure shamatha, start with a pleasant, simple object that doesn't have cycles. You could try a smile, or a feeling of warmth or coolness or relaxation somewhere in the body. Try doing a guided lovingkindness meditation, then use the good feeling in your chest as the object. Or use the emotion of lovingkindness itself as the object.

EDIT: When I loaded the thread, Ian hadn't made his second post yet. Even though some of this stuff is redundant, I'll leave it up because it goes into detail about how to reduce the chances of crossing the A&P before you decide that you're ready.
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Rich N, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Informal Samatha practice

Posts: 64 Join Date: 1/12/11 Recent Posts
Thanks Ian, Beoman, J Adam - those answers are extremely informative.

So actually I should not be observing detail about the breath for pure Samatha? Then the only activity is to notice distraction and correct it.

I don't quite understand how observing a feeling would be a simpler object. For me feelings often change, sometimes very quickly. Is the idea that I just don't really notice the changes?

I did try something akind to Kasina practice but I had trouble with straining my eyes and tears and stuff like that.

Does anyone have prolonged experience practicing with an imagined mental object (such as a circle or triangle)?
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Rich N, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Informal Samatha practice

Posts: 64 Join Date: 1/12/11 Recent Posts
Ok so today I tried focusing on positive feelings in the body instead of the breath at all. That meant feelings of rest at first, but shortly after I was focusing on kind of a warm fuzzy blanket of positive feel.

I would describe it like taking a bath in a positive feelings. In many ways I prefered it to the breath, however I found it more difficult to tell if I was doing a "good job" because the idea itself "positive feelings" is more abstract, or at least my mind is less aquainted with it as an object in itself.

Occasionally I experienced a burst of excitement or even a streak (litterally a streak, like a thing lightning bolt) of giddiness - but I don't think this is the 1st Jhana.

My thoughts were often plagued with "expectations" or "desires" for something else/the next thing to happen. I also caught my mind thinking about other things approximately 10 or so times (during the hour), however I am more or less certain I never completely lost contact with the positive feel object for longer than half a second.

I'm considering stepping up to two hours a day however I'm wary of becoming a meditation obsessive and I don't think my life is ideally positioned for a 100% spiritual commitment just yet.

Any advice appreciated.
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Beoman Claudiu Beoman, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Informal Samatha practice

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Rich N:
Ok so today I tried focusing on positive feelings in the body instead of the breath at all. That meant feelings of rest at first, but shortly after I was focusing on kind of a warm fuzzy blanket of positive feel.

I would describe it like taking a bath in a positive feelings. In many ways I prefered it to the breath, however I found it more difficult to tell if I was doing a "good job" because the idea itself "positive feelings" is more abstract, or at least my mind is less aquainted with it as an object in itself.


This could already be 1st jhana. Consider the Buddha's metaphor for 1st jhana, in the Samadhanga Sutta:
Just as if a skilled bathman or bathman's apprentice would pour bath powder into a brass basin and knead it together, sprinkling it again and again with water, so that his ball of bath powder -- saturated, moisture-laden, permeated within and without -- would nevertheless not drip; even so, the monk permeates, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. This is the first development of the five-factored noble right concentration.


Don't focus on the "idea" of positive feelings - just focus on the positive feelings themselves, on the pleasure you are feeling. The way I did it is I would start with the breath, then tune into how good my body felt moving subtly with the breath, then focus on the body sensations. Suffuse your body with the pleasure. Get to the point where you can do this reliably every sit. As you suffuse your body with the pleasure more and more, at some point something will lock in into a positive feedback loop and sustain itself without so applied and sustained effort - that is, the 2nd jhana. From MCTB:
The near enemy of the first samatha jhana is access concentration, and when the applied and sustained effort or attention flag somewhat, access concentration sets in. As the texts rightly say, the applied and sustained effort, i.e. the fact that you have to make effort to get into and stay in this state, is somewhat annoying. This becomes more and more apparent, and clear awareness of just this simple fact while staying in the jhana causes the mind to eventually bail out of the first jhana and into the second jhana.


Rich N:

Occasionally I experienced a burst of excitement or even a streak (litterally a streak, like a thing lightning bolt) of giddiness - but I don't think this is the 1st Jhana.

It could be a burst of piti.

Rich N:

My thoughts were often plagued with "expectations" or "desires" for something else/the next thing to happen. I also caught my mind thinking about other things approximately 10 or so times (during the hour), however I am more or less certain I never completely lost contact with the positive feel object for longer than half a second.

That's great! Keep working at it. Focus on the present moment - don't think about what happened in the past (or just a few moments ago), don't think about what might happen in the future (or a few moments from now).

Rich N:
I'm considering stepping up to two hours a day however I'm wary of becoming a meditation obsessive and I don't think my life is ideally positioned for a 100% spiritual commitment just yet.

Do however much you feel is right.
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Informal Samatha practice

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
If you were able to stay with the object for an hour with only 10 significant distractions, your concentration is in great shape. You definitely have enough concentration to practice jhana. The way I see it, all you need now is a bit more attitude adjustment so you can get more deeply into the mindset of pure shamatha.

First off, the depth of jhana can be anywhere from very strong ("hard jhana) to very mild ("soft jhana"). If you stayed in touch with a warm fuzzy blanket of positive feel for an hour with only 10 distractions, then you had almost all the elements of the first jhana. The only thing missing was stability in the excited, giddy feeling.

When the excited feeling comes along, switch your attention from the warm fuzzy blanket to the excitement. Don't do anything to the excitement. Don't try to make it stronger. Don't dwell on thoughts about the excitement. Do enjoy it. When your attention is gently held on that exciting feeling, you are in the first jhana. It doesn't matter whether it's strong or weak. It's the first jhana. Sometimes the strength of the feeling goes up, sometimes it goes down, and sometimes it remains constant. Don't pay attention to the strength of the feeling. Just stay with how exciting and pleasant it is.

It's fine if you periodically lose touch with the excited feeling, and have to re-steady the mind to get back to it. That's how the first jhana works. It isn't stable like the other jhanas. You have to maintain the gentle control over your attention the entire time you're in the first jhana. If you let go of that mental effort and the good feelings stay, you're in the second jhana.

Taking a bath in positive feelings is a great mindset for shamatha. And like Claudiu mentioned, it's quite similar to the Buddha's description of the first jhana.

Let us know how the practice is going! You're closer than you think.
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Rich N, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Informal Samatha practice

Posts: 64 Join Date: 1/12/11 Recent Posts
I'm extremely surprised to be making this post, and in-fact I'm half wondering "have I got this all wrong? have I just done some sort of "fools Jhana" and missed the real deal or what?" and until I get some sort of clarification I'll probably still have those doubts.

Thanks to the advice I've received on this board I've made some seemingly astouding (to me anyway) progress. I'm not sure if this is the 1st Jhana, or something else. But I'll try to describe my experience - which I've now repliacted in two sittings. (I've been sitting a lot today because, yes, this has gotten suddenly very enjoyable).

I spent an hour focusing on pleasent sensations in the body. I did get a sense it was "moving" a lot and tried to ignore that by only focusing on the pleasure in the current moment. I found it surprisingly easy to stay in touch with the sensation of pleasure - even if the mind began to chatter a little before I noticed it, it didn't really matter because I didn't lose touch with the sensation of pleasure for longer than maybe half a second.

The general levels of pleasure varied from about 2/10 (0/10 being normal "meh no pleasure but whatever") to about 4/10 (buzzing and kind of like a mild laugh feeling.

At one very significant point the pleasure shot up to about 7/10 (not "orgasmic" or "ecstacy" exactly, but definately very nice if a little intense) and my body felt like it was erupting. I still did not feel "at one" with the object of my focus or "immsersed", and in-fact I was still able to notice other things while maintaining my focus on the pleasure. For example I noticed that my heart rate had increased significantly, and that some of the muscles in my stomach had tightend. I also felt a sensation similiar to blood rushing to your head (if you hang upsidedown for example).

That lasted about a minute, mainly because I freeked out a little bit and lost a bit of focus, then I went back to the 2/10-4/10 fluctuations.

Anyway a few hours later I sat again (because obviously that was significant and I was kind of eager to repeat it). And I was able to repeat it with not too much difficulty. After 20 or 25 minutes I had the pleasure shoot up the scale again, and then lost it again after about a minute. Again I was surprised at how much background noise I was actually able to notice while cultivating these states, which actually leags me to question if I'm doing this right or not because surely if I'm noticing all this other stuff (rogue thoughts, random noises, my breathing doing strange things, etc) then I can't be all THAT well focused can I?

I've heard people talk about aleister crowley, the dissolving of the body, becomming one with the object etc. But if you can go through the 1st Jhana without any of that stuff then it's not really necessary is it? Because if I remember rightly from MCTB, the Jhana focus tends to become less "one-pointed" and more "spread-out" in future Jhana's no?

Anyway I'm starting to rant and speculate about things I actually don't know very much about. Hopefully you guys will be familiar with the kind of experienced I've had and shed some sort of light on it.

One more thing... I'm still feeling a low-level warm buzz of pleasure in my body now (20 minutes after my sit) and it seems relatively easy to sustain - I barely have to focus on it, just be aware that it's there. It almost feels like a guilty pleasure.

This is quite a constrast to the insight practice I was doing previously, which, whenever I practiced regularly, caused me to be very aware, on a daily basis, of all the sharp painful and almost unbearable feelings going on inside my body many times a second, and as such was something I hated doing and found very difficult to do regularly.
Sean Lindsay, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Informal Samatha practice

Posts: 46 Join Date: 11/3/09 Recent Posts
FWIW, given my current practice, I could have written exactly the same post, and I've been wondering about exactly the same aspects of the experiences.
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Beoman Claudiu Beoman, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Informal Samatha practice

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Rich N:
I spent an hour focusing on pleasent sensations in the body. I did get a sense it was "moving" a lot and tried to ignore that by only focusing on the pleasure in the current moment. I found it surprisingly easy to stay in touch with the sensation of pleasure - even if the mind began to chatter a little before I noticed it, it didn't really matter because I didn't lose touch with the sensation of pleasure for longer than maybe half a second.

The general levels of pleasure varied from about 2/10 (0/10 being normal "meh no pleasure but whatever") to about 4/10 (buzzing and kind of like a mild laugh feeling.

At one very significant point the pleasure shot up to about 7/10 (not "orgasmic" or "ecstacy" exactly, but definately very nice if a little intense) and my body felt like it was erupting. I still did not feel "at one" with the object of my focus or "immsersed", and in-fact I was still able to notice other things while maintaining my focus on the pleasure. For example I noticed that my heart rate had increased significantly, and that some of the muscles in my stomach had tightend. I also felt a sensation similiar to blood rushing to your head (if you hang upsidedown for example).
...
Anyway a few hours later I sat again (because obviously that was significant and I was kind of eager to repeat it). And I was able to repeat it with not too much difficulty. After 20 or 25 minutes I had the pleasure shoot up the scale again, and then lost it again after about a minute. Again I was surprised at how much background noise I was actually able to notice while cultivating these states, which actually leags me to question if I'm doing this right or not because surely if I'm noticing all this other stuff (rogue thoughts, random noises, my breathing doing strange things, etc) then I can't be all THAT well focused can I?

Does sound like 1st jhana, maybe getting into 2nd jhana, with bursts of piti. Do you have to focus to maintain the pleasure or does it go on its own accord at some point?

There are varying levels of jhana. You can get into it really deep and not notice much besides the pleasure, or you can notice the pleasure while noticing a whole bunch of other stuff. it takes practice to do it more & more deeply. But the background noise stopped disturbing you as much during the sit, no?

also once you start getting the jhanas, as you have noticed, it is easy to get back there. you know what to look for, now - that is good news!

Rich N:
One more thing... I'm still feeling a low-level warm buzz of pleasure in my body now (20 minutes after my sit) and it seems relatively easy to sustain - I barely have to focus on it, just be aware that it's there. It almost feels like a guilty pleasure.

Yea that will happen too. it happens to me sometimes just by reading stuff about jhanas, like right now. mmmmmm.

when i first was able to do this, i was surprised that, practically speaking, having bliss on tap (jhanas) didn't make me wanna spend all my time in that blissful state. they are quite nice.

Rich N:
This is quite a constrast to the insight practice I was doing previously, which, whenever I practiced regularly, caused me to be very aware, on a daily basis, of all the sharp painful and almost unbearable feelings going on inside my body many times a second, and as such was something I hated doing and found very difficult to do regularly.

ya meditation leading to states of absorption is calming&pleasant, meditation leading to insight is generally not. but being in jhana can really take the edge off insight-oriented meditation. kind of acts like a buffer between u and all the pain, like how when shooting up both heroin & crack, the heroin takes the edge off the crack withdrawal.
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Rich N, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Informal Samatha practice

Posts: 64 Join Date: 1/12/11 Recent Posts
Beoman Claudiu Beoman:
shooting up both heroin & crack, the heroin takes the edge off the crack withdrawal.


Hahaha thats one hell of an analogy emoticon

Thanks for the feedback. I'm happier about my practice right now than I've probably ever been.
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Informal Samatha practice

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
Good!

Remember, the Buddha said that his teaching was "good in the beginning, good in the middle, and good in the end."

Of course, in order to truly know the noble truths, you have to see the truths of suffering and its origination. But it's way more bearable in combined shamatha-vipassana practice. In that practice, it's good to learn how to do the meditation because you learn how to fill the mind with pleasure, then with equanimity. It's good to go through the progress of insight; the uncomfortable moments are buffered by the equanimity which teaches you how to encounter suffering without shooting yourself with "second arrows" of aversion and craving. And of course, the fruit of meditation is good because it's Path and Fruition.
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Rich N, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Informal Samatha practice

Posts: 64 Join Date: 1/12/11 Recent Posts
What's funny is I haven't had the same experience since then now.

I'm able to get the "all body warm feeling" and remain in touch with it, but I can't quite go into the heights I had a few days ago.

No problem, I'm still very happy with my practice and quite content to continue this way and see how it goes.
J Adam G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Informal Samatha practice

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
Concentration abilities vary with your current circumstances. It's just harder to do shamatha when you're sleepy or stressed out. After all, drowsiness causes the hindrance of sloth/torpor; stress causes the hindrance of anxious restlessness. If you can identify a particular hindrance that's giving you problems, correct it before you do the shamatha practice. For example, you could correct anxiety by doing some physical exercise then taking a relaxing shower or bath.

Also, there seems to be a cycle to concentration ability. For me, shamatha strength decreases over a few days and then increases over a few, and so on and so forth. Maybe you've been having one of those cycles.

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