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Trouble Reaching Access Concentration

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Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
3/9/20 12:46 PM
Hey guys, so I've had a habit of meditation for 3 years now, almost 2 years of 1-1.5 hours practice per day with 3 10-day goenka-style retreats. I found Daniel's book about a year and half ago, spending most of my daily sitting time and the majority of 2 of my retreats simply trying to develop concentration. However, on the retreat I just finished this past week, I became frustrated with the impossibility of keeping my mind aware of every breath for an hour (how daniel defines access concentration). I had clear 1st vipassana jhana syptoms and seem to have attention similar to stage 4-5 of TMI (maybe even 6/7 at times) for those familiar with it, along with 3 C's stage syptoms (even though I may have passed the A&P on DMT).

I've noticed negative emotions (including frustration with concentrating) often seem to cloud my ability to concentration, with my attention often moving to sensations in the chest/abdomen. I've also had several hundred random memories pop up from the past in the past few months. It's possible at age 23 I haven't reached a level of emotional maturity to stabilize my attention. I also have a naturally overly-thoughtful mind and an achiever mentality. I've found working with open heart meditation, noticing feelings in the abdomen, can often calm me down. Thanks for any advice you have!

Is it possible that I need to work more insight practice (elminitating "sankaras" as Goenka defines them) in order to concentrate better, and give up on trying to reach access concentration as Daniel defines it? Or just keep working with concentration and let energies be released?

RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
3/9/20 1:30 PM as a reply to Addison.
Addison:
Hey guys, so I've had a habit of meditation for 3 years now, almost 2 years of 1-1.5 hours practice per day with 3 10-day goenka-style retreats. I found Daniel's book about a year and half ago, spending most of my daily sitting time and the majority of 2 of my retreats simply trying to develop concentration. However, on the retreat I just finished this past week, I became frustrated with the impossibility of keeping my mind aware of every breath for an hour (how daniel defines access concentration). I had clear 1st vipassana jhana syptoms and seem to have attention similar to stage 4-5 of TMI (maybe even 6/7 at times) for those familiar with it, along with 3 C's stage syptoms (even though I may have passed the A&P on DMT).

I've noticed negative emotions (including frustration with concentrating) often seem to cloud my ability to concentration, with my attention often moving to sensations in the chest/abdomen. I've also had several hundred random memories pop up from the past in the past few months. It's possible at age 23 I haven't reached a level of emotional maturity to stabilize my attention. I also have a naturally overly-thoughtful mind and an achiever mentality. I've found working with open heart meditation, noticing feelings in the abdomen, can often calm me down. Thanks for any advice you have!

Is it possible that I need to work more insight practice (elminitating "sankaras" as Goenka defines them) in order to concentrate better, and give up on trying to reach access concentration as Daniel defines it? Or just keep working with concentration and let energies be released?
Hey Addison, here are two things that might help.

1. Look for the major clingings, hatreds, resentments, passions that occur off the cushion, and try to calm them and let them go.  Maybe do something nice for somebody you resent.  Or engage in some metta.  Strong emotions and passions keep the mind/body flexing and busy, and so prevent access concentration. The traditional remedy is morality, or taking the precepts, but if you honestly examine the emotions and the passions and try to relinquish them I think it can have the same effect.  Note that it is not bodily passion that is the problem (except during the sit), so much as the mental grasping or resentment that goes on off the cushion.

2. Expand and contract the locus of attention depending on the strength of your concentration.  So, if you are focussing on the sensations of the breath at a tight location, but you can feel concentration fading, expand to the rise and fall of the whole torso (or even the reaction of the whole body to the breath).  This will leave less room for distractions.  Then as your concentration gets better, you can tighten the focus to sensatsions of the breath at a narrower location.

Hope this helps

Malcolm 

RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
3/9/20 4:47 PM as a reply to Addison.
I also find it impossible to stay with each breath for extended periods of time which is not a surprise really emoticon as there are other objects arising and passing in each moment, not just breath. They all are longing for your full and ardent attention emoticon

Sure there is Jhana practice that works with foucs on one object but in your case maybe (maybe) Mahasi Noting could be good way to go especially as you are familiar with Vipassana already.


Call it Karma or simply skill but some people have huge problems developing deeper concentration and as you say even Access Concentration is tough. For Mahasi Noting we need no more than Khanika Samadhi aka Momentary Concentration. Right now in this moment, what can be Noted? (I will do it right now);

seeing, touching, wishing well, slight vibration in chest, gladness, seeing, touching, compassion, vibration in the chest, calmness, seeing, touching, preassure (fingers against computer), coolness (air around the skin) ...

All you need is what ever is arising Right Now, simple things such as; itching, preassure, annoyance, heat in the face, touching/harndess/coldness (feet against the floor), thinking pleasant/unpleasant/neutral, etc ...

Freestyle Noting Aloud as thought by Kenneth Folk needs no special concentration It just needs the ability to Notice (and Note/Label with a word). I did it Aloud as that way it kept hindrances away for me but some do it in their head. If I tried in the head I would quickly get lost in a narrative and half of my session would be lost to day dreaming. So I totally went 100% Noting Aloud to stay with the unbroken stream of consciousness for the duration of my sit. I even did it with eyes open to get the sense of sight fully involved (seeing seeing seeing).

If you want more info please do ask. May you be well.

RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
3/9/20 5:11 PM as a reply to Not two, not one.
@curious/@Papa Che Dusko thank you for your input. I have no doubt some instability is getting in the way and from reading more about other people's struggle with concentration it sounds like metta & morality are very helpful practices and will help me calm my mind--along with hatha yoga (which has helped a lot) and talk therapy (which I am going to try out soon). During my last retreat it was the times I was in the best mood where my concentration was best.

I appreciate the perspective that it might be better to simply skip over daniel's reccomendation to strengthen concentration first and do an insight practice dry such as Mahasi noting as @Papa Che Dusko has suggested. It just makes me a bit anxious to eschew the Daniel's instructions to focus on concentration first.

I seem to have inhereted an extremely thoughtful mind from my mom and grandmother, so it might just be better to go with my strengths and focus on insight? Will I be able to make significant progress doing insight practice, and would it help me develop the stability to develop concentration in the future? Or is there another practice that may help?

RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
3/9/20 5:42 PM as a reply to Addison.
Dry insight with momentary concentration works really well, but if you haven't cleaned up your act first, then the dark night can really suck, and be disorienting and destructive to relationships.  Daniel writes extensively on this in MCTB.

Hence the formal (Mahasi) dry insight process starts with taking the precepts. So, do you want to take the precepts and really stick to them for a while - no killing, no stealing, no sexual misconduct, no wrong speech, no intoxicants?  I'm not sure that is a shortcut, as in western societies it might take quite a lot of concentration to avoid wrong speech, intoxicants and sexual misconduct, as these are everywhere.

Alternatively, the ability to reach access concentration will show that you have calmed down enough to take the edge off the nanas that arise during the path of insight. You could then proceed more informally, without the precepts.

You could also proceed without either the precepts or access concentration, but be warned it might be a very tough road.  You can't make progress in meditation without dealing with all your stuff, so it will come up at some stage, whether you are prepared or not.

Just my thoughts.

Good luck!  emoticon

Malcolm

RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
3/9/20 5:57 PM as a reply to Not two, not one.
Exactly what does sexual misconduct mean, if that is so hard to refrain from? I thought it was sexual abuse and sex that betrays someone's trust. I don't find that hard to avoid at all. Then again, my partners and I don't practice monogamy, so that takes away a lot of risks with regard to betrayal. 

RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
3/9/20 10:51 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
Exactly what does sexual misconduct mean, if that is so hard to refrain from? I thought it was sexual abuse and sex that betrays someone's trust. I don't find that hard to avoid at all. Then again, my partners and I don't practice monogamy, so that takes away a lot of risks with regard to betrayal. 

Whatever is wrong to you and the community to which you belong. Whatever clearly harms others for your own selfish gratification or leads to guilt, grasping, resentment, etc.  Whatever encourages an exploitative duality.

RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
3/10/20 12:39 AM as a reply to Not two, not one.
Great. Thanks! Then it's fine. Gotta choose the right community. Mine is awsome. 

RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
3/10/20 3:11 PM as a reply to Addison.
Addison:


I appreciate the perspective that it might be better to simply skip over daniel's reccomendation to strengthen concentration first and do an insight practice dry such as Mahasi noting as @Papa Che Dusko has suggested. It just makes me a bit anxious to eschew the Daniel's instructions to focus on concentration first.



Ok, let me explain some more emoticon 
Im not saying to skip anything. If you see that concentration is not causing anything else but frustration I personally find in such situation Noting gets the practice kicked upwards again. It keeps moving and this moving (Noting) gets the mind interested, it brings the mind to a state of gladness (could be subtle) and such mind on its own gets Concentrated. Thus 

I dont see how Mahasi Vipassana can go without Concentration naturally if one is REALLY applying Sati constantly, opposing to being lost in hindrances or maybe just glossing a little over the sensate experience. If Profound Mindfulness is applied in a relaxed and non-personal/objective way, sensing (noting) at least one sensation a second I find it hard to believe that some level of Concentartion will not arise and do its part simultaniously with Vipassana (I always talk Mahasi as Im not familiar with the Goenka style).

If one feels lost in hindrancess while doing Silent Noting then change to Noting Aloud and keep at it in a relaxed, objective, matter of fact way, for the duration of the practice.

Kenneth Folk has a very good video on you tube land explainging the Freestyle Noting Aloud. In case you are intersted.

RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
3/11/20 4:21 PM as a reply to Papa Che Dusko.
I appreciate the tips, Papa! My momentary concentration has only gotten better, so I'm going to focus on that and using Vipassana / Mahasi noting style practice to improve mindfulness. I think my concentration abilities will get better as I progress and as I mature through practice, yoga, therapy, and simply growing older.

RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
3/11/20 4:54 PM as a reply to Addison.
I wish you much acceptance and curious mindfulness emoticon have fun. 

RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
3/12/20 1:17 AM as a reply to Addison.
Help little old ladies across the street. 

Hold the door open for someone. 

Ask a beggar if he's hungry and take him into a deli and let him choose what sort of drink and sandwich he wants ... the meat, the cheese, the bread ... and buy it for him. 

Do small acts of random kindness. 

See what, if any, effect that has on you.

As you begin your sits, recall these moments and other moments where you’ve acted with kindness, generosity, wholesomeness, etc. Reflect on your own goodness. Reflect on the goodness of others ... all the wonderful people you've had in your life (the people on this forum for ex,) who have assisted you both directly and indirectly on your path even in small ways. 

Gladden your mind. It’s real. It's there.  Simply learn how to summon it up.

I've done a few Goenka 10-day retreats and always had great experiences, including my fist big spiritual opening in meditation and also a collection of the most intense altered states I’ve ever had.  The exclusive focus on annapana the first 3.5 days is useful to develop concentration. 

I've also done a couple of 60 day Mahasi retreats. 
The Mahasi retreats made me realize that the dry insight path was going to be a rough row to hoe. One result of those Mahasi retreats was a keen interest in developing my concentration skills to lubricate my practice. Subsequently I attended 4 Jhana retreats but they were all only week-long deals ... not really enough duration for what I was after. I finally got to auger into concentration practice with the kind of continuity that I was after ... I did a month long Jhana retreat a couple months ago and it was fantastic. One consequence of that Jhana retreat was that I came to appreciate noting more ... and was able to employ it masterfully at the beginning of sits to stabilize my mind and drop it when the time was ripe. I’m curious how all of these skills will synthesize and compliment each other on my next retreat. For me, a process of indirection is paramount: Mahasi noting results in jhana practice and jhana practice results in mastering noting.

Who knows how it will play out for you.

I could tell you what music and art really do it for me at the moment, what I think’s great … but your experience and reaction is likely to be very different. 
We each respond differently to these various practices, and we each also respond differently ti them at different times … it’s not a static thing. Keep investigating what works for you, what doesn’t work, and why. Try new stuff out, or try the same thing but in a different context. Keep an open cruious mind. Revisit practices that you’ve dismissed but with a new attitude, a new perspective, new skillsets, and new experiences under your belt.

....

This isn't advice per se, but simply what I've experienced. If you can use some of it that's great, if not than move on. 

In a Mahasi style practice you’d simply note whatever is arising: frustration, self-loathing, annoyance, doubt, etc. Then return to your primary meditation object (for ex. the breath).  You simply keep doing that … noting your meditation object (for ex. in breath meditation at the abdomen: ‘rising,’ ‘falling’, rising,’ falling’). You get distracted … then you catch yourself, note it, return to your meditation object. Until it clicks it’s likely to be frustrating. Your memories and thoughts are surely to appear enticing and important … you simply have to have the discipline to not indulge them … try to note them ASAP and return to your meditation object. One cannot predict how any particular sit will play out. If you have strong expectations regarding what’s going to happen or what should happen, you’ll likely just frustrate yourself further.
On my last retreat it was very clear that expectations were nothing more than fantasies and imagination. Nonetheless, to neutralize them I did a little silent chant at the beginning of my sits; “No expectations … anything can happen … this can be the best sit of my life, the worst sit I’ve ever had, a neutral sit, or anything in between … it doesn’t matter. [At a certain point during the retreat the Rolling Stones song 'No Expectations' would automatically cue up in my head to add emotional import to that sentiment and provide some grounding levity…instead of fighting it I happily integrated it as a chill out and tune in tool pre-sit priming tool. Hey everyone has their rituals: the monk leading the retreat lit incense, chanted, bowed, and stared devotedly into the Buddha scroll artwork … none of which did a thing for me except for the incense which irritated my asthma.  For me - on this retreat - it was the Stones]).

There’s a multitude of paint-by-the-numbers meditation systems out there … and painting by the numbers may work for. But it may not. Sometimes you just have to freestyle it and discover what works for you. Who knows, you may even end up eventually inventing your own system. 



RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
4/28/20 9:35 AM as a reply to Addison.
Hey guys, so I've had a habit of meditation for 3 years now, almost 2 years of 1-1.5 hours practice per day with 3 10-day goenka-style retreats. I found Daniel's book about a year and half ago, spending most of my daily sitting time and the majority of 2 of my retreats simply trying to develop concentration. However, on the retreat I just finished this past week, I became frustrated with the impossibility of keeping my mind aware of every breath for an hour (how daniel defines access concentration).
The really interesting thing about Goenka retreat is that you can
heavily practice body scan ( even though they don't call it this way)

and
the good thing about body scan is that it really helps to reach access 
concentration ( even though they don't orient you this way)

So i
'd like to know if you had a chance to experience what they call the
Free flow and which is basically a jhanic quality manifesting like a
very cool energy pervading your body, partially and eventually
completely.

A good free flow is more like J2/J3 as far as i can
experience it and pretty much hard to attain if you follow the Goenka
technique, particularly that they keep repeating that you  should not
focus on it, be equanimous, do not get attached , and on and on, which
is absolute non sense if you really want to experience jhana but
obviously that is not what they want ( even though they would like you
to experience what they call "banga nana" as a body sensation and what
is something very similar to a good J4/J5 i would say, so good luck then
;-)


However, reaching AC is much more easy with a mix between
body scan and focus on the breath because the breath quieten your
mind and body scan quieten the body and  as soon as a partial free flow
appears ( like you  don't feel your hands, legs, whatever part of your
body seems to "irradiate energy" ) then you should focus on pleasure of
this part and let the breath on peripheral awareness  ( read Leigh
Brasington book for more complete explanation )
Hope this will help ...Fabrice

RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
6/7/20 10:26 AM as a reply to Addison.
I want to add details of my experience here because I'm sure that there are other people who have encountered the same problem I have and I believe I'm heading in the right direction.

After the initial post that started this thread, I began a freestyle noting practice. This was extremely helpful for noting things like "frustration" and "worry" that would arise as I felt like I was getting unfocused. This helped me from getting into an anxiety loop of not being able to focus on the breath -> worrying about not being able to focus -> getting into an anxious state of mind that kept me even further from the breath. By noting "frustration" or "worry", I cut off the anxiousness at the start, and build equinimity.

After a few weeks of this, I began a "do nothing" or "just sitting" practice. By removing any sort of goal I found it ironically easier and easier to relax and enjoy meditation (qualities of good concentration).

Over time, I noticed my attention was naturally drawn to persistent pains/tensionsi n the body (chest chakra, throat chakra, etc.). I then naturally started to let go of these tensions, in that way that Jack Kornfield describes healing pains in his book "A Path with Heart". The tensions dissolve into the "champagne bubbles" feeling. My meditations right now are simply a practice of giving kind attention to these tensions and pains, with I'd say an average of a released tension every 30 seconds or so. Week-to-week I'm feeling more relaxed and less emotionally reactive throughout the day.

I encourage any really struggling with access concentration to consider giving up their goal of attaining concentration temporarily but entirely, in order for some healing to occur in a natural process. I found there is a part of me that certainly likes "doing" and "doing well", and letting go of action and result has been crucial to approaching my meditation from a kind standpoint.

I'm very grateful to the advice given on this thread, as noting was very helpful to me. I might suggest "do nothing" mediation instead, however, because it keeps the achiever and goal-oriented mind from over-obsessing.

RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
6/7/20 6:44 PM as a reply to Addison.
I find it helps in developing concentration if you understand the stages the mind goes through as it calms down and use a calming technique appropriate for that stage. Once the mind is calmed, concentration is easier.

When I went on retreat first we would do bowing practice, then chanting practice, and then we would do alternate sessions of sitting meditation and walking meditation.

This is the way the monks practice. If they live in a monastery and they can't just sit down and meditate with good concentration it is not realistic for a lay person to think they can do it either.

When I am at home, instead of bowing,  I usually start with some other type of physical relaxation like a relaxing form of tai-chi, or yoga, or I just move each part of the body 10 times to release muscle tension.

Then, instead of chanting, I repeat a cycle of relaxation exercises: First I visualize an objects of different colors of the spectrum one after another (fruits and flowers are good objects because they come in a variety of colors - it is easier to remember an object you are familiar with than to visualize just a color), then I notice each part of the body, try to relax it, and notice if it is feeling relaxed, then I count ten breaths and repeat the process starting again with the visualization until I am so relaxed I feel like I am floating. 

Then I practice the jhanas. Metta meditation is not hard for most people to do, would be a siutable alternative for people who find the jhanas elude them.

Then I start vipassana practice. 

I never sit for more than an  hour without doing 5-10 minutes of walking mediation. If I know I am going to do a lot of sitting I will do the walking meditation after every 40 minutes of sitting meditation which is about what we did on retreat.

RE: Trouble Reaching Access Concentration
Answer
6/17/20 9:17 AM as a reply to Addison.
Addison, you spoke about TMI, but have you done it? It's a great method for really honing your concentration.