Help with Breathing Meditation

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Gerry T, modified 10 Years ago.

Help with Breathing Meditation

Posts: 60 Join Date: 4/4/11 Recent Posts
I've gone from sitting for 1/2 hour to 1 hour periods now, doing a breathing meditation.
When I sit I resolve myself to just sit and not expect anything.
I watch the breath. Sometimes I start out counting. Other times I just watch the breath come in and go out.
The breath gets slower, calmer.
My body will relax some.
A thought will occur, i.e. something I think I might like to do later. I see that this is just one of the automatic thinking things that goes on in my mind.
I notice this thought and return my attention to the breath.
Then I might notice the space behind my eyelids (I meditate with my eyes closed)
I notice the colors, or the amount of light coming through the lids.
I notice that I am seeing this and return my attention to the breath.
I notice this and still am watching the breath at the same time. Sort of like I am including this in my awareness.
I continue watching the calm slow breath.
I think of how strong or weak the breath is.
I watch the in and out part of the breath.
The next thing I notice is that I have a "dream" going on, a girl with long hair is sitting next to me saying something.
Somehow I notice this and the "dream" stops and I return my attention to the breath.
I make an effort to stay with the breath but am more diligent to see what pulls me away from it.
It happens again and I just slip into the next image in my mind but this time I return from it right away.

It seems as if the attention has only so much force or ability to stay with the object of the breath. Even if I have resolved myself to sit with no expectations and feel as though I have enough energy to start with to do a good period of meditation.

I expect that I should get to some point where my concentration will become strong enough where I won't need any effort to watch the breath. In an earlier meditation sitting I had the experience where I was able to 'watch' the breath and it was as if the breath was just breathing itself. It didn't last for very long but it was an interesting observation.

I feel as if without my attention during the day I am just sort of walking in my sleep and that only during some moments when my attention is "back" am I more "awake".

Any help on how I might improve my practice?

Regards,
Gerry
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Help with Breathing Meditation

Posts: 3199 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
As to what happened, if you are seeing images of girls and having periods where the breath seemed to be showing itself, that is second jhana stuff: nice job.

As to improving your practice: what direction do you want to go in? There are many options. What are you looking for or to do?

Daniel
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Gerry T, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Help with Breathing Meditation

Posts: 60 Join Date: 4/4/11 Recent Posts
Daniel,
My ultimate goal is liberation. I feel that I need to master the first jhana as my first step and I plan to work through the jhanas.
I am using the breathe as my object.

I know what it means to steady the mind on the breath and I know what it means to "get out of my own way" and let the breathe breath itself. But I haven't mastered that yet.

I know what real bliss means (not based on any sensual desire, not based on time, past or future) But I haven't mastered that yet. It hasn't permeated my entire body, though off the mat it has hit me in such a strong way that I wonder if people around me notice it.

I also know what it means to exist without thought or anything of any kind but I haven't mastered that either.

A bhikuni (sister Lisa) at a temple I go to, who practices a form of zen (some kind of awareness practice that I don't know much about, told me to increase my practice up to two hours. I am up to 45 minutes to an hour. I don't worry about the time and just go for as long as is comfortable knowing that I will work up to the 2 hour time frame in due time.

Some times on the cushion everything goes real well and I might have one moment where my mind will begin to think of something (with an image) and I will note it and the feeling associated with it and then go back to my breath.

Other times if my body is tired or if my mind is restless I just watch and wait and continue to go back to the breath as often as I need to knowing full well that the hindrance will go away. Sometimes I have to cycle through that hindrance a couple times and then suddenly I get real focused on the breath with ease. On those occasions I notice the mindfulness on the breathe will also diminish and then I find I am cycling through it again.

Sorry for all the details but I think I am beginning to understand more of what I am doing right. I've been working on this for over a year now and still feel like I am just starting out.

I think the girl walking around me and sitting down was just a mind thing, like a dream. Why do you think it is part of the 2nd jhana? (btw it has happened multiple times and feels real, like she is actually there sitting next to me.)

Thanks for helping me out. Your help won't go wasted. I'm very committed and disciplined about the practice. (I have also taken refuge and ten precepts so I am trying to incorporate "skillful" actions into my life.)

Gerry
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Gerry T, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Help with Breathing Meditation

Posts: 60 Join Date: 4/4/11 Recent Posts
Daniel, Ian,
I have another question regarding the first jhana.

When I am meditating I can get my attention to stay focused on the breathe after about 15 or 20 minutes. Most of the time I can still see mind stuff going on but it is not strong enough to pull my attention away from the breathe. Sometimes I can get the attention to be stronger on the breathe and if there is any mental stuff going on it is so quiet that I don't notice it being there. In those cases I still feel that I am exerting effort to stay with the breathe. (sometimes if feels like I am teetering on a tightrope to stay with it).

I am having longer periods where I can do this (five, ten maybe fifteen minutes) but I am not reaching the calm state or sense of piti that the texts describe. (the time that I felt the sense of 'bliss' occurred off the cushion when I was thinking kind thoughts toward someone.)

I have been expecting that if I just stay focused on the breathe the sense of piti will occur on it's own but now I am wondering if I should change the focus of my attention once I reach this level of focused attention. Because I do not feel this sense of piti I am figuring that I am not at first jhana. What should I do at this stage?

-with kind regards,

Gerry
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Gerry T, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Help with Breathing Meditation

Posts: 60 Join Date: 4/4/11 Recent Posts
The following are notes taken after meditating sittings.
I have included only some records. My practice varies from 30-60min sittings once or twice a day.
I am trying to understand and work through the jhanas.
Maybe you can see where I am going with these notes and how my investigation is taking place.
I cannot get to 1st jhana (as it is described in the texts) and I don't know why.
Any pointers along the way would be appreciated.

1-23-2012: 60min
I sat with attention on breath and with a mind to investigate my inner state with respect to the agitation and the lack of stillness.
I made the intention to become still and at some point my state changed and my mind changed from going from thought to though or from breath to thought back to breath, etc. and stayed on the breath. I was able to see the breath and everything else without losing seeing the breath.

1-29-2012 40min
When I got my mind to settle unhindered on the breath I could feel the relief from not having my mind jump around from thing to thing. But after a short while, maybe ten or fifteen minutes I saw my mind go back to being attracted to the sensations and could not get back into settling on the breath unhindered. (It seems that lots of the restlessness stems from not being mindful during my time off the mat. I can't just turn this on when I sit on the mat. I need to be more careful when I'm away from the mat.)

1-30-2012 40min
Twenty minutes into meditation I got settled on the breath. Felt very restful for a good period of time, maybe 5-10mins. Then min moved off the breath. (I had to swallow, this may have caused enough distraction.) I realized that my level of interest in understanding my state, the level of agitation, and not liking that agitation is of utmost importance in getting my mind to settle on the breath.

2-10-2012 40min
It seems that some degree of equanimity towards any inputs from the senses needs to be adopted to settle my mind on to the breath. I saw how some "lights" in my eyes? mind? turned from "lights" into scenes or images and then a story developed from them. I saw how sensations on my body could turn into pain because I inclined towards pain, by that I mean the sensation really started out neutral but I gave it a negative spin and then it became more discomforting, when it could have easily been left alone. Any impressions need to be neither liked nor disliked at the immediate point of sensation before an image or feeling begins.

2-11-2012 30min
The breath does not have to be shallow or slow for the mind to settle and stay on it.

Thanks for any helpful pointers.
Gerry
End in Sight, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Help with Breathing Meditation

Posts: 1251 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
What standard for 1st jhana are you interested in?

If you're looking for something like what the commentaries / etc. are talking about, the previous advice you got was really good:

A bhikuni (sister Lisa) at a temple I go to, who practices a form of zen (some kind of awareness practice that I don't know much about, told me to increase my practice up to two hours.


Other than that, here's an idea that works for me:

When I got my mind to settle unhindered on the breath I could feel the relief from not having my mind jump around from thing to thing. But after a short while, maybe ten or fifteen minutes I saw my mind go back to being attracted to the sensations and could not get back into settling on the breath unhindered.


Your mind is more likely to go back to the breath if you can stop caring about whether it's jumping around or not. I.e. it settles when you accept (at a deep level) that it may be unsettled, and stop trying to settle it.

Related to that, it may help if you don't think of 1st jhana as the goal, but think of incrementally-deeper concentration as the goal.

Once your mind settles on the breath, then (very gently!) you can start looking towards subtler and more peaceful aspects of the breath, and letting the coarser and more unpleasant aspects go.
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Gerry T, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Help with Breathing Meditation

Posts: 60 Join Date: 4/4/11 Recent Posts
EIS,
I'm expecting a feeling of "bliss", piti, "delight", something along those lines.
The description from Bhante Gunaratana (Beyond Mindfulness) talks about this being localized and then spreading over the body.
But I'm not even expecting the "bliss" or "delight" to be strong or overwhelming and I don't expect my thoughts or senses to disappear either.

What I do know from an unrelated experience that the sense of delight or joy can be different from typical feelings.
The feeling would not be due to any sense pleasure, or thoughts relating to the past or future.
So I think I would recognize this when it happens.

I do think that increasing my time from the 25-30 mins to 30-60 mins has helped. Like you point out, maybe I just need to add more practice time.

Next time I'll look at your suggestion of forgetting about 1st jhana and accepting my unsettled mind and just look for more less coarse aspects of the breath.

Thanks for the pointers.
Gerry
End in Sight, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Help with Breathing Meditation

Posts: 1251 Join Date: 7/6/11 Recent Posts
My experience is that piti / sukha only appear in noticeable quantities in a reliable way, by virtue of concentration alone, beginning at level 8 on Culadasa's scale. (I believe there is a link to a pdf about the scale on my concentration thread.) It's possible to get piti / sukha with less concentration, but that isn't reliable.

It's also possible to generate piti / sukha in a way that isn't by virtue of concentration alone, which can also increase your concentration by helping you relax and ignore distractions, but this is something that I think is probably best learned via experimentation.

I would suggest seeing if you can match up your concentration experiences to Culadasa's stages, and maybe that will give you some insight into what you need to do.

Another possibility is "trying" less hard once you get to a state that's at the high end of your concentration abilities, but whether this works depends on a lot of things (most important probably being how deeply concentrated the state you can get to is).
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Martin M, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Help with Breathing Meditation

Posts: 91 Join Date: 9/3/09 Recent Posts
Gerry T:

1-29-2012 40min
When I got my mind to settle unhindered on the breath I could feel the relief from not having my mind jump around from thing to thing. But after a short while, maybe ten or fifteen minutes I saw my mind go back to being attracted to the sensations and could not get back into settling on the breath unhindered. (It seems that lots of the restlessness stems from not being mindful during my time off the mat. I can't just turn this on when I sit on the mat. I need to be more careful when I'm away from the mat.)


Just a note, the emphasized part might very well be a light symptom of the 1st jhana.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca4/samma-samadhi/jhana.html:


[FIRST JHANA]
"There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities — enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal.


The last two sentences show how to deepen that "relief". Switching your meditation object from the breath to the feeling of relief might be appropriate.... I like the expression of 'being' the specific jhanic factor(s), i.e. investing every bit of available attention in the experience of this factor.
Besides that, your idea of increasing mindfulness off the cushion in order to have a higher baseline to start from when meditating has certainly been beneficial to myself.
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Ian And, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Help with Breathing Meditation

Posts: 782 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Gerry T:
I've gone from sitting for 1/2 hour to 1 hour periods now, doing a breathing meditation.

That's good. Longer meditation periods can greatly assist one in being able to more quickly and efficiently re-train the mind. Two or three of these one hour sessions a day will go a long way to getting you to where you want to be.

Gerry T:

It seems as if the attention has only so much force or ability to stay with the object of the breath. Even if I have resolved myself to sit with no expectations and feel as though I have enough energy to start with to do a good period of meditation.

Yes. That's typical of a beginner's impression. As your practice matures and your overall mindfulness increases, you'll be able to stay with the breath (or any other object) as long as you wish.

Gerry T:
I expect that I should get to some point where my concentration will become strong enough where I won't need any effort to watch the breath.

Yes. That's true. And the mind won't wander, either.

Gerry T:

I feel as if without my attention during the day I am just sort of walking in my sleep and that only during some moments when my attention is "back" am I more "awake".

That's a pretty accurate way to describe it. Increased mindfulness is the antidote. If you read the suttas, the overwhelming emphasis on mindfulness is unmistakable in terms of retraining the mind. Mindfulness is what allows one to become a "better person." Something more in line with whatever ideal you may have in mind.

Mindfulness allows you to notice when the mind is going into one of its automatic reaction patterns, and is the mechanism that allows you to resist unwholesome acts and thoughts. Later on, though, you will need to work on eliminating the unwholesome reaction patterns. And that can be done using the practice of satipatthana.