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The Path and Concentration
Answer
9/9/20 3:28 PM
Can someone please explain how the path affects concentration practice. I've been practicing the jhanas for about a month but in the past few days I'm unable to because I believe I may be headed into the DN. I've cycled through it several times so I recognize it's characteristics. Are the jhanas not as easily accesible in the DN? All I am seeing right now is the endings of sensations and thoughts. Single pointed samatha seems futile. 


Thank you for reading this!

G

RE: The Path and Concentration
Answer
9/9/20 4:24 PM as a reply to Kelly Gordon Weeks.
Kelly Gordon Weeks:
Can someone please explain how the path affects concentration practice. I've been practicing the jhanas for about a month but in the past few days I'm unable to because I believe I may be headed into the DN. I've cycled through it several times so I recognize it's characteristics. Are the jhanas not as easily accesible in the DN? All I am seeing right now is the endings of sensations and thoughts. Single pointed samatha seems futile. 


Thank you for reading this!

G

You haven't given a lot of detail but if I understand what you mean by jhana (blissful states during meditation) I think there could be a connection. Your brain needs the right chemicals to produce bliss, if you are "depressed" (experiecing dark night) it might be a reflection in changed brain chemistry and that could influence what your brain is capable of doing.

Personally I find that the right diet (a lower carb type diet: ~600 calories of carbs/day) is hepful in producing the jhanas reliably and also I do relaxation exercises before meditating and that helps make the jhanas easily accessible.


I also believe I can tell when my mind is prepared to enter the jhanas but the brain chemistry isn't there to make bliss possible I feel the usual transition but no bliss. So I just meditate without being attached to the bliss understanding my mind is still well concentrated and I am getting the benefits of a quiet mind (lack of unpleasant thinking) and I have the concentration  (mindfulness) needed to go on to do vipassana.

I don't know what the orthodox doctrine is, but personally I don't find it is necessary to produce bliss first to get to the higher jhanas (4 and higher) so I don't really worry too much about it. Trying to get bliss when it isn't there is really counterproductive and very unpleasant and unhelpful so I don't push it. In fact I have found something I like better than bliss and seems to be less dependent on brain chemistry, it can produce a pleasant result when jhanas can't. (My working theory is that if neurotransmitters are limiting, jhana type bliss can drain them but this other type of meditation will use the limited amount to best effect).

RE: The Path and Concentration
Answer
9/9/20 4:27 PM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Jim Smith:
Kelly Gordon Weeks:
Can someone please explain how the path affects concentration practice. I've been practicing the jhanas for about a month but in the past few days I'm unable to because I believe I may be headed into the DN. I've cycled through it several times so I recognize it's characteristics. Are the jhanas not as easily accesible in the DN? All I am seeing right now is the endings of sensations and thoughts. Single pointed samatha seems futile. 


Thank you for reading this!

G

You haven't given a lot of detail but if I understand what you mean by jhana (blissful states during meditation) I think there could be a connection. Your brain needs the right chemicals to produce bliss, if you are "depressed" (experiecing dark night) it might be a reflection in changed brain chemistry and that could influence what your brain is capable of doing.

Personally I find that the right diet (a lower carb type diet) is hepful in producing the jhanas reliably and also I do relaxation exercises before meditating and that helps make the jhanas easily accessible.

I also believe I can tell when my mind is prepared to enter the jhanas but the brain chemistry isn't there to make bliss possible. So I just meditate without being attached to the bliss understanding my mind is still well concentrated and I am getting the benefits of a quiet mind (lack of unpleasant thinking) and I have the concentration  (mindfulness) needed to do vipassana.

I don't know what the orthodox doctrine is, but personally I don't think it is necessary to produce bliss first to get to the higher jhanas so I don't really worry too much about it. Trying to get bliss when it isn't there is really counterproductive so I don't push it. In fact I have found somthing I like better than bliss.

This is interesting. I haven't made a connection with diet and meditation, so thank you for bringing that to light. That could be what's going on here. However, I do have a very consistent diet. 

When you say brain chemistry could that be interpretted the same way as the path of insight? Typically, my practice will remain a certain way for one to three weeks and then it will shift, in this case dramatically. My jhana practice was going strong for a few weeks and I was able to work up and down jhanas 1-3 and sometimes 4. However, for the past three days when I sit it feels like I'm sinking into a black hole. My clarity is completely different. It feels almost like 3rd jhana but it's not. It's like a dissolution? I sink down and there is no center. 

 It's interesting how practice shifts. I suppose the only thing that I can do is shift with it and be open to what comes next. 

Thank you for your wisdom and posting links to the articles.

RE: The Path and Concentration
Answer
9/9/20 4:46 PM as a reply to Kelly Gordon Weeks.
Kelly Gordon Weeks:
Jim Smith:
Kelly Gordon Weeks:
Can someone please explain how the path affects concentration practice. I've been practicing the jhanas for about a month but in the past few days I'm unable to because I believe I may be headed into the DN. I've cycled through it several times so I recognize it's characteristics. Are the jhanas not as easily accesible in the DN? All I am seeing right now is the endings of sensations and thoughts. Single pointed samatha seems futile. 


Thank you for reading this!

G

You haven't given a lot of detail but if I understand what you mean by jhana (blissful states during meditation) I think there could be a connection. Your brain needs the right chemicals to produce bliss, if you are "depressed" (experiecing dark night) it might be a reflection in changed brain chemistry and that could influence what your brain is capable of doing.

Personally I find that the right diet (a lower carb type diet) is hepful in producing the jhanas reliably and also I do relaxation exercises before meditating and that helps make the jhanas easily accessible.

I also believe I can tell when my mind is prepared to enter the jhanas but the brain chemistry isn't there to make bliss possible. So I just meditate without being attached to the bliss understanding my mind is still well concentrated and I am getting the benefits of a quiet mind (lack of unpleasant thinking) and I have the concentration  (mindfulness) needed to do vipassana.

I don't know what the orthodox doctrine is, but personally I don't think it is necessary to produce bliss first to get to the higher jhanas so I don't really worry too much about it. Trying to get bliss when it isn't there is really counterproductive so I don't push it. In fact I have found somthing I like better than bliss.

This is interesting. I haven't made a connection with diet and meditation, so thank you for bringing that to light. That could be what's going on here. However, I do have a very consistent diet. 

When you say brain chemistry could that be interpretted the same way as the path of insight? Typically, my practice will remain a certain way for one to three weeks and then it will shift, in this case dramatically. My jhana practice was going strong for a few weeks and I was able to work up and down jhanas 1-3 and sometimes 4. However, for the past three days when I sit it feels like I'm sinking into a black hole. My clarity is completely different. It feels almost like 3rd jhana but it's not. It's like a dissolution? I sink down and there is no center. 

 It's interesting how practice shifts. I suppose the only thing that I can do is shift with it and be open to what comes next. 

Thank you for your wisdom and posting links to the articles.

I don't practice the progress of insight so I am wondering how you can tell whether the dark night is due to meditation or is just depression caused by other factors? Sometimes people feel cheerful or down in the dumps occasionally for no obvious reason. As I understand it, dark nights in the progress of insight are supposed to be caused when inisght changes your world view in disturbing ways. Is that what you are experiencing?

RE: The Path and Concentration
Answer
9/9/20 5:19 PM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Jim Smith:
Kelly Gordon Weeks:
Jim Smith:
Kelly Gordon Weeks:
Can someone please explain how the path affects concentration practice. I've been practicing the jhanas for about a month but in the past few days I'm unable to because I believe I may be headed into the DN. I've cycled through it several times so I recognize it's characteristics. Are the jhanas not as easily accesible in the DN? All I am seeing right now is the endings of sensations and thoughts. Single pointed samatha seems futile. 


Thank you for reading this!

G

You haven't given a lot of detail but if I understand what you mean by jhana (blissful states during meditation) I think there could be a connection. Your brain needs the right chemicals to produce bliss, if you are "depressed" (experiecing dark night) it might be a reflection in changed brain chemistry and that could influence what your brain is capable of doing.

Personally I find that the right diet (a lower carb type diet) is hepful in producing the jhanas reliably and also I do relaxation exercises before meditating and that helps make the jhanas easily accessible.

I also believe I can tell when my mind is prepared to enter the jhanas but the brain chemistry isn't there to make bliss possible. So I just meditate without being attached to the bliss understanding my mind is still well concentrated and I am getting the benefits of a quiet mind (lack of unpleasant thinking) and I have the concentration  (mindfulness) needed to do vipassana.

I don't know what the orthodox doctrine is, but personally I don't think it is necessary to produce bliss first to get to the higher jhanas so I don't really worry too much about it. Trying to get bliss when it isn't there is really counterproductive so I don't push it. In fact I have found somthing I like better than bliss.

This is interesting. I haven't made a connection with diet and meditation, so thank you for bringing that to light. That could be what's going on here. However, I do have a very consistent diet. 

When you say brain chemistry could that be interpretted the same way as the path of insight? Typically, my practice will remain a certain way for one to three weeks and then it will shift, in this case dramatically. My jhana practice was going strong for a few weeks and I was able to work up and down jhanas 1-3 and sometimes 4. However, for the past three days when I sit it feels like I'm sinking into a black hole. My clarity is completely different. It feels almost like 3rd jhana but it's not. It's like a dissolution? I sink down and there is no center. 

 It's interesting how practice shifts. I suppose the only thing that I can do is shift with it and be open to what comes next. 

Thank you for your wisdom and posting links to the articles.

I don't practice the progress of insight so I am wondering how you can tell whether the dark night is due to meditation or is just depression caused by other factors? Sometimes people feel cheerful or down in the dumps occasionally for no obvious reason. As I understand it, dark nights in the progress of insight are supposed to be caused when inisght changes your world view in disturbing ways. Is that what you are experiencing?

That is a great question. It's unclear how external factors are affecting practice. After the shift a few days ago I don't have more negative emotions/thoughts on the cushion. My thoughts aren't overly negative and I generally practice samatha with the breath as the object.

This more of a clarity issue. I've gone through this same thing perhaps six or seven times before in the past year. It's apparent within seconds after close my eyes. It's like a gravitational pull down a hole. I suppose it could be a form of dullness but I'm not nodding off during mediation either. Concentration practice seems futile in this state.

Thanks for your help.

RE: The Path and Concentration
Answer
9/9/20 5:44 PM as a reply to Kelly Gordon Weeks.
Kelly Gordon Weeks:
Jim Smith:

I don't practice the progress of insight so I am wondering how you can tell whether the dark night is due to meditation or is just depression caused by other factors? Sometimes people feel cheerful or down in the dumps occasionally for no obvious reason. As I understand it, dark nights in the progress of insight are supposed to be caused when inisght changes your world view in disturbing ways. Is that what you are experiencing?

That is a great question. It's unclear how external factors are affecting practice. After the shift a few days ago I don't have more negative emotions/thoughts on the cushion. My thoughts aren't overly negative and I generally practice samatha with the breath as the object.

This more of a clarity issue. I've gone through this same thing perhaps six or seven times before in the past year. It's apparent within seconds after close my eyes. It's like a gravitational pull down a hole. I suppose it could be a form of dullness but I'm not nodding off during mediation either. Concentration practice seems futile in this state.

Thanks for your help.

I'm not sure what you mean by "a gravitational pull down a hole". But you say "concentration practice seems futile", when I have trouble concentrating, I find relaxation exercises are usually very helpful. For me the biggest obstacle to concentration is mental turbulence caused by stress - stress causes you to become fixated on the situation causing the stress. That can be helpful if the stress is caused by a lion stalking you, but it is not that helpful if you are trying to concentrate during meditation - so I find relaxation exercises help a lot in that situation.

RE: The Path and Concentration
Answer
9/9/20 7:09 PM as a reply to Kelly Gordon Weeks.
Hi Kelly,

This phenomenon of only being able to see the endings or periphery of phenomena is typical of dark night or third (vipassana) jhana. Daniel Ingram in MCTB describes it like this:

Moving from the second to the third jhana is like going from focusing on the donut hole to focusing on the outer edge of the donut, except that now you are sitting in the center of the donut.

Also here:

The level of clarity out of which formations arise also allows us to see formations from the time they arise until the time they disappear, thus illuminating clearly those transient, empty sensations that make up a sense of a self or of a sensate universe continuing coherently in time. In the first part of the path the beginning of objects was predominant. In the A&P we got a great sense of the middle of objects but missed subtle aspects of the beginning and end. In the Dark Night the endings are about all we could really perceive clearly. Formations once again put together all of this work we have done in a very natural and complete way that finally includes everything in experience.

And here on his website:

Perceptual Thresholds
My favorite of the criteria, particularly found in technical and skilled meditators but also found in many others: people during the A&P may have the ability to perceive sensations with a speed, precision, and consistency that may be radically beyond what they were capable of before, such that they may perceive sensations up to maybe 40 times/second arising and vanishing during certain peak perceptual moments, particularly during the middle phase of the breath and in the center of wherever they place their attention. The phase characteristics of the A&P borrows from the 2nd jhana in general and involves the ability to perceive the arising and passing clearly of phenomena in a way that can feel quite effortless, and any vibrations noticed tend to be harmonically simple and change in frequency sinusoidally. This is differentiated from the perceptual phase characteristics of the 1st jhana, where the beginnings of objects in the very center of wherever attention is placed are more clear and seeing them requires sustained effort and is generally much more slow and clunky, and the 3rd jhana, during which the endings of phenomena in the chaotic and complex periphery show themselves in a naturally irritating way that feels out of phase with attention somehow despite the sometimes intensely unpleasant clarity, and the 4th jhana, in which things are not nearly so fast or vibratory but instead tend to be experienced in a wide open, fluxing, panoramic and more spacious way.

When this happens to me it feels like my concentration has gone. It's a kind of subtle attentional version of the dark night. The solution, as with any version of the dark night, is to know that what's going on is normal and accept it for what it is. You just relax and stop trying to focus on the centre, widen your attention and accept that you're only going to catch fleeting glimpses of stuff on the periphery. You can even train yourself to enjoy the spookiness of it, like watching a slightly scary movie!

I hope this helps.
George

RE: The Path and Concentration
Answer
9/9/20 10:39 PM as a reply to agnostic.
Hi George,

Thank you for this. It helps to have some validation of this experience from another person that has explored this territory. I've read the description in Daniel's book, and this indeed seems to be what is occurring. I've been through this part of the path a few times now, so it is becoming familiar, but for some darn reason, I keep doubting the reality of what's happening. For several weeks I was practicing beautiful and light samatha! Alas, I did some extra vipassana practice last week, and I think that sped things along. 

I appreciate your advice. Just relax and enjoy the ride!