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Mind Shifting Between Samatha and Vipassana

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I have noticed that my mind shifts naturally between concentration and vipassana practice. This has happened several times over the course of the past year. The shifts usually occur over a couple of days and then last a couple of months. For example, I was practicing the concentration states and Samatha jhanas for several weeks and then they became more difficult to practice. After a couple of days of this my ability to concentrate was completely gone and I found myself in DN territory. At that point, I let the dharma do it's thing and allowed attention and awareness to move freely. I posted here a few times for help and reread the MCTB insight stages for the 1,000th time. =)

With diligent practice and the help of some good folks here, I worked through the third and fourth vipassana jhanas for six weeks. Alas, three days ago my mind shifted back to concentration on a dime. I can tell when this happens because when I sit I easily become lost in thought instead of the three characteristics completely dominating my experience. When I notice that I'm just sitting there thinking with my eyes closed I start concentrating on an object and immediately I'll cycle through the Samatha jhanas.

I'm not sure what I'm asking. I'm curious if others are experiencing this type of shift in their practice. Is it incorrect to separate practice into Samatha and vipassana? 

Thank you for reading this.

RE: Mind Shifting Between Samatha and Vipassana
Answer
10/5/20 5:19 PM as a reply to Kelly Gordon Weeks.
Take a look at this post by shargrol, it sounds relevant to your questions: 

https://shargrolpostscompilation.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html#concentrationandvipassana


RE: Mind Shifting Between Samatha and Vipassana
Answer
10/5/20 9:29 PM as a reply to Zachary.
Zachary:
Take a look at this post by shargrol, it sounds relevant to your questions: 

https://shargrolpostscompilation.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html#concentrationandvipassana



Wow! Thank you for the link to this gold mine. This begs the question, who is shargrol?

RE: Mind Shifting Between Samatha and Vipassana
Answer
10/6/20 2:07 AM as a reply to Kelly Gordon Weeks.
When I have difficulty concentrating I try to figure out out what might be causing it: stress, lack of sleep, fatigue - mental or physical, too much junk food, dieting, unconscious resistance to unpleasant emotions coming up from the unconscious, too much internet, etc and then I try to work out ways of coping with those factors so I can meditate the way I deem is best. I like to prepare for vipassana by doing samatha first.

One thing I've found is that doing relaxation exercies before meditating helps to prepare my mind so I have a more consistent experience meditating. When I went on retreats we would do bowing practice and chanting practice before sitting meditation. That is the way the monks and nuns practice every day. If the professional meditators need methods to prepare for sitting meditation, it is reasonable to assume that lay people do too. 

I limit my definition of  DN to situations when meditation releases suppressed emotions, and when it is unsettling because it changes your world view. I can tell when this is happening.  Otherwise I would assume psychologial issues are not related to the meditation - meditators can have issues too, just like non-meditators, and I would look to solutions for them in psychology or biology not meditation.

(Also too much intense meditation can damage your brain. I don't consider this a DN. It is meditation abuse. But I believe people can tell when that happens - they know they were doing a lot of intense meditation and the symptoms are unusual (see the link). )

I have been a regular meditator for many decades. I never noticed that A&P -> DN -> Equanimity is a thing. I don't believe progress has to happen that way.  And I also think this way of looking at progress could cause people to mistake genuine psychological issues that need a psychological or biological solution as simply a side effect of meditation that will go away with more meditation - when in fact the problems have nothing to do with meditation - it could cause people to use meditation as a crutch to cope with a serious condition. For example if someone is having emotional issues because of malnutrition (ie. from too much junk food), a better solution would be to fix their diet rather than meditating to gain equanimity. But if people are led to see every emotional up and down as caused by their meditation practice, they might never consider the cause of their problem is not meditation.

RE: Mind Shifting Between Samatha and Vipassana
Answer
10/6/20 2:17 AM as a reply to Kelly Gordon Weeks.
Kelly Gordon Weeks:
Zachary:
Take a look at this post by shargrol, it sounds relevant to your questions: 

https://shargrolpostscompilation.blogspot.com/p/blog-page.html#concentrationandvipassana



Wow! Thank you for the link to this gold mine. This begs the question, who is shargrol?

You see that person down the path, all wrapped up in loincloth with a bagging bowl? That's shargrol. Make sure to put some rice in that bowl emoticon  

RE: Mind Shifting Between Samatha and Vipassana
Answer
10/6/20 4:23 AM as a reply to Kelly Gordon Weeks.
Kelly Gordon Weeks:

Wow! Thank you for the link to this gold mine. This begs the question, who is shargrol?

Maybe you should check this thread.

RE: Mind Shifting Between Samatha and Vipassana
Answer
10/6/20 8:31 AM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Jim Smith:
When I have difficulty concentrating I try to figure out out what might be causing it: stress, lack of sleep, fatigue - mental or physical, too much junk food, dieting, unconscious resistance to unpleasant emotions coming up from the unconscious, too much internet, etc and then I try to work out ways of coping with those factors so I can meditate the way I deem is best. I like to prepare for vipassana by doing samatha first.

One thing I've found is that doing relaxation exercies before meditating helps to prepare my mind so I have a more consistent experience meditating. When I went on retreats we would do bowing practice and chanting practice before sitting meditation. That is the way the monks and nuns practice every day. If the professional meditators need methods to prepare for sitting meditation, it is reasonable to assume that lay people do too. 

I limit my definition of  DN to situations when meditation releases suppressed emotions, and when it is unsettling because it changes your world view. I can tell when this is happening.  Otherwise I would assume psychologial issues are not related to the meditation - meditators can have issues too, just like non-meditators, and I would look to solutions for them in psychology or biology not meditation.

(Also too much intense meditation can damage your brain. I don't consider this a DN. It is meditation abuse. But I believe people can tell when that happens - they know they were doing a lot of intense meditation and the symptoms are unusual (see the link). )

I have been a regular meditator for many decades. I never noticed that A&P -> DN -> Equanimity is a thing. I don't believe progress has to happen that way.  And I also think this way of looking at progress could cause people to mistake genuine psychological issues that need a psychological or biological solution as simply a side effect of meditation that will go away with more meditation - when in fact the problems have nothing to do with meditation - it could cause people to use meditation as a crutch to cope with a serious condition. For example if someone is having emotional issues because of malnutrition (ie. from too much junk food), a better solution would be to fix their diet rather than meditating to gain equanimity. But if people are led to see every emotional up and down as caused by their meditation practice, they might never consider the cause of their problem is not meditation.

Thank you for taking the time to write this. I agree with you that external factors should be considered first for any issues that are made apparent with mediation. I also think that perhaps I place too much emphasis on the path as a method of explanation to "where I am." I have a very consistent and healthy lifestyle so it's safe to say that is probably not the issue. 

It's not that sometimes I have a hard time concentrating. If this were the case then it would be somewhat measurable day to day. For example, a lack of sleep one night would lead to a hard time concentrating the next day, or so one would assume. The experiences that I am having and continue to cycle through are textbook. Concentration changes for several weeks and they are characteristic of the nanas. Sometimes single pointed attention doesn't work and in the past several weeks that was the case. There is no center, just blackness. Hopefully it's not brain damage! haha. I usually sit for 60-90 per day. Is that too much?

I'll give the relaxation exercises a try before meditation and see how that affects my practice. 

Thank you!

RE: Mind Shifting Between Samatha and Vipassana
Answer
10/6/20 8:59 AM as a reply to Kelly Gordon Weeks.
Kelly Gordon Weeks:


 I usually sit for 60-90 per day. Is that too much?



I was thinking more about meditation retreats where beginners are started off meditating all day for several days in a row. There are some retreats that are notorious for producing mental illnesses. 

And meditating at home is probably safer because there is no pressure to keep meditating if things start to go wrong.

RE: Mind Shifting Between Samatha and Vipassana
Answer
10/6/20 10:28 AM as a reply to Jim Smith.
Jim Smith:
Kelly Gordon Weeks:


 I usually sit for 60-90 per day. Is that too much?



I was thinking more about meditation retreats where beginners are started off meditating all day for several days in a row. There are some retreats that are notorious for producing mental illnesses. 

And meditating at home is probably safer because there is no pressure to keep meditating if things start to go wrong.
Thanks.