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Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread

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Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 9/15/11 6:58 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 9/19/11 10:22 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Ian And 9/20/11 1:53 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 9/20/11 12:22 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 9/24/11 9:54 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Christian Vlad 9/25/11 5:39 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 9/25/11 12:29 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Christian Vlad 9/25/11 3:34 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 9/25/11 4:50 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Christian Vlad 9/27/11 2:16 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 9/28/11 11:10 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 9/25/11 3:40 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 9/27/11 2:42 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Ian And 9/28/11 12:10 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 9/28/11 10:59 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/2/11 6:20 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/3/11 7:18 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/3/11 9:59 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/4/11 10:03 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/10/11 1:59 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Christian Vlad 10/10/11 4:50 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/10/11 11:10 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/11/11 1:39 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/12/11 11:06 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/14/11 9:12 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/17/11 8:14 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 10/18/11 12:34 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/18/11 4:08 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 10/18/11 10:20 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 10/21/11 6:57 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/21/11 9:03 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 10/21/11 9:25 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/22/11 11:03 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/23/11 12:27 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 10/23/11 12:16 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/23/11 6:49 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 10/24/11 3:06 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/24/11 4:48 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 10/24/11 6:25 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/26/11 12:56 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 10/26/11 11:09 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/26/11 1:19 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/26/11 10:55 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 10/26/11 11:54 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/27/11 12:49 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 10/27/11 9:19 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/30/11 1:05 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/1/11 8:27 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/31/11 11:07 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/30/11 8:15 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/31/11 2:00 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/4/11 11:31 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/5/11 9:30 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/5/11 10:10 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/9/11 10:41 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Christian Vlad 11/9/11 4:31 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/10/11 8:54 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Christian Vlad 11/12/11 5:06 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/12/11 6:38 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/13/11 10:57 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/14/11 2:52 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks 11/14/11 6:38 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/15/11 10:27 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks 11/15/11 7:49 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks 11/15/11 7:05 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/15/11 10:57 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/15/11 11:26 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/16/11 7:37 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/16/11 10:45 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks 11/17/11 4:14 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/18/11 8:07 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/18/11 11:01 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/19/11 7:46 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/19/11 9:41 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/19/11 10:52 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/20/11 1:39 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/20/11 9:07 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/20/11 9:23 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/20/11 6:59 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/21/11 8:35 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/21/11 12:44 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Eran G 11/21/11 3:40 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/21/11 9:09 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/22/11 9:29 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Eran G 11/22/11 1:40 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/22/11 2:07 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Eran G 11/23/11 1:47 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/23/11 5:21 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Eran G 11/23/11 8:54 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/23/11 9:09 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/23/11 11:23 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/24/11 7:08 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/24/11 9:50 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/24/11 10:35 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/24/11 10:54 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/24/11 11:57 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Eran G 11/24/11 2:12 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/24/11 7:11 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/25/11 7:12 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/25/11 6:47 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/26/11 8:50 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/26/11 10:02 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/26/11 11:05 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/26/11 11:27 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/27/11 11:10 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/28/11 8:05 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/28/11 8:51 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/28/11 9:53 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/28/11 10:23 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/28/11 11:00 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/28/11 4:17 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/29/11 2:47 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/29/11 10:28 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/29/11 11:49 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/2/11 5:46 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/4/11 5:22 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/9/11 2:54 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread John Hooper 12/10/11 3:12 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/11/11 8:41 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/12/11 12:06 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/12/11 10:09 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Nick NY 12/13/11 12:49 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/13/11 10:04 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread T. Dan S- 12/14/11 8:27 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/15/11 5:57 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/16/11 9:34 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/20/11 11:06 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/23/11 9:55 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/24/11 8:21 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/26/11 12:42 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/26/11 7:42 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Alan Smithee 12/26/11 11:04 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/27/11 1:16 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/28/11 10:45 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 12/28/11 9:38 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/29/11 12:56 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 12/29/11 2:55 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 12/29/11 6:30 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 1/1/12 11:11 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 1/30/12 1:27 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 1/31/12 3:02 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 2/17/12 2:51 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 2/18/12 9:28 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 2/22/12 11:37 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 2/25/12 6:42 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 2/28/12 6:32 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 3/26/12 1:06 AM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 3/27/12 11:02 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 5/9/12 12:29 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks 5/9/12 8:31 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 11/22/11 2:02 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 11/22/11 5:00 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/21/11 10:05 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/19/11 12:56 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem 10/19/11 1:14 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread Rashed Arafat 10/19/11 10:27 PM
RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread End in Sight 10/21/11 9:42 PM
The objective of this thread is to report, as accurately and honestly as possible, that which I've subjectively discovered through the process of Training in Concentration, with the hope of streamlining my Practice, and correcting erroneous interpretations of the experiences I encounter during my samatha sits.

Currently, I'm trying to sit twice a day -- one "longer" sit where I really try to cultivate the jhana I find myself in (or even cultivate access concentration, if that's where I'm at, for I've realized that the best way to "coax" a jhana to arise is to really get back to basics in each moment -- instead of impatiently trying to force a jhana to show itself, it's better to simply keep my attention, as consistently as possible, on the kasina), and one shorter sit where I focus solely on proper technique (even if the sit ends before a jhana can arise).

I put "longer" in quotes as a way to remind myself that this sit has a few prerequisites such as being well-rested, and not having to worry about needing to be somewhere/having something to do immediately afterward. Over time I've discovered that these factors play an important role in my practice, because a) it's naturally easier to concentrate when I'm well-rested and b) I'm not unconsciously rushing myself when I know that I have at least half-an-hour to an hour of free time after my sit. This way I really get to wind down even before I sit.

The duration of the longer sit is currently 1 hour, although I might move up to an hour and five minutes (still trying to fine-tune this). The duration of the shorter sit is 45 minutes (this one is SETTLED). The plan is to not mess around with the duration hopefully until the end of the year (2011) -- I have a bad habit of making a game out of changing the duration of my sits, trying to find the "perfect" one.

That said, I think there's a valid reason to try to find the "right" duration because there have been times in the past when I had decided to sit for an hour and a half, and after about an hour, I just could not stay concentrated because my knees began to ache too much, or I would get sidetracked into the powerful emotional content that concentration would bring up (break down in tears as a result of feeling suppressed feelings, etc.). I find that with a more "manageable" duration, my mind can adopt an attitude of "going in & coming out the other side in (hopefully) a single stride" -- this way, the experience of the sit tends to be "tighter" and more "taut" and my attention is far less likely to flag.

All that said, a few notes about my hour-long sit today (September 15, 2011):

- Noticed that intention plays a role even in the 2nd jhana. I was getting swept away by some powerful emotional stuff that arose due to the deep relaxation produced by the jhana. But I noticed that happening, and gently "placed" my attention back on the kasina (which at this point was spontaneously presenting itself), and immediately found myself re-experiencing a blissful absorption.

- I should further elaborate what I mean by the kasina "spontaneously presenting itself":

I started my sit by focusing on a flame housed within an oil-lamp -- the reasonably successful attempt to stay with the flame, while experiencing some discomfort and mental aggravation/agitation (at the experience not being "smooth" enough) is what I'm calling access concentration. At some point, I became deeply absorbed in the reflection of the flame (on the glass enclosure around the flame) that was about half-an-inch above the flame. Mind was very one-pointed. A very, very pleasant sense arose, and I experienced a seemingly unperturbable depth of absorption, and the experience felt very solid, and stable. I felt as though staying with my object was relatively effortless, and very easy -- breathing became a bit slower than usual. I'm slightly confused as to whether this is 1st or 2nd jhana due to the relative ease and effortlessness involved in this state. But, as I'm learning from the awesome advice at the DhO, the definitions do not matter too much -- I was mindful of this during my sit, and every time such thinking arose regarding what "state" I may be in, I simply returned my attention to the experience of pleasantness/deep absorption/kasina-at-the-moment.

Over time, my attention naturally widened out, and it was taking in the raised brick surface upon which the oil-lamp is stationed. It (my attention/mind) actually began to consider a particular edge of the surface as my "kasina." To be honest, in this relaxed state, my attention moved around a bit (fluidly), but would occasionally find objects to settle on -- and once settled, absorption would occur/a pleasant sensation would arise. Since I couldn't predict exactly what the next object/kasina was going to be until my mind "locked in" with one, the experience of finding and settling on a kasina seemed spontaneous.

The big difference between this experience and the 1st jhana was that in this state, I could no longer focus on the flame -- I wanted "bigger" "blocks" and "shapes" to settle on (the result of a naturally wider focus?). This is obviously a little hard to get out in words...

It seems important to me that when I was experiencing the deep absorption on the reflection of the flame in the 1st jhana, I couldn't conceive of moving my mind/attention -- it was as though my mind was "locked-in"/"glued" to that object, with an abiding sense of calmness & pleasantness. However, in this state -- 2nd jhana, I'm more than 50% sure -- that same experience could be found with other, and bigger, objects -- and even objects that aren't particularly interesting (the leg of a furnace, the edge of a raised brick surface, etc.). Overall, I was able to "let go" a bit more.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
9/19/11 10:22 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
September 19, 2011 -- Hour-Long Samatha Sit Notes:

Mostly noticed how thoughts occur independently of "me" (controlling them). At times frustration arose (which was mostly noticed/"noted?") at the content/nature of the thoughts (superficial). Had to not react to a horrible song that was running through my head.

I'm becoming pretty good with gently guiding my attention back to the kasina whenever I get frustrated. It's as though I'm programming my mind with a command that goes something like this: "Thinking about stupid sh*t? Just bring attention back to the kasina."

I read the advice somewhere that this returning of the attention to the kasina should be done gently, as opposed to scolding myself for not staying with it, and straying from it. This seems to make sense in an intuitive way to me. If "smoothness" is a desirable quality to shoot for during a samatha sit, then a gentle bringing back of the attention to the kasina (should it stray) makes more sense than to "jerk" my attention back.

Experienced a reasonably good internal silence/stillness. At one point I became very mindful of the noise being made by the crickets outside -- it's as though there were no thoughts when I turned my attention "within," and only the sound of the crickets "without."

My long-term (next few months) goal is to keep deepening the 1st and 2nd jhanas, and hopefully attain the 3rd jhana, and deepen that too. As things are, I can only do solitary practice at home. Also, because I'm solely focusing on Concentration Practice, I do not think I can go on a retreat, because it's my understanding that retreats are centered around Insight Practice.

I'm trying my best to "clean up" my life (Training in Morality), because more and more I'm realizing how Concentration Practice dovetails nicely with a reasonably clear conscience.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
9/20/11 1:53 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Hello Rashed,

It seems from these two posts that you are coming along just fine and are making very good progress. I have just a couple of comments that I'll share with you.

Rashed Arafat:

Experienced a reasonably good internal silence/stillness. At one point I became very mindful of the noise being made by the crickets outside -- it's as though there were no thoughts when I turned my attention "within," and only the sound of the crickets "without."

This is what one pointed concentration (ekaggata) feels like. That you are able to get to this kind of concentration is a real plus. When you are able to reach it at will (whenever you aim for it, that is) you are ready to (if you want to) to focus on an insight object (or subject as the case may be). Don't be afraid of developing insight along side of calm. Often these two develop together, quite beyond our ability to differentiate or separate them. Just allow the calm or the insight to arise, and take advantage of each whenever possible. Take whatever comes up and be thankful for it.

Rashed Arafat:
Mostly noticed how thoughts occur independently of "me" (controlling them). At times frustration arose (which was mostly noticed/"noted?") at the content/nature of the thoughts (superficial). Had to not react to a horrible song that was running through my head. . . .

I'm trying my best to "clean up" my life (Training in Morality), because more and more I'm realizing how Concentration Practice dovetails nicely with a reasonably clear conscience.

These two observations demonstrate graphically how samatha and vipassana (calm and insight) go together and cannot be separated.

By the way, that second insight that you mentioned above is an important insight that will help speed up your samatha (and hence samadhi) practice. Now you see why Gotama emphasized sila as part of his three pronged effort to re-train the mind. The other two prongs being panna and samadhi (wisdom and concentration).

Take care,
Ian

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
9/20/11 12:22 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Thanks Ian!

I'm very glad to know that I accessed ekaggata. The whole issue I have with Insight Practice, to be honest, is that I do not understand exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. I did not delve deeply into the chapter on Insight Practice in MCTB because it did not make as much sense to me as did the ones on Concentration Practice.

To further elaborate, the instructions for Insight Practice made sense to me conceptually, but not experientially. For instance, when I sit down to do samatha practice, I can feel the different jhanas -- I experientially discover one-pointedness, etc. However, my current conceptual understanding of Insight Practice is something like:
  1. Sit down on cushion.
  2. If I feel an itch on the skin along my arm, mentally say, "Itch."
  3. Repeat that with pretty much anything else that I pick up through (I guess "comes in through" would be more appropriate, because "picking up" is active and can lead to noting stuff that's not really there) one of the five senses.

I've done stuff like that before, but it has never fundamentally altered my state-of-being/consciousness -- if anything, it only left me feeling frustrated. Basically, I felt as though I did not "get anything out of it" (and I've gotten plenty out of samatha practice already).

I guess for me a productive meditation session has the characteristic of depth to it -- my mind has to be able to extricate itself enough from mundane concerns so that I can turn my attention within, and hopefully see what's really there.

So I guess what I'm essentially saying is that I don't see the point of "dry" Insight Practice (at least for me) because it's like trying to look keenly and deeply at something (and acquire an intuitive understanding of its essence) with a scattered attention. It's like watching an hour of reality TV (I don't actually do this) then, or simultaneously, trying to contemplate the Holocaust (extreme example, I know).

I'm aware of the possibility that I may already be doing Insight Practice whilst in the concentration states -- hopefully if I'm actually acquiring insights through such peripheral/ancillary practice, then they will stick with me and transform me from the inside out (even though I may not be aware of the process because I'm only keeping track of my progress in samatha).

So, I'm not afraid of -- or do not resist -- Insight Practice happening while I'm in the samatha jhanas -- I just do not know when it's actually happening!

That said, a few notes on today's hour-long sit (September 20, 2011):

- It's important for me to have at least a little bit to eat before sitting down. There was no food in the house (did not think to buy breakfast items), and since I wanted to sit 1st thing in the morning, I sat down without eating breakfast. This led to a horrible meditation -- almost the whole time I just felt hungry, and irritated (due to the hunger). I could barely concentrate. At one point I was tempted to get up, but I reminded myself of the importance of timed sits, and how they build confidence, and so sat for the whole hour. The way I see it, finishing a timed sit, even though it may be a "low-quality" one is the same as fulfilling a commitment, which is the essence of sila. However, for future reference, I will make sure to have a reasonably satisfied body -- well-rested, decently-fed, etc. -- prior to a samatha sit.

- A Buddhist friend/acquaintance of mine once said, "There are no bad meditations." I think I disagree. During my sit this morning, when I committed to finish the sit, the determination arose to observe even hunger, and a certain degree of concentration was experienced. I think I went in-and-out of 1st jhana a few times (mainly accessed through sheer application of will -- not willing the jhana to arise, but willing to stay put despite the hunger so that the jhana may arise). I think the whole idea of there being "no bad sits" can lead to sitting without actually trying to stabilize the attention on a kasina. It's a very subtle line to walk, but I had a choice between a) just making sure that I sat for an hour, and listen to my mind whine about being uncomfortable or b) determining to sit for an hour and trying to make the most of it under the circumstances -- consciously trying to stabilize my attention on the kasina despite the whining.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
9/24/11 9:54 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit notes (1:05 hrs., September 24):

- Think I'm getting pretty good at "knowing" when I'm in the 1st jhana. The confusion that I once used to feel over isolating access concentration from the 1st jhana is either no longer present, or it just simply matters less and less to me, every day. There's a sense of the struggle to stay with the kasina dropping away, even though it's not the "pure" effortlessness of the 2nd jhana. More-or-less, my concentration "locks in" with the flame (or an aspect of it). I think, also, that the factor "concentration" itself is something that becomes palpable to me, so in that case I guess you could say a quality of the state (concentration) + grounding my attention on the primary kasina (flame) = the "defining" features of the 1st jhana for me so far. It's as though I could stay totally alone with the flame, insulated from the external world.

- I've noticed that I haven't been getting to the 2nd jhana lately with the time I've allotted for myself. However, it does not bother me too much because the experience of stabilizing myself on the 1st jhana is gratifying. Also -- my growing intellectual certainty with regard to where I am (on the map) is also satisfying. This falls in line with my plan to hopefully "master" the 1st 3 - 4 jhanas (prior to beginning Insight Practice).

- I read on a different thread that a daily practice has a cumulative (beneficial) effect -- each day's sit builds on the territory covered on the last day. I'm really trying to take this advice to heart, because intuitively it rings true.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
9/25/11 5:39 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Hi Rashed,

first off, thanks a lot for sharing your experiences with us. Very interesting stuff that is quite beneficial especially for people that are at the same earlier stages as well.

I have 2 questions that I'm getting when reading your reports:

1. In your first post, you mentioned that your long sits are around 1 hour, while the shorter ones are around 45 mins. I am wondering if you would say that these somewhat longer sits really make a difference in depth and the potential for progress, since I am currently doing 45 min sits each morning and consider upping that time to an hour too. I am not really sure though if that will really do any good, because I feel that after about 30mins into the sits my mind gets really scattered and thoughts just keep dragging me away without anything I can do about it. 15 more mins of these thought trains would sound more frustrating than beneficial, but maybe I am missing something and the thoughts might stop again after 50 or 55 mins and could give me some more good and clear last minutes where real progress can be made. So I guess I'm just asking what your take is on the difference between 45mins and the somewhat longer 60min sits?

2. Since you are doing candle meditation, I read up a little on that and tried it too a couple of times (only 20 mins per sit). I find it interesting that you keep the eyes open at all times, even when entering what you assume to be first and second jhana (and by your descriptions that sounds reasonable enough). The common notion though seems to be that one waits for a clear shift in perception to appear and then to close one's eyes and keep working with the after-image to enter higher jhanas. Did you try both ways? Have you purposely decided to keep your eyes open at all times? Also, I would like to ask how you handle things like blurring of the candle, eye-strain, blinking, tears running etc. while doing your kasina sits?

Thanks a lot, any kind of answer would be appreciated emoticon

Sincerely,

Christian

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
9/25/11 12:29 PM as a reply to Christian Vlad.
Hey Christian,

Thanks for finding my thread helpful. I will answer your questions in reverse order:

2. Since you are doing candle meditation, I read up a little on that and tried it too a couple of times (only 20 mins per sit). I find it interesting that you keep the eyes open at all times, even when entering what you assume to be first and second jhana (and by your descriptions that sounds reasonable enough). The common notion though seems to be that one waits for a clear shift in perception to appear and then to close one's eyes and keep working with the after-image to enter higher jhanas. Did you try both ways? Have you purposely decided to keep your eyes open at all times? Also, I would like to ask how you handle things like blurring of the candle, eye-strain, blinking, tears running etc. while doing your kasina sits?

I actually never experienced an "after-image" of the candle. I read about such a phenomenon occurring in MCTB, and was somewhat on the lookout for it during my sits. The after-image effect only seems to happen to me when I'm looking at something super-bright (like the sun, or a neon light, for instance).

I didn't let that discourage me, however. I tried to keep in mind that my experiences will be my own, and possibly a little different than those of others. Since I believe I experienced what I consider to be the other "defining" factors of the 1st and 2nd jhanas, I concentrated on those during my sits.

Also -- even though I start out by focusing on the flame itself, after a period of time, my mind naturally picks a kasina that may or may not be the flame, and begins to "rest" or "abide" there -- this is what I call the 1st jhana (it may or may not be, but I'm pretty sure it is -- it feels good, and there's certainly an increased/palpable degree of concentration involved). Usually it's something that's very close in proximity to the flame -- sometimes it's the base from which the flame is protruding (I use an oil-lamp, and not a candle per se), and sometimes it's the reflection of the flame on the glass enclosure that surrounds it.

For me the biggest and most obvious shift in perception is the dropping away of all effort. The bliss and ease of that state is unmistakable. It's hard to miss it when it occurs because it is so very different from the desperate attempts to stick with the kasina (at all costs) when I first sit down.

So, getting back to your question, I keep my eyes open because:

a) I do not experience an after-image of the flame when I close my eyelids, or even if I do, it's too subtle for me to force my attention to pick that as the new object. Rather, I find that after a while of sitting, my mind naturally becomes concentrated upon the flame (or something near it), and abides there -- sometimes it feels very solid -- like nothing can break my attention (I think that's probably a characteristic of a "hard" jhana). This experience + object becomes my "new" kasina/object (as opposed to the after-image). So far it's been working out well, so I think I'm on the right track -- I'm not really sweating over not being able to see an after-image.

b) I guess keeping my eyes open the whole time is akin to establishing a "baseline" for myself -- I compare the transitions that occur against this baseline. In a sense I'm able to notice the shifts more clearly this way. Even though I haven't talked about it here, there have been times when I've closed my eyes -- but whenever that's happened, it's been a spontaneous act. Sometimes the quality of concentration is so strong and blissful/peaceful that I get "absorbed" in that state, and my eyelids naturally close as if to deepen the effect. But I don't try to deliberately deepen the effect -- it's my take that the simple act of staying with the object will do the job of deepening for you.

Tears have never run for me, if you mean tears due to eye-strain. Eye strain does not seem to occur for me. Once I enter a certain level of concentration, the act of keeping my eyes on the object doesn't feel all that effortful -- there could be plenty of metaphors for this, such as looking into the eyes of a beloved (or a breathtaking landscape). When that happens, you feel as though you could do that forever. Same with an ideal eyes-open meditation, I guess...

But then again, when what I think is my eyelids closing spontaneously happens, maybe it's just an automatic response to eye-strain that I'm not conscious of!

Tears have run for me, profusely, when deeply held emotions surfaced due to a samatha jhana. Ideally you would just "work" with the emotions by considering them to be the object, or just continue to stay with your kasina as the emotions do their thing -- but sometimes (especially in what I think is the 2nd jhana for me) the emotions that arose were too powerful, and overwhelmed my capacity to stay concentrated. When such things happened, I just cried -- and meditation was over. It was a catharsis of sorts, and possibly much-needed.

Blinking hardly bothers me -- I don't even notice it! I just pay more attention to the quality of paying attention to the kasina, so it feels like an uninterrupted, continuous act. In a sense, a physical object is easier to concentrate on than a mantra, which is a repeating thought with spaces in between each repetition. This makes me wonder if one could make the act of blinking their focus of attention! Anyway -- I digress...

I'm not sure what you mean by blurring of the candle. Do you mean the image blurring, or the flame itself changing shape and becoming somewhat amorphous-looking? If the latter, then the fact that I actually use an oil-lamp produces a very consistent flame that barely flickers (due to the flame being housed inside a glass enclosure). I try to get creative with the whole thing, which I find keeps my attention on the object more easily. For instance, I can cut the wick in different shapes to produce differently shaped flames (triangular, double-peaked, etc.) -- which is a lot of fun. The more interesting you can make it for yourself, the better, since meditation by itself is considered by most minds as being a rather "dry" activity. (As a side-note, I find the actual act of sitting to be interesting -- for some reason my mind tends to forget just how good it feels to actually meditate when I'm not meditating!)

1. In your first post, you mentioned that your long sits are around 1 hour, while the shorter ones are around 45 mins. I am wondering if you would say that these somewhat longer sits really make a difference in depth and the potential for progress, since I am currently doing 45 min sits each morning and consider upping that time to an hour too. I am not really sure though if that will really do any good, because I feel that after about 30mins into the sits my mind gets really scattered and thoughts just keep dragging me away without anything I can do about it. 15 more mins of these thought trains would sound more frustrating than beneficial, but maybe I am missing something and the thoughts might stop again after 50 or 55 mins and could give me some more good and clear last minutes where real progress can be made. So I guess I'm just asking what your take is on the difference between 45mins and the somewhat longer 60min sits?

I know where you're coming from on this one.

I definitely think that the "good stuff" starts happening after about 35 minutes of sitting, at least for me. I find that it definitely takes a while for my mind to settle down, and "get into a groove" of sitting. If I've been practicing every day, and practicing well, then I can enter a state of fairly deep concentration pretty quickly -- say, within 15 minutes.

I think you have to challenge yourself to sit as long as you can handle it. There was a time when I'd do 30 - 35 minute sits, and I just couldn't stay focused after that period.

One technique I've found helpful is to try and observe the worst urge to end my meditation, and give that my exclusive attention. For instance, sometimes my mind would get impatient and keep wanting to hear the alarm go off -- I've learned to just stay with that feeling of discomfort -- that edge if you will where you're sitting, and yet actively waiting for the alarm to go off. If done with enough will and intention, eventually concentration appears, and you become comfortable with that discomfort. So, whatever's irritating you -- don't ignore it. Instead, make that your object. "Meditate" on that.

You can also "program" your mind to have a ready-made response for events like that such as "Thoughts about alarm? Back to the kasina!!" On some level you know that the meditation is extremely important -- that it will eventually lead to Awakening, which is highly, highly desirable. It's good to keep that in your subconscious as you sit, because it provides much-needed motivation to stick with the sit and finish it.

My hour-long sessions are when I really "get down to work." In a sense, I make that sit my first priority (if I've been practicing well) for the day. The 45-minute sit is there more to build discipline in me. I don't expect a whole lot to happen during that sit -- I just do it to prove to myself that I can sit for 45 minutes even when I have to be at work at 6 AM (work at a coffee-shop where we have to be open super-early). At such an early hour, I'm more just trying to wake up than anything else...

For several years, actually, I became obsessed with finding the "right" duration for my body-mind. I had this theory that there was an ideal duration for me that took into account my life-circumstances, and my natural proclivities. I still think that's true to an extent, but there are times when enough is enough, and you just have to pick a duration and stick with it (because it's the actual act of practicing that makes a difference).

I think MOTIVATION is key here -- if you're sufficiently motivated to end your suffering, then you'll figure out pretty fast what's the best duration for you. There may come a time when you'll have developed sufficient concentration to sit for, let's say, 2 hours.

Even though I'm sitting for about an hour these days, I know that if I keep doing it for several months, then I might get to a stage where I may naturally want to sit for an hour and 30 minutes. However, I haven't arrived there yet, so I try not to think about it. That's just too much future-oriented thinking -- trying to "plan the whole thing out" in advance. Rather, I've decided that I'm going to stick with an hour, no matter what, until the end of this year, 2011. At the start of 2012, I'll review myself and see if I need to lengthen my duration -- if not, then I'll just continue to stick to an hour.

Here's a link to another thread I started that deals with some of your questions as well.

Hope that helped, and best of luck to you with your practice!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
9/25/11 3:34 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Thanks a lot for those quick and elaborate answers, they certainly cleared some things up for me.

I must say that I'm impressed with your ability to do this practice without any problems with your eyes. Every time I tried it, after a few minutes my eyes just started blinking a lot, and if I tried to force them open tears came out as a result from the straining.

When I said blurring I was also more referring to the optical image of the candle. It seems that it's almost impossible to keep that image solid, very soon I see a blurring effect with an image of a second candleflame that is kind of "floating away" from the image of the actual candle. Maybe I need to have a little bit more light in the background so I don't just sit there in complete darkness with just the light from the candle, that may actually be the cause for the strain and explain my problems. It could also be that I was already pretty tired when I did it and that that caused some extra strain on the eyes.

About the sitting time, I think I will power it up during the next days, adding maybe 5 minutes every day until I am at 60mins. Basically what I read from your reply is that for what we are trying to achieve, every minute we use for it will be well spent in the end, and I basically couldn't agree more. I am a little concerned about pains in the body though, because 45 mins has been the amount of time that I could sit pretty easily in the past, and with every minute more the pain in the legs and back get more and more unbearable. But maybe thats just a matter of getting used to it, we'll see how it plays out.

Hope to read some more of your experiences and practical insights.

Good luck,

Christian

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
9/25/11 3:40 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit notes, September 25:

- I shot for an hour and five minutes. Right toward the end (even though I had double-checked my alarm clock setting at the beginning), it began to feel as though I was sitting for "too long" (I began to doubt that the clock was working). I gave up before the alarm went off, looked at it and realized that I was exactly at the 1-hour mark. So, I guess this means that I am beginning to establish an internal clock that can tell when an hour has passed. My goal is to settle on an hour and five minutes as being my "official" duration for the next few months (until the end of the year). I want to push myself just a tad more (by tacking on the 5 extra minutes), but not to the point where meditating becomes an onus.

- Was able to watch, in slow motion as it were, almost each time my mind would want to stray from the object of concentration. This gave me the leverage to "decide" to stay on the breath/the experience of concentration (this was after my attention "lifted off" of the flame -- presumably into the 2nd jhana). It's as though I was aware of a lot of space around each thought, and sensation (I sort of made that "space" the object of attention).

- Concentration was taut, and solid, although I wish it were more "laser-like" and more "potent" -- robust.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
9/25/11 4:50 PM as a reply to Christian Vlad.
Hey Christian,

Thanks a lot for those quick and elaborate answers, they certainly cleared some things up for me.

No problem.

Yeah -- I don't stare at the flame in total darkness. I can see how that might cause eye-strain. I keep the room semi-dark, however.

What you're saying about the blurring effect sounds interesting. As far as I understand it, in MCTB, Daniel says that you should be able to see an "after-image" after you close your eyes, and make that your new object, and stabilize on it. I wonder what would happen if you stayed on the image of the second candle flame? Is there a chance that your attention is naturally gravitating toward that, and you're resisting it?

I have had glimpses of the blurring effect you speak of, but that's generally/only happened when I put almost no effort into focusing on the flame (more like "zoning out" while looking at the flame, really) -- kind of like how you can make a second image appear when you're staring at an object, but deliberately focusing your eyes about halfway between yourself and the object, or even crossing your eyes (it's a game I used to play as a child). In this case, I'm not so much focusing/concentrating on the object as I am on the intended "doubling" effect. But I don't think this is what you're talking about anyway...

What I usually do when I sit down is determine very firmly to focus exclusively on the flame -- I'll even mentally yell at myself to not stray from it. In a sense I try to "grip" the flame with my mind/vision -- look at it as though it were something worth looking at. This does cause some strain, but I'm merely trying to follow the instructions on Concentration Practice as laid out in MCTB. Somewhere in there, it's said that a person should stay on the object "like a rabid dog" until access concentration is achieved. So, that's what I essentially try to do -- I make myself stay on the object as though it were the only object in existence. You get the point.

Of course, if that were the entire meditation, then it would suck, big time. Thankfully, after a while, the mind relaxes, but it relaxes upon the object, and that's either access concentration or 1st jhana (depending on whether the sensation is pleasant, the degree of effortlessness, and the depth of concentration, in my case).

I think it's important to focus more on the experience of sitting more so than the duration. Quality over quantity...

That said, if you COMMIT to a certain duration, then you leave yourself no choice but to try and find calmness within that temporal space.

As far as bodily pains, I have somewhat of an ego with regard to sitting in full lotus (do yoga now and then), but in a lot of my longer sits, I've switched to a half-lotus halfway through it (and guess what -- concentration improved because I wasn't being distracted by the pain). Some people meditate while sitting on chairs -- I think most meditators on here would agree that posture isn't all that important, as long as your back is reasonably straight, etc. If I were you, I'd go with whatever feels stable, and comfortable (but not so much that I'm likely to experience torpor). It's really a balancing act more than anything. You have to find the "sweet spot," then stay there.

I think in general, effort needs to be counterbalanced with acceptance.

Good luck!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
9/27/11 2:16 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
I actually agree that the blurring effect may have been caused by just being a little too relaxed instead of staying with the candle really hard. Of course I have tried focusing on the second image of the candle, but as soon as I do that it floats off to the side and up and then vanishes, just to appear again after a few seconds. Intuitively I would say that it doesn't really feel very helpful and workable for me, but rather like an annoying visual effect that keeps me from just staying on the actual candleflame.

You mentioned staying on the flame like a rabid dog, as Daniel suggests in MCTB, however, doesn't that automatically cause you to strain and automatically flex especially your facial muscles (eyes, forehead)? In my humble opinion, finding that right balance between effort and relaxation is probably THE key to accessing the first state(s) of concentration, but I can't quite say I have figured it out yet for myself. Actually there are also somewhat contradictory instructions on that, some (like Daniels) seem to encourage a lot of effort in the beginning and then relaxing into it, others emphasize good relaxation and a very soft touch (I remember the analogy of touching a peanut floating on water without drowning it, I think that was on Kenneth Folks site), or even state that without very good relaxation in the beginning, entering into the jhanas isn't even possible by force and effort at all.
That obviously makes things a little difficult and hard for me to balance, and in my sittings I find myself trying to find and correct that all the time (going through my body looking for tensions, returning to the meditation object, losing myself in thoughts....all of that repeating again and again).

Anyways, I have increased my sittings by 10 minutes already, to 55 mins now. I am still doing pure breath meditations in the morning, and I am actually quite surprised how easy it was to tack that extra minutes on. I didn't feel any pain in the legs at all for the whole sitting, which is kind of surprising because I always had that, even on my shorter sits. It also didn't become boring or frustrating, actually these last 2 longer sits went away just as quickly as the 45mins.

As always looking forward for more content emoticon

GL,

Christian

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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9/27/11 2:42 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit notes, September 27, 2011:

>> Had what I'm considering a very productive sit, with lots of clarity. I have determined to make my "longer" sit to be just a little over an hour (around an hour and five minutes) -- I believe because I had firmly intended it to be so (made it "official" to myself), I was able to sit through a series of urges to end the meditation that arose during the middle of the sit. When the alarm finally went off, there was a great sense of accomplishment that arose, which validated my decision.

>> Early on in the sit, when I was in access concentration territory, I felt as though I could "see" the difference between CONTENT and OBJECT. I seemed to be very mindful of exactly when my mind almost slipped into its habitual mode of "spinning" thoughts. I have a "formula" or a "mantra" of sorts to guide me through my samatha sits, which is as follows: Technique / Time. Essentially this means that the only thing that matters during the hour and five minutes that I've allotted for practice is proper technique, i.e. staying, or attempting to stay with the chosen object. Sustaining the act of noticing its form. The significance of the factor "time" is that if there's an urge to deal with content (erroneously hoping that that's going to provide "solutions"), then I can just tell myself: "You can do that to your heart's content once the meditation is over. Just not for this hour." This overall attitude -- and the formula -- I find to be very helpful, and conducive to what I consider to be "productivity" during a sit. The truth is I can deal with content that much better when I've taken into account the necessity of stabilizing my mind upon something that's not related to content, for a defined period of time at least.

>> Something interesting began to happen when I was in what I believe to be the 2nd jhana (effortlessness was palpably a factor, so I don't know why I still can't claim with absolute certainty that this was indeed the 2nd jhana -- I guess I need someone to validate my assumptions). But before I get into that, I must also state that "lateral space" became a factor in this jhana. By which I mean I could actually feel my consciousness expanding laterally, including more and more as it went on. There was a point when the state became as inclusive as it's ever been -- there was almost no internal resistance to all the sounds that were occurring in the house. It's as though my internal silence was unperturbable by external sounds. All the little sounds -- sometimes even sensations -- became "included" in my meditation. It was the underlying, felt-silence that was the focus of attention.

At any rate -- the "interesting" phenomenon that I mentioned is as follows, and I wouldn't mind having some light shed on it by others more experienced:

Having established my mind on the factor of effortlessness, as well as a backdrop of mental/inner silence/quietude, I was "reviewing" certain past emotionally traumatizing events (I'm making this sound dramatic -- it was really just memories that continue to hold a lot of powerful "emotional charge" for me). By "reviewing" I do not mean an analytical process -- merely observing them and noticing the feelings that arose as a result of observing them -- then just "sitting with" those feelings that arose. Not reacting -- letting them arise and pass away.

One "insight" that popped out upon such reviewing was that there are no guarantees that come with interpersonal relationships -- there never was. People can say that they are committed to me, but it's Reality that writes the script. In a sense I was okay with this -- I could bear it.

I'm wondering if the above is an example of Insight Practice, or if it's an example of "healing psychological insights" derived through samatha practice.

I also feel gratitude for there being so many people on here with so much clarity and experience -- it's a blessing to be able to interact with you!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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9/28/11 12:10 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:

At any rate -- the "interesting" phenomenon that I mentioned is as follows, and I wouldn't mind having some light shed on it by others more experienced: . . .

One "insight" that popped out upon such reviewing was that there are no guarantees that come with interpersonal relationships -- there never was. People can say that they are committed to me, but it's Reality that writes the script. In a sense I was okay with this -- I could bear it.

I'm wondering if the above is an example of Insight Practice, or if it's an example of "healing psychological insights" derived through samatha practice.

Call it whatever you will. It's all good. Any time you gain an insight into the reality going on inside your head, you can safely assume that it is insight practice (lower case "I" and "P," even if it may have had little to do on its surface with insight into the Dhamma). Whenever you gain insight into the identity whose "drama" is Rashed Arafat, it is that very identity, so carefully built over the years, that you are attempting to pick apart and see with insight according to the Dhamma that Gotama taught.

In the present case, you got a brief glimpse into one of this person's delusions about what people say as opposed to what people do.

Had you continued to reflect on the five aggregates role in all this, you may have come away with an even deeper insight about how this process arose and played itself out within the subject's perception. Now, that would have been an example of Insight Practice (capital "I" and "P").

However, such "healing psychological insights" are nevertheless important in the overall picture of one's progress. They help the mind be able to calm down and focus on the present moment with more clarity and knowing. When enough of these insights have accumulated and the mind is able to proceed without becoming distracted by these psychological hangups, one may be able to see with more clarity how the Dhamma relates to whatever object one is currently observing. That is, of course, as long one remains mindful (using the "recollection" sense of meaning in the word "mindful") of the Dhamma during the observation of the object.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
9/28/11 11:10 PM as a reply to Christian Vlad.
Hey Christian,

I think one of the most important points is something that Ian has brought up (in this thread and in others), which is that Concentration Practice happens more easily and naturally when one is working on sila/the First Training -- Training in Morality -- as well (not to say that you aren't doing that -- just something that I've found out to be true for myself). I find Concentration and Morality have a back-and-forth interplay of sorts. My mind is more attracted toward samadhi when it has less compunctions holding it up.

When I first began samatha practice, I had this idea that I just need to sit down and focus really, really hard on the kasina, and jhanas will appear. I think it's more about just continually bringing your attention back to the primary object. I know I'm contradicting myself here a little (because I think earlier I said that I try to "grip" the kasina with my mind) -- but I do think the latter approach (that of just making sure to bring your attention back to the primary object whenever it strays) is more effective. This does not require excessive effort, leading to eye-strain.

When you're trying to attain access concentration, it IS important to fight against the mind's urge to leave the kasina (if you notice it in advance). The struggle eventually leads to a state where you're not really having to try hard to stay with the object. So, I think it's helpful to keep in mind, when you sit down, that eventually you will "win" and your mind will become more or less "locked" with the object (it provides motivation to keep trying to stay with it through all the seeming distractions).

Of course I have tried focusing on the second image of the candle, but as soon as I do that it floats off to the side and up and then vanishes, just to appear again after a few seconds. Intuitively I would say that it doesn't really feel very helpful and workable for me, but rather like an annoying visual effect that keeps me from just staying on the actual candleflame.

That's what I do, too. I try to keep it as simple as I can -- I pick the flame as my object, then just focus all of my attention on it. If a fairly clear shift occurs, then I go with it. Otherwise, I ignore "pseudo-objects" and just stay on that which I consciously chose as being my primary object.

In my humble opinion, finding that right balance between effort and relaxation is probably THE key to accessing the first state(s) of concentration, but I can't quite say I have figured it out yet for myself. Actually there are also somewhat contradictory instructions on that, some (like Daniels) seem to encourage a lot of effort in the beginning and then relaxing into it, others emphasize good relaxation and a very soft touch (I remember the analogy of touching a peanut floating on water without drowning it, I think that was on Kenneth Folks site), or even state that without very good relaxation in the beginning, entering into the jhanas isn't even possible by force and effort at all.
That obviously makes things a little difficult and hard for me to balance, and in my sittings I find myself trying to find and correct that all the time (going through my body looking for tensions, returning to the meditation object, losing myself in thoughts....all of that repeating again and again).

I am more inclined to trust myself on these things -- I am the first witness to what's going on inside my body (energetically) and in my mind (in terms of thoughts and feelings). Sure, others can provide valuable perspective, but ultimately it's up to me.

Sometimes samatha practice is a lot easier, let's say, after a hard day's work (when your mind and body are pretty tensed up). I find that the mind, at that point, naturally seeks out quietude when you focus on an object -- when you "allow" it, so to speak. No prior relaxation seems to be necessary.

On the other hand, if I've just been lounging around, then it seems necessary to either exercise or do some yoga before I sit.

I think the key is to make Concentration Practice a part of your day-to-day life. Plan your day around it and look forward to it so that when you do get a chance to sit, your mind "rushes into" the jhanas. It's kind of like retaining water by building a dam, then breaking the dam.

ADDENDUM:

To be entirely honest -- I think there may be some eye-strain going on, but the factor "concentration" is so enjoyable that it's a small price to pay for the experience.

Rashed

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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9/28/11 10:59 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Samatha practice notes (1 hr. 5 min.) -- September 28, 2011:

- 2nd jhana. I read in MCTB that a meditator can "get stuck" in any one of the jhanas, which I don't want to happen to me. However, I still feel that my understanding of the 1st two jhanas is not comprehensive/thorough enough -- I still do not feel the "authority" that I'd like to feel when I say I have "attained" the 2nd jhana, etc. On some level I know that kind of stuff does not matter too much. Hopefully, enough precise practice will wear down such nagging by my intellect to understand everything.

- While I was very solidly concentrated on the flame (it felt like a very powerful sort of concentration -- lots of energy "on tap") in the 1st jhana, the coming and going of thoughts were seen to be entirely automatic. I was deeply aware of the "field" through which thoughts were moving. I realized that "I" had no relationship with the thoughts -- thoughts occurred on their own, and existence was independent of thoughts. I guess a better way of putting this would be to say there was a hell of a lot of mindfulness of thoughts.

However, since the process of thinking felt so very effortless, I am wondering if this was some weird version of the 1st jhana (where applied effort is supposed to be a factor). It felt as though I acquired effortlessness upon an object. When I entered the 2nd jhana, I could experience that quality of concentration without requiring an object (wherever I placed my attention, that became the object).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/2/11 6:20 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Random notes related to my samatha practice in general (to give myself stuff to "chew on"):

I am noticing a greed with regard to acquiring insights that's getting in the way of simply experiencing deeper and deeper levels of concentration. I do not consider myself psychologically prepared to begin Insight Practice in earnest -- I still feel as though my life is dissatisfying in a way that can be addressed through a combination of Training in Morality, and Training in Concentration.

Of course, I have no desire to be/remain a 'normal' human being in the sense of being largely interested in the "story"/content. So my goal is not to merely use Morality and Concentration as tools with which I will fix up my life, and then be reasonably happy (to go ahead and pursue my material interests). However, I do feel as though I require a 'foundation' -- Morality + Concentration -- upon which to carry out intense Insight Practice (go on retreats, etc.).

That said, however, I think it may be good for me to keep in mind that concentration and insight can occur concurrently, and that I do not need to create such a strict duality in between the two.

Also, I think I may be slightly veering off of my stated objective at the beginning of this thread, which is depth and duration of jhanas as opposed to jumping from one jhana to another, going after higher and higher states. I must consciously restrain myself from falling prey to such an attitude. I must remember that a drawn-out, intense 1st jhana lasting for the greater part of a sit (or even being the entire sit) is better than getting to 2nd jhana within half an hour. It's the confidence that I'm after, and that I'm pretty sure I need (confidence that I truly "have" what I think I have -- for some reason this specific feeling matters to me, and I may as well stop fighting it).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/3/11 7:18 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Trying to figure out a way to make my Samatha Practice the "baseline" of my day-to-day life. It's difficult for the mind to get on board with this, because it keeps viewing meditation (from a distance) as a "bland"/nondescript activity.

However, experience has informed me that in the long run, I will inevitably come back to using meditation to find happiness (as opposed to external circumstances creating happiness for me -- that never lasts).

I think stabilization (upon a jhana -- this is essentially "going for depth and duration") and certainty (to whatever degree possible, with regard to where I am on "the map") are two key factors. A possible "incentive" for engaging in Concentration Practice is the attainment of the higher jhanas -- but here it's going to be a tricky balance to strike for me because if I set out with the intention to, let's say, attain the 4th jhana, then, regardless of how subtle a role it may play, I will get sidetracked from focusing solely on the kasina, or the experience of concentration (which paradoxically leads to the higher jhanas more quickly/in a more reliable way).

Also -- more and more I am realizing the importance of practicing daily, so that a "samatha feedback loop" of sorts gets created and is sustained over the course of days to weeks to months.

One last intellectual curiosity I have is with regard to whether or not I can control the duration of a jhana. In my experience so far, the mind naturally and spontaneously shifts to a higher jhana when enough time has been spent cultivating access concentration/1st jhana etc. This brings into question the whole idea of "duration" as it applies to a jhana.

I guess the only thing I can actually do is simply focus on the factor "cultivation."

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/3/11 9:59 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-samatha sit notes (October 3):

Since I've been out of practice lately, I noticed that I couldn't sit for the full hour-and-five minutes as I'd intended. I "gave up" just around the 1-hour mark. I think this means that a) my practice needs to be more consistent and b) I need to work harder on sila. I think, however, that the process of developing good sila is a trial-and-error one, and one is bound to make a few mistakes as one figures out an optimal way-of-being -- the "correct" attitude toward one's life. It's not too high a goal (the only reason I'm saying this is because on some level I feel as though it may just be "too high" of a goal -- but what else is there to do? Slowly turn into a moral degenerate? I don't think so.). A large part of sila, for me, would be the cultivation of patience.

Two things during today's sit that seem noteworthy:
  1. I believe I got a glimpse of ekaggata -- it was a rather brief one, but I think I'm learning to recognize this state. There was a sense that my "inside" was hollow, and silent, and was allowing external things/phenomena to "be."
  2. My mind, I think, is learning to identify the transition-point to the 2nd jhana -- it can recognize the quality of "effortlessness" when it arises (this is primarily noticed in the motion of the breath -- how no effort is being put into the process of breathing), and can more-or-less tune in to it. I must say, despite the experience of effortlessness, I still couldn't abide endlessly (there was the feeling-experience of it, but I guess there wasn't enough sila "supporting" the daily sit for me to truly get into that state and just let it all go -- which seems like what should happen in the 2nd jhana). It felt as though I could 'pop out' of the 2nd jhana and into a lower state if I didn't watch it. Also -- if I had been practicing on a more regular basis, I think I could've abided for longer -- to have to apply will-power to stay in 2nd jhana does not feel/seem right. I am open to the possibility that maybe this wasn't 2nd jhana. But if it wasn't, then what could it be? My focus certainly was no longer stationed on the flame, and was instead on the "effortless" quality of being/breathing/sitting (the sense of someone being "in control" of physical processes was diminished noticeably). All I can say is that maybe "effortlessness" itself is an experience defined by/trapped within time. But more importantly, I think I should just keep practicing, and allow my practice to sort out this seeming mess/confusion. Regularity, again, is important (I'm beginning to repeat myself).
The overall quality of my mind is more on the "frantic" side of things than I'd like it to be -- samatha practice alone won't fix this. I think the only remaining option is that of strengthening my sila/virtue/code-of-conduct. I must get it into my head that happiness is possible for me, and that the only reliable way is through spiritual practice (and not ideation/rumination). But like I said above, this is a trial-and-error process (before my morality comes into alignment with my daily samatha practice and begins "powering" it in a sense), and hence I must remember to remain patient as it unfolds.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/4/11 10:03 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit notes -- October 4, 2011:

>>Sat for my intended duration of an hour and five minutes.

>>I think maybe my attitude (about spiritual practice) is slowly shifting to an outlook that goes something like this: "It's obvious you want an Answer, and doing the work that's most likely to bring you the Answer actually isn't that hard (although it seems that way when the task is contemplated from a distance). It is also rather clear that there are not too many methods/tools that have historically been used by people to discover Ultimate Truth -- in other words, the tools have been pointed out to you, they are common to all men, and it's totally up to you whether or not you pick them up and begin separating illusion from truth. You should at least be thankful that there are any tools to begin with."

>>I think siding more and more with "the big picture" -- Practice, as a way of life, leading to Awakening -- gives me the impetus to stay focused throughout my entire sit. It is irritating to have to remind myself as often as I have to that I need to keep the big picture in mind -- otherwise, I lose myself too easily into largely content-driven concerns. I'm assuming that diligent practice carried out over a substantial chunk of time is going to make it a bit easier for me to not lose sight of the panorama.

>>I didn't think about jhanas at all while I sat. I experienced a very stable, narrow concentration on my kasina, and I felt as though I could discern better than usual (as far as what's a "valid" insight generated by a mind that's been calmed down as opposed to what's not).

I think, overall, that it may be a good idea for me to bring more energy into my samatha practice, which means I have to learn to get a tad busier/more active (productive) in the other areas of my life.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/10/11 1:59 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
October 10, 2011 -- Post-sit notes:

>> Sat for the first time in (it seems/feels) about a week. Practice has been off lately, particularly because I feel I have these nagging emotional hang-ups that keep getting in the way of me sitting down. I had been smoking a lot of pot lately to "deal" with these hang-ups (or so I told myself). But it got to a point where I realized that I just have to stop that activity, and expose myself to whatever (emotional) pain that still remains in my heart (and "pay the price"). If I continue to wait until all of my emotional issues are resolved before I seriously turn my attention to meditation, then I may actually never end up turning my attention to meditation.

I still believe in talking about my emotions -- fully feeling them in order to be free of them. But time is also a factor, by which I mean that I know that the End of Suffering is available within this lifetime if I work hard. Certain things will need to be sacrificed for the sake of attaining the satisfaction that comes with not being bound up in conditions.

I believe this turn-around came about in part due to a mild psychedelic trip a few days ago. I am going to try my best to stick to this work-ethic. I am also realizing the importance of accountability when it comes to trying to make fundamental changes in my lifestyle, and I have a personal system set up for that.

>> As far as the sit itself -- I have been reading some of Kenneth Folk's stuff online lately, and his concise way of describing jhanas (or Concentration Practice in general) is giving me a new, or slightly refined, understanding of the process that I'm going through (in terms of my Training in Concentration). Now I know clearly that what I mistook for "1st jhana" is actually access concentration (it sucks to admit it). But that said, now I also know how to "spot" 1st jhana when it arises, and I definitely accessed it in today's sit. I got to a point where I felt as though I could concentrate to an infinite degree, depth-wise, on my object.

Also, one thing I noticed throughout my 1:05 hrs. sit was that "very calm abiding with the kasina" -- a state where most of my anxiety is dissipated -- comes and goes. This is dissatisfying, and the way I'm looking at it is that I need to focus on deepening/broadening that state when it comes on. For me this is a cornerstone of the 1st jhana (when I get to that point, I don't even care about what jhana I'm in -- there's almost no effort involved -- which to me is a very good sign). Even though it feels relatively effortless, I believe that a very subtle application of effort -- or just continuing to notice this quality of "effortlessness" -- will deepen and broaden this state/jhana.

>> It took a lot of effort to stay focused earlier on, but I'm glad that I stuck with it because eventually I got to experience a very clear and deep state of concentration, free from distractions, and agitations, whether bodily or mental. I guess my goal is to get to that state as quickly as I can when I sit down.

For the first half an hour or so, I kept thinking "this falls far below where I'd like to be in terms of focus/calmness of mind/absorption." I just have to remember that sticking with it almost inevitably yields the desired state/s.

>> Last but not least, I still have that old, annoying pattern of craving jhanas. An "insight" that popped up while I was sitting was something like, "I'm just doing samatha practice." Basically, I allowed my intellect to shift the focus to the act of concentrating (not forcibly, but just keeping my attention on the object) as opposed to hungrily looking to experience altered states, and thereby feeling as though I'm "climbing up the ladder" and "acquiring" more and more.

I think it's vital that I, in the upcoming days and months, keep taking this broader view that Concentration Practice, taken as a whole, is just there to support Insight Practice -- it's like one of the three legs of a stool supporting the Dharma. I also believe that taking on this view in itself (and executing it, of course) will naturally yield higher and higher jhanas. Sure, it feels like a subtle mental trick I'm playing on myself, but I think it's for the best/for my highest good.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/10/11 4:50 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Hi Rashed,

always good to read something new from you. I am actually suprised that you seem to be having so much trouble with regular practice, considering that you put so much emphasis on it in some of your last posts. Of course I know how hard it gets sometimes to just get the sitting time in, especially when you have other stuff going on in your life, but as you said it more than once yourself - this is the way to go, we have an invaluable opportunity at hand just by having these precise maps, tools and techniques, all we have to do is be patient and follow the path.

Anyways, according to your reports you seem to be really tapping the good states of concentration (infinite depth sounds pretty sexy to me ;)), and your insight practice seems to be on its way too. You could probably switch to pure vipassana soon if you wanted, aiming for the real thing (i.e. stream entry) before refining the samatha jhanas.

By the way, since you mentioned taking pot lately, I wonder if you have tried meditating while high and what the differences were for you if you did. I have been abstinent for the last 2 years or so, but lately I have been thinking about doing it once for a meditation session just to get into a real deep concentration state (deeper than I can go just by pure willpower right now), in order to get some sort of taste of what is really possible. On the other hand, I also feel like that would be corrupting the natural development of my practice and probably wouldn't prove to be very useful in the end, provided it would work like that at all. Maybe you got some thoughts on that..

Other than that, just keep it coming and get in that daily practice. I know you can do it emoticon

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/10/11 11:10 PM as a reply to Christian Vlad.
Well, to tell the truth I guess I'm partially an example of one of the "walking wounded" that gravitate toward spirituality (as Daniel talks about in MCTB ). This is a part of me that I try to consciously de-emphasize on these forums because when I first got on board, I got the impression that most people on here like to focus strictly on practice. I feel that I have a shot at Awakening, even though my mind has been pretty clouded with self-pity, feelings of unworthiness/inferiority, bitterness, jealousy, anger etc. for the last year (post a major heartbreak causing me to actually consider suicide, albeit for just a few hours). I do not wish to give up this morsel of hope that I have with regard to my chances of attaining Enlightenment, and I only hope that by continuing to participate with fellow seekers (e.g. on a forum such as this) as well as putting my time in to Practice, this morsel will develop into a hefty chunk of confidence (which can only help on the spiritual path).

For strictly financial reasons I have not been able to seek professional help to sort out my psychological issues, so I've had to do what I can on my own. Given how upset I was for so many months, meditation was not providing the relief that I needed just to be able to get through life. Pot helped, even though deep down I knew that it was never going to get me Enlightened (that it wasn't really "a Path").

I have slowly come around to a state whence I can let go of pot and focus on meditation, because my mind, in its natural state, is not quite as turbulent -- I am unhappy, still, but not because I feel deeply f***ed over by another individual. Now it's the unhappiness of the single male who hasn't yet begun living the good life that he wants to.

At any rate -- 2 years away from pot probably gives you more than enough leverage to go ahead and try it (2 months would be enough for me, given where I am). Just make sure it's good stuff. Also -- what happens to me at least is that sometimes I am unable to sit down if I'm on pot. The last time I tried it, I set the alarm for a certain duration, but while I was meditating I realized that there was no difference between sitting and/or doing anything else. My mind was locked into a state that encapsulated both sitting and walking around. The desire to attain deeper states of concentration was just gone, since it was clear that the state I was in (due to the drug) couldn't be lost even if I got up and walked around. In other words, the state permeated all forms of activity.

In another thread I have talked about how it is especially difficult for me to let go of pot because of the obviously beneficial effects it has on music. Music being the thing that I want to have a career in (can't work in a coffee-shop forever), it's very important to me that I do not lose my creative edge. At this point, however, I think I just have to push myself to be creative through natural means (such as meditation and mindfulness).

I am actually suprised that you seem to be having so much trouble with regular practice, considering that you put so much emphasis on it in some of your last posts.

It's a way to remind myself of what is truly important, even if I may not be seeing it right now. Sometimes I have to yell so that I can attract my own attention.

this is the way to go, we have an invaluable opportunity at hand just by having these precise maps, tools and techniques, all we have to do is be patient and follow the path.

I agree -- it's just difficult for my emotions to get behind all this. Intellectually it is very obvious to me that there will be no end to fundamental suffering unless a path is walked (unless of course Enlightenment just falls out of the sky and smacks me on the head). But sometimes life gets very unpleasant, and Practice alone does not alleviate that unpleasantness, and it's very difficult to not seek relief through other avenues. I'm not trying to claim that my life is more unpleasant than everyone else's -- perhaps I just have a lower threshold as far as how much suffering I can handle, and I need to work on increasing that (need to get better at following the "Law of the Jungle").

Anyways, according to your reports you seem to be really tapping the good states of concentration (infinite depth sounds pretty sexy to me ;)), and your insight practice seems to be on its way too. You could probably switch to pure vipassana soon if you wanted, aiming for the real thing (i.e. stream entry) before refining the samatha jhanas.

I think reading the Kenneth Folk stuff helped me quite a bit. Having a clear idea of what to look for is especially helpful to me, since I am so intellectually oriented.

I guess I feel like it's my responsibility to get my life sorted out as best as I can before I take on vipassana. Also, since it is stated that one can "master" the samatha jhanas, I want to actually know that I have done so. This is of course a lesser goal than Stream Entry, but I feel as though the concrete knowledge of myself having "attained" the 4th jhana will make it easier to shoot for Stream Entry.

Basically, I'm looking to start with the "smaller goal" of attaining 4th jhana. Attaining that will give me the faith and hope that Stream Entry is indeed possible for me to attain (since I've already attained the basic concentration states). I will have less confidence in my capacity to attain Stream Entry if I feel like I'm merely floundering in the jhanas. That's all.

Other than that, just keep it coming and get in that daily practice. I know you can do it

I really, truly, appreciate this support. I have to do it.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/11/11 1:39 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
October 11, 2011:

I think this morning's samatha sit (1:05 hrs.) may have cleared up a few things for me -- or is at least leading toward a greater, more "well-rounded" understanding of my situation, where I am, and what I need to be doing.

I think it's pretty clear that I just need to stay off the pot. Meditation, properly executed, grounds my mind in such a way that I'm able to look at most uncomfortable things about my life, and "take it in" (with some measure of equanimity as the backdrop). I am sure life will throw me curve balls down the line, and that a daily meditation practice alone won't be sufficient "padding" to not be overwhelmed by such situations. But I guess I can't just be focused on what may go wrong in the future. As long as these situations do not kill me ("Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger"), or overwhelm me to the point where I start mistreating others (something I fear), it may actually be a good/healthy thing to get affected by life (I realize I'm sounding like a cold-hearted jerk here). I cannot expect to be in 1st or 2nd jhana as I go about my daily life, and that's not a bad thing -- I should look forward to "cushion-time," and take the rest as it comes.


http://kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/page/Access+Concentration


I find the above link to be very helpful in terms of telling me where I am when I initially sit down to do samatha practice. The term "protective membrane" resonates with me, and when it comes up, it's that much easier to notice it (and differentiate between "before and after").

I would say I certainly experienced that in today's sit, and possibly a bit more. From what I've gathered, 1st jhana is the above experience + pleasant sensation. However, as I've noted on this thread, "pleasure"/"rapture" is not a predominant sensation in any of my sits, so I guess I have to be on the lookout for the other factors that indicate the presence of 1st jhana.

One key factor/insight/understanding indigenous to this morning's sit was how it's vital to not blame myself for my attention straying from the kasina. Whenever I notice that it has strayed, all I have to do is just gently bring it back to the kasina, and place all of my attention upon it (without forcing it -- "maintaining just the right distance," as Kenneth Folk says).

This became obvious when the phone began ringing during my sit, and "reminded" me of just how lost in thought/daydreaming I was (by disrupting it, even though I was looking ahead in the general direction of my kasina and was under the impression I was concentrating). Instead of despairing, I noticed the fact that my mind wasn't stabilized upon the kasina, and corrected the situation.

I held on to this attitude for the rest of my sit, and it made for a great sit! I may not have accessed 2nd jhana, but I believe I discovered one of the key functional elements of a good samatha sit (this fluid redirecting of the attention to the kasina whenever it veers).

I still have no idea what Insight Practice entails, but I'm not worried. A properly executed -- i.e. keeping in mind and employing these little "functional elements" -- samatha sit does wonders, and I suspect I'm automatically doing some Insight Practice throughout my samatha sits (as Ian says -- it's hard to draw a very clear line between samatha and vipassana).

My last thought is that it seems to me that vipassana/Insight Practice begins to occur after a certain degree of concentration has been developed. When I first sit down, I am consciously employing only the "samatha technique," for stabilization of mind is the predominant goal -- gathering it together in one place.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/12/11 11:06 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
October 12 -- post-sit notes (1:05 hours):

- Am getting better at staying grounded throughout the entire duration of my sit. This got/gets difficult toward the end, when I believe I was in the 2nd jhana. Basically, the tendency is to try and remain in control -- to try and isolate something (an object) to pay attention to. But what was essentially going on was that the mind/the observer was being presented with phenomena, and the trick was to just stay passive/stay put while all of that happened. Another way of putting it would be to say that "the jhana took over" and was sustaining itself (with just the teeniest bit of help from myself). My job was to just be there and not budge. I am beginning to wonder how this is going to lead to the 3rd jhana. Am I doing something wrong? If anybody thinks I am, please let me know!

- At that later stage, I just had to mentally tell myself that "the jhana is doing me." This allowed me to stay seated throughout the entire duration. Concentration was still a factor, which makes me think that I was not out of the meditative state and merely floundering about.

- I guess I feel as though I want to have permanent understandings/insights, and not just the experience of mental phenomena occurring without any effort on my part. Sure, it's a very pleasant and relaxing experience, but I/my mind wants something to "latch on to" in terms of a deeper understanding about myself, or about reality. Is there something that I should be doing while I am in what I consider to be the 2nd jhana to encourage deeper concentration and solidity? When I get to that stage, essentially the only thing that I am doing is just reminding myself that I need to continue seating until the alarm goes off -- everything else can take care of itself. Also, as soon as I remind myself, I experience concentration/stability of the jhana (but I want it to be deeper/more solid).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/14/11 9:12 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit (1:05 hrs.) notes -- October 14, 2011:

- "Hung out" for the longest time as of yet in the 2nd jhana (20 minutes or so). After keenly concentrating on the kasina for a while (1st jhana), my mind just couldn't stay with that object (yet the factor "concentration" remained). In the 2nd jhana, if there was an object at all, it was either the breath, or the quality of "ease of the meditative state itself" or "effortlessness." It felt very comfortable, but I do not mean that in a way as to say that I lost focus. It was just so easy for my mind to remain concentrated, and I would even use the word restful.

- What I'd like to see in the 2nd jhana is more of the quality of concentration that I experience in the 1st jhana. For instance, at some point while I was in the 1st jhana, the quality of concentration felt very 'tight.' It was as though if I deliberately applied more pressure with my mind, then the state would've 'exploded' into I know not what (I'm sure it would not have -- it's just that my concentration was so tight that it felt like a balloon filled to the brim with gas, and the slightest touch from a pin would make it burst).

- I'm not sure how to bring about more concentration into the 2nd jhana. The only thing that it makes sense to attend to (with my mind) is the factor that seems to be the most 'defining' of this jhana, and that is effortlessness (or the way I barely have to do anything for the mind to remain stilled). I think I should either a) enter 2nd jhana sooner, or b) lengthen my sit so that this prolonged experience of effortlessness will lead to a subtler state/the 3rd jhana. I do not think I have the discipline/patience to stay seated for longer than 1:05 hours, so I probably have to try and shoot for option a. Of course, I will not force myself to try and attain 2nd jhana sooner during my sits -- I think all I have to do is just keep sitting daily, and eventually the movement from access concentration to 1st jhana to 2nd will occur in a quicker, more fluid fashion.

- Overall, I think what I'm "shooting for" is clarity of mind, or being able to see objects with as much clarity as possible. I also want to hone my discernment. This sort of "clarity on objects" begins to appear for me in the 2nd jhana -- it just needs to get deeper, and more trustworthy/reliable.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/17/11 8:14 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit (1:05 hrs.) notes -- October 17, 2011:

I think I'm just going to address only the things that "stood out" during this sit, so that I may focus on the "nuts and bolts" of my practice, and hence can stay on track better/make my sits more solid.

- Experienced a deep inner/mental silence where all that remained was the sound of the crickets outside. In a sense I felt as though I'd become one with the atmosphere within which those sounds were being made. I'm taking a shot and calling this experience ekaggata ("one-pointedness").

- At one point, wherever I placed my attention within the body, whatever tension was stored up in that location got dissipated due to this simple redirection of my attention/consideration of that tension as my "object." It's as though my attention carried a lot of "healing power" with it. I almost got to the point where all bodily tension was gone, but was interrupted by my housemate, and fell back on making visual objects -- whatever they may be, i.e. 2nd jhana in my book and according to Daniel -- my kasina, and developing concentration on them.

- I developed my concentration back to the point where I experienced an "emotional insight" of sorts where there was a high degree of equanimity/acceptance of a difficult past situation -- I realized that I'd done all I could, and yet things went down in a way that totally invalidated me as a person. But it does not matter now, and I do not mean that in a nihilistic sense. All that actually matters is my inner journey to "God," and even if things had gone my way, that still would've occurred in the external world, and would've had nothing to do with this inner journey that I am on (i.e. I cannot escape it and would've had to come back to it anyway).

- Toward the end of my sit, the meditation began to feel "really long." Afterwards, I resolved that it was not, and that I simply need to watch this feeling when it arises during my next sit, and sit through it. I'm no longer going to fuck around with the duration -- 1 hour and 5 minutes -- for my "longer" daily sit. This is a seductive pattern for me to fall back into, and does no good. This, in my eyes, is "legitimate suffering" (as Carl Jung says, emphasis mine). I know this is a very subtle point, but prolonged indecisiveness can cause a type of nagging psychological pain that I'm just much better off without (by making a firm commitment).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/18/11 12:34 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
- Experienced a deep inner/mental silence where all that remained was the sound of the crickets outside. In a sense I felt as though I'd become one with the atmosphere within which those sounds were being made. I'm taking a shot and calling this experience ekaggata ("one-pointedness").


What in particular went missing?

I believe Thanissaro Bhikkhu has matched the experience of oneness (in the way you may be indicating) with "unification of awareness". In my experience, whatever it is, it's typical of the 2nd jhana (contrasting it strongly with the 1st) once you get into it beyond a certain point.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/18/11 4:08 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
What in particular went missing?

It's hard to pin-point it, but I can take a few shots:

I think maybe what was noticeable was that thoughts either weren't present at all, or they bothered me/attracted my attention so little that a big "void" opened up in their place. So, I would say thoughts would be one of the things that went missing.

This is a trickier experience to communicate, but it's as though I was "taking in" those sounds from the sky above the trees (in which the crickets reside, I believe). So, the feeling was as though the tiny little point of observation residing somewhere "within" me, hearing all those sounds, suddenly became one with the dome-like sky above the trees. And the sky itself was absolutely quiet (or somewhere near absolutely quiet). It was as though all the sounds were occurring "within" me ("me" being non-separate from the tropopause -- yes, I looked this word up, hehe) as opposed to the usual "me in here, sounds out there."

In my experience, whatever it is, it's typical of the 2nd jhana (contrasting it strongly with the 1st) once you get into it beyond a certain point.

That's awesome! That was my diagnosis of where I was. I believed myself to have been inhabiting the 2nd jhana for several minutes before this experience occurred -- my concentration had become "freed" of needing to stay with the flame-kasina in order to stay concentrated. It was as though I could move around this concentrated mind as I wished, so I closed my eyes (which I usually don't do) and concentrated on the experience of concentration/depth of meditation itself. And then a little later the experience in question occurred.

Thanks so much!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/18/11 10:20 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
From your description, I would say that this is indeed unification of awareness, not one-pointedness. (How one understands the subjective experience of it may change over time.)

I would say that being able to repeat this experience while in or near the 2nd jhana is an important goal with respect to concentration practice.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/19/11 12:56 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit (1:05 hrs) notes -- October 19, 2011:

I think I'm getting a little better at staying concentrated throughout the whole duration of the sit. Almost every time my mind wandered, I was able to gently guide it back to the kasina. My only complaint is that doing that did not stabilize the mind as much as I would've liked. Toward the end of my sit, I believe I was fairly solidly established in the 1st jhana. Even though I would have liked to access 2nd jhana by that point, it occurred to me (during the sit) that one of my stated goals (on this thread) was "depth and duration" of jhanas. So, I "allowed" myself to refine the 1st jhana -- instead of subtly looking to bail it for the 2nd -- to the point where it felt like a "hard jhana," to an extent. In a sense, I really would like to see how far/deep each jhana goes.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/19/11 1:14 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
Even though I would have liked to access 2nd jhana by that point, it occurred to me (during the sit) that one of my stated goals (on this thread) was "depth and duration" of jhanas. So, I "allowed" myself to refine the 1st jhana -- instead of subtly looking to bail it for the 2nd -- to the point where it felt like a "hard jhana," to an extent. In a sense, I really would like to see how far/deep each jhana goes.


Just a tip, for when you do want to 'bail' for the upper jhanas: a nice way to do it seems to be to take the jhana itself, as an object and find its (its qualities') impermanence/unsatisfactoriness. Being dissatisfied, the mind will move to the next jhana.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/19/11 10:27 PM as a reply to Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem.
Just a tip, for when you do want to 'bail' for the upper jhanas: a nice way to do it seems to be to take the jhana itself, as an object and find its (its qualities') impermanence/unsatisfactoriness. Being dissatisfied, the mind will move to the next jhana.

Thanks for the tip!

Basically, I do not trust myself enough with regard to how solid a practitioner I am, so I want to make dead-sure (if possible) that I indeed have "mastered" all the levels that I think I have mastered. I just think this will make it a lot more likely for me to get real-world results when I begin Insight Practice (if I have laid a very solid foundation in the samatha jhanas, and know exactly where I am on "the map" in that regard).

But yes, I will definitely try some "jhana gymnastics" once I have a strong foothold in each of the jhanas I wish to attain.

Also, in the 2nd jhana especially, I seem to naturally gravitate toward paying attention to the "effortless" and "automatic" way in which breathing is occurring. Doing anything else seems to weaken the jhana, as the effortlessness of my breathing seems to be the defining feature of it (at least in my mind). I wonder if it's taking the jhana itself as an object, or if it's merely paying attention to one factor (amongst several) of the jhana (namely effortlessness).

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I wouldn't know how to take the 2nd jhana as an object itself -- my guess is that instead of focusing on a specific aspect of it, I should just try and avoid doing anything like that.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/21/11 6:57 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
Rashed Arafat:
- Experienced a deep inner/mental silence where all that remained was the sound of the crickets outside. In a sense I felt as though I'd become one with the atmosphere within which those sounds were being made. I'm taking a shot and calling this experience ekaggata ("one-pointedness").


What in particular went missing?

I believe Thanissaro Bhikkhu has matched the experience of oneness (in the way you may be indicating) with "unification of awareness". In my experience, whatever it is, it's typical of the 2nd jhana (contrasting it strongly with the 1st) once you get into it beyond a certain point.


Here is the reference:

"When the breath gets really full and refreshing throughout the body, you can drop the evaluation and simply be one with the breath. This sense of oneness...pervading the entire range of your awareness. You’re at one with whatever you focus on, at one with whatever you do. There’s no separate “you” at all..it’s cetaso ekodibhava, unification of awareness—a factor of concentration, present in every level from the second jhana up through the infinitude of consciousness." (Thanissaro Bhikku, Mindfulness Defined)

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/21/11 9:03 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight,

This book -- Mindfulness Defined -- sounds really good. I should definitely get a copy of it...the language seems very on-point, and what the author says about the breath is something that I can experientially relate to.

I think it's interesting how one can experience there being "no separate you" and yet not be Free.

You’re at one with whatever you focus on

I take this phenomenon in my practice as indicative of me being in the 2nd jhana. Ideally, I'd like for this experience to be a bit "tighter," more like a hard jhana. But still, the underlying feature of being at one with whatever I place my attention/mind upon is something that is real and palpable to me.

Any tips on how to solidify/intensify this state?

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/21/11 9:25 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
End in Sight,

This book -- Mindfulness Defined -- sounds really good. I should definitely get a copy of it...the language seems very on-point, and what the author says about the breath is something that I can experientially relate to.


Thanissaro Bhikkhu has a lot of good writing on the subject of spirituality. "Mindfulness Defined" is a short article about meditation in general (distinguishing between the ways that people use the word "mindfulness" and relating it to the practice of meditation), so perhaps not precisely what you're looking for, but worth reading anyway.

Perhaps someone else could recommend other articles by him that deal with jhana.

Rashed Arafat:
I think it's interesting how one can experience there being "no separate you" and yet not be Free.


I would say that freedom lies in there being no perception of "you", full-stop, rather than a "you" which is perceived as if it is seamlessly integrated into experience.

Rashed Arafat:
You’re at one with whatever you focus on

I take this phenomenon in my practice as indicative of me being in the 2nd jhana. Ideally, I'd like for this experience to be a bit "tighter," more like a hard jhana. But still, the underlying feature of being at one with whatever I place my attention/mind upon is something that is real and palpable to me.

Any tips on how to solidify/intensify this state?


Perhaps, but it depends on the particular difficulties you're having. Do you have a self-assessment with respect to what you think is limiting you?

Two very general ideas that you may consider:

1) Concentration becomes more powerful (and the meditative state becomes "harder") if you can figure out how to incline your mind away from discursive thought of every kind. You will have to play with this (a way to stop / reduce thinking) for yourself...however, if you spend any time during meditation pursuing various trains of thought, simply resolving not to do that and refusing to follow any trains of thought that arise can be helpful.

2) As you say that your object during the 2nd jhana is "effortlessness", you might consider switching it to the pleasant sensations in your body. "Effortlessness" cannot easily be increased, but pleasant physical sensations can be intensified...to the extent that you focus on them, you may find that they intensify, and to the extent that they intensify, your concentration is likely to increase (reducing discursive thought, making the meditative state "harder").

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/21/11 9:42 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
- At one point, wherever I placed my attention within the body, whatever tension was stored up in that location got dissipated due to this simple redirection of my attention/consideration of that tension as my "object." It's as though my attention carried a lot of "healing power" with it.


By the way, I highly recommend this practice, if you can concentrate in such a way as to do it reliably and regularly.

You may find that, after you remove tension, it comes back...suffering runs deep, so think of this as a long-term process that biases your mind away from generating suffering, and take the new tension as an opportunity to continue re-conditioning your mind, rather than an indication of having done something wrong.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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10/21/11 10:05 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
I see that it's actually an essay (just read it on accesstoinsight.org). Thanks!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/22/11 11:03 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:


Rashed Arafat:
You’re at one with whatever you focus on

I take this phenomenon in my practice as indicative of me being in the 2nd jhana. Ideally, I'd like for this experience to be a bit "tighter," more like a hard jhana. But still, the underlying feature of being at one with whatever I place my attention/mind upon is something that is real and palpable to me.

Any tips on how to solidify/intensify this state?


Perhaps, but it depends on the particular difficulties you're having. Do you have a self-assessment with respect to what you think is limiting you?


Yes, I do:
  • Overall, I need more physical/bodily energy. I barely exercise, and I think if I exercised more, then I'd have more energy "on tap" that could be redirected to meditation, and it would "fuel" my sits in a manner of speaking. I predict that once I get into the habit of exercising regularly, I will experience far greater stability and depth of samatha jhanas. In MCTB, Daniel puts exercising under the heading of Training in Morality, and going by that model, I'd say I'm slacking off in that regard. I guess as long as I keep in mind that I'm "training in morality" whenever I'm exercising, it will be easier for me to go through with it (I have a strange aversion to it as it is) -- it will seem more meaningful to my intellect, and therefore I'll be more likely to stick with it. I'm a "meaning-junkie" of sorts (am heavily into philosophizing about the relative values of objects/events, as well as how to make the most out of one's life, taking into account one's mundane circumstances), and I think maybe it's best if I just used that attitude to my advantage instead of disadvantage.
  • However, I think there's a "technical" component involved, which I think you addressed when you said that I should consider switching to paying attention to pleasant bodily sensations. I believe that in most of the sits I've documented on this thread, I went into it with a reasonable amount of energy. This makes me think that maybe the problem really has more to do with a matter of technique, and not how much energy I've got stored/built up in my body. The more I think about it, the more it seems as though maybe I try to stop putting in effort when I'm in the 2nd jhana (because subconsciously I'm thinking "effort = bad," at least within the context of that jhana) when I should be trying to locate/identify with my mind exactly what has become my "kasina" at that point (and by "kasina" I mean pretty much anything -- a door-knob, my breath, the sense of effortlessness, etc.). I distinctly recall certain sits when my mind began probing for something to latch on to like it did in the 1st jhana (flame), and I didn't give it enough time to find such a thing (at the very outset, it seemed like it would be a futile endeavor, and maybe I've been wrong in that regard). I may be over-thinking this, but given the situation/problem, maybe this is the correct approach. Every time I start losing focus by attending to "effortlessness" in the 2nd jhana and try to regain concentration by focusing my mind on an external, visual object, it more or less works. I can experientially understand the statement, "You're at one with whatever you focus on." So I'm thinking maybe I should stop getting wowed by the fact that I can be at one with anything that I focus on and, instead, just keep focusing on that one thing (in the 2nd jhana) and thereby increase the factor of concentration (leading to depth and "hard" qualities) within that jhana.
  • I am trying to resolve the issue of "Do I meditate no matter how I feel/what my bodily energy level is simply because it's something I've COMMITTED myself to?" vs. "It's much wiser to meditate once I've prepared myself for it by being well-rested, reasonably fed, and after having attended to as many of my mundane responsibilities as possible (part of Training in Morality)." I think generally I err toward the latter approach, but I suspect my mind has begun using that as an excuse to avoid meditating on a regular basis. I may just have to make myself sit every day, regardless of how I feel (and hope that with enough INTENTION behind my sits, the act of meditation itself will bring energy back into circulation). In other words, even if I feel I have really low energy to fuel a sit, I should sit anyway because the sit itself will generate a certain degree of energy that I can convert into self-sustaining energy by continuing to pay attention to it.
  • I think I've got the trick of avoiding discursive thought down, at least within the context of my samatha sits. The kasina helps a lot with this because it's very obvious when my mind is following thoughts, or trying to engage in thinking instead of simply trying to remain focused on the kasina. However, I think I may benefit greatly from trying to make a practice out of avoiding discursive thought in daily life -- I do way, way, way too much of that as it is.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/23/11 12:27 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
A few more thoughts:

I think we're talking about ceasing evaluation, as a conscious act/choice during my sits. Although it seems to be recommended by some that such should not be done as a conscious act -- that stopping thoughts is impossible, and that such should not be attempted -- it certainly seems possible to say a forceful "No!" to the process of evaluation whenever it arises during a samatha sit.

I think I'm gonna stick with this strategy for a while, and see what comes (at least this avenue holds more promise than the other ones that I've already tried).

Another important factor, I think, for me is patience during my sits. To just practice saying "no" to discursive thoughts/evaluative tendencies (I'm seeing them as being one and the same) whenever they arise, and remain patient until stability/deep concentration appears (which has happened often enough for me to not get worried that it may not happen).

As far as my practice overall (in Concentration, exclusively), I am leaning more toward holding myself accountable for sitting at least once a day, every day, regardless of when that occurs. I was considering forcing myself to sit every morning, no matter how early it is, but this is proving to be too much pressure on me since I have to often be at work by 6 AM (opening a coffee-shop). So, even if I do not get to meditate before work, I can certainly meditate after.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/23/11 12:16 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
Overall, I need more physical/bodily energy. I barely exercise, and I think if I exercised more, then I'd have more energy "on tap" that could be redirected to meditation, and it would "fuel" my sits in a manner of speaking. I predict that once I get into the habit of exercising regularly, I will experience far greater stability and depth of samatha jhanas.


Apart from lifestyle factors, a cup of green tea (which is both stimulating and relaxing) is a good pre-meditation ritual worth considering. (Cf. Zen traditions.)

Rashed Arafat:
However, I think there's a "technical" component involved, which I think you addressed when you said that I should consider switching to paying attention to pleasant bodily sensations. I believe that in most of the sits I've documented on this thread, I went into it with a reasonable amount of energy. This makes me think that maybe the problem really has more to do with a matter of technique, and not how much energy I've got stored/built up in my body. The more I think about it, the more it seems as though maybe I try to stop putting in effort when I'm in the 2nd jhana (because subconsciously I'm thinking "effort = bad," at least within the context of that jhana) when I should be trying to locate/identify with my mind exactly what has become my "kasina" at that point (and by "kasina" I mean pretty much anything -- a door-knob, my breath, the sense of effortlessness, etc.). I distinctly recall certain sits when my mind began probing for something to latch on to like it did in the 1st jhana (flame), and I didn't give it enough time to find such a thing (at the very outset, it seemed like it would be a futile endeavor, and maybe I've been wrong in that regard). I may be over-thinking this, but given the situation/problem, maybe this is the correct approach. Every time I start losing focus by attending to "effortlessness" in the 2nd jhana and try to regain concentration by focusing my mind on an external, visual object, it more or less works. I can experientially understand the statement, "You're at one with whatever you focus on." So I'm thinking maybe I should stop getting wowed by the fact that I can be at one with anything that I focus on and, instead, just keep focusing on that one thing (in the 2nd jhana) and thereby increase the factor of concentration (leading to depth and "hard" qualities) within that jhana.


I think I understand what you're describing...the solution is tricky to explain, but easy to intuit with practice: there is a way to pay attention without it being effortful. Perhaps the cue "relax with strong alertness" would help you find the way to do this. One can simply "relax" without attempting to be alert, but that tends to turn the experience into mush.

One reason that paying attention to pleasure in the body is helpful in this regard is that the mind wants to look around for something nice to focus on. Using a visual kasina, one may generate pleasure in the body (or a sense of effortlessness), but at some point the mind may be inclined to drop the kasina and luxuriate in the pleasure (or the effortlessness). Using pleasure as the focus, the mind will not be tempted to go off and do something else in the same way, as it is getting exactly what it wants simply by observing the pleasure.

Back to "relaxing with alertness"...I would say, the best way to attend is like this; the second best way to attend is by expending effort; relaxing only tends not to be very helpful in terms of concentration.

Rashed Arafat:
I am trying to resolve the issue of "Do I meditate no matter how I feel/what my bodily energy level is simply because it's something I've COMMITTED myself to?" vs. "It's much wiser to meditate once I've prepared myself for it by being well-rested, reasonably fed, and after having attended to as many of my mundane responsibilities as possible (part of Training in Morality)." I think generally I err toward the latter approach, but I suspect my mind has begun using that as an excuse to avoid meditating on a regular basis. I may just have to make myself sit every day, regardless of how I feel (and hope that with enough INTENTION behind my sits, the act of meditation itself will bring energy back into circulation). In other words, even if I feel I have really low energy to fuel a sit, I should sit anyway because the sit itself will generate a certain degree of energy that I can convert into self-sustaining energy by continuing to pay attention to it.


As meditation is a skill that can be learned, you should practice it every day for best results. That way, you will get better at it whether or not you get the outcome (during any particular sitting) that you want.

Rashed Arafat:
I think I've got the trick of avoiding discursive thought down, at least within the context of my samatha sits. The kasina helps a lot with this because it's very obvious when my mind is following thoughts, or trying to engage in thinking instead of simply trying to remain focused on the kasina. However, I think I may benefit greatly from trying to make a practice out of avoiding discursive thought in daily life -- I do way, way, way too much of that as it is.


There are many layers of discursive thinking, and I would say, if you don't think your experience of 2nd jhana is "hard" enough, there is probably more discursive thinking going on than you realize. As you mentioned in your last post, evaluative thinking (which I count as discursive) is something else that can be stopped.

When you find no more overt thinking to stop, a good cue is to incline the mind towards not "moving" (thinking is a kind of movement of the mind, but other things are too).

As for avoiding discursive thought in daily life, I would be interested to hear how you intend to accomplish that.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/23/11 6:49 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
Apart from lifestyle factors, a cup of green tea (which is both stimulating and relaxing) is a good pre-meditation ritual worth considering. (Cf. Zen traditions.)

Pre-meditation rituals make sense to me -- I'm mostly an espresso/coffee drinker, but I might mess around with tea.

End in Sight:

I think I understand what you're describing...the solution is tricky to explain, but easy to intuit with practice: there is a way to pay attention without it being effortful. Perhaps the cue "relax with strong alertness" would help you find the way to do this. One can simply "relax" without attempting to be alert, but that tends to turn the experience into mush.

One reason that paying attention to pleasure in the body is helpful in this regard is that the mind wants to look around for something nice to focus on. Using a visual kasina, one may generate pleasure in the body (or a sense of effortlessness), but at some point the mind may be inclined to drop the kasina and luxuriate in the pleasure (or the effortlessness). Using pleasure as the focus, the mind will not be tempted to go off and do something else in the same way, as it is getting exactly what it wants simply by observing the pleasure.

Back to "relaxing with alertness"...I would say, the best way to attend is like this; the second best way to attend is by expending effort; relaxing only tends not to be very helpful in terms of concentration.

I think I get this. Overall, I'd say I just need to keep practicing, daily. I already get some of it, the rest should come with further practice. As I was trying to deliberately ignore discursive thought today, I found myself expending a bit more effort than usual. At some point in my practice (so far), I do think I tapped into the "right" balance of effort and relaxation (but I lacked the knowledge that avoiding discursive thought/evaluation leads to "hard" states). With a bit more practice, I believe I will be able to integrate this new bit of knowledge (of avoiding discursive thought) with hitting that "sweet spot" between effort and relaxation.

End in Sight:

As meditation is a skill that can be learned, you should practice it every day for best results. That way, you will get better at it whether or not you get the outcome (during any particular sitting) that you want.

Agreed on all counts! I may have to mentally/intellectually remind myself of this fact each time I sit.

End in Sight:

There are many layers of discursive thinking, and I would say, if you don't think your experience of 2nd jhana is "hard" enough, there is probably more discursive thinking going on than you realize. As you mentioned in your last post, evaluative thinking (which I count as discursive) is something else that can be stopped.

I think I got a taste of the subtler layers of discursive thought today -- in a sense they are very, very "quiet." I think I was just overly alert, and on the look-out for each instance of discursive thinking, which took away from the usual "smoothness" that I experience during my sits. But, like I said above, with further practice, I should be able to bring the smoothness back, in addition to turning my mind away without much ado whenever discursive/evaluative thinking arises.

End in Sight:

When you find no more overt thinking to stop, a good cue is to incline the mind towards not "moving" (thinking is a kind of movement of the mind, but other things are too).

I can experientially relate to this, although maybe not as distinctly and clearly as more advanced practitioners. I'd say, in what I call a "good" 1st jhana, my mind "fuses" with the flame (my kasina) and just "stays" there, as if settled upon it. Even though some thinking may be going on, the overall experience is that of my mind -- which is almost seen as an object -- has been placed upon the flame. It's as though the flame were a cake and the mind, a cake saver neatly placed upon it, unmoving (although in reality my mind does tend to move a little bit even in that state -- it's not perfectly still is what I am saying). Sometimes it even feels as though the flame is gently titillating/"massaging" the center of my mind (hard to get this out in words), with not much else really going on outside of that central, ongoing, semi-dynamic experience.

End in Sight:

As for avoiding discursive thought in daily life, I would be interested to hear how you intend to accomplish that.

Basically, by using more intention, and follow-through. Frequently I find myself with spaces of time where I'm not sure what to do, and I end up ruminating over various courses of action. I believe with better planning of my daily activities, I can just move on from one activity to another without spinning around too much in my thoughts. I believe that at first this may feel a bit unnatural, but I think it's something I have to do to "re-condition" my mind so that I do not get too caught up in useless thinking about how to spend my time and, instead, actually devote my time and energy to activities that I consciously know to be in my highest interests (life goals, e.g. Enlightenment, being a "working/career" musician, etc.).

[Edited for clarity - RA]

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/24/11 3:06 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
End in Sight:
Apart from lifestyle factors, a cup of green tea (which is both stimulating and relaxing) is a good pre-meditation ritual worth considering. (Cf. Zen traditions.)

Pre-meditation rituals make sense to me -- I'm mostly an espresso/coffee drinker, but I might mess around with tea.


Any caffeine source can be good in terms of helping you find more energy for meditation, so experiment. If caffeine doesn't usually make you jittery, coffee or espresso are reasonable choices. However, in my experience there is something extra-useful about green tea.

Rashed Arafat:

End in Sight:

As meditation is a skill that can be learned, you should practice it every day for best results. That way, you will get better at it whether or not you get the outcome (during any particular sitting) that you want.

Agreed on all counts! I may have to mentally/intellectually remind myself of this fact each time I sit.


Or remind yourself when you're not sitting, so you have enough resolve to do it.

Rashed Arafat:
I'd say, in what I call a "good" 1st jhana, my mind "fuses" with the flame (my kasina) and just "stays" there, as if settled upon it. Even though some thinking may be going on, the overall experience is that of my mind -- which is almost seen as an object -- has been placed upon the flame. It's as though the flame were a cake and the mind, a cake saver neatly placed upon it, unmoving (although in reality my mind does tend to move a little bit even in that state -- it's not perfectly still is what I am saying). Sometimes it even feels as though the flame is gently titillating/"massaging" the center of my mind (hard to get this out in words), with not much else really going on outside of that central, ongoing, semi-dynamic experience.


If I understand your description (and it sounds familiar to me), you should keep in mind that there are actually two objects of perception here:

* The visual image of the flame
* The perception of your mind (or your attention) being "on" the flame or fixated on it

The latter is actually an object of perception, even though it may seem to you like a description of the way that the former is perceived or the "way" that your mind is interacting with the former.

You should make sure that you pay attention to the visual image of the flame, rather than the incidental perception of your mind being "on" it, in order to deepen your concentration. To the extent that the perception of your mind being "on" the object is related to being in the 1st (rather than the 2nd) jhana, it is possible that ignoring this perception will shift you to the 2nd...but, it will also tend to deepen your concentration, which is more important.

As for the flame "massaging" your mind, that is a third perception, and from the sound of it, not one of the jhana factors (piti / sukha) nor the object of jhana, but a perception that the mind generates in reaction to the jhana factors. I recommend ignoring this perception as much as possible (though it may be hard for you to distinguish it from piti / sukha).

Looking forward to hearing about any difference these pieces of advice make.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/24/11 4:48 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
October 24 -- Post-sit (1:05 hrs) notes, as well as responses:

Well, I'm trying to take it one step at a time, and what I tried in today's samatha sit was consciously avoiding evaluation as much as possible. By this I mean mental queries such as "What jhana am I in?" or "What are the characteristics of this state I am in?" and even "How can I make my concentration even harder?"

The technique I employed was essentially based on the assumption that it's the process of strict aversion to all such queries that will deepen my concentration, as opposed to "taking my own advice" whilst in the meditative state, and tinkering with my perception based on it (i.e. messing around with the "way" I was looking at my kasina).

"Tinkering" of my perception/style of looking did occur, but it was more of a felt-reaction to my attention straying. I cannot come up with an adequate enough analogy for this, save to say that it was as if my concentration was adjusting its own intensity/focus based on the conditions I found myself in, as opposed to entertaining thought-trains that had to do with figuring out how to best concentrate, and then trying out the suggested methods.

I did start my sit with some green tea + honey, and it felt nice -- a fairly mild, subtle buzz. I think I'm going to stick with this for a while...

I believe this technique/approach of categorically ignoring all evaluative thoughts worked to an extent, because I experienced the "edges" of the experience of unification of awareness. There came a time when while my eyes were fixed on the flame, the only thing my mind could "hear" was the rhythmic sound of the crickets (and I kind of fell into a trance, although not full-on). This is in stark contrast to my mind "hearing" thoughts -- my "interior" felt silent. There was still a subtle degree of effort involved, unlike the experience I documented earlier where I felt as though I'd become one with the tropopause.

Also -- another thing I tried was not to be too effortful in my avoidance of evaluation and, instead, take it a bit more gently. If I missed a few evaluative thoughts, then that was okay.

End in Sight:
Or remind yourself when you're not sitting, so you have enough resolve to do it.

Agreed. That's what I did all day today -- just "look forward to" when I was going to sit down and expertly "execute" a samatha sit. Now I just have to do it every day, day by day.

This continual reminding myself of the importance of a daily sit is something that I have to get used to, however. I'm guessing that after a while, it won't feel as unnatural as it did today (I almost got angry because I had to keep that thought at the forefront of my mind almost continuously -- I wanted to make sure that I would sit).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/24/11 6:25 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
This continual reminding myself of the importance of a daily sit is something that I have to get used to, however. I'm guessing that after a while, it won't feel as unnatural as it did today (I almost got angry because I had to keep that thought at the forefront of my mind almost continuously -- I wanted to make sure that I would sit).


To change the subject a bit...what kind of thinking had previously been stopping you from sitting regularly? As long as you sit with a moderate amount of concentration, isn't it an enjoyable experience? I would think that you would look forward to it by default in that case (whether or not you felt especially energized beforehand).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/26/11 12:56 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
You should make sure that you pay attention to the visual image of the flame, rather than the incidental perception of your mind being "on" it, in order to deepen your concentration.


End in Sight:

To change the subject a bit...what kind of thinking had previously been stopping you from sitting regularly? As long as you sit with a moderate amount of concentration, isn't it an enjoyable experience? I would think that you would look forward to it by default in that case (whether or not you felt especially energized beforehand).

Well, I think I got sidetracked for about a week (or so) by taking "jhana as object" or paying attention to the secondary perception of "mind being on flame" because I thought that was the right approach. This, however, did not produce the self-evidently beneficial effects of concentration meditation that I re-discovered after applying the piece of advice you gave above about making sure to take only the flame as my object.

Lacking those pleasant feelings, and the sense of gratification that comes from deep states of concentration, I lacked enough motive to sit (even though I intellectually understood the importance of meditation as it relates to the spiritual path overall, my emotions/heart kept asking "What's in it for me?/Why ought I to do it since it feels like an onus even when I sit?").

I think I have a program running in my head that sees Enlightenment/the end of suffering as an overwhelmingly distant goal; every time I conceive of it, I feel daunted by the seeming -- and quite real -- enormity of the task. Concentration Practice done right provides me with a sense of relief from such admittedly needless worrying over just how many years it's going to take before I'm free of suffering (or "I" am no more).

I think I'm starting to get a feel for just how to engage in Concentration Practice in a way that's going to progressively deepen my concentration (just in today's sit I "turned down" many "temptations" for my perception to shift toward that of my mind being on the kasina as opposed to just the bare and ongoing perception of it -- leading to heightened concentration/ focusing of the mind). However, given the setbacks I've experienced already, I won't be surprised if there are more down the road. So, I may have to cultivate some patience with regard to my practice, and remember that it's more important to just stick with it (and tweak it as necessary) as opposed to getting immediate results.

I'd say your advice to not get sidetracked by the secondary perception of "mind 'on' flame" was extremely helpful to me, so thanks!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/26/11 11:09 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
Well, I think I got sidetracked for about a week (or so) by taking "jhana as object" or paying attention to the secondary perception of "mind being on flame" because I thought that was the right approach. This, however, did not produce the self-evidently beneficial effects of concentration meditation that I re-discovered after applying the piece of advice you gave above about making sure to take only the flame as my object.

Lacking those pleasant feelings, and the sense of gratification that comes from deep states of concentration, I lacked enough motive to sit (even though I intellectually understood the importance of meditation as it relates to the spiritual path overall, my emotions/heart kept asking "What's in it for me?/Why ought I to do it since it feels like an onus even when I sit?").


Here are the traditional similes for the first two jhanas. No matter what advice I or anyone else gives you, you should keep checking your practice against them to see whether different ways of approaching the object of concentration, different ways of holding your attention, different ways of trying / not trying, etc. are bringing you closer to or farther from these experiences.

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.

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...

Second jhana

Furthermore, with the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters and remains in the second jhana: rapture and pleasure born of composure, unification of awareness free from directed thought and evaluation — internal assurance. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of composure. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born of composure.

Just like a lake with spring-water welling up from within, having no inflow from east, west, north, or south, and with the skies periodically supplying abundant showers, so that the cool fount of water welling up from within the lake would permeate and pervade, suffuse and fill it with cool waters, there being no part of the lake unpervaded by the cool waters; even so, the monk permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of composure. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born of composure...

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


I have found that these similes are surprisingly accurate and apt.

As the intensity of these experiences exceeds any "normal" pleasure that could be had (a colorful metaphor is "soaking your brain in a bath of opiates"), I think you will quickly find no lack of motivation to sit long and often, once you've gotten the hang of producing them.

Rashed Arafat:
I think I have a program running in my head that sees Enlightenment/the end of suffering as an overwhelmingly distant goal; every time I conceive of it, I feel daunted by the seeming -- and quite real -- enormity of the task. Concentration Practice done right provides me with a sense of relief from such admittedly needless worrying over just how many years it's going to take before I'm free of suffering (or "I" am no more).


One thing that I found helpful is to think less about a far-off final goal, and more about what reduces suffering a little bit right now. If one can chip away at the defilements of one's mind, one eventually finds that a huge space has been cleared away, previously full of suffering, now full of peace.

As the path to the final goal is simply to remove defilements right now, to whatever small extent that they can be removed, this is a more practical way to look at things. Incremental changes eventually lead to big changes.

This excerpt from a sutta has been inspirational to me:

Just as when a carpenter or carpenter's apprentice sees the marks of his fingers or thumb on the handle of his adze but does not know, 'Today my adze handle wore down this much, or yesterday it wore down that much, or the day before yesterday it wore down this much,' still he knows it is worn through when it is worn through. In the same way, when a monk dwells devoting himself to development, he does not know, 'Today my effluents wore down this much, or yesterday they wore down that much, or the day before yesterday they wore down this much,' still he knows they are worn through when they are worn through.


The more of your life you dedicate to this process, the easier it is to see (over the medium-term) that your defilements are being worn away, the easier it is to have confidence that every moment of practice is helping you in a concrete way (even if the details are hard to discern)...

Rashed Arafat:
I think I'm starting to get a feel for just how to engage in Concentration Practice in a way that's going to progressively deepen my concentration (just in today's sit I "turned down" many "temptations" for my perception to shift toward that of my mind being on the kasina as opposed to just the bare and ongoing perception of it -- leading to heightened concentration/ focusing of the mind).


This is an opportunity to reflect on the relationship between reality and the impressions that the mind generates. Your mind is more "on" the object when it isn't busy generating the impression that it is, and is just experiencing: "kasina...kasina...kasina...". The more it generates the impression of being "on" the object, the less it actually is, because the impression is just a representation of what the mind is actually doing, representations are not reality, and bandwidth devoted to representation is bandwidth not devoted to doing the thing in reality that the representation represents.

Rashed Arafat:
I'd say your advice to not get sidetracked by the secondary perception of "mind 'on' flame" was extremely helpful to me, so thanks!


Glad to help!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/26/11 1:19 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit (1:05 hrs) notes -- October 26, 2011:

It feels as though the hour and five minutes for which I sit has been passing by quicker and quicker. I'm not sure if it's a good or a bad thing, but I'm inclined to say that it's a good thing according to the common logic that "if you're having fun, then time goes by faster."

Also -- noticed the "massaging" of the mind by the kasina (flame) happening again, and consciously chose to avoid that experience, or prolong it. It looks like my attention "lapses" somewhat and is more in a semi-wide focus when that happens. I had been allowing it to go on in the past because to me it felt as though I was just letting the flame "be." It almost felt like a restful state which couldn't do any harm. However, upon closer inspection (aided with the new knowledge that I've culled from the exchanges with End in Sight on this thread), I'm thinking this experience prevents the development of further concentration, because it's not exactly 2nd jhana, and neither does it have the characteristic of directed thought (and applied effort) as one finds in the 1st jhana.

My interest is piqued with regard to exactly what "directed thought" means, in terms of actual experience. This is because I think I'm beginning to understand it, and I just want to be sure that my understanding is correct.

To me it seems as though directed thought is the phenomenon of me staring at the kasina, and knowing that that's what I am doing. It (keenly staring at the kasina) is a fully conscious act -- taken on voluntarily. However, to not let the thoughts that comprise that knowledge deter me from continuing to take just the kasina as my object is the "overall" experience of "directed thought," to me.

To make the above explanation simpler with an example:

Let's say I'm staring at the kasina and a thought arises, "Oh, I'm staring at a flickering flame." Then directed thought to me would be a response such as "Yes, that is what I am doing, and I will continue to do so." This effectively shuts down any other possible chain of thought to emerge from the first thought, leading my attention away from kasina and into the realm of discursive thought (and weakening my concentration).

Basically, it's me not pretending that I can shut down thoughts at will. It is more akin to me realizing what is going on/what I am doing, and bringing my thoughts in line with all of that.

Maybe I'm wrong...but to me it feels like I had a fairly productive sit, and I attained the 1st jhana (which was very quiet, and intently focused). Also -- I'm consciously trying to not "jhana-jump." This is making me experience sharper, more "laser-like" concentration and focus. The overall experience of my samatha sits have also begun to feel a bit more empowering, for I feel as though I am more "in control," at least while I am in access concentration and 1st jhana territory -- it's as though I can skillfully guide the process a bit more, and get the results I want.

I aim to keep practicing daily, and see where it takes me in a week or so...

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/26/11 10:55 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
I'm establishing 45 minutes as the formal duration for the "lesser" sit of the day, should one occur (the "greater" sit, lasting an hour and five minutes, is a must, every day).

I think I'm pretty familiar with 2nd jhana, when it occurs, although I'm not absolutely sure. In a nutshell, my focus shifts from the kasina (a flame) and suddenly begins to "take in" the area surrounding the flame. The usual inclination is to contemplate (in a very relaxed manner) upon events that occurred in my life (I guess the aim is to gain an insight that "resolves" those issues). However, sometimes such relaxed contemplation tends to weaken my concentration/attention (insights don't really "pop out" like I want them to), and I find it necessary to once again take a physical object as my "object"/kasina. I guess I feel as though I'm either not very confident as to whether or not I'm in the 2nd jhana at all, or I'm merely floundering in the 2nd jhana.

I think finding the proper balance between effort and ease is key, especially when I'm staring out on a sit. I also intuitively feel that it's important to be very clear about exactly what my "object"/kasina is (this becomes an issue for me when my attention naturally shifts away from the flame after a while).

In what I consider to be the 2nd jhana, merely sitting still and allowing contemplation/reflection to take place does not lead me anywhere (3rd jhana/a "hard" 2nd jhana). The only other option, to me, seems to be the act of deliberately sticking with a physical kasina (this does tend to produce "rapture"/a very pleasurable and "groovy" feeling in the 2nd jhana -- an "intense" sort of joy).

Any thoughts, anyone? I've been as clear about my meditative experiences as possible, particularly in what I consider to be the 2nd jhana.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/26/11 11:54 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
I think what you've described thus far matches the 2nd jhana (according to MCTB's standards); however, I am continually surprised that you emphasize qualities of attention, rather than pleasure, as the overarching quality of your experience...which makes me think that you either would benefit from more concentration, or are doing something which is specifically counteracting the development of pleasure. (Perhaps not taking your body or your breath as the object is the cause, as you indicate that this changes when you use a "physical" kasina.) What do you think?

About contemplating life events while concentrating, on Oct. 17 you wrote:

Rashed Arafat:
I developed my concentration back to the point where I experienced an "emotional insight" of sorts where there was a high degree of equanimity/acceptance of a difficult past situation -- I realized that I'd done all I could, and yet things went down in a way that totally invalidated me as a person.


Has the acceptance persisted since then?

I ask because I spent a good amount of time exploring the relationship between personal issues and mood before I took up meditation and so have some personal experience with what it seems you're trying to do. I often found that things that plagued me would suddenly seem easy to accept and deal with if I could just change how I felt, if I could just interrupt my negative thinking with a glimmer of happiness...the glimmer of happiness would be a lifeline out of ruminating on my problems, and it would seem as if I suddenly had some sort of insight into them (by recognizing, from my newer and happier vantage point, that things were not as bad as I was previously making them out to be).

It was remarkable to me how quickly my assessment of absolutely everything (the course of my life, my relationships with others, etc.) could vary so drastically, when (feeling either way) I thought I had perfectly good reasons for thinking about things in the way I was thinking about them. Eventually I came to see that my personal issues depended fundamentally on my mood, in the sense that, if I felt good, everything was sunshine and flowers, but as soon as I felt bad, my mind would suddenly be eager to show me a host of problems I never even realized existed (nor could image existing when I was in better spirits).

At some point I realized that I could use this to my advantage. Having recognized that negative thinking was a product of my mood, I saw that if I could alter my mood (using a variety of methods), I would see how silly that negative thinking was, as it wasn't based on anything rational, but was caused mechanically by my feelings...being able to temporarily dissolve my personal issues in that way would show me, I hoped, how unreasonable they were in the first place, so that their hold over my mind would gradually be released.

Unfortunately, what this method gives, it quickly takes away. The discovery that my assessment of my personal issues depended in my mood meant that no amount of acceptance and no feelings of resolution were ever a cure for me, because as soon as my mood changed, all that acceptance and positive thinking would disappear and my issues would pop right back up without missing a beat. So, with resignation, I saw that the fundamental solution would have to be to stop being a moody person...but at the time, how to implement this solution was not at all clear.

Do you think your own situation is similar / different? Why / why not?

In any case, knowing what I know now, I would say that the real value of jhana is that it can undermine the mind's tendency to generate negative feelings in the first place, cutting your woes off at their root. But, its effectiveness depends on the level of concentration you manage to attain (with higher levels being exponentially more effective)...and, as you have noticed, contemplating your life while sitting is not likely to promote more concentration.

What you do depends on your own assessment of what is likely to help you here, hence my interest in your reasoning on the matter.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/27/11 12:49 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
I think what you've described thus far matches the 2nd jhana (according to MCTB's standards); however, I am continually surprised that you emphasize qualities of attention, rather than pleasure, as the overarching quality of your experience...which makes me think that you either would benefit from more concentration, or are doing something which is specifically counteracting the development of pleasure. (Perhaps not taking your body or your breath as the object is the cause, as you indicate that this changes when you use a "physical" kasina.) What do you think?

It's a relief to know that I indeed have reasonably established myself in the 2nd jhana. However, the quality of it is poor, as I've mentioned many times.

I think I need a lifestyle change, essentially, to get more out of jhanas. I do think that a more "active," high-energy lifestyle will make my body more capable of producing pleasure during samatha practice (and take me beyond mere qualities/shades of attention).

This is a broad assessment of where I am -- I don't think tinkering with technique any further is going to make me experience the "rapture" that I'd in fact like to experience. I guess, in a nutshell, I just need to commit myself to an exercise regimen (thinking about taking up running), or just try and get in touch with nature more.

I might also have to learn to just "slow down" as a person. This basically means accepting my current circumstances for what they are, and finding a way to maximize them instead of subtly resenting them.

I do see what you're saying about trying out a different "object." I might look into that, although I'm fairly sure the problem lies in me having a sedentary lifestyle. Also -- to me it seems I attain access concentration and 1st jhana (of comparatively solid nature) fairly quickly by using a flame as my kasina. I don't want to lose this advantage/edge by focusing on the breath for instance. We'll see...

One other thought is that in the 2nd jhana sometimes I do "body scans" and focus my awareness on areas of tension/"energy knots," with the intent of dissolving such blockages. I may just have to employ this technique more religiously (and get to this state via using a flame as my kasina). I may have to focus strictly on doing these body scans -- or just paying attention to the body/breath/stomach -- as opposed to taking mind-generated "stories" as my kasinas/objects, and then try to resolve them (when I arrive to the 2nd jhana).

I think one of my insights has been to just not follow thought at all, no matter in what jhana they arise, and not even if they are about an issue of mine that needs resolution. I guess I can think about this stuff after meditation practice (with the attention gained from the sit).

End in Sight:
Rashed Arafat:

I developed my concentration back to the point where I experienced an "emotional insight" of sorts where there was a high degree of equanimity/acceptance of a difficult past situation -- I realized that I'd done all I could, and yet things went down in a way that totally invalidated me as a person.

Has the acceptance persisted since then?

No. And you're right -- my perspective changes with my mood.
End in Sight:
Eventually I came to see that my personal issues depended fundamentally on my mood...

At some point I realized that I could use this to my advantage. Having recognized that negative thinking was a product of my mood, I saw that if I could alter my mood (using a variety of methods), I would see how silly that negative thinking was, as it wasn't based on anything rational, but was caused mechanically by my feelings...being able to temporarily dissolve my personal issues in that way would show me, I hoped, how unreasonable they were in the first place, so that their hold over my mind would gradually be released.

Unfortunately, what this method gives, it quickly takes away... So, with resignation, I saw that the fundamental solution would have to be to stop being a moody person...but at the time, how to implement this solution was not at all clear.

Do you think your own situation is similar / different? Why / why not?

I think you described my current situation to a T.

For me, the solution (stopping being "a moody person") seems to be stopping my pot smoking, even if occasional. Basically, I have a fear that I won't be playing music (something very important to me) to my fullest capacity without pot (it just opens up those intuitive circuits of musical expression in a way nothing else, in my experience, has).

When push comes to shove, for instance when needing to record a guitar part that's going to go on an album/EP, I inevitably end up using pot prior to doing so because I don't want to "risk" not having done the best I could have, for my band (especially when the music is going to be officially released).

However, more and more I am wanting to attain the higher jhanas, and then eventually come around to really challenging the fact of my Fundamental Suffering through committed spiritual practice -- so, I have to make a choice...a sacrifice.

Inasmuch as music is important to me, and I want to have a real career in it (and not just daydream about having one), I have to put my spirituality before it. Because, if ignored, the latter tugs at my attention with great force, effectively sabotaging any musical progress. I'm suspecting that even if my musical progress might slow down a bit as a result of putting spirituality first, it will still be progress, and it may be progress of a more reliable kind because I am fundamentally at peace with myself knowing that I am not trying to avoid an existential conflict (Fundamental Suffering) that I've become all too keenly aware of.

End in Sight:
In any case, knowing what I know now, I would say that the real value of jhana is that it can undermine the mind's tendency to generate negative feelings in the first place, cutting your woes off at their root. But, its effectiveness depends on the level of concentration you manage to attain (with higher levels being exponentially more effective)...and, as you have noticed, contemplating your life while sitting is not likely to promote more concentration.

Well, I just hope that committed jhana practice will be good enough to make me feel like I don't need anything else to play the best music I can...theoretically, I can see how it might open the flow of intuition (when it comes to musical expression) over a moderate amount of time -- so, I guess I just need to make sure to meditate daily, and have more of a conventionally "healthy" lifestyle.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/27/11 9:19 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
I think I need a lifestyle change, essentially, to get more out of jhanas. I do think that a more "active," high-energy lifestyle will make my body more capable of producing pleasure during samatha practice (and take me beyond mere qualities/shades of attention).

This is a broad assessment of where I am -- I don't think tinkering with technique any further is going to make me experience the "rapture" that I'd in fact like to experience. I guess, in a nutshell, I just need to commit myself to an exercise regimen (thinking about taking up running), or just try and get in touch with nature more.


As monks as well as laypeople on retreat have a very low-energy lifestyle, and these practices are geared directly towards them, unless there is something specific about your health that I don't know about, I would say that the solution is simpler than you think.

What I would suggest is, for a short time (a week or two), forget about the idea of concentration or jhana, and make your practice one in which you sit and try to breathe in a way that feels relaxing. Just keep relaxing, releasing tension as you breathe, and noticing (in an easeful way) what your breath is like. See what happens.

If a visual kasina helps you, you could try starting with that, and moving to breath when you reach a level of concentration that suits you.

Some people find visualizing their breath energy spreading through their body, or things like that, to be helpful; try it if my basic suggestion doesn't suit you.

Insofar as your doubt is concerned (as your theory seems to me to be fundamentally based on doubt about your mind's capabilities), remember the stock description:

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...


The cause of the pleasure in this case is temporarily suspending worldly desires, both on a gross level (desire for entertainment, desire for socialization, etc.) and on a subtle level (desire to reflect on particular subjects, desire to move the body around, etc.). To the extent that you can suspend these things, you'll get pleasure. (Learning to suspend them is what ultimately makes concentration very strong.) So it's not related to lifestyle in the way you seem to think. In a manner of speaking, it's just about relaxing so much that you stop caring about worldly things, while retaining a very alert mind.

Rashed Arafat:
One other thought is that in the 2nd jhana sometimes I do "body scans" and focus my awareness on areas of tension/"energy knots," with the intent of dissolving such blockages. I may just have to employ this technique more religiously (and get to this state via using a flame as my kasina). I may have to focus strictly on doing these body scans -- or just paying attention to the body/breath/stomach -- as opposed to taking mind-generated "stories" as my kasinas/objects, and then try to resolve them (when I arrive to the 2nd jhana).


I'd like to see you post details about how this practice goes for you.

Any chance you can get it to work outside of formal practice as well?

Rashed Arafat:
I think one of my insights has been to just not follow thought at all, no matter in what jhana they arise, and not even if they are about an issue of mine that needs resolution. I guess I can think about this stuff after meditation practice (with the attention gained from the sit).


As (if I understand your situation) you have thought about some of these issues for quite some time, why do you think that further pondering of those particular issues will be of any use to you?

Instead, perhaps the following questions would be worth pondering:

* If my issues cannot easily be resolved by thinking about them, what value is there in thinking about them?

* Whether or not there is value in thinking about them, might there be more value in doing something else?

* If I wanted to stop thinking about them, could I?

Rashed Arafat:
For me, the solution (stopping being "a moody person") seems to be stopping my pot smoking, even if occasional. Basically, I have a fear that I won't be playing music (something very important to me) to my fullest capacity without pot (it just opens up those intuitive circuits of musical expression in a way nothing else, in my experience, has).

When push comes to shove, for instance when needing to record a guitar part that's going to go on an album/EP, I inevitably end up using pot prior to doing so because I don't want to "risk" not having done the best I could have, for my band (especially when the music is going to be officially released).

...I just hope that committed jhana practice will be good enough to make me feel like I don't need anything else to play the best music I can...theoretically, I can see how it might open the flow of intuition (when it comes to musical expression) over a moderate amount of time -- so, I guess I just need to make sure to meditate daily, and have more of a conventionally "healthy" lifestyle.


As I am not a musician, I don't know exactly what you get out of smoking with respect to musicianship. But, perhaps you will find this heartening: in my experience, the less fundamental suffering there is, the more the mind is able to dig deep and make use of capacities that it may not have had access to before. Suffering is an impediment to naturalness. As suffering lessens, everything starts to flow effortlessly, all the time.

In any case, are you making any progress with cutting back?

Rashed Arafat:
However, more and more I am wanting to attain the higher jhanas, and then eventually come around to really challenging the fact of my Fundamental Suffering through committed spiritual practice -- so, I have to make a choice...a sacrifice.


There is a potentially interesting thread running through some of what you've said that you may not see.

You wrote earlier that you thought it was lifestyle issues that were standing in the way of pleasurable concentration experiences, and that you had to attend to them to lay the groundwork for deeper forms of concentration.

Similarly, in general you have approached concentration practice as laying the groundwork for what you conceive of to be some more fundamental practice, perhaps because of issues that you think are standing in the way of the more fundamental practice.

My guess (and it is just a guess, but a fairly reasonable one) is that you believe that if you develop your capabilities to a certain extent, then the rest of the path will be easy. But, because the path seems quite daunting to you, you believe (for that reason) that you haven't developed your capabilities sufficiently.

There are some problems with this way of looking at things:

1) It reinforces doubt about yourself, doubt about your capabilities, and doubt about the path.

2a) It reinforces the false belief that the path will ever seem easy.

2b) It reinforces the false belief that how hard things seem, is how hard they actually are.

3) It encourages you to keep putting off a commitment to doing something about your fundamental suffering for some future time...a time which may never arrive.

What would happen if you had this alternative approach?

* The belief that you can do this.

* The belief that the only time to start doing this is right now.

* As close to constant mindfulness of your body as possible throughout the day, no matter what. (To be built up to gradually.)

* Formal sits just as now, except with the understanding that the sits themselves are part of the solution to your problem, rather than preliminary work, and are to be approached that way.

If you knew how good things could be once you get solidly on the path, it might change your attitude about things...but, as no one can show you that, you will have to decide how seriously you take our word.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/30/11 1:05 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
What would happen if you had this alternative approach?

* The belief that you can do this.

* The belief that the only time to start doing this is right now.

* As close to constant mindfulness of your body as possible throughout the day, no matter what. (To be built up to gradually.)

* Formal sits just as now, except with the understanding that the sits themselves are part of the solution to your problem, rather than preliminary work, and are to be approached that way.

If you knew how good things could be once you get solidly on the path, it might change your attitude about things...but, as no one can show you that, you will have to decide how seriously you take our word.

I guess each time I resolve to get serious about the spiritual path (by dropping negative habits, and making a commitment to practice my ass of) there's a tremendous fear that gets generated that just seems too difficult to make my way through. A part of me thinks/feels that me having to experience such fear is "unjust," as though "God" were needlessly "punishing" me when I haven't done anything wrong, so I get pissed and drop the Good Fight (or engage in it half-heartedly).

I guess the truth is that there's no God that has it in for me, and even though the fear that I experience (upon resolving to take matters into my own hands) is unpleasant, it's not impossible to make my way through because many, many other people apparently have.

I just need to stop viewing the situation as being one with a "Do this, or else..." overtone, and realize that I want to do all this work for my own sake, and my own happiness (right now, as well as for the future).

The funny thing is that intellectually I actually came to the same conclusions that you outlined above -- maybe I just needed someone else to point out the obvious to me...so thanks.

Also -- another point is that when I feel the "onrush" of fear upon making a strong commitment, I start thinking "Well, maybe I should break things down into their component pieces, thereby reducing the amount of fear that I have to deal with." However, this attitude hasn't worked to date (I keep spinning around in a circle) -- so I am thinking that I just have to try and take on as much fear as I can handle, and not do any "bargaining" with myself, trying to make it easier on myself. Can't have "best of both worlds," in a manner of speaking.

End in Sight:
As I am not a musician, I don't know exactly what you get out of smoking with respect to musicianship. But, perhaps you will find this heartening: in my experience, the less fundamental suffering there is, the more the mind is able to dig deep and make use of capacities that it may not have had access to before. Suffering is an impediment to naturalness. As suffering lessens, everything starts to flow effortlessly, all the time.

In any case, are you making any progress with cutting back?

This has been a thorny issue for me for quite some time. While I agree that with a healthy mind overall, it's easier to be creative/access one's creative faculties, there's a radically different viewpoint that pot brings to music that is extremely difficult to replicate with anything else. A lot of great musicians, such as Jimi Hendrix (one of the most well-known users of LSD), used drugs to produce music I consider to be of a very high caliber -- I think drugs make the experience of playing music more "tactile" in general, which can lead to highly interesting ways of approaching it. Also -- I think drugs have had a lot to do with artists and producers wanting to make music more "3-D" (for lack of a better term) and cinematic ever since the 60's.

All that said, however, in my case: I'm just very unhappy with my life as I find it these days, so even though drugs do have quite a lot to offer to my musicianship, I'm just tired of feeling unhappy. The way I'm looking at it is that I may go through a period of musical dryness due to coming down strongly on the side of not doing drugs, but that's not the end of the world (and neither is it going to make my musical career go to hell -- if anything, it will be better for my career in the long run, which is what I really want).

Basically, I'm going to have to force myself to play/write music without pot for a while, and even if what comes out isn't very inspired-sounding, it will have to do, because there's a greater picture of Suffering and its cessation that is serving as the backdrop. So far, I've tried to "strike a balance" with the habit, and that has not worked (it has always left me feeling unhappy). So in this sense, I hope to make extremely good progress with regard to cutting back (because I am no longer planning on "fence-sitting"). I think what has held me back so far is the idea that I will be losing out on writing a lot of good material -- I just have to challenge this belief (and be willing to accept a certain amount of loss).

There's another point that I wanted to bring up as well. In my attempts to become happier in general, I have looked into material written by psychotherapists (available online -- I cannot afford real therapy). Overall, to me there seems to be a pretty clear-cut opposition between spirituality and psychology. The former, in general, seems more disruptive to the existent flow of one's life while the latter tries to be more integrative. On some small level I realize that I tend to make powerful dualities out of things even when there may really not be much of an opposition in between the things in concern, but I'm thinking this is just the way I work, and I just have to take the hard path (and not put it off for the future -- I have to be on the path now).

You've said a lot of other interesting things that I will address in my next post -- for now I'm gonna try and get my daily sit in. I thank you for the encouragement!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/30/11 8:15 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit (1:05 hrs) notes -- October 30, 2011:

Two factors stood out to me, taking the whole sit into account:
  1. It is very important to not let the perception of mind being "on" the object/kasina arise. If I notice such phenomena, then I must try my best to stick only with bare perception of the kasina. To me it seemed as though an illusion of "mind" can get created during a samatha sit -- if I am not watchful, then this "mind" tries to "grip" the kasina as hard as possible, thinking that that means increased concentration. I successfully avoided this, and as a result had a very rewarding sit.
  2. That while the above is the most important thing to avoid (in order to actually develop concentration), the 2nd factor is suppressing evaluation whenever I catch it happening. However, I noticed two types of thought processes/thinking: evaluative and contemplative, the latter basically meaning reflecting upon unresolved psychological issues. It's more important to avoid the latter than the former, because the former can "fine-tune" my sit to an extent. For instance, evaluative thinking can make me realize that I am experiencing the phenomenon of mind being "on" the kasina, and consequently I can return my attention to the PRIMARY perception of the object, in-itself. But once that's done, it's best to suppress the desire to evaluate any further. Employing this technique, I reached the edges of the experience of unification of awareness (basically, the sense of there being a separate observer "inside" me was greatly diminished).
I feel renewed motivation to get very serious and methodical about my practice as a result of the exchanges on this thread with End in Sight. May my Practice blossom!

A somewhat humorous side note is that I've taken to drinking green tea before my sits. However, the first few times I was being over-zealous about it, and forgot to take into account how drinking a lot of tea can make a person want to urinate. So, when I sat for the first time today, shooting for 45 minutes, and after having "chugged" a cup of green tea, I had to cut my meditation short because the urge to take a leak got too strong.

I took this into account when I sat for the second time today, and drank a moderate amount of tea instead -- this led to a very focused, and alert sit (although relaxing at the same time).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/31/11 2:00 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit (1:05 hrs) notes -- October 31, 2011:

I am still having trouble with the 2nd jhana. Even though I'd say my concentration is "very good" in the 1st jhana, for some reason it lacks that depth/focus/intensity in the 2nd jhana. Basically, my mind "looks around" for something to settle on, like it did with success in the 1st jhana (flame). As it looks around, a lot of thinking goes on as far as what would be the most ideal "object" to settle on (it can no longer stay with the flame because my focus has naturally widened out by this point). This thinking I'm calling evaluative thinking. By my estimation, the more time I spend doing this kind of thinking, the more time I'm wasting NOT staying with an object, reaping the benefits of the jhana.

I've narrowed my options down to the following:
  • Body-scans: I got frustrated with this because I felt there wasn't enough energy/concentration behind it, "backing it up" as it were. Ideally, I'd like to have a thoughtless, energized "mind" as it were, moving throughout the interior of my body, applying energy to release stored up tension in various places. The way it is right now, even though my mind moves through the body, "scanning" it, there's not enough power of concentration for it to effectively unravel energy-knots. I've experienced this phenomenon successfully before, I know, but I'd like for it to become something reliable and dependable.
  • Paying attention to/staying with the sense of internal silence that the 2nd jhana brings on: As of now, this seems to hold the most promise to me, and for my next sit (or the next few), I'm going to try and just stay with this experience of "silence" somewhere "within" me/my body.
  • Focusing on an external kasina that is not the oil-lamp flame: While in the 2nd jhana, intermittently my attention will settle on an object, and I will experience a sort of "unification" with that object. However, for some reason, my attention just won't stay with that object for too long, and tends to gravitate to other objects. While the experience of concentration upon unification with an object is enjoyable, the fact that it's not something constant is frustrating, and I cannot make that the center of my attention in the 2nd jhana (since I am shooting for depth and stability of jhana).
  • Focusing on the breath/the breathing process: I know this comes highly recommended, but again, the breath just doesn't seem to be a "kasina" that generates the kind of intense concentration that the flame did in the 1st jhana.
I think my best bet is to focus on the quality of "internal silence/quietness" of the 2nd jhana and see what happens.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
10/31/11 11:07 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
Further reflections on the following:
End in Sight:
Having recognized that negative thinking was a product of my mood, I saw that if I could alter my mood (using a variety of methods), I would see how silly that negative thinking was, as it wasn't based on anything rational, but was caused mechanically by my feelings...being able to temporarily dissolve my personal issues in that way would show me, I hoped, how unreasonable they were in the first place, so that their hold over my mind would gradually be released.

Unfortunately, what this method gives, it quickly takes away... So, with resignation, I saw that the fundamental solution would have to be to stop being a moody person...but at the time, how to implement this solution was not at all clear.

To me it seems as though my intellect is, at times, able to see how most of my "personal hurdles" aren't really hurdles at all -- that there is an aspect of me that derives its sense of identity from a deeper "wellspring" of sorts, and is already free of those perceived obstacles to personal growth. However, these experiences are always transient, and leave no residue (like you pretty much said above). Therefore, I must conclude that my default mode of thinking should be one that gives primacy to the imperative for personal growth, which includes dealing with obstacles (even though I have occasionally experienced them as being insubstantial).

It seems as though calculated (and not foolhardy) sacrifice is one of the key players. Basically I had to tell myself: "My music is going to suffer for a while as I hold myself to not smoking." If I cannot be fundamentally okay with my music suffering (to an extent), then I cannot effectively detach myself from my habit. It's as though there's just no way around making such a sacrifice (and sacrifices in general -- which my mind perceives as being negative and life-denying), and that the truth of life until Enlightenment is that you have to fight your way to the End of Suffering.

I am aware that the above is a simple realization ("growing up," basically), yet to feel it in my gut is a different thing.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/1/11 8:27 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
Instead, perhaps the following questions would be worth pondering:

* If my issues cannot easily be resolved by thinking about them, what value is there in thinking about them?

* Whether or not there is value in thinking about them, might there be more value in doing something else?

* If I wanted to stop thinking about them, could I?

Sorry my responses are so disjointed, and I'm not addressing all of your questions at once (it seems as though each day, a new "insight" of sorts appears with regard to your questions).

To answer your first question: There's basically one primary issue around which I've done a lot of thinking, and I believe the reason I continue thinking about this issue is because I can conceive of a potential solution/course-of-action with regard to it. However, I have convinced myself that I will actually never go along with that course-of-action.

So, all the thinking is really a way of me asking myself "Are you sure about not going along with this course-of-action?" At this point, this question is really nothing more than an annoyance to me, because I already know that I will never take it seriously enough to act on it.

I am trying my best to just see this line of thinking for what it is -- it's just become a part of my day-to-day experience of life, and as much as it sucks, I guess I just have to suck it up, and keep walking. Yes, it feels as though a lot of pressure is upon me, but I think I can take it on (or at least I believe I have to -- I do not see another choice for myself).

With regard to the second question -- the only thing that comes to mind is committed practice, and trying to push as hard as I can in a different life-direction, away from the set of circumstances which left a very strong and persistent impression on my mind. I may have to try my best to forge a new direction if I can't just "locate" one on the horizon.

Re: the third question: I don't believe I can stop thinking about this issue, and since I'm not going to act in a POSITIVE way to try and deal with it, the only thing I can do is bear the burden of these repeating, annoying thoughts.

You're probably wondering what this "issue" is, and I feel I should demystify the whole thing a little bit: basically, a person I was once intimate with shut me out of her life in a way that really hurt my pride. The "solution" would be to try and communicate with her to see what comes out of it ("closure," resolution, whatever). But her initial action of shutting me out -- essentially giving me "the silent treatment" -- sent me the message that she was making a "clean break." I do not see myself as a guy who would crawl back to her after such an ultimatum -- so, I'm stuck with my thoughts, and I'm just waiting for them to die down (or for myself to stop being as affected by them as I once was, and as I still am to a degree).

This is turning into a thread on psychology, so I think this is about as far as I'm going to delve into my personal issues.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/4/11 11:31 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Think I'm gonna try & follow the breath when I'm in the 2nd jhana -- tried it today, and it seemed to work. Basically, I came up (through some evaluative thinking) with the following formula: breath + natural sounds (NOT thoughts) = stabilized 2nd jhana

Looking through this thread, there have been several times when I've mentioned that I "became one with" the sound of the crickets outside my window. This shows a natural proclivity toward using sounds as my kasinas. I've been trying deliberately "tuning" my attention/mind to either a specific, ongoing sound in my room (fan, for instance) or just all the sounds that are occurring. This placing of the mind upon sounds tends to emphasize the silence underneath the sounds, as it were, leading to mental quietude. Also, following the breath while simultaneously keeping my mind on sounds/a sound tends to deepen the experience of the 2nd jhana for me.

I've also noticed that I've been posting too frequently at the expense of not being able to really clear up some mental space, so that I may get a chance to reflect on my meditative findings/discoveries, and thereby attain more confidence with regard to my own abilities as a meditator. To this end, I am planning on posting less frequently (although it's hard not to post something after a "successful" meditation session, followed by the inevitable sense of accomplishment).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/5/11 9:30 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
A quick question, and a more thorough response in the future.

What is your practice during the 22 hours you're not formally sitting?

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/5/11 10:10 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
What is your practice during the 22 hours you're not formally sitting?

Well, I pray quite a bit -- basically, sending out repeated messages to "whatever may be out there" that I wish for fundamental suffering to end.

There are little things that I hold on to no matter what, and inasmuch as they might appear crazy to an outside observer, they have some significance to me. For instance, there are times when I feel offended by people, and I'll think of them and raise my middle finger at them out of anger ("flip them off"). I've made a habit out of NOT doing so, and just feeling the anger and let it pass, or at least not reacting to it by moving my finger. I guess you could call it an example of minor mindfulness -- purely (to the extent possible) passive observation of an urge to move a part of my body.

I also have a few other commitments in place that are geared toward the attainment of my highest desires. For instance, I rebuke myself internally when I feel like I am getting out of shape -- so I've committed myself to not drinking beer (lots of "empty" calories). I know this is a superficial matter, but the way I look at it is that I just do not want to have that nagging voice of self-criticism that says "you're fat and getting old." I'd rather deal with it directly and be done with it.

One of the more important things I'm working on is anger-management. I learned that anger itself isn't the problem, it is how we manage it. In other words, "stuffing it down" will never make it go away, so we have to figure out ways in which we can express it in socially appropriate ways. Generally speaking, I let people push me around or allow them more liberty than I should with regard to what they can say to me (and get away with it). I'm working on not internalizing my enraged reactions to such treatment (I end up mulling over even a single incident for a couple of days) and, instead, finding ways to come back at them in ways that are sensible, and not out-of-context (and then bearing the tension that arises out of such interactions).

I'm also constantly observing my thought-patterns -- I'd say I'm pretty good at watching my thoughts in day-to-day life. As I go about my daily activities, I almost always compare every experience I have against my desire for the End of Suffering. Basically I try to ask myself "Is this in line with what I really want and if not, what should I do about it?"

I'm trying to get better and better at everything I've described above, and I'd say that the majority of my suffering comes from not having the patience to wait until things actually are better. I'm trying my hardest to focus on what can be done HERE AND NOW to alleviate suffering in the future. I think the KEY is in what Daniel talks about in MCTB where it's important to have a present-oriented component in relation to a future-oriented goal (all "goals" are future-oriented by definition).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/9/11 10:41 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Sat for about an hour and five minutes. Experienced what I'd call a "hard" 1st jhana, then drifted out of it, then I came back to an experience that seemed like it was a very stable and QUIET 1st jhana, minus effort. The words "quiet mind" went through my mind. I almost began to think whether or not this may have been 2nd jhana since effort was almost nonexistent, but since my attention was still on the primary kasina (flame), I couldn't be sure. Then I remembered "smart person's disease," as Kenneth Folk calls it where a meditator is constantly asking himself where he is "on the map." I am thinking that may be quite possibly my biggest shortcoming as a meditator, hence as soon as I noticed such line of thinking (i.e. "Is this 1st, or 2nd jhana? I must know!") I immediately abandoned it.

This I believe led me to the 2nd jhana. My mind felt very calm and still, and I could notice various "stories" popping up in consciousness, inviting me to go into them and explore them -- sympathize with them. However, I was also aware of the "background" (quietness, awareness -- I don't know what else to call it) to these "pop-ups" as they were, and affixed my attention on that. Doing so seemed to strengthen my concentration, and brought about a certain sense of confidence.

Overall, I'd say this was one of the few experiences where I could really get a "feel" for the 2nd jhana, and have a mute confidence that that's where I am.

In addition, I think the 2 things that may help me the most in the coming days would be:
  1. Being very serious about sitting for the full duration that I've chosen (I've lapsed a few times) -- I find that seriousness with regard to how long I sit for leads to more "precise" sits.
  2. Categorically abandoning all mental inquiry as to where I may be, and simply keep bringing my attention back to the kasina.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/9/11 4:31 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Hey Rashed,

glad to hear that you are still at it very seriously. It sounds like you are tapping some real nice states of tranquility and power of concentration.

You mentioned in one of your last posts that you would try to add using the breath as a meditation object as well(in combination with sounds?). Have you already had some success with that? I would be very interested to hear the difference in quality between using candle vs. breath as the meditation object for you, and also the compared sense of difficulty to reach (any) jhana using either one.

Cheers,
keep us posted emoticon

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/10/11 8:54 PM as a reply to Christian Vlad.
Christian Vlad:
glad to hear that you are still at it very seriously. It sounds like you are tapping some real nice states of tranquility and power of concentration.

Hey Christian -- I was getting hung up on a psychological issue (it just wouldn't leave me alone). I dealt with it, and now I feel as though some energy has been freed up for me to carry out my Practice a bit more efficiently. I'm definitely more committed than before, if commitment means meditating every day, for as long as I've decided to meditate for.

Christian Vlad:

You mentioned in one of your last posts that you would try to add using the breath as a meditation object as well(in combination with sounds?). Have you already had some success with that? I would be very interested to hear the difference in quality between using candle vs. breath as the meditation object for you, and also the compared sense of difficulty to reach (any) jhana using either one.

I think saying that I was going to use sounds as my object was a bit premature (more on this later). I would say that without using a flame, reaching 1st jhana is pretty much impossible for me. I really, really need something very obvious and easily discernible to focus on when I start out. My focus naturally widens out somewhat when I reach 2nd jhana (this is apparently how it should be according to MCTB ), and at that point, trying to focus on the flame feels unnatural because that means I'd have to narrow-in my attention. So basically at that point my "kasina" is something else (and this is where the breath comes in, to an extent, as I'll describe below).

When I reach the 2nd jhana, my mind/intellect incessantly asks the question: "Well, if the flame isn't my kasina right now, what is?" After doing a search on these forums, I found something Kenneth Folk (in addition to Ian And) said about how to practice jhana -- and what stood out for me was him saying that one shouldn't concern oneself with where one is, in terms of jhanas (or "the map"), because such thinking detracts from actual concentrating. One should, instead, consider oneself to be a "pioneer" and really find out for oneself where one's mind will go if one were to just stick with the kasina (and shift to a different state of perception when it arises).

I realized that that was basically my chief problem. I'm too eager to know if I "have 2nd jhana yet." So, whenever I feel the shift from the 1st to the 2nd jhana now, I try to be mindful of the fact that my mind's going to ask about what my kasina is, and it's my job to avoid entertaining such thinking.

Having said that, I'd say my kasina/"object" in the 2nd jhana is the experience of concentration, primarily. To get into a bit more detail, the way I experience it is that there's a silent presence behind my thoughts (and these thoughts include the question "What is my kasina right now?"). It's this deep, almost "heavy" silence that I put my mind on, and leave it there. Again, to me it seems like it's the experience of concentration that I'm attending to in the 2nd jhana (more so than the breath).

Once I do that, I sometimes become aware of the automatic way in which the breath is going in and out, in and out. Overall, I'd say it's a somewhat dynamic process, but the fact that concentration remains present throughout the whole experience tells me that I'm still in jhana. I wouldn't say that I strictly make the breath my kasina in the 2nd jhana. Sometimes I become aware of the effortless way in which breathing is occurring, and that sort of lets me know that I'm in 2nd jhana.

Also, I think I may have finally "landed" the 2nd jhana! For the last couple of sits, the depth of concentration in the 2nd jhana felt deeper than it was in the 1st jhana (I was having a lot of trouble with my concentration sort of "dropping off" after making the transition from 1st to 2nd jhana up until now, possibly due to wanting to know too badly just what my kasina/object of concentration was).

Right now, what I'm experiencing in my samatha sits is something as follows:

Trying to focus on flame (with annoying thoughts, but feeling just enough concentration for my gaze to remain fixed upon the flame without too much effort/difficulty) -- I'm calling this Access Concentration --> A "mild" 1st jhana where I keep deepening my concentration by focusing on the flame and making sure to avoid the phenomenon of "mind ON flame" as it's been discussed on this thread -- this state can become a bit "comfortable" at times, with mental silence on the rise --> "hard" 1st jhana where thoughts are almost "stamped out" --> focus widening and 2nd jhana --> being able to stay in jhana without too much difficulty, and jhana having a sense of "depth" and silence to it. I also experience more "confidence/self-assurance" the more I stay grounded on the silence behind thoughts/emotions.

I've come close to the experience of Unification of Awareness in the 2nd jhana, but I still haven't experienced it in my most recent sits like I did (and talked about) in the past. I guess right now my concern is "having" 2nd jhana (by not thinking about "having" it when I'm actually meditating).

Christian Vlad:

Cheers,
keep us posted emoticon

I actually realized that I got into this habit of posting too often, without giving myself enough time to come to a reasonably accurate self-assessment of where I am in terms of jhanas. For instance, I think sounds are actually not my kasina in the 2nd jhana (even though there was this one time when I focused strictly on a high-pitched tone within my ear to reasonably good effect). I think the experience of concentration simply makes my mind notice sounds more, because it's not paying attention to thoughts. But it all may just be semantics, too.

At any rate, I've decided that even though I'll be "lurking" on here, my primary focus in the coming days is going to be on actual practice, and "feeling out" the jhanas, and their respective qualities. I think after I've done that for a while, I will be able to speak with more authority and clarity on where I am (as well as with more down-to-earth honesty born out of day-by-day experience), and you guys will be able to help me that much better (and vice versa)!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/12/11 5:06 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Thanks for your reply.

I don't think you need to be overcautious with how much you post, though.
Everyone around here knows that this is not a straightforward path, and that sometimes we run in the wrong direction for a while, just to get back on track a little later.

Keeping that in mind, I think having some kind of meditation log to keep track of your progress and development is probably one of the most useful things one can have, and posting your recent experiences here will enable more experienced pracitioners to maybe help you guide you along the way, and less experienced ones to follow your progress as a whole, and not just the sweet parts.

As always, good luck in the future and keep at it!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/12/11 6:38 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit Notes (November 12, 2011):

I shot for about an hour and five minutes, but my sit was interrupted by a knock on the door around the 55-minute mark. Since the "mood was lost" I didn't bother finishing the rest of the sit.

I think I am now able to stay in the 2nd jhana without much difficulty, and have been reaching it in pretty much every one of my sits!! emoticon

The depth of quietness of mind seems to release a lot of tension/anxiety. Thoughts continue to come up, but my mind doesn't go with them -- it returns, again and again, to a deep sense of silence, or "stillness." My concentration grows stronger when I attempt to keep my mind on this silence. Again, I felt as though I came very close to the experience of Unification of Awareness (may even have glimpsed it for a second). But I'm just happy that the 2nd jhana feels like "familiar territory" to me now.

I was getting a few "insights," possibly into the Dhamma, but I'm not sure -- at one point I was looking at the flame (my vision doesn't stick with one external object in the 2nd jhana) and something along these lines wafted through my mind: "This [flame/kasina] holds the key to freedom -- even though you are inanimate, I'm thankful for your presence because you're aiding me with the attainment of freedom."

Also, it feels as though finally I'm beginning to truly enjoy my sits. When I experience the depth of silence of the 2nd jhana, and how it's not all that difficult to just stay there, there's not really much desire left to do anything else (except cultivate it to the max).

I hope this positive feeling sticks with me -- I am starting to feel more "empowered" than I have in the past with regard to the Path.

Re: the kasina in the 2nd jhana, I do tend to concentrate on the experience of breathing, but it'd be more accurate to say that my attention just goes toward my throat region (its interior) and stays there -- in other words, concentration is best experienced in that area for me. Whether or not the rising and falling of the breath is noticed seems secondary to me, at least for now.

Christian Vlad:
I think having some kind of meditation log to keep track of your progress and development is probably one of the most useful things one can have

I can see what you're saying... I guess I feel self-conscious about talking about every little detail that I experience during my sits. But maybe doing so may give myself and everyone else a better idea as to where I am, and keep me honest (very important!).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/13/11 10:57 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit Notes (November 13, 2011):

Sat for about an hour and five minutes. I believe I entered 2nd jhana fairly early on in the sit -- I'm getting better at discerning the transition-point in between the 1st and the 2nd jhanas. At some point, my focus widens out, and my mind begins popping up questions such as "What's happening? Am I moving to the 2nd jhana?" I just IGNORE those questions/incline the mind away from such thoughts (evaluative/discursive), and voila! 2nd jhana. This is how it's apparently been working out around this time...

I'm still getting the hang of sitting for the full duration to which I've committed -- at some point, my mind/body begins to complain that I'm sitting for "too long." Concentration even weakens due to this. My goal is to just keep pushing through such resistance, and eventually, my concentration will be solid throughout the entire sit (I hope).

Also -- once such resistance (with regard to the duration) is dealt with, concentration reappears and even deepens. Ideally, I'd like for these ups and downs to disappear, and for the entire sit to be more or less solidly concentrated (seems like a somewhat high ideal right now).

The degree to which my mind relaxed over the course of the sit is noteworthy. At one point, I felt as though there was no "body," just sensations floating in awareness/consciousness/aware-space.

As a side-note, I used to try to resolve a psychological hang-up I had over someone (while in jhana). I have found a solution that seems to work -- every time I am tempted to try and analyze my relationship with this person, I just tell myself (mentally) that I'm concentrating for this person -- that this is the best I can do since the intellect seems to hold no real solution to the problem. That the only way to effectively deal with the problem is by inclining my mind away from all thinking around it. This makes for a smoother samatha sit, I find. Also, as it should be obvious from this entry, I've taken to the concept of "inclining the mind away from discursive thinking" (something along those lines). This concept seems to empower each samatha sit, especially when the jhanas are entered.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/14/11 2:52 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-site Notes (November 14, 2011):

Shot for an hour and five minutes, but just couldn't stay concentrated past the 1-hour mark. I'm wondering if I should cut back down to an hour, or if I should keep pushing myself to sit for an hour and five minutes. I'm inclined to do the latter, for some reason (can't sit for longer and longer without pushing myself -- this is at least the way I look at it; also, any second spent practicing is time well-spent).

In the 2nd jhana, I experienced a phenomenon where when I looked at an external object (an empty water carton, for instance), I could "become one with" it. I was able to repeat this with various object. I guess this is an example of Unification of Awareness, although in the past the experience was more along the lines of me becoming one with everything, and not just a specific/particular object. At any rate, I saw the ability/phenomenon of becoming one with an object as being a good thing.

I want to keep working on smoothing out my experience of the 2nd jhana, and gain more confidence in it. I also want the experience to be as "textbook-like" as possible, whilst keeping in mind that it's my own experience, and will naturally have a few unique components.

At some point, however, I'd like to move on to the 3rd jhana.

I have 2 questions for y'all based on this most recent sit:
  1. Does looking at an external object and distinctly feeling that I've "become one with" it count as a bona fide experience of Unification of Awareness?
  2. How do I encourage the emergence of the 3rd jhana? What should I be subtly/subconsciously looking out for while I'm in the 2nd jhana? What should I cultivate more and more in the 2nd jhana so that the 3rd may arise spontaneously?
Thank you so much!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/14/11 6:38 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed:
I want to keep working on smoothing out my experience of the 2nd jhana, and gain more confidence in it. I also want the experience to be as "textbook-like" as possible, whilst keeping in mind that it's my own experience, and will naturally have a few unique components.
there being no part of the lake unpervaded by the cool waters; even so, the monk permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born of composure. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born of composure.
In my experience, for "text-book-like" the rapture and pleasure must seep into everything and fill out every nook and cranny. If an itch arises, there is rapture and bliss at that very point, any welling up of restlessness (i.e., a wave of something that would likely become impatience, that too is absorbed into rapture and bliss). All pervasive rapture and pleasure.

To me, there was a tension in this jhana; it was very active, vibrant and almost swollen. As if a fireworks display amped up so much as to fill the entire sky with pervasive (rapture and bliss). Of the jhanas this one left me with the feeling of having been athletic. (This feeling for the 2nd jhana reflected on my mental nature and habituation of itself, and easily could be subjectively experienced in a different way by another person or even by my own being where the originating mental faculty is different).


How do I encourage the emergence of the 3rd jhana? What should I be subtly/subconsciously looking out for while I'm in the 2nd jhana?

And furthermore, with the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, 'Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.'
Here I would use a meditation timer (let's say you do 2nd jhana for 20 minutes) or wait until 2nd jhana is really just very big, pervasive and maximally expanded throughout the body, and at that point, perhaps with a exhalation breath, intend to let it go.

Notice its diminishing in the body - this was for me a reducing tinkling akin to moment after fireworks cease and now there there are streams of flickering sparks trailing down the sky in diminishing amplitude. Experience that: the swell of rapture is leaving and sensations are coming into an equilibrium after the energetics of rapture. Experience that with awareness and any arising sensations or impulses that may insert themselves (again: that which may remind you of an itch, a surge of impulse that could become full-blown impatience, )

After experiencing a jhana pervasively and getting familiar with it, one can be alert to the presence of three characteristics.

[edit: added words for clarity in brackets]

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/15/11 7:49 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
11/14/11 7:04 PM

What should I cultivate more and more in the 2nd jhana so that the 3rd may arise spontaneously?

Many qualities arise in a mind spontaneously; hence: monkey mind. The four jhanas are deliberate, qualitative states for development. One can call the jhanas an expression of suggestibility that has been deemed useful and beneficial, unlike some other manners of suggestibility.

What may happen in 2nd jhana is an awareness of three characteristics therein.

After becoming familiar with 2nd jhana experience, the suggested course orients a practitioner for equanimity. If you wanted, you could go rogue and decide to have an anti-rapture jhana...as a matter of testing yourself with "another" pervasive feeling-object and locating the same three characteristics therein. That 2nd jhana is traditionally focused on pleasure and rapture, and that no other object is suggested here is reasonable and deliberate.

3rd jhana is the natural follower to 2nd (no matter what feeling-object one decides to cultivate, whether the deliberate, traditional, reasonable course of rapture and pleasure or your own venture). As if you are in a canoe (3rd jhana), be alert to sensations that your mind inclines towards - if you were in a canoe and you leaned toward a sensation, you might tip over. What did you learn of feeling-objects in 2nd jhana?

Equanimity forms of understanding gained in 2nd jhana, and herein the mind converts into a steady ballast material. Waves of sensation are not something for the mind to leap to*. Knowing 2nd jhana well, the mind has no reason to leap towards or cultivate a feeling-object and naturally stabilizes despite any waves.

*11/15/11 edit:
Or, if the mind does go to an object (ideas, forms, feelings, etc), it does not go there with an imbalanced expectation of the object, such as, "this is the best, this is the way, this will be satisfactory/blissful/good/always". It has learned in 2nd jhana that objects reveal three characteristics upon inspection, familiarity.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/15/11 7:05 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Does looking at an external object and distinctly feeling that I've "become one with" it count as a bona fide experience of Unification of Awareness?
My experience of awareness unification has not been "becoming one with", rather the mind seems to pull together into a unique focus (and the body becomes leaden and somewhat dissolved or entirely dissolved/without structural boundary or all sensation sucks up to the visual region and body takes on leaden statue aspect) such that the head seems gone and, if there is a visual object of the jhana, in its place seems to form narrow-full-vision-through-a-tube to the object. All peripheral vision is blurred and there is a narrow, range of intense visual focus and the mental quality feels especially pulled in to the object.

The time I recall such a one-with feeling was at A&P.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/15/11 10:27 PM as a reply to katy steger,thru11.6.15 with thanks.
Rashed, I think you should devote the entirety of your sitting time to figuring out how to generate pleasure, because without pleasure, whatever experience you're having of jhanas 1-2 isn't "hard", and in my opinion isn't likely to be transformative in the way you hope.

Also, your practice needs to extend to the other hours in the day during which you're not sitting. If you want to be transformed, you have to transform the way you go through life. A good place to start is mindfulness of breathing during the day. It will help in a variety of ways...and if you use your breath as an object of concentration, there will likely be "concentration carryover" when you formally sit.

Another quick point is, using nonsensory objects of concentration (such as "the experience of concentration") tends to be counterproductive in a variety of ways...in brief, for the same reason that sticking with the perception of your mind "on" an object is counterproductive. If you really don't want to use your breathing as the object you're focusing on, fine, but in my opinion you are doing yourself no favors by picking anything other than a sense experience.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/15/11 10:57 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit Notes -- November 15, 2011:

2nd jhana observations: I hate to go back-and-forth on this, but I do think I'm using naturally occurring sounds (crickets outside my window, a running dehumidifier in the next room, creaking floorboards, etc.) as my kasina in the 2nd jhana. To me, it seems as though I have an option between placing my mind/attention on these things vs. placing it on thoughts ("stories") as well as the swirl of emotions.

The objective is to strengthen and deepen concentration. I've noticed in the past that placing my attention on the stories running through my mind never actually enhanced/strengthened my concentration.

Also, to me it seems as though the only way to get to 3rd jhana would be to continue to cultivate concentration-related factors in the 2nd, since all the samatha jhanas have concentration as their foundation.

I made a very FIRM decision to meditate for 1 hour and 5 minutes. This, I think, allowed me to have a "deeper" sit. It was somewhat difficult, but definitely not impossible. This is the attitude I desire to maintain in the coming days...

Also, despite what everyone on this thread has said, my gut-instinct is to keep practicing with a very strong commitment behind it, or "backing it up." When I try to take into account what EVERYONE has said, I begin doubting my own self-assessment a little more than I should. I think comparing my self-assessment with MCTB, as well as those pieces of advice/outside observations that "ring true" to me should be enough to keep me on track. Nevertheless, I thank you all for all the advice and wisdom that you've poured on here!

There came a point in the 2nd jhana when, after staying with sounds for a while, it felt as though a "quality of mind" was taking over. The best way to describe it would be to use the word "calmness." I'm not sure if it's a good idea to focus on that, or if I should just continue staying with sounds.

End in Sight:
If you really don't want to use your breathing as the object you're focusing on, fine, but in my opinion you are doing yourself no favors by picking anything other than a sense experience.

What do you think about sounds? That's a sense experience (hearing). And in the 1st jhana, the flame falls within the sense experience of "seeing."

Re: pleasure/rapture (as both you and Katie above have talked about): Is that a sense experience? For instance, when "calmness" took over in tonight's sit, I thought, "Maybe this is my version of rapture/pleasure." Am I wrong? Does rapture/pleasure have to be a purely physical experience as opposed to the experience of calmness/subtle pleasantness, etc.?

I would love to use the breath, by the way, but it seems like the fastest way that I can avert thoughts is by focusing on a visual kasina (such as the flame) or sounds. It seems as though most of my effort goes into making sure that I'm paying attention to some form of a kasina as opposed to evaluative/discursive thoughts (the "enemy" in a sense). Basically, as long as I'm not taking any thoughts or emotions as my object/kasina, I'm less likely to "fall off the wagon" -- this is the way I'm seeing it, for now. I think part of the reason I still haven't tried the breath as an object/kasina is that thoughts still seemed to dominate my mind when I placed my attention on the breath (a few times in the past). Also, at least when starting out on a sit, it feels harder to focus on the breath as some sort of a "solid" and "coherent" object as opposed to something visible like a flame, standing in clear contrast to everything else around it.

I think I may try a few sits where I try and focus solely on the breath and see what happens -- just stick with it, even if thoughts come up. I will report back within the next few days!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/15/11 11:26 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
End in Sight:
What is your practice during the 22 hours you're not formally sitting?


I'd say "off the cushion" I "Train in Morality." I try to stay on top of my obligations and responsibilities to other people, and try to make the most of my existent circumstances, subtly striving to make them better. I realize that this is not pure mindfulness -- but I can't conceive of abandoning this kind of "practice" when I'm not formally sitting.

I also try and be vigilant with regard to what I consider to be learned negative behaviors in me, such as the fear-response in certain situations, for instance. I go against it, whenever it comes up.

I am also working on taking responsibility for my emotions/emotional life, very consciously. It's my understanding that "playing the victim" or "wallowing" in negative emotions will actually never resolve them, or make them go away -- so the only way to deal with them is to accept that they are there, and move on.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/16/11 7:37 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
End in Sight:
If you really don't want to use your breathing as the object you're focusing on, fine, but in my opinion you are doing yourself no favors by picking anything other than a sense experience.

What do you think about sounds? That's a sense experience (hearing). And in the 1st jhana, the flame falls within the sense experience of "seeing."


I have no objection in principle to sounds, but I think there may be some difficulty with sounds that are intermittent vs. sounds that are not.

However, again, if you are not getting pleasure out of your sits, something needs to be tweaked. The breath is more physical and seems to lend itself to the generation of pleasure for that reason.

If you can get pleasure out of paying attention to sounds, go for it.

Rashed Arafat:

Re: pleasure/rapture (as both you and Katie above have talked about): Is that a sense experience? For instance, when "calmness" took over in tonight's sit, I thought, "Maybe this is my version of rapture/pleasure." Am I wrong? Does rapture/pleasure have to be a purely physical experience as opposed to the experience of calmness/subtle pleasantness, etc.?


Pleasure is a sense experience (a sensation in your body), but at the very beginning it may manifest as "calmness" and not be so easy to discern in the body. The best way to test is to see if "calmness" can be increased to the point that it is clearly a pleasant sensation in your body.

The jhana similes in the suttas are very literal, and they say that the body is pervaded by pleasure in jhanas 1-2: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/ptf/dhamma/sacca/sacca4/samma-samadhi/jhana.html

Rashed Arafat:

I'd say "off the cushion" I "Train in Morality." I try to stay on top of my obligations and responsibilities to other people, and try to make the most of my existent circumstances, subtly striving to make them better. I realize that this is not pure mindfulness -- but I can't conceive of abandoning this kind of "practice" when I'm not formally sitting.

I also try and be vigilant with regard to what I consider to be learned negative behaviors in me, such as the fear-response in certain situations, for instance. I go against it, whenever it comes up.

I am also working on taking responsibility for my emotions/emotional life, very consciously. It's my understanding that "playing the victim" or "wallowing" in negative emotions will actually never resolve them, or make them go away -- so the only way to deal with them is to accept that they are there, and move on.


This is all good, but do you think it's sufficient to transform you in the way that you want to be transformed (= to end fundamental suffering)? Lots of people train in morality, on all different paths, and it helps, but it doesn't solve the fundamental problems they face.

There are ways to make training in morality the entire path. For example, in non-Buddhist traditions there is karma yoga: renouncing the fruits of all worldly actions while continuing to act skilfully in the world. However, this has to be a very high-level commitment if it is to be effective, far beyond any "normal" commitment to moral improvement.

What would be so terrible about mindfulness in daily life on top of training in morality? Pick something such as your breath, and pay attention to it as you go through life. It is a simple practice, it will do you lots of good, and it will support your training in concentration.

Here is one of the fundamental suttas on mindfulness. You don't have to do all of these things; it is suitable to pick one or two for now and stick with it. For you, I strongly recommend mindfulness of breathing. As you are not a monk living in the wilderness, you can practice it other contexts than the sutta suggests. http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.010.than.html

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/16/11 10:45 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
Just began using the breath as my object/kasina! So far, it's hard to tell whether or not I'm in the 1st jhana when I'm using the breath (it was easier to tell with a flame because of the way my attention would "lock in" with it). Come to think of it, though, the only "clue" I have as to being in the 1st jhana while using the breath as my kasina is the phenomenon of distracting thoughts suddenly dropping out a bit, and it being a lot easier to simply just be with the breath as opposed to feeling like I have to force my mind/attention to notice it. I believe my eyes are spontaneously opening when I arrive at the 2nd jhana, using the breath. I know it's the 2nd jhana because looking out with my eyes, I'm not focused on anything specific.

Depth of concentration is pretty deep, and enjoyable. It appears quite easy to say "no" to incoming thoughts/emotions/"stories" and just continue staying with the breath.

I'm still not getting "hard" qualities, but what I am getting would be as follows:
  • A sense that the breath is "opening up my body/chest area" from the inside, leading to a sense of the mind being very still and firmly grounded.
  • Most conflicting thoughts, or distracting ones, can be "dissolved" by simply returning my attention to the breath. It's as though I have a choice to be free of anxiety whilst in the meditative state, using the breath as my object.
I've only had two samatha sits so far, using the breath as my one and only object. I'll keep at it and see what comes of it.

[Edited for specificity -- RA]

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/17/11 4:14 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Hi Rashed,

Rashed:
Re: pleasure/rapture (as both you and Katie above have talked about): Is that a sense experience? For instance, when "calmness" took over in tonight's sit, I thought, "Maybe this is my version of rapture/pleasure."

Because of your training in morality, it has been with some reserve that I mention the deliberate and reasonable nature of rapture and bliss all-pervasiveness jhana.

However, your morality training can facilitate your practice with a clearer explanation on my part.

In some traditions, such as tibetan meditation, there are guidelines for imagining oneself intimately with a consort. This rallies the body and mind into robust pleasurable sensations pretty quickly, even rapture.

If you do not take the arousal of pleasure and rapture through to actual expression (orgasm), then the sensations of pleasure and rapture (free from "orgasm" desire) can quickly fill the body-mind and expose the practitioner to one of their own feelings in a maximized, focused expression. The "text-book" practitioner prepares themselves for the jhana by establishing this sensation pervasively (pleasure, rapture) - and this person will naturally have thoughts about it/studying it/experience thoughts around it (1st jhana), and eventually experiencing the feeling without thought (2nd jhana).

You could take another feeling and work it the same way, but pleasure and rapture have been deliberately selected over many generations: the feeling is "good" (versus taking hatred as object of jhana), it is relatively easy to access and isolate, and it is perhaps innate (male humans evidence erections in uterus), and the practitioner can control its physical expression (unlike breath - which has an automated aspect unless one is quite advanced).

Your morality training is quite useful here, because to use such imagery to establish the jhana thoroughly requires an equally thorough commitment of purpose.

Am I wrong? Does rapture/pleasure have to be a purely physical experience as opposed to the experience of calmness/subtle pleasantness, etc.?
It does not have to be a purely physical experience and, as the jhana object (pleasure/rapture) becomes more familiar and more focused, physical and mental experience start to become indistinguishable - this will signify 2nd jhana. Formed concepts will cede to just sensation by practicing this.

There are other images one can use to establish pleasure and bliss, but the above imagery is referenced in buddhist literature, and is extremely easy for generating the field (pleasure, rapture). Any initial difficulty of physical arousal in using the imagery to establish the field in which to practice jhana is overcome by a person committed to their practice.

[edited: one qualifying word removed]
[edit: clarification after "text-book" practitioner; I am using this hyphenated word based on your earlier usage, hence the quotes, however I cannot say who and what that would be, and I refer to Samadhanga Sutta for understanding.
[edit: adding "orgasm" and its desire for clarity]
[edit: probably 6 edits in total]

Update: further the "calmness/subtle pleasantness" you mention is fine, but the intent in jhana meditation to fill pervasively with the feeling is, in part, to learn about the nature of a feeling with singular focus. The desire for calmness and subtleness is fine, but there is a genuine insight that occurs between 2nd and 3rd jhana which will help when sensations arise as a result of other feelings (which feelings may arise in daily life, without any prep, such as anger, sadness, envy, desire...etc

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/18/11 8:07 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:

I'm still not getting "hard" qualities, but what I am getting would be as follows:
  • A sense that the breath is "opening up my body/chest area" from the inside, leading to a sense of the mind being very still and firmly grounded.
  • Most conflicting thoughts, or distracting ones, can be "dissolved" by simply returning my attention to the breath. It's as though I have a choice to be free of anxiety whilst in the meditative state, using the breath as my object.


Sounds good to me!

At this point, I recommend forgetting about everything concerning different jhanas and levels of concentration, and experimenting with different "mental attitudes" in order to see which will help you generate pleasure.

Ultimately, until jhana 4, pleasure is the only reliable sign of the depth of concentration. I speculate that whatever brain chemicals (dopamine etc.) that are involved in holding the mind steady are also involved in the experience of pleasure. Medications for ADHD, which help the mind to be held steady, are abusable because they (among other things) generate a pleasurable experience.

When you can generate a lot of pleasure in context of jhana, you will likely describe it in terms similar to "a still wall of bliss". There may be a temptation to rest with the mind "on" the pleasure, or "receiving" the pleasure, or "refreshed" by the pleasure, but these experiences stand in the way of pleasure / jhana, so if they come up, just incline away from them.

When the pleasure is really really strong, you will not think about it as "physical", because you will not be able to think about it in any normal way...however, in retrospect, you will be able to discern that it is a sensation in the physical body.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/18/11 11:01 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Here's (an attempt at conveying) my current attitude with regard to my samatha practice:

It's actually 'enjoyable' for me to use a flame as my kasina when I first sit down -- my mind generally tends to be very busy with thoughts, so having something easily identifiable helps to calm it down, at least initially. (This may be a variant of 'pleasure' for me.)

I also have more confidence with regard to actually being in the 1st jhana when I'm using a flame.

I have decided to switch to the breath as my kasina when I enter 2nd jhana.

In tonight's sit, I experienced an interesting phenomenon where I was visualizing myself inhaling the fragrance of pink roses while in 2nd jhana -- holding on to this mental attitude, it got really easy for me to go deeper and deeper into the sense of breathing. A fairly large sense of 'space' opened up inside my body. I also experienced very intense concentration. The breath permeated my upper body.

At one point, the sense of inhaling the fragrance of roses got so strong that it felt as though I were in a large garden of that flower.

I did not see this act of visualizing as being a breach in concentration for myself, since I held on to just ONE image, which was actually supporting the act of noticing my breathing consistently (I read in MCTB that visualizing the breath as being something 'syrupy' etc. can help with Concentration Practice).

I think I'm just gonna keep at it in similar fashion for the next few weeks. Thinking too much about my Concentration Practice tends to demoralize me to the point where I'm overly worried/preoccupied with thoughts of whether or not I'm "doing it right."

If I am dissatisfied with my meditative progress after a few weeks of trying out the above approach -- flame for access concentration and 1st jhana, then switching to breath for 2nd jhana (encouraging the sense of inhaling fragrant flowers, etc. to intensify concentration) -- then I will take stock of myself, and try something else. For now, I feel as though what I'm doing is reasonably satisfying with regard to how it effects the rest of my life, so I'm gonna stick with it. I do not expect meditation to be the solution for everything, and I think looking at it like that may effect more fundamental change in my life/my being.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/19/11 7:46 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
In tonight's sit, I experienced an interesting phenomenon where I was visualizing myself inhaling the fragrance of pink roses while in 2nd jhana -- holding on to this mental attitude, it got really easy for me to go deeper and deeper into the sense of breathing. A fairly large sense of 'space' opened up inside my body. I also experienced very intense concentration. The breath permeated my upper body.

At one point, the sense of inhaling the fragrance of roses got so strong that it felt as though I were in a large garden of that flower.

I did not see this act of visualizing as being a breach in concentration for myself, since I held on to just ONE image, which was actually supporting the act of noticing my breathing consistently (I read in MCTB that visualizing the breath as being something 'syrupy' etc. can help with Concentration Practice).


Visualizing your breath in this way can be quite helpful. Some people recommend visualizing or feeling "breath energy" throughout the body, and it works in a similar way.

I think I'm just gonna keep at it in similar fashion for the next few weeks. Thinking too much about my Concentration Practice tends to demoralize me to the point where I'm overly worried/preoccupied with thoughts of whether or not I'm "doing it right."


Good luck!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/19/11 9:41 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit Notes (November 19, 2011):

Just seeking validation here, but isn't the phenomenon of feeling as though the mind is "fused" with an external, visual kasina a good thing? I recall that's what I read in MCTB. At any rate, I equate that with the experience of a "hard" 1st jhana, and I've been hitting that spot in pretty much every sit as of late. It's as though my attention is "stuck" to the kasina with "superglue" (again, to use an analogy from MCTB ).

Continuing to use the breath as my primary object in the 2nd jhana. I was unable to successfully stick with one visualization this time around, though. But that's okay, because I just kept returning to the breath, and at one point I almost lost myself in the sense of breathing. It was very calming.

Also, I believe I got a glimpse of what it means to "experiment with different mental attitudes" as End in Sight suggested. I believe there was a particular "mental attitude" that I found to be successful in tonight's sit (whilst in the 2nd jhana), and it went something along the lines of "Stay with the breath no matter what -- the nature of the thoughts and visions that are arising in this jhana do not matter as long as you're able to stick with the breath and watch it rise and fall, or at least return to doing so, again and again." The key was a cavalier mindset with regard to how I should go about watching the breath. I actually came very close to gaining some what seemed like "proper" insights into an issue that I've been struggling with for a very long time. I realize that I'm not supposed to try and psychoanalyze myself while meditating (and it's not my intention to do so), but in my day-to-day life, there are one or two issues that my mind is naturally drawn toward trying to resolve. Perhaps with the proper attitude derived from experiences in the 2nd jhana I will be able to become "unstuck" from these issues.

At any rate -- I believe it's too soon to settle on one mental attitude, given how in my last sit, I seemed to get so much out of the experience of inhaling the fragrance of pink roses. So, I will just continue to watch my breath in the 2nd jhana in my upcoming sits, and see which mental attitude wins out -- which mental attitude my mind settles on -- over time.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/19/11 10:52 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
Post-sit Notes (November 19, 2011):

Just seeking validation here, but isn't the phenomenon of feeling as though the mind is "fused" with an external, visual kasina a good thing? I recall that's what I read in MCTB. At any rate, I equate that with the experience of a "hard" 1st jhana, and I've been hitting that spot in pretty much every sit as of late. It's as though my attention is "stuck" to the kasina with "superglue" (again, to use an analogy from MCTB ).


It isn't so much that this is a bad experience to have, but that, if you stick with it or focus on it (or any other perception of your mind being "on" the kasina), you're keeping yourself from going deeper into jhana.

What I would consider a "hard" jhana is an experience in which the mind is so focused on the object that non-object perceptions such as "attending", "razor-sharp focus", etc. (even "mind") don't even arise.

When you reach 1st jhana and have this perception of the mind "fused" to the kasina, perhaps you can see whether you can go even deeper into 1st jhana (before moving onto 2nd). It may not seem possible to focus any more intently...which is because, paradoxically, to go deeper, to focus more strongly, you will have to drop the perception that you are focusing at all, which may be disconcerting in some way (because it can simultaneously feel as if you are losing your concentration, as well as if 'you' are losing your self-hood) and thus take some time to figure out how to do skillfully.

I have emphasized these points in our discussions so far because I understand that you want to work on concentration specifically, which means prioritizing the development of very, very deep jhanic experiences. And the way to do this is to simultaneously cultivate more of the jhana-factors, and slowly incline away from all perceptions that are incidental to the experience.

EDIT: Here is a different explanation that might make things clear. When you're trying to focus on an object, you're trying to make the perception of the object the main thing in your experience. The perception of your mind "on" the object or "fused" to the object is a separate perception from the object, and is actually a reaction to the perception of the object. You can think of one of the functions of the jhana-factors as overwhelming and paralyzing the mind so that it doesn't generate this secondary perception as a reaction to the object. It's as if strong pleasure makes the mind helpless and unable to do anything but stay still...leaving the static perception of the object, without any interference from the mind, which is what you were aiming at.

(When I do concentration practices, the "cue" I use is not to aim for the mind to be focused, but to aim for the mind to be paralyzed. When it's paralyzed, it can't do anything...in particular, it can't "fuse" with anything...so ideally, when the object is experienced, it's as if there is no mind at all, just direct, unmediated perception. I find it helpful to think of things that way; I hope it helps you, too.)

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/20/11 1:39 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
What you're saying makes a lot of sense. I will try and see if I can get deeper into 1st jhana by inclining the mind away from the experience of "fusion." So far, the experience of this fusion has preceded the shift into 2nd jhana -- but you're right, I do want to thoroughly experience all the jhanas (reap as much benefit out of each one as I possibly can).

I have, however, been taking your advice and inclining the mind away from the experience of it being "on" the flame, or the flame "massaging" the mind as if from the inside. It looks as though I've got one more experience to add to that list!

Maybe one way of looking at it (for me) is that any time there's the sense that either the object or the mind is being "worked on," it's a sign that I've actually strayed into a byproduct of concentration as opposed to concentration itself.

As a side-note, I've heard that Enlightenment is the experience of "just perception without a perceiver." What you're saying sounds like a prelude to that (it really sounds like that same thing -- but I know that concentration experiences are not the same as Enlightenment).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/20/11 9:07 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
As a side-note, I've heard that Enlightenment is the experience of "just perception without a perceiver." What you're saying sounds like a prelude to that (it really sounds like that same thing -- but I know that concentration experiences are not the same as Enlightenment).


This is an interesting subject. I am not fully enlightened so I don't claim to have all the answers about this. However...

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an02/an02.030.than.html:
"These two qualities have a share in clear knowing. Which two? Tranquillity (samatha) & insight (vipassana).

"When tranquillity is developed, what purpose does it serve? The mind is developed. And when the mind is developed, what purpose does it serve? Passion is abandoned.

"When insight is developed, what purpose does it serve? Discernment is developed. And when discernment is developed, what purpose does it serve? Ignorance is abandoned.

"Defiled by passion, the mind is not released. Defiled by ignorance, discernment does not develop. Thus from the fading of passion is there awareness-release. From the fading of ignorance is there discernment-release."


"Awareness-release" means jhana. Awareness-release is the (temporary) suppression of passion / desire / etc. "Discernment-release" means full enlightenment, which means the final undoing of passion / desire / etc. (as they come from ignorance). So, it is reasonable to think that there is some kind of experiential similarity between deep concentration and full enlightenment.

MCTB denies this, but in my opinion MCTB only goes part of the way towards enlightenment, so that's no surprise to me.

I would say that deep concentration is definitely similar in a way to what experience can be like when one has traveled part of the way towards full enlightenment.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/20/11 9:23 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
So far, the experience of this fusion has preceded the shift into 2nd jhana -- but you're right, I do want to thoroughly experience all the jhanas (reap as much benefit out of each one as I possibly can).


This is an opportunity for me to repeat a point I find important...the thing that controls the value of the jhanas is, primarily, concentration (the ability to "paralyze" the mind). A highly concentrated 1st jhana is much more beneficial than a weakly concentrated 4th jhana.

Also, if your concentration is strong, you won't have to work on deepening new jhanas as they open up to you. Concentration is the same in all jhanas, it "transfers" between them smoothly. Another reason to work on deepening whichever jhanas you have access to.

So, if you improve your faculty of concentration, everything else will fall into place.

This is also why I keep emphasizing the jhana-factors. The factors for the first two jhanas are pleasurable kinds of body experiences. So, if you figure out how to experience pleasure in your body, it will push your concentration forward.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/20/11 6:59 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
Post-sit Notes (November 20, 2011):

Okay -- I think I'm going to address this from the tail-end (of my most recent sit):

I FINALLY got to experience very "intense" pleasure!! Hooray!

While in the 2nd jhana, I literally felt a very strong & potent sense of very "still" bliss -- experientially, I could relate exactly to what you said below:

End in Sight:
When you can generate a lot of pleasure in context of jhana, you will likely describe it in terms similar to "a still wall of bliss". There may be a temptation to rest with the mind "on" the pleasure, or "receiving" the pleasure, or "refreshed" by the pleasure, but these experiences stand in the way of pleasure / jhana, so if they come up, just incline away from them.

Also, I did exactly what you said -- I did not let my mind "rest" on the pleasure.

Overall, it seems to me like what you're saying is essentially an act of averting the experience of the mind falling into a state of resting with an object/kasina. So, throughout my whole sit (starting from the very top), it felt as though I was actively being mindful of such "relapses."

At some point a metaphor popped up in my mind as far as just how to describe the process I was undergoing throughout this most recent samatha sit: It was as though the mind and the kasina/object were two opposing magnet-poles, and the truest form of concentration was attempting to stay in that state of tension (without the poles touching each other, but also without them losing all interest in/attraction to each other). Only within the context of samatha practice, that experience intensifies progressively.

I'm glad I finally get what all this talk about "pleasure" is. emoticon

The 1st jhana (or getting there), however, actually felt uncomfortable. The act of continually saying "No, no, no" (not loudly, but with my mind) to all the temptations to fall into various states/forms of "locking in" with the object made me highly conscious of just how much effort was being put into the sit. But I guess that's okay, since applied/sustained effort is supposed to be part of the 1st jhana experience.

To be precise, the discomfort was largely a part of the phase of the sit where I was in Access Concentration. When I finally got to 1st jhana, even though I did not feel the intense sense of pleasure that I did in 2nd jhana, I did experience a very singular focus, and a quiet/silent mind. I think the silence, in this case, may have been different than an "experience" of silence and just silence itself (I know I have "rested on" the experience of silence before, but this time, since I was hyper-vigilant of each and every instance of the tendency to rest, I believe the silence, when it arrived, was simply something that happened as a consequence of the constant effort that was being put into maintaining a certain "mental posture" as it were).

Also, I'm getting more and more comfortable with using the breath as my primary object in the 2nd jhana. There is less confusion with regard to exactly what to be paying attention to, and that's a relief.

End in Sight:
I am not fully enlightened so I don't claim to have all the answers about this.

Just out of curiosity, are you past Stream Entry? From what I've read of/about it, that's definitely what I want to happen to/for me within the next 10 years (i.e. before I'm 40). It seems to me like a LOT of suffering just gets "lopped off" when you attain Stream Entry, so I'm beginning to get "hungry" for it.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/21/11 8:35 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
While in the 2nd jhana, I literally felt a very strong & potent sense of very "still" bliss -- experientially, I could relate exactly to what you said below: (...)


Do you know what you did (if anything) to produce this experience?

As a suggestion, I would say, if you are sitting and get to something that is at the cutting edge of your practice (in this case, generating pleasure), you should not stop sitting until you lose the feel for what you're doing (in this case, the pleasure goes away, along with your concentration), even if your timer rings.

Overall, it seems to me like what you're saying is essentially an act of averting the experience of the mind falling into a state of resting with an object/kasina. So, throughout my whole sit (starting from the very top), it felt as though I was actively being mindful of such "relapses."

At some point a metaphor popped up in my mind as far as just how to describe the process I was undergoing throughout this most recent samatha sit: It was as though the mind and the kasina/object were two opposing magnet-poles, and the truest form of concentration was attempting to stay in that state of tension (without the poles touching each other, but also without them losing all interest in/attraction to each other). Only within the context of samatha practice, that experience intensifies progressively.


This is an interesting metaphor.

The ultimate resolution to the issue you're describing is not for the "mind" and the kasina to be constantly drawn close-but-not-too-close to each other, but for the perception of "mind" to dissolve, bit by bit, leaving the kasina.

If you have never had this experience, you may not be able to understand how it is possible, and when it happens, it can be very interesting and informative (like seeing an apparently unsolvable paradox resolved)...both intellectually and on a visceral level.

Once you have mastered the generation of pleasure, you should work on increasing the pleasure, but also on dissolving this perception of "mind". (The order is something you will have to experiment with.)

How to dissolve the perception of mind? Some ideas:

* Notice that "mind" is something that you, at a subtle level, are doing. It is not a static thing, but an activity (like moving your attention around).

* Notice that it is a form of tension to be doing this. To constantly be producing this is a kind of mental restlessness.

* Try relaxing your body, especially the muscles of your face, and mentally relaxing. You can relax your mind, not by allowing it to rest anywhere, but allowing it to fade away while it isn't resting. Relax while staying very, very alert.

When I finally got to 1st jhana, even though I did not feel the intense sense of pleasure that I did in 2nd jhana, I did experience a very singular focus, and a quiet/silent mind. I think the silence, in this case, may have been different than an "experience" of silence and just silence itself (I know I have "rested on" the experience of silence before, but this time, since I was hyper-vigilant of each and every instance of the tendency to rest, I believe the silence, when it arrived, was simply something that happened as a consequence of the constant effort that was being put into maintaining a certain "mental posture" as it were).


This sounds good to me. Sometimes silence is just silence.

If the perception of "mind" fades out a bit, "silence" (lack of mental noise / tension / etc.) is one of the most accurate descriptions of what it's like.

End in Sight:
I am not fully enlightened so I don't claim to have all the answers about this.

Just out of curiosity, are you past Stream Entry? From what I've read of/about it, that's definitely what I want to happen to/for me within the next 10 years (i.e. before I'm 40). It seems to me like a LOT of suffering just gets "lopped off" when you attain Stream Entry, so I'm beginning to get "hungry" for it.


I am beyond MCTB 4th path.

It is reasonable to expect stream entry within 1-2 years. The exact amount of time it takes depends on personal factors (collectively, you can regard them as the influence of your past karma) which are not directly under your control, but also depends on your dedication to the practice and the portion of your day that is spent practicing (both formally and in terms of off-the-cushion mindfulness).

It is possible to get stream entry much sooner than this (6 months, 1 month, 1 week), depending on how personal factors and the details of your practice interact.

Every stage of enlightenment is better than the last, they are all worth it.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/21/11 12:44 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-site Notes (November 21, 2011):

End in Sight:
Do you know what you did (if anything) to produce this experience?

I can't remember what I did...also, that intense experience didn't last for very long, so I'm not sure how I can "extend" it in time.

In today's sit, I focused (more) on the idea that concentration "transfers" in between jhanas. So when I was in second jhana, I treated the breath just like I treated the flame in the 1st jhana.

Also -- I'd say in the 1st jhana (and even during Access Concentration), I experience something that may be pleasure: Basically I begin to feel a pleasant/pleasing energy moving through my face/facial muscles. As concentration deepens, or when I enter 1st jhana, this energy travels downward and covers the territory from my face down to the bottom of my chest area (stopping just short of my abdomen).

I was unable to experience the intense pleasure (in the 2nd jhana) that I did in my last sit. Instead, I felt "calmness."

I've noticed that even in the 2nd jhana, evaluative thinking goes on for me, thinking based around the generation of pleasure. At one point I tried to let go of that sort of thinking, but was unable to, completely.

I guess I see myself as having two options in the 2nd jhana with regard to the generation of pleasure:
  1. Abandon evaluative/discursive thought (based around the generation of pleasure -- an important goal) to the extent possible. This may paradoxically lead to my goal.
  2. Not resist such thinking until pleasure (possibly) emerges out of the tension such thinking/frustration creates. On some small level, my intellect/mind will be aware that I'm not experiencing pleasure if I'm not...

Also -- what I meant re: experiencing a tension as though two magnet-poles are opposing each other (yet remaining within close vicinity) is basically something along these lines: If I'm not "giving in" to the experience of relaxing with the kasina, or falling into a state of "attending/abiding," then I'm actively opposing them. Since these comfortable/seductive experiences offer themselves a lot during a samatha sit, it seems as though a large part of my sit, especially when I start out, is based around consciously and deliberately opposing such tendencies, and thereby staying in an alert & watchful state that is not entirely restful. Eventually, however, concentration appears that's not necessarily based upon "falling into" something.

I'm trying to see how dropping the perception of "mind" fits into the above (because the above is the best that I could come up with in my own practice, given what you've suggested). Basically, turning away from all "mental activity" is still the mind doing the turning away...but I guess that's the best a person can do (until True Nature takes over).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/21/11 3:40 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Hi Rashed,

Your recents posts bring up a couple of points that you may find interesting:

Rashed Arafat:

Also -- I'd say in the 1st jhana (and even during Access Concentration), I experience something that may be pleasure: Basically I begin to feel a pleasant/pleasing energy moving through my face/facial muscles. As concentration deepens, or when I enter 1st jhana, this energy travels downward and covers the territory from my face down to the bottom of my chest area (stopping just short of my abdomen).


You may want to explore this pleasurable experience with the aim of the experience suffusing the entire body. The way to do that is to split the attention between the pleasurable sensation and parts of the body that it has not yet reached with the light intention of pleasure spreading into that part of the body as well. It's interesting to explore parts of the body where it seems the pleasure does not have access. When you feel that the pleasurable sensation are pervading the entire body, ask yourself: is this sensation of pleasure enough to hold my attention? This is a good entryway into the second jhana when the mind drops the effort and takes on the sensations of pleasure, satisfaction and well being.

My other point relates to your previous post:

Rashed Arafat:

The 1st jhana (or getting there), however, actually felt uncomfortable. The act of continually saying "No, no, no" (not loudly, but with my mind) to all the temptations to fall into various states/forms of "locking in" with the object made me highly conscious of just how much effort was being put into the sit. But I guess that's okay, since applied/sustained effort is supposed to be part of the 1st jhana experience.


This is a really interesting and fruitful place! First from a concentration perspective, when the mind starts to see on its own the unsatisfying nature of a certain jhana this usually means it's ready to move on to the next one and would likely do so on its own. So this is another doorway into the second jhana.

Second, this is one place where the practices of concentration and insight start to intermingle with each other in quite a natural way. Seeing the unsatisfactory nature of something as pleasant as the first jhana is quite an insight into Dukkha (suffering). Seeing this kind of insight again and again as one goes through the jhanas can be very fruitful from an insight perspective and does not require you to take on any other practice than what you are already doing. It may be helpful to spend a few moment to notice that and reflect on what you've just noticed but that's about it.

Hope this helps,
Eran.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/21/11 9:09 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Eran G:
When you feel that the pleasurable sensation are pervading the entire body, ask yourself: is this sensation of pleasure enough to hold my attention? This is a good entryway into the second jhana when the mind drops the effort and takes on the sensations of pleasure, satisfaction and well being.

I think up until now, when I've experienced pleasure in the 1st jhana, it has not been strong enough to hold my attention so that I may effortlessly move in to the 2nd jhana. I think here I simply need to continue to deepen my experience of 1st jhana, and possibly avert the experience of pleasure/taking that pleasure as an object. I believe if I purposefully ignore the pleasure and continue sticking with the kasina, then "behind the scenes" the pleasure is going to grow in intensity as well so that when I finally do try to take it as an object, it will immediately "pick up" and carry my attention with it to the 2nd/higher jhana.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/22/11 9:29 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Now that I think more about it, however, I think some experimentation with the pleasant energy forming and moving around inside my head and chest cannot hurt. I guess I've just had experiences where I thought a shift to the 2nd jhana was coming on, and I left my kasina, only to realize that my concentration wasn't strong enough (at that point) to successfully accomplish the transition.

But maybe if I consciously told myself that I'm not trying to move on to the 2nd jhana by paying attention to the localized pleasure in the 1st jhana, something interesting may happen.

Thanks Eran! As it is I tend to over-think my Practice. Maybe what I need to do is have a simple model, something along the following lines:

Access Concentration/1st Jhana: Flame --> Localized pleasant sensations in body
2nd Jhana: Breath +/- Breath-reinforcing visualizations

Basically, what I mean is that in the 2nd jhana, whether or not the visualizations occur is of secondary concern. The important thing to do is to stay with the breath.

I'd say the main problem that I've been having is somehow making a deliberate act out of staying with the breath in the 2nd jhana. It's my understanding that meditation isn't possible without an object (it will only lead to a wandering mind). I must look into why I feel myself to be in the 2nd jhana at times, and yet feel as though I'm putting in effort (into "observing" or "trying to be with" the breath).

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11/22/11 1:40 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:


I'd say the main problem that I've been having is somehow making a deliberate act out of staying with the breath in the 2nd jhana. It's my understanding that meditation isn't possible without an object (it will only lead to a wandering mind). I must look into why I feel myself to be in the 2nd jhana at times, and yet feel as though I'm putting in effort (into "observing" or "trying to be with" the breath).


I'm not sure why you feel the need to switch object to the breath for second jhana. From a technical standpoint, the object of meditation in jhana is the jhana itself so there's no need for you to worry about not having an object. From a more practical standpoint, I find (btw, I use breath or sense of the body as an object) that in second jhana there's no need to worry about an object, there's not much need to worry about where the attention is at all. The mind seems happy to just rest where it is. Resting on the pleasant sensations in the body seems like a very natural thing to do and so that's what I often end up doing. If the mind wanders, I bring it back to simply this, here, now. And again, this can be a good place to bring in some insight practice - why is the mind wandering? what is it wandering to? what is the nature of that? etc.

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11/22/11 2:07 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Eran G:
I'm not sure why you feel the need to switch object to the breath for second jhana. From a technical standpoint, the object of meditation in jhana is the jhana itself so there's no need for you to worry about not having an object.


I have never seen a mental object called "jhana", so you might find it interesting to investigate what your object is, if you think it is "the jhana itself".

From a more practical standpoint, I find (btw, I use breath or sense of the body as an object) that in second jhana there's no need to worry about an object, there's not much need to worry about where the attention is at all. The mind seems happy to just rest where it is.


How would you describe your experience of 2nd jhana in relationship to the simile from the sutta?

By the way, your advice (about spreading pleasure) is good.

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11/22/11 2:02 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
I guess I see myself as having two options in the 2nd jhana with regard to the generation of pleasure:
  1. Abandon evaluative/discursive thought (based around the generation of pleasure -- an important goal) to the extent possible. This may paradoxically lead to my goal.
  2. Not resist such thinking until pleasure (possibly) emerges out of the tension such thinking/frustration creates. On some small level, my intellect/mind will be aware that I'm not experiencing pleasure if I'm not...


Experiment, and find out what works! The big thing is to generate pleasure. However you manage to do it...

I'm trying to see how dropping the perception of "mind" fits into the above (because the above is the best that I could come up with in my own practice, given what you've suggested). Basically, turning away from all "mental activity" is still the mind doing the turning away...but I guess that's the best a person can do (until True Nature takes over).


Yes, it's the best that 'you' can do, until it happens by itself (in which case 'you' don't do anything).

In general, focus more on generating pleasure than dropping the perception of mind. Pleasure makes it easier to do this. But, you can keep this thought (about dropping "mind") in the back of your head so that when the right time for it arrives, once you are having a very strongly pleasurable experience during your sit, you will have an idea of what to do.

If you're interested, this is an issue that you could contemplate outside of formal sits. What is this perception of "mind"? How does it work? To what extent are you generating it? What would it take for it to go away? (It *can* go away temporarily, even before enlightenment.)

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11/22/11 5:00 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
Experiment, and find out what works! The big thing is to generate pleasure. However you manage to do it...


I got pretty hooked on weed for this past year -- I'm trying to work my way out of that rut, but am finding it hard to depend entirely on my samatha practice to provide me the leverage I need to do so. Whenever I am unable to generate pleasure through my Practice, I tend to get more disappointed/discouraged than I probably should.

So, I may have to have an attitude where I sit regardless of whether or not I get to generate pleasure, and try and align myself more with the "principle" of it. Or I could pick another activity that works in tandem with my sits (yoga, etc.). The latter approach may make me view my sits more as something I "want" to do as opposed to "have" to do. (Beyond it all, of course, I desire to be free of Suffering.)

But yes -- I agree that experimentation (both with my sits and with my lifestyle) is the way to go!

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11/23/11 1:47 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
Eran G:
I'm not sure why you feel the need to switch object to the breath for second jhana. From a technical standpoint, the object of meditation in jhana is the jhana itself so there's no need for you to worry about not having an object.


I have never seen a mental object called "jhana", so you might find it interesting to investigate what your object is, if you think it is "the jhana itself".


As far as I can tell, the mind doesn't really have a single object at this point (as it does when working up to the first jhana). It's easy to rest the attention on the body, or on sensations of piti but the attention can move around without disturbing the state too much. The information I provided here is based on my readings. I've seen this point made several times most recently in a book by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu - "Mindfulness of breathing" found here: http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/anapanasati.pdf check out pages 275-280. His elaboration on the simile of the saw is especially helpful (basically once you're into the cut, you don't need to pay attention to the point of contact as you did before). I suspect this may be based on the vissuddhimagga but I haven't verified that.

End in Sight:

From a more practical standpoint, I find (btw, I use breath or sense of the body as an object) that in second jhana there's no need to worry about an object, there's not much need to worry about where the attention is at all. The mind seems happy to just rest where it is.


How would you describe your experience of 2nd jhana in relationship to the simile from the sutta?


2nd jhana has a more open focus than the first. The breath is still there but attention to it is no longer required. Piti is experienced throughout the body but if in first jhana it was mostly skin level, now it feels deeper, more embodied. Also, it's easier to hold the entire body in focus and feel piti bubbling or vibrating around. There is a pleasant ease to things (although not as much as in 3rd jhana) and little or no effort is necessary to maintain this. It's a nice place to rest for a while and I find it sometimes useful to reenergize during retreat.

End in Sight:

By the way, your advice (about spreading pleasure) is good.


Thanks, this comes from my teacher - Tempel Smith - but it's actually straight out of the bathman simile.

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11/23/11 5:21 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Eran G:
End in Sight:
Eran G:
I'm not sure why you feel the need to switch object to the breath for second jhana. From a technical standpoint, the object of meditation in jhana is the jhana itself so there's no need for you to worry about not having an object.


I have never seen a mental object called "jhana", so you might find it interesting to investigate what your object is, if you think it is "the jhana itself".


As far as I can tell, the mind doesn't really have a single object at this point (as it does when working up to the first jhana). It's easy to rest the attention on the body, or on sensations of piti but the attention can move around without disturbing the state too much. The information I provided here is based on my readings. I've seen this point made several times most recently in a book by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu - "Mindfulness of breathing" found here: http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/anapanasati.pdf check out pages 275-280. His elaboration on the simile of the saw is especially helpful (basically once you're into the cut, you don't need to pay attention to the point of contact as you did before). I suspect this may be based on the vissuddhimagga but I haven't verified that.


Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, p 275-6:

The mind, when already established in Jhana, cannot be said to have an object in the usual sense; however the Jhana Factors, which are present clearly and in full measure, can be regarded as the mind’s object at this time—this because the mind is aware of their presence.


I read this as being in agreement with my point, that to develop concentration deeply one needs to let go of the perception of "attending". One might describe it as in this quote...that there is no object (= no perception of "attending to X"), but the mind is aware of the presence of the jhana-factors despite that.

This seems quite different from the idea that "attention can move around without disturbing the state too much".

I point this out only because I personally found that understanding this point was important for my own practice.

Eran G:

End in Sight:

By the way, your advice (about spreading pleasure) is good.


Thanks, this comes from my teacher - Tempel Smith - but it's actually straight out of the bathman simile.


I never thought about it that way...that (the bathman simile) is a very interesting way to look at it, thanks.

However, I have hung out around 2nd jhana (i.e. jhana-factors are present but the state is not "hard") and used the same sort of method to spread piti around, so I wonder if it is a feature unique to the 1st jhana and related to the bathman simile, or a feature unique to generating piti.

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11/23/11 8:54 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:

Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, p 275-6:

The mind, when already established in Jhana, cannot be said to have an object in the usual sense; however the Jhana Factors, which are present clearly and in full measure, can be regarded as the mind’s object at this time—this because the mind is aware of their presence.


I read this as being in agreement with my point, that to develop concentration deeply one needs to let go of the perception of "attending". One might describe it as in this quote...that there is no object (= no perception of "attending to X"), but the mind is aware of the presence of the jhana-factors despite that.

This seems quite different from the idea that "attention can move around without disturbing the state too much".

I point this out only because I personally found that understanding this point was important for my own practice.



You might be right. I was mostly happy with the level of samadhi that I've reached and so turned my mind towards insight. I'm under the impression that in harder jhana it would be much more difficult to tear the mind away from the present jhana factors but I've only rarely experienced such states myself so I can't comment from experience.

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11/23/11 9:09 PM as a reply to Eran G.
You might be interested in seeing what happens if you try to "relax away" your perception of attending. It is not all-or-nothing, and you can go pretty deep and yet still not be in "maxed-out jhana" (meaning, you can still do some other practice while in that state, such as vipassana). And, letting go is always good practice.

Also, to reach a "maxed-out jhana" can be very helpful in terms of better understanding the dharma.

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11/23/11 11:23 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
Wow! So much to respond to... I think I'll just talk about what I experienced in tonight's -- November 23, 2011 -- sit (it was pretty informative to self, and should actually answer some of you guys' inquiries):

I believe I was successful in attaining a "hard" 2nd jhana. It also seems to me that it's this "hard" quality that generates the maximum amount of pleasure (oh yes, got to pleasure once again). The only complaint I have is that I couldn't really sustain that intense pleasure -- it was more like a glimpse (several minutes) of the pleasure. Basically, the intense pleasure would come and go. Also, the pleasure, overall, wasn't as intense this time around as it was when I first experienced it, ever. But it was similar enough to that initial experience for me to categorize it under the same heading.

To answer Eran, I feel as though I should take the breath as my object/"kasina" in the 2nd jhana because I repeatedly experienced this phenomenon where I knew that I was moving on to the 2nd jhana from the 1st -- my focus would widen out, and the sense of effort would wane a little -- but my mind would go into hyper-drive asking "Where am I?" and "If there's no object, then what's the source of attention?" etc.

To be honest, there was another option in the 2nd jhana that I used to allow myself to indulge in, but I felt as though I wasn't "getting anywhere" with it. This option was one of effortless, contemplative reviewing of personal psychological issues that still have not been resolved (and constitute the majority of my suffering as a person). What would happen when I did that was that for a while I'd realize that I could bear the weight of that pain/those issues (the effortless quality of the 2nd jhana would provide some sort of "padding"), but my concentration would actually DROP after each such contemplative foray. The sense of progress was at a halt, taking my desire to master all the jhanas into account, and that's why I abandoned that method.

I can see what you mean by objects switching in the 2nd jhana, and I'd say what used to happen to me was that my mind would effortlessly review one issue, drop in concentration, then pick up another issue and "cradle" it as it were for a bit. So in a sense, each issue would represent an "object." But like I said, my concentration came to a standstill and would in fact often wane...

Moving on...

When I moved to the 2nd jhana tonight, I chose to pay attention to the breath. I also realized that it was easier accomplished by visualizing the breath as being a physical object. My mind equated the breath with the stalk of a waterlily, underwater. Just like the movement of water would move the stalk in a graceful and undulating way, so did my breath seem to move -- rising from the bottom of my belly and out through the nostrils in a curvy pattern.

I was able to stick with this visualization for pretty much the entirety of my stay in the 2nd jhana. The more strongly I concentrated on the image of the stalk (the stalk and the breath being ONE thing to me), the more pleasure I experienced.

Now, my mind did move up and down the stalk -- moving up to the lily pad, and eventually even taking the whole surface of a pond (with waterlilies) as an object. This movement/switching of objects did not break my concentration. To me, it seemed more like paying attention to different aspects of the same thing.

Any time some effort was put into paying exclusive attention to the object/visualization, pleasure seemed to increase.

Basically I feel as if I'd lose the capacity to generate pleasure if I didn't pick an object in the 2nd jhana (namely breath/visualization). To me it feels as though the mind goes through a similar process in the 2nd jhana as it does in the 1st. It's just that it tends to be more grounded in general, so paying attention to the object doesn't require as much effort.

Also, toward the end of my sit, my mind lost interest in paying attention to the visualization. I began to ask myself what my object may be at that point, but there was no answer. It felt as though I was free to pay attention to anything that I wanted to pay attention to, and in fact, it was okay to actually take one of my psychological hang-ups as an "object," with the objective of acquiring a deep insight into it and thereby becoming free of it.

Also, I'm coming around to seeing Concentration Practice as being just that -- strengthening a particular faculty of my mind. Alone, it cannot bring Liberation/Enlightenment, and that's okay -- it's just a necessary tool that I require to see through reality to the extent possible.

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11/24/11 7:08 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
I believe I was successful in attaining a "hard" 2nd jhana. It also seems to me that it's this "hard" quality that generates the maximum amount of pleasure (oh yes, got to pleasure once again). The only complaint I have is that I couldn't really sustain that intense pleasure -- it was more like a glimpse (several minutes) of the pleasure. Basically, the intense pleasure would come and go. Also, the pleasure, overall, wasn't as intense this time around as it was when I first experienced it, ever. But it was similar enough to that initial experience for me to categorize it under the same heading.


Can you describe the pleasure, and say how much of your body it was spread through?

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11/24/11 9:50 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
Key characteristics of the pleasure would be:
  1. Almost no sense of effort (so it felt as though I'd "let go" of almost everything).
  2. High degree of concentration -- as though the mind is "maxed out" and "paralyzed" with a "cool," good feeling.
  3. It was mostly centered around the head -- it almost felt as though my head was being pressed from both sides with two "pillows of bliss" and being held that way. Usually the attempt to ensure that my mind does not get "on" an object causes some discomfort, but that subtle effort caused no discomfort while bliss was going on.
  4. I'd say the pleasure traveled down to the chest area as well...but it was mostly centered around the head and possibly my shoulders.
  5. A pronounced sense of "Ah!" relief.
  6. I hesitate to say this for fear of being interpreted as saying that my mind was "on" something (it wasn't -- I made sure throughout my entire sit that I avoided such phenomena), but I BECAME the waterlily stalk in a sense. It was as though I got to experience existence from that perspective -- moved gently like it did, etc.

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11/24/11 10:35 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
Key characteristics of the pleasure would be:
* High degree of concentration -- as though the mind is "maxed out" and "paralyzed" with a "cool," good feeling.


Ajahn Brahm:

The last two, factors of First Jhana, called pitisukha, refer to the bliss that is the focus of attention, and which forms the central experience that is the First Jhana. Bliss is the dominant feature of the First Jhana, so much so that it is the first thing that one recognizes when reviewing after the Jhana. Indeed, mystic traditions other than Buddhism have been so overwhelmed by the sheer immensity, egolessness, stillness, ecstasy, ultimateness and pure, out-of-this-worldliness, of the First Jhana, that throughout history they have comprehended the experience, on reviewing, as "Union with God."


While I do not agree with everything that Ajahn Brahm claims, this (Union with God) is sort of in the range of what one might describe upon later reflection, when the mind is totally paralyzed, in whichever jhana.

Teresa of Avila may have explicitly made this claim (cf her "prayer of union").

Keep that in mind, in order to accurately gauge the depth of your concentration.


* I hesitate to say this for fear of being interpreted as saying that my mind was "on" something (it wasn't -- I made sure throughout my entire sit that I avoided such phenomena), but I BECAME the waterlily stalk in a sense. It was as though I got to experience existence from that perspective -- moved gently like it did, etc.


Unification of awareness? emoticon

Anyhow, what you have written sounds good, the next step for you will be to see whether you can keep repeating this experience, and then, eventually, whether you can extend the pleasure throughout your whole body (head, torso, limbs).

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11/24/11 10:54 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
Re: Ajahn Brahm's description of "maximum" 1st jhana and the ways that one might reflectively describe it, here is a description of what appears to me to be a "maximum" formless jhana of some sort, from Seraphis' description on the thread "Sajaha Nirbikalpa Samadhi":

Seraphis:
the experience is way beyond my mind's capacity to describe, but I'll give it a go:

there is no body consciousness, emotions are far away (I am not aware of them, not even close) and mind along with its core is dead for the duration of the experience (it resurfaces again, stoned for a certain length of time).

It is as if the normal stream of conscious experience is completely shut down, the dual perception and
the subject <--> object relation is non-existing. It is as if someone would just shut down the projections on the screen of "my" awareness. And what remains?
The Absolute Truth remains, pure and complete, self sustaining, independent and Absolute, non-changing, eternal (here, words fail me, sorry). In such states, I do not experience what I am not (in truth) but what I am in absolute truth.

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11/24/11 11:57 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
Post-sit Notes (Thanksgiving Day, 2011):

Well, I experimented more with bliss in the 2nd jhana, and here are my tentative conclusions:
  1. The act of visualization definitely/positively aids my concentration in the 2nd jhana -- it "reins it in" and "creates" bliss, as it were. The object of visualization, however, seems to change from sit to sit. It even changes within the sit, as it happened today. A form/visualization presented itself to my mind when I made the transition from 1st to 2nd jhana; however, my mind was unable to "seize" it and ultimately I landed on a different visualization, which led to interesting effects as described below. Also, at this point I'm inclined to say no visualization = no bliss, at least for me. I tried paying attention to the bare breath without a visualization to support/enhance it, and all I experienced was stillness and calmness, sans intensity or what I call "pleasure."
  2. When I began experiencing pleasure by using the second visualization that presented itself to the mind in the 2nd jhana, it wasn't as intense as I've experienced it to be in the past. However, it certainly was more than "calmness/stillness." Also, I was able to move this pleasure down to my groin. Basically, I visualized a hollow & clear plastic pipe with "rings" around it (each ring representing a chakra it seems, in retrospect) -- one ring where my head is, one ring where my chest is, and one ring around the groin region. The breath moved freely through the pipe, and I could intensify the sensation of pleasure/concentration in a particular body-area by merely turning my attention to a ring. I only wish it were more intense/"euphoric." To use words that describe moods, I'd say that I've experienced something similar to euphoria in the past whereas this time it was more along the lines of the attitude that I'd imagine a quite pumped, positive sports-team coach to have (or perhaps the degree of physical energy he'd feel during a game?).
  3. I think I need to get to the point where I start viewing pleasure more in terms of an overall bodily euphoria/experience than an energized, positive mood (that creates subtle, pleasant bodily sensations during the best of times).
  4. This is a more general observation, but I think a very strong COMMITMENT/INTENTION to sit for a pre-defined duration helps my concentration a lot. Every time my concentration tends to wane during a sit, I bring my mind back to the fact that I'm committed to "seeing it through" until the end of an hour and five minutes (the five minutes are there to mostly account for the time it takes for me to "settle down" when I first sit to meditate).
  5. Also, I think I experienced greater pleasure during last night's sit because the sit occurred after a day of very hard, physical work. I had been "aiming" for the sit all day, so when I finally sat down, it was as though all that energy I'd generated during work found a place to "collect itself" and produce concentration/pleasure as it were. Unfortunately, I cannot recreate this scenario when I sit in the mornings, so I have to figure out a way to generate similar levels of pleasure through sheer technique (or a tweaked lifestyle). I'm seriously thinking about either doing yoga or running/jogging on a regular basis. This may boost my overall/general chi/energy level -- energy that I hope to "divert" to my Training in Concentration, empowering it.
As a side note, I think the only solution to the ridiculous amount of psychological baggae (absolutely shitty karma?!?) I have seems to be a lifestyle centered around walking the spiritual path as best as I can. I keep thinking that a certain perspective will resolve it all for me in an instant -- but even when I get to such a perspective, it only lasts for so long. From a technical standpoint, I still haven't moved to Insight Practice -- but it appears as though I'm beginning to take the Trainings in Morality and Concentration more seriously (it feels as though I'm bringing more "weight" to them). There's a subtle sense of hope/positivity that's being generated in me as a result of putting more stock in the Path, overall, in that sense.

What makes me quite sad, however, is the realization that I'm not free of my psychological crap RIGHT NOW -- that I have no other option but to work my way through that stuff by walking the spiritual path (unless something really, really good happens in my life in the conventional sense and temporarily makes me forget my unhappiness). In a case like this, all I can say to (comfort) myself is: "Life is hard by nature -- you either choose to take it on or try and avoid it."

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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11/24/11 2:12 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
So much good stuff, Rashed, it's hard to pick what to respond to!

1. About pleasure

How much pleasure is there in your experience of the first jhana? Keeping in mind that in the 1st jhana pleasure is less refined than in the 2nd jhana and so can take on forms that are not always pleasurable (vibrations, energy, etc)

A good attitude to bring into this practice is that of appreciation and satisfaction. Try bringing in this attitude right from the beginning and see how it affects your experience. There are two components to what we're calling pleasure here: piti (often translated as rapture) and sukha (ease, happiness, bliss). This instruction is pointing at the second one of those, sukha, which is more subtle and often masked by piti.

2. About Insight

Rashed Arafat:

Also, toward the end of my sit, my mind lost interest in paying attention to the visualization. I began to ask myself what my object may be at that point, but there was no answer.


Are you saying that you found the visualization and maybe the bliss itself as no longer satisfying?

3. On attitude to practice and the path

Rashed Arafat:

As a side note, I think the only solution to the ridiculous amount of psychological baggae (absolutely shitty karma?!?) I have seems to be a lifestyle centered around walking the spiritual path as best as I can. I keep thinking that a certain perspective will resolve it all for me in an instant -- but even when I get to such a perspective, it only lasts for so long. From a technical standpoint, I still haven't moved to Insight Practice -- but it appears as though I'm beginning to take the Trainings in Morality and Concentration more seriously (it feels as though I'm bringing more "weight" to them). There's a subtle sense of hope/positivity that's being generated in me as a result of putting more stock in the Path, overall, in that sense.

What makes me quite sad, however, is the realization that I'm not free of my psychological crap RIGHT NOW -- that I have no other option but to work my way through that stuff by walking the spiritual path (unless something really, really good happens in my life in the conventional sense and temporarily makes me forget my unhappiness). In a case like this, all I can say to (comfort) myself is: "Life is hard by nature -- you either choose to take it on or try and avoid it."


All I have to say to this is YES. While it may not be the easiest thing to bear, this is a great attitude to practice. Living and embodying the path to the best of your ability.

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11/24/11 7:11 PM as a reply to Eran G.
Eran G:
Are you saying that you found the visualization and maybe the bliss itself as no longer satisfying?

This is interesting, because I don't think I lost concentration (like I used to after engaging in contemplation re: psychological issues in the 2nd jhana). I wouldn't exactly say that the visualization/bliss was no longer satisfying, it's more like they just sort of disappeared/my mind naturally lost interest in them. Basically, there was a lot of "silence" remaining, and I was wondering if it was the 3rd jhana -- however, since my concentration did not increase, or the nature of my attention/focus didn't drastically change, I doubt it was.

About as close as I can come to describing the state would be to say that it seemed as though meditating for as long as I wanted wouldn't be too difficult (of course, that's an exaggeration because as soon as the alarm went off, I was dying to get up).

Eran G:
How much pleasure is there in your experience of the first jhana? Keeping in mind that in the 1st jhana pleasure is less refined than in the 2nd jhana and so can take on forms that are not always pleasurable (vibrations, energy, etc)

A good attitude to bring into this practice is that of appreciation and satisfaction. Try bringing in this attitude right from the beginning and see how it affects your experience. There are two components to what we're calling pleasure here: piti (often translated as rapture) and sukha (ease, happiness, bliss). This instruction is pointing at the second one of those, sukha, which is more subtle and often masked by piti.

In the first jhana, there is hardly any bodily pleasure for me, except for the subtle energies that tend to move through my face/head. Basically I get to a state where it seems really easy to stay with my kasina (the flame), and I start deriving a sense of enjoyment out of the act of meditating. There's a marked 'pleasantness' to the experience. It's as though I know that I've learned a skill pretty well, and am employing it well -- a 'cushion' of sorts forms around the thoughts, and my attention is no longer distracted by them. I feel "in the zone."

I am working on bringing the right attitude to my sits, and I believe that has to do with training well in Morality. If I feel as though I'm living a pretty clean, well-ordered life where I'm both challenging myself, as well as rewarding myself, then the samatha sits are sort of like the "icing on the cake" -- they "tie it all together" for me. It's hard to nail this style of living on a day by day basis (it's a pretty high standard I'd say for most people), but what else can I do but try to do so?

I actually think if anything, I experience sukha more when I apply proper technique during my sits. The experiences that I had in the 2nd jhana due to visualizing, I'd say, are more along the lines of piti.

Also -- I'm trying to improve my concentration by focusing more on cultivating it to the max within each jhana as opposed to trying to move on to the next (whenever I sense an opportunity) without having developed it to my full satisfaction. So, if I keep at it, then I think it's safe to assume that I'll start experiencing the other things that the 1st jhana still has to offer me. In this morning's sit, I actually observed myself make a decision to stay in 1st jhana instead of shift to the 2nd because I felt that my concentration wasn't strong enough, and that it was still possible for me to continue focusing on the flame. There are times, however, when the shift "overtakes" me, and it's almost impossible for me to keep my attention contracted like it is in the 1st jhana -- in that case, I'm all for switching!

Eran G:
All I have to say to this is YES. While it may not be the easiest thing to bear, this is a great attitude to practice. Living and embodying the path to the best of your ability.

I think this is where I suffer the most. My mind just jabbers, NON-STOP, all day about how I'm so unhappy, and how I really need to get Enlightened so that I can be free of all this. I tried various perspectives and ways of looking at things, but ultimately, the situation appears as follows: I either submit to the bullshit of my mind, or I go on the offensive.

I don't know if going on the offensive will remove ALL of the weight, but I think it should help/make the bearing of it easier. The way it is now, I can barely shoulder it.

By "going on the offensive" I mean doing the time-tested things known to calm the mind, and bring it under control (as opposed to trying to just think differently about my life and its issues), not just on the cushion, but also off the cushion (exercising, for instance, tends to release a lot of endorphins that helps with counteracting an overly analytical -- so much so that it causes suffering -- mind).

Thanks!

[Edited for clarity - RA]

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/25/11 7:12 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
As a side note, I think the only solution to the ridiculous amount of psychological baggae (absolutely shitty karma?!?) I have seems to be a lifestyle centered around walking the spiritual path as best as I can.


I support this decision (should you choose to follow through on it), but it is also worth pointing something else out: despite whatever personal problems you have that cause you suffering, you are here, while others are not; you are practicing, while others are not; you are inclined to undo fundamental suffering, while others are not; you have faith that there is a way to undo fundamental suffering, while others do not.

In other words, there are also very good aspects to your karma, which are easy to gloss over.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/25/11 6:47 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
In other words, there are also very good aspects to your karma, which are easy to gloss over.

Thanks -- I needed to hear this. I guess I just never "feel" it, but taking a step back, I know that I will ALWAYS look into ways to end fundamental suffering. One of the glimpses that I've had was that "Ego is the basic problem" (and by "Ego" I mean the experience of existing as a separate entity) -- so no matter how terrible things get for "me," I know that it only seems that way because I take myself to be something I'm not.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/26/11 8:50 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit Notes (1:05 hrs.) - November 26, 2011:

In a previous sit, I noticed that when I began to feel "tingling" energetic movements within my head and shifted my attention to that in the 1st jhana, my concentration dropped and I couldn't intensify that pleasure, or move it around in my body. So, this time I resolved very strongly to stick with the kasina, even when those sensations appeared (because that's what produced those sensations in the first place).

I was highly vigilant up until the 2nd jhana to make sure that I avoided the phenomenon of mind "on" object. At times this led to feeling a sense of discomfort, because I couldn't settle on anything. But at one point, my experience of the 1st jhana became as strong and "girthy" as it's ever been. I felt as though my mind couldn't be perturbed even if someone tried to purposefully distract me.

Around possibly the 45-50 minute mark, that very "hard" 1st jhana sort of "erupted" into a sense of intense, "cool" bliss (it seemed to move "outward," laterally). It was so strong that I couldn't help but take that bliss as my object.

It felt as though without any applied effort, my body was submerged in an ocean of that bliss, which I guess means that the bliss had traveled all throughout my body. I tried keeping my mind on the bliss, but was unable to intensify it any further.

Then, a visualization presented itself to my mind -- I had read that the self is like an onion, and that when you've peeled away all the layers, you find the core, the natural state of which is gratitude, grace, etc. I settled upon that, and that seemed to "focus" the bliss a bit more -- but at that point, the alarm went off.

Since End in Sight suggested that if I find myself at the cutting edge of my practice that I should just ignore the alarm and continue sitting, that's what I did. When I chose to do so, I realized that my concentration was so strong that the generally intensely annoying alarm couldn't bother me, at all. It could almost be compared to the sound of raindrops outside my door -- occurring without distracting. There was a sense of intense, all-pervading quietness within which the alarm was going off, and I was more aligned with the quietness than the (generally) bothersome noise.

It is my hypothesis that if I had continued to work with the visualization of the onion (being chopped up -- the layers revealing themselves, then the core, etc. etc.) then the pleasure may have intensified/deepened (I think "deepening" of a desirable jhanic state is one of my primary goals as opposed to "intensification" -- it's a subtle difference, I know, but to me deepening reeks more of permanence and stability). But unfortunately, I didn't have the motivation to continue sitting for longer than five minutes or so after the alarm had gone off.

I think I'm getting better at samatha meditation, just in general. I wish to grow further in confidence with regard to my Concentration Practice.

Another somewhat interesting thing happened while I was in the 1st jhana as well -- since I was so very determined to not leave the kasina until my mind was practically dragged out of it, at one point it felt as though there was "no one" inside that was looking out. It was just a flash, but that was the experience (glimpse of Unification of Awareness?).

[Edited to mention specific duration of sit - RA]
[Edited for grammar - RA]

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/26/11 10:02 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
But unfortunately, I didn't have the motivation to continue sitting for longer than five minutes or so after the alarm had gone off.


Isn't this the main thing for you, to keep increasing your ability to attain these states more frequently and more deeply? Think of sitting longer as starting a new sit that begins at about as deep as you've gotten...to me, I can't think of a good reason to pass up on that.

Another thought...this may be interesting for you...do you see how, if you're sitting and eventually give up because you don't have enough motivation, that before you got up but while you were experiencing this lack of motivation, you took your attention off the kasina and either put it on a stream of discursive thought or on the feeling of being unmotivated?

If you can stop paying attention to the feeling of being unmotivated, the feeling will be reduced (and the state may get more intensely concentrated too).

Another somewhat interesting thing happened while I was in the 1st jhana as well -- since I was so very determined to not leave the kasina until my mind was practically dragged out of it, at one point it felt as though there was "no one" inside that was looking out. It was just a flash, but that was the experience (glimpse of Unification of Awareness?).


It could be a lot of things. Can you describe it in any more detail, or was it too brief?

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/26/11 11:05 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
It could be a lot of things. Can you describe it in any more detail, or was it too brief?

Maybe the surrounding context may help explain it better: I was in 1st jhana, and had gotten to a point of pretty intense concentration by continually averting the experience of mind "on" kasina. I can't recall if I was in the process of averting that sensation, or if I was experiencing a "hard" jhana right before the experience in concern occurred, but basically, imagine a really hard 1st jhana where the mind "has become one with" the kasina, or is totally glued to it -- almost rock-solid. However, imagine that experience just by itself, with no mind becoming attached to the kasina -- just a very strong experience of "kasina," that's it. On a subtle level, I guess I must've been aware of the "intensity" of the experience -- so I guess it's not entirely accurate to say that perception of self was altogether gone -- but it felt that way.

Another way of describing the experience that comes to mind right now is my vision was experiencing "vision." But like I said, it lasted for maybe about 10 seconds, and happened maybe about twice.

I might also add that while the experience was taking place, my mind did generate the following thoughts: "There's no inside or outside" as a reaction to the experience.

End in Sight:
Isn't this the main thing for you, to keep increasing your ability to attain these states more frequently and more deeply? Think of sitting longer as starting a new sit that begins at about as deep as you've gotten...to me, I can't think of a good reason to pass up on that.

Another thought...this may be interesting for you...do you see how, if you're sitting and eventually give up because you don't have enough motivation, that before you got up but while you were experiencing this lack of motivation, you took your attention off the kasina and either put it on a stream of discursive thought or on the feeling of being unmotivated?

If you can stop paying attention to the feeling of being unmotivated, the feeling will be reduced (and the state may get more intensely concentrated too).

I get all this conceptually -- I guess I tend to feel as though "I've done my duty for the day" when I've sat for an hour, which is a fair chunk of time, all things considered. But I guess I have yet to get a taste of how the benefits of jhana can increase exponentially when I start out with intense concentration, so I just need to remind myself that what I'm doing is the most important thing that I could possibly doing, and acquiring the skill to access and deepen the higher jhanas at will is invaluable, from the ultimate perspective that life is about becoming free (and that it's better to live life as a free man than as one who is lost and wandering in Suffering/Samsara).

Sitting without an alarm is a bit odd for me because I'm not sure when "enough is enough." Of course, I'm not going to sit for the entire day, so just how many urges to end my meditation should I turn my attention away from? I guess I'll just have to try it and find out, for myself.

Last but not least, I think my focus is more on becoming disciplined overall -- "hitting the mark" every day by sitting for an hour. From what you've said, I can see how shifting that focus to expanding individual sits may be helpful. I need to take advantage of opportunities when they arise, and think less in terms of "fulfilling my commitment/duty." It's almost akin to a game/sport that I'm trying to get better at...

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/26/11 11:27 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
It could be a lot of things. Can you describe it in any more detail, or was it too brief?

Maybe the surrounding context may help explain it better: I was in 1st jhana, and had gotten to a point of pretty intense concentration by continually averting the experience of mind "on" kasina. I can't recall if I was in the process of averting that sensation, or if I was experiencing a "hard" jhana right before the experience in concern occurred, but basically, imagine a really hard 1st jhana where the mind "has become one with" the kasina, or is totally glued to it -- almost rock-solid. However, imagine that experience just by itself, with no mind becoming attached to the kasina -- just a very strong experience of "kasina," that's it. On a subtle level, I guess I must've been aware of the "intensity" of the experience -- so I guess it's not entirely accurate to say that perception of self was altogether gone -- but it felt that way.

Another way of describing the experience that comes to mind right now is my vision was experiencing "vision." But like I said, it lasted for maybe about 10 seconds, and happened maybe about twice.

I might also add that while the experience was taking place, my mind did generate the following thoughts: "There's no inside or outside" as a reaction to the experience.


I am not sure how to fit what you're saying into any particular model, but it sounds like you're describing either a glimpse of a deeper concentration state, or a momentary partial insight into the way things are. But, unless it happened in context of much stronger pleasure than before, I would guess it's the latter.

It's a good sign, it shows that your practice is beginning to open up a new perspective on things.

Sitting without an alarm is a bit odd for me because I'm not sure when "enough is enough." Of course, I'm not going to sit for the entire day, so just how many urges to end my meditation should I turn my attention away from? I guess I'll just have to try it and find out, for myself.


Well...do you have something you'd rather be doing than sitting in bliss?

I would say, keep turning away from all the urges until you actually have something more important to do than that.

so I just need to remind myself that what I'm doing is the most important thing that I could possibly doing, and acquiring the skill to access and deepen the higher jhanas at will is invaluable, from the ultimate perspective that life is about becoming free (and that it's better to live life as a free man than as one who is lost and wandering in Suffering/Samsara).


Perhaps it could help to remind yourself of this before every sit.

"Nibbanam paramam sukham"...nirvana is the highest happiness. (Dhammapada 204)

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/27/11 11:10 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit (1:05 hrs) Notes - November 27, 2011:

This is more to serve as a reminder for myself than anything else: I experience much better, "tauter" concentration when I remind myself during a samatha sit that I am fully committed to sitting for the entire duration that I consciously chose (when an urge to end the sit arises). Not that I experience too many such urges, but throughout the course of an hour, the urge may arise twice or thrice, as I've noticed. Whenever I turn my mind away from each such urge, my concentration seems to intensify almost unexpectedly (and to my pleasure).

I experienced one of the "clearest" 1st jhanas as of date. Thoughts were "muffled" to such an extent (by the force of my concentration) that the mind, for all practical purposes, felt silent. I was expecting to go deeper and deeper into 1st jhana, discovering something new about it -- but after staying in that very "clear" state for a while, I naturally shifted to the 2nd jhana.

I consciously took the breath as my object at that point, and at some point a visualization took over. My concentration intensified as I focused the mind upon the visualization, and began to feel "pleasure" around/in my head.

Further into the 2nd jhana, with my mind I dispersed the visualization into its component parts, which coincided with the pleasure reaching pretty much all parts of my body (except the legs -- basically, all parts of my body that were upright).

I was aiming to continue sitting through the alarm when it would go off, but failed to do so. I attribute my failure to it being late and me not wanting to disturb my housemate by letting the very annoying sound of the alarm continue unchecked. I may have to devise another stratagem for such situations (invest in a quieter alarm clock or one with a more soothing sound, etc.).

Also, I believe I should try and meditate every morning no matter what. This morning I skipped my sit because the window of time that I had was rather short, given I had to be at work. However, it was enough to get my shorter (35 minutes) daily sit in -- I chose to get more sleep instead. However, whenever I choose sleep over a shorter sit in the mornings, I inevitably end up beating myself up about it afterward. In fact, I think most of my day was ruined due to it (am feeling refreshed and accomplished now due to a very "precise" hour-long sit, late at night).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/28/11 8:05 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
I experienced one of the "clearest" 1st jhanas as of date. Thoughts were "muffled" to such an extent (by the force of my concentration) that the mind, for all practical purposes, felt silent.


How was your experience of the tendency to leave your mind "on" something altered during this period of "muffled" thoughts (if it was)?

Can you describe the "muffled thoughts" experience in more detail?

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/28/11 8:51 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
How was your experience of the tendency to leave your mind "on" something altered during this period of "muffled" thoughts (if it was)?

Can you describe the "muffled thoughts" experience in more detail?

While the experience was occurring, I was mindful of the phenomenon of mind "on" object (which means if it happened, then I would've averted it).

It felt as though there was no central, inner, locatable thing called "mind" that could be "on" something -- or if there was, it had receded so far "back" or had become so small and insignificant a thing that I couldn't control it anymore. I would've turned it away even from the muffled thoughts if I could, but it was as though whatever "mind" was left had been cut loose of my capacity to control, and I was just experiencing a very deep silence (or my mind had BECOME the silence) and that there were very "quiet" thoughts occurring within that silence, infrequently at that.

I think the silence had a rather heavy quality to it. If thoughts can be represented by paper cut-outs of words on a bed, and if a very heavy (yet translucent) blanket could be placed on top of those words, then that's what the experience felt like. Again, I was aware of not "receiving" that experience, or putting my mind "on" it -- it was more as though my mind had diminished greatly, and there was the experience without it necessarily being "attended to" (you've drilled it into my head to avoid such things like the plague). emoticon

Also, another analogy would be if two people were having a conversation next to a factory producing a lot of "industrial white noise," or if there's a lot of ambient white noise in a song -- if your attention were to shift from the words in the conversation/the lyrics in the song to the white noise, then that's what the experience was like (somewhat).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/28/11 9:53 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
It felt as though there was no central, inner, locatable thing called "mind" that could be "on" something -- or if there was, it had receded so far "back" or had become so small and insignificant a thing that I couldn't control it anymore.


GOOD. This only happens when you've successfully kept your mind from being "on" things...which is why I asked. You keep your mind from resting anywhere, and eventually (rather than running around restlessly forever), the perception of "mind" starts to go away.

Remember how this felt, and see if you can do it in the future. That's where "hard" jhana comes from.

If you can do it in the future, see if you can do it to an even greater extent. When there is absolutely no experience of "mind" left, there will be no reflective thinking whatsoever, and no recognition that there is no reflective thinking, and it will probably match Ajahn Brahm's "Union with God" description acceptably well (if you think in those terms).

Keep in mind that you can't force this experience of a lessened perception of "mind" in any way...all you can do is incline towards it (generally by remembering what it's like or how it happened, and having the idea beforehand that that's what's supposed to happen), and the main thing that controls the extent to which it happens on account of your inclination is how strong the jhana-factors are.

(I edited this multiple times after posting, now I'm done.)

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/28/11 10:23 AM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
GOOD. This only happens when you've successfully kept your mind from being "on" things...which is why I asked. You keep your mind from resting anywhere, and eventually (rather than running around restlessly forever), the perception of "mind" starts to go away.

This makes perfect sense, and that's how I've been looking at the mind as well. Even though the act of continuously averting the mind from being "on" something causes difficulty for a while, eventually it gives up and "settles," but it doesn't settle "on" something -- it simply settles down.

Also, I reflected a bit more on my description of the experience where I talked about thoughts appearing "muffled." It occurred to me that that may have not been an entirely accurate/the best description, because it makes it sound as though the jhana was somehow "cloudy," which it wasn't -- it was indeed very clear and pristine.

It may be accurate to say the thoughts appeared very distant. There was this central clarity, and "wispy" thoughts popped up and disappeared as if in the periphery. The clarity and silence overwhelmed all discursive thinking.

End in Sight:
Keep in mind that you can't force this experience of a lessened perception of "mind" in any way...all you can do is incline towards it (generally by remembering what it's like or how it happened, and having the idea beforehand that that's what's supposed to happen), and the main thing that controls the extent to which it happens on account of your inclination is how strong the jhana-factors are.

Agreed -- especially with regard to how I can't "force" it. I think I'm still at the beginning stages of mastering the emergence of such an experience. I'm still working on repeatedly turning my mind away from discursive thinking/intruding thoughts, as well as turning it away from the "experience of concentration" or all other experiences that feel as though my mind is "attending to" something or is being attended upon. I think this is basically the starting point of good concentration -- without developing this ability, I won't even give the jhana-factors a chance to arise.

I've had sits where all I did (frustratingly) was just turn away from discursive thinking and mental representations of what's actually going on -- but in my book, that's better than experiencing some sort of faux, "abiding" type of concentration.

End in Sight:
there will be no reflective thinking whatsoever, and no recognition that there is no reflective thinking, and it will probably match Ajahn Brahm's "Union with God" description acceptably well (if you think in those terms).

I actually do think along those lines -- one of the main reasons I'm on a spiritual path is that I've had spiritual experiences where I felt that the love that I feel like I am missing is the very foundation of existence, and that there's no reason to feel any insecurity, or feel as though I'm unloved/unloveable. "God" made perfect sense during those times -- but that understanding occurred way beyond the reach of the rational mind (these experiences were mostly on drugs, but hey, at least they got me to start meditating!).

[Edited to talk about The Lord and such - RA]

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/28/11 11:00 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
Even though the act of continuously averting the mind from being "on" something causes difficulty for a while, eventually it gives up and "settles," but it doesn't settle "on" something -- it simply settles down.


Most importantly, isn't it clear how the experience of the mind being "on" something is an illusion, something that's unrelated to the process of actually paying attention and perceiving things (since, when it goes away to some extent, you pay attention and perceive even more clearly than before)?

Also, I reflected a bit more on my description of the experience where I talked about thoughts appearing "muffled." It occurred to me that that may have not been an entirely accurate/the best description, because it makes it sound as though the jhana was somehow "cloudy," which it wasn't -- it was indeed very clear and pristine.

It may be accurate to say the thoughts appeared very distant. There was this central clarity, and "wispy" thoughts popped up and disappeared as if in the periphery. The clarity and silence overwhelmed all discursive thinking.


That's what I assumed. emoticon

there will be no reflective thinking whatsoever, and no recognition that there is no reflective thinking, and it will probably match Ajahn Brahm's "Union with God" description acceptably well (if you think in those terms).

I actually do think along those lines -- one of the main reasons I'm on a spiritual path is that I've had spiritual experiences where I felt that the love that I feel like I am missing is the very foundation of existence, and that there's no reason to feel any insecurity, or feel as though I'm unloved/unloveable. "God" made perfect sense during those times -- but that understanding occurred way beyond the reach of the rational mind (these experiences were mostly on drugs, but hey, at least they got me to start meditating!).


Lots of people start meditating for that reason. It's a very genuine reason, I see nothing wrong with that having been your motivating force.

All I can say is, from my perspective, if you pursue this path with dedication, you will not be disappointed with what you'll find.

Other than that, I wanted to say that I'm glad my advice is helping you in your concentration practice.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/28/11 4:17 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
Most importantly, isn't it clear how the experience of the mind being "on" something is an illusion, something that's unrelated to the process of actually paying attention and perceiving things (since, when it goes away to some extent, you pay attention and perceive even more clearly than before)?

True -- I just don't "feel it in my gut," not just yet (but I concur with it intellectually, and through a certain amount of concrete experience as well).

End in Sight:
Lots of people start meditating for that reason. It's a very genuine reason, I see nothing wrong with that having been your motivating force.

All I can say is, from my perspective, if you pursue this path with dedication, you will not be disappointed with what you'll find.

Other than that, I wanted to say that I'm glad my advice is helping you in your concentration practice.

I'm continuing to work away at increasing my motivation with regard to pursuing the Path. I find that even though conceptually I'm fully on board, I still have a few (moderately strong) competing forces at play in my life (that tug away at my emotional heart, which is generally responsible for most of the action that I take).

However, I believe that the simple commitment to (and follow-through upon) a daily practice will put me in a better position to assess what my true desires are (those that may be motivating me on an unconscious level -- I believe I suffer too much due to not being in harmony with them as of yet). Inasmuch as I desire a future satisfaction for having walked the path with dedication/commitment, I feel that thinking too much along those lines increases the degree of suffering I already have. So, I am more interested now in "actually doing it" as opposed to just planning about it (and hence "futurifying" it).

Also, when I first got on this forum, I was a bit cautious with regard to whose/which advice I took, because I wanted to be able to compare it with my level of understanding -- what had proved itself to be true in my own life -- at that point. However, at some point I realized that I have to try out somebody's suggestion if I wanted to see actual, everyday results (in my own life) -- without actually acting upon somebody's advice (while continuing to remain dissatisfied) is merely a stalling strategy on the spiritual path, it seems.

For instance, initially I was pretty stuck on the idea that the jhanas equate with fundamentally altered states of consciousness which involve some sort of 'absorption/mind-merging-with' -- but that's precisely what you spoke against. It took a while for me to truly get the 'gist' of what you've said, and I believe it's a path that I can follow fairly well.

Upon further reflection, I realize that the reason I let in your idea to, in fact, avert enticing states of absorption ("the experience of concentration") was that I intuitively felt that I had not made as much meditative progress as I would've liked to by that point (six-seven months since having read MCTB ).

Anyway, I'm glad I have a method/practice to work with that seems to be evolving, opening up a few new doors for me/my mind, and I thank you for that! emoticon

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/29/11 2:47 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit Notes (1:05 hrs) - November 29, 2011:

I would like to find a way to sustain pleasure better in the 2nd jhana while using a visualization. So far, I know that I can't really do without a visualization in the 2nd jhana (otherwise my mind starts generating discursive thought, and it's very hard for me to steer clear of them if I do not have something "visible" to use as an object/kasina instead).

The way I am treating my visualizations is exactly the same way in which I am treating the flame-kasina in the 1st jhana, that is to say, averting the experience of my mind being "on" it at all costs (until my mind "gives up" and authentically settles/identifies with the object).

Whereas in the 1st jhana, the technique has brought me great success (namely in terms of "hardening" the jhana, leading to interesting concentration experiences, as well as transitioning to the 2nd jhana with a fair amount of, and predictable, regularity), in the 2nd jhana I'm stuck on falling in and out of pleasure.

I am thinking I'm going to try to intensify the pleasure first, then move it around to all parts of my body (in the 2nd jhana).

Also, in the 1st jhana, I think I've figured out how to move the pleasure that gets generated -- movements of pleasant energy around my head -- after a while of focusing on the flame. I think the trick is to intensify it first, then try to move it to other parts of my body.

As far as how to "stay" in it -- it appears as though when the pleasure gets generated, deliberately attempting to focus on the flame ONLY leads to the pleasure dying down. However, putting the mind entirely on the pleasure does not give me something concrete (like the flame) to choose as opposed to discursive thoughts (when they do arise).

It seems as though the trick is to keep one (mental) foot on the flame, whereas the other foot on the pleasure.

However, when I tried this trick, my mind inevitably spit out a visualization of a "stick-figure man" with one foot on the flame, and the other one on the pleasurable sensations in my head, which ended up leading me to the 2nd jhana (for at that point I began taking the stick-figure as my object -- concentrating more and more on it).

Any suggestions as to how to stay in pleasure in the 1st jhana? I've had success with ignoring it altogether and simply focusing on the flame, which led to "hard" states and then the 2nd jhana -- should I just go ahead and ignore pleasure in the 1st jhana and simply experience it in the 2nd?

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/29/11 10:28 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
I would like to find a way to sustain pleasure better in the 2nd jhana while using a visualization.


I think you should play around with this for some time before worrying (as you clearly seem to be getting better at generating pleasure).

The most general advice is, be alert and be relaxed. These two qualities actually complement each other. As you do not seem to be having problems with alertness, try to relax more. (Relax a lot, not just a token amount.)

By the way, are you still using green tea before sits?

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
11/29/11 11:49 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
By the way, are you still using green tea before sits?

Yes! I'm actually a super-obsessive person in certain ways (especially with regard to how substances affect the quality of my mind -- its "brightness" just in general, and the degree to which it can "withstand" and even overpower everyday distractions of which, as I find, there is a lot). I say this because after trying Jasmine green tea for a while, I felt as though it wasn't quite 'clicking' with my mind/awareness, so I moved on to black tea (Earl Grey). I'd say that worked pretty well. Now I am trying a "Tropical Green" tea, which is also working well (better than Jasmine).

Anyway -- the above goes to show how I'll beat something to death if I think there's some value in it. emoticon

I sat for the second time today, and have a few more observations:
  • I am fighting with the whole idea of sitting indefinitely (past the alarm). While conceptually this makes perfect sense (more on this later), practically speaking I find that I do experience fairly strong urges to end my sit at times, and it's hard enough to turn my mind away from them and keep it on the kasina. So, the way it feels (at that point) goes something like this: "Not only do I have to avert this urge, but I have to keep averting it for who knows how long!" I find that I have more determination and capacity for concentration when it's a very specific duration that I'm trying to tackle -- my mind/intellect can see it as being a very specific task, and I'm that much more alert (AND relaxed) as I go about practicing jhana. It's as though it's easier for me to give myself "permission" to relax for an hour than it is to do so for "who knows how long" -- this way I can devote myself entirely to paying close attention to all the little nuances of a sit (such as being simultaneously alert and relaxed).
  • For the most part, especially traversing the territory in between Access Concentration and 1st jhana, I'm busier avoiding the phenomenon of mind "on" object, which basically translates to me not experiencing pleasure. After doing that for a while, pleasure comes up. I think I've found a way to make the whole experience a bit less unpleasant (while not losing alertness). Basically, instead of trying "kick" thoughts/discursive thinking out whenever they try to enter my mind, I should be more inclined to let them "pass through" while not moving my attention from the kasina. This I find tends to relax me a bit more, and also makes me intuitively realize that "I'm meditating" (this is hard to get out in words, but basically it's the intuitive recognition that you're consciously/intentionally engaged in an activity that's in your highest interest and aren't just trying to plow your way through something deeply unpleasant). I know it sounds as though I'm getting lost/sidetracked into the the experience of meditation by having such a thought, but it's not quite that (and that's why I said it's hard to get it out in words).
  • It's easier to stay in the meditative state when pleasure "gets going," and hence it's easier to avert the urges to end my sit if and when they appear. However, since pleasure is a rarity for me in the 1st jhana, I think I'm just going to have to rely more on going into it with a bit more of a relaxed attitude (green tea will help with this). Also, I have to remember that thoughts aren't "enemies" or "bad," and that I shouldn't try to actively "force them out." Rather, I just need to gently move my attention back to the kasina if I realize that I've either been lost in them, or allow them to pass through my mind (without me trying to hold on to them or reacting to them). After all, the mind is not like a limb that I can use to kick away thoughts (or is it?) -- thinking that only gives the "mind" more solidity.
  • I think I need to remind myself (more) that I'd rather have a very deep, stable, and tranquil 1st jhana than a fuzzy, somewhat out-of-control 2nd jhana. This concept alone allows me to focus on the kasina with that much more clarity (and eventually yields almost "textbook-like" jhana results down the line).

End in Sight:
I think you should play around with this for some time before worrying (as you clearly seem to be getting better at generating pleasure).

The most general advice is, be alert and be relaxed. These two qualities actually complement each other. As you do not seem to be having problems with alertness, try to relax more. (Relax a lot, not just a token amount.)

Right, and this is where I think, in my own strange way, it may actually be better for me to meditate JUST for 1 hour instead of going on indefinitely, because I will have 100% "permission" from myself to just totally let go. If I'm eager to discover more things re: practice, then I'll just have to wait until the next sit. This is at least the way I'm looking at it for now...although with further practice, my attitude might change.

I will try to play around more with pleasure in the 2nd jhana. I tend to get discouraged pretty easily when I have a "bad" sit, and immediately feel the need to re-focus on the absolute basics (e.g. stay with the kasina, avoid mind "on" object, avoid discursive thinking/thoughts, etc.). This I don't think is a bad thing, because at least in me going "looking for it" out of insecurity, I may find that due to regular practice, I've already built up very good foundational concentration skills (and that not much effort needs to be expended when it comes to, say, averting discursive thought). This attitude, of course, might delay the discovery of all the possibilities re: pleasure in the 2nd jhana, but better to discover them with a very finely concentrated mind than a weakly concentrated one.

I guess I'm still craving a sort of intuitive, "felt" certainty with regard to what I've "accomplished" so far in terms of my Concentration Practice. It's almost like the feeling of double-checking your back pocket to see if there's a wallet before you're heading out -- it's hard to relax until you have that certainty/reassurance (and of course, it's also a bit OCD, but not as bad as washing your hands every hour).

Having said all of the above, the way in which the idea of meditating indefinitely makes (conceptual) sense to me is as follows (imagine that I'm in the middle of a sit): "Whether or not the alarm goes off -- or when it goes off -- should not be a concern of mine in this moment. In this moment, all I need to be doing is avoiding getting sucked into the experience of my mind being "on" the kasina. By refusing to give in like this, eventually I'll experience a deeply concentrated state where it is as though the mind isn't even present."

This is a rather foolproof way of looking at it (making the case for sitting indefinitely), but like I said, when I truly determine to "let go for an hour and no more," the experience can be phrased as follows: "For this hour, I am NOBODY'S business. Pretty much everything can go to hell except the cops knocking on my door, or somebody yelling and screaming 'Help me!'" This gives me the liberty to just let down my guard (I apparently have it up pretty high just in general) and get some good/quality concentration flowing.

So it seems to me it's a matter of attitudes re: samatha practice, and I just have to pick one and stick with it for a while.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
12/2/11 5:46 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit Notes (1:25 hrs) - December 1, 2011:

I think when I shifted to the second jhana, I simply stayed mindful of my attention's urge to find an object (that was not the flame). Since there was no object around at the time, I made the urge itself the object. (In other words, I did not force myself to choose the breath -- instead, I stayed alert to what could possibly be the natural kasina for the 2nd jhana -- what could hold my attention exactly as the flame did in the 1st; I believe that making myself pick an object basically makes me end up picking something that has less of an "impact" as the flame in the 1st jhana.) This was a success, and led to a very "rich" 2nd jhana -- the richest to date -- where attention/concentration was very strong. One of my main complaints to date has been that my concentration seems to be less strong in the 2nd jhana than it is in the 1st. Well, in this case, it was at least equal, if not greater/more "intense". There was also a palpable/discernible feeling of pleasure involved in the experience, especially inside the center of my head. I felt as though continuing to sit required little effort, and that I could keep doing so with just the most minimal application of will (whenever an urge to end the sit would arise). Also -- it felt as though I was finally beginning to get a felt-sense of what a lot of the meditators on this forum mean when they talk about staying in blissful jhanic states for hours and hours. It finally seemed like a real possibility for me.

The experience of going from Access Concentration to 1st jhana (and "carrying out" 1st jhana) was very well-executed (I was unusually determined to see the whole thing through, particularly resolve the issue of my generalized confusion re: exactly what my object is in the 2nd jhana, and why 2nd jhana tends to almost never be "hard" for me).

So, it appears that because I was so deeply in 1st jhana -- so solidly established in it -- that when the alarm went off at the hour-and-five minute mark, I was able to sit through it without too much difficulty. I'm not sure why the 2nd jhana did not arise/present itself within the hour, and my guess is that in the past I would take the cue to shift a little too soon (whenever I'd perceive qualities of the 2nd jhana, even if subtle or, in retrospect, unreliable), leading to deterioration of concentration in the 2nd jhana. A 2nd jhana without the "foundation" of a very strongly concentrated 1st jhana seems to spiral downward into a messy state of affairs for me.

I'm glad I sat through the alarm, and continued to "enjoy" (i.e. pleasure was a factor) the intense concentration of the 1st jhana (it didn't take much effort to maintain -- it took so little effort that at times I wondered could this be the 2nd jhana, even though my eyes were clearly contracted upon the flame).

At one point, like I said above, the urge to find another object came in, and made itself known quite strongly. I took that urge as the object instead of rushing myself to either pick a subtle and unstable visualization that may have presented itself, or the breath.

Eventually, after sitting in the 2nd jhana for a while, averting several urges to end the sit, I found myself taking the breath as my object, and stay there for a while (until I finally got too excited to write about my discovery).

I must also say that there were times when the concentration was so strong that it became the object (prior to shifting to the breath). I'd like to emphasize that it was no "experience" of concentration -- there was no mind that was "upon" concentration -- there was just very strong and pleasurable concentration. It was as though a strong meditative state was "doing itself."

I think, due to this success described above, I may try sticking with my current approach toward the Path, which is to basically work a little harder on my Morality trip -- I found that making sure that I'm addressing all the key elements of what constitutes Training in Morality for me (including physical exercise and having a well-maintained house in the most general sense) makes it considerably easier to undertake samatha practice. It's as though there aren't as many "defilements" to get in the way of smooth, formal practice/sits.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
12/4/11 5:22 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit Notes (1:05 hrs) - December 4, 2011:

Things have been pretty rough for me these last few days as I've attempted to become more consistent with meditating every day -- I've also been struggling with stabilizing my mood (I find that if I'm in a generally bad mood/hopeless state of mind, then it's very difficult for me to consistently carry out my samatha practice).

I've "honed in" upon a lifestyle that I think supports my daily samatha practice to the max (it's an ongoing process, but I believe it's improving).

I experienced a fairly clear 1st jhana today. It seems as though I'm getting better and better at recognizing just when I am in the 1st jhana -- I'm growing in confidence with regard to my ability to "self-assess" my state/jhana (at least up to the 1st jhana, which is not much, but it's something). The certainty means quite a lot to me.

At one point while I was in the 1st jhana, almost all effort seemed to drop away, and all that remained was a very strong state of concentration (my eyes were still upon the flame-kasina). This is an interesting experience (it's happened before) because technically, a certain amount of effort is supposed to be a part of the 1st jhana experience.

I came out of this experience -- it lasted probably for a few minutes -- and began experiencing a sense of subtle effort again.

The shift to the 2nd jhana occurred when a very strong feeling of "love/near-fulfilled longing" arose in the 1st jhana (it's a love I desire but have never had). Since I've been so frustrated with the whole transitioning from the 1st to the 2nd jhana (trying to identify just what the "trigger" is), I've been more open to experimentation -- taking different feelings, urges, and sensations as my object to carry it out.

My concentration-level stayed the same in the 2nd jhana as it was in the 1st, which to me is "good enough." Also, I think my mind switched between objects more than usual this time around. There was a palpable experience/recognition of "letting go," and I was able to relax very deeply (it was much-needed!). There was also a sense of being carefree -- I wasn't too concerned with getting it (the 2nd jhana) "just right;" instead, I was okay with stepping back and letting the jhana do its thing more than I usually allow it to.

Also -- another phenomenon that occurred in the 1st jhana was a "psychological insight." I vaguely recall reading somewhere in MCTB that a meditator should consider a certain feeling fully, but not for more than a few seconds (something along those lines).

Since the insight appeared spontaneously (as a result of me continuing to put in effort in the direction of avoiding the phenomenon of mind "on" object), I let it play itself out, but then I immediately returned my attention to the kasina instead of indulging it any further (exploring it by attempting to go deeper into it, and thereby away from the kasina). Reflecting back upon the insight, I think it was an insight with more "sticking power" than many of the psychological insights that I've had in the past -- that is to say, my intellect fully agrees with it, and there's a sense of inner/intuitive agreement with it as well. Hopefully this insight will heal me psychologically to a minute extent (since it was such a "small" insight) -- I guess only time will tell whether or not it truly has sticking power.

My plan is to use a timer and sit 1st thing every morning, in addition to making sure that I put in at least one hour-and-five minutes long sit at some point during the day. I've felt discouraged by internally "shooting for" sitting past 1:05 hrs, leading to quitting the sit before even that point -- currently, I cannot risk letting myself down like that.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
12/9/11 2:54 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit Notes (1:05 hrs) - December 9, 2011:

Not much to note, except that I experienced a "hard" 1st jhana -- no mind "fusing" with kasina or anything like that. It felt as though the mind itself has become like a hard "block" of something, and I was still looking at the kasina. Thoughts were minimal, and I had much more liberty than usual to notice approaching thoughts (and thereby not get sucked into them -- although I wonder if it's possible to get sucked into thought-trains whilst in a hard jhana because the state of concentration is so potent).

Woefully, I wasn't able to stay in this state for too long, so I may have to figure out how to extend a "hard" jhana.

Didn't make it to the 2nd jhana, but I think that's okay because I think it's more important for me to keep reminding myself, "I'd rather have a very deep and concentrated 1st jhana than a weak 2nd." Apparently my mind is still struggling with this concept -- my plan for the near-future is to just keep implementing this attitude whenever I sit (as paradoxically, it's precisely this approach that tends to produce reliable 2nd jhanas for me).

I'm working on viewing my meditative practice from a perspective that allows me to carry it out with consistency, day after day. I believe this involves fairly long sits, but not an "all-or-nothing" approach. I am feeling more positivity/hope with regard to my chances on the spiritual path these days, and I attribute that to sticking with my Practice.

I'm also aware that the degree of hope/optimism I feel is not where I'd like it to be. In a sense, I am more aware of my vulnerabilities as a human being -- but I think that if I can manage to continue practicing through this period ("sit through it," to use an appropriate pun), then not too long from now I will have more of a confidence that's grounded on greater acceptance of self, and not shortsighted lines in the sand (something which I've done a lot not to much good/healthy effect).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
12/10/11 3:12 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Thank you for posting your experiences Rashed. I am only a few week into concentration meditation, so your progress is encouraging to me. I am grateful that you have taken the time to write in detail about the process.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
12/11/11 8:41 PM as a reply to John Hooper.
John Hooper:
Thank you for posting your experiences Rashed. I am only a few week into concentration meditation, so your progress is encouraging to me. I am grateful that you have taken the time to write in detail about the process.

No problem, John.

Actually, I've run into several very rough patches in my Practice so far, but over time, you will start to notice a difference (and be able to access jhanas with not too much difficulty).

One of the biggest things for me was how to "frame" my spiritual practice to myself -- how to "integrate" it into my life as it is, with all of my motivating emotional forces. I found that without first trying to grapple with my emotional life, it was very difficult to be consistent with my Practice.

It may be different for other people -- some people are just able to sit every day based simply on principle. I cannot do that, so I would say make sure to not neglect your "psychology" as you go about cultivating samatha states. I am still in the middle of the process, but I must say my attitude has begun to change (for the better), and hopefully my Practice will become even more powerful and consistent.

One way of viewing it that I've found helpful is to set your life up so that samatha practice may occur -- by that I mean have all of your daily experiences "funnel" into your sits, and then with the aid of the states/jhanas, you gain stability on that content (and thereby detachment from them).

Best of luck to you in your Practice! May you Awaken!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
12/12/11 12:06 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit Notes (1:05 hrs) - December 12, 2012:

Felt pretty relaxed and calm, although concentration didn't feel very "tight," and there wasn't as much depth to it as I would've liked. I hoped that the 1st jhana would take on "hard" qualities within the hour and five minutes, but it didn't. I didn't let that bother me, and just simply continued to do the basic things, e.g. avoiding the phenomenon of mind "on" object, avoiding discursive thought, attempting to stay with my chosen kasina, etc.

I would say I felt a measure of equanimity, it seemed (because I cared comparatively little about whether or not I "got anywhere" as I sat). I wasn't as hard on myself as I usually am when I accidentally stray from the kasina and into a discursive thought-train/storyline.

Also, my practice has been poor (inconsistent) lately, so that's probably part of the reason why I didn't get to 2nd jhana, or a "hard" 1st jhana. I'm looking to get back on track by sitting twice a day, with making absolutely sure that I meditate every morning upon awakening, no-matter-what. The 2nd sit can occur at any point during the day that feels like a good opportunity.

I've also noticed that there's possibly a correlation between how much energy I have and how long I can sit for. I am still playing with this one because there have been times when I couldn't sit for very long after a rough morning at work -- it felt as though my body/mind was just too "frazzled" prior to the sit. But there have also been times when it was precisely due to working really hard that I was able to experience a long, and deep samatha sit -- it was as though I was able to truly enjoy not being at work and indulging myself in a concentration state.

In the past I've experienced pushing myself "too hard" in terms of duration, then not being able to live up to it, and as a result being down on myself (and having a shitty rest-of-the-day). This has naturally led me to become a bit more cautious with regard to how long I "shoot for" when I sit down on the cushion. At the same time, however, I do not want this fear to limit my Practice -- hence, experimentation seems like the way to go (e.g. try to get a "longer," 1:05 hr sit in with very little physical energy on tap -- try and "mix things up" a little bit).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
12/12/11 10:09 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
2nd Sit - December 12, 2011:

I shot for an hour and five minutes, but since I'd drunk too much Earl Grey beforehand, it was very difficult to continue meditating with the strong urge to get up and pee being a factor. I ended up sitting for 55 minutes, however, which I don't think is bad. I still want to plan ahead so that I do not run into such scenarios in the future -- I think there's a psychological factor involved in the whole process where you get an extra "moral boost" of sorts when you keep a commitment (such as meditating for a specific duration). So, I will hold myself accountable in the future to sit for exactly as long as I say I will (to myself).

I believe I employed really good technique in this sit. I turned down many temptations to yield to certain thought-trains. I stuck with the kasina quite well.

All that led to an experience within the 1st jhana where things got real quiet. It felt pleasant, and the silence was palpable. Also, I felt comfortable being there, which makes me think that I have a certain amount of leverage over this state, and can extend it if I wish (in future sits).

It's as though discursive thoughts just stopped arising. There were sporadic "words" and "half-words" (as opposed to sentences) popping up within the field of my awareness, but they were quickly silenced by the state/jhana.

After this state, the jhana almost got hard, but not quite. If I didn't have to get up and pee, I think it probably would've matured into a "hard" 1st jhana.

I'm also becoming more aware, in general throughout my sits, of the space in between thoughts, and how when I turn my attention to that space/silence, attachment to thoughts (and beliefs) "loosens up" somewhat.

I'm trying to create as big of a distance as possible in between my pot habit and my formal Training in Concentration. Recently I realized that I will inevitably end up using the substance when it's time to record in a studio -- when push comes to shove, I opt for that because it is innately important to me to be able to produce the best possible music (and I was extremely pleased with what I recorded while on the substance). So I've come up with a rule-of-thumb where I will basically not smoke outside of the studio. If one day I'm able to have the confidence/assurance to record without feeling as though a substance will make me give the best possible performance, then I am all for that day. But where I am these days, that is just not my reality.

Overall I'd say that I'm trying to make myself depend more and more on my samatha sits alone. Sometimes relaxing with a beer or a glass of wine also goes a long way (without "bleeding through" into my daily Practice as weed does).

I'm also considering picking a physical routine (such as yoga) and sticking to it... we'll see how this one goes.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
12/13/11 12:49 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Hi Rashed -

I am working my way through your thread and appreciating your clarity and honesty. Like John above I am new to concentration practice, and your thread is giving me both practical advice and encouragement.

I hope you don't mind if I share an idea that popped into my head. It occurs to me that on the question of pot, it might be interesting to inquire as precisely as you can into the positive qualities that it fosters for you in the studio (if you haven't already). I'm guessing it would be best to do this retrospectively, at least at first, so you have as much clarity as possible. My thought is that once you knew what those qualities were, you might be able to use your concentration to focus on one of those qualities (in whatever amount is present for you naturally) and see if it amplifies. I'm definitely speculating here, but it since clear investigation and the generation/amplification of positive mind states are both firmly part of the Buddhist tradition, it seems like it couldn't hurt and might be of benefit.

Cheers, and keep on going! You are already helping others...

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/13/11 10:04 AM as a reply to Nick NY.
Nick NY:
It occurs to me that on the question of pot, it might be interesting to inquire as precisely as you can into the positive qualities that it fosters for you in the studio (if you haven't already). I'm guessing it would be best to do this retrospectively, at least at first, so you have as much clarity as possible. My thought is that once you knew what those qualities were, you might be able to use your concentration to focus on one of those qualities (in whatever amount is present for you naturally) and see if it amplifies. I'm definitely speculating here, but it since clear investigation and the generation/amplification of positive mind states are both firmly part of the Buddhist tradition, it seems like it couldn't hurt and might be of benefit.

Hey Nick, glad my thread has been of some help to you and others -- one of the reasons I "talk" so much, to be honest, is so that I have as much clarity into myself/my mind as possible. When something is on record, I know that it was real for me at some point, and that's one way of "keeping myself in line" as much as possible. I suppose I still do not trust myself enough to "walk a straight line" and feel that I need some sort of a scaffolding in the form of a meditation log.

I have the same view as you with regard to pot. My current plan is to smoke as little as possible in the studio and get the work done that I need to get done (without taking on a dogmatically anti-pot mindset, because I find that that ends up hurting my musical productivity more than helping). Honestly, I think it's going to take some time before I have acquired the concentration skills to be able to focus on the positive mind-qualities that pot generates, and "amplify" them as you said (and work off of that alone).

I might try meditating beforehand, then taking a bottle of wine with me to the studio in the future. Maybe the combination of samatha practice beforehand + good wine + a deliberate directing of my attention toward the positive qualities that pot brought out for me in the past might just generate the state of mind required to confidently put down a few tracks.

I've already tried meditation (beforehand) + beer at the studio, and that wasn't enough to take away a restless mind (I find that I need to be extremely calm/totally focused when I have to record instruments, etc.). Hopefully wine will be a little different -- otherwise, I'll just keep observing the positive mind-qualities that pot brings out and see if my mind can "mimic" them naturally with repeated practice and effort.

Thanks for your suggestion! It was very observant.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/14/11 8:27 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Skimmed the contents of your thread and thought it was cool to see someone putting in time over a few months. My practice has been spotty lately.

Some thoughts:
-You seem to do a lot of interpretation and speculation in your sit debriefs. There's nothing wrong with this, especially if you enjoy it. I have this habit too. However, if your goal is improving your concentration skills and attaining to higher jhanas, much of this energy could be diverted to pure attention to the object during practice.
-Near the beginning of the thread End in Sight hints at all of this, perhaps reread some of his posts.


Try focusing your attention so narrowly on the object, to the exclusion of all else, that it starts to become difficult to form a narrative or even notice thoughts like "this is rapture". Applying the Buddhist idea that the mind can only concentrate on one thing at a time, any instant your mind can map/interpret your experience is a mental moment that could be directed at focusing on your object (and thus improving concentration). Obviously some sensations will be harder to ignore than others (vipassana will help with this), and you can't stop your mind from naturally encoding/remembering your experience, but powering hard in the direction of "concentrating so hard I don't even care if I notice/remember the details of this sit" is probably on the right side of 'enough vs too much' effort.

Like a couple of experienced meditators on here have said, applying more effort than you think you need is often beneficial.

Cheers,

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/15/11 5:57 PM as a reply to T. Dan S-.
Daniel,

I think this is solid advice -- I will begin putting it to practice and see what happens. My practice lately has been "fuzzy" and lacking in focus/stability. This has led to me experiencing less motivation to practice because I have not been getting as much out of it as I usually do. A conscious effort in the direction of "concentrating so hard I don't even care if I notice/remember the details of this sit" is one avenue left untried (or I haven't been taking it seriously enough), so this is how I'll approach my future sits.

Thanks!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/16/11 9:34 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit Notes (40 minutes) - December 16, 2011:

Since I've been having trouble concentrating well for an hour, I've cut back down to 40 minutes to take some pressure off of me, and hopefully be able to concentrate harder. In this most recent sit, I believe the strategy worked. I was more mindful than I have been lately of exactly when my mind would leave the kasina and into discursive thinking/daydreaming.

I'm going to continue employing this philosophy of "concentrating so hard I don't even care if I notice/remember the details of this sit" -- I believe this is what I need, given the restlessness of my mind in general, and my very active tendency to "think my way out of" personal issues I have. Another way I am looking at it is as follows: "If you actually want to have a shot at resolving this or that issue, then you'll simply stay with the kasina for now" (while meditating, of course -- thinking about issues seems inevitable at other times, although daily, focused meditation can bring much-needed clarity to the process).

Also -- I think I realized how "fuzzy" my practice has been: after sitting for a while, staying with the kasina with a moderate amount of difficulty, it felt as though a "cloud" somehow got dispersed/dissipated and a clarity that I hadn't experienced in a while emerged (I believe this was me experiencing a good/well-concentrated 1st jhana in a while). It was a somewhat surprising discovery because whenever I'm going through a patchy spot in my practice, too easily I will think that that's due to me being under a lot of stress, and that the quality of my mind is simply low during that period (i.e. there is no hope for clarity). I believe the truth is that with proper technique, a well-set resolve (to see the sit through with proper technique), and more effort than I've been thinking is necessary, it is not too difficult to access that seemingly inherent clarity of mind.

I really hope to stay on track with this. Since my practice has been so patchy, I think I am going to "play it safe" for a while and just stick with 40 minutes when I sit (if I feel up to it, then an hour -- but if I have any doubts about my ability to concentrate for that long, then 40 minutes it is). I'm learning to be more realistic about where I am, and work with my current level of capacity instead of repeatedly "biting off more than I can chew" and then feeling hopeless (and essentially wasting time as a result).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/20/11 11:06 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit Notes (45 min) - December 20, 2011:

My natural capacity to concentrate/patience has been poor since I'm going through a difficult time emotionally. But, I think I need to get as much out of my Concentration Practice as possible, especially during these times.

I've been taking the advice of concentrating solely on the kasina, and not giving a whit about where I may be, jhana-wise. In this morning's sit, I may have experienced the 1st jhana -- usually I've had an experience in prior sits where, at a certain point, it gets quite easy and even enjoyable to stay with the kasina. The mind gets very quiet, and I can semi-effortlessly keep my attention on the kasina. That is what I've told myself is a "good" 1st jhana. I did not experience that in this morning's sit.

In this morning's sit, I had to forcibly say "No!" to discursive thinking, and stay with the kasina, up until the very end. There were a few quiet moments, but they did not stabilize.

The good part was that I was at least able to largely not get lost in discursive thought, even though the overall experience was one of expending constant effort.

I also successfully noted almost each instance of the phenomenon of mind "on" object, and turned away from it.

I've made a rule out of meditating every morning upon waking up -- this way I find that I can "get it in" without giving myself a chance to argue against it. I believe I will settle on 45 minutes because that accounts for the mornings when I have to be at work super-early (6 AM).

I believe a 2nd sit at some point in the day is an extremely prudent idea, and will feed my motivation to keep sitting daily and eventually breaking through whatever psychological barrier I'm currently experiencing.

Also, I think I'm going to stick with either espresso or green tea prior to my sits. The last few times I tried Earl Grey after having set the intention to sit, I ended up not sitting at all. I know it's silly, but yet it happened, and my mind saw a correlation. If a "ritual" makes it easier for me to sit consistently, then so be it (that stuff is supposed to drop away after Stream Entry, right?).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/23/11 9:55 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Sat for an hour after a while. Made a conscious decision to not allow my mind to engage in discursive thinking about what the "best" duration for me is. I've noticed that even while I'm sitting, on some level my mind will be thinking, "Well, maybe I should sit for longer than the chosen duration because the longer I sit, the better." And then that opens up a whole can of worms for me where I go about trying to settle on the specific duration. I wish to stop playing this game because it's a waste of time -- I think it's far better to pick a duration and just fly with it (moment-to-moment concentration is much better that way).

I'm still curious about the phenomenon that I sometimes experience (it happened today) where my attention widens out or contracts a little bit, but does not leave the kasina that I started the sit with. I am calling this a "very good" 1st jhana because the experience is almost effortless. A lot of "quietness" imbues the overall experience, and it's as though discursive thinking moves to the very periphery of my attention -- the large part of my attention being taken up by the kasina. It's pleasant (so I suppose at this point I am generating some pleasure).

I guess the apparent lack of effort (although not the total absence of it) throws me off a little bit because that is supposed to be a defining characteristic of the 2nd jhana, and not the 1st.

At any rate -- that's the experience I get to when I actively employ all of the advice I've gotten here...

I've also been doing a lot of obsessive thinking about a "major issue" in my life -- while I sat, I made a deliberate attempt to not let my mind fall in that groove (and instead just stick with the kasina). I think that is a move in a positive/the right direction.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/24/11 8:21 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Sit notes (1 hour):

I am pretty sure (80%) that I achieved 1st jhana -- after about half an hour of sitting, there was a shift where discursive thinking went to the periphery of my mind (again), so the experience of them was "quiet." I believe thoughts quieting down (the way they do in what I consider to be my experience of the 1st jhana) makes my mind pick up on silence more -- I begin to become more aware of ambient sounds in the room, etc.

I also experienced the flame-kasina, once stuck to, directing my attention to the experience of breathing. Even though my eyes were on the flame and not moving from it, a part of my awareness was noticing the breath. It was as though attention was split in half without totally separating -- that somehow the flame was merely an external representation of the breath.

Experienced strong concentration toward the end -- there were a couple of irritating urges to end the sit, and once handled, my concentration felt rather "potent" and "stabilized/collected." I averted my attention from that experience because I knew that that's a mental impression of the actual process (but saw it as a good sign nevertheless because of its positive and fulfilling nature).

I think my patience is coming "back online." For about a couple of weeks or so, it was very difficult for me to sit for longer than 40 minutes. But I believe I am rediscovering the exponentially beneficial effects of a longer sit in general. It's my current theory that a very "deep," long sit (an hour or so) daily is better than two short sits.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/26/11 12:42 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
This is not entirely related to the rest of this thread (i.e. this is not a post about a particular sit), but I just wanted to note that overall, I think my practice has been slack lately due to interference from negative emotions. When the emotions come on, it's hard for me to convince myself that part of the actual solution to them is to continue practicing.

Also, possibly in another thread I mentioned considering psychotherapy to "iron out" some of my emotional issues so I can concentrate better. Even though it still remains true that therapy is simply beyond the reach of my financial resources, I have been emotionally opening up to people a bit more (and have been engaging in "therapeutic" conversations with a few close friends almost as a discipline).

I was not making satisfactory progress by trying to make meditation "fit into" my life, so now I am attempting to make my life "fit around" my practice (to the extent that it's pragmatic).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/26/11 7:42 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Sit Notes (approx. 1 hour):

I think my capacity to sit for longer durations is coming "back online" as I stated above, because I did so again. I'm familiarizing myself with the urge to end my sit, and am learning to see it as being just another distracting thought (something that is NOT the kasina). I still think there's a correlation between my emotional health, and the duration for which I can sit. But recently I had a subtle shift in my attitude where I could more-or-less take on a "just do it!" attitude (seeing the big picture in terms of the spiritual path can help with this).

I believe I attained the 1st jhana in today's samatha sit. My mind was keenly concentrated on the flame, and toward the end of my sit, my breathing began to "open up" noticeably. A deep relaxation began to emerge without me losing my focus on the kasina.

I need to remind myself of the seemingly "exponentially" beneficial qualities of these longer sits, because "the magic" seems to start to happen toward the end of such a sit (after around the 45-minute mark).

I was/am a little worried about the fact that I haven't been getting to the 2nd jhana lately as I used to (with some consistency). When that worrying thought arose during my sit today, I just reminded myself that the only way to actually get to the 2nd jhana is by continuing to do exactly what I was doing at the time, i.e. keeping my attention on the kasina, avoiding mind "on" object, and turning my attention away from thoughts/stories (and coming back to the kasina).

I also reminded myself of how I'd rather have a very "correct" and stable 1st jhana as opposed to a weak and insecure one giving birth to the 2nd. I believe this is a healthy attitude to have toward samatha practice.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/26/11 11:04 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
As an up and comer, could you please tell me about how long it took you to obtain first jhana? What are a few pieces of advice you'd relay which you learned in your own practice?

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/27/11 1:16 AM as a reply to Alan Smithee.
Alan Smithee:
As an up and comer, could you please tell me about how long it took you to obtain first jhana? What are a few pieces of advice you'd relay which you learned in your own practice?


I think it took me approximately 3 months to attain 1st jhana (this with kasina practice that was not very consistent). I had a few interesting experiences, but I do not think they were quite as stable as what I experience these days as being "1st jhana." I think achieving 2nd jhana gave me more perspective on the 1st. Prior to that, I wasn't sure if what I was experiencing was access concentration or 1st jhana.

As far as pieces of advice, I'd say:
  • Pretty much anything End in Sight has said on this thread is helpful, so I'd review that text.
  • I think it's good to use a timer, and have a "can-do" attitude. Pick a duration and stick with it. An overall commitment to practice makes each sit more intense/focused. All that said, in my case, I just cannot ignore "practical" reality, so I've had to spend some time listening to my body, and realistically assess my natural level of patience to pick a duration that I can "bust out" again and again.
  • Keep things simple and just stick with the chosen/committed-to object (for the chosen duration). Since I tend to think a lot along existential lines, I'd say take full responsibility for putting the world on hold for half an hour to an hour. Content can be VERY seductive. There's a fine line between not resisting the process of thinking vs. getting lost in it. I think on a deep level of mind you have to understand that the "answer" is not a thought.
  • Longer sits allow more progress -- I find that after the mind has "unwound" a bit, concentration deepens more quickly. With a shorter sit, you may be ending your sit just when the good stuff is beginning to happen.
  • Allow yourself to become involved in the process, and learn through experiencing states subjectively again and again. How can you ACTUALLY know you've "got" a jhana? That's a question that bugged me -- and still does -- because the best I can do is compare my experiences with descriptions of states, then make a safe guess as to what I may have attained. Even though I myself obsess over "the map," I think it's important to let your samatha practice seep into your lifestyle in a felt way, and transform you from within. It's better to own something and not know you have it than to not own it at all -- during practice, it may be best to suspend all thinking related to where you may be on the map. Just focus on correct technique (plenty of advice on that around!).
  • If you're overly intellectually inclined, like I am, then instead of resisting your tendency to over-analyze everything, try to live your theories. Make your day-to-day life an experiment -- choose a personal conceptual framework that you think will give you the results you're seeking (Enlightenment, mastering the samatha jhanas, etc.), but be open to refining it as your understanding grows. Do not be ashamed to use your intellect to "hammer out" EXACTLY how "hardcore meditation" applies to your life, in its absolute uniqueness. It's easy to lose sight of the end goal (Enlightenment) so conscious reminders can help....

That's about all I have for now, and I hope I didn't sound pedantic! Good luck!!

[Edited to mention my imperfect practice being a factor - RA]

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/28/11 10:45 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Sit Notes (1:05 hrs.):

My current objective is to become as serious as possible with regard to not changing the duration of my sits, and to that end, I think I am beginning to make progress. I would like to focus more on the actual "transformations" that may occur during samatha sits.

I experienced a brief "hard" 1st jhana today -- the phrase "rock-solid" went through my mind, but I made sure to not rest my mind on that impression and, instead, just continue to stick with the kasina.

Depth, stability, and duration of jhana are still goals of mine. I just don't see how I can make further progress without first experiencing, for instance, a very deep and stable ("hard") 1st jhana on a regular basis.

I want to use the subtly positive shift in my attitude that occurred recently (where I am more inclined to "just do it" when it comes to things I know are in my highest interest) to fuel and further my Training in Concentration. I have to find ways and means to sustain this attitude.

I am also doing what I can to uphold my Training in Morality, although I feel that if I did the job a little better, then concentration would come to me more easily.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/28/11 9:38 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
The reason you are not getting the full-on jhanic states that you're looking for is most likely because you have not figured out how to generate pleasure during your sits.

At this point, you should make that your sole focus during sits....meaning, figure out how to generate pleasure, and don't worry at all about your concentration until you have success at that. (And when you have success, figure out how to generate more pleasure, and to do it reliably.)

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/29/11 12:56 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
figure out how to generate pleasure, and don't worry at all about your concentration until you have success at that. (And when you have success, figure out how to generate more pleasure, and to do it reliably.)


Given what I've observed during my sits, sometimes my mind tends to "pull back" a little from the kasina and luxuriate in a pleasant feeling (while not exactly losing focus on the kasina either). The reason I've avoided going deeper into that feeling is because I didn't want my mind to be "on" the pleasure -- I feared (and have also experienced) residing in that feeling weakening my concentration.

I think I might try "going into" that feeling the next time it comes up, and make that my focus (instead of averting it whenever it comes up)...

Thanks!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/29/11 2:55 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Rashed Arafat:
End in Sight:
figure out how to generate pleasure, and don't worry at all about your concentration until you have success at that. (And when you have success, figure out how to generate more pleasure, and to do it reliably.)


Given what I've observed during my sits, sometimes my mind tends to "pull back" a little from the kasina and luxuriate in a pleasant feeling (while not exactly losing focus on the kasina either). The reason I've avoided going deeper into that feeling is because I didn't want my mind to be "on" the pleasure -- I feared (and have also experienced) residing in that feeling weakening my concentration.

I think I might try "going into" that feeling the next time it comes up, and make that my focus (instead of averting it whenever it comes up)...

Thanks!


Can you try to make it stronger without being "on" it (or possibly without even looking at it, or looking at it only to a small extent)?

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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12/29/11 6:30 PM as a reply to End in Sight.
End in Sight:
Can you try to make it stronger without being "on" it (or possibly without even looking at it, or looking at it only to a small extent)?


I'll have to play with this for a while and report back. So far that's the only sign of "pleasure" that's popped up in my sits.

Thanks!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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1/1/12 11:11 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Sit #1 (aimed at generating pleasure):

I noticed a duality where:
  1. I could focus my mind upon the kasina (flame) and largely make sure that I'm averting thoughts. This leads to a "mental" quality of keen focus.
  2. I can "split" my attention where a part of my mind is focused on the flame, but another part is remaining aware of my breathing. I put the word split in quotes because it's not really that -- it's as though my attention is "widening" and becoming inclusive of both the flame and my breathing, seeing the flame as being more-or-less an external representation of the breath/trachea. The experience is not as focused as #1, but it's more likely to move me out of my head -- away from discursive thinking -- by the simple fact that I've become more aware of my body.
I think one of the keys to generating if not necessarily pleasure, then at least deep concentration/a sense of composure or "collectedness" is by just not going with thoughts. But obviously, that is not enough. In the duality outlined above, so far in my practice I've only taken the first approach. I think the 2nd approach holds some promise, even though it didn't yield what I'd call "pleasure" in tonight's sit.

However, being aware of my breathing made me more aware of my body. If there was pleasure available, then I think I could've spread it around the body by employing that method.

Also worthy of note is that early on during the sit, I felt as though I was reasonably "settled" upon the kasina (thoughts had quieted down and were not distracting). At that point, in an attempt to generate pleasure, I partially withdrew my attention from the kasina and placed it on what it felt like to be sitting there, physically, looking at the flame. The experience felt "dull." I stayed with that feeling. That didn't produce the pleasure I was looking for and so I went back to the kasina (in a sense this is not good news because that's what I meant in an earlier post where I talked about turning my attention to the very subtle pleasure that arises in/around my head after looking at the kasina for a while).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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1/30/12 1:27 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
I haven't posted in a while because I was getting, to be honest, irritated with all the suggestions to generate "pleasure" at all costs -- basically, it made me feel as though without doing so, I cannot make any progress at all. While that may be true, I think I work poorly (especially while meditating) if I feel as though what I am currently doing is totally worthless (since it's not generating pleasure).

I cannot just sit down and voila! -- pleasure. So, I am continuing to work on first calming my mind down when I sit. While this has not led to intense pleasure, I think I'm getting a better "feel" for what happens when I do samatha practice, and I am beginning to identify certain phenomena in my OWN terms. Also, I am gaining more experience and confidence in the access concentration/1st jhana territory with this attitude. My current goal is to consistently and repeatedly experience a very "hard" 1st jhana, and then move on to the 2nd. But concentration/pleasure is my main focus. I want to have a very solid foundation for my samatha practice, so that I have very little doubt about where I am when the jhanas begin to appear.

I am currently in Bangladesh, and am Practicing (with a cereal bowl) under not the most optimal conditions.

That said, I've noticed a few things/have come to a few conclusions re: my samatha sits:

1. Sometimes my mind wants to shift to the shadow cast by the cereal bowl, and take cereal bowl + shadow as my kasina/object. I allowed it to happen once, but it weakened my concentration. So I am forcing myself to stick solely to the cereal bowl throughout my entire sit. I know if I move to the 2nd jhana, the mind naturally "takes off" from the primary kasina, but so far I still have not made it to the 2nd jhana while here. I guess you could say that I'm trying to develop concentration UPON the object. Also, I read in MCTB that it's best to not switch objects too much during a sit, and I'm trying to stick to that advice. I'm trying to notice all the changes that occur while my mind is fixed upon a singular object of concentration.

2. One thing I've noticed is that I could either focus 100% of my attention on the kasina, or I could NOT force my attention upon the kasina and instead be more gentle/inclusive with it. I'm still not sure which way to go with this -- whichever approach leads to the 2nd jhana/a "hard" 1st jhana is what I will go with. This requires some more playing-around-with.

3. I have largely stopped smoking pot, which is making me turn to meditation more seriously in order to have a stabilized, and relaxed mind (since there's really no other alternative). I am still waiting for my brain chemistry to "even out." My theory is that jhanas will appear more rapidly with a THC-free brain chemistry, and I will finally get on board/be on the same page with the rest of the practitioners here. This is also helping my morality trip, I believe.

4. I've made a rule out of not bothering myself with what jhana I may be in while actually meditating. Any time such a thought appears, I just ignore it and return my attention to the kasina. Taking a step back, I'm considering such thoughts to be a part of discursive thinking in general, which I also avoid whenever it happens. That said, I think "healing insights" come through the avenue of thought. My guess is that it's in the 2nd jhana that I may acquire such insights, but we'll see. One of my main motivations for doing samatha practice is to be able to squarely "deal with my stuff." If all I do is avoid thought, then how exactly am I to deal with my stuff?

This is it for now! Best of luck to all practitioners!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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1/31/12 3:02 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Sat for 1 hour with cereal bowl.

It seems as though focusing all of my attention on the kasina when I sit is the way to go (I was debating between this approach and one where I do not force it and, instead, gently "attend" to the kasina). I say this because when I tried to "attend" to the kasina, I distinctly felt as though I wasn't getting anywhere -- concentration wasn't improving. I got frustrated and chose to focus all of my attention on the cereal bowl, and I experienced a subtle shift where my concentration "tightened," and thoughts quieted down somewhat.

The mind also felt well-concentrated, as though I couldn't be easily disturbed/distracted by outside influences. I felt a measure of pleasure, but I hesitate to use the word since the "bliss" factor was hardly existent. I think I just need to keep practicing like this -- there are not really any other ideas that I have that I could try out (I've already ruled out "gently attending to the kasina and seeing if pleasure emerges").

I believe I was in 1st jhana. A phenomenon has also been occurring where the sense of separation in between the kasina and myself tends to mostly disappear, but it's too subtle for me to label it "unification of awareness." I keep looking at the kasina, and then at one point, with the kasina still being the focus of my attention, it's as though the dividing line between the kasina and the objects surrounding it (the pillow upon which I place the cereal bowl for instance) cease to matter -- it's as though the kasina and the pillow are part of a photograph, and my attention is taking in the photograph instead of the kasina protruding out of it.

I don't know if it matters too much -- just something interesting to note. Also -- when this experience happens, thoughts quiet down a lot more than usual.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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2/17/12 2:51 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
I've been sitting steadily for approximately the last 3 weeks (was visiting Bangladesh, and got the opportunity to practice every day). I've gotten better at staying concentrated/alert/focused for at least 1 hour. Generally, toward the end of most of my sits, I achieve a fairly light/unstable version of the 1st jhana. More and more I'm inclined to think that I have to put in more effort than I think is necessary in order to "create" a stronger and more potent 1st jhana.

Pleasure has been occurring during my sits, but a light version of it -- mostly limited to skin-tingling around the face and neck. Also, during a "good" sit I've been achieving a version/form of the 1st jhana where it's as though I truly no longer feel any control over thoughts. They appear distant, on the periphery of my awareness, and detached from whoever the central "Me" may be. I've experienced this phenomenon before and referred to my experience of thoughts during this state as being "wispy."

2 - 6 times I achieved the 2nd jhana within the last 3 weeks. The experience was one of my attention detaching itself from the primary kasina (I used a cereal bowl for a while, then switched over to a candle-flame) and almost resting upon itself. I would ask myself during these experiences "What is my kasina right now?" It seemed as though during certain times I was content to be with the breath, but at other times it was as though I was merely alert to the sounds outside, with a deep silence "in here." In contrast to my experiences of the 2nd jhana earlier (several months ago), visualizing wasn't a primary factor.

I'm still interested in creating "intense" pleasure for myself -- focus merely on that, and not on "jhana-jumping." So far I think it's important that I use a flame (I've tried flame, cereal bowl, and breath so far, and the verdict is that a flame is able to more easily induce concentration than the other kasinas, at least for the transition from access concentration to 1st jhana). It's also important for me to simply ignore questions such as "What jhana am I in right now?" I admit that the curiosity to "know" is very intense -- in MCTB I read that when you achieve a jhana, you "just know." I was focusing on that "koan" on today's sit, and the closest answer that I could come to was that "In my case, the question drops away and I'm more interested in simply concentrating on the kasina (for the experience has become rather enjoyable, and somewhat effortless)."

Overall I'd say that my practice has gotten stronger -- I've been sitting consistently (daily) for almost 3 weeks, and even though I have not been getting entirely "blissed out" during my sits, I have at least felt a degree of concentration, day after day, that was sufficient to keep me focused on the kasina for at least an hour. Increase in patience FTW!

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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2/18/12 9:28 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit Notes, 1 hour:

I've been firmly sticking to my personal rule of meditating 1st thing every morning. This way I find that I do not really have an excuse for not meditating on a particular day (I can always wake up earlier -- plan ahead to do so -- if I need).

During this sit, I felt a degree of certainty with regard to being in the 1st jhana that I hadn't before, or generally don't (I was actually very happy about this). The transition to 1st jhana also coincided with the transition to experiencing pleasure. It was not the most intense pleasure that I've felt to date, but it was certainly more than the "fairly light," skin-tingly stuff that begins to generate when my concentration becomes reasonably good during a sit.

A "shift" occurred as well while transitioning to the 1st jhana where I considered the flame and the apparatus supporting the flame -- as mentioned before, I use an oil-lamp -- as being one unit/as my primary kasina. I'm thinking that this shift to taking in a slightly broader visual area is natural while transitioning to the 1st jhana.

My concentration stayed good throughout the rest of the sit -- I was a little worried that I'd "drop out" of the 1st jhana because at times I felt impatient to end my sit (my patience is not perfect, although I've been sticking to my guns re: sitting for at least an hour), but it seemed as though my mind had become concentrated to a degree where it would take quite a bit for it to become distracted enough to withdraw from the kasina.

One thing that became obvious to me (again) was how important it is to avoid all the visions of my mind "being worked on" by the kasina or vice versa. Avoiding such experiences/visualizations seemed to deepen my concentration, leading to pleasure.

Overall, I consider this sit to have been a "success."

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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2/22/12 11:37 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Post-sit Notes -- 1 hour:

Toward the end of my samatha sit, I arrived to the 2nd jhana. I could no longer focus on the flame, the focus of my attention having widened out significantly and sort of "luxuriating" in that sense of spaciousness. This was also a deeply relaxing experience -- my current theory is that the 2nd jhana, for me, is significantly more relaxing than the 1st.

I was also able to take a particular form of tension as my object while in the 2nd jhana -- it was the tension caused by thinking "how many more minutes are left in my sit?" In the 1st jhana, I'm unable to take it as an object -- all I can do is avert that line of thought and, instead, focus on the flame (and continue deepening my concentration).

While in the 1st jhana, I tried to notice which "jhana factors" I was experiencing. Concentration was definitely one of them, and so was applied effort (not sure exactly what "applied thought" counts as). Pleasure/rapture was still missing. I will continue to work on ways to generate pleasure, but I have to say that since I was able to get to 2nd jhana applying the technique that I did (and that it was a rewarding experience in the end), I must be doing something right.

One thing potentially worth noting is that the transition to 2nd jhana was caused by 2 factors:
  1. The emergence of a painful memory/thought stream and me immediately taking that as my object instead of getting lost in it.
  2. A visualization occurring around the flame as I got really deep into the 1st jhana. It seems to me that there's a fine line between helpful (to concentration) visualizing and visualizing that is a symptom of the mind being "on" the kasina. To elaborate, in the 1st jhana, sometimes the sense of "grooviness" can be so intense that the experience can feel like cogs turning within a well-oiled machine -- and I can actually "see" this in my mind's eye. Most of the time, I have to avert such imagery because it's a representation of the ongoing process of concentration. However, in the 2nd jhana, since the flame is no longer the kasina, it seems as though the representation becomes the kasina (this is my understanding of it). Also, depending on my level of concentration in the 1st jhana, it can be either helpful or harmful to focus on such a visualization -- if concentration has reached the "tipping point" where certain factors can cause me to shift to the 2nd jhana, then it may be wise to welcome the mind's visual interpretation of concentration (instead of averting it and continuing to pay attention to the flame).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
2/25/12 6:42 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Am going to try a new approach where I sit for 55 minutes each time I sit (instead of working with 2 durations like I have been in order to account for the waxing and waning of my energy level during the course of a day). For the last few days I had been using a different brand of oil for my oil-lamp, which was causing the flame to create a visible amount of soot that was being deposited on the glass enclosure that surrounds it. This phenomenon worried me, because I thought that I was quite possibly inhaling a certain amount of soot -- which is supposedly bad for one's lungs -- every time I sat. In today's sit, I decided to concentrate for my usual 1 hour anyway, despite the worrying. I noticed that it was extremely difficult for me to ignore thoughts about my personal well-being and concentrate solely on the flame/kasina.

A part of me thinks that that's me being a hypochondriac -- sure, I'm possibly inhaling a certain amount of soot, but that's not going to kill me (and I intended to buy my usual, non-soot-inducing brand of oil before sitting again).

I also noticed that the fact of having to sit for 1 whole hour while being bombarded by these thoughts made it very difficult for me to concentrate on generating pleasure. So I have decided to cut back down to 55 minutes (because my sit naturally ended around that time).

I don't like feeling as though I'm having to "fight" to stay with the flame for a whole hour. I'd rather get into it of my own accord. I'm well aware that I shouldn't "flip-flop" with durations (for my sits) too much, but I believe it's also important that I work on changing my attitude toward sitting/samatha practice. It's a fact that despite sitting for several months, I still haven't stabilized myself on the 2nd jhana. Irregularity obviously isn't my problem...

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
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2/28/12 6:32 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Well, it seems like I got over-excited with my decision to sit for 55 minutes every time I sit. I realized that to expect to do so on a morning when I have to be at work as early as 6 AM, after having closed the night before induces far too much stress in my psyche. I'm going to try and not make such hasty, zealous decisions from now on (must learn to recognize it as an unhealthy pattern). I'm still planning on sitting first thing every morning no-matter-what, but if I have to be out the door by 6 AM, then I think it's wise to cut my sit-time to about half an hour (for such occasions only -- otherwise, it remains at about an hour).

As a side note, anyone on this forum heard of (and have an opinion on) an Australian meditation teacher named Linda Clair? She's coming to an adjacent city -- Raleigh, NC -- and I think I might go visit her (giving a type of "satsang" from the sound of it).

In today's hour-long sit, I got to a point where I was deriving a sort of "warm satisfaction" out of the experience. In fact, even during the sit I compared the experience to something along the lines of "getting into a slow groove," as Daniel puts it in MCTB. I felt as though I felt-understood what he meant. There was a certain "depth" and stability to the experience, and I believe this was 1st jhana.

Also, another pleasant thing that occurred was that I was able to cross over the hurdle imposed on my mind by habitual pattern-thinking that takes place over a certain issue from my past on a daily basis. It was a relief to notice that I can actually not be bothered by those thoughts (like I am so often), even if for a relatively brief period of time. They were almost gone.

I am also consciously taking on the project of reorienting my life -- toward Truth-realization/Enlightenment -- by dropping negative habits, learning to take into account that relaxation and periods of entertainment/stimulation are as important as hardcore pushing, and doing one thing at a time. One of my biggest drawbacks is that I routinely conceptualize the End of Suffering as being a far-off goal, likely to occur after possibly 20 years. It's the same with a few other things in my life as well. Even reading about the meditative accomplishments of people on this forum tends to discourage me, especially when I compare that to me not being able to even solidly "land" the 2nd jhana yet.

So, instead of thinking about being Enlightened in 20 years, I think it's healthier and more effective to state that my goal for now is to simply firmly become established in the 2nd jhana, or be able to achieve it in every sit -- this can happen within the next few months, which is far more realistic, and not as discouraging.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
3/26/12 1:06 AM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
Sat for an hour after quite a while (several weeks - a month). I'm sad to say that my practice still has not taken off as I would've liked. But the way I look at it is: "What other method are you going to employ besides meditation, if your goal is to Awaken?"

Only recently I tweaked a couple of factors in my sits, and I have faith that they will bring desirable results.

I seem to need a very clearly-defined kasina. My intellect has to know exactly what it is that I'm looking at. So if it's a flame, then it's got to be just the flame, and not the apparatus that supports the flame (that is to be treated as the kasina).

I'm continuing to work on averting queries such as "What jhana am I in currently?" or "When will I get to 2nd jhana?" I believe I'm getting better at this (suppressing the desire for jhanas, paradoxically leading to increased concentration and the jhanas).

In a sense I'm getting more serious with my life, and trying to accurately assess just where I am (both in terms of a spiritual path, as well as mundane life). I'm frustrated with my lack of progress, so I'm assertively asking myself "Just why is it that you haven't made as much meditative progress as you would've liked, Rashed?"

I would say I get to 1st jhana in pretty much every sit, and occasionally the 2nd jhana. I will write further if/when my practice "takes off." I had over 3 weeks -- while traveling abroad -- to sort out just what "worked" for me when it came to an object for concentration, and the answer was "a flame." So I think I'm gonna stick with that (and try to tweak factors surrounding it).

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
3/27/12 11:02 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
So, because I've been fairly frustrated with my practice as of late, I decided to buckle down and really sort out what's holding me up. In tonight's sit, even though I had set the alarm for an hour, I kept sitting through it when it went off, and finally got up after approximately an hour and 20 minutes. By that point -- the 1-hour-mark -- I had actually gotten to a state where it was subtly pleasant to continue sitting, and not much effort was required to stay in the 1st jhana. My mind was pretty well-concentrated, and stabilized, causing my body to release a fair amount of stored-up tension, especially in my back.

One thing I also noticed was that my mind must've been both relaxed and yet fairly alert, because in the past, when the alarm would go off, it would often "shake me out" of a somewhat dreamy state (indicating that I wasn't very well, or properly concentrated). This time, when the alarm went off, it was as though it was just another thought (or thought-stream) that I was ignoring.

The more I meditate, the more I realize its enormous benefits. A lot of the anxiety that I harbor about "finishing" the spiritual path one day seems to matter noticeably less after a good samatha sit (which is not to say that I lose the motivation to succeed -- rather, I'm in a better position to do the things/practices that may actually lead to success due to having less anxiety, and more calmness, and collected-ness -- perhaps even confidence).

I believe I have found the factors that are to provide the foundation for my samatha practice. As it is I am highly, highly cerebral (it's pretty obvious I'm sure) -- I really think more than I should, and micro-analyze everything I become interested in. It's hard for me to pull off a good samatha sit without properly defining the parameters. So, the parameters are:
  1. A flame as my kasina. I've noticed that sometimes focusing strictly on the flame itself can be too "narrow" a focus of attention. My mind eventually loses interest and settles on flame + the base of the flame as the kasina. To make things go more smoothly for me (i.e. to account for this almost inevitable shift), I've been starting out my sit with the latter as my kasina, even though it may feel slightly unnatural (since it's so much easier to isolate a flame from its surroundings).
  2. This I discovered in tonight's sit, but I actually began experiencing pleasantness and "internal silence" -- began enjoying my meditation -- when I backed off on the effort a little bit. So I am thinking it's more important that I try and find the "right" amount of effort that stabilizes my mind upon the kasina as opposed to trying to focus as acutely as possible on it (which can breed the attitude that I'm going to "blast" my way into the higher jhanas).
  3. For as long as I am in access concentration/1st jhana territory, it's important to not focus on anything else except that which I have defined as being my kasina. Even though sometimes -- when concentration gets reasonably strong -- the mind might want to take something near the flame as its object (e.g. a small circular indentation on the wall behind the flame), so far such forays have proven to be dead-ends. I think concentration continues to increase when I stick with my primary kasina, up until the point when the mind "takes off" to the 2nd jhana.

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
5/9/12 12:29 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
It's been a while since I've posted on here... however, that's partly due to me taking it upon myself to really stabilize my daily practice (instead of frequently complaining about what's "wrong" with it).

A forum member forwarded a .PDF file titled Progressive Stages of Meditation in Plain English by Upasaka Culadasa that affected me so much that I've been using that as a template for my Training in Concentration for about a couple of months, or thereabouts.

I've been doing 45-minute sits, pretty much every day, on my own. And I've also been sitting with a local friend of mine -- the two of us even started an "Informal Meditation Group."

In today's sit, my concentration grew extremely strong, and I entered the 2nd Jhana (I clearly was no longer using the flame as my kasina). My mind, however, was wondering "What is my object, right now?" I realized that that very thought needed to be averted, and that I would just have to be okay with staying in that blissfully concentrated state, almost self-sustaining.

I also sat past the alarm because of the advice that if I'm at the cutting edge of my practice, then I need to keep sitting regardless of what commitment I've made with regard to it.

However, I've also culled from "Meditation in Plain English" that it's better to remain satisfied with what I've already accomplished versus shooting for too much, failing, and then feeling disappointed (a feeling that is going to make it less likely for me to continue with my practice). So when I began to feel unsure as to my capacity for sitting for an extraordinary length of time (by my standards) after the alarm had gone off, I just stopped, and congratulated myself for what I did accomplish.

Having made the above report about my progress, I have two questions/concerns that I'd like to present to the forum:
  1. A part of me knows that I can't "finish the spiritual path" solely on my own. Theoretically it's possible, but pragmatically, I'll get to my goal much faster if I worked, in person, with other meditators and meditation teachers. Short of going on retreat, is there a way to accomplish this? I have plenty of "spiritual" friends where I live, but most of them are not following the Hardcore Dharma model like I am. And I feel as though I need to work directly with people from this forum, etc. if I wish to make quick progress.
  2. It's my understanding that all retreats focus on Insight meditation, and not concentration. Frankly, I'm trying to stabilize myself on the 1st and 2nd Samatha Jhanas, which I consider to be the "lower rungs" of the ladder I have to climb. Do people do Samatha retreats? Is that even a good idea?

RE: Rashed's (Continuing) TRAINING IN CONCENTRATION Thread
Answer
5/9/12 8:31 PM as a reply to Rashed Arafat.
... Progressive Stages of Meditation in Plain English by Upasaka Culadasa that affected me so much that I've been using that as a template for my Training in Concentration for about a couple of months, or thereabouts.
To be clear, John Yates (Culadasa) does credit Kamalashila at the outset as the originator of these progressive stages (which describe meditation as progressive stages of gross-to-subtle dullness and effects of calm abiding). He adds, as you have too, "establish a practice" as a tenth stage to emphasize its importance consistently.

However, I've also culled from "Meditation in Plain English" that it's better to remain satisfied with what I've already accomplished versus shooting for too much, failing, and then feeling disappointed (a feeling that is going to make it less likely for me to continue with my practice).
(...)
Having made the above report about my progress, I have two questions/concerns that I'd like to present to the forum:
A part of me knows that I can't "finish the spiritual path" solely on my own. Theoretically it's possible, but pragmatically, I'll get to my goal much faster if I worked, in person, with other meditators and meditation teachers. Short of going on retreat, is there a way to accomplish this? I have plenty of "spiritual" friends where I live, but most of them are not following the Hardcore Dharma model like I am. And I feel as though I need to work directly with people from this forum, etc. if I wish to make quick progress.

Wishing to make quick progress is also a diversionary, unrelated, craven (but natural) thought of a feral mind without its trainer. It is just filling time off the cushion (when it knows it is in training) with "wishing". Just as you apply the mind to anapanasati with progressively reduced dullness of mental focus when you are on the cushion, mindfulness off the cushion develops the mind further by reducing the false pastures a perseverating, feral mind makes for itself.

When "wishing" arises, one can simply re-place the mind at the actuality of the sense-doors again. When the selfish capacity of mind rears up against this replacement with a sentiment something like "surely my wishing to progress quickly is better than actual sensing the keyboard keys at the fingertips, hearing their tap at the ears mixed with the static of space at the ears, seeing the fingers jump before the eyes and screen" one can either a) just acknowledge the aversion to the actual sense doors in this "moment" and return the mind to the sense doors (just as one returns the mind to anapanasati to dispell dullness according to Kamalashila's nine progressive stages), or b) one can pursue their diversion and ask, "Why am I averse to the sense doors here and now and prefer the activity of 'wishing' instead?" The expedient progress is in reducing dullness, by gently replacing the mind back on its object every time it generates its own dreamy dullness in mental fabrications. It takes some time to train the mind, to help it become friendly with itself as a tool of concentration, not a tool of self-centered fabrications. It is just shifting fabrication - as if to a noble story - when it is taken seriously for presenting "wishing to progress quickly". It is avoiding its object by chatting. That's ok. Gentleness, rest and time-in win the day. It is like properly training a young, innocent animal: not harshly, not fearfully, patiently. That is the "quick" way.

It's my understanding that all retreats focus on Insight meditation, and not concentration. Frankly, I'm trying to stabilize myself on the 1st and 2nd Samatha Jhanas, which I consider to be the "lower rungs" of the ladder I have to climb. Do people do Samatha retreats? Is that even a good idea?
Lots of retreats are organized around concentration for the first several days. A common human experience is that after about four days of reducing dullness around concentration - if the person is willing/able to stay the retreat after these first challenging days - the mind trained on an object then becomes able to affix itself well to its own bodily risings, physical and mental. Thus, retreats start in "concentration" and end up in concentration-that-can-study, then concentration that is single-pointed and has no egoic root. Vipasana arising naturally from concentration. (This certainly did not happen on my first sesshin 20 years ago. I think I had a full seven days of stories and trying to stay awake. I did learn how a good mental story can distract from relative discomfort.)

Training the mind to focus will remove dullness; stage seven will happen naturally. This stage shows very clearly why the practice happens on its own and that the only job "I" have is to gently return the mind to objects, not let it get into trouble and neurotic in its own created pastures.

People do not have to agree on the insights coming from their practice, however, the practice to get to naturally arising insight is just to train the mind (a variety of ways here) to stabilize alertly on its object, learn what it is to not mentally perseverate and/or jump around. When off the cushion, this is done with a mindfulness practice.

edit: hyperlink added
Edits for clarification