How can I improve my concentration practice? At around first jhana now

Conor O'Higgins, modified 10 Years ago at 10/15/11 5:19 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/15/11 5:16 PM

How can I improve my concentration practice? At around first jhana now

Posts: 46 Join Date: 3/8/11 Recent Posts
Greetings

I've been meditating every day since the June 1st for a minimum of 40 minutes per day, sometimes up to three hours. I'm doing concentration practises according to the best of my understanding, gleaned from Thubten Chodron's Lamrim teachings on Zhine (http://www.thubtenchodron.org/GradualPathToEnlightenment/O_TrainingInCalmAbiding.html), Daniel Ingram's book, and a few other sources.

I am making progress and I don't have particular problems with my practice; I just want to know how to make it even better. After four-and-a-half months, I can only attain the first jhana occasionally and for a short time. This seems like pretty slow progress to me - is it? I'm now at the stage where if I gather my energies and make a commitment to focus especially hard for the next few breaths (that's my object of concentration - the breath) then I will enter the first jhana, but I can't seem to stay in it for more than about ten breaths at a time. I think I get excited about "I'm in a mystical trance - how groovy!" and that makes me fall out of it.

I'd like to get tot the stage where I can produce and abide in the first jhana reliably. I'm pretty sure this'll come eventually if I just keep hacking away at my practise, but is there a way I can progress faster?

Peace,
Conor
, modified 10 Years ago at 10/16/11 1:07 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/16/11 12:45 AM

RE: How can I improve my concentration practice? At around first jhana now

Posts: 385 Join Date: 8/11/10 Recent Posts
I've been meditating every day since the June 1st for a minimum of 40 minutes per day, sometimes up to three hours. I'm doing concentration practises according to the best of my understanding, gleaned from Thubten Chodron's Lamrim teachings on Zhine (http://www.thubtenchodron.org/GradualPathToEnlightenment/O_TrainingInCalmAbiding.html), Daniel Ingram's book, and a few other sources.
You mention later in this post that you use breathing as your concentration tool. What sort of breathing are you doing? On what aspect of breathing is your concentration during breathing meditation?
What is occurring at the 40-minute mark? Is the meditation experienced differently in sits lasting more than 40 minutes?


I am making progress and I don't have particular problems with my practice; I just want to know how to make it even better. After four-and-a-half months, I can only attain the first jhana occasionally and for a short time. This seems like pretty slow progress to me - is it?
I have no idea. Personally, after getting through the thinking and analytical aspects (vitaka, viccara) processes unfolded with less effort and apparent time.

I'm now at the stage where if I gather my energies and make a commitment to focus especially hard for the next few breaths (that's my object of concentration - the breath) then I will enter the first jhana, but I can't seem to stay in it for more than about ten breaths at a time. I think I get excited about "I'm in a mystical trance - how groovy!" and that makes me fall out of it.

What is the experience like that causes excitement and "I'm in a mystical trance - how groovy!" You may be transitioning briefly into second jhana here.

For myself, about four years ago, the non-thinking/non-analytical portion of meditation came in at the 45-minute mark and would last for 15-45 minutes thereafter. I also remember being distracted out of the placidity of that with "wow" thoughts.

What daily practices do you do that do not require thinking and analysis? Consider practices that highlight the efforts of the thinking/analytical mind such that you can notice the activity of thinking and deliberately go back to the actual practice at hand, which is to say, consider something prepatory wherein the thinking/analytical mind is not needed and is very apparent in contrast to the activity (exercise, yoga/yogic breathing, drumming). Then, go into sitting practice as soon as you can. Perhaps switch to kasina instead of breathing. If possible sit longer. Chose a posture that can be sustained for 60 minutes and after the sit try to look back and see approximately at what minutes second jhana occurred.

[edited for clarity]
Conor O'Higgins, modified 10 Years ago at 10/16/11 9:36 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/16/11 9:31 AM

RE: How can I improve my concentration practice? At around first jhana now

Posts: 46 Join Date: 3/8/11 Recent Posts
katy s:
What sort of breathing are you doing? On what aspect of breathing is your concentration during breathing meditation?

I'm meditating on the dan-tien/ tanden, the point a few inches below the belly button that is the body's center of gravity. I'm not controlling my breathing, just letting it happen. The more deeply I concentrate, the slower and calmer my breathing becomes, until by the time I have entered the jhana, the movement of the breath is barely perceptible.

katy s:
What is occurring at the 40-minute mark? Is the meditation experienced differently in sits lasting more than 40 minutes?
That varies quite a lot day-to-day. If my mind is frisky to begin with, it may take a long time quiet down. In such cases, the good stuff comes at the end, so long sits are better. On the other hand, I find it easier to make a strong determination to meditate for shorter periods; if I sit for 20 minutes, I don't mess around, I really concentrate. If I sit for an hour, I am likely to spend some of that time wandering.

It depends on how inspired and determined I am feeling when I sit down - how much joyful effort I have, as the Tibetans would say. I think this is the main thing holding back my practise just now - that I do not constantly, unwaveringly display joyful effort. My effort is intermittent and flags pretty frequently. It's getting better though.

What is the experience like that causes excitement and "I'm in a mystical trance - how groovy!" You may be transitioning briefly into second jhana here.
Silence. Quiescence of the thoughts.

I get into jhana when my effort becomes unwavering. At first, I apply effort, and re-apply it as frequently as I can, several times per second. But even this allows gaps through which distraxions can infiltrate. When I stop using 'frequently reapplied effort' and start using 'uninterrupted, continuous effort', I attain jhana pretty soon.

What daily practices do you do that do not require thinking and analysis? Consider practices that highlight the efforts of the thinking/analytical mind such that you can notice the activity of thinking and deliberately go back to the actual practice at hand, which is to say, consider something prepatory wherein the thinking/analytical mind is not needed and is very apparent in contrast to the activity (exercise, yoga/yogic breathing, drumming). Then, go into sitting practice as soon as you can. Perhaps switch to kasina instead of breathing. If possible sit longer. Chose a posture that can be sustained for 60 minutes and after the sit try to look back and see approximately at what minutes second jhana occurred.
Ok, this sounds doable. You mean do something like chess that involves thinking extra-hard in order to familiarize myself with what it feels like when the thinking mind comes up?
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Rashed Arafat, modified 10 Years ago at 10/17/11 8:41 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/17/11 8:41 PM

RE: How can I improve my concentration practice? At around first jhana now

Posts: 155 Join Date: 7/13/11 Recent Posts
Hi Conor!

I myself have been focusing exclusively on Concentration Practice and have a few thoughts that may be helpful:

I think using a kasina has made significant difference in my practice. I can't seem to go too far when I focus on the breath (although my attention tends to naturally move away from the external kasina -- a flame -- and rest on the breath, amongst other objects, when I'm in 2nd jhana). I find that starting out with the kasina gives my mind something very, very concrete and "solid" to focus on, and I can sort of "calibrate" the degree of attention that I'm placing upon it. Think of the process as being more akin to driving a really well-oiled machine, that is highly responsive to you. Instead of brute, "lock-down" type of focus, it's better to apply just the right amount of effort. I think it's the continual attempting to apply the right amount of effort/concentration that leads to stabilization of mind (which, if you stick with it, leads to jhanas -- and once there, you do the same thing, i.e. keep trying to "fine tune" it and it's the process itself that will yield stabilization, even of the jhana -- you can rejoice and congratulate yourself once the sit is over).

If you're getting sidetracked by very "mystical/spiritual" states -- glimpses into them -- you may want to "train" your mind by resolving, before or even during the sit, to just see that as being part of the experience of sitting, taken as a whole. The more you do that, the more likely you are to gain access to the jhanas, one after another.

I think that's all I have to say that may be of any use to you, given what you've said...hope it helps, and good luck! I am impressed with the duration for which you have been sitting, and your degree of regularity with regard to practice. These are aspects that I am missing (albeit working on) in my own practice.
, modified 10 Years ago at 10/17/11 10:37 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/17/11 10:34 PM

RE: How can I improve my concentration practice? At around first jhana now

Posts: 385 Join Date: 8/11/10 Recent Posts
Hi Conor -

I cannot add meaningfully to your answers, because I lack anything near mastery, other than to agree with you that joyful effort is useful and will result in progress ("it's getting better") even if effort flags occasionally.


Quiescence of the thoughts.
If you mean here that you experience thoughtless awareness, I think this is 2nd jhana. And, as this occurs more easily, then 3rd and 4th happen of their own accord (in my experience).

I will say that very dedicated mindfulness (and the actualism practice as explained elsewhere on the DhO as a constant intention for apperception, and then the actual occurrence of apperception) helped me experience the 2nd jhana quality of mind with duration. Thus, when I sit on the cushion (very rarely now, though I did sit some this weekend), the mind -- now trained to constant mindfulness (of what is actual and, then apperceiving daily activity) -- can recognize 2nd jhana in meditation and stay there with some stability.

Ok, this sounds doable. You mean do something like chess that involves thinking extra-hard in order to familiarize myself with what it feels like when the thinking mind comes up?
No. I apologize for my unclear words here. I meant to consider doing something that requires no thinking or analysis in order that any arising thoughts/analysis are immediately apparent and in stark contrast to the physical senses being used.

Do you do kasina practice - like candle flame or moving water? Kasina practices do not easily support thought and analysis, and are uplifting for sensory perception - thus could be useful to your jhana movements.

May someone with much more experience here jump in.
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Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem, modified 10 Years ago at 10/18/11 8:55 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 10/18/11 8:55 AM

RE: How can I improve my concentration practice? At around first jhana now

Posts: 2227 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Try noticing the pleasantness of the breath. Or try actively generating pleasure by breathing, in any part of your body. Just imagine you are inhaling a draught of a fine perfume which will fill your body with pleasure. And then, focus on that pleasure, concentrate on it in addition to (or instead of) the breathing... it is easier to pay attention to something pleasurable. Then let that pleasure suffuse every part of your body. Though you eventually don't want to 'bliss out', it might help to take that approach, at first, to get you into that territory, then you can refine the technique later (so you focus more on the pleasure itself instead of blissing out on it).

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