Access concentration suddenly denied? Weird post

Pavel Pek, modified 1 Year ago at 4/24/22 4:27 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 4/24/22 4:27 AM

Access concentration suddenly denied? Weird post

Posts: 20 Join Date: 8/22/21 Recent Posts
Hello guys,

so in December, I have been mostly interested in Christianity (carrying my cross + real empathy for the first time in my life) with a meditation on the side. I have also been focusing on my OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) recovery. Suddenly, I found myself able to sit and to even probably achieve access concentration. In the past, I always used to do meditation, but this was the first time I was doing it and I literally had no attachment whatsoever to it. However, I have relapsed in terms of OCD recovery, and I got the feeling of tiredness since then (I have a form of OCD that can give me any bodily pains or somatic feelings but on repeat, like tiredness) and since then, I am unable to achieve access concentration.

Before I was a) just waiting for the breath to come in through the nostrils and b) I had a very little effort and the breath was just coming in and I was aware of it. 

Now it seems like a) struggle b) my attention is anywhere but on the breath c) I feel tired (it's purely psychosomatic, my sleep is well, I don't overwork, it's my OCD), d) it feels really effortful. 

I tried to switch to Mahayasi noting technique, but I think I should first be able to be in access concentration before even trying to get some Arising and Passing insight from noting.

Why am I suddenly no longer able to meditate as smoothly as before? It can either be because of my OCD giving me this tiredness or because I was in much greater empathy back then and I really tried to be helpful to people, which would be tied to me also now being more attached to achieving something with meditation, while before I just wanted to relax a bit on the cushion, I have no idea.

Where to go from here? I have some unskillful thoughts arising now such as "If Daniel Ingram would have my type of OCD, he would never become Arahant" and other kinds of comical and yet really victim-mentality seductive thoughts and I am getting into this archetypal Cain and Abel dynamics. Both Cain and Abel offered to God, but God only looked upon Abel, Cain's efforts were therefore of no veil. - Now I believe that was just a test upon Cain and if he would stay in love and trust, he would be "rewarded 7-fold" (The Bible's specialty). I think I am getting into the same victim mentality, I try however not to get carried out completely by these unskillful thoughts.

However, I could really use some practical advice - let's keep OCD away from this, we all have our own issues regardless of what my brain says, has it ever happened to you that you would almost feel like you are able to have access concentration for some time and then suddenly for 3 months you are struggling hard unable to muster any focus in one-point focus/Samatha/Ánápána practices?

BTW: My OCD is as good as it gets, after having it since I was a first-grader in elementary school, it was so chronic, that right now I can actually live a normal life filled with habits, but these somatic feelings that are on repeat are just still there in my life with me - tiredness/back pain/stomach pains, etc., the only way to do therapy on those is really just acceptance, "carrying my cross", or meditating on them and trying to get insights on why they are uncomfortable, etc. I am just mentioning this so that I don't get "do therapy on OCD" comments - I am in therapy btw for a long time now, but I finally want to move from getting freedom from OCD to getting freedom from even suffering overall in my life.
Niels Lyngsø, modified 1 Year ago at 4/24/22 5:25 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 4/24/22 5:25 AM

RE: Access concentration suddenly denied? Weird post

Posts: 413 Join Date: 11/15/19 Recent Posts
Hey Pavel,

You don't state how long you sit every day, or for how many weeks/months/years you have been practicing, and this info is quite relevant for figuring out what's going on in your meditation right now. But I take it from what you write that you are a beginning meditator, and if that is true, there might be a quite simple answer to your question: You have moved from the often relatively pleasant first stage of insight into the almos alway challenging third state, The Knowledge of the Three Characteristics.

You can find information on the stages of insight in Daniel Ingram's excellent book. Another, perhaps more accessible (and certainly for me very usuable) presentation can be found in Ron Crouch's brilliant essay, that my fellow DhO-yogi, the good librarian Pepe, incidentally just put up here.

Hope that helps!
Ni Nurta, modified 1 Year ago at 4/24/22 8:46 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 4/24/22 8:46 AM

RE: Access concentration suddenly denied? Weird post

Posts: 1086 Join Date: 2/22/20 Recent Posts
Hello Pavel,

There is good reason why you feel tired all the time: your neurons are tired.
They are tired because you are not switching them.
I mean when you have bunch of neurons communicate they create consciousness. Such consciousness can be connected to other consciousnesses and for both it will look like consciousness is arising in consciousness. So far keeping up? Ok, so if you have brain then it has lots and lots of neurons. Like 86 billion neurons.

So you have your consciousness and in it everything you can experience is some arising consciousness.
When you take person without OCD they will not have the same consciousnesses arise all the time because it will change from time to time. It might be imperceptible change because if you have two sets of neurons which can generate such consciousness it doesn't matter which it active at any time. One might be more skilled at some task than other if somehow given skill was practiced while this one consciousness was used (btw. issues of training is wholly different bag of insight) but overall they are similar.
Now if you take you then I assume you are not switching these consciousnesses you are using or at least do so very rarely. That is why you feel tired.
Other than hands, especially for males, whole hemispheres switch. These consciousnesses or minds for hemispheres are different but similar enough and person can be so without mindfulness they do not realize that at different points of time their whole consciousness looks and feels different because when they experience any given hemisphere they assume that is how mind always looks like. I wished I was joking but this is actually real phenomena and I do not know but since no one here mentions it then I just assume that this isn't something necessarily realized via vipassana either. I know this because I know how to use different minds and ditched default for males mind setup for something more fitting enlightened person, its more similar to how females have their mind setup but not it either, and I can easily access left and right minds at any time I want. In fact I didn't access right mind for like years and it stopped resembling useful mind at all... but I managed to quickly retrain it and its generally entirely different topic. Except maybe you should just know that something like switching hemispheres is normal phenomena, especially for males and it is also something you should experience. If you do not know what I am talking about it might be because it doesn't or because you do not notice it like I said. If they are roughly the same and you have no idea that something like that happen and do not know how to know then yeah, you might not know. Now there are like at least two types of such switching. One is high frequency (seconds or less) and other very low frequency (minutes up to hours). Since when you use hemisphere its neurons are getting toasty then it might make sense to switch to other hemisphere to let them rest once they start complain they are getting tired. The issue is that you might prevent it and keep using one hemisphere. It'll change eventually but you will be necessarily tired.

So that is the idea, stuff in your brain should switch and switch often. Also you should not switch like between two minds but for anything other than maybe whole hemispheres you should train many copies of minds for any faculty to always have a lot of reserve workforce. This is also useful because two consciousness can arise at the same time to improve performance of mind but this is different topic. Though it is also something related because it might be that for some things you always use more resources than minimum required amount. I personally train myself to be able to use less resources but also more by making them arise together... brain stuff, kinda why I am always talking about neurons. Heck, I always talk about "tired neurons". No better example of tired neuron than someone like you.

I myself had such issues too, this tiredness. Not quite on the level of OCD because I always knew some basic ways to force myself to either switch parts of brain or shut them down - which naturally causes some other consciousness arise when necessary. I assume everyone complains about dukkha has these kind of issues also. I also assume that what is often referred as 4th path is just mind state where due to done practices minds configuration changes in such a way that is optimal enough so that these issues do not arise. Like Arhats say that everything is flickering, arising where it is then moment later it feels like something else has arisen, that there is no perceived continuity between consciousness and that is despite some times perception of fluidity is much increased compared to what it was before. And this is what I was also able to do, or rather that naturally happened but since I know how to do it I know how to undo it and so for me its just technical stuff, knowledge is attainment and not the minds configuration which I can and indeed changed on occasion completely consciously. Neurons FTW emoticon

So what to do with it?
I basically gave you the idea how this works. It would be good if you observe your mind and started being aware of arising consciousnesses. It would be great if you learned some ways to switch these consciousnesses so that tired mind can be replaced with non-tired mind. Just when you do that please do not check if the mind you decommissioned is still tired or not or if it got relief or feels liberated or any such thing. If you are worker at factory and your shift ends you do not need supervisor calling you when you are with your wife to ask if you are relieved or liberated. In case of mind it can often cause it to start arising again, especially if you like start checking if it feels better before new mind establishes itself. This kind of checking is something that is best unlearned.

Ways to switch used minds include more intuitive which most people know and use consciously or subconsciously and more technical based on meditative experience or superior knowledge of mind with meditative experience. Visualization can be used if you like mapped your whole body/mind to kind of visual space which you can touch then you can operate within this space to directly manipulate consciousnesses, even those non-arisen and with even more skill just program what arises with what like you were designing digital logic chip or something similar.

At first the best chance to have anything is being mindful of what arises in mind and using relaxation methods. You can try taking deep breath and tuning out of minds you want to go to rest and think about eg. new mind arising. Mind actually understands intentions in sense that when you have intention to do something and are acting to do it mind will do it if it understands your intent. The more you work with mind the more it understands because when you intend something to happen and it happen you reinforce the mind it did well and when it doesn't happen then you also reinforce mind to think that this is not it. Just the golden rule here is that its intent -> action (it can be single moment, intent + action at once) and not something like intent -> making intention which is supposed to cause action. If you intent to move hand and would make intention for hand to move then you fulfilled the intent, creating intent is the action you literally trained mind to do and even got acknowledgement that you created intention. Hand doesn't move and you sit being unhappy it didn't move... mind has absolutely no idea what is it that you are unhappy about. All the actions you did with all the intents you had were executed and got acknowledged so whatever you are angry about has nothing to do with that part of mind and this intent. This is how it works, this is why intentions if you make intentions are so inefficient. If you know you want mind to switch this is your intent, there is nothing you need to do with this thought, just at most the action you do might be closer to what mind might take and modify to make your intent in to what you will find ok or it might be further away. For example I intended for colors to become more vibrant and the action is moving my toe... colors still got brighter because mind knows exactly what to do so it doesn't matter what action was done. At first it did matter what action I did.

It is something like this. It is also why people will describe nonsense at something like 4th path. Their mind knows how to interpret intent like 'no suffering' and what they think or do doesn't matter. Hours upon hours of training mind to get some results with various actions made their mind do stuff with said actions. So for something as arbitrary as "observing sensations" which they do all the time mind does all sorts of stuff all the time. It is a hack. Not the kind of hack many people realize but not many people study their minds.

And this brings me to last point of this tl;dr wall of text:
You can either be more mindful about what you do and how it works and do things with less effort on repetition and with in the end understanding them better or you can practice a lot a lot (more like power of two and not multiplying by two) and will get benefit out of it anyways. This is up to you. In either case you need to put effort in to what you are doing and have some kind of intent that is beneficial. freedom from even suffering overall in my life is overall good intent to have. Long term one, the one which action takes long time, it will take years. Split the task in to smaller digestible pieces. You can have lots of intents and associated actions. My recommendation is to do all the practices described in MCTB so Shamatha, Vipassana during formal sitting meditative practice. On top of that study your awareness in normal wake awareness everyday situations, see how consciousnesses arise and change. Try so actions to see what makes consciousnesses switch and then train this switching to reinforce knowledge of mind what kind of actions it has to do when you intent for mind to switch/change. When you find something that works, and this is very important: do not cling to it and also try new ways. Based on my personal experience the best way is to try new things and if within few minutes it doesn't yield any promising results then use those which you know starting from the ones which seem to be more skillful to those which seem to be less skillful. I mean when you have few means like doing some action in some visualization which is supposed to instantaneously switch active brain parts and then you have something like deep breathing for a while to get relaxed and experience vibrations and whatnot and then mind somehow changes then the first one is vastly more skillful as far as efficiency goes so it should be always attempted first. This is because if you master it then even if you really want to chill out in breath meditation you will be able to first fix all dukkha in your mind, switch stuff which needs switching etc. and then do meditation which only purpose is "it feels nice". This is how I start meditation, it is never about releasing any stress. In fact I not at all rely on something happening during meditating because I deem it unskillful to not know how to have each end every effect from meditation as conscious volitational action. I mean you do not meditate to make your hands move food to your mouth, imagine how inefficient that would be. You'd die of starvation pretty quickly, especially during Dark Night emoticon

BTW. Regarding lost access concentration.
Experience taught me that whole faculties can seemingly be gone overnight. This happens because brain switches parts of which it uses in kind of cycles in order for you to be able to have more parts of brain which can do something. I mean to move hand you need to practice eye hand coordination. In the past you would move hand, seem to do pretty well and then you would seemingly fail to move it correctly as you wanted. Likewise any picked up skill can be subject to such issues. Unfortunately often when practicing meditation newly acquired skills can disappear from mind. They will be eventually back even if you did absolutely nothing. Rather than waiting you could instead just practice just like you were starting meditation anew. Do not obsess about what skills you should have that you had and best not even think too much about what you did in the past to make these skills work.

There is technical reason why this kind of thinking of trying to use past knowledges/skills will make it much harder and near impossible to re-develop these skills again and this reason is that if part of the brain is off-line for maintenance or other reason and you are trying to refer to it then you will at most feel numbness or even some kind of error sensations. The only thing you can do is treat this meditation now as something completely new.
George S, modified 1 Year ago at 4/24/22 2:16 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 4/24/22 2:15 PM

RE: Access concentration suddenly denied? Weird post

Posts: 2722 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Hi Pavel, what you are describing - loss of previous concentration - is typical of the dukkha nanas (aka dark night). I don't recall much about your practice history but it's possible that you might have already crossed the A&P at some point and are now in the DN. I don't mean this as a diagnosis, just a possibility that is worth considering. Read the sections in MCTB on DN and third vipassana jhana, which describes how to navigate this loss of tightly focussed attention and feeling like you have lost your meditation skills. The key is to lean into it (don't fight it!) and accept that attention has a much wider scope in this stage - the center of experience has lost its focus and you now broaden your awareness out to the edges of experience. Even if you haven't crossed the A&P, this is still an important skill to learn.
T DC, modified 1 Year ago at 4/24/22 3:11 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 4/24/22 3:11 PM

RE: Access concentration suddenly denied? Weird post

Posts: 516 Join Date: 9/29/11 Recent Posts
Hi Pavel, as others have noted this change in meditative experience is likely a normal feature of progress of the path.  The progress of insight could definately apply here, even pre A/P.

POI 1 - Mind + Body : meditative experience is calm, solid, clear, and pleasurable (i.e. the honeymoon phase).

POI 2 - Cause and effect: meditation experience becomes increasingly wild, chaotic, uncomfortable, difficult to focus, etc.  (Aka waterfall stage, i.e. your experiences of mind is now a raging torrent).

POI 3 - 3 Cs : you begin to get a handle on your newfound mental chaos.  This stage has several divisions of experience ranging from barely holding on to what feels like comfortable and exciting mastery of the meditative process. 

POI 4 - A/P : At the peak of the 3 Cs stage you achive genuine insight into the impermanent of mental objects (they arise and pass away independently (impermanence), are separate from your observing conciousness (not self), and thus cannot be relied upon for lasting contentment (unsatisfactory). This genuine insight into the 3 Cs results in elation, a wild upsurge in mental energy, potentially strong energetic effects, etc.

General speaking from what you have described it sounds like you're dealing with stage 2, for which the simple advice would be not to get too upset about any perceived backsliding, and realize that progression doesn't always follow a neat linear order of better and better meditation sessions.  
George S, modified 1 Year ago at 4/24/22 3:14 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 4/24/22 3:14 PM

RE: Access concentration suddenly denied? Weird post

Posts: 2722 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Good point!