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Further Progress on the Path
Answer
10/30/11 6:29 PM
I think I'm making some progress.

I was meditating with a group yesterday doing my usual concentration on the breath when something new happened.
While watching the breath, which took some effort for a bit, I felt some kind of feeling like warmth from the neck down, all the way down my torso and legs. It was a bodily sensation that felt to be on the surface of my skin. It felt warm at first, then later it felt cool. Then later I couldn't tell if it was warm or cool.

Anyway, when I first noticed this sensation I stopped watching my breath and just watched the sensation. It was a pleasant feeling but it wasn't any sort of blissful feeling.

The thing was this. I was able to watch this feeling for the rest of the sitting, in fact I could still feel it for a bit after the sitting.

During the time that I was meditating and watching this the thoughts that usually come up during meditation came up but I did not get attached to them at all. At one time I looked back at my breath and could see that it was very shallow, and then I went back to the sensation for the remainder of the meditation.

While all this was happening I could still hear everything that was going on around me but none of it got in the way. I didn't feel like I was in a trance or sleepy or anything. I felt like I was just sitting there minding the sensation.
I have to say the meditation was very restful. It felt good. Sort of a relief from everything.

I tried to sort out how all this came about but it's hard for me to say what brought about the nice bodily sensation.
I've tried to "repeat" the process on three different sittings since then but haven't been able to get back into it.

Can anybody give me an idea if this is access concentration, 1st jhana, 2nd jhana?
I'm still trying to sort out what it was that caused the sensation. It seems that this sensation is key to making progress. Once that happened and I moved my attention to it the whole thing just got real easy. Any comments or suggestions would be appreciated.


Gerry T.

RE: Further Progress on the Path
Answer
10/30/11 7:46 PM as a reply to Gerry T.
hi gerry,

you got some decent concentration and bodily stillness (seclusion), tuned into haptic vibrations, and piti-sukha (rapture-happiness) presented. it's a jhanic experience, probably first jhana, but for the purpose of my response, a more precise diagnosis doesn't matter, because the prognosis is the same:

start by being very, very alert. keep doing the breath practice that you are familiar with but open your awareness out to include the whole body and feel the whole body breathe. keep the focus of attention balanced at the optimal measure between 'breath' and 'body', so that neither precludes the other. determine the optimal measure by experience, micro-feedback trial and error. incline away from sluggish-ness, incline away from agitation. there is a delicate balance to be struck, and it will get easier and easier as you become more experienced.

once the balance is struck, and is stable, take some time to 'look around' - examine the conditions of your moment-to-moment experience. be gently curious, but not distracted. over time, and with more experience (it could be many sits), the balance will refine itself further. switch to insight whenever you're ready, or when you find that it's already happening anyway. be very, very alert regardless of what is happening.

read ian and's threads ('sticked' to the top of the 'recent posts' page) for more in-depth advice.

tarin

RE: Further Progress on the Path
Answer
10/30/11 8:05 PM as a reply to tarin greco.
Tarin,
Thanks very much for the input.
When I sit I pay attention to avoid movement but, as you say, it can lead to sluggishness or sleepiness if I am not careful. I think I understand what you mean about balancing that. I try to stay still and get "secluded" as you say.

Something that struck me when this bit of progress occurred was that I could be just as "alert" as I am when not meditating but my mind can get much more focused. This level of mindfulness was not like what I thought it would be.

Something I should add is that I was not looking for any of the three characteristics.

Thanks for the help.

Namaste,
Gerry

RE: Further Progress on the Path
Answer
12/29/11 7:25 PM as a reply to Gerry T.
Update on progress....
It took two weeks meditating once (sometimes twice) a day to get to the same level of meditation that I reported on October 30th. I am pretty sure it was the first jhana. The thing that has made me wonder if it was first jhana was that I don't feel the bliss as much as I have on other occasions while not meditating. When that bliss occurs it's just overwhelmingly Goooood!

I am now wondering if the single pointed meditation that I am doing is correct.
Does anybody have any experience with a practice by Bante Vimalaramsi? :

http://www.dhammasukha.org/index.html

Here is a link to some of his instructions:
http://www.dhammasukha.org/Study/Articles/simple-easy-mind.htm

I am trying his approach and will update here on progress as it goes along.

Does anybody here have any experience with Metta meditations?

I've changed my approach to do about 15 to 20 minutes of metta before the breathing meditation. I also am changing the point of attention from the spot on my upper lip to simply be my whole physical body.

Changing my meditation like that has not resulted in getting to first jhana like the single pointed meditation seemed to do. But I don't think I should stop investigating this method just because I'm not getting to the same state.
I'll see how it goes.

-Gerry

RE: Further Progress on the Path
Answer
12/29/11 9:23 PM as a reply to Gerry T.
Yes - a little. I get a bit heady though trying to learn the process, but I did get into some very tranquil states that I hadn't been able to access before. I was doing the metta/6R method. I have been trying Shinzen's 'focus on rest' technique as in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ky7vMFB4iAs (first 10 minutes or so he leads one through it) - So far this seems to be working wonders - today I was able to allow the relaxation to permeate up into the head and I got lightly absorbed in the whole body for a few seconds, enough to see how different that was- Main thing I have had issues with is touching 1st jhana for a second and then spiraling up the maps into extremely harsh DN, which while useful for learning wasn't where I wanted to be yet. I have had this happen doing straight anapanasati, and also using Bhante V's method but so far the 'focus on rest' hasn't caused this to happen yet - Jury is still out though emoticon

RE: Further Progress on the Path
Answer
12/30/11 4:58 PM as a reply to bill of the wandering mind.
eh - I was incorrect. Still cycling even with 'focus on rest', but thats OK. I say whatever works to improve the skills you are seeking to improve. Could take some experimentation.

RE: Further Progress on the Path
Answer
12/30/11 7:49 PM as a reply to bill of the wandering mind.
Very good link.
Did you do any study with Shinzen Young?
He says that while he is doing that talk he is in a meditative state that is greater than the state he was in 20 years ago at a month long retreat without talking to anybody.
He says something very interesting "at first meditation is an event in life after some years later life starts to happen inside meditation."

namaste
-Gerry

RE: Further Progress on the Path
Answer
12/30/11 8:59 PM as a reply to Gerry T.
no I haven't studied with him.

RE: Further Progress on the Path
Answer
1/1/12 7:58 AM as a reply to bill of the wandering mind.
OK - results are in, after 7+ hours of anapana yesterday and comparing that to my experience of 6R/Metta - I will say that the 6Rmetta method seems to beat it hands down. I will put aside my incessant self-doubts and continue with it. The focus on rest is useful but doesn't seem to be as powerful either. Metta and Good luck to you.

Further Progress on the Path
Answer
1/10/12 7:18 PM as a reply to bill of the wandering mind.
When I started meditating intended to relax and feel good about the opportunity to meditate.

I intended positive feelings to myself and proceeded to focus on the breath.

While putting attention on the breath I noted that I was conscious of looking at the back of my eyelids and thought, I must not be focusing on my breath exclusively.

I relaxed my body and returned my focus to my breath and attempted to focus solely on the breath.

I quickly realized that my mind could not focus only on the breath. Other sensations were there. I relaxed and returned to the breath.

I tried to stay really really close to the breath. Like not wanting to be away from it by any "distance".

It was like trying to stake down a wild "elephant". I made repeated efforts to focus only on the breath. At times I would also see another sensation, the hardness of the cushion, the sound of the air, the lights behind my eyelids, a thought about the length of the breath. I thought, why can't I focus only on the breath. If the mind can only focus on one thing at a time, why can't I focus the attention on only this one thing?

I got to the point where I let those things happen and the "elephant" stopped struggling so much and felt more at easy just letting things come up. I still noted things coming up and returned to the breath.

After a while I realized that if I let the "elephant" roam too much it would drag "me" (my ability to attend) away with. It was like I was still holding onto the stake but without placing the stake in the "ground" I was just getting dragged away. (by mental stuff). (I was not into the meditation by about forty minutes or so.)

I returned to the breath and placed the "stake" on the feeling of the breath and intended to calm the breath.
The "elephant" still had some room to play but I managed to sit with the breath calm and allow some things to come and go.

It seems the attention cannot focus solely on the breath. Sense contact is always getting into the mix.
-Gerry

RE: Further Progress on the Path
Answer
1/11/12 8:04 PM as a reply to Gerry T.
After working with the wild elephant I realized that the stake I have been using to keep him from wandering all over the place and interrupting things was maybe a bit too shallow so I set off this time to visit the local blacksmith.

I figured the blacksmith might be able to fashion a better, longer and stronger stake that might go deep enough into the earth to keep the elephant from wandering about.

I sat down and watched the blacksmith go to work.

First he "warmed" up the metal to prepare it. Then he lifted the hammer and struck at the metal. Again, and again.

I noticed that when he struck at the metal he looked straight at it lifted the hammer and let it down.
I also noticed that he didn't stop between strikes to think about the previous stroke. It was like each strike with the hammer was a new strike.

I could tell though that this blacksmith was relatively new to the trade. Sometimes he used too much force to strike the metal instead of just letting the weight of the hammer do the work. I noticed that when he did this he got a bit tired and didn't quite hit the metal squarely. When this happened he would stop and "talk" but didn't really have anything interesting to say. Eventually, he would stop chatting and return to striking the metal stake.

After about seventy minutes the blacksmith handed the stake back to me for holding down the elephant.

Gerry (aka The Elephant Trainer)

RE: Further Progress on the Path
Answer
1/23/12 7:21 PM as a reply to Gerry T.
I sat with my attention on the breath and with discernment of my inner state with respect to the agitation of my state and its lack of stillness with the intention to become still

My inner state changed and I noted the differences in the state. My attention would come and go but I always came back to my intent with discernment to my state.

At some point (maybe 25 minutes into the sitting) my state changed (I almost felt a shudder of some sort) and it was as if my mind turned away or got tired of the unsteady state changes and just settled on the breath. I was able to stay with the breath effortlessly.

I stayed there for about another twenty minutes. I thought of deepening the stillness but it did not deepen. I did notice though that there was no pain in my back, in fact my back and spine felt so good it was surprising. I focused on that good feeling in there for a while.

After a point I stopped and took my time coming back out of the sitting.