Help with practice schedule

Brian K, modified 10 Years ago at 6/9/12 11:20 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 6/9/12 11:20 PM

Help with practice schedule

Posts: 142 Join Date: 4/18/12 Recent Posts
Ok, so iI'm deciding on making a set practice schedule that, barring any sporadic and unavoidable circumstances i will be able to stick to each day. I think right now my availability for practice time is approx. 4 - 5 consecutive hours. I'm training in concentration, have no jhanas under my belt and would like to get absorption moderately soon. Also, my baseline meditation time at the moment is abour 40 - 50 minutes. I may be able to push it to 55 - 70 minutes. So, lets say i have from 5AM - 10AM to practice, what might be a good schedule of meditation times, breaks, different types of meditations, etc., etc. Hopefully some of you can offer some insights into how to go about doing this. I'm not sure if i should keep my meditations to like 45 mins at a time, or push for 1hr, also how many and for how long to put breaks in? I would like some advice on how to go about wisely pushing myself and not cross the line to setting myself up for defeat. Thanks alot.
Daniel M Ingram, modified 10 Years ago at 6/10/12 3:44 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 6/10/12 3:44 AM

RE: Help with practice schedule

Posts: 3231 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
I really, really like candle flame meditation for practice, and also really, really like doing it without a schedule.

Instructions are found in various places, such as:

the bottom of this thread

and here from MCTB:

I will illustrate the vipassana jhanas with a description of some candle-flame meditation I did when on retreat and playing around with the samatha jhanas by using kasinas. Kasinas are various traditional practices that involve using physical objects such as colored disks, candles, etc. as a starting point to attain samatha jhanas, powers and the like. They are described in the standard references I list in the chapter on the the Concentration States.

The retreat when I first really nailed down the details of the vipassana jhanas was a seventeen day retreat that I went on when I was an anagami (the third stage of awakening in one of the models of awakening, to be discussed shortly). I didn't begin playing with this territory until around the second week of the retreat, and by that point my concentration was very strong and flexible. It didn't take me more than a day before I could go through the following cycle. Initially, I would stare at a candle flame until I really could stay with it, then there would be a natural shift, I would close my eyes, and I would see the visual purple phenomena where the afterimage of the flame was burned onto my retina.

This would fade in a few seconds to be replaced by a red dot in the center of my visual field. The red dot was clear, very round, pure, bright and seemingly stable. However, within a minute or so it would begin to shake, roll off to one side, and I would notice all sorts of things about how intention and observation messed with the position, stability, and clarity of the dot. First seeing the dot is the first samatha jhana, and in this case is the equivalent of Mind and Body, where mental phenomena become clear external objects. Noticing things about intention influencing the position and stability of the dot is cause and effect.

Shortly thereafter this would become irritating and the dot would begin to shake, shudder, split up, spin off to one side or the other, and generally seem to misbehave quite on its own. This was the entrance to the Three Characteristics. After a while of this, practice would shift, become naturally stronger, and this slightly larger red dot would appear in the center again that stayed there on largely its own, but it had a gold spinning star in its center that would spin on its own with a speed and direction that varied with the phase of the breath, which I noticed when I broke my focus enough. This addition of motion, the image happening on its own, and somewhat wider attention (wider dot), not to mention bliss when I broke my concentration a bit and focused on my body, is the entrance to the second vipassana jhana.

The red dot with the spinning gold star would gradually acquire purple, green and blue rings around its outside, and then there would be a sudden shift where the red dot would vanish and be replaced by a slightly larger black dot. The black dot initially would seem to be a good focus, but quickly the area around the black dot got more interesting, with many very complex multi-point stars all circling slowly around it, getting wider and wider, with the interference patterns between them getting more and more complex, while the black dot faded somewhat, but to what was unclear. This addition of a problem perceiving the center but with complex patterns of experience with multiple frequencies going out to the periphery marks the early and middle phases of the third vipassana jhana. Further, as the thing got wider, there was this slightly disconcerting feeling that attention was out of phase with the visuals.

As the complex patterns around the outside began to become more spherical as the edges wrapped around towards me, they began to be made out of lines that had more of a rainbow quality to them, with many complex motions and manifold symmetry. This was harder to pay attention to and simultaneously comprehend it all, marking the mature third vipassana jhana and the later stages of the Dark Night. Note, as this was being done with almost no fixation on psychological content and with very strong concentration, I did not have any of the typical feelings that sometimes accompany this territory when it cycles through with less concentration. Instead, it stayed at the level of geometry, image and light except when I widened my attention somewhat to notice other aspects.

This complex sphere on which was unfolding more and more complex patterns would then shift to something far more inclusive of space and the center of attention, thus becoming much more three-dimensional. At this point, things seemed to happen on their own, but in a silent, clear, all-encompassing way that was way beyond the second jhana, and this marks the entrance to the fourth vipassana jhana.

As things would organize, there would arise all sorts of images, from Buddhas to black holes, from brilliantly formed Tantric images (Vajrasattva with consort, etc.) to complex abstract, three-dimensional designs that included the whole field of attention, all made of rainbow lines, luminous, living, and very clear. I could end the cycle with essentially any image I wished with an ease I had never previously achieved. If I had not previously determined an image to end with, the surprises were just as good as anything I came up with and sometimes better. The point is that if you get your concentration strong enough, you can do these things also.

Shortly after the clear image would arise, attention would shift to include the fundamental characteristics of the whole thing at a level that was perfectly inclusive of what ordinarily would be called subject and object, and Fruition would arise as the whole thing vanished through one of the Three Doors, but with a clarity that is rare. Then I would open my eyes, stare at the flame, and do it all again. Each cycle took about ten to fifteen minutes, but I could linger in each stage for longer if I consciously resisted the pull to move onward.

While obviously this example involves very clean samatha-like images, very strong concentration, and was done by an advanced practitioner under relatively special conditions, this candle flame technique can be very interesting, and in classes I have taught some were able to quickly get to the later jhanas without too much time or effort. Some people just seem to have a natural ability to visualize, or focus on a mantra, or some other object, and it makes a lot of sense of draw on these natural tendencies. It can also be fun to develop these fronts even if this is not your strong suit, as it helps expand the range of your practice. Thus, consider playing around with using other objects and focuses at times, as they can bring different perspectives.

I would say as to schedule and technique: pick a very comfortable seating arrangement such that your body is minimally distracting and the candle is a few feet below eye level about 6 feet (2 meters) away from you. Stare at the flame, feel the shift, find the red dot, take it as far as it goes, and when all is lost, open eyes, stare at the flame, repeat until you feel you need a break. Then do walking practice paying really strong attention to exactly what you are seeing, and as soon as you feel you can sit down again (say a few minutes to 10 minutes), do so and go back to staring at the flame, feeling a shift, finding the red dot, and going from there. I would do this with the only timer being to ring at the end of the whole period (4-5 hours in this case). This sort of lack of paying attention to anything else as well as feeling what you can take without getting into pain and heroics and the like (which just muck up the depths of concentration practice most of the time) really helps with concentration.

The oranges-robed dudes and dudettes didn't have clocks: they just practiced, just felt it, just found the balance that allowed deep concentration and steady attention. This has real value and works quite well.
Brian K, modified 10 Years ago at 6/10/12 9:57 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 6/10/12 9:57 AM

RE: Help with practice schedule

Posts: 142 Join Date: 4/18/12 Recent Posts
Thanks alot. That sounds awesome I'm gonna give it a try tomorrow. Couple questions:

What happens if i cant get the red dot in my retina? Last time i tried to do a candle flame practice i couldnt get the red dot burn into the back of my eye lid.

Also, what can i do to deal with the endless chatter that goes on in my head the rest of the day when im not meditating? I experimented a bit with noting practice because noting is easier for me thank just bare awareness to keep mindful throughout the day, because my mind has something extra to do. It takes away the internal dialogue because it is the internal dialogue. But idk if it is best for me now i sat down to note the other day and around the 30 minute mark i started to get really uncomfortable and chose to get up from my meditation. It may have been just restlessness but i felt like it was because i was noticing sensations in greater depth and it kind of felt like everything on my body was uncomfortable. Im afraid this will take away from my concentration practices for the time being, so im hesitant to continue. Also note, (no pun intended.....) i was only doing one noting session per day, 30 -45 minutes to keep it short for specifically that reason. I just found it helpful to get my noting/mindfulness engine warmed up each day and its always easier to note/be mindful in everyday life after that. Thanks
Change A, modified 10 Years ago at 6/10/12 11:44 AM
Created 10 Years ago at 6/10/12 11:44 AM

RE: Help with practice schedule

Posts: 791 Join Date: 5/24/10 Recent Posts
See if the following helps with the chatter:

Introduction to The Head Center meditation:

Brian K, modified 10 Years ago at 6/11/12 8:13 PM
Created 10 Years ago at 6/11/12 8:13 PM

RE: Help with practice schedule

Posts: 142 Join Date: 4/18/12 Recent Posts
Thanks alot.

Also, to Daniel - Why the candle flame kasina specifically? Is that just an object you really like working with for concentration? I did what you said yesterday, for about 3 hours of practice time. It seems more difficult for me to hold attention on a candle flame than the breath. Is this good or bad for developing concentration? I may try the same thing, a schedule-less chunk of time to meditate, but just using the breath instead of the candle and see how that goes as well, experiment to see what works for me. What is your advice on that