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Samatha-Vipassana: Tranquillity and Insight, Hand-in-Hand

The Best Way to Keep Your Concentration Mojo High Off Retreat

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Having just returned home from a ten day meditation retreat, a number of things have become apparent to me: 1) concentration (samadhi) is a vital and essential element in gaining insight via a vipassana practice. The samatha jhanas are the microscope or telescope which gives you the ability to penentrate the object, etc., and see far. Insight practice without the development of a powerful concentration will go nowhere. Concentration is the rocket fuel for your spacecraft. And 2) It is harder to sustain and/or build concentration off retreat.

These things are kinda painfully obvious, but on retreat I really became aware of the fact that concentration was the element missing from my practice at home. I could note and note all day with no result, but baby after 4 and 1/2 days of anapana meditation I blasted up through the A+P like a rocket and within a few days was consistantly getting Equanimity (generally low, but twice high). Concentration is what really powers you up that insight hierarchy.

I should also point that I came to realize just how much straight-up vipassana technique itself (when done dilligently) builds concentration as well. It was anapana which got the ball rolling, but it was harcore attention to sensations, etc., vipassana techinque which took me the rest of the way.

Now that I am home again I'd like to have a daily practice where I don't just slide back but make progress. I'd like to continually hit Equanimity again and again and build that muscle and blaze that path into the circuitry of my brain so that I can get stream sooner than next year at retreat.

How do ya'll work this? Hardcore vipassana all the way? A combination of vipassana and samatha meditation? A couple of sits per day a different times [thus spreading your concentration out throughout the day]? A longer individual sit [the eqivalent of concentration power lifting]?

I know this is kinda a silly question. The real answer is that you do what you have to to get the job done. This can only be discovered by practice and experimentation. That being said, out of curiosity I'd like to know what other folks have done to face down this issue.

Metta!

RE: The Best Way to Keep Your Concentration Mojo High Off Retreat
Answer
6/26/12 11:23 AM as a reply to Alan Smithee.
Metta practice has worked for me. It can be useful to include it in insight practices like noting (warm regard/opening for sensations, the 3 C's and noting itself.)

RE: The Best Way to Keep Your Concentration Mojo High Off Retreat
Answer
6/26/12 11:34 AM as a reply to Alan Smithee.
Vipassana all day (including working and driving). It's important to look at life and retreat as not different because there are lots of desires and aversions off retreat which is a perfect opportunity to practice. Unless something unpleasant or pleasant arose in the school of hard knocks my sitting meditation wouldn't bring up enough real scenarios that could bother me because sitting meditation is like a safe cocooned world which the real world is not. Practice when someone cuts you off in traffic. I haven't gotten really angry on the road in years. It seems so pointless now. When people bump into each other on the sidewalk they simply say "excuse me, sorry". When people cut each other off at high speeds on the road the stakes are higher so the response tends to be "f*&% you you mother*&%$#@!" emoticon When there are about to be arguments you want to be as present as possible. When you get criticism (especially in front of other people) you need to be as present as possible. When people criticize you and you are present you can tell if the criticism is logical or not. You don't have to be as defensive. That's the real practice. The sitting meditation practice is only good for the ruminations that appear and interfere with your meditation. Those preoccupations are the little clinging attachment scripts in your mind that you have to look at carefully. You want to be present when problems occur in the moment. My reaching the 4th jhana had more to do with so much vipassana practice more than pure concentration. I think I even touched at the 5th jhana by accident while noting. Pure concentration to develop the jhana factors is a form of repression. To allow reactivity to arise and pass away without adding conceptual fuel to it brings greater concentration.

RE: The Best Way to Keep Your Concentration Mojo High Off Retreat
Answer
6/26/12 7:01 PM as a reply to Richard Zen.
So u feel there is very little need for shamatha practices at all?

RE: The Best Way to Keep Your Concentration Mojo High Off Retreat
Answer
6/26/12 7:04 PM as a reply to Alan Smithee.
Solely in terms of samatha practice, it's a matter of getting enough sitting in to keep up the momentum. Ayya Khemma said that to maintain whatever sort of jhana you attained on retreat would require around 2 hours a day off retreat to keep it from fading. Everyone's milage will vary. I've found longer sits work better for this. Fitting in longer samatha practice might help you keep the rocket fuel effect you're seeking.

RE: The Best Way to Keep Your Concentration Mojo High Off Retreat
Answer
6/27/12 11:04 AM as a reply to Brian K..
I did concentration practices up to the 2nd jhana so I could get enough concentration to do the vipassana practice. After that my concentration practice improved with vipassana. Allowing experiences to arise and pass away (with dispassion with seeing the 3Cs) clears the mind much better. There are some people who say that they can just start with vipassana right away but many find that at least the 1st jhana is needed so that one can note long enough to get some clarity of the 3 characteristics. When I got good at the 2nd jhana learning vipassana was like starting over again and learning a new skill. When you get to the equanimity nana you feel like you're done but you're not. Now that I'm working on Zen/Dzogchen practices it feels like I'm learning more subtle relief with less effort and the need for jhanas isn't there anymore. I think the confusion happens because people say that getting stream entry will make it easier to get jhanas but if you've focused on vipassana with less jhana practice then you will still have to build momentum with concentration to get jhanas (albeit faster momentum after stream-entry) because they are conditioned and have to be done a lot so the skill doesn't atrophy. This will be more clear in my next practice note.