Progression of music-based meditation...

Mario Nistri, modified 9 Years ago.

Progression of music-based meditation...

Posts: 210 Join Date: 3/3/12 Recent Posts
Hi!

This is not about something that is happening now, but something that happened more than a year ago, when I was totally new to meditation and I had no knowledge at all about the maps...

Basically, my understanding was that meditation was putting attention to sensations, no matter what they were, so I thought "Hey.. if that's the case I can do that with music... let's do it! "... and so I kept doing it for a while, being the only kind of meditation I did, for something like 1 to 4 hours every day.

Thinking about it, it seems to me that I progressed through the vipassana jhanas in quite a natural way; however I'm not completely sure, so I post this here for comments, precisations or anything else from others.

[by the way, here I'm talking about periods, every period encompasses some weeks or months]
However...

The first period, wich I identify with the first vipassana jhana, was charaterized by a lot of stress and effort; I remember that I did it because I had to, but it was kind of a torture, the effort in putting attention combined with the anxiety of not being able to do that properly were very stressfull.

In the second period, (second vipassana jhana?), I remember that my attention was surprisingly one pointed, and I was able, for example, to see clearly the beginning, changing and ending of every single note of the instrument I was focused on in a way that, frankly, now I'm not nearly capable of. Also, many times notes would appear to me like a tridimensional, very detailed and always changing shape arising in the surrounding empty space.
In this period, sometimes I had the feeling that music was absolutely wonderful, and powerful, and I was sorry because I was the only one knowing this thing about music... lol
This was in general very exciting, since the mental state was most of the time quite alterated as a consequence, I think, of the emotions arising depending on that music coupled with the strong concentration...

The third period, wich is the one that doesn't line up that well -but I think in the end it does- I don't remember anything particoular: my attention was not nearly as strong as before, and focusing on the sounds was not that easy, but not because of the effort, because of a lot of other unplaesent pshysical sensations in the body. The tridimensionality of the notes here wasn't really present.

I also remember that, a few times, I experienced a very strong shift, and attention would become very wide -but not in all of the body, just wide related to sounds- and every single sound was clear and experienced at the same time, and it was kind of like if there was this big space inside my head that would encompass every note... obviously, I think to this as the fourth vipassana jhana. (and it was absolutely wonderful, by the way).

So, that's it; this report was fun to write and thinking back was nice, and maybe it will be useful in some way...

Bye!
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N A, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Progression of music-based meditation...

Posts: 157 Join Date: 7/10/11 Recent Posts
I wouldn't get too hung up in trying to identify those stages with vipassana jhanas, but it sounds about right. Music is a wonderful thing but I'm not sure it's great for meditation because it's so easy to get "lost in content" about it. You were doing well though if you were focusing on beginnings and endings of individual notes.

Music requires very narrow focus, which is counterproductive past the second vipassana jhana, so be wary of that. Personally I just lost interest in it after some point. I would put on headphones and start listening, but my attention would automatically widen to include the body sensations, the visual field, etc, and eventually music itself would become a distraction.

(disclaimer: I'm a classically trained musician, but over the past few years I have almost completely lost interest in listening and I wonder if meditation is at fault)
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Tommy M, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Progression of music-based meditation...

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
I'll reply to Mario then respond to NA's comments:

Mario:
Basically, my understanding was that meditation was putting attention to sensations, no matter what they were, so I thought "Hey.. if that's the case I can do that with music... let's do it! "... and so I kept doing it for a while, being the only kind of meditation I did, for something like 1 to 4 hours every day.

There's no problem with that, just make sure you're applying clear and precise attention to each sensation without getting pulled into mental stories about those sensations.

Mario:
Thinking about it, it seems to me that I progressed through the vipassana jhanas in quite a natural way; however I'm not completely sure, so I post this here for comments, precisations or anything else from others.

Your descriptions suggest that you probably did encounter at least 1st and 2nd jhana, and possibly the early stages of 3rd. My advice to you would be not to get hung up on a diagnosis so long after the experience, there's always an element of deletion and selective remembering involved (unconsciously, not that you've deliberately manipulated the memory to suit or whatever) when going back over this stuff and looking for correlations.

Mario:
I also remember that, a few times, I experienced a very strong shift, and attention would become very wide -but not in all of the body, just wide related to sounds- and every single sound was clear and experienced at the same time, and it was kind of like if there was this big space inside my head that would encompass every note... obviously, I think to this as the fourth vipassana jhana. (and it was absolutely wonderful, by the way).

I'd suggest 2nd jhana, purely because I have no idea what you were doing prior to this and what other sorts of sensations you noticed. What you describe, the shift and the wideness/internal spaciousness, are things I'd associate with 2nd. Bear in mind too that 2nd and 4th share certain characteristics to some extent, and this can make it really easy to get mixed up if you're not familiar with the ins and outs of the model; 4th vipassana jhana is quite distinctive in it's clarity and spaciousness, which is of a different and more volumetric nature than what you get in 2nd, but it's incredibly normal feeling without the sort of spatial fluctuations you mention.

All in all, it sounds like you're getting into the right territory but I'd recommend refining your technique a bit, dropping expectations of what each ├▒ana will be like and just focusing on getting into a solid practice routine; incorporate insight practice into your daily life, just like you've been doing with the music stuff, and you'll find that there are many, many deep insights to be found in the most seemingly mundane of experiences.

NA made a few comment which, in my experience at least, aren't quite accurate so I'd like to try to clarify a bit.

NA:
Music requires very narrow focus, which is counterproductive past the second vipassana jhana, so be wary of that.

I disagree with that, applying vipassana while playing or listening to music can be incredibly informative and can be used to go way beyond second jhana. If you're trying to control the attentional focus then you're not doing vipassana properly, there's a natural focus involved in each vipassana jhana and it'll shift regardless of the object being observed.

If you're totally concentrated on playing a piece of music though, then I would agree that a narrow focus is natural, however if you play around with that a bit, you can let go of the effort required to maintain the focus and 2nd jhana can begin to reveal itself. I do this quite a lot when I'm recording guitar or vocal parts so it's not just a theoretical suggestion, it can be a very efficient way to remove even the most subtle performance anxiety and improve your playing by making you much more relaxed.

NA:
I would put on headphones and start listening, but my attention would automatically widen to include the body sensations, the visual field, etc, and eventually music itself would become a distraction.

That's concentration, not insight practice. I recommend trying this again, but instead of taking "music" itself as object, look closer at the sensate experience of hearing and the way in which a holistic perceptual field is created from all the various sensations; break these down, look at how the mind overlays concepts of timbre, rhythm, pitch, etc, or how the mental images of each instrument happen after the sound is heard.

In my experience, there's a shitload of insight to be found through using music as either an object of concentration or as something to break down via vipassana.
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N A, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Progression of music-based meditation...

Posts: 157 Join Date: 7/10/11 Recent Posts
Hi Tommy, I don't think we disagree on anything. But I guess I wasn't making a clear distinction between successfully practicing vipassana with music and just listening to music.
Tommy M:
I disagree with that, applying vipassana while playing or listening to music can be incredibly informative and can be used to go way beyond second jhana. If you're trying to control the attentional focus then you're not doing vipassana properly, there's a natural focus involved in each vipassana jhana and it'll shift regardless of the object being observed.

Let me rephrase: Listening to music in the conventional way requires narrow focus, in the same sense as being lost in thoughts requires narrow focus. That's why I said he was doing well by paying attention to beginnings and endings of notes, i.e. not listening in the conventional way. With music this takes effort because music is specifically designed to get you absorbed in it.

If you're totally concentrated on playing a piece of music though, then I would agree that a narrow focus is natural, however if you play around with that a bit, you can let go of the effort required to maintain the focus and 2nd jhana can begin to reveal itself. I do this quite a lot when I'm recording guitar or vocal parts so it's not just a theoretical suggestion, it can be a very efficient way to remove even the most subtle performance anxiety and improve your playing by making you much more relaxed.

Sure, 2nd, that's what I said too. And the same applies to listening when you're really into it. Assuming that here you mean concentration, not vipassana - otherwise, I'm really confused.

That's concentration, not insight practice. I recommend trying this again, but instead of taking "music" itself as object, look closer at the sensate experience of hearing and the way in which a holistic perceptual field is created from all the various sensations; break these down, look at how the mind overlays concepts of timbre, rhythm, pitch, etc, or how the mental images of each instrument happen after the sound is heard.

Sure. It's much easier for me to do with random environmental sounds instead of organized music, because I don't get lost in them as much. But here I was talking about actually trying to listen to music, not meditating.
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Tommy M, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Progression of music-based meditation...

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
NA:
Hi Tommy, I don't think we disagree on anything. But I guess I wasn't making a clear distinction between successfully practicing vipassana with music and just listening to music.

In that case, there's no disagreement here either; I appreciate you clarification and hopefully Mario will benefit from the extra info too.
Mario Nistri, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Progression of music-based meditation...

Posts: 210 Join Date: 3/3/12 Recent Posts
Hi!

Well, of course it's a lot very very speculative; however, being wrong about something happened a long time ago feels quite harmess, in the sense that doesn't have so much consequences, so I allowed myself to speculate probably more than it would be reasonable do do...

there's always an element of deletion and selective remembering involved

Yep...

It's much easier for me to do with random environmental sounds instead of organized music, because I don't get lost in them as much

For me it's so much easier with music, because I know exactly "where" sounds will arise, while environmental sounds are much more random...

I'd recommend refining your technique a bit


What do you mean exactly with that? I mean, really... what does it mean to refine the tecnique?


Thanks to both of you... Bye!
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Tommy M, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Progression of music-based meditation...

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
What do you mean exactly with that? I mean, really... what does it mean to refine the tecnique?

What I mean when I say "refine the technique" is to go for consistency and accuracy in the observation of every sensation; try to experience the beginning, middle and end of each, or at least be aware of as much of the whole sensation as possible so that you can penetrate the 3C's more thoroughly. You can note like crazy and experience impermanence quite clearly, but try to get to grips with how anatta and dukkha present in every sensation, i.e. how each arises of it's own accord and self-liberates without any involvement from "you", and also how there is always that inherent push/pull of craving and aversion in each sensation.

Any better?
Mario Nistri, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Progression of music-based meditation...

Posts: 210 Join Date: 3/3/12 Recent Posts
It's fairly clear if you are talking of 3 different approach to vipassana; doing all of them at once... I have really no clue on how to do it.
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Tommy M, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Progression of music-based meditation...

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Mario Nistri:
It's fairly clear if you are talking of 3 different approach to vipassana; doing all of them at once... I have really no clue on how to do it.

No, just take them one at a time and try to experience it clearly, it can get to a point where these characteristics are constantly presenting themselves and their direct experiencing is what leads to further insight.
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N A, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Progression of music-based meditation...

Posts: 157 Join Date: 7/10/11 Recent Posts
Mario Nistri:
I also remember that, a few times, I experienced a very strong shift, and attention would become very wide -but not in all of the body, just wide related to sounds- and every single sound was clear and experienced at the same time, and it was kind of like if there was this big space inside my head that would encompass every note... obviously, I think to this as the fourth vipassana jhana. (and it was absolutely wonderful, by the way)

I would guess first jhana, something like the equivalent of Mind and Body.

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