Focus and anxiety

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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

Focus and anxiety

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
An experienced meditator told me that one-pointed focus like the anapana meditation in Goenka retreats can be a problem for people who are troubled by anxiety. He said that the very tight focus doesn't leave much room for the energy construed as anxiety to release (my clumsy paraphrasing, he said something a bit more elegant than that.)

I was talking to him about it because I'm going on a Goenka ten-day this Wednesday, and I was interested in his advice. He suggested that if I get into that sort of trouble I should probably take a break from the Goenka practice for a session, and do something I know is likely to help. No problem, I had sort of planned to do that anyway. But I was wondering whether anyone here had any further advice about this. He said something about maintaining a broad perspective, despite the tightly focused attention, which I didn't really understand.

In preparation for the retreat I've been doing a lot of mindfulness of breathing as described in the early parts of Ajahn Brahm's book Mindfulness, Bliss and Beyond, with "breathing through the discomfort" of the physical components of whatever emotional reactions arise, as Thanissaro described for pain in this essay. I've also been starting each session with metta for me and then everyone else in the world.
C C C, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Focus and anxiety

Posts: 953 Join Date: 3/9/10 Recent Posts
Les Fehmi's research into broad, relaxed focus (which he calls 'Open Focus') would be of interest. Tight, narrow focus is the ego-mind at work, which is why it causes aggravation of anxiety.
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Eran G, modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Focus and anxiety

Posts: 182 Join Date: 1/5/10 Recent Posts
Hey Fivebells,

Sounds like you've already got a few options lined up. I think that's the right spirit. It's hard to tell in advance what issues may come up and what might be useful in solving them so willingness to experiment and explore is great, imo.

Over-focusing is an issue that comes up for me on retreats. After a couple of days I might get headaches and annoying energies coursing through the body. I've found that taking time to rest, lie down, let the mind open without any focus can be helpful when I get to that point. After enough retreats when that was an issue, I've taken to changing the way I do my concentration practice. What I do now is one of two things.

1. I use a wider object like awareness of the body as a whole, this would mean letting my attention rest, unmoving on the whole body, not focus on any particular sensation but stay with the whole field of the body.

2. I focus on the breath at the nostrils but in the background I also have my attention on the body. So the primary focus of the attention is the breath at a single point but "out of the corner of my eye" I'm also aware of the body.

One last thing - relax and don't use too much effort. When you think you're pushing or forcing your attention - relax it. When you notice tension in the body, relax that as well. When you think you've relaxed as much as possible and you can't relax your practice any further - I'm gonna bet there's more room to relax into.

HTH,
Eran.
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fivebells ., modified 8 Years ago.

RE: Focus and anxiety

Posts: 566 Join Date: 2/25/11 Recent Posts
Thanks, Eran. I will keep that approach in mind.

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