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mindfulness of breath becomes hard all of a sudden, what happened?

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Hi,

I started practicing keeping my attention of my breath, as it enters and exits my nostrils, as outlined in "The Heart of Buddhist Meditation" book by Nyanaponika Thera.

It was just 20 minute sessions each morning, and I was getting better at it, seemed to catch all interruptions, quick to refocus. I found it had a very positive impact on my ability to focus throughout the day.

And I wasn't perfectly disciplined with it either, I would miss a day here and there, but it was still OK.

But somehow, gradually, I don't know what happened, but I just kind of lost it... I can't keep my mind from wandering even for this 20 minute period... when my alarm rings after 20 minutes it's like I had 3 minutes of effective focus all together. And I'm not so good at focusing throughout the day either. I don't know what happened emoticon

Is this something usual? How to overcome it? What happened?



Sorry for bumping in like this, this is my first post, but I hope you have some advice emoticon
And also, I find the period between breaths the toughest to stay focused, what am I supposed to be mindful of, after I inhale, but before I exale, it's like a space for this noise from my mind to invade..

RE: mindfulness of breath becomes hard all of a sudden, what happened?
Answer
7/28/13 8:12 AM as a reply to Srdjan Pamtivek.
thinking is normal and losing yourself into them too. I did lose myself even half hour into thinking something during a practice before i caught myself, it still happens time to time.

imho it is also impossible to hold mind blank. Later, thoughts will just not interrupt you when you fall deeper into yourself(samadhi).
perfect clear mind is state of mind. You can force reaching it but not make it happen by force.

you literally can't to nothing about it, just keep practicing and evolving happens by itself.

3min effective awareness is still better than 9 hours dull, sluggish sitting, otherwise all the prisoners would be enlightened.

RE: mindfulness of breath becomes hard all of a sudden, what happened?
Answer
7/28/13 8:21 AM as a reply to Srdjan Pamtivek.
Hi Srdjan,

Welcome to the forum.

But somehow, gradually, I don't know what happened, but I just kind of lost it... I can't keep my mind from wandering even for this 20 minute period... when my alarm rings after 20 minutes it's like I had 3 minutes of effective focus all together. And I'm not so good at focusing throughout the day either. I don't know what happened emoticon

(...)

Is this something usual?
(...)

What happened?

This is very natural. So with novelty comes a nice bit of mental arousal of newbie mind: tasks often become harder/have a lower quality of performance over time because the task/object of attention is no longer novel, seems under one's own control and the task/objects seems predictable: all of these factors reduce the mild mental arousal and the good performance of the first few efforts. This is what is meant by "good stress": a mild stress response to new, unpredictable, uncontrolled events tend to have better performance and even peak performance versus actions that seem old, under control, predictable. (see yerkes dodson)

So using the vocabulary of buddhist meditation, a person is learning to sustain close attention despite its natural flagging over time and exposure (aka: boredom). This is the primary purpose of 1st samatha jhana. It is so important to have friendliness with oneself in this effort, because often if we flog or berate ourselves there's too much stress and performance tanks even further. So we're learning a middle way of sustaining mental alertness when the initial natural arousal peters out, and we're not applying too much hard effort that would cause aversion.

How to overcome it?
1.) See what you can do to reduce bodily tension before you sit: exercise like jogging, yoga, swimming, martial arts, walking at a rate where it would be hard to hold a conversation.

2.) keep up the same practice you started and just keep gently re-applying the mind back to the object. We've all been here (I am still often here!), whereby the mind just needs to be led back to its object over and over again. If we don't do that, then we don't develop the excellent tool of first jhana and the mind learns like an errant child that if it wiggles long enough you will not hold it gently to task.

The key is just keep your sitting time and no matter what just keep going back to the breath. If you decide to switch meditation styles in a month, this practice will have served you well. If you drop a simple meditation practice like breathing too soon, this very same problem will occur again and again.

Best wishes emoticon

RE: mindfulness of breath becomes hard all of a sudden, what happened?
Answer
7/29/13 12:17 PM as a reply to Srdjan Pamtivek.
Hi, I am also a newbie to meditation. What helps me is to count breaths. "One"- breathing in, "Two"-breathing out, "Three"-breathing in etc. up to "Ten" and then I begin again from "One". Each odd number is breating in and each even number is breathing out. It helps me especially when I want to concentrate in a disturbing enviroment or under disturbing circumstances like waiting for an appointment with a doctor to overcome anxiety. I have been meditating for 8 months on a regular basis. I also concentrate on the feeling of the breath in the nostrils. The interesting thing is that the first five months I immediately or after some short time fell into or something drew me in what I would call an altered state of conciousness. I meditate with open eyes and I started to see a gentle "mysticum lucem" so to speak, with a bit of exaggeration, emoticon but no ebullient lights like in A&P and it was exciting. Now my meditation is dry and dull and it is difficult for me to make myself meditate even only half an hour a day. I think I have to read MCTB once again, this time more attentivelly. (Please pardon my imperfect English.)

RE: mindfulness of breath becomes hard all of a sudden, what happened?
Answer
7/29/13 1:11 PM as a reply to Srdjan Pamtivek.
Srdjan Pamtivek:
Is this something usual? How to overcome it? What happened?


Not unusual at all.

First thing you need to do is to is reduce physical agitation as much as possible. In the suttas, this is called "calming bodily fabrication", but all it means in practice is that you still and relax your body as much as possible. Really settle down. Go through each part of your body, systematically releasing tension. A good way to think about this is that you want to avoid pushing or pulling the breath from anywhere in your body. Even if you can't get the mind to settle down, still devote yourself fully to calming the body, systematically, piece by piece. The mind can only be so agitated when the body is very calm, so even if you're not having a perfectly still mind, it's still a bearable experience, and you're likely to come back to do it at the appointed time tomorrow (which you should always do).

Now, I've come across some good techniques for getting the mind settled on the breath, but there's no guarantee they'll work for you or that they'll work every day. So greet it with a spirit of exploration.

One idea is to do what Daniel Ingram calls "grooving on the breath", where you get into the rhythm of the breath the way you'd get into a good piece of music.

Another approach, which Daniel also advocates, is to imagine you're savoring the smell of something really wonderful, like a gardenia, a lilac, something like that. Really be fully present at the tip of the nose, as if every second were the only second you had the chance to smell this wonderful fragrance.

You might also try taking refuge in the breath. This one works well for me. It can be wonderfully liberating to be focused so closely on the breath, because there's no room to think about unpleasant things. To test it, think of something unpleasant right now for ten seconds, and then focus exclusively on the sensation of the breath at the tip of the nose for just three inhalations/exhalations. Very nice, right? The more you get into the breath like that, the less susceptible you are to unpleasant thoughts and feelings (hindrances), the better you feel. This is called "happiness arising from seclusion". That's good motivation to stay with the breath. Treat it like a vacation.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes.