Observing the heartbeat

Gregory Clement, modified 7 Years ago.

Observing the heartbeat

Posts: 5 Join Date: 8/17/13 Recent Posts
I'm new to the forum. Hello everybody! Sorry if this topic has already been covered elsewhere. I practise a Mahasi technique and have recently found my heartbeat very noticeable. I don't think there is a medical issue here, just an increased awareness. I've been experimenting with observing the heartbeat as the primary object instead of the breath.

There seem to be some advantages with this. It is a more subtle feeling so needs more careful observation which helps build concentration. It is not under conscious control so seems further removed from the ego. The rate and strength of the beat is linked to emotional states, so observing this may help make me more aware of emotions.

I haven't come across any discussion of this technique which obviously can't be original. Does anyone else use it? Any comments on whether is a good approach to take?
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Bruno Loff, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Observing the heartbeat

Posts: 1094 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
I remember reading somewhere that Tarin was told by monks that the heartbeat isn't subtle enough to take you very deep, and that it was more appropriate to include in such a meditation the flow of blood through the body, all the minute details of how blood flows and turns in the veins and arteries.
Gregory Clement, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Observing the heartbeat

Posts: 5 Join Date: 8/17/13 Recent Posts
Thanks for the information Bruno. I'm puzzled that the heartbeat is not said to be subtle enough. I would have thought that it was a more 'subtle' feeling than the movement of the abdomen.

I'm not sure how to observe the flow of blood through all the minute details. I do feel the blood in a few places in the body however such as the chest, the neck, and the arms and legs.

Who is/was Tarin?
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Pablo . P, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Observing the heartbeat

Posts: 379 Join Date: 3/21/12 Recent Posts
Tarin Greco:

the heartbeat is a gross object, not very fast (may even get more slow than usual at some points), and not very conducive to refining attention and increasing the rate of perception. if you find yourself going the heartbeat route, try feeling for the movement of the blood throughout the body instead. this can be felt either as simple pulses occurring more or less at the same rate as the heartbeat does (then possibly diverging into greater complexity), or as fast vibratory rushes of fluid ricocheting through the blood vessels. i found these vibrations to be very prominent in my field of attention, and when i told one of the sayadaws in u pandita's tradition (with whom i was sitting at the time) about this, he encouraged my use of them as my primary object.

heartbeat instead of breath?

Daniel Ingram:

I would caution against using the heartbeat as an object based on a few small data points:

1) The end of the out-breath is when all things related to state shifts happen, and so using the breath as object somehow helps shift into new and interesting territory.
2) The breath, unlike the heartbeat, falls at the boundary of conscious and unconscious "control" in a way that few other things do, and so makes an unusually good concentration object.
3) The breath, unlike the heartbeat, can be felt in a large number of places, so if one doesn't work, you can try another one.
4) I know a few people who had strange negative effects when they took the heartbeat as object: one with heart rate issues as described above, one with very strange heart-area pains that persisted for a while after meditating.
5) No meditation tradition I am aware of recommends it as an object.

All those things being said, all sensations demonstrate the Three Characteristics, so technically any of them could be good objects, but that said, clearly there are better objects and worse objects, and, based on my limited data, the heartbeat is not a good one.


My hearbeat as a meditation object
Gregory Clement, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Observing the heartbeat

Posts: 5 Join Date: 8/17/13 Recent Posts
Thanks very much Pablo for directing me to these two previous discussion threads. It seems that it hasn't worked well for some people, though I'm can't really see why it shouldn't make a good meditation object. It is interesting that this method is not taught by any well established tradition.

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