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Stuck and bored in Anapanasati

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Stuck and bored in Anapanasati
Answer
1/12/14 1:11 AM
Hello everybody.

I speak French so I hope my english is OK enough for you.

I'm meeting a step in anapanasati where I find it hard to know what's going on and where to move next.

First let me introduce what is and has been my practice for the last 2 years. My first daily practice was deep meditation as teached on AYPsite, which consists on focusing the attention on the mantra AYAM for 20 min twice a day.

After 2 months of it, I took the initiation to Kriya Yoga, but after one year I decided to quit because I experienced lot of pressure in the forehead, it was very strong and annoying, but the master who taught me gave me no real advice to deal with it, so I decided to continue on my own.

I then got back to AYP deep meditation, which after a few months of practice helped me to deal with these pressures. It was a good teaching and I discovered a lot about how to concentrate, what is too much or too less effort in focus, etc.

Then for some reason, after a bit more than a year of deep meditation practice, I began to wonder if AYP method was the real deal, and it leads me to search about other meditations practice. On AYP forums I read about Daniel Ingram and read MCTB, which was really a revelation: such clear and abundant information was all I need.

So I switched to Anapanasati and it's been one month now that I'm practicing it, for 30 min to 1.5 hour a day (depends if my 1.5 year old son would let me end my session!)

It was quite difficult at first but now I begin to really feel what it's like to get the attention focused on the breath. I concentrate on the breathing at the tip of the nose and already had great results. One of my first sessions lead me to a state of bliss, clarity and light beyond what I've experienced so far. But now I feel a bit stuck and don't know if I'm doing good, so maybe you could help me on this one.

Here is the approximative timing of an average session :
- 0 to 5 min : couting expiration from 1 to 10, then start again. The mind is quite focused and I feel I'm gaining quickly some momentum (body and head feel lighter, some subtle pleasure spread in the body)
- 5 to 15 min : narrow focusing on the tip of the nose. Again the focus is good, I don't get lost in thoughts, I can see them but it won't disturb my attention which keeps focused on the tip of the nose.
- 15 to 30 min : little sudden shifts in my body perception, which gets lighter and lighter, sometimes it's stuck then feels suddenly lighter than before. My mind seems delighted and I feel I'm getting a bit lost in the spaceness of it.
- 30 min to 60 min : I'm getting lost and lost and lost again in my thoughts. Even if I declare to myself a strong intention to keep focused on the breath, I lose it after 2 or 3 expirations. I keep continuously to notice the fact that I've been wandering, and continuously get back to the breath at the tip of the nose. The feeling at the tip of the nose seems strong anchored, but it doesn't last. I can't help but feeling irritated by all this wandering, but try to step back, gain some perspective and welcome this fact with equanimity.
- 60 min to 90 min : I just observe the wandering and getting back to the breath, with as much equanimity as I can. I'm a bit bored, don't know what to do next. Nothing seems to lead nowhere: no success with strong focus on breath, no success with focus on the subtle bliss pervading the body, no success with letting go. I'm stuck. And my foot hurts like hell.

Immediately after, I feel a bit sleepy, as waking up from a nap.

Maybe it's good enough and I just need to be patient and wait, and it will progress naturally. But maybe I'm missing something so that's why I prefer asking here. I feel I need some reassurance and/or advice.

Besides Anapanasati, I try to practice bare attention whenever I can.

Thank you for any insight, and thanks to Dho forum which has already been of tremendous help.

RE: Stuck and bored in Anapanasati
Answer
1/12/14 3:34 AM as a reply to Jean B..
Jean B.:

I'm meeting a step in anapanasati where I find it hard to know what's going on and where to move next.
So I switched to Anapanasati and it's been one month now that I'm practicing it, for 30 min to 1.5 hour a day
But now I feel a bit stuck and don't know if I'm doing good, so maybe you could help me on this one.
Here is the approximative timing of an average session :
- 0 to 5 min : couting expiration from 1 to 10, then start again. The mind is quite focused and I feel I'm gaining quickly some momentum (body and head feel lighter, some subtle pleasure spread in the body)
- 5 to 15 min : narrow focusing on the tip of the nose. Again the focus is good, I don't get lost in thoughts, I can see them but it won't disturb my attention which keeps focused on the tip of the nose.
- 15 to 30 min : little sudden shifts in my body perception, which gets lighter and lighter, sometimes it's stuck then feels suddenly lighter than before. My mind seems delighted and I feel I'm getting a bit lost in the spaceness of it.
- 30 min to 60 min : I'm getting lost and lost and lost again in my thoughts. Even if I declare to myself a strong intention to keep focused on the breath, I lose it after 2 or 3 expirations. I keep continuously to notice the fact that I've been wandering, and continuously get back to the breath at the tip of the nose. The feeling at the tip of the nose seems strong anchored, but it doesn't last. I can't help but feeling irritated by all this wandering, but try to step back, gain some perspective and welcome this fact with equanimity.
- 60 min to 90 min : I just observe the wandering and getting back to the breath, with as much equanimity as I can. I'm a bit bored, don't know what to do next. Nothing seems to lead nowhere: no success with strong focus on breath, no success with focus on the subtle bliss pervading the body, no success with letting go. I'm stuck. And my foot hurts like hell.
Maybe it's good enough and I just need to be patient and wait, and it will progress naturally. But maybe I'm missing something so that's why I prefer asking here. I feel I need some reassurance and/or advice.


It sounds like you are doing well in your concentration meditation. Have you worked on insite/vipassana? If you are focusing on the breath without investigating the actual sensations that make up each and every breath then you are mostly doing concentration/samatha. It sounds like you may be getting to a light state of 4th jhana (just a guess, I may be wrong) with your concentration meditation and then you get stuck. This happens to me a lot in equanimity. I then will move to noting practice and break down the sensations that are arising. This sometimes gets different things going for me. From the 16 stages of insite where have you gotten to? Are you cycling? have you passed the arising and passing away? I would reread the section in MCTB on the Progress of Insightand see where you are at. You will get much better advice if you can determine where you are at.
Also I would focus on this -
Jean B.:
- 15 to 30 min : little sudden shifts in my body perception, which gets lighter and lighter, sometimes it's stuck then feels suddenly lighter than before. My mind seems delighted and I feel I'm getting a bit lost in the spaceness of it.

Get to know the shifts a bit more and see if you can describe them...are you hearing anything? seeing anything? what are the details before and after the shifts? What is the spaceness like?

RE: Stuck and bored in Anapanasati
Answer
1/12/14 5:10 PM as a reply to Dream Walker.
Dream Walker:
It sounds like you are doing well in your concentration meditation. Have you worked on insite/vipassana? If you are focusing on the breath without investigating the actual sensations that make up each and every breath then you are mostly doing concentration/samatha. It sounds like you may be getting to a light state of 4th jhana (just a guess, I may be wrong) with your concentration meditation and then you get stuck. This happens to me a lot in equanimity. I then will move to noting practice and break down the sensations that are arising. This sometimes gets different things going for me. From the 16 stages of insite where have you gotten to? Are you cycling? have you passed the arising and passing away? I would reread the section in MCTB on the Progress of Insightand see where you are at. You will get much better advice if you can determine where you are at.


Actually I wouldn't have supposed on my own that one can reach such light jhanas states. I thought it was much more an all-inclusive state or no state at all. So the idea of being in a jhana state with a wandering attention seems rather strange to me, knowing that all factors of jhana might be there indeed, but very weak and subtle.

I'd thought that from first jhana, one would be so strongly focused that mind couldn't be allowed to wander.

Your questions lead me to consider some stages of insights I might have encountered, but it's very confuse now because I had no informations back then to map these stages. I remember encountering those phenomena, maybe you can help me organizing them :

  • I had a period where I could not stand any body postures, I would always feel "unbalanced", like one side of my body is not correctly placed, and moving incessantly to find a comfortable position. I would feel strong pressures in my forehead. My jaws seemed to be constantly tight and grinning. Looks like being aware of the 3 C's, but it's hard to believe because it was rather felt than noticed (intellectually noticed I mean), so it might be that but I can't be sure.

  • deep ups and downs coming with appropriate mood swings : I would feel very excited one day, with lots of unitive feelings, perspectives about the future, uplifting mood; then be very angry and irritative the other day, with everything seeming to be a pain in the ass, reacting in a agressive way to everything. Sometimes I could switch between these states several times in the same day, but more often it was a few days good, followed by a few days bad, and so on. This switch of states has been going on for almost one year I would say.

  • numerous experiences of union and spaceness with my surrounding. For instance I can drive / walk / sit and get lost in the background, feeling I'm both pervading and containing it all. Feels like A&P and maybe a bit of Equanimity now. Don't know if it actually works that way.


So it's like I've been experiencing A&P than Dark Night, but I've been short of insights practice so I would get back to A&P, then to DN, then A&P again, and so on. Now I feel I have moved one and might have been through some kind of Re-Observation and Equanimity. But some stuff still have to be worked on so I sometimes get back to A&P, DN and all. Is that possible?

I can't really conclude because I'm not even sure I've been through Mind & Body or Cause & Effect, can one go through these states without even be aware of it? For instance I'm sometimes aware that mental phenomena is not me or mine, but it requires some effort and it's not naturally and constanatly noticed and recognized. So if I'm understanding well here, is it that one can go through a state, get the insight, but it doesn't mean one have to master such a state in order to move on to the next one?

That's all I can figure our right now, and it's always been easily felt but not processed intellectually. Just noticed without knowing what I can do with all that stuff. So I guess I'd better practice insights whenever such phenomena occur?

I've posted my answer in the Diagnostic category, much better suited for these questions : http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5124634

Dream Walker:
Also I would focus on this -
Jean B.:
- 15 to 30 min : little sudden shifts in my body perception, which gets lighter and lighter, sometimes it's stuck then feels suddenly lighter than before. My mind seems delighted and I feel I'm getting a bit lost in the spaceness of it.

Get to know the shifts a bit more and see if you can describe them...are you hearing anything? seeing anything? what are the details before and after the shifts? What is the spaceness like?


I will definitely focus more on noticing during the next meditation sessions, see if I can go deeper and find a way out that way.

Thanks for taking some time to answer.

RE: Stuck and bored in Anapanasati
Answer
1/12/14 5:41 PM as a reply to Jean B..
Hi Jean,

It's pretty clear to me that you're getting aversion to the practice itself. Being patient is definitely the right thing to do. Stress comes from perceptions/recognitions of objects as "worth craving" or "worth hating". The amygdala will react only to those two perceptions and stay dormant during neutral perceptions. You can create these perceptions with your meditation practice and then stress over it just the same as stressing over losing objects you like. The problem with concentration states is that the negative mental habits and narratives will chip away at the results when you stop. This is why mindfulness is important. You need a concentration where everything is welcomed (especially habitual thoughts) and you can let them be and let the impulses of likes and dislikes pass away on their own. When they pass away without pushing or forced thinking it's like you're forgetting those habits on purpose so they have less hold over your life. Then you can deal with those weeds like in gardening and plant flowers (new habits) in turn. The Brahmaviharas are good habits you can develop with your concentration. It's like letting go with non-action towards the old habits. Just ride the wave and let it pass and then you can add concentration (eg. Metta practice) to develop new perception habits.

If you've read Daniel's book then you should start a noting practice or maybe a Shikantaza practice to pay attention to more detail including your intentions to meditate to see how the thinking apparatus wants to experience things that aren't happening by releasing happy or sad chemicals depending on what perception you're dwelling on. Eg. Thinking "I'm going to meditate right now and I BETTER GET SOME EQUANIMITY!" This expectation should create stress just thinking about it. Try some of these practices below:

Shinzen Young - Return to the Source

Kenneth Folk:

Practice becoming aware of the body sensations that correspond to a thought. Whenever a thought arises, feel the body. How do you know whether you like the thought or not? It's because the body sensations feel either pleasant or unpleasant. Notice that if you dissociate from this moment, i.e., step into the fantasy and leave the body, you will suffer. Suffering is not ordinary pain; ordinary pain is just unpleasant sensation. Suffering is cause by the dissociation, the stepping out of this moment, out of the body. Stay in the body and ride the waves of body sensation. Watch how the body reacts to the thougts and vice versa. See how the looping between body and mind IS the dissociation. Short-circuit this by returning to the body. Stay with the body as continuously as you can. You are stretching the amount of time you can stay in the body without being blown out of it by an event or a thought. To be in the body is to be free. To be in the body all the time is to be free all the time.
¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬¬_________________________________________________________________________
"While you are practicing just sitting, be clear about everything going on in your mind. Whatever you feel, be aware of it, but never abandon the awareness of your whole body sitting there. Shikantaza is not sitting with nothing to do; it is a very demanding practice, requiring diligence as well as alertness. If your practice goes well, you will experience the 'dropping off' of sensations and thoughts. You need to stay with it and begin to take the whole environment as your body. Whatever enters the door of your senses becomes one totality, extending from your body to the whole environment. This is silent illumination."

-Master Shengyen
_________________________________________________________________________
Kenneth: See how the looping between body and mind IS the dissociation.

Mumuwu: Do you mean the moving out of the body to the mind and back?

I mean the creation of a third "thing," this pseudo-entity that is a composite of body sensations and mental phenomena. Living in this third thing is suffering because it takes you out of what is really happening in this moment; it becomes a proxy for experience. You can train yourself to stop living this proxy life of suffering by coming back to the body sensations in this moment. The body cannot lie. Being in the body is being present in this moment. Being present in this moment does not allow the pseudo-self to form. When the pseudo-self does not form, life is simple and free. It will be pleasant at times and unpleasant at times, but it is always free.

There is no conflict between noting and living in your body, by the way, whether you note silently or aloud. You can note or not note, think, act, talk, love, live; there is very little you can't do; you just can't suffer. If you choose to note, understand that there is nothing magical about the noting itself. The noting is simply a feedback loop to remind you to feel your body and observe your mind in this moment.
_________________________________________________________________________


Gil Fronsdal - Mental Noting

Shinzen Young - What is Mindfulness

A good test for "knowing", "awareness", "consciousness" is to do a basic practice of seeing the knowing of the 5 senses and one more sense which is knowing thoughts. Thoughts create sensations based on the perceptions I mentioned earlier.

Awareness watching awareness

Cittamatra - Guided Meditation

Cittamatra

The "low hanging fruit" is developing a habit of resting in the knowing and let it be a non-stick frying pan that lets all the emotions slide off of it. Trying to block or manipulate experience is just more stress. If you leave things alone there is more rest. Basic concentration practices are you not leaving things alone. It works for a while but mindfulness is portable throughout the day so you can gain more equanimity throughout the day instead of watching the concentration benefits fade over and over again.

Here's some more low hanging fruit:

The Direct Path (Part 1) - Kenneth Folk
(Watch all the parts).

The Direct Path - Greg Goode

I don't know if you're French from France or not but you can get this book which helped me a lot with perception/recognition:

Boisvert - 5 Aggregates

The noting practice can be done in conjunction with just resting with bare awareness. The bare awareness teaches you that if you're feeling pain while noting it's because you haven't understood that thoughts and sensations are hitting your consciousness already and just an acknowledgement of them is enough. You don't want to get trapped in a "conceptual" meditator where he can dislike his meditation. Liking and disliking your noting or jhana practice is the same trap. It's really subtle.

I gave you a lot and all this stuff helped me over years, not months. It's not a super fast process but getting to the resting of awareness as a baseline habit is good enough that if you give up meditation at least you give up at a good place instead of being stuck with only jhanas or dark night/withdrawal symptoms.

Good luck!

RE: Stuck and bored in Anapanasati
Answer
1/12/14 5:51 PM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Hi Richard,

I've read your answer twice and it's still a bit confusing to me. I need to ponder a bit what you've said, in order to get all of this pragmatic and "practiceable".

So what I understand so far, is that I should keep on doing my concentration practice, but doing it more vipassana style than samatha style, by noting everything I can.

And off practice, I should note as much as I can.

Thanks for all the advices and links, I'm gonna read it all and see where it goes.

RE: Stuck and bored in Anapanasati
Answer
1/12/14 6:46 PM as a reply to Jean B..
Essentially yes but please take your time and read this stuff slowly and practice it consistently.

The reason for so much detail is that things should get more subtle and you should feel less stress while still feeling very normal.

Basically when you day-dream about like and dislikes your brain should feel a little tension already and when you let those day-dreams die off (because you are not ADDING more stories and narratives) the relief comes. You can compare the two over and over again so that eventually over time your habit of resting in the NOW is stronger than the habit of resting in mental stories.

Make sense?

RE: Stuck and bored in Anapanasati
Answer
1/12/14 6:59 PM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Yes it does make sens, at least intellectually speaking.

I see what you refer too, indeed the storymaking creates tension which I know is released whenever I notice it and get back to pure bare attention to reality; like a shift which can be felt both bodily and mentally. So from now, whatever triggers day-dreaming, I should be able to notice, and observe closely the absence of tension following its release.

Now I need to re-observe these things thoroughly, precisely and constantly. That should be enough for a while!

I will read all you links and get some precious advices for sure.

RE: Stuck and bored in Anapanasati
Answer
1/13/14 4:09 PM as a reply to Richard Zen.
Update: during the 2 last sessions, I've been playing with noting during meditation. So far it goes like this :

  • - 0 to 5 min: couting breath cycles from 1 to 10, again and again. No problem at all to focus on the couting. Any thoughts or sensations is easily noticed, noted, and effortlessly set aside in the background. Quickly, but step by step (rather than progressively), body and mind feel like sinking in some kind of spaceness: first I would notice some tension, generally at the forehead, then I focus on the periphery and the attention widens and feels more stable.

  • - 5 to 15 min: narrowing the attention on the feeling of the breath at the tip of the nose. I begin to experiment some obvious bliss and rapture. It doesn't get very intense though; sometimes I feel like I'm getting aboard a boat to lot of bliss and rapture, but somehow it doesn't go as far as promised. It's quite frustrating. Maybe I have too much excitation or expectation. So I begin to note: rapture / positive / craving / frustration / etc.

  • - 15 to 30 min: equanimity. I try to stay open to whatever comes to perception. I feel my body tingling and gross vibrations, but it's hard to identify precise spots. It's like being run through by weak electric vibrations, too subtle to be really mapped or located.

  • - 30 to 60 min: noting, noting, noting. Sensations, thoughts, appreciation (positive/negative/neutral). It goes like this : I hear sounds: sound. I identify it's my son: image. It's annoying: judgment, negative.


Off cushion, I note everytime I can, when I have no activities which requires too much attention. While driving for instance, I note as much as I can : sound, sight, smell, touch. Past, future. Judgment, reflexion, fantasy. Positive, neutral, negative. And so on.

Hope I'm not doing useless stuff.

RE: Stuck and bored in Anapanasati
Answer
1/13/14 8:25 PM as a reply to Jean B..
Jean B.:


Off cushion, I note everytime I can, when I have no activities which requires too much attention. While driving for instance, I note as much as I can : sound, sight, smell, touch. Past, future. Judgment, reflexion, fantasy. Positive, neutral, negative. And so on.

Hope I'm not doing useless stuff.


It's not useless but it takes time. You want to notice the difference in mental tension between story making and just noticing what's hitting your knowing/consciousness/awareness of the 5 senses + thinking. It's a gradual practice because it takes the brain some years to adapt this as a new habit. You can also include the following (eg. You would note "doubt" when asking "I hope I'm not doing useless stuff". Or note "confusion" when you don't know how to label a particular experience). You can include even subtle experiences like an intention to pay attention.

It's very important to note things like "analyzing", "rehearsing", "strategizing" which always accompanies meditation practice. When you note them you're not ruminating about them. If you're not noting that you're probably clinging to the practice.

If the verbal noting gets a little too agitating try just acknowledging what's there without saying anything or making any mental movements. Verbal noting is good to restart when you get too lazy or you space out into strong narratives. It's more about consistency/fluidity/softness than brunt force.

When you get into an concentration jhana I would also notice any stress there is in wanting a good meditation. I would also regularly relax the muscles again and again because mental tension always creates some body tension. When you relax the body it's easier for the mind to relax.

It's also good to make a list of habitual thoughts that bother you and have bothered you for years. Just being prepared for those thoughts can give the mind a feeling like "why do I need to think about this now?" You start prioritizing thinking and how it can interfere with your day. I hate when it's sunny and things are going well in my life but my habitual thought patterns bring me to some years ago when something bad happened to me. It needs to be let go of or it spoils the tranquillity if I latch on to it.

This actualism method (similar to "Who am I?" practice) was also helpful. Ask the question "How am I experiencing this moment of being alive?" and allow as much detail going on as there is. You don't need to push it too hard but to get beyond a narrow concentration focus to include more will bring more relief.

How am I experiencing this moment of being alive? HAIETMOBA



Trying all these practices and lots of noting will show you different angles of relief so the brain learns how to do this without constant noting or questioning. They are more like training-wheels. When you can just feel the tension start up and start relaxing it without harsh noting or blocking everything out with breath concentration, this is what we are aiming at. Everything is okay except the clinging/ruminating.