Message Boards Message Boards

Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Have I attained access concentration?

Toggle
Have I attained access concentration?
Answer
5/29/14 6:39 AM
I’ve been meditating for about two years. In the beginning, mostly concentration style with my awareness tuned to the rising and falling of my abdomen. I did a 10 day Goenka Vipassana retreat earlier this year. Lately I’ve been switching from concentration at the beginning of my sits to noting towards the end. I’m noting about 1 to 2 times per second. Mostly I’m aware of the ending of thoughts but occasionally I can see the arising as well. Or at least, I can remember the arising of the thought after the thought has passed if it is a short thought.
I generally sit for about one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. I try to practice mindfulness during my daily routine whilst driving around, walking around, during conversations and so on. I’m enjoying the benefits of mediation practice. I’m less irritable, more focused, and have more frequent moments of spontaneous joy arising from simple causes such as looking at a outcrop of sunflowers on the side of the road.
I’ve read Daniel Ingram’s book MCTB and am intrigued with the maps of insight. I would like to know where I might be on the maps.
I’ve noticed a pattern forming with my sits. Usually about ten minutes into a sit there is a slight shift of consciousness usually accompanied by a minor rapture or movement of energy along my thoracic spine, neck and the back of my head. The shift is also accompanied by a brighter cleaner visual field (though my eyes are closed). It’s like going from hessian to silk. Is this access concentration? Usually it is followed by the occasional minor rapture. It’s like a subtle wave of energy moves upwards towards and through my head.
In recent days I’ve also experienced a very fast jolt through my upper body and head. It’s similar the jolt sometimes experienced at the edge of sleep.
Another question that I have is about the technique. I’m tempted to stick with a purely concentration technique until I am sure I have attained a samatha jhana then to shift to a noting based practice. Is it wise to mix concentration and noting in the same sitting. Will switching from a concentration practice in the morning to noting in the evening mess with my progress. What about a week of concentration and a week of noting? I would be very grateful for some guidance on these matters. Namaste.

RE: Have I attained access concentration?
Answer
5/29/14 11:48 AM as a reply to Darin.
Welcome to the DhO, Darin.

When I read the subject line for this thread, the first thought that went through my mind was, "Oh, no. Not another one of those questions." Let me first explain. This concept of "access concentration" has been so misunderstood over the years, and now on the Internet, that it's become something of a nuisance to have to explain. There needs to be a thread where people can be directed to in order to clarify such questions as they seem to come up quite often. Then I took a chance and clicked onto the thread to see what was here, and became intrigued by your description.

Darin John Draper:
I’ve been meditating for about two years. In the beginning, mostly concentration style with my awareness tuned to the rising and falling of my abdomen. I did a 10 day Goenka Vipassana retreat earlier this year. Lately I’ve been switching from concentration at the beginning of my sits to noting towards the end. I’m noting about 1 to 2 times per second. Mostly I’m aware of the ending of thoughts but occasionally I can see the arising as well. Or at least, I can remember the arising of the thought after the thought has passed if it is a short thought.

Absolutely nothing wrong with switching between samatha and vipassana in the same sit. This is a very natural way to make progress in meditation and contemplation practice. It's even talked about in the discourses, for those who have bothered to read them.

Darin John Draper:

I generally sit for about one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening.
I try to practice mindfulness during my daily routine whilst driving around, walking around, during conversations and so on. I’m enjoying the benefits of mediation practice. I’m less irritable, more focused, and have more frequent moments of spontaneous joy arising from simple causes such as looking at a outcrop of sunflowers on the side of the road.

That is excellent! One hour in the morning, and an hour in the evening is perfect for practicing the Dhamma. Now all you have to do is fill in some of the in-between time with some selective reading and contemplation of pieces that will explain more about what you should be looking for in terms of practice and insight objects.

Darin John Draper:

I’ve noticed a pattern forming with my sits. Usually about ten minutes into a sit there is a slight shift of consciousness usually accompanied by a minor rapture or movement of energy along my thoracic spine, neck and the back of my head. The shift is also accompanied by a brighter cleaner visual field (though my eyes are closed). It’s like going from hessian to silk. Is this access concentration? Usually it is followed by the occasional minor rapture. It’s like a subtle wave of energy moves upwards towards and through my head.

Now here is a perfectly teachable moment. Don't feel bad if you hadn't realized this before. People with little or no guidance have a perfect excuse called "ignorance." But based upon your descriptions so far, it seems you have gone way past "access concentration" and stumbled upon samadhi. Now, before you go jumping out of your chair with excitement, calm down and let's take a clear look at what this means in the overall picture of the journey toward awakening.

Since mindfulness of "what is" is of paramount importance in Dhamma training, then being able to calm the mind down enough to be able to see "things as they are" is also of paramount importance when making this journey. You won't be able to gain insight about mental formations and phenomena until you are able to quieten the mind enough so that it is not distracted from "seeing things as they are." And it is "seeing things as they are" which should be the aim of your practice as you begin to confirm the three characteristics of existence (anicca, dukkha, anatta), the four noble truths, the five clinging aggregates, and the dependent co-arising of phenomena. When you can see and confirm the arising and cessation of these phenomena within your direct knowingness of phenomena, then you will know that you have arrived.

Darin John Draper:

Another question that I have is about the technique. I’m tempted to stick with a purely concentration technique until I am sure I have attained a samatha jhana then to shift to a noting based practice. Is it wise to mix concentration and noting in the same sitting. Will switching from a concentration practice in the morning to noting in the evening mess with my progress. What about a week of concentration and a week of noting? I would be very grateful for some guidance on these matters.

Nothing wrong, once again, with mixing samatha and vipassana in your practice. One sign that should tell you that this is okay is when, while practicing concentration practices, you become bored. Why is that? Because the boredom tells you that you are (or have) mastered concentration practice enough to be able to proceed onto insight practice. 

To answer the question posed in the emboldened sentence above, yes it will mess with your progress. But not necessarily in a negative way. It may help you to quicken your progress. It all depends on whether or not you discern that you have accomplished enough in terms of samatha (calming the mind and increasing concentration) which allows you to proceed onto vipassana (insight) practice.

In peace,
Ian

Announcements Announcements