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concentration failing
Answer
10/20/14 2:42 PM
Once again seeking some sage advice from the community.

The Good:

I've generally felt pretty good as of late re: my concentration.
However I must admit that I have been doing primarily zazen style sits focused on either breath or the actual stillness of awareness itself. So nothing as robust as noting until fairly recently.

Recently been able to settle into pain and really watch it.
I see now waves of tiny sensations that have a distinct end as opposed to a large and sustained painful area. Further I can recognize that much of what I used to describe as "pain" is perhaps not. It often is stress, strain, and tension coming from my reaction to pain - making things worse.

The Bad:

Very recently the level of pain has increased.
I'm lucky I suppose that the above pain awareness is with me, but it's still not a great turn of events.

Unfortunately my ability to focus seems to have tanked. I can dive into pain oddly but when I focus on breath for example I'm finding it much harder than normal to zero in.

Thinking Out Loud:

Some of the lack of concentration may be related to the pain - which would also explain why the only thing I can reliably focus on are the pain sensations.

The onslaught of pain, and the realization of the END of sensations (vs. just their arising and being) made me wonder if I I was dealing with stage/nana 3 ... but I don't believe I've experienced the first jhana or anything - so perhaps not. I mean if that WERE the case the next likely event would be A&P, I'd have expected the 1st jhana to show up prior to that... right?
All of that is to say - It's possible my confusion and desire for clarity is also killing my concentration.
(I've been trying to let go of these types of concerns/desires but so far - if I'm honest - have failed to exercise them.)

In-Fact... in an effort to relive said pain and thus do away with any lingering aversion I used a chair a couple of nights ago. It did relieve the pain, but my concentration was still sorely lacking. Perhaps because it did not alleviate my craving for clarity. I found myself wondering if now I could get into the jhana and put that past me. Clearly I did not. 

Last night I feel like I was actually able to let go of any yearning for jhana, and despite being back on the cushion (vs. the chair) the pain wasn't AS bad. When it did crop up I was able to watch it and deal with it just fine. ... but STILL... unless I was focused on pain my concentration sucked.

Bottom line - I feel like my sits are less than productive.
I've started resorting to just trying to clear the mind vs. building attention. A decision that certainly isn't helping, but at least leaves me feeling somewhat centered vs. frustrated.

SO now what?
Any advice is most appreciated.

RE: concentration failing
Answer
10/20/14 2:07 PM as a reply to Doug M.
Doug M:
Once again seeking some sage advice from the community.

The Good:

I've generally felt pretty good as of late re: my concentration.
However I must admit that I have been doing primarily zazen style sits focused on either breath or the actual stillness of awareness itself. So nothing as robust as noting until fairly recently.

Recently been able to settle into pain and really watch it.
I see now waves of tiny sensations that have a distinct end as opposed to a large and sustained painful area. Further I can recognize that much of what I used to describe as "pain" is perhaps not. It often is stress, strain, and tension coming from my reaction to pain - making things worse.

The Bad:

Very recently the level of pain has increased.
I'm lucky I suppose that the above pain awareness is with me, but it's still not a great turn of events.

Unfortunately my ability to focus seems to have tanked. I can dive into pain oddly but when I focus on breath for example I'm finding it much harder than normal to zero in.

Thinking Out Loud:

Some of the lack of concentration may be related to the pain - which would also explain why the pain is the only thing I can reliably focus on are the pain sensations.

The onslaught of pain, and the realization of the END of sensations (vs. just their arising and being) made me wonder if I I was dealing with stage/nana 3 ... but I don't believe I've experienced the first jhana or anything - so perhaps not. I mean if that WERE the case the next likely event would be A&P, I'd have expected the 1st jhana to show up prior to that... right?
All of that is to say - It's possible my confusion and desire for clarity is also killing my concentration.
(I've been trying to let go of these types of concerns/desires but so far - if I'm honest - have failed to exercise them.)

In-Fact... in an effort to relive said pain and thus do away with any lingering aversion I used a chair a couple of nights ago. It did relieve the pain, but my concentration was still sorely lacking. Perhaps because but did not alleviate my craving for clarity. I found myself wondering if now I could get into the jhana and put that past me. Clearly I did not. 

Last night I feel like I was actually able to let go of any yearning for jhana, and despite being back on the cushion (vs. the chair) the pain wasn't AS bad. When it did crop up I was able to watch it and deal with it just fine. ... but STILL... unless I was focused on pain my concentration sucked.

Bottom line - I feel like my sits are less than productive.
I've started resorting to just trying to clear the mind vs. building attention. A decision that certainly isn't helping, but at least leaves me feeling somewhat centered vs. frustrated.

SO now what?
Any advice is most appreciated.

Hi Doug 

Howard here again, I was trying to swear off posting and sit on my hands, but so much of what you have written here I recognise, I could not resist commenting. 

Your exeriences sound so much like my one and only Goenka retreat, that its spooky. Much like you, I found that the meditation instruction I was supposed to be doing was of no use. I was in excruciating pain but also fascinated by it; and also scared of the pain and of my fascination for it. Any time I tried to do anything other than abide-in or deconstriuct this very intense sensation, my mind would be off to the races almost immediately.

In the end I decided to man up and become a "fearless dharma warrior" and dive right into the middle of it all with no brakes or reservations. The results were quick and spectacular, suffice to say it rapidly became one of my usual "Howard goes nutzoid" stories, so we can skip the details. But it was very obvious A&P event.

Which means that I suspect you might be entering late stage, 3rd nyana. Its very difficult to advise people to embrace severe pain in case something real is actulally wrong, so I won't do that. In fact, if the pain is messing with your head, see a doctor, he/she will put you staight pretty quick. Also do you have to sit cross legged? There is no rule that you have to sit cross legged to get enlightened.

But I will say what happened to me, for a sense of how using pain as a focus can pan out. When I was in this space I was absolutely convinced that I was doing permanent damage to my knees. I just could not belive that one of my knee ligaments was not going to go "ping" at any moment. It was a risk that I had to conciously take with my eyes open, but the space I was in, allowed me to make that descicion and embrace it. It was much like jumping off a cliff. Once I jumped it was so much easier and a very quicky discovered that this particular kind of pain was a very convincing mental object and no more. No basis in physiology at all.

I then had that big ass, Howard goes nutzoid experience. Part of it was that seeing how convincing and concrete delusion can be, just blew my head off. A extra word of caution though, this particular A&P was unusualy intense but so was the DN that followed. Just saying.

Right, I hope this helps, but I really don't think you have to become a Dharma nutter to traverse this territory successfully.

I would be very interested to hear what others have to say.

Peace

RE: concentration failing
Answer
10/20/14 2:48 PM as a reply to Howard Maxwell Clegg.
Howard - thanks so much.
Your story gives me some hope. emoticon

My pain is all in the back. At times it's just plain crazy... but nothing that makes me think anything is going to actually snap.
Sounds like I should do as I have tried earlier and just dig into it.
My limited attempts to do so have been mildly successful and interesting if uncomfortable.

A follow-up question regarding that...

1) Should the fact that I don't remember an obvious 1st jhana be nagging me? Shouldn't that happen prior to a true A&P event? 

Oh and for the record - You've been a big help with all my nagging questions and I sincerely appreciate it. (If ever we meet lunch is on me.) 
So please don't sit on your hands unless it's part of some special insight practice... in which case I'd love to hear about it. ;)

Thanks again,
Doug

RE: concentration failing
Answer
10/20/14 3:25 PM as a reply to Doug M.
Doug M:
Howard - thanks so much.
Your story gives me some hope. emoticon

My pain is all in the back. At times it's just plain crazy... but nothing that makes me think anything is going to actually snap.
Sounds like I should do as I have tried earlier and just dig into it.
My limited attempts to do so have been mildly successful and interesting if uncomfortable.

A follow-up question regarding that...

1) Should the fact that I don't remember an obvious 1st jhana be nagging me? Shouldn't that happen prior to a true A&P event? 

Oh and for the record - You've been a big help with all my nagging questions and I sincerely appreciate it. (If ever we meet lunch is on me.) 
So please don't sit on your hands unless it's part of some special insight practice... in which case I'd love to hear about it. ;)

Thanks again,
Doug


Too kind, too kind; its a pleasure to be able to help someone and not be thought crazy.

Okay then.

1) Should the fact that I don't remember an obvious 1st jhana be nagging me? Shouldn't that happen prior to a true A&P event? 

No. I've long felt that the 1st Jhana rule is misleading. I got all the way to steam entry without ever experiencing a Jhana properly (or so I thought) Insight only practice is a well known practice option, often called "dry insight" because it can be joyless. But it does work.

If you want to "dig in" to the pain, be careful of heroic fantasies about how hard-core you are. I don't think these are dangerous or anything but they can become a near enemy in this kind of practice and you can waste a lot of band width. If anything the goal is to normalise the experience of discomfort, not lionise it. If this starts to happen you can bury yourself deeper by zooming-in your attention to microscopic component of the sensation. When I was going through this, sometimes I was almost doing pure Samatha on a very small anatomical region. The only reason why it wasn't Samatha was that the object, pain, is inherently unstable and would move around, when this happens follow it like a blood hound. Don't let go.

Ah, happy memories!

Good luck.

RE: concentration failing
Answer
10/21/14 6:55 AM as a reply to Doug M.
howdy doug,
i would suggest dropping any fixation you might have with jhana in and of itself.  if you are sitting for any duration you may be experiencing light jhanic states, or you might not.  worrying about whether that is the case just won't help. 

back pain (and other pain) is VERY common in the 3rd nana.  unless you are able to make your pain a stable object of inquiry my advice would be to get as comfortable as possible without encouraging drowsiness; and start you sits (or lays) from there.  grab your object of meditation and stick to it like glue.

is this a chronic pain that you had (and have) outside of meditation or just something that pops up when you're trying to follow your object?  if it is strictly a result of your sits then know it as either an uncomfortable posture or a sign of progress.

in any case, if you are spending your sits trying to "overcome" the pain in most cases i think you could be 
more productive by avoiding the pain.  on the other hand, as howard noted, there is value to breaking through our conception of "pain" and seeing that it is a mix of the actual sensations and the fears  and assumptions associated with that.

tom

RE: concentration failing
Answer
10/21/14 10:20 AM as a reply to tom moylan.
Thanks Tom - well said.
I appreciate it.

To answer your question:
The pain is interesting. My back doesn't hurt unless I'm meditating.
Having, said that... I've noticed residual tension in my back. I think though it's just a mental thing driven by the fact that every night when I sit... the hurt starts. emoticon

Also you said:
breaking through our conception of "pain"

Let me explain how I've been dealing with the pain - I'd love to get your take on the approach:
When I sit and the pain starts, I'm trying to sit with it and do a few things:

1) Find Equanimity and abide
2) Observe the arising and passing away of sensations
3) Observe how much is REALLY pain and how much is stress and tensions from trying to fight it.

Is that the appropriate way to go?
Would I make just as much progress laying down and trying to get back to breath?


Sometimes I also try to do the following:

1) Consider impermanence
2) Consider no-self (tough as pain really feels personal)

The key there is the word "consider".
When I "consider" it's more a cerebral process.
It's thinking more than meditation - i.e. less about concentration and attention.

Is that generally helpful or should I wait till after the meditation to do all that "active thinking"?


Thanks again folks - very good feedback.
Doug

RE: concentration failing
Answer
10/21/14 11:36 AM as a reply to Doug M.
Hi Doug

I just lost big answer in a server error, so I'll just give you the short version

Keep it simple, simple objects, simply observed.
Don't overthink things, there is no requirement or need to think during practice.
Stick to your knitting, stay with your chosen objects.
But don't get fixated on one category of object, if it ain't working for you today, move on with something else.

Peace