Concentration balance + beginner jhana questions

Nicolas, modified 8 Years ago at 11/17/14 12:44 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 11/17/14 11:47 AM

Concentration balance + beginner jhana questions

Posts: 15 Join Date: 11/17/14 Recent Posts
Hey there (my first post on DhO yayy),  I have a couple of beginner questions regarding concentration & jhanas.

I started practicing 4 months ago, coming from a lucid dreaming background (so the shift was "natural" and I was already kind of familiar with unordinary experiences). I reached the first jhana couple of times without really wanting it, quickly started to feel some first benefits of a daily practice (depression and bipolar disorder is more than common in my family so I have that funny DNA too)

I've clung to this first "attainment" for a while, even blaming myself for not being able to reach these states again; basically being all but compassionate towards myself which made my practice kind of useless for couple of weeks.

So right now I'm starting from "scratch" (like if I ever left that place, but anwyays) and I have some questions regarding concentration : I have sometimes tried way too hard, getting strong pain in my forehead - and I feel that by focusing so hard on my breath I'd just trigger even more distractions and thoughts to a kind of mental inner madness.
At another times I'd be so "open" to anything that my attention would basically go from inbreath to the sound of AC to a thought and so on - basically I manage to remain pretty aware as I don't get sucked into thoughts, but I can feel that this is definitely too loose and I need to narrow it down. Well actually I don't know, could that also be a form of concentration on the big picture? Like one step behind? 

So I guess I kind of answer my quetsion myself which is probably something like : keep practicing and figure it out. However, I'd like to know if some of you had tips to find that delicate balance.

My second question is toward using sounds as an object : have some of you guys reached access concentration focusing on external sounds? I feel it's easier for me to focus on sounds (there are construction workers outside my building atm and it makes a kind of constant white noise). Are the jhanas different in "texture" when focusing on a sound?

Thank you guys very much and thanks to DhO which is an amazing platform emoticon

Not Tao, modified 8 Years ago at 11/17/14 2:40 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 11/17/14 2:40 PM

RE: Concentration balance + beginner jhana questions

Posts: 995 Join Date: 4/5/14 Recent Posts
It can be helpful to look at it like this: Jhana is not concentration, jhana is what arises when we abandon the five hinderances.  We can use concentration to abandon the five hinderances, but this actually isn't even necessary.  So it's good to practice concentration, but if you are doing it in a way that increases the hinderances, then you are only moving away from jhana.

The five hinderances are: Restlessness (or worry), Doubt, Ill-will (or anger), Sloth (tiredness or dullness), and Sensory desires.

So when you meditate with the intention to pratice jhana, you should use your concentration only to isolate the mind from these factors.  (Don't feel like you need to memorize them - just try to forget the things that are bothing you at the time.)  When you feel worried, gently direct your attention away from the worry.  When you are angry or feel doubts about your method or the practice, do the same.  Baldly, this is about ignoring your problems for a period of time (during the meditation) and allowing yourself to forget about them.  If you feel tired or dull it's usually caused by spacing out, so just bring the mind back to the object.  Most people watch the breath - this is so the mind has something to move towards when you need to move it away from the hinderances.

Hopefully this will let you give yourself a bit of a break.  Don't try to force anything, and don't even try to "concentrate" - instead, just try to let go of your problems and cares, and just watch the object of your choice gently to keep yourself from falling asleep.  It can be very helpful to keep a piece of paper nearby.  If you find you are too worried about something to let go of it, just write it down on the paper and say to yourself, "I'm only planning to forget this during the meditation.  When I'm done, I'll read the list so I can pick my life up where I left it."  Make sure you do read it, too, otherwise your future self meditating won't believe it, haha.  You might be suprised how little those worries that come up actually matter, too, so it's a good opportunity for insight.
Nicolas, modified 8 Years ago at 11/17/14 2:59 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 11/17/14 2:59 PM

RE: Concentration balance + beginner jhana questions

Posts: 15 Join Date: 11/17/14 Recent Posts
Hey, thanks for your quick answer!

That's a very interesting angle that I never heard of before (or I didn't understand it properly, which is likely too).

By ignoring your problems, aren't they coming back straight in your face during the meditation? That's what I've encoutered so far; while if I just see them as they are, they usually dissolve quickly or at least leave me tranquil for a little while.

I'm generally stress-free these days and the only source of tension I really have when I start meditating is to actually have a "good" session (whatever that means). So it's a kind of tail-bitting situation where so far I've felt that I was either trying too hard, or either spacing out in reaction to realizing that I was trying too hard. That's something I can't really figure out at the moment : how to set goals without being hindered by them?

I like that noting on a paper idea though, I'll try that.

Thanks again!
Not Tao, modified 8 Years ago at 11/17/14 3:36 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 11/17/14 3:30 PM

RE: Concentration balance + beginner jhana questions

Posts: 995 Join Date: 4/5/14 Recent Posts
You were saying that concentration was stressing you out, haha, so I didn't think you could see through the problems.  If you can just let your emotions be, and you aren't just stewing in them but are truely at peace with them, then that is the direct path to liberating them (or, letting them self-liberate emoticon).  However, if you can't let go of them, that is the purpose of the concentration.

If problems are coming back again and again, that isn't letting go of them.  "Trying" to let go can be suppression, so be careful with that.  Letting go means allowing yourself not to hold on to the problem anymore.  Think of it like this: when we worry, it's because we keep bringing a problem into our mind so we won't forget about it.  Suppression is trying to forget the cause while holding on to the worry - letting go is forgetting about the worry itself.  It's the worry we're afraid to let go of, not the cause.  This is why so many emotions often seem cause-less.  To reach jhana, you need to let go of the feelings.

If the core of your problem is that concentration is stressful, then don't do what you are calling concentration, I'd say, haha. emoticon  Spacing out is usually an aversive reaction (if you don't like being here, you won't want to stay here).  You don't have to "try to enjoy yourself" (that kind of advice can be frustrating) but if you just move your mind away from the negative feelings you WILL enjoy yourself, and that will keep you from spacing out.
Nicolas, modified 8 Years ago at 11/17/14 4:58 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 11/17/14 4:58 PM

RE: Concentration balance + beginner jhana questions

Posts: 15 Join Date: 11/17/14 Recent Posts
Thank you very much, that helps a lot!
Nicolas, modified 8 Years ago at 11/17/14 7:36 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 11/17/14 7:36 PM

RE: Concentration balance + beginner jhana questions

Posts: 15 Join Date: 11/17/14 Recent Posts
For those who might have similar questions I found a lot of useful information here
Nicolas, modified 8 Years ago at 11/19/14 2:41 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 11/19/14 2:34 PM

RE: Concentration balance + beginner jhana questions

Posts: 15 Join Date: 11/17/14 Recent Posts
Not Tao, your advices have been super helpful. I just realized that all that time I wasn't really meditating (in the way that I wasn't really present) but more doing some kind of relaxation or something.

Actually, not even relaxation since I was so focused and being stubborn on finding/sticking with my breath that I wasn't able to note all these little dissatisfied & self-loathing feelings that were abundant (especally when I'd start thinking or losing my breath).

So I decided to just let it all go and the "click" happened at work when trying to take a nap; I felt I was too tired to meditate but didn't manage to fall asleep either, and that's there that I "got it" like I just had to be here and be with the fact of being tired, how it felt in my -heavy- eyes, how my thoughts would be influenced by that tiredness etc etc.

So after that I just managed to find that "awareness zone" where I'm able to stay and where I can feel I'm really present for whatever that is, like if I was looking at my awareness itself. Of course it happens that I lose it (a lot indeed) but it seems the more I practice that letting go the more I'm able to find that bare awareness. Even when I have a storm of thoughts (that actually turns into kind of visions like it feels it's shaking in there and things are moving super fast) I manage to stick with that awareness and stand "against" them. I've been able to note subtler and subtler visions/thoughts/sensations so I feel I'm improving on that side.

I reach interesting pre-jhana nice states pretty quickly, but now my attention (that is a kind of open awareness) feels that it could use some concentration to be absorbed (to be continued...), even if I want to explore more that open awareness and I'm less stubborn on reaching jhanas

I actually also discovered that trying to focus on my breath to some one pointedness was actually making me "lose it" super easily : it's like if I wasn't really interested in my breath and I was setting myself up to be distracted... I manage to stay way more mindful by actually not trying to concentrate... Kind of a paradox (to me at least) but I'll explore this further

Another thing about new sensations : yesterday when I got home I had that wave of pleasure that was riding through me, almost exactly like rolling on MDMA - it lasted maybe 30/40 minutes; some other time yesterday when walking outside I'd be hit by some sort of bolt of joy that felt like electrical impulse of pleasure (which were super quick, kinda instant, but very intense). It seems that I'm kind of able to trigger that from times to times if I find that awareness zone during the day (which for now is the easiest to find when laying down for me)

I guess that might be because of experiencing that letting go? (I'm of a very anxious nature and I wake up every night around 3am with my mind being ultra busy, same when I wake up in the morning - I've basically never let go of anything before lol)

So I just wanted to thank you and also if you have any feedback on what I just said that'd be really great

Not Tao, modified 8 Years ago at 11/19/14 7:53 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 11/19/14 7:53 PM

RE: Concentration balance + beginner jhana questions

Posts: 995 Join Date: 4/5/14 Recent Posts
Good stuff, that all sounds similar to my experiences. emoticon

Those little bolts of pleasure - when they start to go, do you feel pulled toward them like you don't want to let go?  This was something I was doing for a while, but when I finally allowed them to go on their own, they were replaced with something better and more subtle.  Eventually it tapers off completely and you'll be in an "emotionless" state, which I always thought to be equanimity (or the fourth jhana).  If you've gotten good at letting go, just keep letting go no matter what happens, and things will just get more subtle and more relaxed.  Even the body will disappear after a bit.

Also, don't be too keen on paying close attention if you reach more subtle states.  At some point even the intention to pay attention is let go of and things are very diffuse.  Letting go really just locks in and becomes it's own thing at some point.  When you find yourself tuning in, then don't feel like you need to expend any more effort at that point.  It'll be obvious if you fall out of it and get distracted.

Actually, it's very simple if you think of it like this: you are releasing stress.  Whenever you notice any tension in the awareness, just let go of it.  Don't look for tension (as that, itself is tension) but rather, when you notice it, let it go.  Even if that tension seems to be related to maintaining the meditative awareness.  Mostly likely, when you feel the stress of effort, it's because you're trying to hold on to the current state when the mind is ready to go deeper, more diffuse, and more subtle.
Nicolas, modified 8 Years ago at 11/23/14 3:02 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 11/23/14 2:35 PM

RE: Concentration balance + beginner jhana questions

Posts: 15 Join Date: 11/17/14 Recent Posts
What you're saying is pretty much what I'm experiencing these days.

Practice update :

I start by checking what state my mind & body are, look for tension and generally just let go of everything. I do Mahasi style mental noting.

I reach access concentration. I feel excitement, some fear, that generally manifests as contraction around the heart (generally the same feeling than when you are stressed); my breathing become more heavy and more shaky. I take note of that and it goes away quickly; I get back to that access concentration place.

It takes usually 3/4 "cycles" like these to get rid of that stress - after which I can clearly see the first jhana. However, now that I can see it I can feel that I cling to it, I want it; my mind starts chatting and comenting again. It also manifests by contraction in my right thigh. I let go of that and go back to seeing the jhana, which also manifests by extremely bright flashing & pulsating lights, and some other kind of nimittas.

At this point I try to keep noting to not get "sucked into" my clinging, but I'm not sure of what to note (it seems there is so much to note and so few at the same time) which adds another layer of contraction. Some frustration is generated as I feel kind of lost and not sure what to do. I started my session with no expectations at all; but now taht I'm so close I want it and I'm stuck just in front of the first jhana.

I feel it's just a matter of time now and I need to increase my mindfulness and letting go, and not get so excited which basicallty totally hinders me at the very entrance of asborption.

Thanks again for your time Not Tao!
Nicolas, modified 8 Years ago at 11/24/14 1:59 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 11/24/14 1:59 PM

RE: Concentration balance + beginner jhana questions

Posts: 15 Join Date: 11/17/14 Recent Posts
By the way, I noticed that recently I started leaning on the left when sitting; which never happened before. I've certainly been slouching since forever but never went on one side particulary - it's pretty odd. I usually try to mindfully bring myself back in the center position but soon enough I see myself leaning on the left again; is that common?