How does attentional focus affect how we investigate through the nanas.

Gerry V, modified 7 Years ago at 12/15/14 5:16 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 12/15/14 5:16 PM

How does attentional focus affect how we investigate through the nanas.

Posts: 131 Join Date: 3/19/14 Recent Posts
Forgive me for the title. I couldn't think of a better way to fit what I meant into the subject bar, plus I'm pretty sure "attentional" isn't a word. Anywho, here goes.

So I've been noting pretty solidly for the past almost half year and lately I've noticed that tight focus during the Dark Night stages REALLY irritates me and seems to make the DN symptoms worse. I learned this the hard way a few days ago by trying to get past Reobservation by really (narrowly) focusing on the feelings. I did this for almost two hours and at the end of it, not only was I drained, but the symptoms were worse. I remembered that Daniel mentions in his book, the way that attention seems to be like a donut in the DN and panoramic and wide in Equanimity. I tried to not narrowly focus on sensations the way I did before, and looked at my experience like a widescreen movie, with no particular sense being more important than the other. Not only did this help with Reobservation, but I managed to get back to EQ. 

So my question(s) is(/are) this. How do we investigate sensations during the Dark Night and Equanimity nanas?  I know the focus is wider, so if, let's say, a feeling arises in my chest of tightness, how do I investigate it with a wider focus? If I want to see, let's say, Impermanence, do I include the sensation of tightness in a wider sense, including the rest of what I'm experiencing and noticing when the particular sense of tightness changes, or when the whole experience changes? Is it a softer type of investigation during these 3rd and 4th vipassana jhanas? Is it more of a just letting experience be seen during the later stages of EQ, with no particular sensation being singled out?
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Dream Walker, modified 7 Years ago at 12/16/14 12:18 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 12/16/14 12:18 AM

RE: How does attentional focus affect how we investigate through the nanas.

Posts: 1448 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Gerry V:
Forgive me for the title. I couldn't think of a better way to fit what I meant into the subject bar, plus I'm pretty sure "attentional" isn't a word. Anywho, here goes.

So I've been noting pretty solidly for the past almost half year and lately I've noticed that tight focus during the Dark Night stages REALLY irritates me and seems to make the DN symptoms worse. I learned this the hard way a few days ago by trying to get past Reobservation by really (narrowly) focusing on the feelings. I did this for almost two hours and at the end of it, not only was I drained, but the symptoms were worse. I remembered that Daniel mentions in his book, the way that attention seems to be like a donut in the DN and panoramic and wide in Equanimity. I tried to not narrowly focus on sensations the way I did before, and looked at my experience like a widescreen movie, with no particular sense being more important than the other. Not only did this help with Reobservation, but I managed to get back to EQ. 

So my question(s) is(/are) this. How do we investigate sensations during the Dark Night and Equanimity nanas?  I know the focus is wider, so if, let's say, a feeling arises in my chest of tightness, how do I investigate it with a wider focus? If I want to see, let's say, Impermanence, do I include the sensation of tightness in a wider sense, including the rest of what I'm experiencing and noticing when the particular sense of tightness changes, or when the whole experience changes? Is it a softer type of investigation during these 3rd and 4th vipassana jhanas? Is it more of a just letting experience be seen during the later stages of EQ, with no particular sensation being singled out?

I spent most of my time in the DN / low EQ areas. I moved quickly thru the nanas and when I got up to EQ I changed how I did things a bit. I would do concentration at the start of the meditation and get up to light 3rd Jhana. I would then stay with this and widen/let go/whatever it is that gets 4th jhana for you. Once shifted I would then start noting the 6 senses. The 3 characteristics are pointing to something that is subtle but can be found as a quality overlaying every sensation...feel into every sensation and notice whether it feels permanent, self, satisfactory. Really try to get a feeling of what it is that is added to the sensation that makes this so. If you can't get a feel to it then don't worry too much, your noting/noticing every sensation is doing the work anyway as the overlay is currently part of the sensation, so just see it with the most clarity you can. Notice the wideness of focus as it happens. Notice the differences and trust your intuition and how things are naturally unfolding and don't try to "do" it in some special way. Notice everything at whatever speed and clarity it happens...
Good luck,
~D
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Incandescent Flower, modified 7 Years ago at 12/18/14 10:27 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 12/18/14 10:22 AM

RE: How does attentional focus affect how we investigate through the nanas.

Posts: 87 Join Date: 10/27/14 Recent Posts
Gerry V:

So my question(s) is(/are) this. How do we investigate sensations during the Dark Night and Equanimity nanas?  I know the focus is wider, so if, let's say, a feeling arises in my chest of tightness, how do I investigate it with a wider focus? If I want to see, let's say, Impermanence, do I include the sensation of tightness in a wider sense, including the rest of what I'm experiencing and noticing when the particular sense of tightness changes, or when the whole experience changes? Is it a softer type of investigation during these 3rd and 4th vipassana jhanas? Is it more of a just letting experience be seen during the later stages of EQ, with no particular sensation being singled out?

This is a good question and I hope some people around here chime in as well. In my experience, it's all about knowing what you can handle at the time you're investigating. Worrying too much about what stage you're in can cause you a lot of problems, as you well know by now. For me, things got a lot easier and clearer after 2nd path, so I'm not sure if the advice I'm about to give you will be useful, but I figure it is worth a shot.

The way I see it is that you really don't have to push yourself to EQ, but that you should just do what feels natural and beneficial to you at the moment. If that means you're practicing concentration for a week straight, just focusing on developing a sense of calm and ease and one-pointedness, then that's okay. Whenever you do this -- focus on pleasantness or on what is beneficial to you -- the mind will naturally hone in on your experience (because it's good for you), and you will notice the mind will start to "jhana-fy" your experience (i.e., kind of strobe your sensations [which is consciousness itself] into a kind of perpetual pulse or current). This is somewhat taxing on the mind, so often the mind will let go of a few of its processes, and you will find yourself in a deeper state of concentration, and this usually means you've moved up a jhana, but you really don't have to focus on the technical aspects of this unless you're curious or think having a grounded understanding of the jhanas will be beneficial to you in the long term. Now, whenever the mind gets comfortable like this, and you start to notice this strobing quality of consciousness, that means you're moving into insight territory. If you can just look at those sensations and see them as they are -- impermanent, in that they are rolling around with nothing to grasp at, unsatisfying, in that clamping down doesn't seem to help anything, and not-self, in that they are just a process occuring all of its own accord -- then your mind will "enter" the sensations, so to speak. The way Kenneth Folk has described it is that this is a process of "penetrating a strata of mind". What looked like something that was being experienced by some seperate entity, i.e., "you", is seen to just be the essence of experience itself. You don't have to "tie" this noticing to a specific sensation because sensations will be becoming with greater unity and clarity the very makeup of consciousness itself. If you can here, and you might want to read this with particular emphasis, just try to lengthen the noticing of the impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not-self aspects, as they are presented to you in the strobing consciousness. By this I mean kind of drill them into your head, again and again and again, around and around and around. This might seem strange at first, or kind of like you're going crazy. Just be on watch if you find yourself starting to strive too hard -- if that happens, just satisfy the mind, and look to catch wind of the three characteristics again and on getting back to lengthening the three aspects. Rinse and repeat, and see what happens.

The idea behind this is that the mind will literally do the work for you. I remember reading somewhere, and it really resonated with me, that when you do insight meditation, you build a kind of infrastructure that will actually stay with you for a while. That's why you can be meditating in EQ, get up for a cup of tea, sit down to meditate again, and find yourself right back in EQ. When we attain paths, it's like the infrastructure of that path of insight is permanently fixed in place, though it's usually a little clouded. This is why people who have attained 1st path and after often report that their mind wil moves through the jhanas quite naturally if given the chance. Concentration, in this scheme, is like a reactor. Either you can just sit back and enjoy the influx of energy, or you can choose to transform that energy into an insight structure. Oddly enough, it seems that it doesn't matter (in a lot of people, at least) whether or not one explicitly intends to go into insight territory, but that the mind will eventually get tired of its jhanas and start investigating them for what they really are, especially if one has attained a path and knows that investigation will potentially lead to greater freedom than the jhanas. This often requires some experiential familiarity with the jhanas or new "strata of mind" (in the case of moving up the paths) which will take some time (days, weeks, months, years, it varies by person) to get used to. In a way, the practice of concentration leading to insight is a kind of bait and switch -- do what feels good, until you start to see how much needless stress is involved in the way the mind habitually manufactures that feeling of good.

Now, as to how this applies to your question, I would say that you shouldn't concern yourself too much with how wide or narrow the focus is -- the key thing is to know what you can handle at any given time, and getting snug with that feel of "just right". Besides, allowing the mind to move back and forth between narrow (seeing the chest sensation more distinctly) and wide (seeing it as one of a whole wave of sensations) can actually be really conducive to progress. It's like thinking of what move to make in chess -- you can focus on one piece, where it can move with relation to the other pieces, or you can focus on the overall position: both perspectives help in leading to the right move. If you discern that what you're doing in your meditation is harming the mind, consider maybe taking a different approach. This definitely entails giving yourself room to "fail" -- not attain a path on a given day or sit -- but in my experience this is one of the biggest factors that leads to the mind growing disenchanted with the jhanas and "naturally" shifting to insight. In fact, the onset of deep insight has almost always caught me by surprise. With all the striving out of the way, it can really seem a natural, even charming, process.

Now, if this all seems way off base with your experience, or if you think it presents too radical a change for your practice, then feel free to just forget all about it for now. If that is the case, though, don't assume it won't be useful at a later stage. Note that the practice I consider myself to use with regard to sensations is more of a "noticing" practice than a "noting" one, in that I don't use verbal tagging. This practice is very much strengthened by pre-developing some concentration. Also, before first path, and even up to second path, I was using Goenka's body scanning and anapana technique, which I found at times to be rather extreme practices, especially when used exclusively (I use them only rarely now). With that said, I'm not entirely convinced that to attain first path and second path one needs to go to such extremes, but it's difficult to say. I was pretty narrowly set (see: dogmatically inclined) on using these techniques alone, rather than the more natural techniques of calm-abiding and such that were actually what drew me to meditation in the first place. In fact, one of the best pieces of advice I've ever heeded on this forum was to give up the idea of trying to "develop" or force equanimity, as equanimity is literally being with experience itself, including any mental efforts. So, what I'm saying is I encourage you to experiment with different techniques and even maybe non-techniques to see what they can do for you.

Okay, that's all for now. Best of luck on the road ahead.

-Kyle

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