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cian's concentrated fruit juice
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6/4/15 5:02 PM
Concentration Log stardate 3/6/15
Inspired by some people here, I've decided to take up a pure concentration practice.

An analogy I find useful: I used to work in circus, dance and physical theatre.
In this, the 'real' work (as I see it) is in the free, spontaneous, creative, expressive, movement of the body.
But then there are also 'conditioning' exercises; specific, linear, learnt patterns of movement to align, stretch and strengthen the body. I sometimes find these boring, but must admit that, when done skilfully and consistently, they open up whole new worlds in what is possible with the 'real' work. Progress with these kinds of exercises is generally a lot easier to quantify, and it is generally considered useful to do so with a practice log a bit like this one.

And so I take up 'mind conditioning'! Though I have been rather reluctant to do what feels to me like a rather restricting activity (focus on only 1 thing for feckin' ages!), I've become convinced it can be highly worthwhile.

I may mention other practices I'm doing here but only in relation to how I feel the concentration work contributes to it.

Good luck future (non-)self...


PS all feedback, tips, hints, comments etc are highly welcome emoticon

RE: cian's concentrated fruit juice
Answer
6/4/15 5:01 PM as a reply to cian.
3june15 (episode one)

strong resolve: “I will focus all of my attention only on the breath for the next hour”...

The first 40 minutes or so was fairly focussed; I stayed with at least a part of just about every inhale and exhale.
That is, the mind-wanderings were almost always short enough that they would be shorter than an inhale/exhale.
These mini-mind-wanderings were frequent though. I could really notice how I would very often get distracted from the breath for fractions of a second, or perhaps a complete second...the longest of these total lapses from the breath was maybe around 10 seconds – I think I was deciding to write this log at the time … :-p hehe. (I feel like this is pretty good going for me).
At the same time, even while the attention was on the breath, there were lots of other subtle mind activities going on at the same time. I noticed how all kinds of visualisations and associations and subtle feelings sort of tag along for the ride with the breath. As if they 'think' they're the breath aswell. Or rather they pretend to be!.. to use a bizarre analogy; I have resolved that I will ONLY focus on the breath, so all these other mindbits come along with their 'breath-disguises' on and declare “I'm the breath!”, “Yep, me too!focus on me too!” (think of monty python's “I'm Brian!!”)  and for the most part 'I' or the attention was totally duped by it, but then catching wind of this decided to up its game at gate-keeping, became a bit more of a hardass and said things like “No you're not the breath, you're some visualisation of the head floating above the rest of the breathing body and some feelings associated with that – get to the back of the line!” (they still hung around, but its a start!)

Then in the last 20 minutes or so, everything changed. From my hypnosis training I would say I entered about a medium level trance, which got slowly slowly a little deeper towards the end of the hour. I believe that this COULD make the task of staying with the breath much easier IF it happened to be a breath-awareness-trance. But it so happened that it was more of a floaty visuals la-la-land trance and so focus on the breath became very difficult.

The process, (which I find really fascinating), went like this:
...come back to the bodily feeling awareness of the breath, get into that, almost immediately the feeling awareness of breath 'turns into' lights and crystalline fast moving visual patterns so now the attention believes its focussing on the breath, when in actuality its now (after only a second or two) focussing entirely on these visual patterns masquerading as the breath!
By the time 1 second has passed the attention believes its still focussing on the breath but by now the 'attention hi-jacking process' is complete, the visuals can turn into whatever else they want to and the attention still thinks it's on task and doing its job.
It would be another half a second to 10 seconds before it realises and wrestles its way back through the swamp of trance (that's how it felt) to 'find' the  breath again (it felt a bit like diving down into murky waters to locate it and pull it up out of the depths into conscious awareness).

By the end of the hour when my alarm went and I opened my eyes, the trance was deep enough that my sense of balance couldn't tell me which direction was up or down, and though I seemed to be somehow magically remaining upright, I thought it best to shake it out and have a lie down lest I fall over.

Notable after effects: I did this just before sleeping last night, and though I've been having trouble remembering dreams of late, from this night I recalled two full dreams with plenty of detail. Nice.

RE: cian's concentrated fruit juice
Answer
6/5/15 8:33 AM as a reply to cian.
5june15 episode two

Before going to sleep, it was already quite late, so decided for the craic to see if i could count to 100 breaths, and if I lost track I'd have to go back to the start.  I made it to 52 and left it at that.

I include the following strange sleep activities because they feel related to this concentration practice:

Couldn't sleep so worked on relaxing the body.  Then went in and out of sleep paralysis for what felt like a couple of hours.  Trying to find equanimity with the discomfort of it - I still feel awake and aware of my surroundings but the body is totally paralysed - I find myself unwilling to let it go the whole way as there's a strong fear I won't be able to breathe but can't do anything about it, so I shake myself back awake with the last bit of movement I can muster. this feels reeally funny to do. think whatsername stuck in the coffin at the start of the Kill Bill movies.  

Once I got to sleep I had lucidity in a dream and decided to go for a fly, went higher than I'd ever gone before and realised I'd never gone outside the earth's atmosphere before and now might be a good a time as any!  The air started getting thinner and it felt really hard to breathe. I tried to just decide "hey this is a dream and i can breathe in space if i wanna" but that just wasn't happening for some reason (again this fear of inability to breathe), so i "decided" that there was space-breathing-apparatus floating somewhere behind me, found that, put it on, but it was a cartoon-style upside-down goldfish bowl thing with oxygen pumped in and i felt super claustrophobic in it.  Couldn't think of another solution (any suggestions??) so I decided to leave space exploration for another day...

This morning had a very unfocussed practice.  Distracted by physical pain, tiredness from a mad night of not-so-much-sleep, today's travel plans.  It seemed the main issue was about my resolve/dedication/commitment - laziness basically. There was also (despite the physical pain and stiffness) a load of bodily bliss going on and that seemed way more fun than the boring breath.  

RE: cian's concentrated fruit juice
Answer
6/5/15 9:40 AM as a reply to cian.
cian:

An analogy I find useful: I used to work in circus, dance and physical theatre.
In this, the 'real' work (as I see it) is in the free, spontaneous, creative, expressive, movement of the body.
But then there are also 'conditioning' exercises; specific, linear, learnt patterns of movement to align, stretch and strengthen the body. I sometimes find these boring, but must admit that, when done skilfully and consistently, they open up whole new worlds in what is possible with the 'real' work. Progress with these kinds of exercises is generally a lot easier to quantify, and it is generally considered useful to do so with a practice log a bit like this one.

This is an amazing point! My own experiences in martial arts training, running, and yoga point to this same thing: you already know that you have to put in your time and effort to achieve facility with any practice. In this respect, meditation is no different from other skill development.

You put in the time and effort, you figure out (or are taught) the skill components you'll have to get good at, you realize that not every session is going to go according to plan. There will be setbacks and progress and that's just the way it goes.

I wish you well in your practice!

RE: cian's concentrated fruit juice
Answer
6/9/15 6:21 AM as a reply to cian.
Yesterday 
1 hour focussing on breath

Noticing lots of imagery and feeling associations with the breath.  Something I struggled a lot with in my zazen practice a decade ago when I started meditating first: focussing on the breath constricted it.  I couldn't breathe naturally anymore.  Or so it felt.  Likely I wasn't breathing so naturally at all in the first place but bringing awareness to it just allowed me to notice it.  
---- 
Through body awareness I've recently learnt that I have this fairly common breathing pattern of 'breathing with my neck' - tensing the muscles in the back of the neck on each inhale as though it helps to draw the air in.  And this is why I've had chronic neckpain for the past decade or so.  
----
So back to yesterday's sit: each breath in came with a mental image of the imagined space that i was breathing into.  Sometimes this space was very narrow and constricted and then the action of the breath was very tight and my neck would tense a lot.  When the imagined space was big and open the breath was more free and easy.  

After a while of noticing this, the spontaneous kriyas started.  Whenever the imagined breath space was constricted and the neck tensed, the kriyas (involuntary body movements) would force the breath back out and shake the body loose again. I often ended up doing a spontaneous 'breath of fire' kind of thing.  It was as if the kriyas were rejecting the 'incorrect' breaths and only allowing in the smooth free breaths.  
It felt like being back doing Alexander Technique again, where the teacher would say "Yes" or "No" for each breath; was it a natural breath, or not!?

The full hour was infused with a real sweetness and a sense of "this is exactly the thing to be doing with life - do more of this meditation stuff!"

RE: cian's concentrated fruit juice
Answer
6/10/15 5:39 AM as a reply to cian.
I've had such strong awareness of my heartbeat as well as feeling the pulse in various parts of the body in many sits lately, so I decided to spend an hour just focussing on the heartbeat.

Result: I could hardly feel it at all.  Unless I held my breath.  Fun to try though.  

Right now as I'm typing this I can feel it hammering away quite clearly (without holding breath).

May experiment with this more. Perhaps it changes depending on time of day etc.

As for concentration, I really noticed the shortcoming of my concentration ability.  
I feel 'good at' finetuning my awareness into different places, feelings, body parts and processes.
I've learnt to feel a lot and gain a lot of sensitivity.

But I begin to realise that this is a very different thing to staying with that awareness for a full hour!

To summarise:

sensitivity  concentration

Obvious, sure, but I had somehow managed to equate them.

Back to my 'physical conditioning' analogy, the above equation is equivalent to:
Power ≠ Endurance

In physical training, I tended to have lots of power, but crap endurance

RE: cian's concentrated fruit juice
Answer
6/10/15 7:24 AM as a reply to cian.
I think sensitivity=mindfulness.  Don't forget about the other factors of enlightenment too!  Joy and Relaxation can be particularly important when pursuing absorption.

RE: cian's concentrated fruit juice
Answer
6/20/15 7:04 AM as a reply to Noah.
sensitivity=mindfulness!  right!

joy and relaxation...right!
emoticon

upate for last 10 days:
been busy a lot and haven't been getting in so much concentration time.

whenever i have done 20-30 minutes before sleeping i'm still having wild and often lucid dreams after.  

what's happening whilst sitting? lots of mini subtle strangenesses.  can't find words for it.  this post is of little substance. just checking back in with this log as an intention to reawaken this practice...dot dot dot