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Concentration and insight in formal practice and daily life

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Hello everybody,

I noticed that putting more emphasis on concentration during the formal practice leads to more calm in daily life. When practising more insight during formal meditation I notice more energy but also more restlesness and aversion (less calm). During a formal retreat we balance energy and concentration by switching between walking and sitting meditation. Daily life when mindful can be considered as an extended walking meditation or will in any event lead to more energy. Thus to balance these two faculties(energy and concentration) we have to put more emphasis on concentration during formal sitting. You have to experiment yourself to get the right balance, and this can change.
At this moment before every sitting I use 10 minutes to count the movement of the abdomen from 1 till 10 and from 10 down to 1. Then I stay at the abdomen and note ´rising´ and ´falling´ for the remainder(with the elements in mind, so this is insight and concentration together).
Then stay as continous as possible mindful during the day and then sometimes when sitting (on the bus, restaurant etc.) I count my breath to increase the concentration.

Have you experienced the same? What are your experiences regarding balancing concentration and energy outside of a retreat situation?

RE: Concentration and insight in formal practice and daily life
Answer
7/2/15 4:53 PM as a reply to John Power.
I think there is a great deal to be said in favor of the points you raise.  The calm you talk about is the enlightement factor tranquility (passaddhi), and it sure does furnish a pleasant and unruffled environment in which equanimity can manifest.  There was a post in a thread by IanAnd recently where he discussed tranquility and its merits.

You seem to have systematized the balance in your practice in a very practical, and am I'm supposing effective, way. I could do with such rigor in my practice.

In my formal sits, all I do is concentration practices.  I leave insight practices for walking around.  This works better for me, and it took me a long time to see that this was really the case and to put it into practice.

Outside of retreats, I find I can get reasonably concentrated doing two sits per day.  This seems to cycle through better and not so good spells.  The not so good spells used to bother me a lot, but not so much anymore because I am aware of the cyclical nature.  I usually do my 2nd sit when I get home from work, then take the resulting tranquility out for a walk and look at the experience in an open awareness way.

RE: Concentration and insight in formal practice and daily life
Answer
7/8/15 9:04 AM as a reply to Eric B.
Nice to see that you have adjusted your practise to your needs.

I think this is the topic of IanAnd where you refer to: http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5727980

IanAnd mentioned very helpful things also from his own experiences like: ´One of the nimittas or signs that I often experience in this state of passaddhi (which is born of the depth of residual dhyana) is a continuation of the slight pressure between the eye brows in the center of the head region. This along with a deep sense of residual concentration presents as a kind of superior state of mindfulness where the mind "is concentrated, purified and cleansed, unblemished, free fromimpurities, malleable, workable, and established." In this state, the
mind is open and conditioned for any insight that might arise regarding any phenomenon that is the subject of one's focus and investigation.´


Since I started doing more concentration based practise, I also experienced a little pressure on the nausal bridges and between the eye brows. Also during the day I experience more calm and even though there are symptoms of anxiety, there is almost no reaction towards it(so more equanimity). So this is similar to IanAnd his experience.

Especially in the west I think we often have enough of the energy factor but the concentration factor lacks. More emphasis on concentration practise nourishes the three calming factors of enlightement: calm, concentration and equanimity. The calm will flow over in daily life if you keep the momentum of mindfulness.

Are there others with experiences in balancing the energy and concentration factors?

Edit: made a link of the url.

RE: Concentration and insight in formal practice and daily life
Answer
7/4/15 12:18 AM as a reply to John Power.
John Power:
Hello everybody,

I noticed that putting more emphasis on concentration during the formal practice leads to more calm in daily life. When practising more insight during formal meditation I notice more energy but also more restlesness and aversion (less calm). During a formal retreat we balance energy and concentration by switching between walking and sitting meditation. Daily life when mindful can be considered as an extended walking meditation or will in any event lead to more energy. Thus to balance these two faculties(energy and concentration) we have to put more emphasis on concentration during formal sitting. You have to experiment yourself to get the right balance, and this can change.
At this moment before every sitting I use 10 minutes to count the movement of the abdomen from 1 till 10 and from 10 down to 1. Then I stay at the abdomen and note ´rising´ and ´falling´ for the remainder(with the elements in mind, so this is insight and concentration together).
Then stay as continous as possible mindful during the day and then sometimes when sitting (on the bus, restaurant etc.) I count my breath to increase the concentration.

Have you experienced the same? What are your experiences regarding balancing concentration and energy outside of a retreat situation?
I spent a lot of time on simple sport-ish activities that require moment to moment awareness of the physical, emotional and cognitive aspects of the people around me, activities that require noticing and responding in kind; feedback is immediate because not noticing means 'dropping the ball'.  I believe this was very helpful.

RE: Concentration and insight in formal practice and daily life
Answer
7/4/15 2:28 AM as a reply to Matt.
matthew sexton:
I spent a lot of time on simple sport-ish activities that require moment to moment awareness of the physical, emotional and cognitive aspects of the people around me, activities that require noticing and responding in kind; feedback is immediate because not noticing means 'dropping the ball'.  I believe this was very helpful.
Yes! Was going to say something similar.  Last year, I started playing sports again.  Whereas in the past, I would just play, and either be happy if I played well or frustrated if I played poorly, sort of very much caught up in the drama, this time I have put a lot of thought into watching my thoughts and attitudes and how it effects play performance.  Now part of the sport is as a mental experiment and the data is my actual performance.  First I noticed that my mental scripts strongly influenced performance.  Interestingly saying things like 'This guy is good, I've got to pay more attention'  seemed to actually hurt performance.  The more I chastised myself to concentrate more, the worse I got.  Not sure but it may have been because I kept implying to myself that the shots were coming hard and fast and that's why I had to concentrate, thus constantly telling myself the shots would be hard to get, a kind of repeated mental programming.  Conversely, telling myself things like, 'The ball is really not moving that fast, you can get it, you can get any shot that comes' seems to help a lot.  Personal narrative alters perception.  Tell yourself the ball is slower and easier to hit and believe it and it becomes true. 

Lately Ive noticed a more detailed version of what is happening.   I think you probably talk about this in meditation when watching breath, if you notice, there are gaps between when you are thinking about breath, attention is not constant, there are super tiny gaps when the mind is who knows where, like mini cessations, the mind is just not present constantly, it's gappy.  Beats me where it is in that time, or I think the Buddhist interpretation is that reality itself is gappy.  However you want to explain it, there appears to be gaps in awareness.  So maybe the mind is normally looking at breath maybe 5 or 10 times per breath but inbetween are gaps.  So the question is how quickly does this perception, gap, perception, gap situation cycle?  When my concentration is worse, seems like the gaps are large and sometimes even other baloney sneaks in like off topic thoughts, maybe about some comment that happened earlier, the current score or whatever. 

In sports, if the ball comes when your mind is gone in a big gap or thinking of something off topic, it's much more likely you are going to screw up the shot.  But when the gaps seem short and there are lots and lots of perception revisits to the ball per second and the mind does not stray off topic, the ball seems to go much slower and be way easier to hit.  To do this, you have to set aside stray thoughts about the score, any kind of feelings of inadequacy or impatience or pressure, etc.  This is being in the zone or having your mojo on.  The more this level of focus is achieved, the more there will be no errors and amazing shots can be achieved.  Time seems to slow as perceptions per second increases, balls look slower and easier to hit.  What was hard before seems easy now and you are also having fun. 

When I achieve this kind of uber focus, it also tends to stay with me the rest of the day.  Normally my mind is more oriented to like a vipissana style and more flighty and spazzed, the sports really seems to calm and ground my mind well, the more I achieve the uber focus, the more that feeling lasts all day with less stray useless thoughts. So what you said seems to hold from my perspective, more vippisana style yields more creative flighty energy and concentration yields a more calm balanced centered feeling.  Perhaps knowing this, one can choose techniques according to one's weaker tendencies.  For myself, it seemed I was lacking and really needed concentration practice compared to my other tendencies. What I was drawn to was what was easiest for me but what helped me most was the opposite.  But fast paced sports constantly rewards or punishes you with your performance second to second so a flighty mind can get more motivated.  The stakes of lack of concentration in sports are you missing the ball whereas in meditation, there are no repercussions to lack of concentration.  (although according to some zen writings, the stakes could be you getting smacked with a stick)  ;-P
-Eva