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Using Pain as a Concentration Object

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Using Pain as a Concentration Object
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1/11/16 10:57 PM
I had an interesting experience in my morning meditation today. I woke up with a sinus headache on the right side of my forehead immediately above the left side of my eye. I sat down to meditate and after a few preliminary practices, I realized that the headache was just about the most prominent sensation around so why not try and use it as a meditation object? I focused attention on it and immediately my perception of it began to deepen. At first, I saw some movement within the general area, but didn't follow the movement in a vipassana fashion. After a while the pain became fixed and started to radiate out these extremely pleasureable piti strands that covered my face and started moving into my upper body. The kernel of the meditation object remained the sinus pain, but the piti was very pleasurable. Visually, I started to get the beginnings of a dull nimitta, a kind of whitish brown light with a few dark lobes. Then the bell rang and the period ended. I still had the sinus headache but the session was sure interesting.

Has anybody used pain as a concentration object? If so, did you get to any jhana level with it? Since joy and happiness are two of the jhana factors, I would think that pain, which has a basic vedana of unpleasent, wouldn't work and that you wouldn't get any further than access concentration, or?

RE: Using Pain as a Concentration Object
Answer
1/12/16 12:33 AM as a reply to svmonk.
howdy SV
several years ago during a goenka retreat i had some knee pain which wouldn't subside.  i jittered between being mindful and then mindfully changing position.  after a while of moving to alleviate the pain i decided to grit my teeth, so to speak, and focus on the pain.  it got excruciating until it dissolved entirely in an instant.

it was a revelation at the time.  these days when a rare headache rears its head i am not bothered by it but i have to say that i haven't had a really severe one in years.

the movement you mentioned within the seeming "block" of pain is, for my money, where the deepening begins.  annica is seen, then the object that was our pain is seen through clearly and as you mentioned piti arises and our interest deepens and wah la: jhana.

cheers and sukkha

RE: Using Pain as a Concentration Object
Answer
1/12/16 5:36 AM as a reply to svmonk.
svmonk:

Has anybody used pain as a concentration object? If so, did you get to any jhana level with it? Since joy and happiness are two of the jhana factors, I would think that pain, which has a basic vedana of unpleasent, wouldn't work and that you wouldn't get any further than access concentration, or?

Pretty much anything can be used to access first jhana. As you noticed correctly, the point is that the piti can perfectly well arise in a different place than the one you are focussing on, and then you get into 1st jhana by switching your attention to piti itself. So in a sense you are right: Pain will be your concentration object only up to access concentration, but it won't preclude piti from arising.

RE: Using Pain as a Concentration Object
Answer
1/16/16 1:10 AM as a reply to svmonk.
re: svmonk (1/11/16 10:57 PM)

"Has anybody used pain as a concentration object? If so, did you get to any jhana level with it? Since joy and happiness are two of the jhana factors, I would think that pain, which has a basic vedana of unpleasent, wouldn't work and that you wouldn't get any further than access concentration, or?"

One way of looking at it (and known from direct experience) is that whatever the object, the mind, with sustained attention, forms a "counterpart" image (nimitta), which is what the mind, possibly then, can absorb into; essentially the mind absorbs into (some aspect of) itself; the object itself is "transcended". Alternatively expressed, the citta –momentary mental state/process – undergoes a "change-of-lineage", in one of the javanna micro-moments. From this perspective, the ostensible incongruence between the negative vedana aspect (of pain as object) vs the positive piti /suhka aspects (of the mental factors) need not undermine the process of concentration.

neko's
comment (1/12/16 5:36 AM as a reply to svmonk) -- "Pretty much anything can be used to access first jhana" –could also be interpreted along these lines.

Technically, sukha is a vedana quality, though it has also many levels, from barest sensory pleasantness through higher levels of mental peacefulness (freedom from dukkha). Piti, on the other hand, is more complex, is a sankhara, or a fabrication of potentially many factors of bodily, emotional, and mental aspects. In practice, I find, piti and sukha are often subtly interwined, difficult to precisely distinguish.

(A lot of this is expressed in a Visudhimagga / Abhidhamma framework, useful as it lends a certain precision to the terminology; I use this framework because it has guided my development, and has proven pragmatically valuable.)

Back to the central issue of the OP:  I've found piti-sukha reliably effect at helping resolve pain issues along the lines of quasi-migraine headaches, both in access concentration and sustained periods of absorption. These are generally neural vascular in nature, and apparently amenable to meditative (mental) work to relieve. This, however, has occurred not by directly focusing on the pain as meditative object, but rather as a secondary or side-effect of anapanasati-type techniques. I theorize that the piti-type welling and spreading of energy helps regulate cranial blood-flow, and the sukha-type tranquility smooths out associated tensions.

This may not be so effective with more strictly somatic pain events, like sinus headache, where there's more hardcore physiological stagnation. Similarly, I've had less success dealing with, for instance, knee or low-back pain, short of also shifting posture. I would suspect adding somatic techniques, e.g. acupressure around the forehead and cheeks, could analogously be used for sinus headaches.

RE: Using Pain as a Concentration Object
Answer
1/17/16 3:22 AM as a reply to svmonk.
I used to have a lot of pain in my knees during the later part of the day on retreats, and I would often use it as object to moderate effect. I personally could often get something moderately first-jhanic on it but not much farther, typically, unless I just happened to be in some unusual stage, such as the A&P, in which anythng made a great object.

RE: Using Pain as a Concentration Object
Answer
1/17/16 10:20 AM as a reply to svmonk.
If you use object as meditation practice its a practice on a relative level.