Recent Thoughts On Samatha

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Noah D, modified 3 Years ago.

Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 1147 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts
Just wanted to share this wall of text on the dho (cause thats what I do sometimes) - its a journal entry about needing/wanting to learn concentration practice, with a tldr listed first.  

TLDR:
1st paragraph: I share a thought on the tension between insight into fabrication & a wish for continual growth.
2nd paragraph: I disagree with folks who criticize or undermine the fundamental necessity of concentration practice.
3rd paragraph: I share my experience of inability to concentrate.
4th paragraph: concentration practice & insomnia

I’ve received repeated advice that I either stop attempting to improve this mind-body system called Noah, or that the very presence of my continued attempts at improvement indicate a fundamental misunderstanding on my part.  To elaborate on the latter, the recommendation from these folks is to do some special type of ‘choiceless awareness’, surrender-based, or do-nothing type practice which will lead to a freedom from needing to change myself.  There are potential gaps both in my understanding & their understanding, but I broadly find these suggestions presumptious given that I have done similar practices in similar dosages to what they have done.  Reading between the lines, the idea is that anyone who does not reach their conclusion is doing it wrong.

With that said, another set of advice I have heard given (not to myself in this case) is that the development of concentration can be an avoidance mechanism for bringing bare attention & true investigation to the causes of suffering.  While I don’t care to hash out a full examination of this right now, it will suffice to say that I disagree with it.  I have many in-person friends who have passionately followed The Mind Illuminated methods to permanent shifts in consciousness & understanding.  Watching this has caused me to question some of my basic assumptions.  One of these assumptions has been that the development of vipassana & prajna will unfold into a full embodiment of samatha.  My teacher Dhammarato frequently points to the error in thoughts like this with the skinny being: if you want something, train directly for the damn thing!

I recently had a conversation with my friend (fellow DhO & Redditor) Geoff about my continued inability to fully concentrate despite all of my training.  This seems to be one of the last remaining *clear* identifiers that I have a mood disorder.  When I say that, I mean something very specific: an identifiable symptom that is either classified on the DSM or recognizable through common sense as something outside the standard deviations of human health & functioning.  Geoff said the connection between pathways of attentional stability & continuity may be biochemically impaired.  That when I train these, they do not get routed to the subconscious mind for memory imprint & unification as much as they do in other people.  I experience a certain type of acute displeasure when I fix my attention on an object.  The experience of this acute displeasure is vastly clarified from what it was: it is perceptual nondual, metacognitively embraced & quantitatively reduced (yet still present).  When I say “fix” this includes the range of access/jhana concentration practices: very subtle (mahamudra), 2nd-person/relational, somatic, holding/masculine/3rd person, etc.  It is not the case that I simply need to learn a type of concentration which is more ‘surrendered’, ‘relaxed’, ‘sophisticated’ or ‘subtle.’  It’s just grit, hard work & repetition that needs to happen.  I have learned techniques from multiple teachers, one-on-one & also from friends & external resources.  

Despite this survey of practices, I do not think I’ve tried hard enough for long enough to “break” the patterning of this particular disability.  I have a moderate struggle with insomnia, having recently ended a ten year tenure with a sleep aid medication.  The sense when I lie down is that the attention will not stabilize.  I have tried various methods including somatic descent, hypnosis tapes, counting/mantra & others.  The common strain between them is that they all only require momentary concentration.  I tend to avoid true access/jhana levels of concentration like the plague.  I fucking hate (see above paragraph for the change in this hate) fixing my attention in one place & keeping it there.  I am writing this post primarily to convince myself that I have to suffer through this now, no matter what it takes.  


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Nikolai ., modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 1/23/10 Recent Posts
"I crossed over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place."

"But how, dear sir, did you cross over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place?"

"When I pushed forward, I was whirled about. When I stayed in place, I sank. And so I crossed over the flood without pushing forward, without staying in place."

Push forward= paying attention to this and that?

Stay in place = cement the paying attention into a particular "pose".

So if seemingly the only two means of operating do not lead to release, wtf to do? 

I'd be interested in hearing what happens in experience when you ponder this.

Sutta reference:

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn01/sn01.001.than.html
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Noah D, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 1147 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts
Thank you nick- I don't know if I've seen this sutta.

It seems to be about the middle path (avoidance of fixations).  I've noticed this being attained through spending time in various extremes.  Paired with mindfulness, it leads to release.

In this context, it seems to hint at using a technique of moderate effort - neither holding the mind nor letting it wander.  It may seem unlikely given my description, but I actually have done this for weeks at a time, with joyful persistence & found that it did not lead to a lasting ability to focus - although there were other benefits.

I know I need to stay open to the fact that somehow I was missing a piece of this moderation approach.
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Nikolai ., modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 1/23/10 Recent Posts
Ok, your interpretation didn't work.

How about mine? Experiment? 

It's not a comment on "reality" or any thing. Just a mental experiment. In my experience, any paying attention will be a "hand" reaching out to grasp a shape which it is actually giving shape to. Sounds constricting. Objectification/fabricating is dukkha. 

Stilling attention,such as jhana etc, will simple be less in your face dukkha but still dukkha as it's a constructing and segregating of (and giving rise to)  "part/s" of the field of experience. Sounds equally unacceptable from a more refined view of dukkha. 


What else is there? 

Paying attention to this and that is part of the path, yes. And calming it is also, yes. And training it appropriately to make it more friendly, malleable and pliant, yes. But isn't it just the boat to get across the flood? It's gotta be dropped, maybe? 

just an experiment, like a koan, 

nick
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Nikolai ., modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 1/23/10 Recent Posts
Just see what happens in a sit?

everythjng I'm doing, paying attention to his and that, just moving forward, mind figuratively wirled about by mind-made "objects". 

My my only option is to still it. Ok, it's stilled, but shit, this doesn't result in release either.

wtf to do? While in equanimity, 4th jhana territory, might result in interesting and fruitful. 
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Nikolai ., modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 1/23/10 Recent Posts
I realise you are pondering the best way to approach samatha. Perhaps a different approach to paying exclusive attention to an object could be letting go of objects instead? Moving up the jhanas to the spheres of mind are about dropping grosser to more refined aspects/objects of the previous mental posture. It worked outside of jhana for myself as well. 

http://thehamiltonproject.blogspot.com.au/2011/01/yogi-tool-box-letting-go-approach-to.html?m=1
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Noah D, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 1147 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts
@Nick: Thank you.  I will keep that in mind.  To summarize what you are saying - Do concentration practice by rising up the jhanic arc, with an emphasis on releasing fabrications at subtle levels.  I will keep this in mind as an option & will likely experiment with it within the coming weeks & months.
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jonjohn, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 91 Join Date: 3/24/17 Recent Posts
i think that the basic framework of eightofold path is the right way to go, with morality and cultivation of the positive(metta, compassion etc)  and starvation of the negatives(anger, hatred), and not going threw in a "vippasinised" way dry of  psycho-emotional training of the mind. I also think that the search for an objectively seen reality make kind of wrong connotations and obstructs practice  and i prefer instead  the view that focuses on the reality of suffering. The difference between the two is that in the second view you use perceptions freely according to their use and with the guide of the resulting suffering you continue or you let them go accordingly., and the second reason is that there is the big possibility of someone confusing his "taste" of experience with "directly seeing"  the opposite usually being the case (think of the emotionally deprived, depersonalized way that lots of people see experience assured by their teachers that they are on the right way...)

The above being said, and knowing that words make connotations that are expressed in practice, i would sugest to train NOT in an one-pointness concentrated way of attention, BUT in a diffused and rest on unity and stilness kind of awarness.



The body and the feelings and their associated tensions are crucial here because when the tensions are properly resolved, the flow of lightness that follows is conducive to stillness of mind and to samatha.  Metta and letting go is such a good ground and it can be connected with psycho-emotional training i mentioned above. Anatta and non duality will arise naturally on this ground without the tensions other ways create (dry etc).

I agree with you that the re-training of mind to project good instead of bad states into consciousness is crucial to insight and lasting happiness alike. 

Thank you.

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Noah D, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 1147 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts
@jonjohn: Sounds like we are aligned regarding the importance of the 8fold path, morality, integration & the like.  Everything interfaces with everything else.  Thanks.  
shargrol, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 1555 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Noah D:
....  My teacher Dhammarato frequently points to the error in thoughts like this with the skinny being: if you want something, train directly for the damn thing!

...It is not the case that I simply need to learn a type of concentration which is more ‘surrendered’, ‘relaxed’, ‘sophisticated’ or ‘subtle.’  It’s just grit, hard work & repetition that needs to happen.  I have learned techniques from multiple teachers, one-on-one & also from friends & external resources.  

... I fucking hate (see above paragraph for the change in this hate) fixing my attention in one place & keeping it there.  I am writing this post primarily to convince myself that I have to suffer through this now, no matter what it takes.  



Developing concentration is a good thing. My experience is if you work on it, you do get the thing you want.  Maybe not exactly textbook concentration that impresses everyone and you can put on your resume, but the quality of mind that made you want to try concentration in the first place.

My own two cents is you are screwed from the beginning if you think about this as grit and fixing the attention in one place. It might work, but you will be abusing your attention/mind if you go that route. 

However you will totally get it if you recognize it is about lots of repetition. And the repetition part is the hard work part of this. 

If I had once piece of advice, I would say: do one breath meditations for 30 minutes for a month. Just focus on developing many short units of attention. Inhale and see how the breath feels at the point of focus. Exhale and feel the breath at the point of focus. When you done exhaling, reboot the mind. The next breath is like the first breath you ever payed attention to. Do the one breath meditation. Get used to the sense of starting again (repeating) each breath. I can almost guarantee you will be so far down the road by the end of the month that you will be surprised. You might think oh, this is too easy --- well, try it. It will be hard work, so it's not an easy way out. 

The attention "rests" on an object. If distraction moves it, return to resting it on the object.

If you "focus" attention and "fix" it on the object, you should hate it. It's too much effort. Place it on the object and have it rest there. If it moves, no big deal, return it to the object. You are training your mind to return to the object, to start again.

The number one thing that support concentration is learning to start again. Really good concentration is just responding to more and more subtle forms of distraction moving the mind, in the same way that people who "balance" well aren't completely still, they are simply responding to more and more subtle forms of being off balance. 

And when you get comfortable in doing this, then every so often the mind natrually "locks into" concentration, which is very cool. This natural concentration then becomes the perfect guide that shows you the other concentrated states. 

Hope this helps! 
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Noah D, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

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@Shargrol: Thanks for that helpful description.  Yes, in an ideal world, I would follow an ideal method, which is involves a balance between effort & ease.  Current (actual) state of my practice is different in terms of how I get things done, but totally agree with the advance for most people.  
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jonjohn, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 91 Join Date: 3/24/17 Recent Posts
If the way you do anapanasati disturbs you, try another. If you think anapanasati still disturbs you, you can leave it all together and try metta. But i  i think the gentle guiding to "wet" unity and stilness, supported by the flow of tense free properly "massaged" and resolved negative emotions, is the ground that will be connducive to every object of samatha, and maybe later anapanasati too. Hapiness of metta and letting go is attractive to mind and is an object that will provide the necessery lasting continuity of mindfulness for samatha to grow and the previous patterns to be deconditioned. 
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Chris Marti, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 3929 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
... about my continued inability to fully concentrate despite all of my training.


Noah, before I say anything here can you please describe what you mean by "fully concentrate?" I'm asking for the reason that I ran into many years ago - a misunderstanding of what people in the Buddhist and meditation community mean when they use the word "concentration."

Also, are you aiming to successfully experience the jhanas, or just to achieve the ability to focus on one thing for  a longer period of time?

EDIT: One last question that I think is appropriate - why is this new objective important to you?
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Noah D, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 1147 Join Date: 9/1/16 Recent Posts
@Chris: To answer your 2 questions - 

-I want to focus on one thing for a long period of time.

-This new objective is important to me because my intuition is guiding me to it.  Seems to be necessary to overcome mild insomnia & certain psycho-emotional insecurities that are preventing me from fully operating out of 10 fetter first path.  My experience points to the fact that stable, continuous attentional exercise has positive healing benefits that do not occur from therapy, medication, behavior mod & insight practice.  
T DC, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 389 Join Date: 9/29/11 Recent Posts
1.  In my experience, effort is always necessary to make progress on the path, even at an advanced level.  So 'do nothing' is fine as long as we recognise we are going to have to actively strive to do nothing.  I think it makes a lot more sense to just frame this type of practice as maintaining present moment awareness - once you find it rest in it, but then when you're distracted come back to it (i.e. meditation).  And the idea that we need not strive but just literatlly do nothing seems to preclude the idea that discrete progress both achievable and the goal which is both untrue and self-defeating.  So I think I agree with you.

2.  Certainly the develop of shamatha alone, i.e. sole focus on the jhanas, would seem to be opposed to insight development, but this is based on the idea of strict shamatha practice as differntiated from vippassana.  The more Tibetan Buddhist approach of Shamata-Vippassana meditation seeks to develop both in tandem, IME this is a much more integrated type of meditation than strict shamatha vs vippassana.  Some people take this meditation to be based in a solid object such as the breath, which is basically just shamatha, but as it evolves the object becomes present moment awareness with only a slight grounding in physical body as an antidonte to getting lost in thought.  This type of present moment awareness meditation and mindfulness is simple, intuitive, and extremly useful - it was my primary practice on the majority of the path.

Now whether shamatha and vipassana lead to one another could be its own debate - I would say it does.  Increasing insight - attainment - leads to greatly boosted concentration in my experience.  Concentration - the stability of mind unhindered by thoughts - could be said to be perfected at the end of the path when we overcome all delusion.  This occurs via insight, but results in concentration - enlightenment - the union of concentration and insight.  Of course if you feel the need to develop increased shamata, go right ahead, it's wise to trust our intuition - and by no means am I suggesting only focusing on insight.  The shamatha-vipassana approach would seem to develop them in tandem as a focus (shamatha) on present moment awareness (vipassana).  Attainment in its own right results in the achivement (insight) and stabalization (concentration) of a higher level of awareness, not to mention the effect of attainment of decreased neurotic thought (insight) and consequentially boosted mental power (concentration).
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Noah D, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

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As a follow up to OP.

I did 6 hours of concentration practice yesterday with some friends.  I did already start to get what I want from it. *Ignoring* distractions (not including them as part of the practice) causes this type of release of memories & emotions that are called "Stage 4 purifications" in TMI.  I already felt a knot untie in my torso in relation to a certain emotional issue & will wait to see if it returns.  I had a set of realizations about my "big issue" (narcissistic wound) that are getting me much closer to freedom from it.  

Will post more data on this samatha experiment.  
shargrol, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 1555 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Sounds good. Go Noah go! 

It is interesting how focus on one thing allows the bubbling up of the thing we need to see. 

Best wishes for your practice!
Stuie Charles Law, modified 3 Years ago.

RE: Recent Thoughts On Samatha

Posts: 94 Join Date: 3/19/15 Recent Posts
Took me about nine thousand hours of cushion time to feel i had sufficiently plumbed the depths of Calm Abibing.  first path, a full kundalini awakening and second path, were the outcome.

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