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Body revolts when I redirect attention

Hi all,

I have been practicing hard for 3 years trying to develop access concentration and I still can't get it.

My bodymind hates focusing on any object of meditation. It's not relaxing, it's not peaceful, it's not something I can settle into. At its worst, my whole body literally flinches at the mere thought of coming back to the object, my gut tenses, I have an urge to growl and slam my fist into the wall, and may see images of myself stabbing people or things. When I back off from practicing the reaction settles down and becomes a mild tensing in my chest, but the more I practice the more it flares up. 

Sometimes I try redirecting attention anyway and really letting myself feel the resistance and spread my attention all over it, but I can only do this for so long (maybe 30 minutes at a time, no more than 1x/day) before the reaction becomes extreme. Other times I sit there and don't redirect attention at all, just let my mind plan/fantasize/wander and simply observe it, and I can keep this up for 4+ hours at a stretch, but I start to wonder if all the thinking I'm letting happen is just a distraction from what I really need to be focusing on. Neither stategy has increased my concentration at all, though I wonder if it will just take more time for results to happen. Been doing the "try to have equanimity with the resistance" strategy for at least a year, and the "watch the mind wander" strategy with any seriousness for about a month, having dabbled with it previously.

What is causing this and what should I do about it? I would really like to be successful in my practice.

Thank you sincerely,
Paul Kinkade

RE: Body revolts when I redirect attention
Answer
9/22/17 2:39 PM as a reply to Paul Kinkade.
Hello,

to build up concentration doesn't mean necessarily to feel good - it can also be clarity, awareness, or strength to endure what's happening.
It seems to me that if you experience very strong negative feelings very fast in a safe situation, it's something you could probably best deal with in psychotherapy: to integrate them and find coping mechanisms.
For practice: accept the momentarily limits. Note everything as stubborn and stoic as you can. See it as just THAT - it's very annoying I know but you have to keep up with the bullcrap which the agitaded mind can give you.


Instead of focussing on the resistance, and then maybe even onto the suffering aspect, break your experience into flow. Do walking meditation to get into movement. Remember to return noting your breath. Get not hooked up on the barrier.
Even if it's very uncomfortable, it's an object the mind can attach to. In the end you must let go of it as well as any other experience.

I can recommend a lot of Shinzen's advice when it comes to strong reactions, uncomfortableness, etc.
for example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0v70wPcs0c

I can't say of course where this all comes from, for meditation it somehow doesn't matter ("all karma").

RE: Body revolts when I redirect attention
Answer
9/22/17 3:04 PM as a reply to Paul Kinkade.
What's the goal of your practise?

From that post alone and not knowing more about you or your practise  - it sounds like the resistance and aversive reaction is actually useful feedback. Perhaps the current way of trying to achieve concentration isn't too healthy.

I think the solution lies somewhere between the two extremes you talk about. In the first case, it reads as if you are forcing yourself to actively go towards the object, with quite a narrow attention that tries to exclude everything else, and maybe expects some degree of clarity and resolution. In the second, you let thought objects arise and come to you, you stay effortless, albeit without clear purpose, and as a result you can sustain practise for many hours. 


I think you have your own answers, if you're sensitive to the feedback you're already getting within your meditation. What if you brought more of your second practise into the first? That is, very gently resting the object within a wider, effortless field. Not attempting to exclude anything else. Focussing on relaxation, rather than straining to attain more clarity or continuity. Where there's more calm, the mind will be far more malleable and able to rest upon the object. And then clarity and continuity of concentration unfold of themselves. Start with relaxation then gently bring the mind around. 


Do you need to actively go towards the object, or can you simply let the sensations "come"? 

While you're at your computer, the text of this post is at the centre of the visual field. You're making no active attempt to exclude everything else going on in the room, the peripheral visual field, the auditory field, etc. It's all still happening, but it doesn't detract from the focal point. You've given other stuff permission to be there, since that's how the mind functions most comfortably. Can there be a similar relationship between the focal point of the object and a wider, more inclusive, effortless awareness?


A few other quick points come to mind. Firstly, maybe you have an idea or expectation of what access concentration is or that a very high level is necessary for experiences/insight to arise. There are lot of intimidating definitions, which I think can lead to frustration, but I believe the bar is actually pretty low for functional, insight purposes. Secondly, whatever is happening within your meditations is still fuel for insight. The 3Cs are not only observed in the flickering of an object, but in the fluctuations of attention, thoughts, mind states, etc. It's all fuel for the fire and you can definitely work with whatever arises, even if it seems really really un-meditative. 


Hope a smidgen of that was useful

RE: Body revolts when I redirect attention
Answer
9/22/17 7:18 PM as a reply to Doctor Avocado.
Streamsurfer and Doctor Avocado, good to have you here. Good advice.

The only thing I would add is... Paul, I really like how you can sit for hours and just let things bubble up. That's actually good practice. I did that for a many years, too. My hunch is that some people, like us, have to do that to let all the crap off gas. And then eventually we can get down to meditating the way all the books and teachers say. So why not go with that for a while until you really want to (and feel like you can) do the "official" practice methods?

RE: Body revolts when I redirect attention
Answer
9/22/17 10:39 PM as a reply to Doctor Avocado.
Dr. Avacado,

My plan with meditation was to develop jhana using Culadasa's techniques and then use that concentration to get stream entry and beyond in a Daniel-Ingram-style. But I'm willing to edit that plan if it would help me make some progress.

You have pointed out to me that I may have been thinking about this in extremes. Perhaps the middle way is the way to go.

You have also reminded me of the possibility of looking for how impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and emptiness show up in what I'm already experiencing instead of waiting for concentration to become stable.

Thank you, I will keep you suggestions in my mind.

RE: Body revolts when I redirect attention
Answer
9/22/17 10:40 PM as a reply to shargrol.
Thanks shargrol. How many years and for how many hours a day on average did you do that type of practice, and what did it lead to?

RE: Body revolts when I redirect attention
Answer
9/23/17 5:52 AM as a reply to Paul Kinkade.
Paul Kinkade:
Thanks shargrol. How many years and for how many hours a day on average did you do that type of practice, and what did it lead to?
It was something I did for maybe ~4 years for about an hour or so. Basically, I would take a shower in the evening and just sit before I went to sleep --- very informal, but I feel like I connected with a lot of my basic psychological/social concerns, basically kinda like... really seeing my hopes and dreams, as well as my greediness and other desires that I kinda wanted to ignore.

For what it is worth, my big plan after reading MCTB was to work on Jhana. I even bought a Jhana Meditation CD from a retreat... can't remember the name... but anyway, it became clear that I just didn't have a stable enough mind to jump into that.

So my next step was actually noting practice, which might be something for you to consider as well. This worked really well. I prefer a gentler version of it, where the noting is basically on every outbreath or so, so about 10-12 times a minute. I found this to be a good match for my temperment. I preferred more "investigative" sitting, jhana was ellusive, but I also got too manic if I noted very fast. (Figured that all out by trial and error.) Noting practice was something that I could do and indeed it moved my through the nanas. I also did a few (3?) retreats and worked with a teacher. It seemed like all of that really helped me work toward stream entry. 

The thing about noting that I really liked is you don't "redirect" or "hold" your attention. You let it go where it goes -- to sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts -- but by noting them, you don't get sucked into them. You have to see them objectively, otherwise you'll forget to note. It is much less daydreamy than simply just sitting and letting thing bubble up, but it is also just a little daydreamy so it isn't so oppressive. It's a nice mix.

Hope this info helps!

RE: Body revolts when I redirect attention
Answer
9/23/17 5:58 AM as a reply to Paul Kinkade.
Paul Kinkade:

You have also reminded me of the possibility of looking for how impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and emptiness show up in what I'm already experiencing instead of waiting for concentration to become stable.

By the way, this is a very productive meditation approach. It might feel a little rough and turbulent, kinda like a purification, but many people have taken this approach when what shows up in their sit is a lot of aversion and unsatisfactoryiness. You can basically put your mind on that and watch it as a meditation object. Good stuff. The important thing is to not assume that "your mind is bad because all this yucky stuff comes up". The attitude you should have is "I'm the watching mind that is watching all of these impurities bubble up into consciousness and burn off."