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Losing focus during the pause in breathing

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I haven’t meditated for a while and am just now coming back to it.  One thing has always bothered me about concentration meditation – what to focus on during the pause between breaths.  In fact I see I asked about this over three years ago but unfortunately no one replied to my post.  I’m gonna take another stab at posting about this because I know this is the place that I’ll most likely get a satisfactory answer so…..

I have no problem staying focused on my breath during the exhale and inhale but I tend to lose focus during the pauses in between.  Since there is no movement there is nothing to focus on.  I try switching focus to the physical sensations in my belly but the act of "switching" breaks my concentration.  If I pretend that my lungs continue to empty after my exhale and that therefore my breathing is continuous I can maintain concentration but I'm not sure that's the way to go.  I suppose I could always focus on my belly, whether it’s moving or still but then I’m not really focusing on my breath (and I guess a part of me wants to stick to tradition).  I also find it much easier to concentrate on a steady sound, like a fan, but again,  I’d prefer to troubleshoot the breath-focusing method first.  Anyone of any thoughts? What do you all focus on during the pause in the breath?  Thanks!

RE: Losing focus during the pause in breathing
Answer
5/17/18 12:36 PM as a reply to Mike.
Mike, You mention switching focus to the physical sensations in your belly, you have not stated how you focus on your breathing in the first place. The ideal stituation is to focus on the sensations of your belly. The whole idea is to focus on your sensate experience. i.e. the actual pysical sensation that happens in your belly as you breath. As your skill in attention developes, you will notice a prolonged time in which the observation of that movement takes place. You have actually noticed an important aspect in the observation of breathing. The pause between.
 
 The pause is a very important aspect of realisation. My advice to you is, keep your attention on the actual physical sensation of your belly rising and falling with each breath. The degree to which you relax and hold concentration mentaly on that sensate feeling will determin your level of realisation. If your intensity of focus is balanced with your commitment to total body relaxation then things are going to happen. Once you reach an ultimate state of relaxation combined with a state of complete mental focus then what you percive as you is going to change. 

RE: Losing focus during the pause in breathing
Answer
5/17/18 12:38 PM as a reply to Mike.
Culadasa's suggestion in The Mind Illuminated is to start thinking of one breath cycle as "Exhale-then-inhale" rather than "Inhale than exhale".  That way you've got the physical pressure from needing to exhale at the "pause" in your cycle rather than just the relaxation before inhaling next.  He also encourages trying to notice exactly when the inhale and exhale begin and end.

RE: Losing focus during the pause in breathing
Answer
5/17/18 2:53 PM as a reply to Thor.
Thor:
Mike, You mention switching focus to the physical sensations in your belly, you have not stated how you focus on your breathing in the first place. 


I focus on the sensations in the belly but the added sensation of rising/falling offers a more concrete "target."  For some reason I think my exhale pause is much longer than most people.  I timed it yesterday and it was typically 3-4 seconds, whereas my inhales and exhales were 2 seconds each.  So roughly half the time my mind doesn't have a rising/falling to focus upon.  

RE: Losing focus during the pause in breathing
Answer
5/17/18 3:00 PM as a reply to JP.
JP Lewicke:
Culadasa's suggestion in The Mind Illuminated is to start thinking of one breath cycle as "Exhale-then-inhale" rather than "Inhale than exhale".  That way you've got the physical pressure from needing to exhale at the "pause" in your cycle rather than just the relaxation before inhaling next.  He also encourages trying to notice exactly when the inhale and exhale begin and end.

Your suggestion seems a lot like my "imagining" (but with no visual object) that my breath continues after the exhale or that my lungs asymptotically approach emptiness.  Am I right or did I misunderstand you?  Funny you mention Culadasa because I'm just reading that now but haven't gotten to the part you mention.

RE: Losing focus during the pause in breathing
Answer
5/19/18 11:33 PM as a reply to Mike.
I'm studying with Culadasa's TMI. I use that pause to "check-in" the content of my awareness. If distractions are present, they are noted and disappear by themselves. If my mindfulness is not strong, I don't even check-in since I forget. Hence checking-in is not really a way to check for distraction, it's more of a way to ensure there is no distraction.

When there is nothing but the breath, checking-in also connects me to some internal gentle "whistling" sound (probably blood flow, or a pure product of my mind, it's very neutral, nothing unpleasant like tinnitus), that I sometime integrates in attention with the feeling at the nostrils: any distraction bubbling up will disrupt that sound, making it a very good distraction detector. Moreover, it fills that gap between breathing, and a gentle check-in regenerates the intent to keep it (and the breath) in attention.

Putting it together, every breath is 1. intention to follow the breath and regenerate this intention at the end of the cycle 2. follow follow follow follow end of inhale, follow follow follow follow end of exhale 3. pause, check-in, hear the absence of distraction 4. GOTO 1.
I relax the intention / checkins as my concentration deepens, until I've relaxed too much and start over. I sometimes use a simple counting instead of checking-in at the beginning to on track quickly. 

It works very well for me. With practice, it's very clear that the length of a full cycle (strong -> gentle intention) last longer and longer and my concentration deepens. In other word, I'm making progress and that's all I care for at the time.

RE: Losing focus during the pause in breathing
Answer
5/19/18 11:50 PM as a reply to Mike.
Hello Mike,

Mike:
I also find it much easier to concentrate on a steady sound, like a fan, but again,  I’d prefer to troubleshoot the breath-focusing method first.  Anyone of any thoughts? What do you all focus on during the pause in the breath?  Thanks!

Why the interest in troubleshooting this method if you've found that others are more beneficial?  The actual object of meditation does not matter so much as the quality of the meditation itself.

RE: Losing focus during the pause in breathing
Answer
5/20/18 5:28 AM as a reply to Mike.
It's possible to hold the scope of attention in the "space" of a sense experience even if the actual sensory activation is very low or none. Shinzen Young explicitly teaches this as a technique in the form of "feel rest", which he classifies as a concentration technique, and in his more insight-focused techniques he also teaches holding the attention in the "space" of an experience that has just disappeared.

It helps to notice what happens when you first start to concentrate on a high-activation sensory experience; you move the attention to the 3D position of the sensation, whether it's a feeling, sight, sound, etc. You don't actually need a high activation of the sense to do this.

Shaila Catherine teaches jhana by concentrating on the nostril sensations and then moving attention off the actual physical sensation to slightly above the skin contact; ie to a place where there is no changing, unstable sensory activity at all.

So, essentially, if you're concentrating and feel nothing in the place you're concentrating on, you don't have to scramble to find something else, you can just keep resting in nothing until the nothing turns into something.

RE: Losing focus during the pause in breathing
Answer
6/14/18 11:39 AM as a reply to Lewis James.
Lewis:
It's possible to hold the scope of attention in the "space" of a sense experience even if the actual sensory activation is very low or none. Shinzen Young explicitly teaches this as a technique in the form of "feel rest", which he classifies as a concentration technique, and in his more insight-focused techniques he also teaches holding the attention in the "space" of an experience that has just disappeared.



This is what I ended up doing. I place attn at my columella because I can get a felt-sensory pinpoint feedback there at all times.  I agree with your later comment at concentrating where there is no changing sensory feedback.  I actually don’t experience the breath there.  It’s only farther inside the nose.

thanks everyone else for your help.  - mike