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Strong awareness or focus on head area leading to hardships in practice

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Hi.

I practice the Goenka Vipassana technique and have recently also tried mahasi style noting. I will very soon (2 days) go on my 3rd 10 day Goenka retreat and have been practicing the last 10 months since getting advice on what to do after reaching equanimity stage:

the thread:

https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/6608640

TLDR; I probablt reached equanimity as my peak stage and need to focus on deepening my equanimity towards sensations and it was suggested that i should be switching to noting instead of scanning.

My problem, that i still cannot resolve is that whenever i do Goenka-style body scanning OR try to focus on certain areas of the body OR focus more on a sensation I feel that my mind keeps pulling my attention/awareness to some senation in my head area, thus making it hard for me to focus on the area of sensation that caught my attention in the first place.

This have sort of been my problem for a very long time and I do not really know how to solve it, and would like to get some advice from experienced meditators. 

Since I entered deper into the dark night and passed it (to equanimity) my concentration as sort of been weird. It is kinda hard to focus precicely at a spot. I do feel that another main difference is that the sensations has become less strong and distinct, but more soft and subtle, like light touches and pulsing on and off. Sometimes it is more like particles showing up and going away. I do feel that it is slightly easier if I have a more relaxed attention on the whole body and make the training more soft and open, then feeling sensations do get easier.

I did read Nick's thread about going for stream entry on a 10 day goenka retreat where he does mention that in low equanimity, it might get hard to concentrate on a single part of the body:

http://thehamiltonproject.blogspot.com/2010/11/going-for-stream-entry-on-goenka-10-day.html

which is my problem. But i do not think i am still in equanimity although some effects of it has affected my daily being. I do not really know what my causes for my problems are and need help.

Maybe it is just another oppurtunity for me to apply the training on equanimity towards sensations, but i do feel that the problem interferes with the ability to focus on the sensations, especially when scanning.

I am very grateful for all help possible.

Thanks

The phenomenon where attention keeps on returning to an area in the head sounds a bit similar to what some people were calling the "attention wave" or the "attention tendril" .  One option here is to try to focus and start nailing down the sensations in that area of the head, which is usually the same area where the visual field is felt to hook into the head. I wrote up a description a while ago of some of the sensations in that area and how they relate to both the body and the visual field:  

JP:
I haven't done a lot of kasina work using a candle as the object, but I've done a decent amount of staring at a moving ceiling fan instead.  I can speak a bit about what head tension is like in my practice. 

While visual kasina practice definitely highlights impermanence due to the rapidly fluctuating images in the visual field, there's an even more interesting no-self aspect to it that highlights the lack of a fixed self doing the looking.  It's also related a bit to the skewed spatial structure of the visual field, how that is related to the experience of specific muscle tensions all around the head, and how that's all misread to reinforce the illusion that "you" are "looking" at things. I'm also going to write this from the pre-stream entry point of view, so your attainments or perceptual shifts may change your experience of this, and there may well be important differences from my experience keeping my eyes open most of the time versus closing them to focus on the nimitta that develops.

For me, the visual field seems like an infinite cone with a few special areas. One is the point of visual focus somewhere in the volume of the cone, which what you're looking at. Another is a centerpoint, where "you" are looking from.  The centerpoint can be felt back behind the two eyes somewhere in the middle of the head near the pineal gland, and is the same as the third eye chakra.  I'm not sure if it's muscle tension or a feature of the visual field, but there's a strong feeling of movement and directionality flowing from behind through the centerpoint and pushing attention back out to somewhere in the volume of the cone. I'm told that sixth jhana feels the same way, but haven't been there myself.  Focusing on the the feeling of flow through the centerpoint is one method of getting into the Witness and progressing up through the jhanas/nanas.  The centerpoint itself can seem incredibly hard to focus on or rest at -- it's almost like a discontinuity that you can't quite rest at or look at, and it feels increasingly aversive the closer you get.

The cone itself can look around in any direction from the centerpoint, and can seem to be anchored down to the rest of the body by the central channel, a stiff rod that goes down through the throat/spinal cord.  This feels a little bit like an architect's lamp which swivels around and looks in all directions.  The edges of the "cone" are really indistinct and hard to define exact boundaries, but sometimes third jhana for me feels like I am the edges of the cone swiveling around but not anything on the interior volume of the cone.  If you mess around with vipassanizing this stuff enough, you can also get the felt feeling of the cone to swivel around independently of the movement of your head or the contents of the visual field, which is a great way to make yourself dizzy.

The basic perceptual geometry of the visual field in terms of focus point/edges/centerpoint doesn't change based on the direction you're looking, but strangely enough the direction of flow can change such that you're looking behind "you" out the back of your head.  When this happens, it can feel like everything you see in the visual field is "looking at" the centerpoint/"you" in through the back of your head, where "looking at" is a felt feeling that arises in awareness.  This can also lead to a different variation on the Witness.

Muscle tension and other bodily sensations can easily be co-opted into feeling like the same thing as the centerpoint or the edges of the cone. I think the pre-meditation default for most people is that there's a little dot of muscle tension at their centerpoint, and that is where they "look" from and are. Interestingly, the centerpoint can shift location backwards when you close your eyes compared to when they're open.  There can also be rhythmic pulses right at/around the centerpoint, and it sometimes feels like there's a little gyroscope turning right at the centerpoint.  If you pay exclusive attention to these pulses, sometimes it feels like you get sucked into the exact centerpoint while everything squishes in/out around you.  Muscle tension all around the head and eyes can be felt to be the edges of the cone.

There's a recurrring pattern in normal perception where attention alternates rapidly from the focus point out in the volume of the visual field back to the muscle tension at the centerpoint.  From there, it can flash to a internal verbal thought or emotion judging what it's seeing, or directly back out into the visual field.  I don't have Daniel's knack for timing stuff by Hz, but it seems like this loop happens several times a second.  It also seems like it's connected to the basic perceptual duality of going out and getting something and bringing it back to "you".  There's a good discussion of this in the Empty Hands thread as the "attention tendril", and may be the same as the "attention wave" in Daniel's Experiments in Actualism.  Directly perceiving this attention wave going on and that you're actually failing to "bring back the bacon" from the focus point to the centerpoint generates a lot of suffering and aversion to looking at the process any more closely.  That's because seeing the impermance and no-self in the attention loop directly implies seeing the suffering in the loop.  

I'm not sure that there's a good way to make progress with visual kasina stuff without ever having some aversion or muscle strain appear.  For me, I really need to just accept that aversion is arising, treat it as a sensation, and keep on going anyways in order to make it out through Reobservation to Equanimity when doing kasina work. It could also be that you're looking fairly closely at this stuff and starting to notice that the muscle tension at the centerpoint isn't the same thing as the other stuff in the visual field. Your mind then might subconsciously intensify the muscle tension at the centerpoint to make it easier to find, which then has the paradoxical positive feedback of making it both more painful and more obvious that it's not "you".  

Here's a few things that can occasionally affect it and that may be worth trying out to see what effect they have:

- There's a perceptual state you can get into  where you start to perceive the boundaries of the body in terms of the felt appearance of the body parts rather than what you know they look like in the visual field.  Usually the head and hands feel suddenly huge, like a cortical homunculus.  This is also related to what Culadasa calls the "acquired appearance of the breath", where you start perceiving the breath sensations more clearly in a different perceptual context.  You could try to keep this feeling in awareness while focusing on the flame.  Touching the area with your hand may be triggering a move more towards this method of perceiving the interior of the head as unrelated to the visual field.

- Blink your eyes, feeling the change in location of the centerpoint with the eyes closed versus open.

- Flicker your eyes rapidly while keeping focus on the centerpoint, which can very rapidly carry you up through the nanas towards your current cutting-edge.  I think that's because the rapid all-or-nothing changes feel very similar to the strobing formations in High Equanimity.  This is also the classic cessation test to determine whether you've achieved stream entry.  I'm not sure whether I'm working on first or second path, but just blinking my eyes rapidly has been a really useful tool for getting up into Equanimity quickly when practicing.  A minute or two of it can be the equivalent of spending 10-30 minutes on preliminary kasina work.

- If you've got prior experience in resting in/as awareness, that may reduce the aversion and tension. 

- Resting in the Witness/sixth jhana feeling if you've experienced that before may help.  Sometimes putting attention on the centerpoint and the flow feels like it blocks out the feeling of their being a separate self and makes it easier to rest in something more like just awareness.

- On the flip side, observe the loop closely and try to get used to how the focus point/centerpoint/edges/central channel feel in your experience.  You can also try to look out the back of your head and to look right at the centerpoint by placing the focus point at the centerpoint.  All of these are also good ways to develop a feel for the Witness if you're interested in going up the jhanic arc with it.

- If you get them, dive into following the rhythmic pulses at the centerpoint.

- Close your eyes, and feel like your eyes are turning around and looking first up in the crown of your head and then to the back.  Then have them try to look directly back at the centerpoint.  This will be aversive, and even more so the closer you are to looking at the centerpoint.  If you keep going anyway, you'll rise up through the jhanas/nanas and eventually all the resistance will melt away up in Equanimity.  You'll then drop down to pushing on your throat chakra and so forth until your subtle body disappears or becomes very malleable-feeling.  This can feel like you're confused who the experience is actually happening to.  This method is unpleasant and could very well cause eye strain -- it might be better to use other practices to gently loosen up the energy body or get into Equanimity another way before beginning kasina practice.

I've got no idea on what the commentaries say about the mantra, but I think it could be useful because of the possible sidetrip to thoughts in the core attention loop.  If you're trying to unravel what it feels like to be both the "I" in "I think" and "I" in "I am currently seeing", then doing a mantra means that when attention shifts to thoughts from the tension at the centerpoint, it hits a mantra that you're keeping track of and you get to see that part of the loop too.  This may be more useful if you're doing it as mixed samatha-vipassanna practice where you're deliberately allowing alternating attention -- maybe pure concentration practice you'd be better off just learning to keep attention thoroughly focused on just individual visual sensations. I just use "Om mani padme hum", and try to pay attention to how it interleaves with both the sensations at the focus point and the centerpoint and it changes through time along with the visual changes.

This is all based on my personal experience with the ceiling fan kasina, as well as advice from Shargrol and a number of other threads both here and from KFD.  I'd be interested in hearing if it differs for those using the candle flame, and would love to hear other's experiences with blinking rapidly or watching a moving ceiling fan.  I think there also are probably some other interesting correspondences between the jhanas and different portions of the visual field being watched or felt to be self, and would love to hear more from others with experience in both. I know kasina practice is mainly billed as helping with concentration, but it seems like it and other work with the visual field can put you in contact with some of the core perceptual issues that insight practice is trying to resolve.

JP:
The centerpoint can be felt back behind the two eyes somewhere in the middle of the head near the pineal gland, and is the same as the third eye chakra. I'm not sure if it's muscle tension or a feature of the visual field, but there's a strong feeling of movement and directionality flowing from behind through the centerpoint and pushing attention back out to somewhere in the volume of the cone.


This is quite close to how i feel. Some sense of movement behind the eyes, which is there as I practice body scanning or noting.

JP:
The phenomenon where attention keeps on returning to an area in the head sounds a bit similar to what some people were calling the "attention wave" or the "attention tendril" . One option here is to try to focus and start nailing down the sensations in that area of the head, which is usually the same area where the visual field is felt to hook into the head. I wrote up a description a while ago of some of the sensations in that area and how they relate to both the body and the visual field:


It feels exactly like you mentioned about the attention returning to the head area. Sometimes when it sort of goes away for a while, it is easier to perform the Goenka vipassana rouitne. When the issues is present i guess I shoúld do some noting practice maybe.

When we reach to equanimity : what our technique is to focus on mind events.
Keep scaning the body , and note the mind events 
If it become very subtle , and if you only know something , note as knowing knowing
(But since you already read the stages of inisght , you know that you are already close to the glimpse of Nibanna , you already desiring the magga , note that desire first , you can never go S.E with if you can't let go of that greed for nibanna)
Thats why , when i praticed in Aung Thu Kha , there is a rule never to listen to 16 stages of insights before reaching S.E .
Only those who confirmed S.E are listend to 16 stages of insight .

RE: Strong awareness or focus on head area leading to hardships in practice
Answer
7/24/18 10:05 AM as a reply to Phyo Arkar.
Finally DhO is up again. Wanted to write a reply for quite some time.

Regarding the centerpoint thing. After som investigation i realised it is related to thoughts. When I have thoughts there are sensations behind the eyes. I also feel that when i focus hard on anapana in/on nostrils it can also trigger these sensations. The sensations most of the time shows up when i perform vipassana. That is why i feel it is distracting in Goenka practice (Cause of the body scanning technique). In mahasi noting I should probably just note it. I realised that sitting in a more rigid posture helps (straight spine and neck)

Phyo Arkar:
When we reach to equanimity : what our technique is to focus on mind events.
Keep scaning the body , and note the mind events 
If it become very subtle , and if you only know something , note as knowing knowing
(But since you already read the stages of inisght , you know that you are already close to the glimpse of Nibanna , you already desiring the magga , note that desire first , you can never go S.E with if you can't let go of that greed for nibanna)
Thats why , when i praticed in Aung Thu Kha , there is a rule never to listen to 16 stages of insights before reaching S.E .
Only those who confirmed S.E are listend to 16 stages of insight .


Thanks for answering Phyo. Your answer is encouraging as i usually never get any input on my practice. At times I feel that there is a mental block when performing vipassana as if there is something but i cannot put my finger at what it really is.

I do have a desire for S.E. and know that cause of it I cannot reach S.E. Right now I am using it for strong determination for meditation when I go on my 10 day retreat, tomorrow. I will try to watch the desire for S.E.

When you say mind events, what do you mean really? Thoughts and subtle sensations (particles/waves, light touches, pulsations/vibrations)?

I wonder if sensing the sensations in a finer level (try to feel the particles) can help with my issue? I will try.

Sometimes I feel noting speed can help keeping me away from mind distractions and tiredness, as it keeps the mind engaged. Is that a problem? It does feel like i lose some clarity in noting. Or is it better to note clearly and slower and as tiredness comes, I should note it.

RE: Strong awareness or focus on head area leading to hardships in practice
Answer
7/24/18 10:44 AM as a reply to Phyo Arkar.
Phyo Arkar:
But since you already read the stages of inisght , you know that you are already close to the glimpse of Nibanna , you already desiring the magga , note that desire first , you can never go S.E with if you can't let go of that greed for nibanna

So what are some valid reasons to keep practicing if it isn't to get SE? I find myself desiring SE from time to time even though I know that it's a hindrance.

You could play around a little with broadening your field of awareness when your concentration is good. Can you note both the head-sensations and other sensations at the same time? Or maybe note normally and at the same time maintain a relaxed awareness of the head-sensations? Or turn attention to head-sensations and then widen out from there to rest of the head, neck, shoulders? Or turn attention to head-sensations and note any sensations of the body or heart which seem related or entangled with the head-sensations?

Desire for progress on the path is good and useful, it's only a hindrance if you let it be a hindrance instead of using it to inspire good practice and a good attitude. Then when practice is very strong, desire for progress is seen as sensation like all the others and there is no problem.

Adam:
You could play around a little with broadening your field of awareness when your concentration is good. Can you note both the head-sensations and other sensations at the same time?


Yes I can. Although the head sensations are a little bit more prominent (drives my attention more).

Adam:
Or maybe note normally and at the same time maintain a relaxed awareness of the head-sensations? Or turn attention to head-sensations and then widen out from there to rest of the head, neck, shoulders? Or turn attention to head-sensations and note any sensations of the body or heart which seem related or entangled with the head-sensations?


I will try suggestions. Thanks.

I I also feel that I might not be entirely equanimous as I feel a sensation I can see that there is sort of a indirect judgement of it at times. The judgement is not verbal but feels like I am somehow interpreting nonverbally. I think that is a hindrance for my progression (not equanimous). I guess I should note it too emoticon. Maybe this is one of many things hindering me from progressing in the path at all. Things are quite subtle for me I feel. Is it good to deepen concentration then, so I get more clarity in vipassana? I am thinking of going for some jhana practice as it might calm down the mind.

I feel that after going in and out of  last dark night the sensations has become less clear to me. They have more characteristics of pulsating touches and particles (if I focus narrow). 

Good ideas - it's often the case with these kind of "road blocks" that you've gotten a bit stuck in one way of thinking about meditation and need to give yourself permission to listen to your intuition, perhaps ease off and try something a little different. It takes some trial and error to get the feeling for when to adjust your approach (and which adjustment is appropriate), and when to be persistent and stay with uncomfortable sensations.

It may help to relax your goal orientation and try a more gradual system like Your Breathing Body (https://www.amazon.com/Your-Breathing-Body-Reginald-Ray/dp/1591796598) or Mahamudra for the Modern World (https://www.amazon.com/Mahamudra-Modern-World-Unprecedented-Teachings/dp/1604075694/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=N06D7KPQVJB7XYXJFAK5).

I don't know if trying to forcibly change attitudes, patterns of thought, or desires will bring you to stream-entry. You may have to work through more psychophysical blockages and build up to deeper, relaxed concentration before awakening can occur. Both meditation programs that I linked will help you to do this. 

Has any emotional trauma come up on Goenka retreats or when you're doing the body scanning technique daily? Have you noticed any release of chronic physical tension? 

Matthew:
It may help to relax your goal orientation and try a more gradual system like Your Breathing Body (https://www.amazon.com/Your-Breathing-Body-Reginald-Ray/dp/1591796598) or Mahamudra for the Modern World (https://www.amazon.com/Mahamudra-Modern-World-Unprecedented-Teachings/dp/1604075694/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_14_t_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=N06D7KPQVJB7XYXJFAK5).

I don't know if trying to forcibly change attitudes, patterns of thought, or desires will bring you to stream-entry. You may have to work through more psychophysical blockages and build up to deeper, relaxed concentration before awakening can occur. Both meditation programs that I linked will help you to do this. 

Has any emotional trauma come up on Goenka retreats or when you're doing the body scanning technique daily? Have you noticed any release of chronic physical tension? 

Hi Matthew.

Yeah. Sankharas has come up during my 10 day retreats. They come in the retreats and couple of days after the retreat becase of built up momentum in practice, which actually subsides after a couple of days of retreat. As I sit now (1.5 weeks after reatreat), there is no release of deep rooted sankharas (ingrained subconsciouss conditioning). Nowadays I practice around 2-3 hours daily. Mind is easily distracted.

For me it has been deep rooted sorrow and depression being released on reatreats. I feel off-retreat it is less of ideal environment for meditation practice.

Right now I am really thinking of what to do in my practice. I feel the Goenka technique is good on reatreat and does release deep-rooted sankharas. I am concerned if the technique can bring me to truth as I feel the technique do not emphasize on feelings and thoughts and mainly focuses on bodily sensations (plus awareness and equanimity towards them). It feels something might be lacking. But I do think the technique does release sankharas and lead to a more pure mind, which I think can lead to liberation. I do also feel that mind easily defiles itself as I interact off-retreat.

Just my thoughts and reflections.

Are you trying to maintain equanimity during body scanning, or are you letting emotions happen without interference? Sometimes the Goenka instruction to be equanimous can mislead people to push away emotions related to past trauma when these emotions just need to be experienced as they are.

If you have trauma coming up during retreat but this doesn’t happen at all in your non-retreat practice, you might want to try a body-oriented form of trauma therapy like EMDR, somatic experiencing, Feldenkrais, Hakomi, or Rolfing. Fellow DhO user Noah and I both had a lot of success with EMDR therapy. Working through trauma with a therapist will gradually increase your baseline concentration, making it possible to reach awakening.

The audio sets that I linked have a large number of techniques designed to open up awareness in different ways. You may have more success trying out these various techniques instead of sticking with the Goenka technique if that isn’t working.