Stuck on self-retreat: no pleasant sensations

Bart, modified 2 Years ago.

Stuck on self-retreat: no pleasant sensations

Posts: 6 Join Date: 6/7/15 Recent Posts
Hi DO,

I could really use your help.
I am doing a self-retreat, three days of 8 hours of practice a day, specifically: concentration practice (annapanna sati).

I am at the end of day 2, and yes, I turned on my computer, because I don't know what to do.

Right now I can generate access concentration no problem.
Even if I stand up, move around, sit down again, access concentration is there (shallow breath, no problem focussing on anything and keeping my attention there, still mind).

However, there's just no pleasant sensations.

There is however, a tingling feeling near my heart.
It almost feels like there's a cog there, spinning and grinding on my chest.
It's not very pleasant however.

How can I continue my concentration practice?

Thank you.
neko, modified 2 Years ago.

RE: Stuck on self-retreat: no pleasant sensations

Posts: 756 Join Date: 11/26/14 Recent Posts
What are your goals on this retreat?
Bart, modified 2 Years ago.

RE: Stuck on self-retreat: no pleasant sensations

Posts: 6 Join Date: 6/7/15 Recent Posts
Cultivate the first jhana.
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Chris Marti, modified 2 Years ago.

RE: Stuck on self-retreat: no pleasant sensations (Answer)

Posts: 3930 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
Smile.

Seriously - go for a walk and just look around at what you see as you go along, then sit and get calm. Relax. Then smile. You don't have to smile from ear to ear. Just a hint of a smile will work. A small grin is enough. Then focus on the feeling in your face or in your buttocks when you do this.

Pleasant?

You really do have to be relaxed. This is not about trying. It's about calm abiding.


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Bart, modified 2 Years ago.

RE: Stuck on self-retreat: no pleasant sensations

Posts: 6 Join Date: 6/7/15 Recent Posts
Thank you so much for your advice!

I think your advice was on point, though I wasn't able to soothe and relax into a jhana.
Probably also because my concentration diminished somewhat after I did some experiments.

I'll up my daily practice and try to get it during a 'real' retreat that's longer, and with a competent teacher. 

gassho
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Jim Smith, modified 2 Years ago.

RE: Stuck on self-retreat: no pleasant sensations

Posts: 972 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
I meditate on the pleasant feeling of relaxation.

https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5823529
https://sites.google.com/site/chs4o8pt/meditation-1#meditation_serenity
https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/8496517


When I am in the situation you are in, I assume it's because I don't have sufficient neurotransmitters (serotonin) to produce feelings of pleasure.

In my case I assume the feeling of relaxation should alway be the same (pleasant) if it isn't pleasant, I assume I don't have the necessary neurotransmitters to produce pleasure.

I'm not a psychologist, but you might investigate things that can increase serotonin levels.
(http://ncu9nc.blogspot.com/p/occasionally-i-post-something-to.html#misc_diet_mood)

One thing that can help is to meditate after a meal. If you've ever experienced what I call "the Thanksgiving effect" feeling happy (or sleepy) after a big Thanksgiving dinner, it is because of increased tryptophan in the brain. Tryptophan is used in the production of serotonin a neurotransmitter that in involved in feelings of happiness and pleasure. It is also used in production of melatonin which is involved in falling asleep, so tryptophan can also make you sleepy.

Another way to increase serotonin levels, (if you are physically healthy enough) is to do a very few minutes of anaerobic (strenuous exercise) just until you are breathing good and hard, then stop and relax and when your breathing returns to normal, try meditating. When you do anerobic exercise, the body releases sugar into the bloodstream to provide energy for physical activity - this increased blood sugar leads to production of insulin which increases tryptophan uptake by the brain.

One hint for entering the first jhana ... when you are naturally happy, try meditating on the feeling of happiness. That should create the feedback loop that causes the feelings to intensify. Once you see how that works, all that is necessary is to learn how to bootstrap it when you are not aware of feeling happy - by focusing your attention on a pleasant feeling.

My opinion is that entering the first jhana is actaully very easy, the difficulty people have is 1) quieting the mind and 2) insufficient levels of neurotransmiters. There is no real trick to it when these two conditions are met. That's just my opinion.

Different people have different metabolic characteristics so what works for me might not be necessary or help someone else, but what I found helped make my meditaton more consistent is going on a low carb diet. Also there is something in poultry and red meat that is not in eggs, cheese, fish, or vegetables that my brain seems to need. That is a huge topic so I don't want to get started on it here because diets can affact differnt people differently but I will just say for myself that I tend to follow the diet recommended by Dr David Ludwig in his book "Always Hungry".
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Jim Smith, modified 2 Years ago.

RE: Stuck on self-retreat: no pleasant sensations

Posts: 972 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
One of the things that might be confusing about the jhanas is that smiling to get into them might seem "fake". Like you have to fool yourself into thinking you're happy. It is nothing like that. At least in my experience. Smiling is a natural part of expressing pleasure. Not smiling is what is artificial. The first time I experienced the intense emotions of the first jhana it triggered memory from when I was in elementary school. The teacher was announcing our grades on a test. I noticed that some of the kids who got high scores were not smiling or showing their emotions. One kid was doing it to show that a good grade was no big deal to him he always got good grades. Another kid didn't want to appear to be gloatiing. I thought, "oh I guess I shouldn't be too obvious with my emotions either it looks unsophisticated to show emotions". What happened is that socialization taught me to suppress the expression of pleasure. When I learned to enter the jhanas it reversed that suppression. Now that I have facility with the jhanas, I don't smile to bring them on, I smile as I relax and notice the pleasure. Smiling is a natural part of feeling (expressing) pleasure - that is natural. If it ever felt unnatural it was only because I had learned to suppress it until something natural then felt unnatural.


The jhanas are natural.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.036.than.html
Maha-Saccaka Sutta


"I thought: 'I recall once, when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered & remained in the first jhana

It is kind of hard to explain, but I (and I assume other people) knew how to enter the first jhana when I was a young child but I didn't know it. When I learned to enter the jhanas it reminded me of something I did naturally when I was a child. If I had done it then for an extended time I'm sure it would have lead to experiencing the jhanas. It was the way, as a child, when joking around in various situations, I would pretend to be asleep while making fake snoring sounds. My breath was slow and deep, and I was in a good humor (smiling mentally) because I was joking around, and I was bringing to mind the pleasant feeling of relaxation I associated with sleep. If I had kept at that for some number of minutes I'm sure I would have experienced the jhanas because that is very close to what I do now (without the fake snoring noises) to enter them. It is the exact same feeling. Relax, breathe in a relaxed way, notice the pleasant feeling of relaxation and let myself express the feelings of pleasure by smiling.

We are all different so I can't say for sure if this would apply to anyone else, but the reason I am writing this is because others might understand what I am describing from their own past (childhood?) experiences and it might help them to understand what they have to do to enter the jhanas.  
Chris, modified 2 Years ago.

RE: Stuck on self-retreat: no pleasant sensations

Posts: 19 Join Date: 8/3/18 Recent Posts
Hi Bart,

Sorry I couldn't chime in soon enough to help you on your retreat.  Since you say you are definitely in access concentration territory, but you are getting absolutely no pleasant feelings, here are some thoughts (I faced this same problem).

Is it possible that you have inadvertantly gone too deep into concentration?  I was practicing unguided, and I was relying on a lot of conceptual and form-based objects to get into what I thought was adequate access concentration.  Trouble was, I was doing it so well, I was blocking the ability for feelings to arise.  I had overshot my goal, so to speak.

One of my mistakes was with my Anapanasati practice.  Are you watching the breath, the air?  Are you accidentally creating images of a form of the air in your mind?  Try to keep in mind that Anapanasati is a tactile meditation.  The point where the breath hits your skin (tip of nose, or upper lip) is the feeling you should be registering.  Everything else you should be ignoring.  If you're used to images/forms/concepts, or if you did some Kasina stuff before, focusing on that feeling and nothing else is difficult.  I was so accustomed to turning even this feeling into a shape in my mind, and getting sidetracked.

The more I stayed with the tickling sensation itself, and the more I got accustomed to this new object, all of a sudden, single-pointed sensations began arising all over the place.  Not all at once mind you, but in all manner of body parts, at different times.  These then became the new object, as prescribed in Jhana work.  Again I hit lots of pitfalls and dead ends, because I was making other conceptual objects out of this new spot, which would kill the spot, but that was practice territory to overcome.

Hope that is helpful.  If not, maybe the next guy.

Best wishes,

Chris
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Dream Walker, modified 2 Years ago.

RE: Stuck on self-retreat: no pleasant sensations

Posts: 1333 Join Date: 1/18/12 Recent Posts
Bart:
Hi DO,

I could really use your help.
I am doing a self-retreat, three days of 8 hours of practice a day, specifically: concentration practice (annapanna sati).

I am at the end of day 2, and yes, I turned on my computer, because I don't know what to do.

Right now I can generate access concentration no problem.
Even if I stand up, move around, sit down again, access concentration is there (shallow breath, no problem focussing on anything and keeping my attention there, still mind).

However, there's just no pleasant sensations.

There is however, a tingling feeling near my heart.
It almost feels like there's a cog there, spinning and grinding on my chest.
It's not very pleasant however.

How can I continue my concentration practice?

Thank you.
Hack to first jhana-
Breath less, surf the gasp point but not so close that you gasp, just a long Breath then back to shallow. Practice long and short breaths, but mostly short. BAM! it sucks but 10 minutes of sufficating slightly will keep your ass on target!

Hack to second Jhana
you ever been on a swing set? ya? remember the feeling in your tummy as you hit the high spot? damn toot'n, breath there in the tummy and cultivate that memory of tummy pleasure, with each breath, expand that fun feeling! BAM! second jhana like cheating!

Good luck,
~D

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