Seeking advice on attaining Samatha Jhana and conquering Hindrances

David U, modified 13 Years ago at 6/15/09 2:51 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/15/09 2:51 PM

Seeking advice on attaining Samatha Jhana and conquering Hindrances

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Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

Hi everyone,

Firstly, thank you to everyone who contributes on this superb forum. I have been learning a great deal from all the accomplished practitioners and beginners alike.

A short introduction as I haven't been active here: I have been practicing in Mahasi-style Vipassana for around 18 months with one 10-day retreat under my belt and a regular daily practice. During and after retreat (over a year ago), when my practice felt very strong, I believe I attained knowledge of Mind & Body, Cause & Effect and possibly a little beyond. Back then I was mostly doing dry insight without knowing it.

More recently I have been focussing on Samatha, as I am weaker in concentration than I'd like to be, and feel I need to strengthen this side of practice before returning to Insight. I'd like to present a typical session and ask for some advice as to how to proceed.

During a typical 50 minute sit, I am effortfully concentrated on the in-out sensations of the breath with little distraction by 35 minutes or so. Once the boat is steady, as it were, a clear sense of dropping deeper into the breath occurs, and this brings on a very serene state. This lasts only for a few breaths, and then a series of rapid events: I begin to experience a lightness of body, even weightlessness, and almost simultaneously a concentration of "energy" hardens around my chest. My heart begins to race and I lose the deep serenity. I am once again effortfully bringing attention to the breath sensations in order to steady concentration.

I think my problem may be a classic Hindrance of aversion, as that comes up a lot for me, but in the moment of serenity I don't note any aversive thinking. The hard chest sensation followed by the rapid heart beat seems unattached to thinking of any sort. The other possible interpretation is that I just get excited, which throws my game off (premature evaluation, haha).

cont.
David U, modified 13 Years ago at 6/15/09 2:58 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/15/09 2:58 PM

RE: Seeking advice on attaining Samatha Jhana and conquering Hindrances

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Often following this pattern, or when my mind is not so concentrated but I am still effortfully tethering mind to breath, I begin to experience a rapid flickering in the visual sense door. When I stay with the flickering, noting it and trying to notice it's components, it tends to smooth out completely. I am not sure whether I am slipping into insight territory here, or what.

Sorry, this may be a bit too much for one post. My main concern is to attain Samatha Jhana, so any suggestions as to how to overcome the hurdles I've described would be fantastic.

Thanks to all.
David
Nicholas Marchi, modified 13 Years ago at 6/15/09 6:50 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/15/09 6:50 PM

RE: Seeking advice on attaining Samatha Jhana and conquering Hindrances

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Hi David,

I'm definitely a beginner so I'm not sure if I've got any advice that you haven't already heard, but a few thing you've written have resonated with me so I thought I'd reply.

There's alot of good info on concentration jhanas floating around here. The Big Issues and Practical Dharma headers have quite a few good related posts. There is also a good thread on kasina practice that I found helpful, and I there are a few other threads with some juicy links in them. You've probably seen them all, but if not they're definitely worth reading.

I'm not actively trying to cultivate the jhanas, but I'm fairly confident that I've gotten into #1 a few times soft, and maybe even hard once, and I found the following bits of advice from folks on this site really helped me.

To paraphrase and potentially butcher:

1.) Kenneth's description of the first Jhana helped alot: Grab and gently pull the tip of your nose with your mind. The quality of sustained effort you feel can be cultivated, and I found this to be very helpful.

2.) Try a kasina. I tried cutting out a cardboard circle and gently staring at it for a loooong time. This can be a very interesting experience and got me close.

3.) Keep the practice pleasant and as you get close gently shift focus towards the pleasantness. Maybe the lightness you mentioned is it for you. For me there was a brightness and a warmness that I gently thought about and that seemed to draw it closer and closer.

(cont.)
Nicholas Marchi, modified 13 Years ago at 6/15/09 6:57 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/15/09 6:57 PM

RE: Seeking advice on attaining Samatha Jhana and conquering Hindrances

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4.) I keep saying gently because I feel like I was using concentration to clobber things for a while, as well as concentrating in a way that was stressing my body out, and when I tried to be more gentle (softer?), it left room for the pleasant quality to show itself(?)

5.) Try gently (sorry) remembering that light feeling you experienced you felt next time you meditate. If you sort of keep it in mind it might show up more easily.

Man, that all came out as jibber-jabber. Sorry to all the original posters if I've misrepresented or misunderstood your words. Hopefully I haven't added to the confusion.

Good luck!
Nick
David U, modified 13 Years ago at 6/15/09 7:11 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/15/09 7:11 PM

RE: Seeking advice on attaining Samatha Jhana and conquering Hindrances

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Thanks, Nick. Not jibber-jabbery at all. I particularly appreciate your point 4. I think I may be going at it too hard, gripping the object rather than gently holding it. I will try to recollect the lightness, this sounds like a useful thing to do.

And I may try using a kasina. I'm intrigued. It sounds like the sort of thing I would naturally do as a kid when everyone thought I was goofing off - just staring at something to see how it changed when my eyes unfocused.

I am still keen to hear if anyone has any ideas about the hardness in the chest and beating heart, as it is a phenomenon that has been appearing for me over and over, always breaking my groove.

Thanks again Nick. I have been reading through the resources here, and I'll continue to do so.

David
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Florian, modified 13 Years ago at 6/16/09 6:30 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/16/09 6:30 PM

RE: Seeking advice on attaining Samatha Jhana and conquering Hindrances

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi David,

Like Nick, I've made the experience that too much effort is just as bad as too little. There's even a simile in the suttas about tuning a string instrument: too much tension on the strings will break it, but if the strings are loose, you get no sound. Sometimes I check my practice for balance, usually with the "five spiritual faculties" teaching recommended in MCTB.

The energy in the chest, the heartbeat: I've experienced that, too. I started experimenting a bit: is it really my pulse that I'm feeling (tested pulse at the neck)? What happens if I let my focus shift to the energy accumulation (there was a definite pull towards the chest)? The thing is, I've found that there seems to be quite a bit of truth in those chakra energy models, even to the point of them pulsating or spinning or whatever it is they do. Whatever it is, it can be an object for insight as well as tranquility, and actually the border is hard to figure out, because I can "go with" such a slow-ish vibration of an energy accumulation, and it will take me to a jhana, or I can watch the same vibration, and get into fast momentary concentration, doing insight meditation.

Finally, note that meditation sessions have their cycles, too. If you continue to sit, I'd bet you'd get into a concentration state again, stay in it, drop out, have lots of energy to play with...

Cheers,
Florian
David U, modified 13 Years ago at 6/16/09 8:10 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/16/09 8:10 PM

RE: Seeking advice on attaining Samatha Jhana and conquering Hindrances

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Thanks Florian. You bring a well-timed reminder of the Five Faculties. I haven't dwelt on this aspect of my practice for a while. With regards to my Samatha practice, I take the Faculties this way:

Mindfuleness: presence in knowing, at each moment, what is the object. With mindfulness I fully apprehend the breath as best I can, and I recognize when another object takes over.

Energy: that which drags mind back to the breath when it has wandered.

Concentration: the stick-to-itness of mind to the breath.

These faculties I can reflect on clearly and see that at times I have much more energy than concentration, and that this tends to bring on a doggedness and a stiffness that isn't conducive to tranquility. Greater concentration will allow for a stronger sense of absorption in the object. So I take it that I can apply energy when I am mindful of the secondary object and then ease up on the energy and relax in concentration when back on the breath.

Wisdom and faith: These seem less obviously applicable to me in this practice, though perhaps the above is an example of the modicum of wisdom I can muster. With regards to this Samatha experiment, I can apply faith by seeing that many people here and elsewhere have attained jhana, and that I have a sense that mastering at least 1st jhana will benefit me greatly when I return in earnest to insight.

You raise some other points that I'd like to tease out further. Hope you don't mind the ramble. I will probably end up answering my own questions but would love for you to jump in at any point.

cont.
David U, modified 13 Years ago at 6/16/09 8:37 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/16/09 8:37 PM

RE: Seeking advice on attaining Samatha Jhana and conquering Hindrances

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Chest energy: Firstly, all my strongest practice has tended to bring up fairly clear chakra-like activity. Energy used to be very active in the first two chakras for me, then went dormant for some months, and has appeared now in the chest as this rock-hard feeling. What I have done lately, as I am going for Samatha jhana, is to note it as it happens, but to move back to the breath as quickly as possible. But in previous phases, I learned to open up to the chakra stuff, to let the emotion happen fully, and this came over time to produce feeling of relief and gratitude. I suppose this is neither vipassana or samatha, but it helped get over the "stuff".

In being very goal-oriented right now I suppose I am not addressing what needs addressing. Your suggestion to bring more curiosity to the sensation is interesting. Although I am wary of using the heartbeat as an object (can cause serious disrhythmia, I am told). I can use it as an occassion to flip to vipassana, using the hardness rather than the heartbeat. I think I am more skilled at doing this, although I am really trying right now to learn to "go with" the object. It's trickier for this "do-er".

Thanks again for both of your help. Back to the mat for me...

David
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Florian, modified 13 Years ago at 6/16/09 9:38 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/16/09 9:38 PM

RE: Seeking advice on attaining Samatha Jhana and conquering Hindrances

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi David,

Faith: while "other people can do it" does give me lots of confidence, particularly here at DhO, there's also much to be said in favor of "having faith in the process". That is, faith or confidence in the fact that what is actually happening is more important than what I think should happen. If my chest lights up with energy every time I sit, well, that's where the action is, no matter how much I'd like it to be at my nostrils (for example). Therefore, I can let my awareness of the breath settle at the chest, confident that this is part of the process. There's also quite a bit of surrender in there - surrendering my preconceptions of how things should be to the process of what's actually going on (mindfully, and with concentration of course!).

It just occurred to me that another, more succinct way of putting all this is to "broaden the attention".

Being goal-oriented is a great source of energy. I've literally lost count of the number of times I've read the "Clear Goal" chapter in MCTB. Bring the goal back into the present moment, put it to work on whatever there is to work with.

Heartbeat as object: I noticed that the beating sensation in the chest is not actually my pulse - which is why I checked my carotid for the pulse during a sit once, because I was worried about heart rhythm issues, too. Another faith thing, maybe; but be sure to balance that with (conventional) wisdom.

If you choose to use the hardness for samatha, here's what I did about half a year ago: I let my awareness of the breath settle on the hard area, and visualized the breath streaming through the hardness, wearing it down, softening it, kneading it gently in the rhythm of the breath and so on, smoothing it out - my rule of thumb for samatha is to make the object smooth and beautiful. Hope this is useful somehow.

Cheers,
Florian
David U, modified 13 Years ago at 6/16/09 9:48 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/16/09 9:48 PM

RE: Seeking advice on attaining Samatha Jhana and conquering Hindrances

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I will carry this to the mat tonight. All your advice is really pertinent and greatly appreciated.

Much thanks,
David
Chuck Kasmire, modified 13 Years ago at 6/17/09 6:17 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/17/09 6:17 AM

RE: Seeking advice on attaining Samatha Jhana and conquering Hindrances

Posts: 559 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
You can also experiment with a whole-body awareness. It gives more space to the chest sensations to do what they want without locking on to them – this gives them the freedom to shift, grow, etc. What I do is shift attention to the sense of the whole body and breathe in and out through the whole body. The whole body awareness becomes the main object with chest sensations (in your example) becoming a sort of minor object. This is a little bit like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time which also helps with concentration. From this point you can start directing attention to the pleasant qualities of the whole-body sensation.

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