Concentration question

Ernest Michael Olmos, modified 7 Years ago at 12/15/15 8:23 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 12/15/15 8:23 AM

Concentration question

Posts: 219 Join Date: 5/30/14 Recent Posts
But after that relaxing, subtle joy and some kind of equanimity, my mind starts to drift.

It depends on how strong is the concentration, but as external things decrease, and the mind fuses with the object, I can't keep up with whats happening.

Notions of space and time go, and when I "come back" it feels like I've been drifting or dreaming or asleep.

At some point, when doing concentration, I have two ways to go.

- I can deconstruct it (noting) by focusing on time, on each sensation of the breath.
  If I do so, I don't drift, but I stop the concentration route.

- I can keep fusing with the object, focusing on solidity, on the relaxing attention on it.
  If I do so, eventually I drift. The object takes over alertness. I loose sense of time and space.
  I enter some "dreamlike" state.
  Even if sometimes in theses states there are very defined sensations, they are definitely more dreamlike than real.

Is that drifting OK? Is that what formless realms look like?
Are formless realms and dreaming similar?
How can you keep being "aware" whats happening, of time and space when concentration takes over?
Ian And, modified 7 Years ago at 12/15/15 11:08 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 12/15/15 10:46 AM

RE: Concentration question

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hello Ernest Michael,

Some clarification is needed first before a comment can be offered. Because none of us know you personally, we do not know how you are using the terms used to describe your experience.

You use the term "dreamlike." But that term can have more than one subtle meaning to it, especially in its relationship to the practice of concentration. Could you be a bit more specific. I know it is difficult to describe personal transitory experiences related to meditation, but if you can focus a little more in on how you are experiencing this "dreamlike" state, you may be able to make a breakthrough in your discernment of the experience.

Could this "dreamlike" experience be anything like a hypnotic trance like state? The kind of state where the relaxation is quite pleasurable and the mind is open to receiving and holding onto all sorts of thoughts, even unreasonable or unrealistic thoughts. A kind of mental la-la land. Which also might be described as a kind of "dream world" experience. Is this what you mean by "dreamlike"? Or do you mean something different?

I ask this because when I was first learning about dhyana meditation and how to enter into that state, I had to learn to let go and let the experience of the pleasure take over in order to properly enter the state. Yet, as time went on, this habit of "letting go" had to be modified by building sati back into the picture, because the "letting go" process I was using was causing a kind of impure dull-mindedness. By applying sati (mindfulness) back into the picture, the dull-minded (trance-like) state quit happening. And the level and duration of concentration achieved by the practice of dhyana meditation was able to build naturally, and eventually become extended longer and longer after the sitting while in normal consciousness.

That level of concentration is tied to what is called passaddhi or calm, which is experienced after the sitting.  Passaddhi is roughly translated as "a profound state of peacefulness." And it can follow what one might personally term a "good" meditation session. The practice of dhyana meditation can help one to develop and build their level of passaddhi after the sitting. Spending time in a dhyana state, calming the mind down, helps to develop that state's continuance after the formal meditation sit. And mindfulness of this state afterwards helps one to maintain it for longer and longer periods of time until it eventually becomes a habit.

In peace,
Ernest Michael Olmos, modified 7 Years ago at 12/15/15 1:15 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 12/15/15 1:15 PM

RE: Concentration question

Posts: 219 Join Date: 5/30/14 Recent Posts
The dreamlike sometimes is sharp like I can trace whats happening, sometimes a dull (maybe fall asleep?).

You're probably right about the "letting go". I'll try to be more mindful.

I've been in that la-la land, not often, but been there.
I can also relate to the calm, sometimes so restful that 40 minutes feel like 8 hours sleep.

But yes, I let go and then it becomes dull.
Its tricky because its subtle, you keep relaxing and after a some time, it feels natural to let go, like the right thing to do.
I'll just keep being mindful.

Thanks for your answer.
neko, modified 7 Years ago at 12/15/15 2:30 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 12/15/15 2:24 PM

RE: Concentration question

Posts: 762 Join Date: 11/26/14 Recent Posts
Dull is not good.  Excellent advice from Ian.

I will add a few tips, from more advanced to more down to earth.

1) With mindfulness you can even watch the dullness move around your body and mind as if it were an object (in a sense, from a vipassana point of view, it is). This is a relatively advanced skill, but you can give it a shot, it might work for you.

2) An alternative is, when you start to distinguish between piti and sukha, you can choose to focus on piti: at least for me, the lower jhanas are more energising and a good antidote against tiredness, distraction, laziness, dullness and so on.

3) Another alternative, straight from the Canon, is vitakka as a traditional antidote to sloth/torpor. So this would suggest staying in first jhana specifically as the ideal recipe for you at the moment, if you can reach it.

4) Don't shun from "not strictly practice" tricks such as splashing cold water on your face before sitting, meditating in a colder room, in a brighter room, at different times during the day, with eyes open and/or taking a few deeper breaths when you are starting to feel dull.
Ernest Michael Olmos, modified 7 Years ago at 12/15/15 7:18 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 12/15/15 7:18 PM

RE: Concentration question

Posts: 219 Join Date: 5/30/14 Recent Posts
Good advice, specially the staying in the lower jhanas.

The dullness is not "that dull". When I start, I'm very mindful, but after half an hour, the relaxing and continous attention on the breath slowly begins to overcome mindfulness.

I just have to keep being mindful.
Incandescent Flower, modified 7 Years ago at 12/15/15 10:42 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 12/15/15 10:42 PM

RE: Concentration question

Posts: 87 Join Date: 10/27/14 Recent Posts
This might be just personal preference, but sometimes I find that attention to the breath alone can create a kind of siphoning off effect on my energy, especially if I feel I am trying to 'restrict' my attention too much. I've found that switching the focus to the constantly moving quality of sensations, sometimes particularly in the higher energy areas ( throat, head, and crown for instance) can help energize me and stave off dullness/murkiness. Also, sometimes purposely allowing my attention to 'hear' my internal thoughts can help bring a useful edge to my meditation.

neko, modified 7 Years ago at 12/16/15 5:16 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 12/16/15 5:14 AM

RE: Concentration question

Posts: 762 Join Date: 11/26/14 Recent Posts
Ernest Michael Olmos:
Good advice, specially the staying in the lower jhanas.

So you can reach jhanas above 2 also? Perhaps I had underestimated your meditation skills, sorry.

In this case, and assuming your background is mostly Theravadin, another possible thing to do is to practice some Mahamudra / Dzogchen and try to get to know a little bit rigpa, the natural state, luminosity, and "all that" from their point of view. When you start to see those things a little bit, you should develop the skill to move your mind away from dullness and into a (metaphorically) brighter consciousness field. Words fail me a bit, it is hard to describe and I haven't practiced Tibetan stuff as much so far, but Reggie Ray's Mahamudra course (the 33 cds one) helped me from this point of view too. Some useful stuff in there you could try to integrate, but it might be a long detour from your current practice and goals. In this case, you might want to keep this in mind in the future.
Ernest Michael Olmos, modified 7 Years ago at 12/16/15 7:55 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 12/16/15 7:55 AM

RE: Concentration question

Posts: 219 Join Date: 5/30/14 Recent Posts
The thing is, the moment I'm too mindful of whats going on, of the sensations of the body, it's like I'm noting, not doing concentration.

Maybe I should let things flow a bit, not worry too much about "pure" concentration and let things happen.
If I do so, naturally, the mindfullness and alterness turn to some kind of noting (specially the sensations of the body), which in turn don't let dullness happen.

You are right that focusing on the head can energize and it's a good idea to do it. I usually focus too much in the belly because its more "grounding".
Ernest Michael Olmos, modified 7 Years ago at 12/16/15 8:33 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 12/16/15 8:33 AM

RE: Concentration question

Posts: 219 Join Date: 5/30/14 Recent Posts
It comes and goes. I guess it depends on the MCTB stage I'm in.

Sometimes I can laser point my attention with extreme ease and sometimes it requires so much effort that it's pointless.
If you're honest with yourself, you have to admit that really keep your full attention on something, even for 10 minutes is extremelly difficult.
For me full attention means that nothing can disturb it to any degree.

About my skills, I don't know.
I'm patient (maybe too patient) and constant.

Sometimes I worry about moving forward or backwards (and really worry about moving forward), and evaluate myself a lot, and sometimes I just want to play with what's going on, like a kid on the beach. Sometimes I'm very, very pragmatic.
I guess that also depends on the MCTB stage I'm in.

Right now, I just wanted to know some opinions on the dreamlike state, about dropping/keeping mindfullness and altertness after concentration is strong.

About the Mahamudra course, I have it in my list.
Joakim Bobbetibob, modified 7 Years ago at 12/16/15 10:06 AM
Created 7 Years ago at 12/16/15 10:04 AM

RE: Concentration question

Posts: 14 Join Date: 9/14/15 Recent Posts
You probably want to change your approach. Dullness of mind can feel pleasurable in a way, just being drowsy or sleepy with not much energy, and not being mindful at all. You sound just the way I used to meditate, the problem not being effort, but technique. It is quite possible to exert a lot of will power into an object and still not be very mindful, and to counteract this dullness you should not try to change focus or intensity, but rather add spatial awareness. You can try for yourself, do five minutes right now, trying to stay as well as you can with the object of breath but never miss out on what's happening around you. And do not make other objects your main focus, keep with the breath. It does not matter what object(s) in the background you're aware of, just let it sort of choose itself and if it changes just let it change. It should be in the background as a secondary focus, and also in the background of your mental activity. 

Try with as great effort as you can to fully experience the moment, but never loosing touch with the subtle or gross sensations of the breath. Always "push" the main object into the foreground of attention. And you will see that to counteract dullness you need this awareness I'm talking about. It will make your object much easier to stay with because thoughts will not draw you away. At some point there will be stronger and stronger concentration on your main object, but don't get carried away (yet), just keep tuning into whatevers going on around you.

I'm no expert, but after I changed to this approach I have never looked back. 
Incandescent Flower, modified 7 Years ago at 12/18/15 2:24 PM
Created 7 Years ago at 12/18/15 12:35 PM

RE: Concentration question

Posts: 87 Join Date: 10/27/14 Recent Posts

I just came across this post from Avi Craimer from a while back and I thought it would be worth sharing on this thread:

For a long while concentration practice would leave me feeling sort of dazed, stiff, and hyper-focused for a few hours after. This caused some problems with doing work or even household tasks. Needless to say this also kept me from practising jhana as often as I would have liked.

Recently, I started doing some kasina practice and I found a solution to this problem. Basically, I was noticing that the moment I started visualizing the disk it was immediately sucked in toward my face involuntarily. It was as if a my mental camera lens was automatically set to maximum zoom on any object that I attended to. This was likely happening in my other concentration practice as well, but visualizations always make it more clear to me what's going on. Since noticing this I've been able to practice zooming the kasina in and out, like changing the focal point of my attention. I've found that this also allows me to do way better stuff post-jhana. After absorption now, I make sure to move my attention through the whole range from maximally zoomed out to maximally zoomed in several times like I'm warming up a stiff muscle. Then I release all control of the zoom and watch it fluctuate randomly until it re-integrates and feels normal again.

Since this development, I've experienced a fantastic cognitive boost post-Jhana. It's like having a rock solid focus that is still supple enough to deal well with complex content. It also lets me use my post-Jhana state to do vipassana much more easily.
After experimenting with this approach this morning, that is, even without using a kasina, I realized exactly what Avi was talking about and, in connection to your thread, how this automatic zooming in effect can be the cause of dullness/murkiness when practicing concentration. The strange thing is, it's like I hadn't even noticed this effect at all, presumably because I had grown so used to it. I found I was able to practice this intentionally zooming out -> intentionally zooming in -> letting zoom do its own thing (again, without a kasina) with only slight difficulty, and the benefits were immediately obvious: less dullness/murkiness, more alertness, and as the day has moved on I've been able to deal with complex tasks much more easily than I have in the recent past. Big weight removed.

EDIT: One of the reasons I responded as I did above, suggesting you switch to a more insight-oriented approach, was because I have run into this exact problem you're referencing (as well as a problem at the other end of the spectrum where my attention becomes so single-pointed as to make clarity of thought impossible) so many times that I had all but given up on concentration-centered practices. But after my experiences today I am definitely rethinking it.