Practice thread 1: access concentration/first jhana

Liam O'Sullivan, modified 10 Years ago.

Practice thread 1: access concentration/first jhana

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
(Please see the 'Bundle of Beginnings' thread in the Dharma Diagnostic Clinic forum for my introduction)

Hopefully this thread will be of use to others as well as myself.

So, having had a spotty daily practice of mindfulness of breathing, and having done a few retreats of various lengths, I'm getting systematic about my practice and focusing on concentration practice.

I've now got the patience to complete any timed sitting I start. Sitting doesn't give me much pain though I'm trying to work out how to achieve the lotus position, so I can just plonk myself down without a cushion wherever I am and be stable.

Success is still variable, though monkey mind is starting to calm down at all times, actually. Instead of a constant frenzy of thoughts derailing me every second I now go a few minutes in meditation without that occurring.

I'm becoming aware of all the little sensations involved in each breath as I follow it, when before it was hard work just keeping to following each from beginning to end, but getting a bit obsessed with 'what do I concentrate on inbetween breaths?'

I either take about five or fifteen minutes to really get into it, which I would define by other perceptions than the breath fading into the background or disappearing entirely, so I'm more interested in longer sits. 45 minutes seems like a 'medium sit' now.

As a curious aside, I've stopped doing Pali chanting or any rituals aside from bowing three times before and after meditation (out of respect for the Triple Gem, which I think is important). They seem only to be of use to motivate me to follow the path, and I'm finding a reflective and positive attitude as well as some background reading quite motivating enough. I'm thinking that fast noting practice will suit me very well once my concentration is better, but I'm trying not to get ahead of myself.

Problems?
1. Sloth and torpor, always my favourite hindrance. Especially after food. I'm either wired or asleep usually, and I'm having difficultly convincing my brain it can have middle gears ;)
2. I work twelve hour shifts three or four days a week, so I can't always do a nice long sit every day. I suppose fifteen minutes is still worthwhile.
3. Craving for interesting sensations, jhanas, insights etc. derailing my patient concentration.

I use a conservative approach to keep myself in check: I assume things are always going to get tougher, and I assume progress is going to be painfully slow, in order to cultivate patient endurance. If this sounds pessimistic, I'm actually very confident that access concentration and eventually stream entry are both perfectly possible.
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Christian Vlad, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 30 Join Date: 4/20/11 Recent Posts
Hey Liam,

I am in a similar situation like you, doing 45min sits every morning and still haven't reached access concentration or beyond. This stuff really is not that easy imho, I keep losing my concentration and got songs playing in my head all the time. I also have a job that keeps me doing some pretty long shifts a few days a week, thats why I couldn't keep up my nightly sits anymore (just too tired and completely unfocused), and instead put my practice to the beginning of the day.

Anyways, I hope we can read some of your progress here, would be a nice motivation for people like me, so best of luck and keep us updated!
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Alright Christian - good to read about fellow travellers, isn't it emoticon

doing 45min sits every morning and still haven't reached access concentration.. This stuff really is not that easy

You're not alone my friend, I'm by no means a natural! I've learned not to worry too much. The Thai Forest monks I've met emphasise patient endurance above nearly anything and Ian encouraged this in my introductory thread. My meditation is better the more patience I apply; I caught myself treating the Dhamma as another rat race and managed to talk myself out of comparing my attainments to those of others. I feel like the retreats I've been on have gotten me over the most initial 'I can't concentrate for five seconds' phase' due to the intensive, ideal practice conditions.

got songs playing in my head all the time

I had Patrick Wolf's new album in my head at Harnham Monastery for days; it's irritating, isn't it? (Er, the distraction, not the album.) Mike and co said some useful stuff about that in a thread on distractions.

I also have a job that keeps me doing some pretty long shifts a few days a week

Does this mean you work less than five days a week? I'm considering doing a version of the Theravadan Uposatha practice - basically taking one day of the week out to concentrate heavily on practice, and can do this because I have more days off than most.

Rashed is another bloke on this site who has access concentration as a set objective, and he seems very honest and integrative, so you might find his practice thread useful too.

I'd be interested to read yours, in fact! emoticon
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Tommy M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Access concentration is simple, you've probably already got it and are just expecting it to be something more noticeable.

By the sounds of things you're doing insight practice rather than pure concentration:

I'm becoming aware of all the little sensations involved in each breath as I follow it, when before it was hard work just keeping to following each from beginning to end, but getting a bit obsessed with 'what do I concentrate on inbetween breaths?'

This is not concentration practice but if you're able to remain aware of "all the little sensation" then you already have access concentration and are actually doing vipassana.

A few things which may be of use to you:

Sitting doesn't give me much pain though I'm trying to work out how to achieve the lotus position, so I can just plonk myself down without a cushion wherever I am and be stable.

Don't worry about sitting in any fancy positions, if you're uncomfortable as soon as you sit down then this will interfere with your practice. Just find a comfortable position, there is no requirement for any fancy asanas to do this regardless of what some teachers may tell you. If you find the lotus position comfortable, go for it. If not, do something else.

Success is still variable, though monkey mind is starting to calm down at all times, actually. Instead of a constant frenzy of thoughts derailing me every second I now go a few minutes in meditation without that occurring.

Good. You've got access concentration.

Let the thoughts pass, you won't stop them entirely anyway and there's no need to. If you're doing concentration, find one object and stay with it, once you start to notice pleasant sensations arising shift your focus to those and, voila, 1st jhana will appear.

but getting a bit obsessed with 'what do I concentrate on inbetween breaths?'

Concentration: Concentrate on the rising or falling of the next breath.
Insight: Release control of the breath and just watch it rise and fall, look at the way the breath begins before you're aware of it happening.

I either take about five or fifteen minutes to really get into it, which I would define by other perceptions than the breath fading into the background or disappearing entirely, so I'm more interested in longer sits. 45 minutes seems like a 'medium sit' now.

If you're feeling the breath disappearing then you're at least in 1st jhana.

As a curious aside, I've stopped doing Pali chanting or any rituals aside from bowing three times before and after meditation (out of respect for the Triple Gem, which I think is important).

Why do you think this is important? Is it improving your practice or creating attachment to dogma?

I'm thinking that fast noting practice will suit me very well once my concentration is better, but I'm trying not to get ahead of myself.

You're already doing it. Fast noting will happen naturally as you practice so just stick to getting your technique tight.

Sloth and torpor, always my favourite hindrance. Especially after food. I'm either wired or asleep usually

This should be noted as whichever labels you find most appropriate e.g. sleepiness, fullness or whatever.

I suppose fifteen minutes is still worthwhile.

Aye, any amount of practice done well is worthwhile. How about trying to bring your noting practice into daily life?

Craving for interesting sensations, jhanas, insights etc. derailing my patient concentration.

Concentration: Just stick with your object.
Insight: Note it.

I use a conservative approach to keep myself in check

Wonderful.

I assume things are always going to get tougher, and I assume progress is going to be painfully slow, in order to cultivate patient endurance.

They might, but it's not always the case. Expecting it to be so makes it more likely, approach this with an open mind. If progress appears to be going slowly, keep practicing and noting accurately. It's nothing to do with teaching you to cultivate anything other than attention to senate reality on a moment by moment basis, if you're determined to get to 1st path then you can make it happen.

I'm actually very confident that access concentration and eventually stream entry are both perfectly possible.

You've already got access concentration. Stream entry will come with sufficient momentum and intent.

Now, get it done! emoticon
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bill of the wandering mind, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 131 Join Date: 4/14/11 Recent Posts
That brings up an interesting point - what does one do when vipassana seems to happen on its own? I have that issue as well - It is normal for me to have mind and body type insights just focusing on the breath - I assume thats what it is as the mind suddenly separates and is seen 'over there' more, usually not 100% but much more. In fact I crossed A&P just trying really hard to concentrate on the breath a few years back.. Should I care? Someday I would like to develop the jhanas but right now I use concentration to power my noting. Does it matter at all?
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Tommy M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
what does one do when vipassana seems to happen on its own?

Concentrate.

Noting sensations ends up becoming an automatic thing due to the fact that you're constantly inclining the mind to pay attention to the transient, impersonal and selfless nature of phenomena. This is a good sign if you're going for stream entry, what to watch out for now is the subtle sensations which aren't being labeled automatically and observe those too e.g. passage of time, space, dimension (as in x, y, & z axis) and subtle impressions like that.

It is normal for me to have mind and body type insights just focusing on the breath

Yes. This would suggest that the mind is all geared up and ready to start insight practice so take advantage of this readiness.

In fact I crossed A&P just trying really hard to concentrate on the breath a few years back.

Insight leads to concentration, concentration leads to insight. They're not mutually exclusive and there's no distinction made between the two in the suttas, although the Mahasi noting method, in my opinion, certainly appears to allow one to make progress quicker. There are yogis on here, and on KFD, who used the sutta methods with great success.

Should I care?

Note "questioning".... emoticon

Someday I would like to develop the jhanas but right now I use concentration to power my noting.

You can do dry insight approach, 100% vipassana all the way, but jhanas are as much a part of insight practice as they are in concentration, the difference being that you're constantly deconstructing them through noting. Concentration can be like a lubricant for noting, and having access to jhanas will help when going through potentially difficult stages.

Does it matter at all?

What works is what matters. To use Tarin's wonderful quote, "You get what you optimize for."
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Nikolai ., modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 1650 Join Date: 1/23/10 Recent Posts
I got into jhana territory just by noting my arse off.
http://thehamiltonproject.blogspot.com/2011/01/yogi-toolbox-fast-noting.html
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Tommy M:
Stop being so cautious and get some noting in.

;)

But seriously, thanks Tommy, you gave me a lot of helpful stuff. I held off replying until after my morning sit.

To quickly address issues of dogma: The short answer is that I bow because it's part of the First Training for me, developing good qualities that will be of benefit to myself and others, which is entirely the point for me. As to sitting positions, I'm simply looking for a position that'll let me sit without a cushion anywhere/outdoors, not trying to 'do the correct one'.

Tommy M:
if you're feeling the breath disappearing then you're at least in 1st jhana

Soz if I was unclear; the breath does not ever disappear for me. Other sensations do, such as the sense of touch.

I agree now that I have access concentration, but it's undisciplined. I've been 'playing' with my meditation, exploring different objects in different ways, trying for first jhana, thinking about what to post to the DhO, all in the same sitting. It's not been useless, but I'll resolve to do a single thing in a single sit from now on, with a bit more effort. At this moment in time, it'll be to achieve first jhana.

I tried focusing on a single spot in the throat instead of following the entire breath this morning, and that seemed to work as a concentration object- so yes, I've been doing accidental vipassana. I felt the pleasant sensations arise as the breath attenuated, but I was unable to let go of the breath when I attempted to transfer my focus of attention, so my attention was dragged back to it and the pleasant sensations faded in direct proportion.

I do mindfulness of everyday activities without formal noting, yes. I'm trying to build on that so it's pretty much constant. I distrust my application of formal noting at the moment as I find it's not quick enough for me off the cushion, and it can scatter my concentration on it.

Finally, I agree that an open mind is the best way to go about things, and I now have confidence in my progress, so I will attempt to cultivate it. To explain, my 'pessimistic' approach is somewhat of a doublethink to stop me anticipating or trying to recreate any of the meditation experiences I've had before, since my mind runs to the past and future easily.
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Christian Vlad, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 30 Join Date: 4/20/11 Recent Posts
Wow, congrats Liam, you got to access concentration within one day. Now that was easy wasn't it emoticon

Seriously though, I guess there are quite differing opinions out there about the precise definition of access concentration. I too have minutes where I can keep thoughts out, but it's still kind of a struggle and too forceful in my opinion. Maybe you could already call that access concentration, but I am actually expecting more of a clear noticeable shift, like that often described effect of car windows going up where the sounds get muted out pretty much and the perception of the environment gets pushed outward in a single swoosh and then stays there. I can't say I really had that happen during meditation, but obviously I can only talk about my own experience here.

A few times I had that short notion of a kind of "upsurge" during sittings, I think that was more like getting close to it. Does that sound at all familiar? Feels like some kind of up-movement in the body and especially around the eye are, and I believe that could have lead to somewhere nice if I had been able to just ride it out instead of getting a little too excited. That only happenend 3 times though in the last 4 or 5 weeks, most of the time it's really just the stupid songs running in the background and forceful blocking out of upcoming thoughts (and there's a LOT of them coming...).

If you should get to 1st jhana soon then dont forget to tell me the trick afterwards ;)
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Tommy M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Seriously though, I guess there are quite differing opinions out there about the precise definition of access concentration.

How would you define it? There are lots of differing opinions on a lot of different things, but what matters is what works and the only way to find this out is to do it yourself.

I too have minutes where I can keep thoughts out, but it's still kind of a struggle and too forceful in my opinion.

There is no need whatsoever to "keep thoughts out", this is basic misunderstanding which is not at all helpful in practice. Thoughts will occur whether you want them to or not, what matters when doing samatha practice is the object on which your attention is focused, this is all you need to be concerned about. Allow the thoughts to do what they will and stay with your object.

but I am actually expecting more of a clear noticeable shift, like that often described effect of car windows going up where the sounds get muted out pretty much and the perception of the environment gets pushed outward in a single swoosh and then stays there.(Bold highlight added by me)

And here's your problem - You're expecting something to happen when you don't know what you're even looking for. I did exactly the same thing and, after getting more familiar with the terminology and what these words actually describe, found that I was actually getting into 'hard' 1st jhana. Access concentration is like lockdown, the attention is fixed on an object, a shift does occur but it's far more subtle that what you're expecting.

A few times I had that short notion of a kind of "upsurge" during sittings, I think that was more like getting close to it. Does that sound at all familiar? Feels like some kind of up-movement in the body and especially around the eye are, and I believe that could have lead to somewhere nice if I had been able to just ride it out instead of getting a little too excited. That only happenend 3 times though in the last 4 or 5 weeks, most of the time it's really just the stupid songs running in the background and forceful blocking out of upcoming thoughts (and there's a LOT of them coming...).

Good description. This suggests that you are actually closer to entering 1st jhana than you think since those "upsurging" feelings are most likely "piti", (rapture, glee, zest) and "sukkha", happiness. Rather than paying attention to the upsurging, pay attention to the pleasantness which you'll inevitably notice happening somewhere in your body. You may be surprised to learn that "thinking" and "examining" (vitakka and vicara) are actually two of the factors of the 1st jhana.

If you should get to 1st jhana soon then dont forget to tell me the trick afterwards

There's no trick, really.

1. Focus on object.
2. Focus on pleasantness.
3. ???
4. Profit.

There is no reason to hang onto unhelpful dogma, the opinion of people with little or no practical experience or anything which creates a limitation in your practice. The only way to learn this is to do it yourself, books are useful, no doubt about it, but real life practice will teach you more. You'll find out for yourself what works and what doesn't.
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Christian Vlad, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 30 Join Date: 4/20/11 Recent Posts
Thanks for taking the time to answer to the noobs, Tommy emoticon

When I am talking about access concentration, I usually think about descriptions like the one on Kenneth Folk's page here: http://kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/page/Access+Concentration

So basically a clear and sudden shift into some kind of "bubble" that keeps most of the sensual perceptions and even thoughts out or at least at a good distance. I guess this suddenness is what I am still missing, but maybe you are right and indeed it is all a lot more subtle than I expected.

I still hope for things to get a lot more effortless though, as it really feels like a struggle to me. I've already accepted that you have to just allow thoughts to some degree, but they kinda keep fighting for the "center" of my attention, thereby pushing my concentration object (the breathing) way out into the periphery or even completely away from my field of awareness, again and again. This keeping the breath in the center for extended periods of time (and I am talking only a couple of minutes here) feels strenuous, I can't put it another way.
Please dont tell me it's going to stay that way forever, isn't the point of all this that someday suddenly this effort falls away and it all becomes really light and easy?

Anyways, I really hope to get to those upsurge-feelings again and get a chance to play with them. Maybe this will really prove to be some kind of door into the jhana for me.

Maybe you would like to describe your own experience of entering jhana, especially the transition from not-yet-in-jhana to in-jhana. Also, I would like to know how one feels when in there. I've read descriptions that said that every last bit of willful action or intent is basically gone there, meaning you can't even decide that you want to get out any more and are basically a completely passive observer. Would you describe that as accurate or am I expecting too much of a really distinct experience here, too?

Again, thanks for trying to clear things up and manage expectations for the not so experienced ones of us. Certainly always helpful!
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Tommy M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Thanks for taking the time to answer to the noobs, Tommy

We've all been there mate, I'm happy to help if I can.


When I am talking about access concentration, I usually think about descriptions like the one on Kenneth Folk's page here: http://kennethfolkdharma.wetpaint.com/page/Access+Concentration

So basically a clear and sudden shift into some kind of "bubble" that keeps most of the sensual perceptions and even thoughts out or at least at a good distance. I guess this suddenness is what I am still missing, but maybe you are right and indeed it is all a lot more subtle than I expected.

Kenneth's great, I highly recommend getting a one-on-one lesson with him via Skype if you can as he's a really good teacher.

One of the best ways I can think of to describe access concentration is that it's like when you're reading a book and become totally absorbed in it, to the exclusion of all other stimuli like the sound of the television, your partner talking to you (usually followed shortly after by some sort of projectile being launched at you, in my experience....) or the phone ringing. You don't really notice it until you're there, does that make any sense?

The best way to get there if you're struggling is to count the breath at the end of each exhalation. So, you're breathing in, releasing the breath and as your lungs empty you count "1". This is repeated up to 10 and then the count begins at one again, and the best thing about it is that as soon as you realize you've lost count, you're mindful of the slip up and can mindfully return to the breath as before.

My description of access concentration, which is attainable by concentration on bare attention once you've done some practice, is this (described as I enter it): With the eyes closed I focus on the part of the nostril where the air enters and exits, as I do this my attention becomes very narrow on this spot and my eye focus falls in towards the bridge of the nose. This causes a sense of release at the top of my shoulders and warm, blissful feelings begin in my hands and face which, if I pay attention to them exclusively, will lead into 1st jhana. There's a sense of attention being wrapped around your object once you're there, sounds still happen as do other sensations but the focus is firmly fixed on your object. You immediately notice if you're distracted and can quickly return to this focus.

From there, you can either focus on the pleasantness of the bliss and rapturous feeling, or begin noting.

I still hope for things to get a lot more effortless though, as it really feels like a struggle to me. I've already accepted that you have to just allow thoughts to some degree, but they kinda keep fighting for the "center" of my attention, thereby pushing my concentration object (the breathing) way out into the periphery or even completely away from my field of awareness, again and again. This keeping the breath in the center for extended periods of time (and I am talking only a couple of minutes here) feels strenuous, I can't put it another way.
Please dont tell me it's going to stay that way forever, isn't the point of all this that someday suddenly this effort falls away and it all becomes really light and easy?

There is effort involved in getting to access concentration and then in the 1st jhana, but once you move into 2nd jhana then this sense of effort falls away. Try this link for some more info on the factors of the jhanas:

http://www.leighb.com/jhana_4factors.htm

I think you might be making this a bit more difficult than it needs to be as your descriptions sound like you should be getting to 1st jhana. Words like "struggle", "fighting", "pushing" and "strenuous" suggest to me that you're maybe applying a bit too much force here, if you continue like this then all you'll get it a headache. This might be something basic you're misunderstanding but try, instead of forcing or fighting with the attention, to let it rest on your object. Imagine you're training a new puppy to pee on the newspaper in the hall instead of on the living room carpet. Your attention is the puppy, each time it goes to pee on the carpet you pick it up, gently, and put it where it should be. Every time you notice the attention has moved from the object, gently guide it back to where you want it be. Don't fight with it, argue with it, kick it or grab it by the scruff of the neck. Softly, softly, catchy terrapin or whatever the saying is. emoticon

Maybe you would like to describe your own experience of entering jhana, especially the transition from not-yet-in-jhana to in-jhana. Also, I would like to know how one feels when in there. I've read descriptions that said that every last bit of willful action or intent is basically gone there, meaning you can't even decide that you want to get out any more and are basically a completely passive observer. Would you describe that as accurate or am I expecting too much of a really distinct experience here, too?

Jhanas are incredibly simple when you drop all the expectations of what you think they feel like. The descriptions you give are at bit OTT and certainly don't correlate with any jhanic experience I've ever had. It's possible to enter extraordinary levels of absorption in each jhana but the training and time required, not to mention the fact that it's totally unnecessary to making progress, is prohibitive with a normal. non-monastic lifestyle.

Have you ever stared at your own reflection in the mirror and watched your face distort? This is a jhana-like state.
Remember what I said about being focused on reading a book and realizing you've been unaware of everything around you? This is like jhana.

Check this thread from KFD about how the eyes focus in each jhana and you might get a more realistic idea of the levels of absorption we're talking about here.

This is simple. Really. It's not complicated.

Best of luck and I hope that helps.
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Christian Vlad, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 30 Join Date: 4/20/11 Recent Posts
Thanks a lot for those descriptions, Tommy!
I especially found the part interesting where you said that "eye focus falls in towards the bridge of the nose". Does this mean that your eyes are going downward and toward the middle? Most people seem to describe a natural movement to the middle and slightly UP, and since I started taking up meditation more seriously, I am wondering what to do with the eyes. Lately I have tried to keep them somewhat fixed (not too much pressure though) in the center of my (closed-eye) vision, since I noticed a pretty strong connection between letting eyes just wander around and thoughts dragging me away.

Anyways, I will try the more relaxed approach again, but the point is that thats what I did for the last 2-3 months and I have to say I dont feel I've gotten very far. In my mind the right way to go about it is to use force at first and relax into 'it' later.

By the way, this morning I noticed for the first time in my meditation that my upper body is rocking very subtly all the time, I probably did this in all of my sessions and just never took notice of it. Not really sure if I should let this happen or deliberately try to stop that very subtle movement of the body.

@Liam I hope you don't feel like we are hijacking your thread too much emoticon
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Tommy M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Does this mean that your eyes are going downward and toward the middle?

Aye, that's what I'm talking about.

Most people seem to describe a natural movement to the middle and slightly UP, and since I started taking up meditation more seriously, I am wondering what to do with the eyes.

This does happen as you move through the jhanas, in the formless jhanas (5-8) the eyes naturally focus themselves towards the third-eye chakra area at the brow. You don't need to do anything with your eyes, my advice would be to find your object and keep the attention on it as the body will do its own thing; the eyes have certain positions they move into as you move through the jhanas which can provide a useful indicator for whereabouts you are. Allow the eyes to relax into the velvety blackness of closed eyes.

Anyways, I will try the more relaxed approach again, but the point is that thats what I did for the last 2-3 months and I have to say I dont feel I've gotten very far. In my mind the right way to go about it is to use force at first and relax into 'it' later.

I suspect that you may just be naturally moving towards noting, this brute force method can be very useful and you can make great progress but the possible downside is burning yourself out, something which jhana access might help prevent. If what you were doing before wasn't working for you then change it, in the end it's your experience and I can only offer advice based on what's happened with me so don't take my opinion as being the final word on anything. If it works for you, do it.

By the way, this morning I noticed for the first time in my meditation that my upper body is rocking very subtly all the time, I probably did this in all of my sessions and just never took notice of it. Not really sure if I should let this happen or deliberately try to stop that very subtle movement of the body.

These are known as kriyas, little energetic movements in the body which, when you get into the A&P stage/2nd jhana, can become really, really noticeable. This is a sign that you're doing something right so keep at it.

If you're doing insight then note these movements as "movement" of whatever.
If you're doing concentration then return the attention to your object.

Sounds like you're sorting yourself out anyway, keep up the practice and get a thread going 'cause that way it'll be easier to offer an opinion based on your descriptions of what goes on. Hopefully this has been useful for Liam too. emoticon
Szabolcs Z, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/4/11 Recent Posts
Hi,

I have some questions. Can anyone help me?

1. Stability of access concentration. While focusing on my breath, I often arrive to a modified state. Sometimes it's like suddenly getting into a bubble where it's easier to concentrate, sometimes it's more like gradually slipping into a more focused state. But in either way it's quite fragile, and after a while I certainly slip off. Sometimes I manage to go back but eventually it goes away. Is this normal? Is there any specific suggestion on how to increase the stability and durability of the state, or will patient practicing simply do?

2. Learning sign vs. counterpart sign. I read the book of Henepola Gunaratana (Beyond mindfulness in plain English). He first talks about the learning sign (e.g., the breath) that we initially observe in concentration meditation. And then he says that this sign will eventually disappear and turn into a counterpart sign, which can be of different form for different people, for example a light. He says that this happens before the first jhana. I don't want to fall into the trap of waiting and expecting for a sign or something that I haven't experienced yet, but this implies to me that there is a noticeable difference between the first jhana and the preceding state(s) like access concentration. Does this ring a bell to somebody?

3. Concentration vs. vipassana. I learned meditation in an S.N. Goenka style retreat. The anapana (breath concentration) and vipassana techniques are taught. The latter in this school is a sort of "body scanning" where you go from head to toe and from toe to head in circles all over your body parts, being aware of any sensation. My question is how to choose between the two in practice. If I sit every day, say, once or twice, each time an hour, then should I split the time of one sitting between concentration and vipassana, and if so, then how (start with concentration, switch to vipassana, or the reverse, or alternate)? - Or should I do separate sittings for each? When I'm in a more focused concentration state (that I mentioned above in point 1.) if I switch to vipassana my level of concentration drops. I don't know how to combine. That's why in the recent months I've been doing only concentration meditation. My idea is that I need some concentration, and it seems to me that in pure vipassana I cannot improve it. Any suggestion?
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Tommy M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Hiya, I'll give it a try!

1. Stability of access concentration. While focusing on my breath, I often arrive to a modified state. Sometimes it's like suddenly getting into a bubble where it's easier to concentrate, sometimes it's more like gradually slipping into a more focused state. But in either way it's quite fragile, and after a while I certainly slip off. Sometimes I manage to go back but eventually it goes away. Is this normal? Is there any specific suggestion on how to increase the stability and durability of the state, or will patient practicing simply do?

Excellent, this is access concentration. Plain and simple. If you're getting there then 1st jhana is just around the corner, each time you notice you've left this bubble just gently return the attention back to your object. Continued practice will make this happen and it already sounds like you've got it down.

2. Learning sign vs. counterpart sign. I read the book of Henepola Gunaratana (Beyond mindfulness in plain English). He first talks about the learning sign (e.g., the breath) that we initially observe in concentration meditation. And then he says that this sign will eventually disappear and turn into a counterpart sign, which can be of different form for different people, for example a light. He says that this happens before the first jhana. I don't want to fall into the trap of waiting and expecting for a sign or something that I haven't experienced yet, but this implies to me that there is a noticeable difference between the first jhana and the preceding state(s) like access concentration. Does this ring a bell to somebody?

Yes, I know what you mean. This article on nimitta might help a bit.

3. Concentration vs. vipassana. I learned meditation in an S.N. Goenka style retreat. The anapana (breath concentration) and vipassana techniques are taught. The latter in this school is a sort of "body scanning" where you go from head to toe and from toe to head in circles all over your body parts, being aware of any sensation. My question is how to choose between the two in practice. If I sit every day, say, once or twice, each time an hour, then should I split the time of one sitting between concentration and vipassana, and if so, then how (start with concentration, switch to vipassana, or the reverse, or alternate)? - Or should I do separate sittings for each? When I'm in a more focused concentration state (that I mentioned above in point 1.) if I switch to vipassana my level of concentration drops. I don't know how to combine. That's why in the recent months I've been doing only concentration meditation. My idea is that I need some concentration, and it seems to me that in pure vipassana I cannot improve it. Any suggestion?

There are a number of ex-Goenka folks on here who may be able to answer this question better than me. My advice would be to do what works for you, concentration leads to insight, insight leads to concentration, but you can choose whichever you like. A balance of the two is helpful but not necessary, although insight is where quicker progress can be made.
Szabolcs Z, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/4/11 Recent Posts
Thanks, Tommy. This is very helpful for me.

I often feel that a sitting has a certain pattern. You go inward first and than you go outward. You can sometimes go back a little, against this pattern, but the tendency or trend is stronger. It's more like that per sittings you have one punch to make, one chance, and when it's over it's better to end the sitting. I never sit more than an hour, and maybe I should try shorter periods.

I just say this because I understand what you suggest that I should return my attention back to the object when my focus start to weaken, but as if there was a tendency or flow which is not under my control. Or am I just talking myself into something?

I've started reading the article. Pretty interesting. Also it reminds me that it's difficult to find the balance and not to 'over-read' myself. Reading should be motivated by actual experience. But this article seems to have found me right in time. Or at least not way too soon. Thanks.
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Tommy M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Thanks, Tommy. This is very helpful for me.

You're welcome, glad it's useful to you.

I often feel that a sitting has a certain pattern. You go inward first and than you go outward. You can sometimes go back a little, against this pattern, but the tendency or trend is stronger. It's more like that per sittings you have one punch to make, one chance, and when it's over it's better to end the sitting. I never sit more than an hour, and maybe I should try shorter periods.

Are you doing vipassana or just samatha? Have you read MCTB yet?

Check out this link to Daniel's own site, Interactive Buddha and have a look at the progress of insight maps as this might be of interest to you.

What you're describing sounds like you're moving through the first four ├▒anas, or insight knowledges. What I always found useful is resolutions before sitting, even something as simple as saying to yourself "I resolve to note as many sensations, as accurately as possible, for the next 30 minutes" or whatever. You don't have "one punch to make", thinking like this will do you no favours, if you're doing vipassana then you've got literally hundreds of punches to throw, one at each sensation which arises. If you miss, no worries 'cause there's another opportunity a split second later to get back to it!

If you want to use a boxing analogy, insight is a sparring match and concentration is a cardiovascular workout. In the former case, you're bobbing and weaving, rolling with the punches (i.e. sensations as they arise) and staying focused, in the latter you're focused on one aspect of your training.

but as if there was a tendency or flow which is not under my control. Or am I just talking myself into something?

Try using the "puppy training" approach I've mentioned above when this happens, just gently lead the attention back to the object. Easier said than done, I know, but this continued effort will pay off quicker than you think. That "tendency or flow" is perfectly natural, the attention is used to just flitting from one object to another so you need to discipline it to do what you tell it. This can seem difficult at first but it will pass with continued practice, definitely. emoticon

Have you tried using a kasina? I use either a white bowl, or a candle flame but there's plenty of objects you can choose from. Sometimes having a physical object to concentrate on can make a huge difference. Check out Nikolai, Owen and Clayton's site, The Hamilton Project , as they've got some excellent advice on there. The article I've linked to is specifically for candle flame kasina practice, but check out "The Yogi Toolbox" on there for loads more stuff.

Why not start up a practice thread and let us know how you're getting on, if you can provide phenomenological descriptions of what happens during your practice it might be easier to offer specific advice.

In the end, this is all about pragmatism so don't let yourself get caught up in dogmatic beliefs which are unhelpful to practice and just do what works for you.
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
I'm glad this thread has been useful to multiple people, so yeah, continue to participate in it with your own questions and observations about my practice/yours/practice in general. All of it is useful to me, too.

I'm tired from too many thirteen hour days last week so I've not had much time or energy for very hardcore practice. However, I've started reading the Majjhima Nikaya, been keeping the satipatthanas in mind, read lots of threads on here, done some experimental fast noting practice and so forth. The results are as follows:

My mind is not as scattered as I thought when I do fast noting - it's actually that I'm used to focusing just on the breath so it seems incorrect to do the 'momentary concentration' thing. I'm also perceiving so many discrete sensations that I can't note them fast enough. I'm noticing a lot of anatta and anicca in doing noting- the rapidity of the sensations, the involuntary nature of their arising and passing away...

I'm becoming more aware of my vacillation about what practices to do. Guess what? I'm just noting it ;) Going back to sila and the fundamentals of mindfulness I've learned on traditional retreat have re-asserted their importance for me though.

Also, I'm actually really enjoying vipassana practice, when before, it was mainly a frustrating grasping towards mystical experiences. I've also come to the conclusion after reading threads on the Dark Night that I am as set up as I've ever been to tackle it should it occur, so I'm less wary of making a resolution to aim for Stream Entry sooner rather than later.

When I'm optimising for it (thanks Tarin), vipassana is starting to happen automatically. I'll be looking at breathing and will notice the stages of it more than before, or focus in on the notes in a song rather than the pleasure of hearing it, or whatever, and then realise that I'm getting into investigatory habits.

I'm trusting my own skillz while at the same time becoming less fussed about exactly where I am on the maps of insight. I'm certainly rolling around in the first vipassana jhana, and I think I've bounced off the wall of The Three Characteristics a few times.

Edit: Finally, I've also realised 'looking for the Three Characteristics' isn't very scientific. Investigating how things are for you with an open mind is. emoticon
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Tommy M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Excellent stuff, sounds like you've got yourself sorted out and it's great to hear your vipassana skills are coming along nicely.

One quick point which might be of use to you is this:

Finally, I've also realised 'looking for the Three Characteristics' isn't very scientific. Investigating how things are for you with an open mind is.

The 3C's are visible to everyone who looks, everything can be seen to be transient, fundamentally unsatisfying and devoid of self, it's seeing them happening for real, right in front of you and realizing that they apply to every single sensations which we misidentify as "self" which does the damage. You're not so much "looking for" as "looking at" the 3C's as they happen.
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Christian Vlad, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 30 Join Date: 4/20/11 Recent Posts
Good to hear that your practice is still strong, Liam. I know that long work hours can really tire you out and just make serious regular practice kind of hard. I also must admit that I haven't found a way yet to incorporate some practice into my usual workday.

I have never tried any real vipassana, I always kind of postponed that part till after I feel able to reach some serious concentrative states (=jhanas), but maybe I should add some to the mix anyways. It certainly sounds like you are making some slow but steady progress in that field.

So keep us updated if anything new happens.
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration/first jhana

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Christian Vlad:
I also must admit that I haven't found a way yet to incorporate some practice into my usual workday.

I should clarify- I haven't had any time to sit for any length of time on my work days, but that doesn't mean practice isn't possible. Every moment is a chance to apply some combination of virtue, concentration and insight, right? On my breaks I just relax rather than attempt to turn it into a sit, as that's too much for me, but what about all those 'wasted seconds' in which you usually free associate? Some of my personal examples if you want to be specific are:

- Walking to work, trying to be aware of the sensations in the legs and feet that make up steps
- Making a bed, and doing it with intentional awareness rather than by automatic 'muscle memory'
- Talking to an excited colleague and being careful to 'actively listen'
- Noticing that I was fiddling with a pen whilst on the phone
- Sitting down for a minute and performing a body scan, noting aches/ease, tiredness/alertness, warmth/cold etc.
- In the lift, noting the emotions that crop up in the sudden silence and non-doing
- Waiting in a queue, counting breaths

EDIT: See practical meditation considerations in MCTB for more on this, and Florian is very down-to-earth too on these topics.

Christian Vlad:
I always kind of postponed that part (vipassana) till after I feel able to reach some serious concentration states

I definitely understand this, wanting to have a very firm foundation to my practice, but I'm becoming more and more drawn to getting to stream entry as soon as possible and then taking some time once I've got my foot in the door to broadening my practice. I am now more wanting to attain the first jhana so that I can explore it in an insight practice kind of way, and the second jhana as a more healthy alternative to reaching for the fags and wheat beer at the end of a hard day. ;)

As to my own practice, I'm spending much of today and tomorrow doing more formal stuff and reading around it (Access to Insight has transcribed the Visuddhimagga, as an aside), so I'll post again tomorrow. I promise to describe any A&P events. ;)
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Tommy M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Nice one, Liam, sounds good and I can vouch for the effectiveness of what you're doing by bringing this into daily life. Nick Halay did a good blog on making this whole thing a lifestyle, rather than just a practice.

I am now more wanting to attain the first jhana so that I can explore it in an insight practice kind of way, and the second jhana as a more healthy alternative to reaching for the fags and wheat beer at the end of a hard day.

You're probably already getting a taste of it at least so, if you want abide in the jhana, turn the attention from the breath to a pleasant sensation in your body (in my case it's usually in the face or hands and manifests like a feeling of warm sand running over your skin, subtle but nice) and just focus on the pleasantness itself. Don't try to increase it, don't try to move it, just focus on it and you'll find first jhana coming up by itself. And there's nothing wrong with having a beer when you want one. emoticon
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Thanks as always Tommy, it's good to have things reiterated so as to stay in the mind sometimes! Leaving the question of whether Dhamma practitioners should touch the tipple aside (*grin*), there was some good meditation over the last two days (mixed in with the pants meditation of course) so here's the highlights:

Using a strong resolution to do samatha and not stray into vipassana, I watched the breath with a little less taut concentration than usual, seeing each breath as a single entity. Access concentration came almost immediately with a very shallow breathing pattern. I recalled Florian using the metaphor of 'sinking into some pillows', and immediately that gave me permission to calm down. My body became very relaxed, the muscles in my face, arms and shoulders particularly, and I tried to transfer my attention to that relaxation. The body was then quickly suffused with a pleasant warmth, mainly from the waist up, which I began to watch as it built up - not intense, just very noticeable throughout. This lasted for about ten seconds before I started to wrestle to keep the sensation, so of course it went. Possible taster of first jhana?

Also, I did about an hour of rather satisfying noting on the train, immediately chucking myself back into 'the game' whenever I stopped to check where I was. Very much felt (as Daniel has described in MCTB) like an enjoyable game of tennis, and I was even counting myself in to starting. I managed to include emotion, internal bodily sensations, thoughts and external sensory impingement at around 1-5 sensations per second- any more than that and I didn't feel I was experiencing them as fully as when at slower speeds. It was relatively consistent and seemed very spontaneous and easy. Reading Practical Insight Meditation has spurred me on to do some noting and not to worry too much about catching every sensation.

I've taken stock of the very real benefits that meditation (and the Dhamma in general) has helped foster in me, as I think it's important to reflect on how this is affecting my life - my standing heart rate is down, I make less Freudian slips and hapless trips due to greater mindfulness, and am enjoying a certain 'beginner's mind' perspective in experience which makes life even more enjoyable. I've also felt more emotional which is sometimes difficult, with less anger and anxiety and more sadness.

I also had a long chat with a friend who's very much into his energy healing/chakras kind of stuff. I'm not really sold on it, but it was interesting to see some correlations between the technical language, discuss things in an experiential way, and get some advice from a different perspective. He's not the first one to talk about the need for what I would describe as a felt sense of body and emotions beyond simple noting. I'm finding myself drawn to a more physical practice to balance out my more cerebral and meditative approach, so I'm enquiring into some Tai Chi (though I'm open to suggestions).

It also occurred to me earlier that this obvious leaning towards dry insight in my practice doesn't have to be seen as a problem as such, though obviously it's making the relaxing into the jhanas more difficult. Instead, could I use this bent to more quickly come to stream entry via furious noting, which might lead to me relaxing having got my foot in the door? Thoughts welcome!

EDIT: links added
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 10 Years ago.

Practice thread 1: access concentration/first jhana

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Despite having yesterday off, I didn't do any sitting meditation. How did that happen? A strong resolution to sit daily, even if it's fifteen minutes before a long shift.

Resolved to do 45 minutes of samatha. Focused on the breath at the nostrils with strong attention but not investigating the sensation, noticing the tendency to try and fabricate a sensation at the spot of concentration. Instead, allowed the mind to experience the actual sensation and be in the moment. Slight frustration at the loss of beginner's mind before I knew a lot of the theory.

Very enjoyable meditation, with the breath becoming very subtle quickly, to the point that I couldn't really experience the outbreath at the nostrils. Access concentration attained by counting ten breaths. Some mental hunting for a solidly pleasant sensation to tune into to access first jhana. Sloth and torpor and restlessness as the sit went on, and some planning. Patiently went back to the breath away from thoughts of comparison and achievement.

Realised that the lack of sensation at the outbreath was itself very pleasant and calming - the lack of effort was a real feeling of wellbeing. A small burst of piti occurred. When the alarm went off, it shocked me, making me suspect I was more zoned out by then than concentrated.
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Rashed Arafat, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: access concentration/first jhana

Posts: 155 Join Date: 7/13/11 Recent Posts
Even though I don't use the "nostril technique," it definitely sounds like you have 2nd jhana:

the lack of effort was a real feeling of wellbeing.


I can relate to that 100%. My mind/intellect has plenty of synonyms for that state such as: "Calm abiding," "Effortless attentiveness," "Presence" etc. I think somewhere I even said that there's a "nourishing" quality to that state.

Basically, those words are flags for me that indicate that I've entered into a state of meditation where effort is no longer being put into staying present, and centered, but rather I've actually begun to enjoy meditation -- I call this "samadhi" or "absorption," even though I'm not sure if that's what the textbooks would call it (it doesn't really matter because it seems to get the job done).

Regarding timed sits, I don't know if this happens to you, but if I'm sitting for a fairly long time, my mind still tends to go into this mode of wondering, "How much time is left? How much longer do I have to keep sitting? This is uncomfortable..." -- I use THAT as a flag to bring my attention back upon my kasina (flame, breath, whatever).

There's a good line somewhere in Daniel's book where he talks about making certain unpleasant sensations (I think) his "bread and butter." I think going into meditation with an attitude like that can make for highly productive sits -- sloth & torpor tend to arise for me if I don't take advantage of that playful, "let's crank it out!" mood.

However, good technique always makes a meditation better, even if you go into it with a sluggish feeling.

It's also helpful to be well-rested prior to meditating...

Good luck practicing!!
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: access concentration/first jhana

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Sorry Rashed, I'll reply to you later - not much time to post here. I'm on a camping holiday that is very conducive to my practice - relaxed surroundings, lack of hectic schedule, positive and spiritually interested friends, healthy living, and so on. I also resolved to use the time to do some practice. As is probably clear from my other recent threads, Some things have become more clear to me recently, mainly around Right View and Right Effort- encouraging a more balanced approach.

As such I've been doing lots of informal and formal practice, including walking meditation, noting, metta and anapanasati, but mainly just trying to be aware of my daily activities. This has gradually built up over the week so that in the last few days I've been pretty relaxed, mindful of thought patterns and moderate.

My main practice this week has been to meditate diligently but without striving too hard for results. At first monkey mind was having fun, but now the few flights of fancy in my mind are being met with patience when I sit/walk/whatever.

Notably, I sat yesterday and achieved access concentration by counting breaths, resolving to do concentration practice... this is all sounding familiar, right? Basically, no particularly pleasant physical sensation arose, so instead of hunting for one mentally, I resolved to just experience the breath and lightly be aware of how enjoyable the meditation was, due to the ease of concentration and the calm that was arising. There was then a palpable inward pressure that seemed to come from the outside of my body in and increased the more I relaxed. I remained very alert all the way through this. My eyes were rolling upward and inward towards the 'third eye position', which I allowed them to do.

Finally, I relaxed as much as I was able to, physically and mentally (though I was still bolt upright in sitting pose) and the 'pressure' was experienced as a very pleasant warm sensation and feeling of wellbeing rushing in. This was very palpable and strong, though not unpleasantly intense. As soon as I tried to cling to the sensation it receded, as before.

I'm writing this as I'm pretty sure this is an increasing ability to access first jhana, and I wonder whether other newbies like me might hunt for pleasant sensations like me and so not be able to achieve it - perhaps this will be of help?
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Rashed Arafat, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: access concentration/first jhana

Posts: 155 Join Date: 7/13/11 Recent Posts
Hey Liam -- what you're saying about a "balanced approach" sounds positive, and healthy, to me. I myself am finding out that I have to teach my intellect to see the Dharma as being very closely integrated with my day-to-day life (the "mundane world"). This outlook is actually gradually improving my life (it seems), as well as giving me more motivation to keep pursuing/stick with the practices.

It sounds like your intellect is gradually steering clear of excessively analytical thinking about the different "styles" of practice and instead is settling more on learning from actual practice. I must admit that I'm not familiar with the names for a lot of different styles of practice -- personally, I've made it my task to really get a foothold in the samatha jhanas (and working away on Training in Morality) before anything else. I guess I feel like once I have some confidence in my mastery of the jhanas, I will be able to approach Insight Practice without much trepidation (particularly re: the Dark Night).

In my experience, access concentration isn't as calming as you made it sound, so I'm inclined to say that you already have 1st jhana. For me, "calmness" and ease of concentration with regard to your object begins to set in with the 1st jhana, whereas access concentration is the experience of the very concrete, delineated separation between "object" and "everything else," with the mind being able to stay on the former without too much effort. The "rapture"/happiness factor hasn't set in yet at that point. In other words, if there's palpable pleasantness, then you're probably past access concentration. Maybe you're thinking 1st jhana needs to be a bigger deal than it is?

For me, to use a metaphor, access concentration is like entering a friend's house and not feeling certain if you're welcome or not (but you're already INSIDE the house, i.e. "object"), whereas 1st jhana is realizing that s/he welcomes you there, and you can feel more or less "at home" (and lose that tension somewhat).

I think there's a subtle difference between "clinging" to a pleasant sensation vs. perceiving it clearly -- you don't turn your attention away from the sensation (because you don't want to "cling"), rather, you leave your attention in the same spot/general vicinity through which the pleasant sensation moved in and out. By refusing to shift your attention, you coax out that sensation again, and even though it may be subtler than the initial burst, it's going to be stabler, and allow you to really "settle into" the jhana.

Hope that was of some help -- it's basically all I've found out so far, and good luck!

Rashed
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: access concentration/first jhana

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Thanks Rashed, a bit of encouragement goes a long way, and your tips for good practice are helpful reinforcement. 'Coaxing a sensation out' is a great way of putting things, and yes, I'm becoming less cerebral and speculative about the process.

I won't respond to your last two posts point by point, because I'm wary that I might get into too much conjecture and semantics. It's been another good reminder to report very carefully and accurately, as I think my language has been misleading and led you to think I've achieved second jhana, which I doubt. When I mentioned 'lack of effort', perhaps I should have spoken in terms of less effort and less actual sensation arising.

The calm and attentuation of the breath of access concentration aren't the same as the palpable pleasure and mental seclusion that came in what I think was the first jhana. These stages are clearly delineated for me by these signposts. Using Ian And's thread and the mentioned links to the traditional formulations, I can recognise the four factors of the first jhana as they occur. However, applied and sustained concentration have not fallen away, so it follows that I haven't achieved second jhana.

Back at the ranch, I've been reading Jack Kornfield's 'A Path With Heart' which has really made an impact. Patient diligence is really much more conducive to hardcore practice than desperate striving. It has further encouraged me to investigate body and emotions as well as thoughts. As such, I've been doing a lot of body scans, taking my time to investigate particular sensations and noting where they are linked to emotions, and also noting when I start to get lost in the content. I'm making myself investigate the unpleasant as well as the pleasant.

I do wonder whether using multiple techniques instead of just doing shedloads of formal fast noting is likely to hold me up in terms of progress in Insight, though it does seem more intuitive to me and conducive to developing Virtue and Concentration in tandem.

I don't feel that I'm very good at following instructions to the letter, so I've booked myself onto a two week Mahasi-style retreat at the end of the year, to learn noting practice from an actual teacher.
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: access concentration/first jhana

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
First thought: if anyone wants to trash my opinions r.e. first jhana/Rashed's interpretations, feel free- might be helpful to me and anyone reading emoticon

Back at work and on night shifts, which has been a crunch back up the gears, so not a lot of sleep. Even the shortest sits to strengthen my concentration practice are sending me to cloud cuckoo land. Practice while moving around and with my eyes open has been my fiendishly clever response. I made a resolution to be as mindful as possible during daily activities, exploring neglected areas such as the sense of smell, tiredness itself, and others. This led to automatic notelike thoughts. When I realised, I developed this into bursts of intentional fast subvocal noting instead. I was able to note when my noting was imprecise or not perceiving sensations as fully as I'm able to, as well as judgements about this, which was an encouraging development. Causal chains of phenomena, such as bodily sensation leading to emotion leading to thought, were perceived in quite a speedy way, around five a second tops.

Quite a lot of content is being more fully perceived, rather than being indulged, denied or suppressed, and I am stolidly applying the 'grist to the mill' approach to this, which seems beneficial in terms of encouraging concentration, developing noting abilities and also keeping a good attitude to life and practice. I had thought that doggedly being mindful of Le Stuff (I suppose I'm mainly talking about negatively perceived Stuff here, apologies for vomming any of my neuroses onto your screen) would run the risk of being overwhelming or exhausting, given that I'm trying to do it as 24/7 as possible, but it isn't actually. I will be making some logistical changes to allow for sits that I can stay awake through, though!
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: access concentration/first jhana

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
A day off in which I did plenty of noting and two samatha sits.

Noting: I made the mistake of stopping noting a few minutes before I sat down to do the samatha, thereby not establishing mindfulness before the sit. Otherwise, a few fast noting sessions throughout the day that made the chores less onerous (mindfulness of ironing, can't beat it) and a lot of informal/automatic noting. Noted the various forms of poor technique that came up - hesitating due to a desire to find the exact word, not noting the smallest/fastest sensation but instead narrating, anticipating phenomena instead of noting an actual experience, not noting with an '-ing' word which seems to improve my practice when I do so. I also noticed that the better my noting, the more precise the word used to note is, and the more spontaneous the labelling is- the thought-label arising and passing seemingly from nowhere and tracelessly...

Mindfulness of breathing: some short experiences of the palpable warmth/wellbeing I associate with possible first jhana, using the above method. Even a point at which it all seemed very effortless and my thoughts immediately leapt to 'second jhana?' However, still a lot of unmindful 'pushing' to relax, as opposed to actual relaxing, so not very successful compared to whilst on holiday. It occurs that I should practice like I did on my first retreat, in which I became very concentrated indeed over a short time - tirelessly bringing back attention to the present moment without any thought of what it might achieve, then surrendering entirely to the piti that arises of itself. A little knowledge about what's possible can be a dangerous thing when grasped incorrectly...
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Rashed Arafat, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: access concentration/first jhana

Posts: 155 Join Date: 7/13/11 Recent Posts
A little knowledge about what's possible can be a dangerous thing when grasped incorrectly...


Amen. It seems like I've been going through that process lately, and am having to go back to basics.

I find it helps to bring my attention back on my kasina (whatever object you're using) when my mind is wandering off, or inquiring too much about where I am in terms of jhanas.

I think what's been coming up for me lately is the need to be physically rested before doing a samatha sit -- my mind is naturally quieter at such times, and I find the whole process of Training in Concentration more interesting (i.e. I have more motivation).

I'm still holding off on Insight Practice -- it seems like you're well into it! -- because I'm paranoid about not being able to ground myself on the face of insights that re-define reality for me. The more "padding" I have to sustain the perceived havoc of Insight Practice, the more likely it is I'll make it through to the other side (the idea of Stream Entry has been appearing as a conceivable -- and highly desirable -- goal in my mind lately).
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: access concentration/first jhana

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Rashed Arafat:
(I) am having to go back to basics

At the moment, that's the entirety of the trainings in Concentration and Insight for me. Just going back to the object or to some form of moment-to-moment awareness, again and again. It all seems so simple now that I've learned to step away from all the discussions on DhO about luminosity and whatnot that I simply don't understand yet. The trouble is that I have to be mindful enough to bring that attention back to where it needs to be, as you quite rightly encourage me to do emoticon

I'm on night shifts again so formal sits are again a no-no. Tweaking my life so that I have the time and energy for them every day without fail is a work in progress and will obviously have limits. Happily, I've got bursts of noting when able, bare attention the rest of the time to conserve energy (I am at work after all) and counting of breaths when I'm starting to get sluggish. I've got nothing exciting to report in terms of nanas. It is just a case of practicing as much as possible and it is having subtle but appreciable benefits in terms of everyday life. It's all quite fun at the moment, playing hunt the vibration, though I need to make my life more simple and moderate in order to achieve the levels of concentration and ease I had whilst on leave. A big focus is diving right into the middle of unpleasant sensations tonight.

Rashed Arafat:
I'm still holding off on Insight Practice -- it seems like you're well into it!

To be honest I've got such a pull towards vipassana now that I'm suspecting chronic dark nightery; I don't think holding off until I've got deeply into jhana practice is the right thing for me anymore. I will continue to practice samatha but attaining jhanas isn't my main focus anymore. I sense a new practice thread...

Rashed Arafat:
I'm paranoid about not being able to ground myself on the face of insights that re-define reality for me.

A totally reasonable response, mate. All I can say is that I'm as prepared as I've ever been, however prepared that is, and taking the sage advice of the more experienced meditators on here. emoticon
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Travis Gene McKinstry, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: access concentration/first jhana

Posts: 208 Join Date: 7/26/12 Recent Posts
I would like you all to know that although this post is very old, it still comes to help many people, including me. Ive referred back to this post many times to compare my own practice to it.

Thank you very much emoticon
Liam O'Sullivan, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: access concentration/first jhana

Posts: 213 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Good to hear, Travis. Do you have a practice thread of your own?
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Travis Gene McKinstry, modified 7 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: access concentration/first jhana

Posts: 208 Join Date: 7/26/12 Recent Posts
Sorry I didn't reply, I was having trouble figuring out how to post and what meditation really is and whatnot.

What is a practice thread? My knowledge on forums is very incipient as well as my experience in meditation (concentration and insight). Right now I'm focusing on doing simple noting techniques that I learned form Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha.
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Tommy M, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Practice thread 1: working towards access concentration

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
But seriously, thanks Tommy, you gave me a lot of helpful stuff. I held off replying until after my morning sit.

You're welcome!

To quickly address issues of dogma: The short answer is that I bow because it's part of the First Training for me, developing good qualities that will be of benefit to myself and others, which is entirely the point for me. As to sitting positions, I'm simply looking for a position that'll let me sit without a cushion anywhere/outdoors, not trying to 'do the correct one'.

Cool. I was just curious, if it works for you then go for it. Same goes for the sitting, I wasn't trying to be critical or anything, just pointing out that it doesn't need to be perfect.

Soz if I was unclear; the breath does not ever disappear for me. Other sensations do, such as the sense of touch.

Not at all. I'd still say you're getting to 1st jhana anyway, that level of absorption where even the sense of touch becomes distant is indicative of some decent skills.

I felt the pleasant sensations arise as the breath attenuated, but I was unable to let go of the breath when I attempted to transfer my focus of attention, so my attention was dragged back to it and the pleasant sensations faded in direct proportion

Just focus on the pleasantness of the pleasant sensation, practice doing that and you'll get into 'hard' jhana soon enough.

I agree now that I have access concentration, but it's undisciplined. I've been 'playing' with my meditation, exploring different objects in different ways, trying for first jhana, thinking about what to post to the DhO, all in the same sitting. It's not been useless, but I'll resolve to do a single thing in a single sit from now on, with a bit more effort.

That's fine, at least you're getting it done and not just talking about it. What may be useful to you is, if you choose to do vipassana, noting things like "trying" when you think about going for 1st jhana or whatever, note "dharma thought" or "planning thoughts" when you notice thoughts about what you're going to post next. That last point was a big one for my own practice, I spent a while wasting time on planning thought until learning that even this needs to be noted as it happens.

Resolutions are really useful too. Even something as simple as stating, firmly and confidently in the knowledge that you will fulfill this intention, "I resolve to note as many sensations, as accurately as possible, for the next 15 minutes" or "I will enter 1st jhana for five solid minutes" and then sitting down to practice. If it doesn't happen, don't beat yourself up over it. Accept it, learn from it and keep practicing. Establishing mindfulness before you formally sit is also extremely useful.

To explain, my 'pessimistic' approach is somewhat of a doublethink to stop me anticipating or trying to recreate any of the meditation experiences I've had before, since my mind runs to the past and future easily.

Dude, you're preaching to the converted here. emoticon If you notice something from the past arising in your mind, note "memory" or something like that, and if a future thought appears.....you know the story by now. emoticon

By the sounds of things you're on the right track and continued, accurate and precise practice will lead to progress.

Best of luck!

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