Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby Sati1 » Mon Aug 18, 2014 6:15 am

Hello,

I have been meditating for about 1.5 years, and through this time the depth of my meditation has been fluctuating substantially, with some periods in which I can enter deep absorption after sitting for only a few seconds and other periods in which I don't get into absorption at all even after sitting for half an hour. At first the fluctuations were probably due to craving for the bliss of absorption, but more recently I can't detect any craving, just a natural diminishment in the depth of the meditation sessions. This happened just recently after about two weeks of incredibly easy establishment of absorption into what seemed to be the first and second jhanas, followed by the last week or so during which it has been difficult to simply steady the mind and establish basic absorption through an entire sitting session. I was wondering if other meditators have had similar experiences and if such fluctuations are natural, or if there is more likely something that needs to be changed about my method in order to re-establish the depth of past sessions.

Many thanks,
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)
User avatar
Sati1
 
Posts: 165
Joined: Thu Dec 26, 2013 5:54 am

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby Goofaholix » Mon Aug 18, 2014 6:54 am

Sati1 wrote:I was wondering if other meditators have had similar experiences and if such fluctuations are natural, or if there is more likely something that needs to be changed about my method in order to re-establish the depth of past sessions.


I think if you're experiencing absorption semi-regularly after only 1.5 years of practice you should consider yourself very fortunate.

Investigation into the causes for the fluctuation and your reactivity to the fluctuation might yield valuable insight.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
User avatar
Goofaholix
 
Posts: 1951
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby m0rl0ck » Tue Aug 19, 2014 12:32 am

I experience this too. Sometimes it seems that it takes 30 minutes of a 45 minute period just to settle down a bit.
Some things that i think are helpful to me are, meditating first thing in the morning before my mind and body have been stirred up by events, food, noise, people and caffine.
If you cant sit first thing in the A.M. sitting at the same time every day, a few hours after you have had food or caffine, might be good, it seems to be of help to me anyway.
20 minutes or so of yoga before practice also seems to help in this regard.

Also sometimes i can make a sort of conscious agreement with the chattering, grasping, progress seeking part of my mind to just take a break and leave me alone for a few minutes till im done with practice.

If i can just surrender to being where im at and remember that this is MY path no matter what happens, or how fast it happens, this is also seems to help.

Grasping of course is non productive, but so is aversion, so i just try to happily co-exist with whatever thoughts i do have, as suzuki said "let them come in the front door and go out the back door, dont invite them for tea".

Thats all i got. I have been sitting on and off since the 90's since 08 or so more regularly. What i lack in talent i try to make up for in regularity :) For me, effort, persistence and regularity are important, but just surrendering to the process is too imo.

EDIT: Just wanted to note that i do not do jhana practice, but another kind of concentration/absorption practice which results in (when im lucky :) )samadhi.
"When you meditate, don't send your mind outside. Don't fasten onto any knowledge at all. Whatever knowledge you've gained from books or teachers, don't bring it in to complicate things. Cut away all preoccupations, and then as you meditate let all your knowledge come from what's going on in the mind. When the mind is quiet, you'll know it for yourself. But you have to keep meditating a lot. When the time comes for things to develop, they'll develop on their own. Whatever you know, have it come from your own mind.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... eleft.html
User avatar
m0rl0ck
 
Posts: 1028
Joined: Fri Jan 30, 2009 10:51 am

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby thepea » Tue Aug 19, 2014 1:51 am

Whenever questioned about Samadhi all that seems important to the teachers is that I'm aware of the changing nature.
thepea
 
Posts: 272
Joined: Sun Jul 06, 2014 11:06 pm

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby Sati1 » Tue Aug 19, 2014 7:22 am

Dear Goofaholix, M0rl0ck and the pea,

Thank you for your encouraging words.

Goofaholix - I was not aware of how fortunate I am being able to enter into absorption. My impression from reading books about entering the jhanas (eg. Ayya Khema's "Who is my self?" and Shaila Catherine's "Focused and fearless"), and from the fact that there are "jhana retreats" (eg. Ajahn Brahm's) was that many people must be able to enter the jhanas by just following the instructions, and that absorption is normal for most practicioners.

M0rl0ck - it is good to know that someone with as much experience as you has also experienced similar fluctuations in depth of meditation. I agree that it's important to remind ourselves that this is our path no matter "how well" it seems to be proceeding at a given time. My own sessions are usually deeper in the evenings than in the mornings, probably because my job enables me to practice mindfulness throughout the day, which serves as a "warm-up" for the meditation that follows after work.

the pea - this is good to know. It seems then that the fluctuations themselves are a valuable object of insight.

With metta,
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)
User avatar
Sati1
 
Posts: 165
Joined: Thu Dec 26, 2013 5:54 am

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby martinfrank » Tue Aug 19, 2014 10:17 am

Dear Sat1

What you experience is what I experience. We could call it "normal" but should we?

Aren't we always in danger to consider meditation something like morning gymnastics or tooth cleaning? Something which makes us feel awake and balanced like a weekly Yoga lesson?

That is when we have lost the sense of urgency Lord Buddha is teaching.

I found that writing a List of Attachments and trying to deal with them string of glue by string of glue can help me to get aware of where I stand... and attack again!

May you attain your goal!

Martin
The Noble Eightfold Path: Proposed to all, imposed on none.
User avatar
martinfrank
 
Posts: 251
Joined: Fri Feb 05, 2010 7:55 am
Location: Zurich, Switzerland

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby Sati1 » Tue Aug 19, 2014 2:00 pm

Dear Martin,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It's good to hear that others are also going through this. I agree that we should not grow complascent about our practice, but stay alert and mindful towards it every day. Does your list of attachments feature attachments related to meditation (eg feelings of concentration or bliss)? I was also wondering what you mean by "string of glue by string of glue" (sorry, English is not my first language!)?

With metta,
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)
User avatar
Sati1
 
Posts: 165
Joined: Thu Dec 26, 2013 5:54 am

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby martinfrank » Tue Aug 19, 2014 6:07 pm

Sati1 wrote:Dear Martin,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. It's good to hear that others are also going through this. I agree that we should not grow complascent about our practice, but stay alert and mindful towards it every day. Does your list of attachments feature attachments related to meditation (eg feelings of concentration or bliss)? I was also wondering what you mean by "string of glue by string of glue" (sorry, English is not my first language!)?

With metta,


Dear Sati1

Thank you for your kind reply. English is not my first language too. Maybe I didn't write clearly what I mean.

With the List of Attachments I didn't mean attachments related to meditation. I meant our real attachments... the things we are attached to (just think of all the things you would cry if they get stolen or broken), the people we are attached to, animals, places, foods, music... Make a list like you would make a list to prepare for a trip. Only that this time you write down all the things you cannot take with you. I find writing the list very painful.

Strings of Glue: I feel I am attached to many things and when I try to free myself from one thing I get attached to another thing. It is like a horror dream where everything is sticky and whatever I touch will stick to my hands, my body, my feet. Just imagine you'r in a room where everything you touch is covered with glue.

I think that we should not look at meditation as an exercise. Shouldn't we make Liberation a project?

I apologize if I am not clear enough.

I wish you success!

Martin
The Noble Eightfold Path: Proposed to all, imposed on none.
User avatar
martinfrank
 
Posts: 251
Joined: Fri Feb 05, 2010 7:55 am
Location: Zurich, Switzerland

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby Goofaholix » Wed Aug 20, 2014 9:30 am

Sati1 wrote:Goofaholix - I was not aware of how fortunate I am being able to enter into absorption. My impression from reading books about entering the jhanas (eg. Ayya Khema's "Who is my self?" and Shaila Catherine's "Focused and fearless"), and from the fact that there are "jhana retreats" (eg. Ajahn Brahm's) was that many people must be able to enter the jhanas by just following the instructions, and that absorption is normal for most practicioners.


Sounds like you've been reading too much. I've done more than 30 retreats over 19 years and I haven't yet had the opportunity to do a jhana retreat, the vast majority of retreats out there are vipassana retreats where jhana is either sidelined or actively discouraged. Monastics don't tend to emphasise it when teaching lay people (Ajahn Brahm excepted) and I don't find it discussed much outside of the internet. Shaila Catherine is probably the first teacher I've come across that's convinced me it's accessible, all I need know is the right time and the right conditions.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
User avatar
Goofaholix
 
Posts: 1951
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby thepea » Wed Aug 20, 2014 12:04 pm

Goofaholix wrote: the vast majority of retreats out there are vipassana retreats where jhana is either sidelined or actively discouraged.


How do you sideline or discourage jhanas? If these states arise observe, if not observe what is available.
thepea
 
Posts: 272
Joined: Sun Jul 06, 2014 11:06 pm

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby Goofaholix » Wed Aug 20, 2014 7:36 pm

thepea wrote:How do you sideline or discourage jhanas? If these states arise observe, if not observe what is available.


They don't generally arise spontaneously, the right causes and conditions need to be cultivated over a sustained period, inclining the mind towards changing objects and the development of insight doesn't usually do it.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
User avatar
Goofaholix
 
Posts: 1951
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby Sati1 » Wed Aug 20, 2014 8:55 pm

Dear Martin, Goofaholix and thepea,

Thanks for the comments. Martin - that's interesting; I actually wrote down a similar list of attachments a few months ago. I find that it helps to not only write down the ones that are still there, but also those that have weakened or disappeared altogether due to The Path. I get your point about the strings of glue. I have noticed something similar when it comes to our self-identities.

Goofaholix - that's very useful information, since my assumption was that everybody is practicing for the jhanas, not only because of the books that I mentioned, but also because the jhanas are mentioned so often in the suttas.

It recently struck me how valuable these fluctations in meditation depth can be for insight, as for example for seeing the nonself nature of the mind, our attachment to pleasures, and the unreliable nature of our minds & bodies. Thus, what was frustrating at first might actually be very useful.

With metta,
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)
User avatar
Sati1
 
Posts: 165
Joined: Thu Dec 26, 2013 5:54 am

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby thepea » Thu Aug 21, 2014 2:00 am

Goofaholix wrote: inclining the mind towards changing objects and the development of insight doesn't usually do it.


Why?
thepea
 
Posts: 272
Joined: Sun Jul 06, 2014 11:06 pm

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Aug 21, 2014 2:43 am

thepea wrote:
Goofaholix wrote: inclining the mind towards changing objects and the development of insight doesn't usually do it.


Why?


Jhana usually requires a one-pointedness of mind, aiming and sustaining. If you let the mind contemplate changing phenomena it might be calm and spacious but not one-pointed.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
User avatar
Goofaholix
 
Posts: 1951
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby thepea » Thu Aug 21, 2014 4:00 am

Goofaholix wrote: Jhana usually requires a one-pointedness of mind, aiming and sustaining. If you let the mind contemplate changing phenomena it might be calm and spacious but not one-pointed.

Is the breath not a suitable object?
thepea
 
Posts: 272
Joined: Sun Jul 06, 2014 11:06 pm

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby Goofaholix » Thu Aug 21, 2014 4:13 am

thepea wrote:Is the breath not a suitable object?


Yes the breath is a suitable object, though it changes it's one object. You'll have to ask someone experienced in jhana to explain how attention becomes one pointed on the breath but my guess it's because it rhythmic and therefore predictable particularly because the breath becomes subtler and subtler as samadhi becomes stronger.

Moving attention through the body would be a good example of samadhi that is not one pointed, mental noting of whatever comes within ones field of awareness is another example.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
User avatar
Goofaholix
 
Posts: 1951
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 3:49 am
Location: New Zealand

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby thepea » Thu Aug 21, 2014 4:58 am

Goofaholix wrote: because the breath becomes subtler and subtler as samadhi becomes stronger.

So is true for experience.

Goofaholix wrote: Moving attention through the body would be a good example of samadhi that is not one pointed,


But as one moves to subtler and subtler experience there is a unification. Like the noting would be let go of, the moving of awareness through the body is also let go of. Jhanic states can arise.

Its just that mental formations seem to be liberated from the lower destinations before these states begin to arise with any stability. One is likely to stumble into these states, but teachers do not give them any importance, otherwise students may begin to crave these states and not observe this moment as it presents itself.

I have never heard of anyone discouraging jhanas, just not giving them any importance.
thepea
 
Posts: 272
Joined: Sun Jul 06, 2014 11:06 pm

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby Sati1 » Thu Aug 21, 2014 6:31 am

The jhanas can be entered through various subjects of contemplation, including the breath, body sweeping and loving-kindness. Some subjects, like the breath, can take one to the highest jhanas, while those that carry some form of thinking, like loving-kindness, are only suitable for the lower jhanas, which are nonetheless still very useful for the insight practice that follows. What matters is for there to be a certain steadiness in one's attention, a regularity, an opportunity to slow the mind down and rest it. Day-to-day insight practice usually doesn't have that.

It is true that these states can easily be craved due to the intensity of the pleasure. But my personal opinion is that this should not be reason enough to deliberately avoid them.

Wth metta,
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)
User avatar
Sati1
 
Posts: 165
Joined: Thu Dec 26, 2013 5:54 am

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby Spiny Norman » Thu Aug 21, 2014 6:49 am

Goofaholix wrote:
thepea wrote:
Goofaholix wrote: inclining the mind towards changing objects and the development of insight doesn't usually do it.


Why?


Jhana usually requires a one-pointedness of mind, aiming and sustaining. If you let the mind contemplate changing phenomena it might be calm and spacious but not one-pointed.


Yes, it seems to involve staying with the primary object, eg the breath.
I'm a lumberjack, and I'm OK....
User avatar
Spiny Norman
 
Posts: 2760
Joined: Fri Mar 05, 2010 10:32 am
Location: Spam, wonderful spam

Re: Wildly fluctuating depth of samadhi

Postby thepea » Thu Aug 21, 2014 3:31 pm

Sati1 wrote: an opportunity to slow the mind down and rest it.

Would it not be more akin to speeding up, rapid arising and passing, approaching the speed of light and beyond(4th jhana and higher) ?
Sati1 wrote: It is true that these states can easily be craved due to the intensity of the pleasure. But my personal opinion is that this should not be reason enough to deliberately avoid them.

Why avoid them, just don't crave for them. Let things unbind naturally.
thepea
 
Posts: 272
Joined: Sun Jul 06, 2014 11:06 pm

Next

Return to Theravada Meditation

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 7 guests