Don't know how to concentrate on intellectual material

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

Don't know how to concentrate on intellectual material

Postby fivebells » Wed May 22, 2013 4:10 am

I can manage a light first or second jhana pretty easily, now, deep enough to do effective insight work for the most part. I also use infinite space and consciousness (5th and 6th jhanas) and nirodha-datu as objects of meditation a fair bit, though the concentration is so ephemeral that I would not call them jhanas (just use them to calm down, mostly.)

I can see some similarities between fashioning a jhana and intellectual labor, but I have some pretty deep conditioning about "concentrating" when it comes to making an intellectual issue -- like how to move forward in writing a computer program -- the object of attention. I quickly become a "searcher" in the solution space, and there is an enormous amount of head tension associated with this. There is also often a lot of anxiety and hostility to the problem, though I'm getting better about that. I can fairly reliably release the tension/anxiety/hostility using the methods I outlined in the first paragraph, but then I'm back to square one in terms of actually exploring the issue I'd picked up.

How can I think about complex things without this happening? I think I need a new "searcher" becoming without the tension/anxiety/hostility, but I don't know how to fashion one. The old conditioning takes over every time I pick up an intellectual problem. Anyone encountered this sort of issue and have suggestions for how to speed up the decay of the old conditioning? Currently, I repeatedly pick up a problem, observe the conditioning start up as early as possible then switch to insight, and relax the tension/anxiety to whatever extent I need to for the next round. The solution must be in the way I pick the problem up, but I'm having trouble figuring out a smart way to do that. I've tried starting with metta for the problem the "searcher," but it doesn't seem to help much.

I'm making progress with this, in that the anxiety and hostility used to just wreck me, and that's not nearly as much the case any more, but it would be nice to crack this faster. Holding down a job with this stuff running is pretty miserable.
fivebells
 
Posts: 299
Joined: Thu Mar 12, 2009 12:52 am

Re: Don't know how to concentrate on intellectual material

Postby retrofuturist » Wed May 22, 2013 4:15 am

Greetings,

Maybe just breathe and relax?

:shrug:

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


Dharma Wheel (Mahayana / Vajrayana forum) -- Open flower ~ Open book (blog)
User avatar
retrofuturist
Site Admin
 
Posts: 14742
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 9:52 pm
Location: Melbourne, Australia

Re: Don't know how to concentrate on intellectual material

Postby IanAnd » Wed May 22, 2013 5:56 am

fivebells wrote:I can manage a light first or second jhana pretty easily, now, deep enough to do effective insight work for the most part. I also use infinite space and consciousness (5th and 6th jhanas) and nirodha-datu as objects of meditation a fair bit, though the concentration is so ephemeral that I would not call them jhanas (just use them to calm down, mostly.)

Without knowing your method of determining first or second dhyana, yet assuming these to be the same as my discernment of these states, I will endeavor to provide some food for thought.

With regard to your comments about the fifth and sixth dhyanas, have you tried entering (through focusing on a samatha practice — i.e. calming the mind to deeper and deeper levels of calm and tranquility), the third and fourth dhyanas, where your mind "feels" workable, malleable, imperturbable, and established in tranquility to such a degree that you are able to incline the mind to any subject matter you wish and to observe it from that calm state? This is a state that, once again, "feels" as though it could go on and on, lasting indefinitely, should you so desire it.

If you haven't been attempting this you may want to spend more time focusing on calming the mind down to the degree necessary for reaching this kind of fourth dhyana so that your mind easily becomes established on any object (or intellectual subject) it wishes to examine. This is possible. But it takes painstaking practice in the beginning. Yet, once you are able to achieve this state a few times, you should be able to figure out how to re-establish it at will simply by observing how you got there the previous times (using insight observation).

fivebells wrote:I can see some similarities between fashioning a jhana and intellectual labor, but I have some pretty deep conditioning about "concentrating" when it comes to making an intellectual issue — like how to move forward in writing a computer program — the object of attention. I quickly become a "searcher" in the solution space, and there is an enormous amount of head tension associated with this. There is also often a lot of anxiety and hostility to the problem, though I'm getting better about that. I can fairly reliably release the tension/anxiety/hostility using the methods I outlined in the first paragraph, but then I'm back to square one in terms of actually exploring the issue I'd picked up.

How can I think about complex things without this happening? I think I need a new "searcher" becoming without the tension/anxiety/hostility, but I don't know how to fashion one. The old conditioning takes over every time I pick up an intellectual problem. ...The solution must be in the way I pick the problem up, but I'm having trouble figuring out a smart way to do that. I've tried starting with metta for the problem the "searcher," but it doesn't seem to help much.

If I understand your description here correctly, it seems to me, at least, that the problem you are having stems from "becoming the searcher." This seems to be the triggering point for producing the hindrances ("tension/anxiety/hostility") that assail you when you get to this point. It's like the movie "Groundhog Day," in that it keeps happening this way over and over again, and you can find no way out! It becomes frustrating and irritating.

After you are able to reach a fairly solid and stable fourth dhyana, try not becoming the searcher and focus on the intellectual subject matter. One way to facilitate this that I have found works is by reading about the subject matter (from an essay or whatever literature that you find intriguing in its discussion of its subject) just before you sit to meditate. This can help to "prime the pump" so to speak as you then transition into a formal sitting. Your mind has been primed by reading about this subject matter beforehand, thus providing it with food for thought, and hence, once the mind calms down and enters a calm abiding, it can then more easily take up this discussion once again from that calm and tranquil space, leading to insight realizations about the subject matter as your contemplation progresses.

fivebells wrote:Holding down a job with this stuff running is pretty miserable.

Yes, that can be a grand distraction. Especially if one lets these outside worldly matters interfere with the development of samatha meditation. You have to be able to mentally lay worldly concerns down at the doorstep, so to speak, before entering into meditation. Or at least work at letting go of them while beginning your meditation session, if they persist to cause distraction. The letting go will produce wonders for your concentration.

Best case scenario is: put yourself into retreat mode, pretend (if you must) that you are on retreat and let everything from the outside world go, and allow yourself to focus on Dhamma training as though you were actually on a retreat. I know this can be difficult, but do you think you might be able to do this?

The only other thing I can suggest is: to actually go on retreat and focus on these matters at that time. That's what I had to do. I stopped working for two years, established a private retreat for myself, and focused solely on my training. I knew it was the only way I was ever going to make this work; and I was motivated to make it work. To use one of Tilt's favorite ways of expressing himself: damdifitdidn'twork.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
User avatar
IanAnd
 
Posts: 399
Joined: Mon Oct 19, 2009 5:19 am
Location: the deserts of Arizona

Re: Don't know how to concentrate on intellectual material

Postby fig tree » Wed May 22, 2013 6:38 am

fivebells wrote:There is also often a lot of anxiety and hostility to the problem, though I'm getting better about that.

Experience with math students suggests one of the main skills that they need is to be able to set their own pace in keeping with self-awareness about how well they understand. Hence one, recognizing when an obstacle has come up or you don't understand and two, being adept at slowing yourself down to look at it. It's an exercise in patience.

One way I sometimes slow myself down or steady my thinking is to note ideas down. As you are searching for your solution, you can write down briefly some key points, like "need to read database, what format?"

Emphasizing in your own mind your commonalities with other problem solving entities seems to help. Others may have different abilities, but there is a lot about the process that is the same. If you like, the four iddhipada, desire, persistence, intent, and analysis, are commonalities you have with problem solvers of all kinds. Think of yourself as a thinker, but consider that this is something people all have in common, normally at least.

Some unpleasant feeling is a common occurrence. One of the best mathematicians I knew said he would attempt to solve a problem, run into some difficulties, continue to work for some time and then set it aside. He would return to it several times like this, and then he would finally get mad at the problem. I don't think the anger was skillful, but the desire to solve the problem, awareness of being annoyed, and tenacity at solving it are.

You know this already, but if you find your not thinking about what you want to think about, you can say to yourself something like, "let's look at [question] again". I'm not sure why the royal we seems appropriate in these cases but somehow it does. :smile:

Fig Tree
User avatar
fig tree
 
Posts: 175
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2009 6:25 am

Re: Don't know how to concentrate on intellectual material

Postby reflection » Wed May 22, 2013 11:44 am

When I have had a deep calm meditation, it sticks with me for a hours or even days. Mindfulness and calmness stay after the meditation and don't easily become disturbed. If you as you claim can enter all those jhanas I don't see how that would be a problem for you.

Perhaps read the following talk by Ajahn Chah on cultivating samadhi:
If you genuinely have samadhi like this, it means that sitting meditation and entering samadhi for just thirty minutes or an hour will enable you to remain cool and peaceful for many days afterwards. Experiencing the effects of samadhi like this for several days has a purifying effect on the mind - whatever you experience will become an object for contemplation.
http://www.amaravati.org/teachingsofaja ... cle/488/P2
User avatar
reflection
 
Posts: 1115
Joined: Wed Mar 30, 2011 9:27 pm

Re: Don't know how to concentrate on intellectual material

Postby fivebells » Wed May 22, 2013 6:44 pm

Thanks, everyone. I will work on 4th jhana. I am effectively on retreat mode for the time being.
fivebells
 
Posts: 299
Joined: Thu Mar 12, 2009 12:52 am


Return to Theravada Meditation

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: bga, Myotai, Sam Vara and 6 guests