How to overcome obstacles in meditation

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

How to overcome obstacles in meditation

Postby Dhammanucara » Tue Mar 09, 2010 6:15 pm

Lately I have been attacked by heavy drowsiness. I am sure that I have gained enough sleep of average 7-8 hours per day, yet I feel so sleepy each time I sit down in meditation OR when i sit down to do my work. I have tried various ways as suggested by Sayadaw U Pandita in "IN this Very Life" on how to overcome sleepiness, including washing my face, looking at a bright object, walking meditation, reducing portions of meals, etc, but as soon as I sit down in meditation or sit down in my room to do my work, I would start nodding. Sometimes, I am not even aware of it that I was nodding. Recently, I was attending a seminar when I actually fell asleep for more than 15 minutes without me knowing it, even though the seminar was rather interesting. At first, I thought nothing of it, and tried my best to maintain my mindfulness on "sleepiness", but then it relapsed, and I, in the end, fell asleep defeatedly.
This hindrance has proved to be much stronger than I thought, and I think it is really affecting me in many ways as well. Because I cant seem to focus in many aspects of my work, and also cant concentrate in my sitting meditation, I begin to feel frustrated with myself, and many a time when this feeling arises, I tend to let my mind and emotion wander by its own accord. This has done injurious hurt on my faith, and very often I feel not as motivated as before when I began to pick up meditation practice. In simpler words, I lost the inspiration already.

Anyone has a remedy for this problem? Your help is very much appreciated!

With metta,
Dhammanucara :namaste:
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Re: How to overcome obstacles in meditation

Postby Reductor » Tue Mar 09, 2010 7:10 pm

Sit up in your seat... even if you feel your going to fall asleep, don't get up from your seat. If you cannot shake it, then lean forward and rest your arms and upper body on your legs and close your eyes, and gently watch the breath... if you doze off, ok. When you come to, you are already sitting so stretch and yawn and smile, and look around. Then watch the breath again gently.

Now, as to methods of shaking it off -- there are many, but still it can be hard. A big reason you might be dozing off is that you are not making proper use of the eyes. If you close them and allow them to do what they want, then they will start to move around and settle in the same way that they do when you lay down to sleep. And because you are not yet accustomed to meditation, then they body will automatically assume that you are sleeping. So, before you close your eyes you should face an object, sitting about 2-3 feet from it and look at it gently. Take note of the sensation of the eyes and head. Then, without moving your eyes away from the object, close them lightly. Right away you will notice that your eyes move and start doing their thing, and at this point you want to recall to mind how the eyes and head were positioned before.

Second thing is to breath well. Take deep breaths when you feel drowsy, and feel around the body looking for tension or sensations as they come and go. Keep the mind busy with this search. When you find a nice sensation stay with it a little bit and enjoy it, then move on. Go around like this, trying as many ways of analyzing the body and sensations as you can think of. When you notice that your starting to wake up, just allow yourself to feel satisfied in that.

A thing I like to do, is to analysis my posture -- adjusting my arms here, and seeing if that is good. Lean more forward, see if that is pleasing or not. Move my legs a little, see how that feels. Feel around for any tension, then try to relax it.

Give this a read. It is very helpful to remember that 'states' is any thing in the mind or body which is observable. Investigation is any thought (verbal or other) which is trying to understand the details of that state.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .wlsh.html

But, monks, when the mind is sluggish, that is the right time to cultivate the enlightenment-factor of investigation-of-states...
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: How to overcome obstacles in meditation

Postby meindzai » Tue Mar 09, 2010 7:50 pm

This may not be a meditation problem or Buddhist pratice problem but a medical one. i.e. maybe you're not really getting quality sleep. Have you considered this?

-M
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Re: How to overcome obstacles in meditation

Postby Guy » Tue Mar 09, 2010 8:44 pm

Hi Dhammanucara,

What the others have said is good advice, but if nothing seems to work I would recommend giving up trying to get rid of it and just accept it. When you meditate don't try to fight sleepiness, make peace with it. Have an attitude of "okay sleepiness, you can stay as long as you want, I can even fall asleep and it's okay". Make sure that you are really accepting it, and not just trying this as another strategy to get rid of sleepiness. If you fight sleepiness you might win, you might not, but if you do you will be left with restlessness.

It's perfectly natural to be sleepy from time to time - it's not against your precepts to be sleepy, you aren't breaking the law if you are sleepy (except maybe if you fall asleep at the wheel) - so just make peace with it, this will be far more beneficial in causing wholesome states to arise and stay in the mind than being upset because you aren't living up to your ideal of how you "should" be meditating - throw away all your ideals and expectations and start making peace with yourself.

With Metta,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm
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Re: How to overcome obstacles in meditation

Postby Kenshou » Tue Mar 09, 2010 9:25 pm

Maybe a cup of tea or coffee before meditation would help? Forgive me if that's so obvious that you didn't bother to mention if you'd tried it or not. I believe that some people fine that caffeine makes their minds too jittery and hard to calm down, but you've got the opposite problem, so maybe that'd help a little.

This sutta addresses drowsiness a bit: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html

Try yanking on your earlobes! "But if by doing this you don't shake off your drowsiness, then pull both your earlobes and rub your limbs with your hands. It's possible that by doing this you will shake off your drowsiness."

Silliest thing I've ever read in a sutta, that.
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Re: How to overcome obstacles in meditation

Postby Reductor » Wed Mar 10, 2010 4:12 am

Kenshou wrote:Maybe a cup of tea or coffee before meditation would help?


Ohhhyeeeaaahhhh... I forgot ol' friendly mister tea leaf. Now where in the world would I be without him?
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: How to overcome obstacles in meditation

Postby catmoon » Wed Mar 10, 2010 5:10 am

About the earlobes and limb rubbing - don't knock it if you haven't tried it!

I recently had a very bad patch with drowsiness, it lasted for weeks. My mind would wander, I wouldnt seem to be getting anywhere, I'd get bored and then drowsy. A few days ago I noticed that I had somehow stopped using certain methods that had been effective. Namely breath counting.

I count so : In(1) Out(1) In(2) Out(2) up to 10 and start over. This has cleaned up most of my mental wandering and allowed me to resume progress. The sessions are lengthening again, and focus is improving. I have not eliminated drowsiness but at least it no longer attacks in the first five minutes!

I also find I have much less trouble if I do not meditate in a bedroom.
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Re: How to overcome obstacles in meditation

Postby Ben » Wed Mar 10, 2010 5:27 am

If this sleepiness is affecting your daily activities, then as Meindzai indicated, it may not be a practice issue but a health or lfestyhle issue.
I recommend you have a chat with your doctor.
One of the symptoms of sleep apnoea is daytime drowsiness.

Symptoms may be present for years (or even decades) without identification, during which time the sufferer may become conditioned to the daytime sleepiness and fatigue associated with significant levels of sleep disturbance.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sleep_apnoea

Kind regards

Ben
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Re: How to overcome obstacles in meditation

Postby Dhammanucara » Wed Mar 10, 2010 10:39 pm

Thanks everyone for your ideas and suggestions. Well,maybe I should not be so obstinate to the idea of visiting a doctor since this is also interfering into my daily life activities as well. What holds me back is that such thing only happened to me few days ago,and I have not experienced anything like this before,so I thought perhaps I was under attack by sloth/torpor/drowsiness rather than going for a doctor.

Yeah,I tried the earlobes-pulling and eyes-rubbing methods too (at least when I was conscious that I was falling asleep), they worked out for about a few moments, then sleepiness attacked back, with greater intensity. I actually feel ashamed for always surrenderring to the sleep so weakly,it reminds me of the Dhammapada verse where Mara could easily overcome a person just like the flood sweeps away a sleeping village.

With metta,
Dhammanucara :namaste:
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Re: How to overcome obstacles in meditation

Postby Guy » Thu Mar 11, 2010 4:14 am

Hi Dhammanucara,

Dhammanucara wrote:I actually feel ashamed for always surrenderring to the sleep so weakly,it reminds me of the Dhammapada verse where Mara could easily overcome a person just like the flood sweeps away a sleeping village.


Don't feel guilty for having sloth and torpor! It's par for the course, take the example of Venerable Maha Moggallana... http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an07/an07.058.than.html

He became one of the Great Arahants, so you're in good company!

With Metta,

Guy
Four types of letting go:

1) Giving; expecting nothing back in return
2) Throwing things away
3) Contentment; wanting to be here, not wanting to be anywhere else
4) "Teflon Mind"; having a mind which doesn't accumulate things

- Ajahn Brahm
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