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Dhamma Wheel • View topic - Concentration meditation difficulties

Concentration meditation difficulties

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby darods » Mon Jul 18, 2011 12:52 pm

Hello everyone,

I have been practising breathing meditation. In my meditation, with my eyes closed I am focussing on the sensation of the breath as it passes in and out of the nose, not following it, just being aware of it as it passes the nostrils.

The problem I am having however is that I find it very difficult to fix my awareness onto a sensation without visualising the sensation/body part and what is happening. So for instance when I feel the air contacting with my nose I instinctively find that I am actually visualising in my mind what is happening, a nose and air passing over it. I have tried to focus on only the sensation without at the same time visualising what is occurring but I find this very difficult.

Is it normal to do this, as I my understanding was that the aim of the practise was to maintain awareness on a single thing, such as the sensation of breath and nothing else. If I am visualising what is happening, then my mind will be split between being focussed on the visualisation and also the sensation.

Is there a method to stop this?

Thank you
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby Ben » Mon Jul 18, 2011 12:57 pm

Its natural and in time your focus will be more precisely on the sensation.
Right now, don't get hung up on it and just give importance to the sensation.
kind regards

Ben
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby Freawaru » Mon Jul 18, 2011 5:01 pm

darods wrote:Hello everyone,

I have been practising breathing meditation. In my meditation, with my eyes closed I am focussing on the sensation of the breath as it passes in and out of the nose, not following it, just being aware of it as it passes the nostrils.

The problem I am having however is that I find it very difficult to fix my awareness onto a sensation without visualising the sensation/body part and what is happening. So for instance when I feel the air contacting with my nose I instinctively find that I am actually visualising in my mind what is happening, a nose and air passing over it. I have tried to focus on only the sensation without at the same time visualising what is occurring but I find this very difficult.

Is it normal to do this, as I my understanding was that the aim of the practise was to maintain awareness on a single thing, such as the sensation of breath and nothing else. If I am visualising what is happening, then my mind will be split between being focussed on the visualisation and also the sensation.

Is there a method to stop this?

Thank you


Yes. What you want is to single out the tactile sensation at the nose. The nose is not a dominant tactile body impression (except when it hurts of course). I suggest to first learn to concentrate on a tactile sensation of an object that is more dominant. For many people the hands are strong tactile impressions, because we do a lot with our hands. My suggestion is to practice the way you did with the nose - but use a hand instead of the nose. If this does not work, yet, you can even use a stick or brush or something to move it along the skin of your hand and concentrate on this sensation with your eyes closed. Once you can single out the tactile sensation of the hand (each finger separately) you can develop this for the whole body, including the nose.
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby tiltbillings » Mon Jul 18, 2011 8:27 pm

In regard to the above, the "nose" is a perfectly fine as a place for paying attention, aware of the air passing in and out at the nostrils. Part of of the problem is that your obsessing a bit about the visual stuff. Don't worry about the visual stuff, don't try to make it go away, just gently pay attention to the sensation of air as it moves in and out at your nostrils. Continually, gently and easy, bring your attention to the sensation of the movement of air. There is no magic solution to your "problem" other than continually bringing your attention back to the sensation of the movement of air in and out.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby Freawaru » Tue Jul 19, 2011 5:30 pm

tiltbillings wrote:In regard to the above, the "nose" is a perfectly fine as a place for paying attention, aware of the air passing in and out at the nostrils. Part of of the problem is that your obsessing a bit about the visual stuff. Don't worry about the visual stuff, don't try to make it go away, just gently pay attention to the sensation of air as it moves in and out at your nostrils. Continually, gently and easy, bring your attention to the sensation of the movement of air. There is no magic solution to your "problem" other than continually bringing your attention back to the sensation of the movement of air in and out.


I was just referring to the point-to-point mapping of the body surfaces in the brain. The area for hand is usually larger than for nose, making concentration on it easier.

At its simplest, the system works when activity in a sensory neuron is triggered by a specific stimulus such as heat; this signal eventually passes to an area in the brain uniquely attributed to that area on the body—this allows the processed stimulus to be felt at the correct location. The point-to-point mapping of the body surfaces in the brain is called a homunculus and is essential in the creation of a body image.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somatosensory_system


But sure, one can work on the nose without developing the whole body awareness first if one wants. It is just more difficult. And in the end one needs the whole body awareness for kayanupassana anyway.
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Jul 19, 2011 5:44 pm

Freawaru wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:In regard to the above, the "nose" is a perfectly fine as a place for paying attention, aware of the air passing in and out at the nostrils. Part of of the problem is that your obsessing a bit about the visual stuff. Don't worry about the visual stuff, don't try to make it go away, just gently pay attention to the sensation of air as it moves in and out at your nostrils. Continually, gently and easy, bring your attention to the sensation of the movement of air. There is no magic solution to your "problem" other than continually bringing your attention back to the sensation of the movement of air in and out.


I was just referring to the point-to-point mapping of the body surfaces in the brain. The area for hand is usually larger than for nose, making concentration on it easier.
Not necessarily. Also, he is working with breath, why complicate things.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby Freawaru » Tue Jul 19, 2011 6:30 pm

tiltbillings wrote:Not necessarily. Also, he is working with breath, why complicate things.


As I said. It makes it easier. The problem the OP describes is well known in Hatha Yoga and also the remedies. I doubt that the yogis at the time of the Buddha started with the nose. More likely they had several years of hatha yoga and pranayama practice before starting anapanasati. Going step by step is somtimes wiser than wanting too much too early.
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby daverupa » Tue Jul 19, 2011 6:40 pm

Freawaru wrote:I doubt that the yogis at the time of the Buddha started with the nose. More likely they had several years of hatha yoga and pranayama practice before starting anapanasati.


Not likely, as Hatha Yoga's earliest text is 15th Century. It was probably an Upanisadic formless meditation, or a concentration skill developed through memorization of texts. Then, of course, what about all the other social strata? They practiced the Dhamma as well without any of this prep - the Buddha exhorts the Sangha to establish its members in satipatthana ASAP.

Sila remains the best preparation, then just mindful breathing in, just mindful breathing out - the step just before the first tetrad, before long and short are known. The feeling sense alone - skipping between it and the intellect sense is a problem, though in my experience the mind responds best to being trained like a puppy: gentle, patient, insistent, don't yell or berate.

Oh, there's the "vision" again, back to "breath in", "breath out".
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Jul 19, 2011 6:55 pm

Freawaru wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:Not necessarily. Also, he is working with breath, why complicate things.


As I said. It makes it easier. The problem the OP describes is well known in Hatha Yoga and also the remedies. I doubt that the yogis at the time of the Buddha started with the nose. More likely they had several years of hatha yoga and pranayama practice before starting anapanasati. Going step by step is somtimes wiser than wanting too much too early.
Daverupa raised a few points of objection to your postion.

Simply, the person posting the original question is working with breath at his nose. There is no reason for him to shift his place of awareness. It is better to keep it simple and easy rather than adding a level of unneeded complication.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby Freawaru » Tue Jul 19, 2011 7:43 pm

daverupa wrote:
Not likely, as Hatha Yoga's earliest text is 15th Century.


Well, I am no historician but I doubt that the Shaolin could have developed their "Kung Fu" without some basic pranayama at the very least. And that was about a thousand years before 15th century.

It was probably an Upanisadic formless meditation, or a concentration skill developed through memorization of texts.


Have you proove that there was no version of hatha yoga (maybe under a different name) or pranayama around at the time of the Buddha?

Then, of course, what about all the other social strata? They practiced the Dhamma as well without any of this prep - the Buddha exhorts the Sangha to establish its members in satipatthana ASAP.

Sila remains the best preparation, then just mindful breathing in, just mindful breathing out - the step just before the first tetrad, before long and short are known. The feeling sense alone - skipping between it and the intellect sense is a problem,


:shrug: It never was for me. And I think this was so because I did some hatha yoga and pranayama before ever trying anapanasati. As I said, sometimes it is better to go step by step. You don't try to ride a bike before being able to walk. But if you really would set your mind to it this can be done, too. It is just more difficult.

But whatever works.
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby Freawaru » Tue Jul 19, 2011 7:46 pm

tiltbillings wrote:[

Simply, the person posting the original question is working with breath at his nose. There is no reason for him to shift his place of awareness. It is better to keep it simple and easy rather than adding a level of unneeded complication.


I woudl agree with you if it really was simple and easy for the OP. But as obviously it is not so I think it is not better at all. Sometimes, short cuts make long delays.
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Jul 19, 2011 9:14 pm

Hi Darods,

While I see Anapanasati as just one of a number of possible approaches (there are plenty of other objects discussed in the Suttas), and some people do have problems with it due to some particular physical problem (in which case it makes a lot of sense to change objects) it doesn't seem to me that the problem here is the particular object.

This:
darods wrote:The problem I am having however is that I find it very difficult to fix my awareness onto a sensation without visualising the sensation/body part and what is happening.

is a problem I had for several months when I started, and in my case I generally use much grosser objects (motion of the feet when walking, motion of the abdomen when sitting). This tendency to visualize, rather than focus on the object itself, is pervasive, and Tilt's advice is very apt:
tiltbillings wrote:... Don't worry about the visual stuff, don't try to make it go away, just gently pay attention to the sensation of air as it moves in and out at your nostrils. Continually, gently and easy, bring your attention to the sensation of the movement of air. There is no magic solution to your "problem" other than continually bringing your attention back to the sensation of the movement of air in and out.

In a quiet retreat setting a few days of just trying it, without worrying about whether you're doing it properly, would probably get a reasonable "aim" established on the object. If doing short sessions in everyday life it might take weeks or months.

Some people will "get it" faster. Some slower...

If working without a teacher, it might be useful to listen to some guided meditation instructions. Some of Ajahn Brahm's) instructions on basic breath meditation (as well as other topics and teachers) are available here:
http://www.dhammaloka.org.au/downloads/ ... -hour.html
http://www.dhammaloka.org.au/downloads/ ... -hour.html

:anjali:
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby Ben » Tue Jul 19, 2011 9:21 pm

mikenz66 wrote:Hi Darods,

While I see Anapanasati as just one of a number of possible approaches (there are plenty of other objects discussed in the Suttas), and some people do have problems with it due to some particular physical problem (in which case it makes a lot of sense to change objects) it doesn't seem to me that the problem here is the particular object.

This:
darods wrote:The problem I am having however is that I find it very difficult to fix my awareness onto a sensation without visualising the sensation/body part and what is happening.

is a problem I had for several months when I started, and in my case I generally use much grosser objects (motion of the feet when walking, motion of the abdomen when sitting). This tendency to visualize, rather than focus on the object itself, is pervasive, and Tilt's advice is very apt:
tiltbillings wrote:... Don't worry about the visual stuff, don't try to make it go away, just gently pay attention to the sensation of air as it moves in and out at your nostrils. Continually, gently and easy, bring your attention to the sensation of the movement of air. There is no magic solution to your "problem" other than continually bringing your attention back to the sensation of the movement of air in and out.

In a quiet retreat setting a few days of just trying it, without worrying about whether you're doing it properly, would probably get a reasonable "aim" established on the object. If doing short sessions in everyday life it might take weeks or months.

Some people will "get it" faster. Some slower...

If working without a teacher, it might be useful to listen to some guided meditation instructions. Some of Ajahn Brahm's) instructions on basic breath meditation (as well as other topics and teachers) are available here:
http://www.dhammaloka.org.au/downloads/ ... -hour.html
http://www.dhammaloka.org.au/downloads/ ... -hour.html

:anjali:
Mike


:goodpost:
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby tiltbillings » Tue Jul 19, 2011 9:44 pm

Freawaru wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:[

Simply, the person posting the original question is working with breath at his nose. There is no reason for him to shift his place of awareness. It is better to keep it simple and easy rather than adding a level of unneeded complication.


I woudl agree with you if it really was simple and easy for the OP. But as obviously it is not so I think it is not better at all. Sometimes, short cuts make long delays.
No one is talking about short cuts. I am simply talking about doing Buddhist practice, simply and directly.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby Ben » Tue Jul 19, 2011 11:09 pm

tiltbillings wrote:I am simply talking about doing Buddhist practice, simply and directly.

And standard Theravadin garden-variety practice at that, too.
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby darods » Wed Jul 20, 2011 1:20 pm

Thanks for the help. It really made a difference, I realised that obviously whenever I realise I am visualising on what is happening with the nose that I am not paying attention to what I should be doing which is focussing on the sensation. So now the moment it happens I switch to attempting to focus on what I feel.

One other thing though I have noticed is that in some sessions I cannot actually feel the sensations of breathing. I may feel something up inside my nose always but sometimes I cannot feel the breath at the end of the nose/upper lip. Or other times I can feel it when breathing out but not in and vice versa. At these times when I cannot feel it, so thus no sensation to focus on, should I be thinking of nothing?

Thankyou again.
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Jul 20, 2011 4:15 pm

darods wrote:One other thing though I have noticed is that in some sessions I cannot actually feel the sensations of breathing. I may feel something up inside my nose always but sometimes I cannot feel the breath at the end of the nose/upper lip. Or other times I can feel it when breathing out but not in and vice versa. At these times when I cannot feel it, so thus no sensation to focus on, should I be thinking of nothing?
It is not really a matter of thinking of anything. Where the sensations of breathing are felt is going to change sometimes from one breath to the next, or from the inhalation to the exhalation, or even during an inhalation or an exhalation. Just gently pay attention to that. If there are times when you do not feel the breathing, just pay attention to the sensations at/in the nose that you can feel. Don't, however, get caught up in trying to feel a sensation. Just pay attention; don't think about it.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby Freawaru » Wed Jul 20, 2011 4:20 pm

Hi Ben and Tilt,

Ben wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:I am simply talking about doing Buddhist practice, simply and directly.

And standard Theravadin garden-variety practice at that, too.


You are not. It is not. You are just talking about YOUR OWN practice - not Theravada.

Ajahn Chah wrote:The only way to really put an end to your doubts and speculation is through practising until you reach the point where you see the results clearly for yourself. This is the most important thing of all. Learning from different teachers is an essential preliminary to practice. It is a valuable support as you move from hearing the teachings to learning from your own experience. You have to contemplate the teachings you receive in light of your own practice until you gain your own understanding.
http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Clarity_Insight1.php


Ajahn Chah wrote:Our only duty right now is to practice mindfulness of the breathing. Fix your attention at the head and move it down through the body to the tips of the feet, and then back up to the crown of the head. Pass your awareness down through the body, observing with wisdom. We do this to gain an initial understanding of the way the body is. Then begin the meditation, noting that at this time your sole duty is to observe the inhalations and exhalations.

....

If the mind is agitated, set up mindfulness and inhale deeply till there is no space left to store any air, then release it all completely until none remains. Follow this with another deep inhalation until you are full, then release the air again. Do this two or three times, then re-establish concentration.
http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Meditation1.php


And seriously, I do not understand why you try so hard to convince everybody that this kind of meditation we talk about on this thread is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. It is neither true nor helpful.
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Jul 20, 2011 4:29 pm

Freawaru wrote:Hi Ben and Tilt,

Ben wrote:
tiltbillings wrote:I am simply talking about doing Buddhist practice, simply and directly.

And standard Theravadin garden-variety practice at that, too.


You are not. It is not. You are just talking about YOUR OWN practice - not Theravada.
And you are the arbiter of what is and is not Theravada?

The Ajahn Chah quotes do not support this accusation of yours.

And seriously, I do not understand why you try so hard to convince everybody that this kind of meditation we talk about on this thread is difficult, time-consuming, and expensive. It is neither true nor helpful.
I have no idea as to what you are talking about here. I am addressing directly the OP's concerns within the framework of what practice he/she is doing, which is the appropriate thing to be doing. If you want to argue about this, take to the Dhamma-free-for-all.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

dheamhan a fhios agam

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Concentration meditation difficulties

Postby Freawaru » Wed Jul 20, 2011 4:36 pm

darods wrote:Thanks for the help. It really made a difference, I realised that obviously whenever I realise I am visualising on what is happening with the nose that I am not paying attention to what I should be doing which is focussing on the sensation. So now the moment it happens I switch to attempting to focus on what I feel.

One other thing though I have noticed is that in some sessions I cannot actually feel the sensations of breathing. I may feel something up inside my nose always but sometimes I cannot feel the breath at the end of the nose/upper lip. Or other times I can feel it when breathing out but not in and vice versa. At these times when I cannot feel it, so thus no sensation to focus on, should I be thinking of nothing?

Thankyou again.


Hi Darods,

with this technqiue you aim at becoming fully aware of your somatosensory system http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Somatosensory_system . The tactile sense is actually several senses, heat and cold, movement and pressure and vibrations. All using different receptors. The skin is actually not difficult, especially as there are some tricks like those I already wrote. The internal part like heart, liver and so on, are more difficult but this can and has to be done, too, for kayanupassana:

http://www.ancient-buddhist-texts.net/T ... assana.htm

If you have the impression that you cannot actually feel the sensation of breathing ask yourself "what sensation?" Is it heat or movement or pressure? Are they all gone? Can you maybe still sense the mouth or the eyes? Try to reestablish perception on another location and then move it back to the nose. Or touch the nose with your finger or breath in or out forcefully.
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