In addition to adding some further commentary, I'd like to clarify the intent of some of my comments that you replied to so that you have a clearer perception of what was meant. This medium of the written word is often deficient in what it allows one to imply without limiting other possibilities and therefore providing what might be perceived as a somewhat false impression of what was meant. In spoken communication, one can clear up such perceived misconceptions right away during the course of the conversation.
I often find myself using the breath to re-establish mindfulness, but I’d have a kind of doubt about it for some reason, like I’d feel like I needed to be more committed to that object to the exclusion of others or like it was some kind of half measure. I think I can get pretty attached to the sheen of ‘traditionalism’ or 'orthodoxy', neurofeedback aside I guess, I assume it’s an extension of some kind of perfectionism or something, at least it’s similarly irrational.
Yes, what you are describing here about "doubt" in using an object that you feel needing to be more committed to or like it was some kind of half measure, is typical of an indecisive or intractable mind. The mind can be somewhat persnickety at times. Once you've programmed it to respond in one way, you think that that is the only way that you can use. But once you begin to open up your awareness to the use of a tool (like the breath in this instance, for re-establishing mindfulness) which helps you achieve an intended goal, that begins the process of mentally letting go of the conditioning you've previously set the mind up to follow. Generally, all it takes is a quick realization that this is what you are doing for the process to self-correct and allow you to use a variation on how you've conditioned the mind to perform (for example, allowing it to go from one object of observation to another without raising any doubt or whatever).
On the other hand, there's a difference between an intractable mind (one that finds it difficult to shift gears in mid-stream) and a mind that strives after perfection in execution of detail. There is nothing wrong in the pursuit of exactitude; just make sure that it doesn't cause havoc with the pursuit of some other goal. In other words, be able (flexible enough) to let go of something when it doesn't serve you, and be aware enough to recognize the difference.
I think you’re right. I went from an extreme of placing almost all of my attention on samadhi, to placing almost all of it on mindfulness. I think I started to appreciate the damage that I could do if I had a high degree of samadhi without mindfulness or clear comprehension so I desperately wanted to guard against it, which is actually pretty funny
Developing both together seems better still.
This is an easy mess to find oneself in. Especially, to use a related example, when much of the instruction that people read about these days separates samatha
(calm) practice from vipassana
(insight) practice making it seem like two separate practices. They are not. They are meant to be practiced together. And the same is true of samadhi
(concentration) and mindfulness (present moment awareness). Although these are both distinct states of mind, the closeness of their expression (concentration is focused on a narrow field, while mindfulness is focused on a broad field) make them similar in their scope and easy to relate to one another.
(and dhyana samadhi
in particular, I've found) helps to bolster mindfulness in the form of passaddhi
, or "the continuation of calm" and stillness that follows after one comes out of meditation. When I first experience it, the description that came to mind was a "profound inner peace." The concept of passaddhi
is something you need to become aware of in order to make a more expansive connection between concentration and mindfulness. Each helps to promote and strengthen the other, even though they are two distinct activities. Yet they are closely enough related that the connection between them becomes inescapably obvious.
You've already experienced this in some manner of speaking when you mentioned: "I did find that I was significantly exceeding the normal span between ‘attentional blinks’, and I was actually seeing the 'attentional blinks' themselves..." Just substitute "calm" (which is the perfect condition for developing mindfulness) for the recognizing the expansion of the span between "attentional blinks," and you're there! It's the same concept of expanding what starts out as momentary calm into longer and longer periods of calm. And when you begin to notice this taking place, it plays into the development of mindfulness.
umop_3pisdn wrote: IanAnd wrote:
umop_3pisdn wrote: "I immediately became aware of a persistent low level of anxiety and I realized that I was numbing myself to it, and that my other problems with numbed awareness stemmed from this."
This might be something that you may want to look into in terms of contemplation in order to discover more about it and how it is triggered within you.
I think this is really true, in fact my aversion to actually investigating it has been cluing me in to how important it is. A more vague knowledge of it has already loosened it a bit so I can only imagine how I would benefit from a finer knowledge of it. I know it's a result of a kind of social sensitivity and self-image problem, and the bulk of my maladaptive habits seem to be rooted in the same place, I think it's probably the most important immediate thing I can do on a personal growth basis.
I can relate to the issues you bring up: "social sensitivity and self-image problem." I had similar issues. These are issues likely brought on by conditioning and contributing to a person's self-outlook as being introverted or shy. These issues can be tackled head on and quickly remedied, or can be approach from a more psychotherapeutic angle and be gradually dissolved. Contemplation on it can eventually yield answers as long as one is willing to confront (in terms of painful events) what one eventually sees and begins to see it as it actually is. There are other training modalities that can deal with this in a more straightforward manner that may involve momentary embarrassment, but work incredibly well at dissolving the fear and trepidation at the thought of experiencing embarrassment.
umop_3pisdn wrote:I’m really glad to get clarification on this, the quality of the ‘effort’ you use in dhyana has confused me for such a long time. I’ve heard that samadhi generally seems to have a ‘forced’ quality to it and can be cultivated by force, but dhyana is often called ‘tranquility meditation’ which is antithetical to striving.
Yes, it can be difficult to describe dhyana
meditation to one who has no idea or way to relate to what one is talking about. I'm not sure that describing samadhi
as seeming to have a "forced quality that can be cultivated by force" is conducive to comprehending it as a meditative state. One doesn't force samadhi
to happen. It occurs naturally during the course of established mindfulness during meditation, which is why Gotama emphasized the practice of dhyana
leads quite naturally to samadhi
. Yet (and here's a paradoxical thought) if one knows what samadhi
feels like (that is, how a concentrated mind feels when it becomes fixed and established imperturbably on an object), one can bypass the necessity to experience dhyana
and go straight to samadhi
And yes, dhyana
meditation is (or can be) a directed (fabricated) experience wherein you create it based upon a pleasant sensation while observing an object, or it can happen quite naturally as a result of the mind settling in at ease on observing an object. Getting these two seemingly conflicting ideas across to someone who has never experienced it and who has been conditioned not to see it can be exasperating and frustrating at times. So, the meditative state of dhyana
can be attained through the practice of tranquility meditation or through directing the mind to an activity that gives rise to a pleasant sensation which is then extended into tranquility meditation.
IanAnd wrote:Whichever method you are using that is "more strenuous," you should know that developing concentrative awareness is not meant to be strenuous. It should be easy and natural and effortless....
I did find that I was significantly exceeding the normal span between ‘attentional blinks’, and I was actually seeing the 'attentional blinks' themselves (as much as I could at least) and it felt really vigorous, but normally I resent vigorous activity and this felt invigorating, yet some faculty did tire so that does seem kind of paradoxical,...
That invigorated feeling is viriya
(or energy) one of the traditional seven factors (bojjhangas
) of enlightenment. The other six factors are mindfulness, investigation of phenomena (dhamma vicaya
), rapture (piti
), tranquility (passaddhi
), concentration (samadhi
), and equanimity (upekkha
umop_3pisdn wrote:I didn’t apprehend it as having a pressure sensation at the time, it felt airy and light, but I have felt that pressure in the past, and I actually felt that when I tried again today along with a lighter airy sensation at the same time (I hope that isn’t an example of confirmation bias), so I’m not sure if maybe that just wasn’t a quality I was noticing at the time.
That is just fine. When I first began to practice dhyana
meditation, the objects I was choosing to observe had the same effect: an airy and light feeling to them. Gradually, that gave way to becoming absorbed in the object. I had to learn how to apply mindfulness (sati
) in order not to experience that dullness of mind (or a trance-like state). Over time, that airy, light feeling gradually gave way to the pressure sensation as concentration was being developed. The airy, light feeling turned out to be a gateway to the development of concentration (samadhi
) using absorption. Soon, I figured out how to go directly to samadhi
without having to undergo the intervening of the dhyana
progression of levels.
umop_3pisdn wrote:"The sensation of expansion seems like a common trend across all of the experiences that I can remember, though. It’s really interesting if this is a nimitta, I experienced a milder form of this phenomenon once not too long after I started meditating, but I ignored it as just a ‘queer sensation’ and it began to happen less. I guess this is a good example of why a teacher is a good thing to have!
Yes, it can be used or seen as being a nimitta, heralding the oncoming tranquility and stillness that leads to dhyana
. And yes, ignoring it can be detrimental to its cultivation.
And I agree that this is a good example of why having a trusted guide can be ultimately beneficial. Especially one from one's own culture who can help to translate the intended meaning of the suttas in one's own language. The problem has always been that Asian teachers often translated the Pali using English words that were not quite exact enough for the Western mind to comprehensively grasp the intended meaning.
All the best,
P.S. Now I see why Benjamin referred to you as "upside down." Clever arrangement of letters!
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV