Vipassana questions

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Vipassana questions

Postby adamposey » Sat Oct 17, 2009 4:22 pm

Hello all!

I've decided that today is the day to begin my journey into vipassana meditation and, despite the reading I've been doing, I have some questions, mostly about what I'm supposed to be doing. In Mindfulness in Plain English it's written that I should be paying mindful attention to whatever thoughts are cropping up in my head, emotions, etc., but not contributing to them. I understand this much, but the book also says I should be paying attention to my breath.

In the past when attempting to meditate I have focused almost exclusively on the breath, and very little emotion or thought crops up. If something does, I immediately return to my breath without giving the distraction my attention, for fear of losing my breath. Apparently this is wrong.

Could someone explain to me, roughly, how I am supposed to keep in touch with my breath while paying attention to whatever is cropping up in my mind?
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat Oct 17, 2009 4:39 pm

adamposey wrote:In the past when attempting to meditate I have focused almost exclusively on the breath, and very little emotion or thought crops up. If something does, I immediately return to my breath without giving the distraction my attention, for fear of losing my breath. Apparently this is wrong.


It would only be wrong if you were pushing the thoughts away; if you have aversion to the thoughts and it upsets you. If you are just mindfully noting the thoughts and then bringing the attention back to the breath, there is nothing wrong in that.

Some have trouble keeping their attention on the breath; if you are comfortable with the attention to the breath and can keep it there for sustained periods, I would say that is very good and you are on the right track.
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby adamposey » Sat Oct 17, 2009 4:50 pm

Well, I note that I'm no longer focused on the breath. I'll catch myself slipping into, say, a daydream, or wondering how many minutes I've been meditating, and struggling with thoughts of looking at my timer. Once those thoughts hit I'll realize I'm no longer on my breath and abruptly return my attention to it.

I feel like I'm not practicing mindfulness, but concentration. It should also be noted that I really don't seem to experience the things that I read/heard that I would like emotions, thoughts of past and future, etc., So I feel as though I must be approaching it incorrectly.
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby Cittasanto » Sat Oct 17, 2009 5:19 pm

Hi,
my advice would be to simply watchthe breath, don't worry about anything else!

what should or shouldn' come up isn't mportant, what is important is that you don't have expectations. inmy experiance itis the expectations which are the worst thing to bring to the practice, everythig else that should or shouldn't happen wll either happen or not, if it does, it do if not then no point giving it any attenion.

The breath is there so use that to start with, develop that aspect then move on from there.

Hope you well
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby adamposey » Sat Oct 17, 2009 6:28 pm

You're right, but how can I know I'm performing the meditation properly if whatever's happening doesn't reflect the expected results?
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby catmoon » Sat Oct 17, 2009 6:39 pm

adamposey wrote:You're right, but how can I know I'm performing the meditation properly if whatever's happening doesn't reflect the expected results?


you can't know. you have to be patient.
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby adamposey » Sat Oct 17, 2009 6:57 pm

catmoon wrote:
adamposey wrote:You're right, but how can I know I'm performing the meditation properly if whatever's happening doesn't reflect the expected results?


you can't know. you have to be patient.


I accept this answer and will test it out. If I'm not making any kind of progress in a month or two then I'll be back with more questions along this line. :)

I have another question about meditation posture and so on. I cannot currently sit with my knees touching the floor, I assume that sitting ON something would help me to achieve this as well as a nice stable mediation position, but I have no money for things like a zafu, etc.,

What are some household items I could use to sit on whilst meditating so that I'm feeling a little less interested in maintaining the posture of my spine and my balance?
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby Cittasanto » Sat Oct 17, 2009 7:28 pm

adamposey wrote:
catmoon wrote:
adamposey wrote:You're right, but how can I know I'm performing the meditation properly if whatever's happening doesn't reflect the expected results?


you can't know. you have to be patient.


I accept this answer and will test it out. If I'm not making any kind of progress in a month or two then I'll be back with more questions along this line. :)

I have another question about meditation posture and so on. I cannot currently sit with my knees touching the floor, I assume that sitting ON something would help me to achieve this as well as a nice stable mediation position, but I have no money for things like a zafu, etc.,

What are some household items I could use to sit on whilst meditating so that I'm feeling a little less interested in maintaining the posture of my spine and my balance?


I can't sit with my legs crossed, don't worry abot it, find a posture you can stick to for a while, the first month you will just be geting sed to the practce dot expect anything to progress the way you think it should, simply shut up and do the practice, give it time, a marathon can not be trained for in a month, come back with questions when you need to but dont give it time limits.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
With Metta
Upāsaka Cittasanto
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby adamposey » Sat Oct 17, 2009 7:31 pm

That's a fair response. I'll begin that process today, then.
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby Ben » Sat Oct 17, 2009 11:51 pm

Hi Adam
adamposey wrote:You're right, but how can I know I'm performing the meditation properly if whatever's happening doesn't reflect the expected results?

I agree with Manapa. At this stage, just focus on the breath. If you are giving exclusive attention to your breath, you are implicitly observing your mind. One of the first things that happens when a highly pleasant or unpleasant mindstate arises is a change in the breathing. Just observe the breath as per the instructions you have been given.
My experience has been that maintaining dual objects is quite advanced and extremely difficult to undertake effectively unless one has already developed sufficient samadhi. In time, one develops awareness of other phenomena concurrent with the rise and fall of respiration. My advice is to focus on the breath and let the rest of the technique take care of itself. By all means read Bhante's book so when you progress, you can commence dhammanupassana and cittanupassana.
metta

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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby catmoon » Sun Oct 18, 2009 12:33 am

adamposey wrote:
catmoon wrote:
adamposey wrote:You're right, but how can I know I'm performing the meditation properly if whatever's happening doesn't reflect the expected results?


you can't know. you have to be patient.


I accept this answer and will test it out. If I'm not making any kind of progress in a month or two then I'll be back with more questions along this line. :)

I have another question about meditation posture and so on. I cannot currently sit with my knees touching the floor, I assume that sitting ON something would help me to achieve this as well as a nice stable mediation position, but I have no money for things like a zafu, etc.,

What are some household items I could use to sit on whilst meditating so that I'm feeling a little less interested in maintaining the posture of my spine and my balance?


I use cushions off the sofa and bed. I have worked up to half lotus and am going for the whole nine yards. The tripod concept is a good one. If you can sit straight without effort it's ideal, and this is why you will hear so many people speaking in favor of full lotus.

I was wondering - you mentioned results - what kind of results are you looking for?
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Oct 18, 2009 1:20 am

Hi Adam, Ben,
Ben wrote:My experience has been that maintaining dual objects is quite advanced and extremely difficult to undertake effectively unless one has already developed sufficient samadhi. ...

I think it depends on how you've been instructed. Different teachers/schools have different approaches. I was instructed by Mahasi-style teachers and right from the start we have a "primary object" (the motion of the feet when walking and the motion of the abdomen when sitting) but pay attention to other prominent objects that arise (pain, thinking, sadness, etc...). When they fade a little one goes back to the primary object. So this hardly sounds like an advanced practise to me, though I must say that doing it reasonably well took me a lot of practise and until I'd done a retreat of a few days I really don't think I was doing it very well at all. I'm not so familiar with Bhante G's book, but I think he's giving similar instructions. That seems like a good book, and many people find it useful.

However, if you're working on it alone it may be difficult to get the hang of it. Particularly the balance of figuring out when to go back to the primary object.

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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby catmoon » Sun Oct 18, 2009 1:31 am

This raises a question. When going from minding breath to sensation at the nostrils to the next object of focus, are the previous objects then abandoned or do you try to keep 'em all going at once?
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby Ben » Sun Oct 18, 2009 1:38 am

Hi Mike
I don't know the Mahasi technique very well so here are my impressions of what I think you are referring to and how it differs (or how I perceive it to be different to what I am referring to).
Frm what you are describing it sounds like you are adverting awarenes from breath to non-breath sensation and then back again. Whereas, what I am referring to is maintaining unobstructed awareness on the breath while also maintaining the same degree of awareness on another object, say, non-breath sensation, thought, mental state.
kind regards

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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby Ben » Sun Oct 18, 2009 1:43 am

Hi Catmoon
catmoon wrote:This raises a question. When going from minding breath to sensation at the nostrils to the next object of focus, are the previous objects then abandoned or do you try to keep 'em all going at once?

I would advise you to go back to the instructions you've been taught to go over this particular issue. What I will say is that, you can't turn off the sensations at the nostrils or under the lip or this or that sensation or thought from manifesting. They're just dhammas rising and falling. Depending on the particular technique you are using, you maybe instructed to maintain focus on one type of sensation or dhamma or sensations that appear in one particular area before moving on. The object of which is to develop strong focused awareness and, and believe it or not, sensitivity of mind.
Kind regards

Ben
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby mikenz66 » Sun Oct 18, 2009 1:45 am

catmoon wrote:This raises a question. When going from minding breath to sensation at the nostrils to the next object of focus, are the previous objects then abandoned or do you try to keep 'em all going at once?

Well, I don't usually use the nostrils (I only use focussing on the nostrils for concentration practise) but for me it's one object at a time. Ultimately, according to Theravada Abhidhamma and Commentary, the mind can only take one object at a time (but cycles rapidly). What seems to become apparent with good mindfulness and concentration (several days into a retreat) is that consciousness jumps (very rapidly) from one sense door to another.

So, with Ben's question:
ben wrote:I don't know the Mahasi technique very well so here are my impressions of what I think you are referring to and how it differs (or how I perceive it to be different to what I am referring to).
Frm what you are describing it sounds like you are adverting awarenes from breath to non-breath sensation and then back again. Whereas, what I am referring to is maintaining unobstructed awareness on the breath while also maintaining the same degree of awareness on another object, say, non-breath sensation, thought, mental state.

As I said above, the instruction is to jump from object to object. I didn't think it was possible to do anything else...

Let me emphasise that I've been speaking from the point of view of Mahasi-style practise. Other teachers, such as Goenka, take different approaches, and mixing the instructions could be confusing.

Mike
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby christopher::: » Sun Oct 18, 2009 3:54 am

hi all...

good observations here.

concerning posture- adam, i agree with catmoon that pillows off a couch can work. when i travel i dont bring my zafu so i've improvised with lots of things- several folded towels or a too-firm pillow in hotels, folded blankets, couch cushions, etc...

getting at least 5~8 cm under your butt is crucial to finding that balance where sitting becomes effortless and comfortable. i sat flat with no cushion for about 5 years, it was terrible. the day i bought a zafu seated meditation became MUCH easier, enjoyable even....

You can also place a wider cushion, soft carpet or folded towels in a big square under the zafu/cushioning so the knees can rest comfortably...

concerning attention- i agree with mike, our minds naturally keep moving around. its very hard to control, and since we are supposed to relax and observe one doesn't want to become over controlling....

if you work with a teacher or have specific guidelines to follow the approach is often to focus on one thing at a time. but i think the purpose there is not to only stay with that one frame but to become familiar with it. That's the insight aspect, i think... Over time we become more aware of how our minds work, how reactiveness happens, how objective conditions are perceived, then evaluated as "good/pleasant" or "bad/unpleasant" then a feeling arises of aversion or attraction, sometimes along (or followed by) an emotion & associated thoughts, etc... til finally we take some form of habitual action...

You can read this or be told it by a teacher but our practice is to spend months and then years observing carefully within ourselves, to gain deeper insight into how this works, so that gradually we can detach from habitual patterns, stop reacting to our environments, emotions and inner assessments, resting instead in a calmer and wiser state of mind.

I'm new to vispassana though, so hopefully some of the advanced practitioners here will correct any errors in this description, above....

:anjali:
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~post by Ben, Jul 02, 2009
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby adamposey » Sun Oct 18, 2009 4:14 am

I sat down today and, with the assistance of a pillow folded to give me support on the hips, meditated for about 25 minutes or so. I had one major interruption and so I started all over again (urgent phone call). This time I attempted to keep an awareness of my breath by basically never completely leaving it, like the breath was the tether that kept my mind from running completely wild. And then when something would crop up (which in this case stuff DID crop up and I'll get to that) I would dedicate my attention to trying to just kind of letting it be-and recognizing it and what it was doing—but never leaving the breath.

I noticed a couple things that actually did occur this time whilst I was meditating. Physical sensations and mental images, strong ones. The physical sensations would be in the form of an itch, or a pulling sensation in my right knee. Once I acknowledge them and allowed them to do their work while I just watched them, they would fade and dissipate. The pulling in my knee would come back, and the itching wouldn't go away entirely but rather I would just no longer have the urge to acknowledge it by scratching. It was like it didn't bother me anymore even though it was still there.

The mental images that popped up were interesting. I've been playing this video game a lot recently and I actually found my mind returning to the game and focusing on it. I also found my mind returning to a book I had read a few hours earlier. And, perhaps most interestingly, I kept getting a strong visual (almost like a portrait) of a female friend of mine. I didn't observe any strong lustful feeling associated with the image, but it did make me feel more tense and energetic. It bothered me that it seemed that "watching it" didn't help it to fade. Perhaps I'm not skillful enough to deal with these sorts of things yet. I wasn't able to get rid of any of them permanently, they kept coming back, but I assume that's part of the process.

I also became aware of time repeatedly. I caught my mind wondering how much time was left before I needed to start preparing for work, and it would encourage me to break from my meditation to look at my timer. Thankfully I didn't, but it was so interesting to watch my mind just kind of..I want to say "run amok". Hopefully as I progress I will learn to deal with these images and sensations.

Also, someone asked what kinds of results I was after, these were the results. When last I attempted to meditate like this there was almost nothing to note. I feel I may have unskillfully slipped into just having a blank mind unoccupied with anything. This time there were sensations and artifacts to deal with, things to watch, etc. I took that as an indication that at least I was doing something correctly.
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby catmoon » Sun Oct 18, 2009 6:56 am

The situation reminds of learning to ride a bicycle. One fiddles about and struggles for a while, it seems no progress is being made, then suddenly the new rider is up and moving away. (With a few wobbles of course).

Sounds to me like things are coming along nicely. Don't get too preoccupied with watching mental activity. The idea is to spend the minimum possible amount of time on it and return to focus. You can always cogitate about what came up after the meditation.
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Re: Vipassana questions

Postby Sanghamitta » Sun Oct 18, 2009 8:19 am

In my view the role of a teacher is far greater than simply issuing instructions. For many of us, possibly most of us, a teacher is essential. I think many of us would have seen people after the initial rush of enthusiasm hit a plateau and stay there for months or years without the guidance of a teacher to steer us through the various emotional and other obstacles that arise, and which need an objective view that by definition we cant do for ourselves. If there is no possibility of a teachers guidance right now, which would be unusual unless you live in an incredibly remote place, then go slowly until there is. There is always the option of Samatha until hands on Vipassana instruction is a possibility. Samatha is no less a practice than Vipassana but many find that it raises fewer psychological issues in the wider sense. At least that is a view I have heard from those I know who practice both, and has been my own experience.

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