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A question about meditation and attention

KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest?Europe Veteran

I’ve had a range of different meditations, good and bad. Ones where i’ve had trouble focusing on the breath, where I just felt so unfocused I could not maintain a count of in breaths above 7, I’ve also had meditations where i’ve had counts go to 200 and nothing happened, i’ve also had meditations where within a few minutes I’ve felt relaxed into a warm bath of feeling. I often reach the stage where I let go of the breath and calm the body.

So am I doing something wrong? I was wondering whether meditation settles down into a routine of progression. Or whether perhaps I’m not achieving the right degree of concentration? How does one actually concentrate on meditation anyway? I know how to concentrate on a book, but when I try to concentrate on meditation I seem to end up tensing a few muscles around my nose and jaw...

Similarly when I practice mindfulness it seems like there is no ‘degree’ to it, I can’t choose to be “more mindful”. I’m either paying full attention or I am focused elsewhere. Even when I get up in the morning I almost never feel sleepy, it’s like the light turns on and bing!

Does anyone have Buddhist advice on how to approach this?

Comments

  • CarlitaCarlita Riding the waves! United States Veteran
    edited October 21

    @Kerome said:
    I’ve had a range of different meditations, good and bad. Ones where i’ve had trouble focusing on the breath, where I just felt so unfocused I could not maintain a count of in breaths above 7, I’ve also had meditations where i’ve had counts go to 200 and nothing happened, i’ve also had meditations where within a few minutes I’ve felt relaxed into a warm bath of feeling. I often reach the stage where I let go of the breath and calm the body.

    So am I doing something wrong? I was wondering whether meditation settles down into a routine of progression. Or whether perhaps I’m not achieving the right degree of concentration? How does one actually concentrate on meditation anyway? I know how to concentrate on a book, but when I try to concentrate on meditation I seem to end up tensing a few muscles around my nose and jaw...

    Similarly when I practice mindfulness it seems like there is no ‘degree’ to it, I can’t choose to be “more mindful”. I’m either paying full attention or I am focused elsewhere. Even when I get up in the morning I almost never feel sleepy, it’s like the light turns on and bing!

    Does anyone have Buddhist advice on how to approach this?

    I was looking up ways to meditate after listening to Venerable Thubten Chodron monk from the Tibetan tradition have different Dhamma talks on various subjects-a lot of them. They do the Lamrim meditation-or analytical. Take a look, I just started practicing it.

    Stages of the Path

    I don't know how popular she is but here is her home site as well. Thubten Chroden.

    I'm not very good at no-thought meditations. I need something to go on.

    Hope this helps.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    edited October 22

    @Kerome said:
    So am I doing something wrong? I was wondering whether meditation settles down into a routine of progression. Or whether perhaps I’m not achieving the right degree of concentration? How does one actually concentrate on meditation anyway? I know how to concentrate on a book, but when I try to concentrate on meditation I seem to end up tensing a few muscles around my nose and jaw...

    The only wrong meditation is the one we don't do.

    However ...
    There are certain tips that you might focus on:

    • Focus or bring relaxed attention to physical tension. Right concentration is letting the meditation muscles relax ...
    • The routine is progress but progress is not formulaic. In other words progress is disciplined and dependent on our correctives
    • Enemies are our friends. In other words, the so called bad meditation, needs work/understanding. The good is just Bad Buddha. Killed it.

    Ultimately meditation/mindfulness is natural.

    Traveller
  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran

    I always hear in talks from teachers that meditation is like that, sometimes smooth and easy, other times hard and uneven.

    The advice that I remember being given is to always just keep letting go and refocus on whatever is coming up. Be with whatever is happening as fully as you can.

    In my own meditation practice my focus naturally moves towards the body and the sensations that arise there rather than the breath. I've heard of differing levels of awareness, the first being the breath, the next being awareness of the mind and body and lastly simply an awareness of awareness. I can't say I've ever had an experience of the last or even really understand what it is, but the second seems familiar.

    Keromelobster
  • One of the tricks is to not have so many, if any, preconceptions about the mediation practice. Try not to go into it think it should be this or that, just sit and be with yourself in that moment. Some days you will have the most monkey mind imaginable, other days you may be tired or sleepy and so on.

    You will start to see how the mind naturally is like a caged animal, it literally is doing it's own things most of the time without you even being aware that you are not aware! That is how tricky it is. But once you make this first realisation, you can then observe where it runs, why it runs, and eventually it will get tired of running. Focus on the breath and the space In between breaths, and just sit with whatever is going on. Meditation is not about striving to get to a state of mind, if you try to get anywhere you won't. You just need to be, let go and allow the layers of attachment and ignorance to drop away.

    I myself spent years of meditation for 10-15 minutes, not knowing what I was doing. But eventually I made small progressions and understandings. Don't beat yourself up, we are all monkey minded :)

    lobster
  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran

    Hmm. Interesting. I thought I was doing pretty well on the just-being front, and just not reaching the concentration levels required to get into the feeling based states of anapanasati.

    I often fall into a state which is partway to falling asleep, I lose visual alertness but gain a kind of whole body awareness, and then a sort of body stillness. It’s not sleep though because when I get up I immediately feel awake and alert.

  • @Kerome said:
    Hmm. Interesting. I thought I was doing pretty well on the just-being front, and just not reaching the concentration levels required to get into the feeling based states of anapanasati.

    I often fall into a state which is partway to falling asleep, I lose visual alertness but gain a kind of whole body awareness, and then a sort of body stillness. It’s not sleep though because when I get up I immediately feel awake and alert.

    It seems that you may be falling into the trap of becoming too relaxed and not in cultivating actual awareness..?
    How I approach formal sitting meditation is that I first make sure that it it the right time of the day for me to meditate. From there, I go through a full body scan, slowly passing through each part of my body, paying attention to any pains aches or discomfort. I forget which monk said this, but as an artist would prepare his or her canvas, prepare their paints etc, before making a masterpiece, you want to set your mind and body up before entering into meditation.

    From there focusing on your breath as a means to relax your mind into a state fit for 'work' - this is when you can then head into cultivating awareness with a mind sharp and focused. I am by no means a great meditator lol, but this is the approach I have to it

    lobster
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran

    I've been doing meditation for 20 something years and one thing I've learned is to not judge particular meditation sessions as "good" or "bad", as that is one of the "wrong things to do". Just return to the breath. That's it! Don't add any additional baggage to it. It doesn't matter how long you have gone off the breath and it doesn't matter how many times you have gone off the breath. All that matters is that you return to it. Meditation is about letting go of all that chatter and returning. The idea of "that was good" or "that was bad" is just more additional, and unnecessary, chatter.

    lobsterpegembaraTravellerkarasti
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    When it comes to counting the breaths: 1. If you are interrupted by a Big Mac or a rent check ... just go back to "one" and 2. If you space out and find yourself at 358 with no clue as to how you got there ... just go back to "one."

    No bells, no whistles, no spiritual life, no demons or dervishes ... just go back to "one."

    Yes, it's a pisscutter.

    Do it anyway.

    lobsterTravellerdhammachick
  • @person said:
    I've heard of differing levels of awareness, the first being the breath, the next being awareness of the mind and body and lastly simply an awareness of awareness.

    ... If I may ... simply awareness ... no 'of' ...
    Bring on the Heart Sutra
    https://www.lionsroar.com/the-heart-sutra-will-change-you-forever/

    Here, O Sariputra, form is emptiness and the very emptiness is form; emptiness does not differ from form, form does not differ from emptiness; whatever is form, that is emptiness, whatever is emptiness, that is form, the same is true of feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousness.

    And now back to the breath ... B)

    Traveller
  • personperson Where is my mind? 'Merica! Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    Hmm. Interesting. I thought I was doing pretty well on the just-being front, and just not reaching the concentration levels required to get into the feeling based states of anapanasati.

    I often fall into a state which is partway to falling asleep, I lose visual alertness but gain a kind of whole body awareness, and then a sort of body stillness. It’s not sleep though because when I get up I immediately feel awake and alert.

    My concentration is pretty poor as well. I suspect that developing it requires a real withdrawal from the world and all of its activities that stir up the mind.

    I've heard it been taught though that deep levels of realization and insight can be developed with a small amount of samatha and relying instead on solid vipasanna meditation.

    I think I would recommend going on a longer retreat, like a week or 10 day and see what develops.

    lobster
  • @Kerome said:
    So am I doing something wrong?

    I only do wrong meditation.
    Sometimes without a cushion. Sometimes all mindless chanting and very little 'right'.
    Sometimes all movement and no stillness, sometimes the opposite.
    I could walk to meditate, or pose in yogi postures. I could find an object without objection.

    My mind is wrong but meditation is right.

    Traveller
  • pegembarapegembara Veteran
    edited October 23

    I’ve had a range of different meditations, good and bad. Ones where i’ve had trouble focusing on the breath, where I just felt so unfocused I could not maintain a count of in breaths above 7, I’ve also had meditations where i’ve had counts go to 200 and nothing happened, i’ve also had meditations where within a few minutes I’ve felt relaxed into a warm bath of feeling. I often reach the stage where I let go of the breath and calm the body.

    There are strictly speaking no such thing as good or bad meditations. It is our attachment to the pleasant feeling and aversion to the unpleasant feeling that leads to such labels. When this happens, stay with and focus directly on those feelings instead. They too are impermanent, subject to change.

    "A pleasant feeling is inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen, subject to ending, subject to vanishing, fading, ceasing. A painful feeling is also inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen, subject to ending, subject to vanishing, fading, ceasing. A neither-pleasant-nor-painful feeling is also inconstant, fabricated, dependently co-arisen, subject to ending, subject to vanishing, fading, ceasing.

    "Seeing this, an instructed disciple of the noble ones grows disenchanted with pleasant feeling, disenchanted with painful feeling, disenchanted with neither-pleasant-nor-painful feeling. Disenchanted, he grows dispassionate. From dispassion, he is released.

    https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.074.than.html

    Keromepersonlobster
  • SpinyNormanSpinyNorman It's still all old bollocks Veteran
    edited October 23

    @Kerome said:> So am I doing something wrong? I was wondering whether meditation settles down into a routine of progression. Or whether perhaps I’m not achieving the right degree of concentration? How does one actually concentrate on meditation anyway? I know how to concentrate on a book, but when I try to concentrate on meditation I seem to end up tensing a few muscles around my nose and jaw...

    Similarly when I practice mindfulness it seems like there is no ‘degree’ to it, I can’t choose to be “more mindful”. I’m either paying full attention or I am focused elsewhere. Even when I get up in the morning I almost never feel sleepy, it’s like the light turns on and bing!

    Does anyone have Buddhist advice on how to approach this?

    I think it is about paying close and consistent attention to whatever is arising, and that involves some effort and application. It does get easier with practice.

    Keromelobster
  • karastikarasti Breathing Minnesota Veteran

    i have always found it difficult for me to count breaths while not focusing on them. I've always been taught that you want to remain aware of your breath and your thoughts, and the awareness of the breath is what allows you the single focal point so that you an recognize when you are 'off track' and go back to the focus - breathing. But that you should remain only aware of breathing rather than attempting to control it. For me, counting breaths changes my focus to one of control rather than awareness so instead of being able to slide into a deeper stillness I am engaged mentally in the counting process which for me has been the opposite of what I want in meditation.

    I tend to go with a combo of TNH and Trungpa's methods, which is to gently note that I am inhaling and exhaling, and then stop the thought process when it arises with a "thinking" bookmark and then return to breathing.

    I totally agree with not judging as good or bad. Judging a meditation as bad only then encourages us to strive for a good one. So in my case I'm not really judging it as bad, it was just a note that counting doesn't work for me the way other things do, so I stopped doing it. Counting sheep never worked for me either, I always got caught up in a big story about the sheep :lol:

    Kerome
  • SnakeskinSnakeskin Texas, USA Explorer

    @Kerome said:
    I’ve had a range of different meditations, good and bad.

    Right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration. Each share the hindrances. Right effort avoids or abandons them. Right mindfulness knows their presence, absence and conditions of abandoning and avoiding. Right concentration secludes. On can’t-get-past-7 days, I attend to them and, as @lobster noted, they become frenemies.

    I was wondering whether meditation settles down into a routine of progression.

    I would characterize my own trajectory more as a deepening than a progression, even for methods with progressive elements.

    Similarly when I practice mindfulness it seems like there is no ‘degree’ to it, I can’t choose to be “more mindful”. I’m either paying full attention or I am focused elsewhere.

    Off the cushion, when I become aware my focus is elsewhere, excluding tasks that require undivided attention, I say, “Mindfulness is absent.” Contemplation of dhammas. From there, I usually return to the body, but the practice is amorphous for me, e.g., mindful of activities, now feelings, returning to activities, now anatomy, returning to activities, and so.

    When mindfulness is continual like that, I level up to contemplating impermanence by expanding or switching. Expanding awareness reveals to me some conditions of forming and dissolving, but also tends to degrade into conceptualizing rather than observing. So, I sometimes switch awareness: drop the satipatthanas and fixate on the passage of time. It’s a trick.

    Travellerlobster
  • TravellerTraveller East Midlands UK Veteran

    Perhaps your coming from the illusion that there is a person there who needs to gain something from meditation.

    lobster
  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran

    It's interesting that so many of you count the breath. That would throw me off focusing on the breath if that makes sense.

    I just play "catch" and "release" until I can stop labeling again. Once labels happen (or once I've noticed that labels are happening) I return to "catch" and "release".

  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran
    edited October 23

    @Traveller said:
    Perhaps your coming from the illusion that there is a person there who needs to gain something from meditation.

    How does one get tricked into existing?

    The illusion is being separate, not being.

    Just my opinion.

  • TravellerTraveller East Midlands UK Veteran
    edited October 23

    @David said:

    @Traveller said:
    Perhaps your coming from the illusion that there is a person there who needs to gain something from meditation.

    How does one get tricked into existing?

    The illusion is being separate, not being.

    Just my opinion.

    @David, I think you missed my point, but hey no great shakes. Personally I don't concern myself with how I got caught in the illusion, just how to get out of it. I've experienced enough Vipassana to know the answer when the time comes.

    Back to the original point if there is no-self there how can there be someone who experiences the result of meditation. Or anyone there who gets it. If your trying to gain results from meditation you are still caught in the sakkya-ditthi that's conditioned to gain something.

    When I focus on the breath and my thoughts stop or I use a hua-dou like "What is this?" I realise I don't have to be an ego to be aware. When the thoughts cease there is still an awareness that is calm, clear, intelligent and full of metta and it's not disturbed by anything that passes in front of it. One can train oneself to rest in that awareness whether one is formally meditating or not. I fall into this state spontaneously there I am my egoic mind spinning around the turning wheel when suddenly the thought "be aware" rises in my mind and I let go and rest. For me gaining the ability to just rest in that awareness is both the path and the fruit.

    But hey that's just my 0.2.

    lobster
  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran
    edited October 23

    @Traveller said:

    @David said:

    @Traveller said:
    Perhaps your coming from the illusion that there is a person there who needs to gain something from meditation.

    How does one get tricked into existing?

    The illusion is being separate, not being.

    Just my opinion.

    @David, I think you missed my point, but hey no great shakes. Personally I don't concern myself with how I got caught in the illusion, just how to get out of it. I've experienced enough Vipassana to know the answer when the time comes.

    Back to the original point if there is no-self there how can there be someone who experiences the result of meditation.

    There is no permanent and unchanging self but I don't think being permanent and unchanging is really a requisite for self.

    What you say is right in a sense and not so right in a sense. What I mean is it is not practical. Saying there should be no problem because there is not really any individual to experience the problem flies in the face of the experience.

    If I told a starving person that there is no problem because there is no stomach will it take away their hunger?

    How will not existing help our meditation? Why even bother with meditation if nobody is there to meditate?

    In the same way pretending we don't exist will not ease our suffering. Otherwise there would only be a Onefold path, no?

    Or anyone there who gets it. If your trying to gain results from meditation you are still caught in the sakkya-ditthi that's conditioned to gain something.

    When I focus on the breath and my thoughts stop or I use a hua-dou like "What is this?" I realise I don't have to be an ego to be aware. When the thoughts cease there is still an awareness that is calm, clear, intelligent and full of metta and it's not disturbed by anything that passes in front of it. One can train oneself to rest in that awareness whether one is formally meditating or not. I fall into this state spontaneously there I am my egoic mind spinning around the turning wheel when suddenly the thought "be aware" rises in my mind and I let go and rest. For me gaining the ability to just rest in that awareness is both the path and the fruit.

    But hey that's just my 0.2.

    If it works for you I'm glad but then who is there for it to work for and where did that 0.02 come from?

    We could go on all day.

  • TravellerTraveller East Midlands UK Veteran

    That 0.2 is essentially Thai Forest Tradition if it's good enough for Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho it's good enough for me. I think I'll bow out of this conversation now it doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

    Though I think I'll post a couple of Ajahn Chah quotes that may be of use to anyone who is interested:

    “Just try to keep your mind in the present. Whatever arises in the mind, just watch it and let go of it. Don't even wish to be rid of thoughts. Then the mind will return to its natural state. No discriminating between good and bad, hot and cold, fast and slow. No me and no you, no self at all—just what there is. When you walk there is no need to do anything special. Simply walk and see what is there. No need to cling to isolation or seclusion. Wherever you are, know yourself by being natural and watching. If doubts arise, watch them come and go. It's very simple. Hold on to nothing. It's as though you are walking down a road. Periodically you will run into obstacles. When you meet defilements, just see them and overcome them by letting them go. Don't think about the obstacles you've already passed; don't worry about those you have not yet seen. Stick to the present. Don't be concerned about the length of the road or the destination. Everything is changing. Whatever you pass, don't cling to it. Eventually the mind will reach its natural balance where practice is automatic. All things will come and go of themselves.”
    ― Ajahn Chah, A Still Forest Pool: The Insight Meditation of Achaan Chah

    Try to be mindful. And let things take their natural course.
    Then your mind will become still in any surroundings – like a clear forest pool.
    All kinds of wonderful, rare animals will come to drink at the pool – and you will clearly see the nature of all things.
    You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still.
    This is the happiness of the Buddha.

    For me that awareness is pure mindfulness both the path and it's fruit.

    DavidlobsterKerome
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited October 23

    Remember also, that the Buddha did not want to get drawn into long discussions regarding the accuracy, or understanding of Self/Not-Self. Because this too, was not conducive to understanding 'Stress, The origin of Stress, the Remedy to Stress and the subsequent cessation of Stress'.
    It did not help the walk along the Path....

    ...the Buddha, in teaching not-self, was not answering the question of whether there is or isn't a self. This question was one he explicitly put aside.

    From Here.

    ETA: THIS might also be well worth reading.

    TravellerDavidHozan
  • ajhayesajhayes Northern Michigan Veteran

    Sometimes it is all I can do to let my thoughts come and go and not serve them tea. Other times I settle into meditation and everything goes well and I feel like I've "accomplished" something. Thus far, I find each session different and some are more useful than others.

    I think, as long as you're doing it, it counts for something.

    federicaTravellerDavidlobster
  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran

    @Traveller said:
    That 0.2 is essentially Thai Forest Tradition if it's good enough for Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho it's good enough for me. I think I'll bow out of this conversation now it doesn't seem to be going anywhere.

    It's all good, I don't expect to change your mind. It just doesn't make practical sense to me to say there is no you and then say that's good enough for you because, well... you know.

    But I am not here to hassle the non-existent.

    Traveller
  • TravellerTraveller East Midlands UK Veteran

    Hassle the non-existent - that was worth both a lol and an awesome @David.

    David
  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran
    edited October 23

    @federica said:
    Remember also, that the Buddha did not want to get drawn into long discussions regarding the accuracy, or understanding of Self/Not-Self. Because this too, was not conducive to understanding 'Stress, The origin of Stress, the Remedy to Stress and the subsequent cessation of Stress'.
    It did not help the walk along the Path....

    ...the Buddha, in teaching not-self, was not answering the question of whether there is or isn't a self. This question was one he explicitly put aside.

    From Here.

    ETA: THIS might also be well worth reading.

    That's kind of my point. Whether or not we decide we are a self or a non self or a no self, none of that will help us return to the breath during meditation.

    Truth be told I'm not sure why I bothered to object. It's not for me to figure what @Kerome finds useful.

    Traveller
  • @ajhayes said:
    Sometimes it is all I can do to let my thoughts come and go and not serve them tea. Other times I settle into meditation and everything goes well and I feel like I've "accomplished" something. Thus far, I find each session different and some are more useful than others.

    I think, as long as you're doing it, it counts for something.

    Great advice from everyone. I particularly liked Ajahn Chah's advice. I hope it is making sense for @Kerome ...

    I think 'not serving them tea' is exactly right and gets to the heart of the original question. We can when agitated, acknowledge:

    'Mind is not meditating/unsettled'
    'Trump is twittering'
    'where is my mind' etc ...

    ... almost like grasping with an open hand or letting go/being aware of unmindful meditation. A sort of relaxed but firm return to breath, counting or calmly agitated ...

    ajhayesKerome
  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran
    edited October 24

    It’s making a lot of sense. I very much connected with @karasti’s advice, this and others were very helpful. Thank you all.

    In my latest meditation I got to encounter memories, visual dream images, tactile encounters and more, all of which were answered with “thought” and returning to the breath. An interesting meditation.

    DavidTravellerlobster
  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran

    I tried counting breaths this morning instead of my usual catch and release. I can see how it could be good for aiming at certain meditative states but it just seemed like I was trading one labeling mechanism for another.

    Tonight I will try counting without labeling any numbers but that may be too much work for evening time.

  • KeromeKerome Did I fall in the forest? Europe Veteran
    edited October 25

    @David, I’ve noticed that the quality of my meditation is a little different depending on how I focus on the breath. If I don’t count or use “in, out” then more of my attention actually is on the sensation of the breath, which as I understand it should be calming for the mind.

    The action of labelling thoughts as “thought” seems to interrupt the flow of thought and make it easier to refocus on the breath.

    Davidlobster
  • DavidDavid some guy The Hammer in Ontario, Canada, eh Veteran

    @Kerome said:
    @David, I’ve noticed that the quality of my meditation is a little different depending on how I focus on the breath. If I don’t count or use “in, out” then more of my attention actually is on the sensation of the breath, which as I understand it should be calming for the mind.

    That's how I do samatha. I just return to the sensation of the breath and try not using labels period. During Zazen I do the catch and release or in and out until I can just gently watch my thoughts do their thing.

    The action of labelling thoughts as “thought” seems to interrupt the flow of thought and make it easier to refocus on the breath.

    I do the same kind of. I just recognize that I'm wandering and head back to anchor.

    I think if I count I will get lost in the counting and probably get sleepy easier but I've yet to try.

    lobster
  • eleele Connecticut USA New

    @Kerome, Some links for you:
    Nine stages of training the mind: https://www.lionsroar.com/the-nine-stages-of-training-the-mind/
    And 4 foundations of mindfulness: http://www.vipassanadhura.com/fourfoundations.html

    lobster
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