Author Topic: How to prevent dulling the mind during practice  (Read 2002 times)

ppthoma

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How to prevent dulling the mind during practice
« on: February 09, 2016, 06:46:58 AM »
Hi All,

I am new to the forum and recently completed a 10 day Vipassana course (S.N. Goenka) and am now struggling to make time for regular practice and to make the most out of it.
I have a series of doubts focusing around a sharp vs dull mind and how to avoid dulling it down and I hope someone can provide some insights based on their experiences.

During the retreat, I had some "good" flow experiences with intense subtle sensations.

1) After the retreat, the "most" I seem to get are rather "light" subtle sensations, more of a tingling really. I know these sensations are not the end goal but at the same time I think they are an indication of how sharp your mind is, is it normal for folks to experience a lot "less" after the retreat?

2) On to the main topic. The way I understand it, the whole point is to get your mind sharper and sharper to pick up more and more subtle sensations. This seems to be achieved by focusing on smaller and smaller parts of the body. If I feel no subtle sensations anywhere or only when focusing on larger parts (Say entire foot), how do I prevent the trend of the mind getting more and more dull? I feel that sometimes it will take me 5 minutes to feel subtle sensations in the foot for example and then I am inclined towards trying to sense them in only a smaller part of the foot to sharpen my mind but if I do that then an hour can pass and I am not even done with my legs/feet.

3) Often I struggle with getting the mind clear/sharp enough to start vipassana. I find that what works for me is to use the breath until I "drop into my body" at which point I will often naturally feel subtle sensations in a range of body parts even without clear focus.
Is it "ok" to try to feel subtle sensations in as many parts of the body at the same time (say feet, lower legs + arms and maybe parts of the back) and then maybe scan around those and other parts all the while trying to retain the "full" awareness of all parts or am I at risk of dulling the mind like this and would be better off ignoring these wide spread subtle sensations and start my regular body scan, part by part?
Note that when I do the above, I explicitly try not to get hung up on gross sensations and instead focus only on subtle ones and I do complement this with regular body scans.

Am I completely overthinking this as is my natural tendency? :)

If you read until here, thank you! :)

Kind Regards,

Pablo

Vivek

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Re: How to prevent dulling the mind during practice
« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2016, 10:34:38 AM »
Hi Pablo.

Quote
is it normal for folks to experience a lot "less" after the retreat?

Yes, it is normal.

Quote
The way I understand it, the whole point is to get your mind sharper and sharper to pick up more and more subtle sensations.
You mean the whole purpose of the meditation technique? No, it is not. The point is to feel the whole body sensations, both gross AND subtle. It does not matter if sensations are gross or subtle, or if there are blank areas. What is important to see their impermanent nature. So, it is useful not to get too hung up on the quality of sensations you feel.

Quote
Is it "ok" to try to feel subtle sensations in as many parts of the body at the same time (say feet, lower legs + arms and maybe parts of the back) and then maybe scan around those and other parts all the while trying to retain the "full" awareness of all parts or am I at risk of dulling the mind like this and would be better off ignoring these wide spread subtle sensations and start my regular body scan, part by part?
I would suggest to focus more on Anapana for the time being and while doing Vipassana, sweep the body part by part. It takes time to feel subtler sensations and switch to whole-body awareness. Do not rush. Practice regularly, slowly, steadily.
Let's go beyond this illusion, shall we?

Cachina

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    • Theravada, Satipatthana
Re: How to prevent dulling the mind during practice
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2016, 02:24:05 PM »
Hi Pablo,
yes, I also experience a lot less after a retreat. This is because daily life does not have retreat conditions.

I find that my attention needs an anchor - an object where it can always come back to. This could be the breath, the body parts or metta phrases. My mind wonders off anyway to feel sensations (and thoughts) that appear. I notice them, I label them and then I go back to the object. Doing it this way, the mind calms down and a calm mind can have insights.

ppthoma

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    • vipassana s.n. goenka
Re: How to prevent dulling the mind during practice
« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2016, 02:54:59 PM »
Hi Vivek, Cachina,

Thank you very much for your replies and insights!

To clarify one point, what I meant is that I am afraid that if I pick too large parts of the body or too much of the body at a single time to focus on, that over time I might lose the ability to feel subtle sensations all together. I know gross sensations are nothing bad and are not to be avoided but at the same time if one never experiences subtle "nice feeling" sensations then how can one get rid of sankara's of craving?

Regards,

Pablo

Hi Pablo.

Quote
is it normal for folks to experience a lot "less" after the retreat?

Yes, it is normal.

Quote
The way I understand it, the whole point is to get your mind sharper and sharper to pick up more and more subtle sensations.
You mean the whole purpose of the meditation technique? No, it is not. The point is to feel the whole body sensations, both gross AND subtle. It does not matter if sensations are gross or subtle, or if there are blank areas. What is important to see their impermanent nature. So, it is useful not to get too hung up on the quality of sensations you feel.

Quote
Is it "ok" to try to feel subtle sensations in as many parts of the body at the same time (say feet, lower legs + arms and maybe parts of the back) and then maybe scan around those and other parts all the while trying to retain the "full" awareness of all parts or am I at risk of dulling the mind like this and would be better off ignoring these wide spread subtle sensations and start my regular body scan, part by part?
I would suggest to focus more on Anapana for the time being and while doing Vipassana, sweep the body part by part. It takes time to feel subtler sensations and switch to whole-body awareness. Do not rush. Practice regularly, slowly, steadily.

Vivek

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Re: How to prevent dulling the mind during practice
« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2016, 04:16:05 PM »
Quote
I know gross sensations are nothing bad and are not to be avoided but at the same time if one never experiences subtle "nice feeling" sensations then how can one get rid of sankara's of craving?
One "gets rid of sankharas" by allowing the sensations, whether gross or subtle, to arise and pass away on their own, without reacting to them with craving or aversion. That is why I mentioned not to get too hung up on the quality of sensations. Instead, focus on developing your capacity for awareness and equanimity towards ALL sensations. Let go of wanting to experience "nice feeling" sensations as best as you can, and keep bringing the mind in balance to the awareness of the present moment.
Let's go beyond this illusion, shall we?

Cachina

  • Member
    • Theravada, Satipatthana
Re: How to prevent dulling the mind during practice
« Reply #5 on: February 16, 2016, 03:48:40 PM »
The ability to feel more subtle sensations comes with more practice (also following Viveks advice) and it can happen even without explicitly looking for the subtle sensations in the way you describe it. You could also experiment with this: What happens if you pick larger/smaller parts? What does it change? If you feel you want to try and see for yourself you better do not change every time. Try the same "method"/object a couple of times.
Additionally the mind gets the sharper the more often you practice. And another factor is how mindful you are in daily life. A good mindfulness in daily life can have an interesting impact on your formal meditation.

Jen

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    • Vipassana a la Goenka
Re: How to prevent dulling the mind during practice
« Reply #6 on: March 25, 2016, 04:45:10 PM »
Hi Pablo,
Welcome to the forum. :) You posted this a while ago, so hopefully things have become a bit more clear with continued practice at this point. You seem to have fixated a bit on Goenka's explanation of why we focus on the area under the nose (to sharpen the mind in order to be able to feel not only gross but also subtle sensations). We practice anapana in order to calm the mind enough to be able to observe the sensations. However, as Vivek said, the goal of body-scanning vipassana meditation is not to feel subtle sensations. Over the years of your continued practice, there may be times when your mind is so agitated that you can't maintain awareness of the sensations and have to practice anapana for the entire hour. There may be other days when you have nothing but gross sensations all over the body, or blank areas along with gross areas. It is in no way a sign of regress to have these types of experiences. You will inevitably experience many different qualities of sensations and many different levels of mental sharpness. This is a direct way you can observe anicca - impermanence. The practice is to observe and remain equanimous with whatever you are actually experiencing from moment to moment, and to develop the wisdom of the impermanence of all things.

Of course it is helpful when the mind is sharp, but we don't have too much direct control over this. I've found that the ability to concentrate does grow with continued practice, however. Be patient and persistent, and use anapana as much as you need to.

I would highly suggest that you email these questions to your assistant teacher to see what he has to say as well! Best of luck in your practice, and keep up the good work.
« Last Edit: March 25, 2016, 04:58:06 PM by Jen »
As an archer aims an arrow, as a carpenter carves wood, the wise shape their lives.

 

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