Author Topic: Advice on sensations  (Read 2609 times)

philltee

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Advice on sensations
« on: January 03, 2010, 05:02:35 PM »
Hi,

I have just completed a 10-day course in Hereford, England, and have a couple of questions about my pratice. I feel like things are going well so far, but I found that on the course many of the stduents had some very strong sankharas coming up, whereas I did not really have that. I just found that the course gave me a lot of food for thought, in terms of my way of living.

Now that I have returned home, I am meditating once or twice a day, and my concentration is good, but as I am moving through every part of the body, the sensations I have are all fairly similar and subtle, thus not producing any real reaction in any case. So I feel like I have nothing to work on, no requirement not to react, as I am not reacting anyway, and feel like I can be objective pretty easily to such sensations.  This makes me feel like I am either missing something in the practice, or the practice may not work for me as it is not going to bring up any sankharas. Can anyone recommend what I should be doing at this point - should I just continue to scan the body, and not expect anything to come up?

Also, I realise that I should be able to take my practice into daily life, and stay equanimous in daily situations, good or bad. However, if I find myself in a situation where I am reacting, should I then try to scan the body as I do in my practice, or should I just look at the general sensations arising? Is the idea just to think about the impermanence of the situation, or to look at the physical sensations arising from the situation which will in turn help my mental balance?

Thanks in advance.



mik1e

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Re: Advice on sensations
« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2010, 10:10:27 PM »
Dear philltee,

I may understand you totally wrong, but it seems that you were seriously misdirected.

Let me repeat what I've understood from your post.

1) You have visited 10-day course [on Vipassana, possibly according to Goenka] for the first time.
2) As I understood, you had no strong meditative experience before this course.
3) During the course "many of the students had some very strong sankharas coming up", and you are disappointed by the fact that yours "samscaras" did not come up, too.
4) Now you have 1-2 meditation sessions (for what time -- 10 minutes? 30 minutes?) a day and expect to "pull up" your "samskaras" by scanning your body.

If all these points are true, I can say that you are looking for black cat in the dark room. And there is no cat at all, so, it is not surprising that you find nothing.

First of all, 10-day silence retreat is really a great thing, but it only can lay the foundation for meditation practice, but not really teach you how to meditate yourself (again, I assume that it was your first serious meditative experience). You should not expect great results after such event. Results will come several months (or some years :)) later, after intensive regular practice.

Then, you use the strange word "samskara", which in the context of your post means nothing (at least for me). In Buddha's teaching this word means mental "dispositions", and there it is well defined. But how do you expect to discover "mental disposition" by scanning your body? And in what way do you scan the body? One second for foot, one -- for forehead, one -- for nose...? In this way you will find nothing but have a lot of fun playing with your mind (and, most of all, ego).

I can agree that it is possible to find (and even destroy) some coarsest emotional or mental imprints during your first silence retreat. But I would bet that students become attached to this experience, and looking for finer and finest samskaras will be not for them. So, you are lucky that you saw "nothing". At least, you have a chance to start serious practice from the very beginning.

Again, I am talking about my personal opinion based on my understanding of your post.

Anyway, I would suggest you:
a) to reformulate your question, avoiding the word "samskara" (using English words only),

b) to write a bit about your practical meditative experience,

c) explain what you are looking for (or what you understand under "samskaras" -- in English, of course :))

For me serious working with samskaras is an advanced enough practice. If somebody tries to teach you to work with them from the very beginning, it is nothing more than populism.

Best.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2010, 10:13:29 PM by mik1e »

Jhananda

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Re: Advice on sensations
« Reply #2 on: January 04, 2010, 01:56:56 AM »
Hello philltee, it sounds like you are doing very well, and making progress.  One need not experience anything for the first few months or even years of meditation practice, other than increasing self-awareness, decreasing anxiety and general increasing calm, which are all good signs of progress. 

I am with mik1e regarding your use of the term 'sankharas,' since we do not know how well you understand that term, it is probably best that you articulate yourself in English.  I assume by your use of that term you were hoping for the arising of some deep emotional baggage, but maybe you do not have such baggage.  If not, then there is no reason to go looking for it if it is not there.

Do keep in mind that meditation techniques are only vehicles toward self-awareness and absorption, so one need not get too caught up in the method.  Methods are expendable, and they are meant to be honed, or fine tuned, by the contemplative.  However some organizations and meditation teachers feel otherwise, but obsessing over the method (magga) is the hallmark of the amateur.

It is excellent that you are now meditating twice a day.  I have found a daily meditation practice is far more effective at personal transformation, than attending one or more 10-day meditation retreats.  So, do keep up the daily practice, and do attend the occasional 10-day retreat as you find you have time and inspiration to attend.  You may find reading the following essay I wrote some years ago on the skillful practice of meditation of use (link below).  Below that you will find a link to a translation of the Anapanasati sutta, which I rendered some years ago when I realized that the translated suttas that we had available to us were quite poor.

A Practice Regimen (Magga) That Can Lead To Enlightenment (Phala) In This Very Lifetime
http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/practiceregimen.htm

Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118) “Mindfulness of the breath”
http://www.greatwesternvehicle.org/pali/Phala_Nikaya/anapanasatisutta.htm

Best regards, Jeffrey

philltee

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Re: Advice on sensations
« Reply #3 on: January 04, 2010, 08:47:08 AM »
Thank you both for your responses.

By the term sankharas, I meant formation, in terms of forming craving or aversion, or craving/aversion being formed. My understanding of the vipassana technique is to observe all sensations with equanimity, and not to react to them, so as not to produce any new conditioning, and also to allow the old conditioning to arise and be eradicated. Is this not correct?

My current practice is for one hour, either once or twice daily. I am currently scanning through from head to foot, then back up again, just watching the sensations in each area. If this technique is incorrect, please tell me how I should be working - Mike, you seem to be telling me I have got it all wrong?? This was what I learnt in the 10-day (goenka) course.

My question was that as I scan through the body, I do not have any strong sensations to react to, just subtle sensations. I can easily be objective and equanimous towards such sensations - so what more should I be doing? And my second question was: I realise that I should be able to take my practice into daily life, and stay equanimous in daily situations, good or bad. However, if I find myself in a situation where I am reacting, should I then try to scan the body as I do in my practice, or should I just look at the general sensations arising? Is the idea just to think about the impermanence of the situation, or to look at the physical sensations arising from the situation which will in turn help my mental balance?


mik1e

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Re: Advice on sensations
« Reply #4 on: January 04, 2010, 01:02:17 PM »
philltee,

In order not to repeat myself, I advise you to read this post, where I explain an algorithm of working with kleshas/samskaras (energy imprints). You can find out that what you describe is close enough to this algorithm, but at the same time is fundamentally different. What I describe is based on using the mechanisms of subtle bodies, but you were taught to use your mechanical mind (body scan) for this purpose.

Mechanical mind (thinking in words) is the slowest mechanism of the consciousness. If you want to be efficient in meditation, you have to be able to switch it off. But this experience cannot be gained by reading texts, because you read text just using your mechanical mind.

I usually start teaching people to watch the processes of forming craving or aversion only when they have developed strong skills in body relaxation and perceiving the whole body as an integer object. Then, when the mind is calmed enough, you can just watch where are the sources of your craving or aversion, and how they interact with each other and with your consciousness. Usually achieving this state takes from several months to 1-2 years, depending on the person, his/her experience, and the help of more advanced practitioners (e.g., root lama, if you have one). That's why I am so skeptic to hear that you expect to be able to use such techniques after 10-day retreat. If you do want to reach these states in visible future, it is better for you to focus on basic technique -- breathing through whole body. Why it is important, I've described in this post. You definitely have kleshas and samskaras, but you feel nothing in your body because you did not create necessary conditions for using such technique.

Hope this will help.

Matthew

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Re: Advice on sensations
« Reply #5 on: January 04, 2010, 02:16:50 PM »
Dear philltee

Welcome to the forums and to being a meditator. The first thing I will point out is that you have learned one of many approaches to "Vipassana" meditation. The S.N. Goenka system has no trademark on the word Vipassana, however many meditators who study with them are not aware that their take on Vipassana is one of many.

It is an approach that I find problematic for a number of reasons.

The first reason relates to this section of your post:

Now that I have returned home, I am meditating once or twice a day, and my concentration is good, but as I am moving through every part of the body, the sensations I have are all fairly similar and subtle, thus not producing any real reaction in any case. So I feel like I have nothing to work on, no requirement not to react, as I am not reacting anyway, and feel like I can be objective pretty easily to such sensations.  This makes me feel like I am either missing something in the practice, or the practice may not work for me as it is not going to bring up any sankharas. Can anyone recommend what I should be doing at this point - should I just continue to scan the body, and not expect anything to come up?

At the Goenka retreat you will have taken three days of meditation described as "Anapana", focussing at your nostrils to develop concentration. Anapana is a form of Shamatha or "calm-abiding" meditation.

For westerners who are very goal oriented, often stuck in their rational brain and disconnected from the body this can be problematic. Firstly it is against the teachings of the Buddha who described the proper approach to Shamatha meditation in the meditation Sutta's thus:

Quote from: www.accesstoinsight.org
"There is the case where an aspirant -- having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building -- sits down cross-legged, holding the body erect and setting her (4) awareness before her. Always aware, one breathes in; aware one breathes out aware.

"Breathing in long, one discerns that one is breathing in long; or breathing out long, one discerns that one is breathing out long. Or breathing in short, one discerns that one is breathing in short; or breathing out short, one discerns that one is breathing out short. One trains himself to breathe in sensitive to the entire body and to breathe out sensitive to the entire body. One trains herself to breathe in calming the entire body and to breathe out calming the entire body.
"

In this post I describe the detailed neurological basis as to why Anapana may, if combined with strong desire to progress and the forceful quieting of the mind, be a problem for meditators.

Briefly, meditation is in the first stage about: breath(ing) in sensitive to the entire body and breath(ing) out sensitive to the entire body. Training yourself to breathe in calming the entire body and to breathe out calming the entire body. Nothing about noses.

By trying to develop concentration as a first goal - rather than sensitivity to the whole body and calmness in the entire body - one is skipping step 1 on the path to awakening. Step 1 is very important. Sitting breathing in aware of the whole body and the breath entering and leaving, allowing thoughts, feelings and perceptions to rise and fall, neither attaching to nor pushing them away, the mind and body come into harmony and the mind quietens naturally.

By working with Anapana at the nostrils one is actually quite at risk of forcing the mind into quiet acquiescence. This is a form of fabricated quiet or self-hypnosis and many meditators spend years trying to work with this state of mind, fruitlessly. Those years are fruitless because it truly is only the mind that comes to quiet through slow acceptance of what is and a deep reconditioning of the entire bodymind that will give up it's secrets.

Working with Shamatha of the kind described above, as the Buddha taught it, the body and mind relax. One learns not to attach to mental objects through repeatedly noticing one has attached to them and letting go. This is best done with a sense of compassion and laughter at one's own "tiger mind", running wildly here and there.

An example of attachment to thought and indulging it rather than letting it go would be that one starts with the thought, "I'm hungry". One might continue "What shall I have for dinner. MMM think I fancy an omelette. Damn we have no eggs. I'll have to drop in to Tesco on the way home. Oh hell it's going to be busy ... school chuck out time". You will do this a lot as a beginning meditator unless the quiet of your mind and the concentration have come through force and not relaxation. This is fine. It's why meditation practice is called practice. We get better and better at spotting thoughts arise and not attaching to them, keeping the focus gently on the breath as it enters and leaves the whole body whilst not ignoring nor aattching to thoughts. Each time we get caught in a train of thoughts we notice that has happened, make a mental note of it and return the focus to the breath.

This form of Shamatha will take from days to months or longer to perfect, depending on your time and commitment to it, pre-existing condition and your following of the other elements of the eightfold path - which are all conducive to good meditation. The first fruit of this long practice is truly one-pointed mind. A mind able to concentrate totally on anything, without suppressing anything else - mainly because this process progressively winds down the clockspring of restless thought through sheer persistence and boredom. Eventually the mind runs out of junk to say to you, and try and draw you away from your meditation with, and there is nothing to supress - just mind quietly dwelling in pace and awareness.

Also, I realise that I should be able to take my practice into daily life, and stay equanimous in daily situations, good or bad. However, if I find myself in a situation where I am reacting, should I then try to scan the body as I do in my practice, or should I just look at the general sensations arising? Is the idea just to think about the impermanence of the situation, or to look at the physical sensations arising from the situation which will in turn help my mental balance?

Awareness is the key to taking meditation off the cushion. When you feel anger or other unwholesome states arising take deep relaxed breaths. Once one has established, through good practice, an awareness of the state of your bodymind from moment to moment you will find it much easier to take the calm and concentration, compassion and wisdom that arise in meditation into everyday life. These things will never arise through forced effort, however, but very much through you returning to your true nature by letting the proper calming process of Shamatha meditation work it's magic (it's not magic really, it's common sense, but I like the word in the context).

.... That's why I am so skeptic to hear that you expect to be able to use such techniques after 10-day retreat. If you do want to reach these states in visible future, it is better for you to focus on basic technique -- breathing through whole body.

I completely agree with Mik1e here. Three days of Anapana in the stressed situation of a first meditation retreat is insufficient to have actually calmed the mind and body through relaxation. Others were "having Sankharas arise" and you weren't - this could have lead to a desire to achieve the same "progress" as others. Much of this progress will have been unreal anyway and will have been ego reactions to the stress of undertaking a first intensive meditation retreat, and perhaps made worse by the techniques employed.

If the bodyscans are doing nothing for you it may well be down to one of the issues I have described here. You can certainly experiment with just sitting and breathing, forcing nothing, "FABRICATING NOTHING", just letting yourself be, and noticing what you be through anchoring awareness in your whole body, breathing and calming.

In the Dhamma,

Matthew
« Last Edit: January 04, 2010, 02:18:34 PM by The Irreverent Buddhist »
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