Author Topic: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha  (Read 6261 times)

TomThumb

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Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« on: February 01, 2010, 11:44:30 PM »
When practicing Shamatha I have found that while focussing on my breathing, if I concentrated “more” then as the thoughts arose I could focus on them and they will just dissolve. I have read warnings in this forum that trying too hard, and forcing the mind, just leads to a dead end and that made me start to wonder if by concentrating “more” I was in fact pushing too much.

Before actually trying to get my question across I realised that I would need to do a little better at describing “more”; what it actually feels like. It isn’t easy, since these things are not exactly cognitively penetrable, but here goes with a hopefully suitable metaphor, which might be something that others further along the path can relate to, and therefore, advise me: it is like having a glass wall about 30 cm in front of your nose. Usually, with the eyes relaxed you look straight through the wall at the world, you don’t even know that it is there. However, if you refocus your eyes you can see the wall. Such refocusing requires use of the eye muscles and can definitely be felt as an “effort”, albeit slight. Hence, in the breathing context, in a similar way, I have to make a slight effort with my “attentional eye” to keep it focused on the space where the thoughts arise. So, I’ll be focussing on the breathing but in a prepared way trying to zap the thoughts as they arise (a bit like mental space invaders).

So, to the question, following from this metaphor: is this “slight effort” what right attention/concentration should feel like, or am I pushing too much? Straining? Should I just try to focus on the breathing in a relaxed non focussed way and be more patient? I must admit that it feels like progress and looks promising, but maybe that is just ego and may cause more damage than benefit if I carry on doing it…

Thanks

TT
« Last Edit: February 01, 2010, 11:45:57 PM by TomThumb »
Before you claim any absolute truth, remember you see only 1% of the electromagnetic spectrum and hear 1% of the acoustic spectrum. 90% of the body’s cells carry their own DNA and are not you. Your body’s atoms are 99.9999999% empty space. Humans have 46 chromosomes, 2 less than the common potato.

mik1e

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #1 on: February 02, 2010, 01:25:27 AM »
TT,

I'd say that you are trapped by words. You have read many times that you have "to fabricate nothing", but you don't know, how this state (sensation) looks like. That's why I usually prefer to talk in terms of body sensations -- this language is much more precise.

It seems that your "more concentration" is related to a bit greater activity of Ajna. This is not bad -- if you activate this center not by "stressing" it, but by filling it with more energy. Looking on your description, I assume that the second case takes place. So, you are moving in correct way, BUT you have to keep the "natural" level of activity of the center, i.e. you should not cross the threshold, after which you begin to "stress" the center. After some experimenting you will understand the difference.

As I know, Tibetan monks in their Shamatha practice use "analytical meditation", during which Ajna and mind are stressed pretty well, but then they come to focusing / attention techniques (like focusing on breath), and at that time they do not use Ajna too much.

I can say that when the energy starts flowing through Ajna properly, your thoughts disappear automatically.  Or, at least, you will understand where they come from.


Matthew

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #2 on: February 02, 2010, 07:01:46 AM »
....
 So, I’ll be focussing on the breathing but in a prepared way trying to zap the thoughts as they arise (a bit like mental space invaders).



Tom,

This is the only bit of your description that concerns me yet I could be misunderstanding. "Zap the thoughts" sounds active, fabricated. At early stages of Shamatha relaxation and letting the thoughts naturally arise, then dissolve, aware whilst not attaching to them or following a train of thoughts is the name of the game. Zapping implies a forceful suppression whereas what you are aiming at is boring them into quietude by wearing them out, letting them all flow forth and discover they are not swaying your concentration.

Warmly, in the Dhamma,

Matthew
« Last Edit: February 02, 2010, 07:02:22 AM by The Irreverent Buddhist »
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TomThumb

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #3 on: February 02, 2010, 01:01:15 PM »
Yeah, thanks. Maybe the key thing is that it is an active process. I don't try to suppress them in the sense of forcing my mind away from them. They do dissolve. Maybe instead of the "Zap the thoughts" line it would be better to say "like the thoughts were ice cubes that by observing them I drop them into a bowl of boiling water". As I observe a thought it just fades away, but this happens very quickly.

The effort I mentioned in my earlier post refers to the way that I have to "actively concentrate" for this to happen (like contracting an eye muscle to look at something close to you). It is so difficult to describe (m1ke is right about the words). But it is like there is my breath and me watching, and then my concentration that puts the two together. If I lose the concentration, or just mentally relax, then I am prey to the next thought train that comes along... The key thing is that the concentration requires effort. Mental effort. It is not like being completely "mentally" relaxed when you wake up in the morning or are lying in the grass on a sunny afternoon, not quite awake but not quite a sleep...

What does the concentration aspect of meditation actually feel like? Is it just you and the breathing or is there a sense of concentration as well, as if it were a third component? I can sense "me", the "breathing process" and the "mental effort of concentrating".

Thanks,

TT
Before you claim any absolute truth, remember you see only 1% of the electromagnetic spectrum and hear 1% of the acoustic spectrum. 90% of the body’s cells carry their own DNA and are not you. Your body’s atoms are 99.9999999% empty space. Humans have 46 chromosomes, 2 less than the common potato.

mik1e

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #4 on: February 02, 2010, 03:52:33 PM »
TT,

I would describe the one-pointed concentration as "freezing" (e.g., time freezing, as in sci-fi movies) -- as if you have jumped up and stopped at the top of the trajectory. If you let the time go, you fall down. But, while the time is stopped, you need no efforts to fly in the air. And you control the time flow not by any kind of stress, but by relaxation. I.e., all your "efforts" are intended for keeping your mind and body relaxed. And you find very quickly, that the more stable (one-pointed) is your mind, the easier it is to keep it relaxed and the longer you can stay in the "frozen space". This is the relationship between Shamatha and Vipassana practices.

TomThumb

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #5 on: February 02, 2010, 09:39:29 PM »
Excellent description mik1e, in terms that even I can understand  ;) Thanks. I am trying too hard and will just work on relaxing into my breath.

TT
Before you claim any absolute truth, remember you see only 1% of the electromagnetic spectrum and hear 1% of the acoustic spectrum. 90% of the body’s cells carry their own DNA and are not you. Your body’s atoms are 99.9999999% empty space. Humans have 46 chromosomes, 2 less than the common potato.

LisaTech

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #6 on: February 11, 2010, 05:05:36 PM »
Your 'attentional eye' sounds much like what I have recently figured out - what it feels like to me is a change in my focal point from long to short and realizing that there are energy eyelids as well as physical ones... Your words feel similar to what I experience and call my 'inside eye'... Do you wear glasses by any chance (short sighted)? I have found the sensation with my eyes closed (long and short) is very much like the distance change of focal point from when my glasses are on to when they are off. And I have found my glasses on actually inhibit meditation....

Just curious and glad to hear that perhaps there are others with this same experience... anyone else I talk to about it doesn't get it...  :P

sublime

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #7 on: February 11, 2010, 06:22:20 PM »
I know exactly what you are saying lisa. I have had the same experience/hinderance... and also, yes I wear glasses and am short sighted too.

kidnovice

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2010, 11:00:42 PM »
Hey Tom,

I just wanted to say that your post TOTALLY resonates with me.  Your description fits my own experiences in the last few years, and I too have been having the same question: am I doing too much? Like you, I have noticed a powerful correlation between my mental "visual field" and my level of concentration. And like you, I often notice that I "zap" thoughts--not by suppressing them, but simply by turning my awareness to them. Its like some quality in my awareness immediately causes the thoughts to evaporate (as you put it, like putting ice-cubes in hot-water). All in all, I just wonder if I'm working more than I "should."  As a side note, I also notice that when on retreat, as my concentration deepens, my jaw inevitably generates a strange tension, which I suspect is a symptom of the underlying effort I am subtly putting in.

So anyway, I can't offer true advice--since it sounds like we're on the same page in our shamatha practice--and both wondering whats coming next down the pike. But, I did want to share some thoughts I've been having.  Basically, I don't think anyone can truly answer this question for me (us?). I liked hearing people's responses to your post, but in the end, I suspect that they can only offer indirect pointers. What really matters is the degree of ease that permeates my awareness. I've definitely noticed that concentration has become more "effortless" and "serene" in the last few years (in the same way that staying on a bike seems effortless once you've really gotten the hang of it). And I'm guessing that as long as I keep an "eye" out for subtle areas of tension (and release) in my mind/body, this gradual "easing-up" will continue.

Thanks for the post, and I look forward to hearing more responses!
May we cultivate the serenity to accept the things we cannot change; the compassion to change the things we can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

TomThumb

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #9 on: February 15, 2010, 12:00:38 PM »
Thanks for the replies, it is interesting to see that others have the same experiences.

Do you wear glasses by any chance (short sighted)?

No LisaTech. I am a little myopic, due to having crossed the 40 year old boundry, a few years back, but have never worn glasses. I had my eyes checked last week, as it happens, and was told that I shouldn't bother...

I too have been having the same question: am I doing too much? Like you, I have noticed a powerful correlation between my mental "visual field" and my level of concentration. And like you, I often notice that I "zap" thoughts--not by suppressing them, but simply by turning my awareness to them. Its like some quality in my awareness immediately causes the thoughts to evaporate (as you put it, like putting ice-cubes in hot-water).

Since writing the post, about 15 days ago, I decided to "back off" a bit, in terms of the "attentional eye" and not focus my attention in such an intense way (being worried about over-trying), and my sessions have been pretty poor. I have just been focussing on staying relaxed with letting my attention rest on the general sense of my breath, but no "focussing". And the results have been a lot worse. I have been really fighting to stay on my breath. My mind has been like a leaf in the wind...

All in all, I just wonder if I'm working more than I "should."  As a side note, I also notice that when on retreat, as my concentration deepens, my jaw inevitably generates a strange tension, which I suspect is a symptom of the underlying effort I am subtly putting in.

At the retreat, did you ask a teacher of fellow student about this?

I wonder about what you descibe about your jaw. In other posts in this forum whenever someone says that they are noting tension in the head/around the eyes/jaw, etc., it seams to me that some more experienced practitioner comes along and says that thay are trying to hard...

Another question kidnovice, when you are on a retreat, can you keep your "attentional eye" focussed for long periods of time, or do you get tired, like you would if you were focussing your eyes on an object close to you? I don't mean that you lose your concentration and start to think about what's for lunch, but that you actually "feel tired" because of the effort you are making? Like if you had to keep both your arms out straight in front of you, after a few minutes you would have to stop because of the effort... It doesn't happen to me but that is because I am only able to do 45 mins each morning..

So anyway, I can't offer true advice--since it sounds like we're on the same page in our shamatha practice--and both wondering whats coming next down the pike. But, I did want to share some thoughts I've been having.  Basically, I don't think anyone can truly answer this question for me (us?).

You are so right. I had hoped for a definiteve "yes" / "no" answer, since there are some very experienced meditators in this forum, but as you can see, that didn't happen, which given the incredably good natured folks that hang around in here, and their willingness to help, it makes me think that there is no straight forward answer. It is a little like me holding a stone in my hand and telling you that it is heavy. What does that mean? Would you find it heavy as well?

I have decided that I am going to go back to try to cultivate the "attentional eye" feeling for the next few months and see what that does to my concentration levels.

Thanks for posting,

TT
Before you claim any absolute truth, remember you see only 1% of the electromagnetic spectrum and hear 1% of the acoustic spectrum. 90% of the body’s cells carry their own DNA and are not you. Your body’s atoms are 99.9999999% empty space. Humans have 46 chromosomes, 2 less than the common potato.

J0rrit

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #10 on: August 13, 2014, 10:17:02 PM »
I have the same sort of question:

While focussing with more effort on the breath, my eyelids are pressing together/closing. Does this mean I'm overdoing it? That I use to much effort/force?

The funny thing is that I don't experience any stress/restlesness because of this more intense effort, instead, my meditation goes very well and I get very deep/concentrated, and also very relaxed, minus the eyelids/the pressing eyes?

Edit:It's called eyestrain, but I'm certain concentrating less isn't the right thing to do; it vfeels far too less concentrated...
« Last Edit: August 13, 2014, 10:41:22 PM by J0rrit »

VinceField

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #11 on: August 14, 2014, 12:49:12 AM »
Wow you sure resurrected this one.  Ha.

I also experience this eyestrain at times.  I believe it's due to tension in the area of the eyes.  It seems to happen to me when my awareness is centered within my head for a long period of time or during times of strong concentration.  I release this tension as soon as it presents itself, as my meditation calls for full body awareness and this is a tell tale sign that awareness is centered in the head.  My meditation also calls for completely letting go of all things unrelated to present awareness of breath energy throughout the body, and this is a sign that there is still some form of clinging that has not been completely let go of.  I have found that this tension needs to be let go of and dissipated for a productive sitting.  I usually accomplish this by spreading my awareness down into the rest of my body, although sometimes I need to consciously relax my eye muscles to fully let go of the tension.  So Jorrit, I agree that concentrating less isn't the right thing to do, but rather, I believe that concentrating appropriately, correctly- right concentration- is the issue here.

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #12 on: August 14, 2014, 08:54:31 AM »
I try not to do focus on doing anything. If you sit there obsessing over whether your eyes are too closed or not closed enough, you're going to make that a matter of contention to sidetrack yourself with. Likewise with the breath, you shouldn't be trying to take deep breaths, or short breaths, or any breaths at all, closing your eyes and breathing are things which should almost be involuntary that you're witnessing, not creating.

It's not how you do it, it's that you're doing it at all.

Matthew

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #13 on: August 14, 2014, 10:48:03 AM »
Eyes half open helps.
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VinceField

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #14 on: August 14, 2014, 01:17:31 PM »
Quote
Likewise with the breath, you shouldn't be trying to take deep breaths, or short breaths, or any breaths at all

Perhaps it depends on the meditation technique that one is using or the stage that one is in if following Anapanasati instructions.

From Bhikkhu Thanissaro's Anapanasati Instructions :
Quote
In the beginning stages, though, the emphasis is on the breath itself, on using the breath to snare the mind and bring it into the present moment. In the first two steps you're simply with long breathing and short breathing, sensitizing yourself to what long and short breathing feel like.

From Thanissaro's With Each and Every Breath:
Quote
Notice where you feel the sensations of breathing in the body: the sensations that tell
you, “Now you’re taking an in-breath. Now you’re taking an out-breath.” Notice if they’re
comfortable. If they are, keep breathing in that way. If they’re not, adjust the breath so
that it’s more comfortable.

Try changing the rhythm and texture of the breath. Experiment with different ways
of breathing to see how they feel. You can make the breath shorter or longer. You can try
short in and long out, or long in and short out. You can try faster breathing or slower
breathing. Deeper or more shallow. Heavier or lighter. Broader or more narrow. When you
find a rhythm that feels good, stick with it as long as it feels good. If, after a while, it
doesn’t feel good, you can adjust the breath again.

 When the blatant sensations of breathing are comfortable, expand your awareness to
different parts of the body to observe more subtle breathing sensations.
You can do this section-by-section, in any order you like, but in the beginning try to be
systematic so that you cover the entire body. Later, when your sensitivity to the body
becomes more automatic, you will quickly sense which parts of the body need most
attention, and you can direct your attention immediately there.

Regarding the breath:
Quote
One rhythm or texture may feel right for a while, and then something else will feel more comfortable. Learn how to listen and respond to what the body is telling you right now. What kind of breath energy does it need? How can you best provide for that need? If you feel tired, try to breathe in a way that energizes the body. If you feel tense, try to breathe in a way that's relaxing.

Notice if there's any sense of tension or tightness in that part of the body, either with the in-breath or with the out-breath. Is it tensing up as you breathe in? Are you holding onto the tension as you breathe out? Are you putting too much force on the out-breath? If you catch yourself doing any of these things, just relax. Think of that tension dissolving away in the sensation of the in-breath, the sensation of the out-breath.

VinceField

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #15 on: August 14, 2014, 01:22:38 PM »
Regarding the eyes, I have found it is helpful to open the eyes gently and let them relax completely until they are lightly closed. 

J0rrit

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #16 on: August 14, 2014, 05:34:26 PM »
Wow you sure resurrected this one.  Ha.

I also experience this eyestrain at times.  I believe it's due to tension in the area of the eyes.  It seems to happen to me when my awareness is centered within my head for a long period of time or during times of strong concentration.  I release this tension as soon as it presents itself, as my meditation calls for full body awareness and this is a tell tale sign that awareness is centered in the head.  My meditation also calls for completely letting go of all things unrelated to present awareness of breath energy throughout the body, and this is a sign that there is still some form of clinging that has not been completely let go of.  I have found that this tension needs to be let go of and dissipated for a productive sitting.  I usually accomplish this by spreading my awareness down into the rest of my body, although sometimes I need to consciously relax my eye muscles to fully let go of the tension.  So Jorrit, I agree that concentrating less isn't the right thing to do, but rather, I believe that concentrating appropriately, correctly- right concentration- is the issue here.

Hi Vince,

The eyestrain happens with me immediately when I grab hold of the breath tightly, more tightly than when I don't have the eyestrain. The eyestrain is directly correlated with the amount of effort I use (or how tightly I grab hold of the breath, with how much force). Releasing this tension results in letting go of the breath...As soon as I grab the breath with my attention, even if not really tight but loosely, I feel a certain amount of this tension and my eyes squeeze a little bit...

By releasing this tension in my eyes/forehead, I also loosen the grip on the breath... So if I want to avoid all tension, I can't grab my breath and can't get really hold of it...

Any suggestions? This is still the within the same problem I have had with finding the right amount of effort/concentration that is needed, the right amount of grabbing the breath; not too tight, but also not too loose. Any suggestions how I can find this right amount, maybe with using this tension as an measure to know when I grab hold of the breath too tight/using too much effort? I'm still stuck in this one...

All advice is welcome!

How to find this right concentration ?

Dharmic Tui

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #17 on: August 14, 2014, 06:50:33 PM »
Quote
Likewise with the breath, you shouldn't be trying to take deep breaths, or short breaths, or any breaths at all

Perhaps it depends on the meditation technique that one is using or the stage that oneu is in if following Anapanasati instructions.

From Bhikkhu Thanissaro's Anapanasati Instructions :
Quote
In the beginning stages, though, the emphasis is on the breath itself, on using the breath to snare the mind and bring it into the present moment. In the first two steps you're simply with long breathing and short breathing, sensitizing yourself to what long and short breathing feel like.

From Thanissaro's With Each and Every Breath:
Quote
Notice where you feel the sensations of breathing in the body: the sensations that tell
you, “Now you’re taking an in-breath. Now you’re taking an out-breath.” Notice if they’re
comfortable. If they are, keep breathing in that way. If they’re not, adjust the breath so
that it’s more comfortable.

Try changing the rhythm and texture of the breath. Experiment with different ways
of breathing to see how they feel. You can make the breath shorter or longer. You can try
short in and long out, or long in and short out. You can try faster breathing or slower
breathing. Deeper or more shallow. Heavier or lighter. Broader or more narrow. When you
find a rhythm that feels good, stick with it as long as it feels good. If, after a while, it
doesn’t feel good, you can adjust the breath again.

 When the blatant sensations of breathing are comfortable, expand your awareness to
different parts of the body to observe more subtle breathing sensations.
You can do this section-by-section, in any order you like, but in the beginning try to be
systematic so that you cover the entire body. Later, when your sensitivity to the body
becomes more automatic, you will quickly sense which parts of the body need most
attention, and you can direct your attention immediately there.

Regarding the breath:
Quote
One rhythm or texture may feel right for a while, and then something else will feel more comfortable. Learn how to listen and respond to what the body is telling you right now. What kind of breath energy does it need? How can you best provide for that need? If you feel tired, try to breathe in a way that energizes the body. If you feel tense, try to breathe in a way that's relaxing.

Notice if there's any sense of tension or tightness in that part of the body, either with the in-breath or with the out-breath. Is it tensing up as you breathe in? Are you holding onto the tension as you breathe out? Are you putting too much force on the out-breath? If you catch yourself doing any of these things, just relax. Think of that tension dissolving away in the sensation of the in-breath, the sensation of the out-breath.
Perhaps those are instructions for someone just starting out. For me I noticed an improvement in my sittings when I stopped putting too much effort into how I was breathing. Now I lightly distinguish between breath coming in and breath going out. To me the breath is merely used as a tool due to it being the only involuntary constant, rather than the true object of practice.
« Last Edit: August 14, 2014, 06:52:53 PM by Dharmic Tui »

VinceField

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #18 on: August 14, 2014, 06:51:24 PM »
It kinda sounds like you are clinging to the breath or putting forth too much effort.  I think your use of the word "grabbing" signifies this.  I don't grab the breath, I simply experience it.  Try relaxing into the awareness of the breath with no strain, or letting the breath fill your awareness without overexerting yourself.  I know how to do it but explaining exactly what to do is a bit more difficult, as it's kinda intuitive.  I would continue to experiment until you can reach a state free from tension yet focused, peacefully concentrated.  Perhaps try to shift your point of awareness from your head down into your body, this often helps me relieve head tension. 

Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #19 on: August 14, 2014, 07:08:14 PM »
TT,

What you are doing is extremely benificial and I would advice you to continue doing the same. Just observe your attention as well in the process of observation and remove the tension in it. As you keep remove tension from the attention then the activity becomes relaxed and much easy to do and can be adopted into your being.

VinceField

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #20 on: August 14, 2014, 08:53:52 PM »
Perhaps those are instructions for someone just starting out. For me I noticed an improvement in my sittings when I stopped putting too much effort into how I was breathing. Now I lightly distinguish between breath coming in and breath going out. To me the breath is merely used as a tool due to it being the only involuntary constant, rather than the true object of practice.

Yeah I agree, these instructions are especially helpful for beginners.  I've noticed myself needing to use the breath in these ways less and less as I have been developing greater levels of fully body awareness and concentration.  I generally use Thanissaro's methods at the beginning of my sessions, as they help sensitize me to every part of the body individually, which later helps increase my level of full body awareness, and are especially helpful for relieving tension in specific areas of the body that are initially present.  After this initial stage of my meditation I shift into a meditation method similar to what you have briefly described as the method that you use, more like Brahm's method of letting go with fully body awareness of the breath energy without manipulating the breath but letting it flow naturally. 

My understanding of the breath in regards to meditation is likewise that it is a tool, and the true object, or objective, is the concentration that is given to it. 

J0rrit

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #21 on: August 14, 2014, 09:33:55 PM »
It kinda sounds like you are clinging to the breath or putting forth too much effort.  I think your use of the word "grabbing" signifies this.  I don't grab the breath, I simply experience it.  Try relaxing into the awareness of the breath with no strain, or letting the breath fill your awareness without overexerting yourself.  I know how to do it but explaining exactly what to do is a bit more difficult, as it's kinda intuitive.  I would continue to experiment until you can reach a state free from tension yet focused, peacefully concentrated.  Perhaps try to shift your point of awareness from your head down into your body, this often helps me relieve head tension.

Hi Vince,

This is a part of a Dhamma Talk given by Ajahn Brahm:

To develop samatha, first of all get hold of the breath - so you can see it. In order to do this you have to restrain other activities, the things that come up into the mind that tear you away from your object of meditation - whether it's thoughts or plans, or feelings of pain in the body, you have to restrain your mind from going out to those things, and stay with the breath. Once you can see the breath clearly, then you can actually calm it down and find what effort is required to make it smooth and light and the mind peaceful. This is the first practice in traditional anapanasati.

You may have noticed that whenever the mind is calm, the body doesn't give you so much of a problem. If you can get into a quiet state of mind quickly when you first sit down meditating - while the body is at ease, before the knees start to ache and the back becomes sore - then the body won't disturb you throughout the rest of the meditation. So quieten the body first of all, and then go to the breath and get hold of it wherever it is. It doesn't matter where the breath is - where the sensation is - wherever it is, see it there and catch hold of it and don't allow it to disappear. It is an effort - it's attaining or going towards something, doing something, rather than just letting go too quickly and doing nothing - rather than just watching the mind wander here there and everywhere; that's really not what the practice is all about. Quietening the mind down first of all is a prerequisite for any wisdom to arise.

So when it comes down to reality, one does need to do something. One does need to put forth effort into practising - to quietening the mind down: in daily life, and also when one is sitting. If you try, and it doesn't become calm straight away, it's because one is pushing in the wrong places. People say sometimes that they have been trying to calm the mind down to make it peaceful, and it doesn't work - but there is a way to calm the mind down. Just because a person does it wrongly - doesn't know the way to quieten the mind - doesn't mean it doesn't work. One can calm the mind down, but to be able to do that you have to know when to push and when to pull; if you do all pushing and no pulling it doesn't work. You have to know the state of your mind, and also what you are doing. You have to know how much to hold on to the breath - to know when you are holding on too tightly to the point where you become tired and tense. If you find that you can't calm down, investigate the reason why. One of the reasons may be because you haven't invested the time or the effort. How many hours are there in the day, and how many of those hours do we spend sitting watching the breath?

This is the full Dhamma Talk:

http://dhammatalks.net/Books9/Ajahn_Brahm_Samatha_Meditation.htm.

If you don't get hold of it, how can you develop concentration to its full potential and how can you be aware of the breath to the exclusive of everything else?

VinceField

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #22 on: August 14, 2014, 09:43:22 PM »
I agree that effort is needed.  I have stated this several times in various threads.  In fact, I am the one who pointed Brahms instructions to you!  Like I said, you may have an issue of too much effort, or wrongly-directed effort. 

It seems to me like Brahm is saying that one gets a hold of the breath by simply letting go of everything that is not the breath.  This should include tightness and tension in the body.

J0rrit

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #23 on: August 15, 2014, 12:22:30 PM »
That is correct, but I allready meditated from the instructions from Brahm, I have allready read 'MIndfulness: Bliss and Beyond' two times. But he says something like this in the book: You don't go looking for the breath, but the breath has to come to you! And when you have the breath, don't hold it too tight, like a lotus flower, when you have got that in your hand, you don't hold that tight, gentle objects need a gentle touch.

Also what I said before, in the same book he states that you do nothing, only say to yourself three times a sentence to instruct mindfulness, and than DO COMPLETELY NOTHING, JUST WATCH. That means no effort.

I have asked this on another forum (Dhammaloka, the Ajahb Brahm forum) and there they say at the beginning you need effort, and eventually only the three sentences will be enough.

But this still doesn't answer my question: do you need to GRAB the breath with your attention? Or do you need another form of attention?

I can't get this clear. In my opinion you can either grab the breath with your attention, or watch the breath without grabbing it. The first is necessary to get 'a closer look at the breath' and to make sure the mind goes 'deeper' into the breath. While using the last, there is no clinging, no attachment to the breath, and there is less stress, because you watch the breath, but because you don't grab it with your attention, there is far less striving to get to something, you don't really want something as in if you grab the breath, you want the breath. But without grabbing, there is not much progress in my concentration, there is far less joy, the mind is less stable etc etc

VinceField

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Re: Right and wrong attention/concentration in Shamatha
« Reply #24 on: August 15, 2014, 04:58:34 PM »
If you could provide quotes from the book I might have a better idea of what you're talking about.  I have Mindfulness B&B but haven't read it yet. 

I have heard him use the lotus flower analogy in his talks, and other teachers use a similar analogy (like holding a baby bird) when describing the concentration needed for meditation.  I believe it is a perfect analogy for your situation.  You don't want your concentration to be too weak so that your meditation object slips away, but you don't want it to be too strong so that you cause yourself undue stress. 

I would drop the "grabbing" analogy, as I don't believe it is as appropriate as the lotus flower analogy.  Grabbing is the act of suddenly taking hold of something, which, as far as I have learned, is not the state of mind that should be adopted during meditation.  A constant state of grabbing seems analogous to craving and clinging to me.  You want to hold the breath in your concentration to the extent that is described in the lotus flower analogy, and this is done by letting go of everything else until there is only the breath present.  If you are fighting through a mess of other existing mental phenomena to get to the breath, forcing the breath into your awareness, you may destroy the lotus flower.  Simply allow everything else to fade away and you won't need to grab at anything because the breath will already be there.  Then simply hold it in your awareness like it's a baby bird or a lotus flower.  Gentle yet firm.

Almost all of the teachers who I've read the teachings of say that physical and mental tension should be relaxed, alleviated, let go of, released, as an important part of the meditation practice.  I would recommend heeding this advice.  Be warned my friend, I've heard stories of meditators developing strong headaches from enduring constant tension in the head.

 

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