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Your Meditation Questions & Answers

With Stephen Procter

This section is dedicated to questions on Mindfulness Meditation from many students all over the world. If you have a question that you would like to ask you can said it to this address: Send a Message
thankyou and take care,
Stephen Procter

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Problem With Concentration During Meditation

QUESTION from Anomynous: I have been meditating on and off for about 12 years. Unfortunately, it had been mostly off, and then 70 days ago I made a commitment to Incorporate meditation into my daily life and I have been able to sit for these 70 days. Six weeks ago I found your series and I have been using them as instructed. My problem is my lack of concentration. I have an anxiety disorder and my brain jumps from one thing to another during so much of the meditations. I remind myself that that is where I am at right now but I'm getting discouraged. I find that I spend 90% of the meditations following my thoughts down a rabbit hole. I can't seem to get any peace.

Do you have any words of wisdom or instruction that may carry me through?

ANSWER: Hello, There are two types of concentration used during Mindfulness meditation, there is Fixed Access Concentration (Upacara Samadhi) where you hold your attention on one thing without it moving. And there is Momentary Concentration (Khanika Samadhi) which does not need to stay on any particular object and can move around. Both types of concentration are valid and dependant on what your mind is doing at the time, but Momentary Concentration is the most important.

Fixed Access Concentration is like training a horse by tying it to a post, allowing it to buck and kick until it tires out and settles. Momentary Concentration is like untying the horse, opening the corral gate, hoping on its back and allowing the horse to go where it likes; so you can get to understand horses and their ways.

Thinking arising during your meditation practice is not a problem, it is normal - this is what the mind does, it habitually verbalises everything it experiences - that is its function. I suspect, without spending time with you, that you are in a 'battle' with your thoughts when they arise; that you believe that they should not be there. This in itself is the problem, your resistance keeps them going; it feeds them.

Your task during Mindfulness meditation is not to judge or try to control your thoughts, it is to let them run, to soften your relationship to them. When you put down the fight, allow them to be by 'softening', the energy is withdrawn from the thinking and it settles then stops. If you try to make your mind calm, if you try to settle the thoughts, this is like trying to settle mud in a glass of water by shaking it and moving it about. You just stir it up more.

The way to get it to settle is to let it be, leave it alone and the mud will settle by itself - without your help - it doesn't need your help. Thinking is exactly the same, any doing will stir it up - this includes fighting and not wanting it to be there.

Meditation Advice
1) You need to work with your aversion to, dislike of, the experience of anxiety. Anxiety arises as a signal of ‘danger’ that appears within your body as sensations at the top of the chest / base of the throat. It has an unpleasant feeling and its whole function is to make you ‘run away’ from what you are experiencing. Every time you respond by ‘running away’ either externally or internally you are doing what it wants you to do and strengthening the habitual pattern. Your agitated mind, the excess obsessional thinking is agitation arising from wanting to ‘run away’. To settle this and turn off this response you need to change your relationship to the unpleasantness of the experience, realise that ‘unpleasantness can’t actually hurt you. Mindfulness meditation if practiced correctly gives you the tools to be able to do this: learning ‘Softening Into’ allows it to be.

2) You should not be doing Mindfulness of Breathing exercise 6 at this time, you need to focus on your skill to ‘Soften Into’. This is taught in exercise 3, but it goes beyond this. When using the guided meditation you should also train your self to be able to meditate using the skill – without the guided meditation. Guided meditations are training wheels for your bicycle, they need to be turned into life skills by learning to meditate without them.

3) I want you to train this Softening Into skill:

a) Sitting down reading this place your palm below your belly button. Slowly breathing in through your nose down behind your palm, thinking as if you are breathing into the ground.

b The breathing used during ‘Softening Into’ is diaphragm breathing, not chest or belly breathing. The chest doesn't move and the belly hardly moves during this.

c) Next slowly breath up from the ground and through your nose. Notice I said 'slowly' a lot? This is because the skill in diaphragm breathing is to learn to move the diaphragm muscle 'slowly'.

d) Next every time the breath goes out physically relax and 'silently sigh' along its length like sliding down a childs play slide. Allow your self to physically and mentally sink with each out breath.

e) If any tightening occurs it is because of ‘over effort’, it comes from you trying to force air into your lungs, with this proper breathing technique there is no effort or tension.

This is the basis skill for "Softening Into".

Practice this ‘Softening Into’ skill daily plus guided Mindfulness meditation exercise no.3: Softening Into with the aim of learning how to do it without the guided meditation playing. See how refined you can make the breathing / the softening and relaxing.

This is the way out for you – nonresistance.

take care
Stephen Procter

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How Do I Not think During Meditation?

QUESTION from Julie: How do you not think about anything? This was exercise no:15 Observing Attention was difficult for me and I didn't feel very relaxed at the end. Probably because I was working so hard not to think.

ANSWER: Hello Julie, this exercise is dependant on you doing the other 14 exercises for one week each so that your Investigation, Mindfulness and Concentration will be strong enough to experience the benefits from it. During this exercise it is not so much that you try to stop the thinking but more that you create the intention to not think, then relax that intention and wait to see what happens.

What you can take away from this Mindfulness practice is how little control you actually have over your thinking process. No matter how much you tried the thinking continued, this is interesting since we generally believe that we are producing and thinking all our thoughts. From this we can observe the power of habitual patterns. The irony is that when we stop trying to not to think and allow the habitual thought process to run, relinquishing our participation in it, all habitual thinking naturally comes to an end.

take care
Stephen Procter

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Tremendously Sleepy During Meditation

QUESTION from Angela: I did the last 5 weeks of mindfulness meditation without any (major) problems, having the feeling of progress. I enjoy the training very much. But the last three days or so I feel tremendously sleepy during meditation and find it very hard to concentrate. I know, I have this problem when I meditate in the evening but until now never in the morning. Is this some resistance I have to overcome or is it just the weather? In any case it doesn't feel so good because I come out of meditation feeling tired and frustrated.

ANSWER: Hello Angela, the sudden oncoming sleepiness during your meditation practice is all part of meditation. Actually sleepiness or mental sluggishness is listed as what are called the Five Hindrances to Meditation. It is not something to fight against, but something to be understood, actually it is part of the content of Mindfulness meditation practice. With your meditation training you have been gradually lowering your defences to the world, allowing yourself to relax deeper and develop concentration, especially now that you are developing Mindfulness of the experience of breathing. As you relax deeper suppressed exhaustion can start to arise and release, in the same way that when you go on a holiday the first few day you can feel quite tired.

This is enhanced by the deepening of concentration. As your mind becomes more one-pointed on your meditation object it also consumes energy. If the energy levels become too low literally your mind will 'sink' and awareness of what you are experiencing will start to dull. This is called 'sinking mind' and it is a sign of energy imbalance in your practice. You will feel waves of tiredness, your head will jerk during meditation and it will be hard to know anything. This is normal, everyone doing real meditation practice experiences this, your task during Mindfulness meditation is to learn to notice the signs of it coming on before you end too deeply in it.

When this happens you can increase the energy levels in four ways:

1) You need to pay more attention to the different sensations within your experience of breathing such as 'warm, cool, pressure, soft, hard, vibration etc" - your mind is sinking because your Mindfulness has collapsed - you have stopped looking.

2) If you mind has 'sunk' forget about the guided meditation and widen your awareness, try to feel the whole room around you. Experience as much as you can, do not focus in on anything closely.

3) Use touch points, by moving your attention through points of touch your energy level will rise. This can be learnt in exercise 25: Using Touch Points. Train this and apply it during your meditation.

4) For your wisdom to develop and sinking mind to become overcome you have to develop understanding about it. For pure Mindfulness meditation practice when sleepiness arises you make the sleepiness itself the object of your meditation. Investigate, investigate, investigate. What Is sleepiness? Where do you experience it? What sensations make up sleepiness? What makes it unpleasant? What does dullness of awareness feel like? Investigation will bring it to an end. As for the frustration - it has nothing to do with the sleepiness but is your habitual way of reacting to anything that is out of your control.

The frustration is the gem in all this - the frustration is why you meditate - it is a gift. Investigate the frustration when it arises. Where do you experience frustration? How does it feel? What sensations make up frustration? Then use the Skill of Softening Into that you trained in exercise 3 to Soften Into your relationship to the frustration. Now you are doing real Mindfulness training.

take care
Stephen Procter

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