meditation and the wandering mind

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    Dec 24, 2008 6:33 AM GMT
    hey guys –
    I’ve been trying to meditate each night, hoping to improve my concentration and focus. I try to contemplate my breathing, but my mind always wanders. Letting my mind wander makes the session go by more quickly than when I try to focus on my breathing, which has led me automatically to prefer not concentrating at all, which defeats the purpose.

    I’ve been meditating for a few weeks now, without much improvement. So, I was wondering what experiences you guys have meditating, and whether my progress in clearing my mind is slower than the average.
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    Dec 24, 2008 1:16 PM GMT
    You must know the whole point of meditation is to learn to deal with the mind's autonomous habit of wandering. A few people are able to maintain attention on the breath early on in practice, but normally it takes years and, even then, it may not be that focused.

    To me, the value is to learn to watch the mind's wandering without becoming attached to the contents and to recognize that we aren't in as much control of our thinking as we like to believe.

    Dunno which path you are following but in many, when you notice your mind wandering, you say to yourself, "Thinking," and return attention to the breath (in breath, out breath or both, depending on the tradition).

    Also, meditating in a group is a lot easier for many people.

    This is the tradition I've followed for over 20 years:

    http://www.shambhala.org/

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    Dec 24, 2008 4:43 PM GMT
    Not having 20 years under my belt, but some solid training, I'd offer that I rarely meditate at night. For me, the best time of day to meditate is in the morning, which starts my day off just right. Before I was able to sit very long I would meditate in groups and that helped me figure out how to sit longer with myself.
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    Dec 24, 2008 5:33 PM GMT
    The mind can be like a wild horse. If you stick with it, the mind will settle down.
  • Rookz

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    Dec 24, 2008 6:05 PM GMT
    When I try to meditate, I always try to focus on a scene, blue sky, beach, etc. I try to focus on the details of the scenario, allowing my mind to 'wonder' about and lose myself. But when my mind starts to wonder, "Is the faucet still on?", "Is this over yet?" or "Damn I'm horny." I'd try and recall the scene once again.

    Have you tried listening to calm, meditating music to ease your mind into that state? It helps.
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    Dec 24, 2008 9:47 PM GMT
    tame the monkey mind.

    sit with the breath.

    that´s the practice

    If you want, try counting backwards from 50 (75/100) with each breath.
    That´s your meditation.
    It´s simple.


    icon_idea.gif
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    Dec 25, 2008 2:57 AM GMT
    ObsceneWish: “A few people are able to maintain attention on the breath early on in practice, but normally it takes years and, even then, it may not be that focused.”

    This comment’s exactly what I wanted to hear!

    I’m not following any specific path. I’m just doing a simple meditation practice where I sit for 25 minutes with a sleep mask on, and try to clear my mind. I’ve been trying to focus on both breathing in and out, and from what you say it sounds like that practice precludes some traditions.

    I might start your shamatha’s recommendation of counting breathing cycles up to 21 and then repeating the counting, perhaps backwards like Lostboy76 suggests.

    brady527: “I'd offer that I rarely meditate at night. For me, the best time of day to meditate is in the morning, which starts my day off just right.”

    I might try shifting it to the morning, but I tend to hate mornings and am much calmer at night.

    Thanks guys!
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    Dec 25, 2008 11:58 PM GMT
    main thing: KISS

    Keep
    It
    Simple
    Sexy

    icon_lol.gif

    And try a shorter period to start with, especially if you are having difficulty. Say 5-10 minutes.

    It´s simple
    keep it simple

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    Dec 26, 2008 12:14 AM GMT
    hold an asana- a simple physical seated posture that becomes increasingly strenuous and eventually agonizingly painful over time as you maintain it- master the body and you master the mind, without ever having to directly confront it; if you can sit calmly in an asana and Will yourself through the discomfort, it eventually passes completely, and as all your concentration is fixated on holding your posture while keeping muscles relaxed and breathing even, there's no mental power left for distracting thoughts. thus, your subconscious mind is trained to stop the painful stimuli before it reaches the conscious mind. this starves the conscious mind of input to work with, and the effect is like the calm that descends during asphyxiation of the brain. there is no harm in doing this- its not dangerous or bad... its actually the real, traditional way of meditating in most cultures- today's western practices have been watered down to cater to our 'quick and easy' mentality. do the work, make the effort- that's how you'll get the best results. there are no short cuts. well there are, but they lead to lesser, watered down results. another thing to do once an asana has been mastered to supplement is to let the random thoughts sluggishly come, in a slowed and controlled fashion, and observe them as an outsider, judging each one as it arises and dismissing it- rather than experiencing it or being lost to it. likewise, you can imagine a single candle flame in infinite emptiness- and identify with that flame or light such that you become it- and imagine any stray thought that pops up being instantly incinerated in it. eventually u can reduce the flame until you are the emptiness.
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    Dec 26, 2008 1:46 AM GMT
    Last night, the counting process helped substantially.

    Czarodziej - You mention that a more relaxed meditation approach waters down the benefits. What is the added benefit to the meditation process you follow? Also, might you have a link that describes the meditation you practice?
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    Dec 26, 2008 2:28 AM GMT
    The worst thing that you can feel when you meditate is that you are failing. Never feel like you have failed because your mind has wandered. That's what our jainist nun meditation teacher told us, and it helped me meditate so much easier. If you get a thought in your mind, don't try and push it out, rather, acknowledge it, then let it go. If you're starting out, it's going to take a while, but there is no above or below average 'results.' Just keep at it and good luck!
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    Dec 26, 2008 2:32 AM GMT
    Satyricon331 saidLast night, the counting process helped substantially.

    Czarodziej - You mention that a more relaxed meditation approach waters down the benefits. What is the added benefit to the meditation process you follow? Also, might you have a link that describes the meditation you practice?


    That approach does not work for me at all. In fact, I sat zen for three years before I began the Shambhala path and I found the pain agonizing and distracting. I can still see every crack in the damn stone wall in the zendo where I meditated.

    I think Czar's point, that meditation practice has been altered for Westerners, is true but that doesn't mean it hasn't been for good reason. There have been a zillion articles written on this subject.

    It's also worth noting that meditation, as a path of mindfulness, is more important in the American contemplative paths than it actually is in many eastern ones. The point is to be fully present and sitting meditation is not the best way to achieve that with everyone.
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    Dec 26, 2008 3:13 AM GMT
    Satyricon331 saidLast night, the counting process helped substantially.

    Czarodziej - You mention that a more relaxed meditation approach waters down the benefits. What is the added benefit to the meditation process you follow? Also, might you have a link that describes the meditation you practice?




    its not that more modern, 'western' approaches to meditation are more 'relaxed,' so much as that they are just weak/impotent. leaning back on your bed against some pillows, closing your eyes, and counting breaths isn't meditation, plain and simple. its calming, and its soothing, but your most notable mental accomplishment will probably be slipping into wild daydreams and then sleep. not terribly impressive or beneficial, aside from lowering blood pressure or treating insomnia.

    no offense, but it sounds like you maybe did a progressive relaxation session in a pilates class and think that's 'meditation.' -from what you've written... it doesn't sound like you've done much reading on the matter. do that first.

    there are SOOO many good books, and articles on the subject... just start digging... one will lead to another and another and you'll progress naturally if you do the practices described- but just as important as doing the practices is knowing why you're doing them, what you're doing, and what the goal is.

    hint: research tantra and hatha yoga- the real deal, not the western pop stuff.
    Tantra the Path of Ecstasy, by Grorg Feuerstein, Magick, by Alister Crowley,
    Opening the Dragon Gate, by Thomas Cleary, Dynamics of Yoga, by Swami Satyananda Saraswati,
    Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, by Fuerstein,
    Taoist Meditation, by Cleary,
    Holding Yin, Embracing Yang, by Wong,


    once you start with the daily sessions, Its best to expect a learning period of several months; don’t expect quick
    results. It is likely that you will have occasional sessions where things work much
    better than usual. Don’t be too encouraged by these, as it is likely that you will fall
    back to a lower level in the next session. When an improvement lasts for a week or
    more, you are justified in judging it a genuine advance.




    ps, u've read the satyricon? GREAT book :p im all for hedonistic indulgence ;)



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    Dec 26, 2008 3:24 AM GMT
    ObsceneWish said
    Satyricon331 saidLast night, the counting process helped substantially.

    Czarodziej - You mention that a more relaxed meditation approach waters down the benefits. What is the added benefit to the meditation process you follow? Also, might you have a link that describes the meditation you practice?


    That approach does not work for me at all. In fact, I sat zen for three years before I began the Shambhala path and I found the pain agonizing and distracting. I can still see every crack in the damn stone wall in the zendo where I meditated.


    of course the pain is agonizing and distracting- but the will it requires to get through it, and the discipline that generates, is exactly what's needed to conquer the mind's restlessness. its not a superhuman feat- it just takes patience and willpower. if you can get through THAT, and conquer/master the body, then the mind is a piece of cake.
    and the pain doesn't last- for a few months it may, but it subsides and is replaced by a deep comfort- an asana becomes a place of refuge and sanctuary once its mastered. too many westerners just don't have the will to get through the hard work to reach the reward. like i said, 'quick and easy' mentality. they wanna be enlightened and they want it now and it had better not be too uncomfortable lol- not pointing a finger at you, just generalizing about the west here, and the modern world. even if enlightenment isn't the goal- maybe its just a stronger more focused and collected mind- anything worth gaining isn't easy to obtain or attain to. remember that. many crappy paperbacks in the metaphysics section of your local Borders (not to forget the plethora of useless internet articles) would tell you that there's a quick and easy practice/approach. but there simply isn't, if you have aspirations for anything more than daydreams and falling asleep; there's the traditional way, and then there's westernized pop commercial bull.

    the foundational philosophy of the asanas in hatha and tantra yoga is that body and mind are different manifestations of one Thing- and that they are more than related or connected- they're literally the same thing. master the body and the mind is mastered. mastering the body isn't easy, but its easier than mastering the mind. there's physical pain involved, but think of it as a karmic price you pay to calm the mind more quickly than you could with a direct confrontation, saving time and frustration in exchange.
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    Dec 26, 2008 3:59 AM GMT
    No, Czar, it's not true for everyone. Trungpa Rinpoche was a Tibetan teacher who recognized the difference between the western and eastern temperaments and developed methods, including a slightly different posture, that accounted for this difference. This was his genius. I am not talking about yogic practice. I'm talking about sitting meditation.

    And, echoing your assertion that you're not pointing a finger at me, I'm wondering, at 21, how much are you speaking from experience and how much from reading?

    The notion that there is a "pure" form of sitting practice that must be followed in the West is just another brand of fundamentalism.

    It is true that "meditation" has come to have a very broad meaning in this country. Many think of it in terms of Henry Benson's iconic book, "The Relaxation Response." They imagine it is about blissing out, lowering your blood pressure, etc. That's a perfectly valid (medical) use of it, but it's not the primary intention of classic meditation.

    Then there is the spiritual path by which people are trying to become "enlightened," as you say. And this ranges from intense ascetics to New Age bliss ninnies. Enlightenment is of little interest to me.

    My interest is in Buddhism as psychology and my particular interest in meditation and mindfulness practice is learning to observe the nature of thought and how not to become attached to its contents. I think what you're describing in yogic practice is perfectly valid, but it is not everyone's approach, not even in the originating cultures, and is not inherently superior.

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    Dec 27, 2008 3:51 AM GMT
    Czarodziej: “no offense, but it sounds like you maybe did a progressive relaxation session in a pilates class and think that's 'meditation.' -from what you've written... it doesn't sound like you've done much reading on the matter. do that first.”

    No, I haven’t done much reading on the subject. My goal is simply to improve my ability to concentrate on boring material without needing to take breaks, and secondarily to improve my posture. A friend of a friend is studying to become an acupuncturist and is really into Eastern philosophy, and suggested a simple practice to me years ago I just recently decided to pick up. I hope to gain more time than I invest by increasing my mental efficiency and reducing my breaks when reading. When meditating, I concentrate on my breathing, while maintaining a straight back. Not quite as comfy as you describe, although it’s still fairly simple.

    I am familiar with Buddhism from college, however, and it sounds like your practice (while not specifically Buddhist) has parallels to yogacara Buddhism (from which iirc Chinese meditation derived). As I recall, their goal was to escape the karmic cycle through yogic practice over thousands of years of sequential incarnations. I didn’t find at all plausible their idea that you could overcome sensory perception and directly apprehend objects, but then again I’m an atheist. The problem for me is that such doctrines, as I recall, are integrally linked to their yogic practice. Are you religious at all? If you aren’t, how do you relate the irreligiosity to the yogacarin doctrines?


    Czarodziej: “the foundational philosophy of the asanas in hatha and tantra yoga is that body and mind are different manifestations of one Thing- and that they are more than related or connected- they're literally the same thing.”

    Actually, I wouldn’t disagree with them there, since the mind seems to be a brain function.


    ObsceneWish: “ The notion that there is a "pure" form of sitting practice that must be followed in the West is just another brand of fundamentalism.”

    As I recall, there were several bitterly rivalrous schools of yogacara, although I forget their doctrinal differences. I’m not sure any of them could unambiguously claim to be the true way, although on the other hand that hindrance has never stopped other religions from doing so.
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    Dec 27, 2008 4:12 AM GMT
    The feuds within Hindu sects and Buddhist sects as to the appropriate ways to meditate have been going on for millennia. They also fundamentally disagree about the foundation of their beliefs and practices, while still maintaining a common terminology. That said, lots of asanas were designed to aid in the eventual task of seated meditation (from more of a pan-buddhist perspective) while others viewed those same asanas as meditation in and of themselves (hatha and raaja yoga).

    Addressing your desire to improve your concentration might be with more asanas, seated meditations, or other techniques. Paying attention to what assists you in paying attention is often helpful. Does physical touch hold your concentration? Try some mala beads. Does speaking or movement sustain your attention? Try some chanting. Does closing your eyes make your mind speed up? Try visual meditations while looking at a candle or flower. Figuring out what naturally works for you and expanding that is a great starting point.

    Me, my body is still enough in the morning for seated meditation. At night I get too drowsy for seated meditation. In the afternoon I use my mala and often feel recollected yet still productive. At night I do some chud exercises to give some closure to my day.
  • Tritimium

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    Dec 27, 2008 6:23 PM GMT
    My mind wanders terribly some days! I'll try some of the advice above.
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    Dec 27, 2008 6:37 PM GMT
    Satyricon331 saidCzarodziej: “no offense, but it sounds like you maybe did a progressive relaxation session in a pilates class and think that's 'meditation.' -from what you've written... it doesn't sound like you've done much reading on the matter. do that first.”

    No, I haven’t done much reading on the subject. My goal is simply to improve my ability to concentrate on boring material without needing to take breaks, and secondarily to improve my posture. A friend of a friend is studying to become an acupuncturist and is really into Eastern philosophy, and suggested a simple practice to me years ago I just recently decided to pick up. I hope to gain more time than I invest by increasing my mental efficiency and reducing my breaks when reading. When meditating, I concentrate on my breathing, while maintaining a straight back. Not quite as comfy as you describe, although it’s still fairly simple.

    I am familiar with Buddhism from college, however, and it sounds like your practice (while not specifically Buddhist) has parallels to yogacara Buddhism (from which iirc Chinese meditation derived). As I recall, their goal was to escape the karmic cycle through yogic practice over thousands of years of sequential incarnations. I didn’t find at all plausible their idea that you could overcome sensory perception and directly apprehend objects, but then again I’m an atheist. The problem for me is that such doctrines, as I recall, are integrally linked to their yogic practice. Are you religious at all? If you aren’t, how do you relate the irreligiosity to the yogacarin doctrines?


    Czarodziej: “the foundational philosophy of the asanas in hatha and tantra yoga is that body and mind are different manifestations of one Thing- and that they are more than related or connected- they're literally the same thing.”

    Actually, I wouldn’t disagree with them there, since the mind seems to be a brain function.


    ObsceneWish: “ The notion that there is a "pure" form of sitting practice that must be followed in the West is just another brand of fundamentalism.”

    As I recall, there were several bitterly rivalrous schools of yogacara, although I forget their doctrinal differences. I’m not sure any of them could unambiguously claim to be the true way, although on the other hand that hindrance has never stopped other religions from doing so.



    well you can't have very well informed opinions without having done any reading, now can you? lol just do the reading first, that's my only advice to you. learn the whys and the hows before formulating judgements or opinions about yoga, meditational practices, or the metaphysical ideologies and theories/beliefs of those systems.
    i can hardly discuss my perspectival relationship to various yogic beliefs and tie them into my own belief system for you if you have no idea what i'm talking about lol. for example, when i say mind, i don't mean what you think i do.
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    Dec 28, 2008 8:46 AM GMT
    czarodziej saidi can hardly discuss my perspectival relationship to various yogic beliefs and tie them into my own belief system for you if you have no idea what i'm talking about lol. for example, when i say mind, i don't mean what you think i do.


    I feel I would be wiser to leave this alone, but I can't help but remark how much it reminds me of this great discussion Noam Chomsky once gave of similar esoterics:

    "There are lots of things I don't understand -- say, the latest debates over whether neutrinos have mass or the way that Fermat's last theorem was (apparently) proven recently. But from 50 years in this game, I have learned two things: (1) I can ask friends who work in these areas to explain it to me at a level that I can understand, and they can do so, without particular difficulty; (2) if I'm interested, I can proceed to learn more so that I will come to understand it. Now Derrida, Lacan, Lyotard, Kristeva, etc. --- even Foucault, whom I knew and liked, and who was somewhat different from the rest --- write things that I also don't understand, but (1) and (2) don't hold: no one who says they do understand can explain it to me and I haven't a clue as to how to proceed to overcome my failures. That leaves one of two possibilities: (a) some new advance in intellectual life has been made, perhaps some sudden genetic mutation, which has created a form of 'theory' that is beyond quantum theory, topology, etc., in depth and profundity; or (b) ... I won't spell it out. "
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    Dec 28, 2008 8:48 AM GMT
    Brady527 saidAddressing your desire to improve your concentration might be with more asanas, seated meditations, or other techniques. Paying attention to what assists you in paying attention is often helpful. Does physical touch hold your concentration? Try some mala beads. Does speaking or movement sustain your attention? Try some chanting. Does closing your eyes make your mind speed up? Try visual meditations while looking at a candle or flower. Figuring out what naturally works for you and expanding that is a great starting point.


    I've always been a tactile learner, I might try some mala beads icon_smile.gif
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    Jan 08, 2009 1:18 AM GMT
    i'd say practice for 15 minutes every night before bed. cause then your mind is already tired and less inclined to wander around. I say 15 minutes because you might just fall asleep instead

    you'll get better eventually, best of luck to ya
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    Jan 09, 2009 8:21 PM GMT
    I would suggest trying to simply focus throughout the day. There is a stage called flow - when you are so engrossed in a task that no longer must you think about it to do. That is not to say it is mindless, but that you are so aware of what you are doing that it becomes a part of you.

    Meditation is the same. What I've done is focused entirely on the way my body feels - starting with either my hands or head and moving across the rest of my body. The key is to not visualize this, but only feel it. Be aware of it.

    If i were to explain it in a visual manner - it would be like a candle that progressively becomes brighter and consumes all of my presence in its light - my awareness. But you cannot simply visualize it - that would be like only lucid dreaming. Which is fantastic, but does not wade in the same depths.
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    Jan 09, 2009 8:29 PM GMT
    A trick someone taught was to speed up the images and thoughts that come to your mind when you are trying to relax and meditate.

    Naturally when your mind settles from the day's stimulus, it will try to file everything away... so instead of fighting the natural tendancy to think, just let your mind think whatever it needs to think, process any images it needs to, but speed it up in your mind like a movie in fast forward... eventually it will settle down.

    The more you practise this the quicker it becomes.
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    Jan 09, 2009 8:47 PM GMT
    For the restless mind that sounds like a recipe for disaster. I mean yes you are speeding it to the resting state.

    But fast forward? That sounds like a recipe for anxiety.

    And to focus on the end result only serves to compromise it. That would be the equivalent of doing squats in "fast forward" and expecting not to hurt myself.

    That is to deny what is.

    Meditation is to assert what is. It is to be aware.

    It is to cherish the root of the mind until its bloom (and after). Instead of encouraging growth, this "fast forward" would be a break in that virtue. It would be mental manure spread onto the leaves.