Practical Meditation

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About the tension created by expections in meditation, and the pitfalls of trying too hard.

Hello Paolo,

I've responded to your question in parts

"Whenever I start doing Anapana, i.e. when I focus my attention on the in and out breath at the nostrils, not only am I almost always unable to feel the touch of the air on the upper lips` skin, but, much worse, I feel kind of a tension most in the forehead but soon spreading through head and face, which I would describe as a flux of `waves` running to and fro this area."

In this instance, do not try so hard to focus - perhaps relax the attention and instead of forcing it to stay on the breath coming out of your nostrils, pull it back and contemplate the sitting body.

Remember, the strength of your ability to concentrate will always wax and wane - sometimes it is easy and strong, sometimes it is weak. That's natural. So, as I said, during those times when your concentration is weak, relax it to include the more general feelings of the breaht in the body, or the sitting body itself.

There's no special significance in this area of the nostrils, (or the abdomen, which I use)except that it is a good object on which to exercise your concentration. So long as you are paying attention to something, that`s okay - even in it is the entire body itself.

Wait for your concentration to strengthen, then try refining it, coaxing it to the breath, or the sensations beneath the nostrils, or the abdomen, or whatev er object you've chosen to use.

But the worst thing you can do is to push harder when the concentration is weak. This just creates anxiousness and tension in the body, as well as in the mind.

You must learn to move with the natural ebb and flow of your own energy - to let go when your energy is waning, and to exert when your energy is strong. In this way, meditation will always be `in step` with your natural abilities, and also it will be a much more pleasant experience.

Your question continues:

"The more I concentrate on the breathing, the more this movement becomes strong. To the point that I get completely unable to feel not only the air moving in- and outside the nose, but also it becomes impossible for me to detect the breathing as such."

This verifies what I said before - the more you tense up trying to push your concentration, the less it obeys you. Your mind closes up, and meditation becomes distorted and difficult.

Your question continues:

"I soon get nervous and frustrated about this phenomenon, as it seems to me that it prevents me to reach the necessary concentration that should enable me to switch to Vipassana and do the so called `body sweeping`."

From the sound of it, you have been practicing the Goenka method of Vipassana. this is not the only method - there are maqny different methods of Vipassana. So don't be too precious about this particular method. Perhaps look at other methods, then mix and match according to your own temperament.

Remember, each method is itself, a variation on what the Buddha himself practiced 2500 years ago. Each different method is an adaptation that worked for one particular person, who then began teaching it. But just because one particular method works for one or a number of people, doesn`t necessarily mean it is the right one for you. So try not to be too dogmatic with vipassana. If the anapana sati, then body sweeping method of vipassana feels right, then continue to do it, but try not to close yourself off to other possibilities.

And more importantly, do not expect things to happen the way they `are supposed` to happen. Very often, if one or other conditions are not present, you will not be able to carry out the anapana sati, or the `body sweeping` - in which instance, be patient, look into what seems to be going wrong - it will most likely be because you have tightened up in some part of your self - mind or body - so identify this tightness. See if you can let it go - then start again when you have relaxed a little.

Your question continues:

"I wonder if there is anything wrong with what I am doing and if I should change my way of meditating (how ??). It has gone so far that even before I start the sitting, at the mere thought of sitting to meditate, the tension in my head begins beyond my control and I easily become deceived about my ability to meditate. "

Everyone can meditate - it`s a matter of `being with` your mind and body, rather than trying to dominate them with your expectations, as you seem to have been doing.

Paolo, your mind and body are your friends, so treat them as friends. You would not order your friends around, and expect them to deliver when you want them to. No, you ask politely, you try to be kind and patient with them, and you do not weight them down with your expectations. So treat yourself with the same respect, and vipassana will come more easily to you.

" To make it short : do you think I should stay with this tension, let it go its way and give my full attention to the breathing or is there anything else I should do ?"

Keep going. Always keep going. Even when it appears that you are failing, your intuitive mind is still figuring out the options, seeking new ways of dealing with things, making adjustments. You might not be conscious of this process, but it is always happening, even when we feel confused and useless. Your mind is always learning - so the rule is, relax, be patient, and keep on going.

 

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