Difficulty in progressing beyond stage two

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This topic contains 9 replies, has 4 voices, and was last updated by  maryhill 1 year, 7 months ago.

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    I posted the following at the Reddit TMI page, and am some what doubtful about some of the replies I received, and wanted to bounce it off folks here. Here’s what I posted:

    I began using the TMI method, as described in the book in April of 2016. I was able to quickly move to stage two, as I already had a practice in place of sitting (at least) twice a day for an hour each time.
    Where I’m at now? The mind almost always quickly notices that it has wandered, and we have the ‘aha’ moment. I note this and appreciate it, and then return to the breath (here I insert something my teacher asks me to do which is to say “never mind, start again, and fill the mind with joy). The problem is, I’m unable to really nail down the criteria described by Culadasa at the end of the chapter for stage 2. Namely, that the mind only wanders for a few seconds, and stays on the breath for minutes. As soon as I bring my mind back to the breath, it’s usually off to the races within a few breaths. Once every now and then, I experience the mind staying on the breath for extended periods of time. Not consistently, or even often. Maybe a few times a month.

    I’d really like to move into stage three and keep making progress, but it’s not happening. Has this happened to anyone here, and what did you do to resolve it? To those teachers in training, what is it that I might need to be doing differently?


    Some responded to tell me they think I’m in stage three or four. While I won’t dismiss this out of hand, I’m wary of taking it as gospel, as my experience *does not* meet the criteria given by Culadasa in the closing sentences of the chapter for Stage two, which reads “You have mastered this stage when you can consistently maintain your focus on the meditation object for minutes, while mind-wandering last only seconds”

    By that criteria, I’m part of the way there. The mind returns to the meditation object quickly, and more often than not stays there for a few breaths, then forgetting and mind wandering occurs. The mind wandering is brief, usually seconds, but then so is my focus on the breath.

    So is my assessment correct? If so, how do I get on to stage three? If I am mistaken, and I’m past Stage two, now what? I’ve been reading the chapter for Stage three, and re-reading the book overall trying to see what I might be missing or failing to understand.

    Here’s the link to the Reddit discussion in case it’s of any use: https://www.reddit.com/r/TheMindIlluminated/comments/6auiue/its_been_a_full_year_stuck_in_stage_two/



    Hi. I’m Mary, a teacher in training with Culadasa since September, 2016.
    From reading your question, it sounds like you have a very active mind, in terms of thinking. That’s okay. I did also. For myself, it took me a long time to work through the first 3 stages, which Culadasa does describe if a person has an active mind. And it was so very well worth the effort!

    It’s great that you are sitting for an hour twice daily! Wonderful diligence.

    I wouldn’t want to contradict what your current teacher is telling you, so you can try these ideas and see how they work.

    First of all, maybe drop the rather long thing you say to yourself when the mind wanders. It’s so many words, it might? be stimulating you think more. Just notice the thinking, give yourself positive reinforcement for noticing it (that is training your introspective awareness), and return to the breath. Some people even smile. You can even pretend that you have an external “coach” outside of yourself, giving you the positive reinforcement.

    Questions for you:
    Do you follow the 6 steps of Preparation for Practice on p. 45?
    Do you follow the Gradual Four-Step Transition to the Meditation Object on p. 47?
    After that, do you count to ten, using the outbreath to count?

    Perhaps staying on Step 2 of the 4 step transition, which is Focus on bodily sensations, but continue to be aware of everything else, might be helpful.

    Read “Calming the Monkey Mind” which starts on p. 89. On p. 90, the suggestion I made above, to use the body awareness step of the four step preparation is discussed in great detail. This really might be helpful for you.

    One other suggestion is to try walking meditation, as described in the Appendix. Some people are very kinesthetic, and learn better when moving.

    I myself have spent entire meditations on Step 2 of the 4 step transition, especially early on. Between that and walking meditation, it really helped me to slow the thinking enough to accomplish larger periods of time when I was able to focus on the breath.

    Also, is there a activity or a situation in daily life that causes you to think less, and be “in the flow”? For myself, it’s time spent walking in nature, or making art. During those activities, my “thinking mind” quiets, naturally. If you have an activity like that, know that you already have the capability of quieting your mind. It’s just a matter of diligence.

    Hope this helps! So glad you wrote to us here.



    Good morning!

    It’s important to differentiate between the goal of stage 6- exclusive attention, and the goal of stage 4. At stage 4, there will still be stray thoughts, that pass through like clouds, but don’t lead to FORGETTING or MIND WANDERING.

    Remember, there are still subtle distractions (i.e. flickers of things other than the meditation object) until the end of stage 6.

    To assess- seeing (like you did) if there is still FORGETTING or MIND-WANDERING is a good gauge which stage practices/intentions will be best at the moment.

    That being said, walking meditation is also fantastic to sink into the pleasant moment, helping to break up any striving thought patterns and relax the mind.

    Mastery of stage 3: Rarely forgetting the breath or falling asleep (notice “rarely”- so it still may happen) . Maybe it’s time to try other stage practices and see if they are fun/useful?

    I personally would try “a little” of any stage practice that awakens an enthusiastic feeling about sitting,

    Hope this helps,

    Meshe, TTinT

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by  Meshe Mooette.
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    Blake Barton

    Hi DCurtis,

    I would like to clarify the terms that you are using. What are you calling mind wandering? Do you totally lose the breath or is there still some awareness of the breath? At this stage your attention is going to move from the breath to other things, particularly thoughts. The key is when you notice this.

    There is a difference between your attention flickering to a thought for 1/4 of the in-breath, and totally forgetting the meditation object and going from thought to thought for 5 seconds.

    How is your peripheral awareness while your attention is on the breath? Are you aware of sounds, body sensations, and thoughts in the background?

    In addition to Mary’s suggestions, I would suggest that you add some of the stage 3 practices to your meditation.
    1) – Following the breath (page 98) to more fully engage with the breath and to keep your mind interested.
    2) – Connecting (page 100) do this once Following becomes too easy to hold your attention
    3) – Labeling (page 101) – to strengthen introspective awareness
    4) – Checking In (page 103) – to further strengthen introspective awareness

    Introspective awareness is the ultimate skill that will alert you to the fact that your attention has moved from the breath to a thought.

    Please remember that we all have different innate abilities to focus our minds. For some people, stable attention comes quite easily, and for others is can take months or years. I sense some dissatisfaction and expectation in your practice. Try to notice if there is any disappointment during the “aha” moment.

    Blake – Dharma Treasure Teacher




    Yes, I mean mind wandering in the terms you described above. While there is some of the latter, at least half of the time it is mind wandering even if only briefly. Briefly meaning in the 2 to 10 second range. Of course trying to have a sense of time about anything that happens in meditation is pretty dodgy.

    My peripheral awareness is pretty good, although it varies, as I expect is pretty common. I very seldom have it completely collapse, except when I’m tired, and experiencing dullness. Fortunately I’ve become pretty good at recognizing when dullness is happening. But yes, I’m aware of body sensations, sounds, and to a lesser extent thoughts.

    Your response is very helpful and I’ll put your advice/suggestions into action immediately.




    I would have to admit that the phrase I’d been given to use by my teacher does seem and feel cumbersome and awkward during meditation. I’m sure the ideas you suggest could be used instead without any detriment. I’m not sure the words are important. I think it is the matter of making the mind joyful as it is returned to the meditation object.

    As to your questions – yes to all three. And I also use the “Relax, look for the joy” as well as “Let it come, let it be, let it go.”
    Although I do count the breaths, I do try to keep my attention on them as I’m inhaling and exhaling, to the best of my ability.

    My experiences with walking meditation have been some of my best. I’ll have to find a way to add that to what I currently am doing.

    Thanks for the help.




    I forgot to mention something. With regards to this: “I sense some dissatisfaction and expectation in your practice. Try to notice if there is any disappointment during the “aha” moment.”

    I think you’re on to something. I’ve had to find and work to let go of dissatisfaction and frustration once before in the last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if there is more that is hiding in the background. I’ve come across a number of things that were hiding, but I somehow became aware of them during meditation. One thing that I *am* aware if is that there is a member of the mental committee that resists sitting meditation, as well as working on mindfulness of the cushion. It doesn’t like like these, and while I’m able to sit regularly without missing but only the occasional session, it’s always there. I sense that some part of the mental collective is afraid of what meditation has and may well do. The sense of identity has already taken several blows, albeit only minor to moderate. None the less, it seems something is on the defensive. Or maybe it’s just that it sees meditation as hard work.

    I’m not sure about the expectation. Can you say something about what you see with regards to that?


    • This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by  dcurtis.


    Blake and Mary,

    Not sure how to reply so that you are notified that I’ve responded. I hope you see my replies to you.


    Blake Barton

    Hi DCurtis,

    Sorry for the late reply. I have been out of town, and unable to respond. It seems like you have developed additional understanding about what is going on in your mind.

    You state the following “there is a member of the mental committee that resists sitting meditation”. I would suggest that you examine this with mindfulness. This would be aversion, and it is an emotion that can be examined. When it arises, turn your attention towards it. Emotions almost always have body sensations associated with them. When you feel resistance or aversion, notice where you feel this in the body. Examine it objectively and with curiosity. What do the sensations feel like? How large are they? Do they change over time or remain constant. A mental label like aversion might keep you on track while you observe. Also notice if there are any thoughts associated with this emotion. The thoughts and body sensations typically accelerate each other. You can label the thoughts as thinking.

    You also state “maybe it’s just that it sees meditation as hard work”. If this is the case, then you might need to change your attitude towards meditation. I recommend you re-read the end of the “An Overview of the ten stages”, starting with “Cultivating the Right Attitude and Setting Clear Intentions”.

    I also recommend re-reading Stage 1 and doing the “Six Point Preparation for Practice”. Particularly focus on the expectations step when doing the preparation, and there is also a section about “The Right Attitude” in that chapter.

    When you make statements like “I’d really like to move into stage three and keep making progress, but it’s not happening.” and “how do I get on to stage three?”. It makes me think you should evaluate your attitude and expectations.

    Hope this helps,
    Blake – Dharma Treasure Teacher



    Hi DC Curtis.
    Thanks for the reply.
    Glad you are getting some results with the walking meditation.
    I agree with Blake’S latest suggestions for you.
    I admire your diligence.
    Stay in touch.
    Blessings, Mary

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