Insurmountable strong dullness and the perception of light

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 7 voices, and was last updated by  charlesanatta 7 years, 1 month ago.

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    Hello. Lately I’ve been having great difficulty dealing with dullness in meditation. I have periods where I suffer from insomnia, and I end up groggy for days, but even when I don’t have insomnia I still have great dullness. I have been applying all of the Stage 2/3 antidotes but the dullness either returns very quickly, or even seems to immediately worsen from the antidotes! Aside trying to curb my insomnia (which is very difficult to do and it usually just comes and goes depending on how stressed I am), I’m really not sure how to deal with this seemingly insurmountable strong dullness that doesn’t respond to the antidotes.

    I know there is a discourse in which it’s recommended for monks to focus on the ‘perception of light’ in order to keep dullness at bay. Has anyone had any experience with this or knows of any resources that could shed more light on how to go about this? I experimented today when I became drowsy by turning my head upwards a bit towards a light in my room (with eyes closed), and focusing on the experience of the brightness and recalling the word ‘light’ (because my attention kept scattering), and sometimes it really worked and my field of vision brightened. I did get a bit of a jolt but it didn’t last long and was difficult to keep the perception of brightness going. I’ve read a discourse about how even concentration can develop from the perception of light (which leads to ‘knowledge and vision’), though there’s no more explanation. I wonder if this could be treated as something similar to albeit less sophisticated as metta practice?

    These are the aforementioned discourses:
    “But if by doing this you don’t shake off your drowsiness, then attend to the perception of light, resolve on the perception of daytime, [dwelling] by night as by day, and by day as by night. By means of an awareness thus open & unhampered, develop a brightened mind. It’s possible that by doing this you will shake off your drowsiness.” (Walking meditation is the next antidote, then lion’s posture and mindfully going to sleep)
    “And what is the development of concentration that, when developed & pursued, leads to the attainment of knowledge & vision? There is the case where a monk attends to the perception of light and is resolved on the perception of daytime [at any hour of the day]. Day [for him] is the same as night, night is the same as day. By means of an awareness open & unhampered, he develops a brightened mind.”

    • This topic was modified 7 years, 1 month ago by  Sasha.
    • This topic was modified 7 years, 1 month ago by  Sasha.
    • This topic was modified 7 years, 1 month ago by  Sasha.
    • This topic was modified 7 years, 1 month ago by  Sasha.

    Hi Sasha,

    I’ve read about what you describe but I’m not actually familiar with employing that technique. Two things you could try doing are meditating with your eyes open or walking meditation.

    Some people actually prefer to meditate with their eyes open. This is because they carry the concentration throughout the day, and the mind doesn’t make a separation between closed-eyed and open-eyed practice. In other words, by not closing their eyes during meditation they train the mind to stay attentive all the time, not just when doing formal sitting. You can see if it works for you.

    By the way here is a video (around 4:30) of what I’m talking about:

    With Metta,




    Hi Charles,

    I mostly meditate open-eyed due to the dullness, and it’s a bit better, but the dullness still overcomes me and I have to strive very hard to keep attention from weakening and scattering due to dullness, and sometimes strive to keep eyes from closing.


    • This reply was modified 7 years, 1 month ago by  Sasha.

    Kurt S

    I’m not a mediatation teacher, this is just from my own personal experience.

    There are two things to talk about here regarding the perception of light.

    The first is this. If you pay attention to the event of coming in and out of strong dullness, you’ll notice that when you come out of strong dullness there is a brightening affect on the other side of your eyelids as more of the light from the room comes into perception. Likewise, when you become dull that perception of light fades. This dimming can be difficult to notice when you are being lulled into dullness. The resolution to pay attention to the perception of light in your awareness will allow you to notice when you are becoming dull and resolve it before it is too late. The resolution alone can even be enough to help you remain alert.

    The second is that there are ways to create mental objects during meditation, such as the perception of light AND during certain stages of meditation bright light can also occur without creating the intention for it. I think that it’s good to be mindful of the things in this paragraph, but the information in the paragraph above is more useful when dealing directly with dullness.

    I hope that makes sense.



    Andrew C

    Hi Sasha,

    If you don’t mind to sacrifice a bit, a few things that you could do outside meditation might help with the dullness.

    1. Fasting after noon
    2. Eating less meat and more vegetables ( The energy that went into processing meat / digesting food is huge. Vegetables are easier to digest )
    3. Drink enough water

    During meditation
    If you are using breathing mindfulness. You could use the following:
    At each ending of breathing cycle (breathing in, breathing out), put your focus out onto the external stimuli. This can be traffic sounds, people chatting or wind blowing etc. This will lessen the chance that your mind will grow dull from lack of excitement. As your concentration grows deeper and body becomes very relax, piti will arise and you can stop focusing on external stimuli after each breathing cycle.

    Hope this helps.

    With metta,

    • This reply was modified 7 years, 1 month ago by  Andrew C.

    Ivan Ganza

    Hi Sasha,

    Curious — how long is your typical session here? When does the dullness start roughly?

    Or I guess you might be feeling kind-of dull or a bit tired already before you sit down?

    How aware/fresh do you feel before you sit down?

    -Ivan (DT Teacher in Training)


    Hi Sasha,

    I thought it might be useful to you to relay my own experience overcoming morning grogginess.

    My usual practice time is 5:30 AM, and I do my best to get enough sleep the night before. A couple of months back, however, I was getting frustrated as it often happened when I sat down to meditate, 10 minutes after waking up, my mind felt thoroughly addled. This was a familiar feeling from daily life, sort of like how it feels trying to solve a maths problem first thing on a Monday morning. Although my intentions were in place, I found it difficult to get a purchase on my breath and I noticed I couldn’t sense any subtle distractions whatsoever. I wondered for a while what this phenomenon might be. At first I thought it couldn’t be dullness because it wasn’t induced by the meditation itself. I thought it was just one of those weather patterns in my brain, which I would have to accept (somewhat dispiritingly). I tried the antidotes for dullness recommended in the TMI and while they did have some effect I didn’t feel like they really solved my particular problem. Then I had the ‘brainwave’ to try a bout of walking meditation before sitting. This has fixed the problem totally for me: I walk for 15 minutes and then sit for another 45 minutes. As I begin walking, at first I notice the absence of subtle distractions but then slowly they start to appear so that when I sit down they are fully present – in the background and occasionally jumping out into the foreground. I can usually have (what feels to me like) a fairly ‘productive’ practice afterwards.

    This same kind of dullness doesn’t typically arise later in the day. I don’t think walking meditation would make up for too much lost sleep, however, not for me at least.




    A couple of mundane thoughts, which may or may not apply:

    If there is significant sugar and other empty carbs in your diet, dropping them in favor of increased dietary fat might make a difference. Could improve sleep too.

    Bright light is said to inhibit melatonin production, which might explain a temporary increase in wakefulness. It’s also why you’re recommended not to use bright lights near bedtime.


    “I mostly meditate open-eyed due to the dullness, and it’s a bit better, but the dullness still overcomes me and I have to strive very hard to keep attention from weakening and scattering due to dullness, and sometimes strive to keep eyes from closing.”

    Oh I see. Then you definitely need to make some changes in your life (outside of meditation) like many people here have suggested. Drinking more water (very important, the brain is 90% water after all), improving your diet and adding a bit of exercise to relieve yourself of at least some of the stress that is keeping you up at night, all these things can help tremendously.

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