No perception of breath

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This topic contains 13 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Blake Barton 4 months, 1 week ago.

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  • #3124

    Alex K
    Member

    Hello,

    I am currently working with stage 3 practices. I rarely forget the breath and mostly just experience subtle distractions and some subtle dullness. I feel attention and awareness are good and there is enough introspective awareness to catch most gross distractions before they occur.

    I have difficulty working with the following and connecting techniques as often the breath sensations are too subtle too detect. I know there is breath as I can keep that as my object of attention but most of the time I can’t follow the ‘letter’ of the instructions as described at this stage.

    My question is whether this is an obstacle to progress in view of the increasing level of attention to detail needed in later stages. Is it the case that being able to detect more details of the breath are a requirement for further progress? Does sensitivity increase given time so that more subtle details can be detected?

    Thank you for any help! 😊

    • This topic was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by  Alex K.
    #3126

    Ted Lemon
    Member

    When you say you are working on stage 3, the assumption would be that you are experiencing forgetting. Is that the case, or is it just that when you put your attention on the breath, sometimes there is no breath there? If it’s the latter, what you are describing sounds like stage 4, not stage 3. And if all you are experiencing is subtle dullness and subtle distraction, it’s actually time to start stage 5 practices.

    Of course, nothing is ever that simple, and I don’t mean to say that you should skip stage four practices, but it’s worth taking some time to notice what your actual problems are in meditation.

    Two things to investigate with respect to the breath: first, are you efforting to find the breath? If so, that can actually drown out the breath. The more you can just invite the breath sensations to come, and gently notice them when they arrive, rather than stomping out looking for them, the better.

    Second, one thing that can make the breath faint is dullness. What is your actual experience of dullness?

    And third (out of two : ) do you think that if you had perfect clarity on the breath, there would always be sensations of breath popping up, or would it be the case that sometimes there would be sensation, and sometimes there would be gap? Do you think that when there is gap, this means that your attention has wandered?

    • This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by  Ted Lemon.
    #3128

    Alex K
    Member

    Dear Ted,

    First let me say thank you for your reply. I really do appreciate it! 😊

    I think I am working on stage 3 but it may also be stage 2 or stage 4!

    I do not think I am experiencing forgetting going by the description of forgetting in TMI. There are no ‘aha’ moments as such where I find that I forgotten the breath. I sit for about 1 hour by the way.

    I also do not experience strong dullness at all. I never have ‘zen lurch’ as its called.

    I am experiencing distractions, but they are momentary ones mainly. Gross distractions are rare going by the description in TMI – they don’t take centre stage and are not occupying attention most of the time.

    I am aware that I am over ‘efforting’ and have tried to counter this tendency by letting go of the attention on the breath so it sits more in the background. I then occasionally experience what I guess is momentary pitti – a pleasant tingling sensation accompanied by increased clarity of awareness.

    I assume there is subtle dullness as the breath sensations are not clear to me and many times I cant detect any details apart from clearly knowing the start of the in breath.

    I am not sure whether I should actually be staying with stage 2 practice until I detect breath sensations more clearly?

    #3129

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    Hi Alex,

    I have a couple of follow-up questions. You state that the breath sensations are too subtle to detect.

    Do you put your attention on the sensations at the nose?

    What sensations do you feel that let you know you are either breathing in or breathing out?

    Please describe what you feel while observing the sensations of the breath? Do you have analyzing and judging thoughts while doing this? Do you get upset or irritated when you think you are not feeling “enough”?

    Best Wishes,
    Blake – DT Teacher

    #3130

    Alex K
    Member

    Hi Blake,

    Yes I do put my attention on the sensations at the nose area.

    Usually sensations are not clear, like trying to see details through a mist. When occasionally the mist clears I can sense the start of the in breath, coolness, movement and the pause. The out breath start is not clear but I can sense it is there. Interestingly on one sit when I made the intention to have ‘clarity’ the ‘mist’ cleared for a time and sensations became clearer to me for a short while. This leads me to suspect that dullness is present. These are non-perceiving mind moments right? So the meditation object would not be perceived as clearly as it could be?

    Often I feel a sense of tightness associated with both the in breath and out breath.

    My most recent sit was a lot of mental talk to do with how much effort there is and where my attention is. Also reminding myself to relax, enjoy and just observe etc. Also I there is a fair amount of checking what my mind is doing. There was also some forgetting though I would say that is not typical.

    I would say there was quite a lot of analyzing and judging how it was going and certainly some frustration. I would also say that I get upset when I cant discern ‘enough’.

    Today’s sit was particularly frustrating and amusing because I found myself trying to ‘think’ my way out of what seemed to be obstacles to the meditation. When I feel I am trying too hard I try to drop the attention on the breath sensations at the nose and just stay with present moment awareness. I don’t think that is working though as attention then seems to be more scattered and I think there is still a lot of dullness present in the mind.

    I feel that after many years of meditation practice (I first started practicing in 1990) of making ‘strong’ effort to stay focused ‘efforting’ has become a hindrance and is a difficult habit to let go of.

    After reading the first stage practice again also listening to a talk by Culadasa on where effort should /should not be made I get the feeling that I am applying effort in the wrong way. Would it be correct to say that the only effort required is that needed in making the intention to give attention to the meditation object before starting to practice and only when the attention leaves the meditation object during practice? So any other effort, like trying to focus or detect details of the meditation object, is a potential hindrance? If that is the case then I need to find a way to drop the habit of ‘efforting’ and also combating dullness – any suggestions would be gratefully received! 🙂

    Thank you for your help.

    Kind regards,
    Alex

    • This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by  Alex K.
    • This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by  Alex K.
    • This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by  Alex K.
    • This reply was modified 4 months, 1 week ago by  Alex K.
    #3136

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    Hi Alex,

    Thanks for the follow up information. I recommend letting go of expectations about what you “should” feel and just get curious about what you do feel. For now, at least, I recommend letting go of trying to notice details about the breath. Just intend to notice what an in breath feels like, then notice what an out breath feels like, then repeat. Try to let go of expectations. I think some people expect to feel something stronger or more profound than what is actually happening. I find the breath sensations at the nostrils to be a fairly subtle series of tingling sensations. Sometimes I notice temperature depending on the weather.

    Your analysis and judgment are likely splitting attention, so you feel less than you would otherwise. You might also be stopping the process of feeling to see if you are noticing enough which further removes your attention from the sensations. It can really help to know when you are doing this.

    You have probably had an insight into the fact that “you” can’t force your mind to notice or feel more than it is capable of, and that it can be quite frustrating to try. Your mind will tend to sharpen over time, but trying to make it happen is like continually digging up a seed to check to see if it is growing.

    As for effort, you really only need the intention to notice the breath. Our natural tendency is to put a whole layer of effort on top of that. As soon are your attention moves to something else, then you renew the intention to feel the breath. You may have to renew that intention numerous time throughout a meditation session. Notice how you intend to do other things in your life like walking or reading. Do you have to put a lot of effort into that or micromanage the process?

    Please let us know how things are going.

    Best Wishes,
    Blake – DT Teacher

    #3142

    Alex K
    Member

    Hi Blake,

    Thank you for your advice its wonderful to have feedback from a TMI teacher.

    So I followed your guidance and after going through the preparation I just settled attention on breath sensations I could feel around the nose. I just set the intention to notice to breath sensations without even differentiating between whether they were in or out breaths.

    The sit highlighted what I think may be a trauma which I have become habituated to. The actual experience was that breath sensations are being ‘drowned’ out by sensations of tightness throughout the breath cycle. I feel this tightness in the abdomen, chest, throat and head. The feeling tone is quite unpleasant and somewhat painful at times. It feels very much like a fear response to me such as when one is very scared and there is physical clenching throughout the torso. The breath is shallow and feels locked down so that both the in breath and out breath are constricted. There is some mental chatter, mainly thoughts about how the meditation is going, but I usually notice this and can easily return to the breath sensations, such as they are, without forgetting or mind wondering.

    I tried taking the unpleasant/painful feelings as the meditation object to see if I could just observe them without getting caught up in any narratives about it but not sure if this right thing to do.

    Im guessing that to effectively use the breath sensations at the nose as a meditation object I will need to deal with this issue first. Maybe using the breath sensations at the abdomen could be a better object for now as I feel that is the physical seat of the problem?

    Any advice is gratefully received.

    Kind regards,
    Alex

    #3143

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    Hi Alex,

    You could be experiencing energy currents and or the pacification of the senses. The TMI model predicts that these could arise in stages 7 or 8, but for some people they occur significantly earlier in the stages. Culadasa thinks this could be due to a partial unification of mind. It can manifest as muscle contraction or tension, and the energy can feel quit a bit like anxiety or the jittery feeling of drinking too much caffeine.

    You don’t report any thoughts about traumatic experience, so this could be what you are experiencing, but only you can decide if there is some underlying trauma.

    I recommend reading the section “Meditative Joy: From energy currents to the Bliss of Mental Pliancy” in the sixth interlude of TMI. Do any of these experiences resonate with you?

    You could experiment with observing the breath at the abdomen to see if anything changes.

    There are some techniques for working with this sort of energy, and some threads here that discuss it if you feel this could be what you are experiencing.

    Best Wishes,
    Blake – DT Teacher

    #3145

    Alex K
    Member

    Hi Blake,

    Thank you for your reply.

    The mind state isn’t at all joyful. I would describe it as more constricted and joyless ie sadness 🙂

    I cant identify with the description at all in the sixth interlude.

    A trauma related memory did occur towards the end of the sit. I was cautious about mentioning it as it may just be the mind creating a story. Although I will not go into details I dont think I properly dealt with the experience and that it has remained below conscious awareness and manifests primarily as constricted breath sensations when I meditate.

    The experience of tightness of breath is actually a historical issue which goes back many years and which I thought was due to past meditation techniques I had followed. My feeling is now that is a more deep seated mental issue which is coming up as physical tension in the breath. I do find that I take periodic deep sighing breaths (releasing tension?) outside of meditation which occurs to me may be related.

    If there are any recommended methods for working with such historical trauma I would be very glad to know about them.

    Many thanks,
    Alex

    #3146

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    As a point of clarification, the early manifestations of energy or pacification often don’t contain any joy, but they can produce an anxiety like feeling and muscle constrictions.

    However, if you feel that your experience is truly emotional in nature, then I would refer you to the section “Emotions, Memories, and Distractions” in Stage 4 of TMI.

    Best Wishes,
    Blake – DT Teacher

    #3147

    Alex K
    Member

    OK thanks for clarifying that. On that basis I guess its a possibility. If I wanted to test this out further would I then take up Stage 7 practices?

    #3150

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    I recommend exploring this with an open mind, because it could also be emotions that are arising. If you decide that it is energy or pacification of the senses, then I don’t recommend doing Stage 7 practices. In order to determine your stage, you need to look at several factors like, attentional stability, forgetting, gross distractions, subtle distractions, peripheral awareness, gross dullness, and subtle dullness.

    These energy manifestations can occur at lower stages for some students, and you want to tailor your practice to your overall stage. The general recommendation in stage 7 is to ignore these things and return your attention to the meditation object.

    Please keep us informed,
    Blake

    #3151

    Alex K
    Member

    Thank you Blake. I am touched by your dedication to helping others.

    In looking at the overview of the ten stages, when I put aside the specific techniques associated with each stage (for instance being able to detect details of the in breath and out breath), then I think my experience most closely matches Stage 4.

    Is this the way one should practice: seeking to the master the goals for that stage rather than any particular technique to achieve the goals?

    I ask this because I feel that the difficulty Im having working with breath sensations isn’t particularly effecting the cultivation of mindfulness and clear comprehension so far.

    #3154

    Blake Barton
    Keymaster

    Hi Alex,

    I am glad that I can be of service. Yes, I think the important part is to master the goals of each stage. The specific techniques are designed to help you do this, but I don’t think every technique or practice works for every student. This is where it can help to apply some discernment, and to speak to a teacher.

    Best Wishes,
    Blake – DT Teacher

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