Stage 5 question about subtle dullness

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This topic contains 11 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Blaz Simcic 9 years, 8 months ago.

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    Blaz Simcic


    I would like to ask for some advices.

    1. I meditate for an hour a day (maybe a little bit more). I just entered in 5th stage. My first question is: how to structure my meditation time (I just added the method ‘experiencing the body with the breath’)? Is it ok to practice 15 minutes ‘experiencing the body with the breath’ and 15 minutes ‘focus on sensation of the breath at the tip of the nose’ twice in one session?

    2. I’m not sure if I can truly recognize subtle dullness. When I focus on sensation of the breath at the tip of the nose, it usually feels like it’s a little bit congested (choked), and when subtle dullness disappears the ‘congestion’ is releaved (and the air entering in the nose seems much cooler). Is that ok?

    3. Antidotes for subtle dullness (taking deep breaths, clenching muscles, expanding the meditation object on the whole body or just trying to see the meditation object more clearly) don’t work for me. Will they start working with practice?

    4. I entered in 5th stage after 5 months of meditating. Is that normal? It seems quite fast to me.…

    Thanks, Blaž


    Hi Blaz,

    I’ll do my best to more or less answer your questions

    1. Start your meditation in the regular way, stabilizing it on the breath sensations at the nose. When attention feels stable and awareness clear, shift to experiencing the whole body with the breath. At some point, when you can detect the sensations of the breath in the whole body, shift your attention back to the sensations at the nose. Upon return, everything should feel clearer, more vivid, greater detail. When (if) that fades, you can return to the whole body breath practice. Then again, return to the nose. So yes, you can do 15 minute intervals but you can also move back and forth between the two more times or less times depending on the state of clarity and vividness.

    2. Subtle dullness has three characteristics. . 1. The vividness and clarity with which you perceive the meditation object decline. 2. Both extrospective and introspective peripheral awareness fade. 3. There is a comfortable, relaxed, and pleasant feeling. These all occur together, though only one or another of them may be obvious at any given time. You should learn to identify these characteristics so you can recognize when subtle dullness is growing deeper..

    You can recognize if you’re in subtle dullness by 1: the startle reaction – If some disturbance – say, an unexpected sound, a person coughing, or a door slamming – causes you to jerk, or feel inwardly startled, then dullness was probably present. 2. check in – You should intentionally check in from time to time during your meditation as well. When you check in, compare your present awareness and attention with previous meditation sessions when you felt particularly alert and sharp. 3. The best way to detect subtle dullness is by making introspective awareness stronger. The key to doing that is intention. Hold the intention to detect any degree of dullness…./

    3. That those techniques aren’t working for you seems surprising if the dullness is actually subtle. It might be a bit “heavier” than you think. Nevertheless, keep trying and experiment with your own techniques. I find squeezing the perenium and sucking in my gut at the same time works.

    4. Although there is a pattern to the progress, there is a lot of individual variability. If it seems quite fast to you and the antidotes don’t seem to be working then sure, it’s possible you’re at an earlier stage. But just hard to say online.

    Hope all this info helps



    Blaz Simcic

    Hi Matthew,

    I really appreciate the time you took to answer my questions. If you don’t mind, I have some additional questions:

    1. Can stratling reaction happen also when gross dullness is present?

    2. I have no problem meditating lying down – does that mean that gross dullness was overcome?

    3. Can an adept meditator still experience subtle dullness when (if) he wants to?

    4. Question about Intention: can I repeat my intention (think discursively about it) every few minutes? At which stage it is best to stop doing that?

    Thanks, Blaž



    Hi Blaz, I’m at a similar level of progress as you, but I think I can answer these questions. If I make a mistake hopefully someone can correct me and we both can learn.

    1) Definitely, I remember when I first started meditating and I didn’t understand the importance of getting rid of dullness, I was frequently experiencing gross dullness with the startle reaction. The difference between gross and subtle dullness is that gross dullness will tend to “grow” over time unless you catch it, whereas subtle dullness will remain relatively constant.

    2) If you can meditate an hour lying down, and at the end of the hour you feel every bit as alert as when you started, then it’s likely you’ve gained control over gross dullness and are only dealing with subtle dullness.

    3) Have you ever been in a startling situation, such as an accident, where your body switched into a state of “flow” and you became extremely alert while everything seemed to be moving in slow motion? We can think of dullness as a spectrum, where this is one end of the spectrum, and deep sleep is the other end. The amount of dullness we experience day-to-day would be somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. In stage 5 the goal is to have dullness decrease throughout the sit, so that you end every sit more aware than you began. It isn’t really feasible to reach the highest end of the spectrum every time you sit. However, if you manage to feel the breath at bodily extremes such as the scalp of your head or your feet (something I’ve not managed to do yet), then you’ve made very good progress.

    4) Yes. The goal of Stage 6 is single-pointedness. Before beginning Stage 6, don’t worry about background thoughts, and freely use thoughts about your intentions if they are helpful.


    Blaz Simcic

    Paul, thanks for advice. This stage seems quite difficult for me and according to Culadasa’s teaching it’s very important, so I really want to understand everything about subtle dullness.

    Any other advice /suggestions about practising at this stage will be welcome 🙂 


    1. “Can startling reaction happen also when gross dullness is present?” As Paul pointed out, yes. The startle reaction can also happen when you’re mind-wandering or distracted. Just think about the last time you were startled when someone suddenly asked you something or surprised you. You may have been so preoccupied with some thought, your attention so rapt, that you let all your extrospective awareness drop. The person thus, in a sense, snuck up on you and surprised you. Subtle dullness also causes a drop in intro/extro awareness, thus the startle reaction is a good indicator for whenever awareness is lost. Essentially, the more mindful you are, the less likely you’ll be startled.

    2. “I have no problem meditating lying down – does that mean that gross dullness was overcome?” Have you ever had a problem meditating while lying down? In other words, when you first started meditating was meditating this way a problem? If meditating lying down was always easy and never a problem, then I’d say it’s not a good indicator.

    3. Can an adept meditator still experience subtle dullness when (if) he wants to?” Yes, actually there will be times when the mind is agitated and you want to allow some subtle dullness in as a way to calm the agitation.

    4. Question about Intention: can I repeat my intention (think discursively about it) every few minutes? At which stage it is best to stop doing that?” I agree with Paul. Do what works. If verbal affirmations of intention help, do it.

    Thanks, Blaž


    Blaz Simcic

    Matthew, thanks, your response was very helpful.



    Blaz Simcic

    In Progressive Stages of Meditation in Plain English Culadasa wrote:

    »But then there also develops a sensitivity to much more subtle sensation. And at some point it will becomes obvious what is meant by ‘the flow of prana’, ‘the movement of the inner winds’, the ‘constrictions of the energy flow at the chakras’, and so on.«

    When I do the body scan, I experience twitching (and muscle contraction) in my legs. It started some days ago in my feet, now I can feel it in the whole leg (but only when I concentrate on that part of my body).

    Does someone know what is going on? Is it associated with Culadasa’s description above?


    Involuntary body movements are a not-much-discussed but quite normal part of meditative progress. It is related to prana/chi/inner winds, and it’s a little hard to talk about, because it requires adopting a system by which to understand prana. The way I would describe it is that in our unconscious mind lies all sorts of emotions and memories and the like that we have not previously been sensitive enough to notice. Each mental event is also stored somewhere in the body; you’ve likely noticed in your meditation that each thought, feeling, etc. has some physical correlate. As we become more sensitive, we start noticing these “blockages” in the mind and/or what feel like blockages in the energy flow through the body. When we notice either one of these (or even if we don’t consciously notice it but it has moved up to the surface of the unconscious), there can be strange energy sensations and movements in the body. The fact that this only occurs when you pay attention to your legs makes me think it’s very likley that this is what’s occurring. As far as I know, there’s not much to actually do about this, except to let it come, let it be, let it go, and see it as a sign of progress.

    I did once have a student who had tremendous jerks during meditation and saw this as a great sign of progress but it kept getting worse and wasn’t explained until the student was diagnosed by a doctor with some sort of neurological problem. 🙂 So, you know, of course, if you’re having physical symptoms that are causing you trouble, always good to get it checked out rather than trust the advice of strangers on the internet. But what you’re describing certainly sounds to me like a “kriya,” which is one of the names used for these involuntary meditation-induced movements.


    Blaz Simcic

    Upasaka Tucker, thanks for your quick response. I’ll try to follow your advice (let it come, let it be, let it go, and see it as a sign of progress).



    This may seem a somewhat extreme remedy for dullness, but I keep a two gallon Igloo thermos with ice water and a terry cloth towel next to my cushion. Whenever I am having a problem with dullness I take a short ice water bath.

    I learned this from my Japanese martial arts days long ago. I believe it comes from a Shinto practice called Misogi.
    After a while it becomes a conditioned response. Just the thought of the ice water becomes enough to overcome dullness, subtle or otherwise.

    The jerking and twitching, which for me was sometimes quite extreme, will settle down eventually. Only my toes twitch now.
    While the extreme twitching frightened me at first, I came to look forward to it during my sits. It became the sign post that I was about to enter a deeper stage of meditation.


    Blaz Simcic

    Mitchell, thanks for the advice. Blaž

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