Stage 6 questions

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  • #1979
    Profile photo of Sam B
    Sam B
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    Hi Everyone,

    I’m working in (I think) stages 5-7, and I’m finding full-body breathing rather difficult. It was relatively easy to start feeling prana sensations when I started on stage 5 about 5 months ago, and since then I’ve been working with the body scan quite frequently. At this point I can direct my attention anywhere in the body and find prana sensations, and my attention seems to be pretty exclusive and the scope well defined. When I go back to the breath after the body scanning, the breath usually takes the form of a random collage of sensations or sort of ripply nice wavy sensations, which I take to be some form of the acquired appearance. I have looked into stage 7 in TMI and the close following seems to be accessible to me, and I’ve had a few experiences of the “vibrations” that are mentioned in the book. The problem is, when I try piecing together larger parts of the body to go for the full body breathing, subtle dullness often sets in, and I can’t really feel everything at once save for a few outlier occasions. I’m trying to gradually piece together larger areas, but the vividness and harmony of the breath energies gets obscured the bigger area I try, and I notice peripheral awareness gets obscured and subtle dullness get pretty obvious.

    So my main questions are

    1) how to increase this area while still making sure subtle dullness doesn’t set in. The book seems to imply that subtle dullness will be “overcome” when you start working in stage 6, but in my experience I can stay out of subtle dullness provided the area of focus isn’t too large (maybe both of my lower legs at once or both of my arms or torso at once is my limit), but beyond that it’s obvious my conscious power isn’t enough.

    2) I get the sense that my attention is exclusive even without full body breathing. There’s very few if any thoughts, and sounds stay in awareness (usually). Does this make it appropriate to start working with stage 7? I have some experience with the pleasure Jhanas, so whatever level of focus that requires, I’ve gotten there and beyond in the last couple of months. I shied away from doing the pleasure jhanas after a month or so of experimenting because I was worried subtle dullness was still a problem, (sometimes I would be startled while resting attention on the pleasant sensations, but when in the 1st jhana I have heard loud noises occur several times but didn’t feel startled or jump or anything, and the vibrating piti just didn’t seem to be dull at all) but I think now I have a pretty good handle on subtle dullness such that I could probably jhana without dullness. I’m still reluctant to go down this route though because of the aformentioned full body breathing stuff.

    I hope this wasn’t too complicated/hard to follow, and thanks!

    #2049

    Hi Sam,

    The usual reason why people feel dullness with the body scan is because awareness has faded. As a result, the breath sensations will appear hazy, or absent, or divorced from the overall proprioceptive experience of your body, or they will start to mix with other non-breath sensations such as pleasure.

    The reason this is happening is just as you thought: you lack sufficient conscious power to attend to the whole body while remaining mindfully aware. In Stages 5-7, a lack of conscious power reveals itself most readily in the whole-body breath practice due to all the cognitive resources it takes to notice such refined sensations over a huge area while staying mindfully aware. You don’t see this deficit as much working with, for instance, the pleasure sensations of Stage Seven jhana because pleasure sensations in these Stages tend to be grosser than the breath sensations, meaning they are easier to detect. Also, they are more compelling to focus on because they feel good, meaning they are easier to follow. Likewise, the Stage Five body scan is easier than the Stage Six breath body scan because in Stage Five, you’re looking for all sensations — pressure, heat, and so forth. These are generally easier to detect, and taken together, far more numerous than the breath.

    So, while you may have the stability of attention corresponding to Stage Seven, your mindful awareness lags behind.

    The key is to further emphasize and refine your metacognitive awareness of 1.) mental objects, 2.) movements of attention, and 3.) overall state of mind. Make sure a significant portion of your consciousness is allocated to awareness — more consciousness than you’re currently devoting to it, I suspect. Thus, try “standing” a little farther back from your meditation object. Hold the intention to remain continuously metacognitively aware while you work with as large an area of the body as you can successfully manage without awareness fading and consequent dullness. Don’t proceed to a larger attentional area until you can successfully stay with the current scope in a mindful way. Then, add another portion of the body to your current scope and work with that until you’re completely clear and mindful working with that larger scope — and so forth, until you’re taking in the whole body. This is just like weightlifting, and it requires similar time and patience to see “gains” in your overall conscious power.

    If you don’t possess the requisite mindful awareness, your attention may stay stable, but you will remain prone to dullness during mentally taxing meditations, including during many of the insight techniques found in the adept Stages.

    I hope that helps! Please let me know if there’s anything I need to clarify.

    Yours in the Dharma,

    Jeremy — Dharma Treasure Teacher

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