Stage Three Question

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    I think I do now understand what checking-in means. I practiced it earlier today with my new understanding — actually, the understanding came to me while practicing, but the concepts I read on this forum triggered it, I’m fairly sure — and it definitely was not what I had originally understood and tried out for. What I actually had been doing before was to try to clear some space in my head to carefully watch whatever thought then popped into my mind afterwards. As Ted pointed out, I was probably doing so only when all the other distractions had quietened down and I had enough mental energy to clear the space in the first place. I wasn’t all that sure what I was clearing the space for or *where inside* I was supposed to look, however, and that made it feel all very awkward and kind of useless. What I now understand is that I’m just holding the intention to periodically turn my attention towards what had been in the focus of my attention just in the moment before and what had been in the field of awareness just in the moment before. When my attention shifts in this way I then get a very strong, immediate, and clear impression of just how much of my focus had been on the breath and how much had been on something else, and of course what that something else was (which I should label simply). It does now feel very light and very quick in the way The Mind Illuminated described checking-in (my incorrect earlier practice felt heavy and slow, by comparison).

    The speed camera imagery from Blake (especially that the snapshot is being taken of what was there just moments before), the articulation of what the targets are from Michael (focus of attention, field of awareness), and the remark from Ted that ultimately I need to have the mental energy to be able to take snapshots in all kinds of traffic (to extend the metaphor!), this has all really helped me a lot. I realize I still do need to practice this technique to build up some expertise and mental energy in applying it, but now I at least know what I’m doing, and I can totally imagine how this leads to continuous introspective awareness (I may be mangling terms here).


    To “close out” this thread, here is the advice I would give to myself of almost two years ago. (Since then, progress has been slow, but I’m now working in Stages 4-5 mostly, and I do feel I’ve learned some definite skills along the way.)

    1. A more solid understanding of attention versus awareness will come with time, much in the same way as an understanding of how to follow the breath without controlling it came eventually. Put a lot of diligence into holding onto external sounds (with awareness) while following the breath closely (with attention). (Imagining a “bubble of awareness” surrounding you may help in the early days.) This is a really an important skill. Eventually you will use awareness of external sounds to enliven the mind and stave of dullness — at least keep it in check.

    2. Checking in is also a really important skill, and you can’t skip it (even though you may want to go on believing you can for a lot longer). As a bridge to checking in “spontaneously” (i.e., setting a strong intention to check in spontaneously and hoping for the best), put a lot of diligence into holding onto the intention to check in “after a short while” — and don’t forget this intention while following the breath as closely as you can. (The traffic speed camera analogy above helps a lot too, at least conceptually.)

    3. Following the breath closely is different from following it in a vague sense. You can indeed perceive the six individual points of breath, and some individual sensations that make up the in and out breaths — but not always right away. It may take time to settle into this level of mental clarity, every sit. It may also be a lot easier to do this when the breath slows down, after meditating for a while (being patient until this happens actually makes the goal of perceiving individual sense sensations, in continuous succession, achievable).

    4. As said above, apart from sleepiness (which you may not experience until several stages later), dullness means not being able to perceive the meditation object clearly — as if there is a thin film covering it and “blunting out” its features. Continuing to put a lot of diligence into perceiving the meditation object clearly, as well as maintaining strong extrospective awareness (e.g., of external sounds), can go a long way to sharpening your perceptions, however.

    5. Connecting how the breath cycle “feels” to those subtle annoyances or stresses that persist until you are well into a sit is an interesting exercise. (You don’t necessarily have to spend a long time connecting but it’s a worthy exercise to try — I’m still at the early stages of its appreciation.)

    You may find that progress comes in starts, e.g., especially while on holidays, and there may be a significant novelty factor to a recently realised skill, which may make it seem like you’ve mastered it more reliably than you actually have. Over time, however, real progress — even if slow – is discernible. Be prepared for the long haul! (Maybe that last part would be discouraging to myself of almost two years ago.)



    Thank you so much Patrick. I am currently working on stage 3 and found this recap incredibly helpful. I stumbled across you post by accident but it actually contained answers to questions I already had and even things that I only realised while reading. This reads indeed like the “advice I would give to myself in hindsight” or “the post that I wish I had before”. Too bad it did not help you, but it certainly helped me. Thanks again!

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