Using Touch Points in Meditation
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Overcoming Sloth and Torpor
Deep meditation has five hindrances that will stop it from developing, they are desire, ill will, sloth & torpor, restlessness and sceptical doubt; whilst any of these are present you will not attain deep concentration. This is because they inhibit the ability of the mind to concentrate and be still. Desire, ill will, restlessness and sceptical doubt all cause our mind to waver / shake, this instability of the concentration stops the absorption of mind which relies on stillness. Sloth and torpor is different, it doesn’t waver, and on the contrary it is opposite because it removes our ability to even see the object of meditation let alone turn our attention towards it.
Sloth and torpor is a bit of a strange word to most of us, in the context of meditation it means anything from falling asleep to mental sluggishness, lack of clarity. It is those times when you feel mentally dull and sluggish, during meditation unable to see anything clearly. Sometimes during meditation this dullness can actually be a pleasant feeling, you are kind of floating along feeling light and dreamy, relaxed and very peaceful. Even though it feels good it is still a problem, this is because meditation is based on heightening of clarity, not a lowering of it. For your meditation practice to progress you need to polish and exercise your awareness on an object, sloth and torpor removes the object of meditation and makes the mind sink.
Meditation is a balancing act of effort / energy, too much effort and you will get restless, not enough you will get sleepy, dull, the trick in meditation is to find the middle balance. Sloth and torpor is a lack of mental energy, it can be caused by not applying enough effort to “look” during meditation but it is also a symptom of meditation progress. Quite often especially when we first start meditating we have a build up of stress / emotional charge that is stuck, meditation causes this to start moving thus releasing the pressure, a symptom of this then is that we mental feel relieved / relaxed and tend towards the side of sleep.
To overcome this lack of mental energy we need to give ourselves something mental to do, a clear object that is easy to watch. Traditionally with breath meditation we might be advised to look closer at the breath as often sleepiness or lowering of clarity can come from lack of interest in the object of meditation. This though to those new to meditation can be difficult as it takes a fair bit of willpower and the skill of unifying our attention to have been already developed.
To generate more energy we can use touch points, besides creating energy touch points can be used as a meditation object within themselves if you are practicing Vipassana, Insight or Mindfulness meditation. Touch points are the skill of using the sensation that arises from any point of contact between our body and something else as the object of meditation. We can use one touch point or many but I would not go above six because it will prove too hard to remember and confusing.
Generally we will start off with one anchor point, our body, and one touch point. We prepare for our meditation as normal then focus our attention on the feeling of our body and the sensations within. To hold and aim our attention we use a mental label to point at the experience such as
Then we turn our attention to a touch point, a good one is the feeling of our buttocks touching the chair or floor that arises from sitting down. We look closely at this feeling / sensations and silently label it as
Next we turn our attention to the experience of our body and mentally label it as “sitting, sitting”, then look at the touch point and mentally label it as “touching, touching”. And so on. We do this gently and methodically trying to observe as clearly as we can our experience of the sitting posture and touch point. If we want to create more energy or make it more stimulating then we can add touch points, the touch of our lips touching each other, hands touching, feet / ankles on the ground etc.
Our attention would then go between sitting, lips, hands, feet, buttocks, sitting – the noting would be “sitting, sitting”, “touching, touching”, “touching, touching”, “touching, touching”, “touching, touching”, “sitting, sitting”. And so on. We then will generate energy and the sleepiness will start to fade, once faded we can then go back to our original meditation object or continue with our touch point meditation practice depending on the outcome we are after.
Remember though that the mental labels are pointers / signposts towards our meditation object so we don’t observe the signposts but what they are pointing at. We need also to be careful not to use the mental labels as a weapon but be gentle in the way they are applied. Learning this skill gives us a means to escape from sleepiness and lack of clarity giving us more benefit out of each meditation session.
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This article was written by Stephen Procter, instructor from Tai Chi Health for Life, Australian College of Tai Chi & Qi Gong and Meditation Instructor from Meditation in the Shire, Kirrawee NSW, Australia. If you wish to post this article on another website or in a publication please respect the author and reference / link back to this website, thank you