This section is dedicated to questions on Mindfulness Meditation from many students all over the world. If you have a question that you would like to ask you can ask it here: Contact Stephen
thankyou and take care,
QUESTION from Mandy: I have found lately that when I meditate my breathing becomes feint and disappears, I then take some fast breaths so that I can watch it again but this seems to upset my concentration and it is like I have to start all over again. Am I doing something wrong, it feels like it is going so well up until this point?
ANSWER: During concentration meditation practice while using the breath as a meditation object the breathing will settle down and become harder to discern. this is because our breathing and mind have a close relationship and as your mind starts to calm down so too will the breathing appear to change. The breath becoming more subtle will help aid in the development of your concentration, as it does be careful to get the energy levels right otherwise your mind will become restless or sleepy. Do this by holding bare awareness of the breathing plus cultivating the strength of your awareness in each moment.
Eventually the appearance of the breath can disappear, do not be worried about it, you will not suffocate, be careful of this fear because it will stop your practice from deepening. Do not go looking for the breath or be distracted from the point where it disappeared, it is still there just very refined. Instead be aware of any pleasant feelings that have arisen due to this mental seclusion and gentle focus your awareness on that joy encouraging it to grow. The joy / bliss will grow if your practice if your practice is balanced.
At this point the breathing may appear again but it will be long, smooth, whispy and beautiful, you will not be able to take your attention off it. train your mind to follow and be aware of it continuously for long periods of time and it will develop. At times a light may start to take its place, at this stage ignore the light and work towards becoming more and more contented
thankyou and take care,
QUESTION from James: Hi Stephen, Just a couple of questions and some feedback on yesterdays class: Firstly I enjoyed the lesson and personally found this whole topic interesting. Thankyou for your feedback, much of this topic I will be talking about in the next class, you must be psychic. You mentioned that in concentration practice, the breath may seem to disappear, and then reappear again very subtly, eventually leading to an unmistakable white light (nimita).
Is this supposed to happen in the one sitting, or is it a gradual buildup over many days, weeks, months of meditating? I guess what I'm trying to ask is will this just happen when the concentration is right, or does it build up and rely on the momentum over many sittings? Just curious as you stated that once at this stage, you can then turn the concentrated focus onto mindfulness meditation, but I think it would take me a 3 month retreat just to get to the nimita stage!
ANSWER: The nimita is a sign of concentration and a mind that is now one pointed in its attention and free from the five hindrances. The Hindrances to concentration are:
1. Sensual Desire - Craving / attachment to objects of the sense world
2. Ill will - Relationship to the sense world through aversion / anger based mind states, pushing away and attacking everything.
3. Sloth and Torpor - Sleepy / sluggish mind - too low energy based on low awareness of each moment
4. Restlessness - Too much energy based on too much effort in each moment
5. Sceptical doubt - Delusional state of mind - doubt in your ability, your teachers ability, the technique, that meditation actually is real.
These five hindrances all exist to some degree and control our everyday life, they also are brought into the meditation practice. Time practicing is not the issue, to reach perfect concentration you need a mind that is perfectly still, this only happens when it is free from the five hindrances. if your mind was perfectly free of them right now you would be able to go to perfect concentration as soon as you turned your attention away from the sensual world. They are the only thing that is stopping your mind from experiencing the bliss of deep concentration, them and your attachment to them. The benefit of intensive long retreats is that you build up momentum in suppressing the hindrances through disengaging with the world, as the momentum builds so does the depth of your practice.
Can you get to this stage in everyday life? Yes you can, but to do this we need to address the way we live, if we live in a way that encourages the hindrances then that is what we bring into our practice. But if we consider our inner world more important then we can refine our morality and the hindrances will weaken and concentration will happen naturally. Concentration isn't what we do, it is more about what we don't do. Concentration is about the mind becoming more and more still, effort is about movement, hindrances drive the effort imbalance.
Restless during meditation
QUESTION from James: Also found it very interesting when you talked about the five hindrances before and after our mindfulness meditation. I found I was quite restless and agitated during the meditation, even thinking at one stage that maybe the concentration path is the 'one' for me. I didn't realise it during the meditation, but then you discussed the hindrances again and it was like all the pieces fell into place.
ANSWER: Well done for noticing, keep doing that and wisdom arises. Remember when you are doing pure Mindfulness practice and the Hindrances arise, it is not because you are bad at it. In pure Mindfulness practice we don't build strong concentration first so the hindrances aren't suppressed and run rampant. During this practice the hindrances are our object of meditation, watch for all five, study them and build your Mindfulness on them. Then concentration will grow and they will be suppressed until wisdom removes them for good. Did you notice when you were thinking that the concentration path was for you that the fifth hindrance of doubt had taken over your mind and perceptions?
Personality and meditation
QUESTION from James: You also discussed personality as the major factor in determining which meditation path to concentrate on, which seems easy enough, except it isn't!! I'm pretty sure I start off the day in an addictive, clingy, greedy state of mind, which progresses to anger, and I end the day delusional!!! Obviously exaggerating but when you discuss the personality types i think I'm all of them. Can choosing the right path to follow simply be based on the meditation each individual enjoys the most? (Which might just be our personalities making that choice subconsciously anyway?) Thanks, James
ANSWER: We all have greed, anger and delusion as part of our personality, until we are totally free. Yes it does change but each of us have a dominant trait, yours is anger, you have an aversion based personality, so when you meditate nothing feels quite right. Does that sound familiar? You will always find fault with any meditation object so the pure concentration path will be hard for you as for it to develop you need to take delight in the object of meditation. Hence your relationship to Loving Kindness practice. I believe that pure mindfulness practice is your path, that you are intelligent and like to question things. This is the right personality for this path, be willing to question everything, be with what is uncomfortable and try to work out what discomfort actually is. Be with what is comfortable or beautiful and don't take it for granted.