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Experiencing a ‘HARD time’ during concentration meditation?
January 30th, 2013 (February 1st, 2013)

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

Experiencing a 'HARD time' during concentration meditation?

Symptoms might include (but are not limited to): "my head feels like it's going to explode!" and "I feel a pulsating pain in the area between my brain and my skull. It's like someone hits me on my brain and it is pulsating so that I can feel the nerves in my teeth. I mustn't try to squash my thoughts, should I? How else should I return to the breath after noticing my wondering mind. I'm struggling to let go / get rid of the thoughts once I have noticed them and then I'm not really sure if I am focusing on the breath. So I'm 'pushing' my mind hard to focus on the breath."

Following the "Suggested 'new year resolution': learn to properly meditate!" (, it is probably time to go further than the "(classic) instructions and (important) pieces of advice" ( 

There is a story in the suttas about attention that has to be "not too tight, not too loose". Like the string of a violin if you want to play music… Too tight? It breaks. Too loose? No sound… You might experience a case of "too tight"!

You should not  'squash' your thoughts. Even in concentration meditation, the focus of the attention is not maintained by 'killing' other thoughts but by enjoying a stable focus of the attention on a single 'object'. It is like really paying attention to something you do which is enjoyable (so you 'naturally' do not think of other things), it is not about fighting against the thoughts…

So the way to bring back your focus to the breath is to be amicable, peaceful, to any other thought that has arisen in the meantime!

For example, the thought is a signal about something you have to do, and you can be grateful that you got a reminder… then focus back on the breath.
Another example: the thought could be telling you something that you don't like but that you need to deal with! The fact that this thought keeps coming back is simply a signal to tell you "this is important, don't just deny it". Again, you can be thankful for the information learnt… then focus back on the breath.

So there is no fighting, there are gratitude and thanks instead. Then you move on, and refocus on the breath… Just like when you thank someone for helping you then move on. You don't repeat "thank you" forever, or repay the person many times, do you? You say it once, you repay once, then move on: grateful but not stuck!

I will give you another possibly-useful metaphor. When you "move on" from a thought back to your breathing, you should do it as if dropping an object. Now I really mean "just dropping".

For example: if you hold a cup of tea, imagine dropping it by simply releasing your hand. There is no taking precautions, no holding it (a bit longer or a lot longer) to delicately put it on the table, nothing… Just dropping, releasing the hold. If your hand was holding the cup on the table, no impact. If your hand was holding the cup high up, it will smash on the floor. Right?
Well, that is how you should let go of thoughts. Drop them. Don't store them for later, don't mull over them, don't think they are significant or rare and should be put delicately somewhere else… Just drop them! Release the grip, let the thought stay on the table or crash on the floor; your job is to release the grip, not to take care of the thought!
[and don't worry if the thought really was important, it will come back later anyway! Otherwise, it wasn't that important.]

Very important information: having thoughts is a sign of having a healthy functioning brain (! So it is expected… and you are not a bad meditator simply because you keep having thoughts arising. 

What you are practising with meditation is vigilance (Am I focused on my breath? yes. Am I focused on my breath? yes. Am I focused on my breath? oops, no, refocus! Am I focused on my breath? yes…) and mindfulness itself (i.e. the 'hold' of the attention).

So every single time you realise you're having other thoughts, you are having a great moment of vigilance. Basically, it just worked! Precisely because, right then, you're aware that you were thinking of something else, you are no longer caught in the thought itself! Many people misunderstand this, and the more they catch themselves, the worse they think they are, and they tense more (to the point of becoming "too tight"). Do not make this mistake! The more you see thoughts, the better you are at meditating! So just relax, drop the thought, be thankful for this aware moment, and breathe…

What you are practising when meditating is becoming better and better at perceiving thoughts early (sooner and sooner as they arise, based on weaker and weaker energy) and also better and better at releasing / dropping them. So "never conceive meditation as 'thinking nothing' " ( Knocking you with a hammer would be a lot more effective to stop thinking… but this is not meditation!

Lastly, even the focus on the breathing should be relaxed. Imagine watching over your children playing nicely and safely in front of you… you'd watch them with love and joy. Since they're nice and safe, there would be no need to jump at the slightest sign of something happening. You'd still be watching though… but relaxed! Still paying attention… but without straining. This is how you should watch your breathing. This is not to 'control' the breathing. It is only to be lovingly present to it.

For now, limit your meditation to 10 minutes (maximum!) per day… Maybe check your posture, sitting straight but without tension… Do not use a CD (with music or guided meditation) simply because the CD is not helping: you actively put a distraction in place, thus you make harder focusing on the breath… Simply sit in a quiet room (ideally at the start of day, after you woke up, but any other time is good as long as it's the 'quietest' you can get in the day).

Don't force it, it's also okay to stop meditating for a few days to just relax… Meditation is a process which like any other takes place in a context and within circumstances. There is no 'absolute' about this, so if your context is terrible, don't force yourself too far. Again: not too loose, not too tight. Too little effort does not pay, but too much effort does not pay either!

#Buddhism   #Dharma   #meditation  
[photo by Southern Scene Photography, ]