Your Goal: Aware of one breath point, free from subtle dullness.
Your eighth step as an insight meditator is to introduce the meditative skill of attention coming to rest on one point of breath-sensation at the tip of the nose. This naturally occurs with increased calm, joy, and tranquility cultivated through the pleasure of letting go with clear comprehension.
Sustaining attention on one point of breath sensation arises as a natural progression of accessing the calm, joy, and tranquility present due to the growing pleasure of seclusion from sensory stimulation.
This is experienced as a natural resting of attention on one point of breath sensation at the tip of the nose and a fading into the background of the perception of time.
Once your attention is resting on one point of breath sensation by itself, you will be aware of the flowing sensations at that one point while accessing the growing pleasure of joy & tranquility to avoid subtle dullness.
While doing this, maintain some background peripheral awareness of your whole body as it sits.
Background awareness of your body sitting will prevent both dullness and too much effort in the focus of your attention.
Your attention will become aligned with the perception of the breath sensation. So stable that all perception of time will fade into the background.
With the fading of the perception of time will come the fading of the idea 'this is an in-breath, this is an out-breath.'
As this matures, you will experience just one point of stable, unmoving attention at the tip of the nose and an ever-growing experience of joy & tranquility in your peripheral awareness.
While smiling with your eyes into the growing pleasure of joy & tranquility, your mind will deeply calm and attention will naturally rest on one point of breath sensation, clearly aware of any sensations at that point with a background peripheral awareness of your body.
Your meditation is the same as Meditation 07, except you now develop mindfulness of one point of breath sensation at the tip of your nose.
Step 1: Sit down for meditation on a chair or the floor and gently close your eyes. Develop mindfulness of your body & joyful presence as in Meditations 03 & 04.
Step 2: Develop mindfulness of sensations within each breath as you did in Meditation 07.
Meditation 08 Additions:
Step 3: Monitor and calm the effort to be aware of each breath while increasing your intimacy with the pleasure of letting go and growing tranquility.
Step 4: As tranquility grows and effort calms, allow your attention to rest on one point of breath sensation.
Step 5: Gently smile into the pleasure of growing seclusion while being aware of the changing sensations with that one point.
Step 6: Access the growing pleasure of calm & tranquility by gently smiling into it with your eyes and allowing it to fill your mind.
The eighth marker of mindfulness of breathing, awareness of one point of breath sensation, naturally arises as a progression of two things:
Meditative Hindrances are signs of an imbalance in either your effort or the structure of your attention. It is skillful to view them as an opportunity for insight into your mind rather than something to overcome.
(11) Subtle Dullness.
Antidote: Curiosity + detail to sensations with the breath + arousing joy by smiling with your eyes into the growing pleasure of seclusion and resulting tranquility.
Experience the pleasure of letting go by taking your time and feeling the pleasure available in each of the Experiential Markers. As you progress, the experience of joy and tranquility will mature and remove subtle dullness.
You are ready to progress to Meditation 09: Sustained Attention when:
Note: Due to the immaturity of meditative joy and tranquility, there will still be some subtle wandering and restlessness within your attention. These two hindrances will calm in Meditation 09 by increasing the pleasure of joy & tranquility.
In this simple map you can observe that when practicing Meditation 08 (blue line) the main hindrances to your meditation will be Subtle Dullness.
The Experiential Marker: awareness of One Point of Breath Sensation, developed by Meditation 08 is the method you should use to calm/weaken the present hindrance.
During quiet times bring this simple skill of being mindful of your breathing into your daily life to relax your body and refresh your mind.
From your foundation of GOSS, you can begin to train attention skills learnt in seated meditation, into your daily life.
Meditation 08 in Daily Life:
Question: On MIDL8 - sustaining when attention is on the breath at the nose, where does my attention go in between breaths?
Stephen: When attention naturally begins to sustain on the sensations at one point, there is no gap between breaths, the idea of in and out-breaths has ceased and there is just a changing sensation.
Actually, the gap between each in-breath and out-breath fades into the background in Meditation 06 when we are aware of the whole length of each breath.
To cultivate this, I recommend being aware of the whole length of each in and out-breath, as being perceived as one continuous breath that just changes direction.
This means intentionally not paying attention to the moment each breath begins, and the moment it ends so that you can develop the perception of permanence for samatha.
Once you are able to do this then move onto breath sensation through calming your body and minds effort rather than by 'doing' your attention.
Again, not paying attention towards the gap between breaths as this will transition you from samatha to vipassana.
By continuing to calm, let go and tuning into the feeling of meditative joy and growing tranquility, your meditation object will naturally progress into one point of breath sensation with no idea of in or out-breath, and a dropping away of the feeling of time.
Question: My mind rests on a sensation of pressure at the back of the nose, around which the breath sensations move - is this ok?
Stephen: Wherever the sensation appears for you is fine, the sensation isn't important, the calming of effort within the mind, growing tranquility and growing stability of attention is.
Question: I experience periods of effortlessness, sometimes minutes at a time. They’ll inevitably end and I’ll go back to softening body, breath and mind until it reoccurs. How long should these effortless periods be before progressing?
Stephen: Wonderful, well done, it sounds like you have had glimpses of Meditation 09.
At Meditation 08 these periods will be shorter, at meditation 09 when your focus is on meditative joy and tranquility these will become long and unmoving as the focus of your attention will sustain on that one breath point.
Question: You mention a sense of timelessness. I’m not sure what this means - is this poetic or a bit more literal? Even during moments of effortlessness, where the breath feels very close and vivid, the world is still ticking along in my peripheral awareness, which provides a sense of time
Stephen: This is because your attention is divided between your peripheral awareness and the focus point on your meditation object. When your attention is fully sustained peripheral awareness and the object within it will fade into the distant and not be of any interest to your mind.
Question: What is unification experienced as?
Stephen: Unification in MIDL is the gathering/bringing together/combining in incision wholesome qualities of heart and mind.
Although there are others, the main qualities that we are cultivating when developing the conditions for MIDL are the Seven Factors of Enlightenment.
When combined together these factors become stronger, they both support and enhance each other. It is the bringing together, unifying of these factors within attention, that creates the conditions for both calm & insight to unfold.
The minimum to be considered a meditative unification is the presence and persisting of the first three Enlightenment factors: mindfulness, curiosity, and effort towards letting go. Without these three factors in our attention, it cannot be seen as being meditative attention, in terms of developing insight.
The optimum factors for meditating in daily life, is the first four Enlightenment Factors: mindfulness, curiosity, effort towards letting go and meditative joy.
With meditative joy present we now have the ability to practice the three groups of the Noble
Eightfold Path: Panna: wisdom, Sila: morality & Samadhi: unification, calm/tranquility, because of the intimate relationship between meditative joy, and sila.
Question: How does it differ from non-unification in terms of cognition, memory, emotions, efficiency at work, enjoyment of life?
Stephen: Efficiency at work and enjoyment in life is based on perception and therefore individual cannot be defined through a first person, meditative discussion. As a meditator I only speak in terms of what I experience.
Question: How does it differ from non-unification in terms of cognition, memory, emotions
Stephen: It is important to note that unification naturally occurs throughout the day and is not unique to meditation. What makes them different is the types of unification that the mind develops during the day usually contains delusion and the five hindrances and is therefore is based on grasping, clinging onto.
An example of this would be anger or desire which both contain unified focusses of attention, but also contain delusion and hindrances as factors of that unification. Maturity of meditative attention contains no delusion, no hindrances and an inherent tendency towards letting go, not grasping.
Question: How would you describe the non-unified state versus the unified state of mind?
Question: Is unification 100% a good thing or are there downsides?
Stephen: Unification of hindrances is not 100% a good thing leads to addiction within the mind and further embeds delusion.
Meditative unification is beneficial in all ways and each degree of meditative unification has its own benefits.
The only downside is that certain types of mediative unification shut down the functioning of the mind and the six sense fields, so while they are beneficial to calm and tranquility, they can hinder insight which requires the six sense fields to be observed function habitually.
Question: What specifically can be done to cultivate this enlightenment factor?
Stephen: Develop the habitual tendency within your mind towards the previous five Enlightenment Factors sequentially until your mind includes them as factors within your attention itself.
The best way to do this is to do intentional mental training each day in seated meditation with the intention of accessing and strengthening whatever factors are weak within your mind.
Question: How does curiosity factor into this?
Stephen: Without curiosity mindfulness can remember present experience but no understand will develop and the mind will continue to follow old patterns.
Mindfulness is the headlights on the car and curiosity is the driver, all meditators that develop deep insight have the quality of curiosity strong within their minds. Absence of curiosity can also be clearly observed in meditators whose practice is stuck and just circling in habitual patterns.
Question: Is very stable attention a pre-requisite?
Stephen: No, stability of attention is a result of tranquility, and is not a prerequisite for insight. It does however enhance it.
Continuity of meditative attention to the various degrees, as discussed above, is a prerequisite, with a minimum of the first three Enlightenment Factors: mindfulness, curiosity and effort towards letting go.
Question: Is there a "brick built upon brick" effect necessary for the enlightenment factors, e.g. you need the first 5 to get the 6th?
Stephen: In terms of meditative samadhi containing the Enlightenment Factors: yes.
It is important to note that it is possible to bypass the factors of joy and tranquility and develop a type of unification, by cultivating attention through effort rather than through letting go.
Question: Is this factor relatively stable once you have become skilled at cultivating it; e.g. is it stable and reliable after months of momentum of bringing it up, or does it come and go rapidly?
Stephen: It is important to clarify that when we are talking about the unification of meditative samadhi we are not just talking about one type but rather the unification of samatha: calm/tranquility, the unification of vipassana: insight/wisdom, and the unification of sila: harmony/letting go.
The mind naturally cycles through these as part of the path.
So, while the meditative factors of unification become stable and firm in various degrees (how many factors are present within attention) along the meditative path, the structure of that meditative attention naturally changes form as it cycles between the Noble Eightfold Path groups of panna, sila and samadhi.
EG; the meditator is not walking around in samatha-based absorption throughout the day, either vipassana or sila based is necessary: khanika (momentary) or nirvikalpa (objectless: letting go).