In STEP 5 your focus is on developing skill in establishing access concentration (samadhi: unification of attention), which is the Sixth Factor of Enlightenment.
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“Completely withdrawn from unwholesome qualities, withdrawn from desire for sensoury experience, the meditator enters and dwells within the first jhana, with piti and sukha born of seclusion, accompanied with vitakka and vicara” The Buddha MN119
How does withdrawing occur?
The development of access concentration is a path of laid out by developing meditative skill in observing, calming and abandoning the Meditative Hindrances.
As strange as it may seem, the Meditative Hindrances to the development of Access Concentration, also create the path that leads to Access Concentration. The meditative path is created by observing, calming and abandoning:
OBSERVE, CALM & ABANDON IN THIS ORDER
THE PATH IN TIER 1
The first 6 Meditative Hindrances are stress related founded on habitual fear of giving up control. At TIER 1 Mindfulness of Breathing the first 6 Meditative Hindrances will have been understood through observing, calmed through softening, and abandoned through deconditioning.
THE PATH IN TIER 2
In TIER 2 Mindfulness of Breathing Hindrances 7-10 will have been understood through observing, calmed through softening, and abandoned through deconditioning. Hindrances 11-16 will have been observed and calmed.
Access Concentration is also established by observing, calming and abandoning.
OBSERVE, CALM & ABANDON IN THIS ORDER
If you continue to stabilise your attention in mindfulness of breathing by following the 12 Experiential Markers and cultivating the Enlightenment Factors in TIER 2, there will come a time where all the correct conditions come together for the unification of attention.
At some stage in TIER 2 Mindfulness of Breathing you may have experienced a meditation when everything came together in harmony. An athlete may describe this as entering a state of flow within the activity that they have been training in. All doing drops away, all thinking in regards to what they should do or not do is absent; they are in the zone. It is at this stage that the athlete needs to trust their training, and get out of the way. It is also in this state of flow, of harmony, in which gold medal performances are observed. This same experience of flow, harmony, being in the zone is experienced by the meditator. They too need to abandon all control, trust their training, and get out of the way.
When this first happens it will catch you unaware, suddenly awareness becomes clear, attention still, and all 16 Meditative Hindrances are clearly absent and attention seems to rest on one point of breath sensation by itself. Attention becomes steady, firm, and unmoving. Complete effortlessness arises as applied attention eases, and attention sustains on one point of subtle breath sensation by itself. A gap has now been created in habitual delusion, and the mind is experienced as clear, still, and undisturbed.
This gap will remain, and the 16 Meditative Hindrances suppressed, as long as this structure of attention (samadhi) is sustained. Due to the absence of the Meditative Hindrances, a pleasant feeling (sukha) will arise within your mind, and also some mild pleasant physical sensations (piti). This is a very clear marker of access concentration.
As unification of your attention develops a light may appear in your visual field, like someone has opened the curtains and letting light into the room. You may even see flickering lights in front of your eyes. As exciting as these may seem, they are simply a sign of the development of concentration, and nothing to pay attention to.
Sometimes the mind does not want to withdraw from the sensoury world or unwholesome qualities, it is scared to let go. There are a number of common imbalances that you can address habitual clinging.
Sometimes the mind does not want to withdraw from the sensoury world. There are a number of common imbalances that you can address.
If piti and sukha do not arise, it will be due to there still being some instability in your attention. This instability will create minute gaps as attention continues to apply, allowing the five hindrances to arise. You may notice this as background commentary, about the experience itself. Some doubt may also be present:
“Is this it, am I doing this right, where is this pleasant feeling they talk about?”
Mental dryness, boredom or frustration can arise when unifying attention in samadhi. All these shows that the Meditative Hindrances are rearising due to the unification of attention (samadhi) not being stable enough to suppress them at this time. Use them as signs of instability rather than problems. Observe what Enlightenment Factors are absent within your mind. For a start if dryness, boredom or frustration is present I can guarantee that that the factor of joy is not present within your mind.
Since the Enlightenment Factors are balanced attention, observe:
Why in reverse order?
Because each factors creates the conditions for the next. If the previous factor is weak then the one that follow will fade. o it is beneficial to check in reverse order.
Unstable samadhi is overcome in this final stage in three parts:
While the Twelve Experiential Markers are presented as a linear progression, they do not necessarily unfold this way for everyone.
When training your attention, what always needs to be taken into account is anatta (not-self): you are not in control of your mind. It is important to understand this.
If you fall into the second group, don’t let this concern you. Many meditators attention develops in this way, as a series of progressions, and collapses. One day you will feel like you have got it, that you now understand the path to unification. And the next day your attention has collapsed, and you feel like you have no understanding of how to meditate. If this sounds like you, it is important to understand that all of this is normal, and all of this is how it should be.
How the path unfolds for you, is not necessarily how it will unfold for someone else; it is all based on previous conditioning. You have come to meditation with unique conditioned tendencies, it is these that govern how the meditative path unfolds for you. It is important not fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. Instead observe your mind, and allow it to reveal to you what is the correct path of development to take.
What is important is not to try to control your mind, but rather develop understanding in regards to the conditions that make it the way that it is.
"When this is, that is
When this is not, that is not
With the arising of this, comes the arising of that.
With the ceasing of this, comes the ceasing of that"
If your samadhi is not developing and mind will not let go of the Meditative Hindrances, then it is this way because the conditions are right for it to be. There are Six Enlightenment Factors present in the mind at access concentration, look at the conditions they need to arise and establish.
Do these six factors describe your meditative attention?
From this stage of it is simply matter of continuing to refine your skill in mindfulness of breathing. To make progress it is necessary for you to focus on the below areas.
If you continue to indulge in extracting pleasure from your six senses, you can not expect your mind to give them up to experience the pleasure that comes from their very abandoning. I am not talking about giving up seeing, hearing etc in daily life, but rather giving up interest in feeding your minds addiction towards them. this is the purpose of cultivating nibbida, disenchantment in regards to these things. See their disturbance, their unsatisfying nature. How many times is enough?
If your life is not inclined towards bringing harmony to your relationship to yourself, your family, friends, community, the world, the ripples of this disharmony will travel through your mind and collapse your tranquility and samadhi. this is the purpose of living a harmonious life, one inclined towards morality. While perfect morality is not possible in this samsara, conditioned world, the more refined you are in living a life of sila, the greater the joy and tranquility factors will be within your mind and such the easier it is to develop upacara samadhi: access concentration..
While the Meditative Hindrances are a sign of imbalance in the structure and effort within attention, the Enlightenment Factors are signs of balance and harmony in the structure and effort within attention. Your path from here on to developing and stabilising access concentration, is the development and stabilisation of the Enlightenment Factors.
Increase your daily meditation to 2-3 hours per day, separated into 1 hour periods. Set a timer and stick to it. It is important to not go under this time as in these early stages deep samadhi may take a while to gain momentum.
When developing samadhi check that the first five Enlightenment Factors are still present within your mind, particularly tranquility and joy. Abandon all doing and allow attention to rest on one point of breath sensation. Allow joy to start to transfer from joy of relaxation to joy of seclusion. Smile/relax into that one point, while monitoring the five factors, encourage the joy of seclusion to grow. Soften any final effort within the mind by borrowing the deflation of each out-breath and the relaxation inherent within it. Get out of the way and allow the sixth factor samadhi unify the other five factors.
Once you can stabilise your attention on breath sensation, without any effort or distraction, free from all Meditative Hindrances, you are said to have reached access concentration. It is access concentration because it creates an access doorway to jhana.
You need to abandon all interest in experiencing things in the outside world. While this can be achieved through suppression, it is more skillful to observe the fleeting, and unsatisfactory nature of sensory experience, thoughts and fantasies. This does not mean not enjoying them, just knowing that they can never satisfy.
Unification, and stability of attention: for unification to be classed as access concentration, it must be effortless, stable, unmoving, and free from thoughts or wandering. When this occurs, there is a distinct dropping away of effort as attention sustains by itself.
Absence of the five hindrances: if the five hindrances have not yet been deconditioned from your mind, then the level of unification must be enough to temporarily suppress them. The arising of thoughts, excitement or doubt, are a sign that unification of attention is not yet stable enough to suppress the five hindrances.
This refers to calming the effort to apply attention to your meditation object. Once calmed, attention becomes autonomous as the mind takes over application. In this way, attention is stable due to sustained attention being dominant. The experience of this is one of effortless, and stable attention.
No-doing is experienced as effortlessness, desireless-ness. This arises by abandoning (through softening) any expectation or excitement towards pleasure, or fear of giving up control.
Once the five hindrances are suppressed, and seclusion from the senses complete, initial piti will be experienced as subtle pleasant bodily sensation. It may arise around your face, chest or hands, anywhere. It is accompanied by sukha, as a joyful, happy, state of mind. Though both are present, during access concentration, piti sensation is dominant to sukha feeling.