Trying too Hard - Trying to make something happen in your meditation?
"Oh my! Stop trying so hard!"
Here is a quote from an online retreater who realized it was time to just savor the moment. This was the path to progress.
Stop trying to control your lovingkindness feeling: don't push it, pull it or make it bigger or smaller - just let it be what it is.
"In my best sitting, I felt a very nice and calming feeling arise through my heart center. I relinquished some of my craving to "get the meditation over with" and just enjoy the present moment of peace and joy.In this meditation, I pictured my dog, as a puppy, racing around our large backyard, back in the days when I was a child (of around 8 years of age). The image was so funny and joyful to me that I almost began laughing. I could feel my puppy's unbridled happiness pouring over my heart.
Although I was still somewhat affected by the hindrance of restlessness, I felt that I enjoyed this meditation more... I am learning now that meditation is something to savor, and slowly enjoy, as one does with a hard candy, or a good flavor (except the hard candy in this case would be medicinal, as meditation is the cure for the wandering mind). Thus, I will approach meditation as a time to relax, a time to embrace happiness, and an opportunity to encounter spiritual truths; it only takes time for the cure to fight the toxins away. And so I must also remember to be patient and brave." online retreater of June 2017
Rolling your R's!
Let's say I'm sending out loving-kindness in the forward direction from my head. I just observe the loving-kindness and know it is affecting all beings in the forward direction. While I observe, suddenly a thought comes up about a meeting I had earlier. I'm no longer observing my object of meditation, so it takes me a few seconds to realize, "oh, I'm not meditating," and that is recognition, so I let go of thinking about the meeting and relax any other thoughts associated with that or any tension in the head, then I notice if I'm smiling or not and make sure I am. Finally, I return to the loving-kindness and observing it and repeat the process when I get distracted again. The time it takes from recognizing to releasing to relaxing to smiling to returning to the object of meditation should take no more than 3-4 seconds at the most if you're doing it right. This is what I mean by rolling into the 6Rs. Now, if I feel tension in the head while sending out the energy in one direction, I know I'm trying too hard, so I recognize this, release my focus on the tension, relax the tension, smile and go back to just a relaxed observation of the loving-kindness and stay with that observance. This observance is like just watching a movie - you're engrossed in it but you're not trying too hard to stay focused because you are enjoying it. The keyword here is to ENJOY the loving-kindness.
When you say the mind may not have enough time to relax, that would be counterintuitive because going back to the loving-kindness is a relaxing feeling. What you're saying just means that you are concentrating too hard and doubting. 6R and just be in the moment. Don't worry if you're doing something right or wrong or having enough time to relax - as long as you are observing the loving-kindness, not PUSHING your focus but just WATCHING the loving-kindness, you're on the right track. You may have heard of DROPSS at the retreat - this is a great reminder of what the process of seeing and feeling the loving-kindness and staying with it is - don't resist or push, soften and smile. Soften would be the operative word here for you. Soften your focus, soften your observation.
Refresh your practice with a fresh look at the 26 min video 6R and Metta directions here
"My forehead is tense! It feels like this hard knot in the center of my forehead"
Tension in the forehead is the number one complaint of beginning meditators (and meditators from other practices.) It feels like a knot and no matter what you do you just can't make it go away!
It arose by trying too hard to force your attention on your object of meditation. You can't force a feeling and you can't force collectedness.
And there lies the problem! Trying to Hard to make it do something other than what is there. You have aversion and you Don't Like it! It is painful and it distracts your meditation. So you put your attention there and demand it to relax and just go away. That won't work because you are doing what caused it to eliminate it. It doesn't work.
What to do? Exactly the opposite! Allow it to be there because that is the truth of the moment. Don't see it as something to get rid of. Tell yourself to stop trying to make it go away and welcome it in - have some tea prepared and kindly offer it to this tension know but then just don't pay attention to it anymore. (smile)
What did we just do - we ran the 6Rs. First we Recognized it was there. Then we Released and allowed it to be there without pushing it away- we observe there is tension and there is pain. That's OK.
Now the last part - we Relax the tension knot ONE time and we relax and release our ATTENTION to that knot ONE time and then go back to our object of meditation. We don't stay with it trying to relax it until it is gone. Ultimately trying to physically relax it won't help, especially if you bring your expectations and demands to it which just makes it tighter! And you madder!
Then Re-Smile and Return to the feeling of lovingkindness - if that pain is in the background then let it be there. It is as if you didn't like your breath - would you try to avoid it and avoid breathing? Some people actually do try to not feel their breath because it disturbs there meditation. Well - you aren't going to be successful by stopping breathing so accept that that pain is there in whatever form it arises; bring some kindness to it - welcome it - allow it - smile into it and make one 6R and come back to your feeling of lovingkindness.
Given time and your changing your pushing and trying to hard to radiate Metta it will just fade away - probably without you even noticing that it is gone!
Understanding the 6Rs
Advice on the 6Rs and Meditation Practice
The 6Rs are crucial and in the experience, the most profound is the Relax step. Many people seem to glaze over the Relax step, not really taking time to understand what it is. It is the relaxing of the mind, body and tightness in both. This we understand.
But what does that feel like? I have a suggestion that people on live retreats and possibly online retreats take the time and preparatory step to understand what it feels like to relax.
Relaxing the bodily, mental, and verbal formations - it feels like a clear space, a pristine, thoughtless space with no craving. Body is relaxed but not slouching. Mind is clear, like a cloudless sky, and thoughts are gone, barely wisps if they are present at all.
When people learn to pinpoint the relaxing of the formations in this manner, they can immediately understand the Relax step, as I have understood it and as it has helped me. The suggestion here is to just let mind be and then intend the relaxation. Relax, relax, relax - then, one is able to see what it means to have that open spacious mind so one can quickly go to it as one lets go of the distraction, then sees that open mind.
Some people seem to associate the relax step with a sharp intake of air and a letting of breath. This is a reactionary aspect of the Relax step, but not the relax step of stilling formations in and of itself.
So, once one understands the feeling of relax, this is what happens.
One's object is Metta. One suddenly thinks back to a time with nostalgia or considers the future or thinks about anything other than the Metta. One RECOGNIZES, seeing the distraction. RELEASING is the immediate letting go of the distraction - not attending to it, turning mind's attention now to the RELAX step - the stilling of formations. Mind is now clear, ready to attend to RE-SMILING, or checking if one is still smiling, then RETURNING to the object of meditation, then REPEATING every time one sees mind has been distracting. All of this, as I've once said before, happens in less than 5 seconds. It is a flow as we've seen, a rolling.
Now, the other thing to consider is that mind attaches itself to the Metta, or Karuna, or Muditā, or Upekkhā.
Here, it's important to pay attention to mind observing - just watching, not becoming the Metta. It's an object, therefore, one is watching it, not becoming it. The feelings that come up from the object must be observed, and 6R'd if they distract. Likewise, one observes that one was distracted - not becoming the distraction by fighting it or ignoring it. Any such effort will only cause more craving and clinging.
Allow the mind to do its work. It will unravel itself.
Observation is not focus - it is the mere watching and seeing what occurs, not becoming involved or identifying with the feeling or the object. This then becomes absorption concentration, too much focus, pushing down insights to arise naturally.
This is why relaxing is important - it provides the mind space required for insights to arise. This is how it is seen from my experience.
Of course, one caveat - one mustn't just relax during the actual meditation. Once understand what it feels like, one uses it as part of the 6R effort. Then, there is development and progress as it is intended. Besides, one mustn't just relax, relax, relax in the beginning because mind then will become dull with no object. It's only after one's mind has reached stability through the jhānas that mind can then watch its own clarity, luminosity, and radiance - the bright, quiet, clear mind, where at this point all crude formations have been relaxed, and now one lets go of the subtler formations.
Rolling the R's
One of the best ways to roll into the Rs is to start with first recognizing you're distracted and then let go, and allow the process to unfold on its own. Trust in your mind to be able to 6R with you giving a nudge with just the recognize step. No need to put too much effort into it or think too much about it. Oftentimes we require less effort than we think we need to do something in the meditation. Trust in the mind to let the 6Rs roll into the next R as you begin the process with the recognize step. When you say you don't feel the radiation, are you nonetheless feeling happy for your spiritual friend? If so, that is enough for now. The quality of the feeling, the radiation, etc, may come and go. As long as you can feel the metta and know it's there, that is enough. Keep observing it and watch what happens.
Concentration is a four letter word!
Hold the metta feeling lightly, i.e. not enough to block out the hindrances. When a distraction arises, you're already "pulled away" at least partially from your object by your desire to follow that thought. So now you 6R the distraction (the 6Rs are just Bhante's modern translation of right effort) so that you let go of the unwholesome mindstate that's arisen (Recognize, Release, Relax), which you have to do before you can reestablish a wholesome mindstate. (Re-smile, Return to metta/your object of meditation, Repeat).
This is why concentration practice doesn't work--practitioners hold on to their object and so they never address/abandon the unwholesome thoughts that come up--they just block them out.
Restlessness arises when there is too much focus. You have to put less energy and focus, and just observe and restlessness will go away on its own.
Smiling and how it helps
From the same above online retreater!
"How is smiling helping you? Comment about the above answer."
"Smiling is now my automatic response to things that are stressful or displeasurable. Whenever I feel down about something, I remember to smile (and whenever I feel up about something, I still remember to do this). Upon smiling, my automatic mind response is to think of something wholesome.
"I used to think of only my puppy dog being happy, but now it has expanded to include any gentle animal. I think of the innocent, blinking eye of an elephant and his gently swaying trunk, to an affectionate parakeet, to the loving and gentle eyes of a horse. I think of animals that I have never had much experience with, but have witnessed at zoos and movies. And I feel very much loving-kindness for them, so smiling becomes quite an easy feat." online retreater of June 2017
"I would say to just continue with your practice as you are doing and don't worry about it outside of the sitting. Allow yourself to have fun and enjoy the sitting. The more you enjoy it, the easier it becomes and the more fun it is. This whole retreat it about having a light mind that is full of fun and laughter and smiles. Maintain that attitude and you will see much progress!"
Feel the Tranquility - Smile