working in dhyana
 
a session of meditation
 
Just to get a more tangible sense of what it is like to work in meditation, here's an imaginary example of you practising the Mindfulness of Breathing meditation.
 
Let's say you have been on retreat for a week, there is another week to go, you are enjoying yourself and your mind feels quite concentrated.  It's mid-morning and you have already been meditating today.  You did a good session each of the Metta Bhavana and the Mindfulness of Breathing before breakfast, and now you are about to sit again.  In these circumstances you have planned to dispense with the support of the counting stages of the Mindfulness of Breathing practice - you’re going to start straight away with the third stage, simply experiencing each breath as it arises.
 
But before you begin, you do a preliminary run-through of PIPER.  Your posture seems OK now - two days ago there was a lot of pain in the knees, but that seems to have righted itself after some discussion with one of the members of the retreat team.  An extra inch of cushion height, some support for your hands, and a chunk of foam rubber just under your left ankle, seems to have done the trick! You start checking your mental state, tuning in to feelings and emotions.
 
In fact you had a very good meditation a couple of hours ago, and what with the overall build-up of concentration over a week of regular meditation, you're very happy, energized - even a little excited.  Because of the excitement you know what your strategy has to be - you know that you need to develop calm and tranquillity in the meditation, and you've some idea how to approach it.
 
You have no lack of enthusiasm for this.  Some time ago you saw clearly how meditation could change you - you are inspired by the possibility of gaining insight and compassion.  Moreover, your practice has been going quite well so far this week, and you anticipate making some progress.
 
So - with such a good momentum already behind you, your preparation can be quite short.  In less than a minute you have assessed the situation, know what you are about to do, and have your energies gathered.  All this adds up to a good overall resolve to practise.
 
You begin.  For a few minutes the quality of your awareness of the breathing is quite good.  You enjoy the practice.  As you had originally decided, you are trying to find calm and tranquillity in the meditation, looking for those particular qualities.
 
At first it seems to be working quite well, but after a while you are forced to acknowledge that you don't seem to have the energy you thought you had.  In fact you are starting to feel a little bit dull.  This state of affairs drags on for a while: it takes several minutes for you to take in the changed situation.
 
This is the opposite of what you had expected.  You had envisaged relaxing into a deep calm, but - it just isn't happening like that.  You are very unwilling to acknowledge that your strategy is not working - you can't believe that it isn't, and you keep on doggedly trying to concentrate with the calming, tranquillizing approach that you originally wanted.  But the dullness just gets worse.  As long as you persist with the planned approach of calming down, you sink further and further into the dullness.  Finally, after about a quarter of an hour, you decide that you must somehow pull yourself out of this nose-dive.
 
You manage to rouse yourself, and formulate a strategy for throwing off the sloth and torpor.  You are going to be especially aware of your body - its posture, its stillness, its internal energies - and you're going to check very frequently that your mind is actually on the breath.
 
This helps, but certainly not dramatically.  The postural awareness at least keeps you awake.  You feel alert to a degree, but your mind still remains foggy.  You realize that in spite of your intention to check, the awareness of the breath remains vague.  It lacks intensity.
 
To counteract this lack of intensity you decide to make your breathing a little more definite.  (This method is called `intentional breathing'.  You allow the breath to come and go slightly more strongly for a while, without controlling - just so that you very clearly know that it is there.  It's quite a good method for this kind of situation.)
 
It seems that you need to keep this up for quite a long time.  Using intentional breathing, you become much more clearly aware of each breath - but whenever you decide to stop using the intentional breathing, you lose your concentration.  So you keep it up.  You keep on keeping on.  After half an hour or more by the clock - it seems like an age - the feeling of heaviness and lack of energy begins to lift.  It is as though you have just started to wake up.
 
Something has happened - there is a new, lighter element in your consciousness.  Where previously it felt awkward, your whole body begins to feel settled and calm, and you feel perfectly happy to sit there and keep up the meditation.  You're in access concentration, or at least the beginnings of it.
 
You now decide that a different approach to the concentration is needed to adjust to the change.  What to do? Well - perhaps it's time, you think, to go on to the next stage of the practice.  You had been working so intently, and for so long, that you had completely forgotten that there is a further stage.  So now you relax the intentional breathing and finely direct your attention on the sensation of your breath as it enters your body, just below your nose.
 
This has the instant effect of calming your mind still further.  So you know that you were right to relax your efforts slightly.  At the same time, you can sense that it would be inappropriate to relax completely.  Somewhere, you can tell, there is still the possibility of sinking; it still feels necessary to keep quite a close eye on the breath, and to experience it intensely, even though you seem now to be getting established at a more refined level of concentration.
 
So along with the concentration on the sensation of the breath, you formulate a commitment to following the whole of each breath, without a single gap in awareness.  You try to note the points at which your awareness of the breath seems weak, paying special attention to the beginning and end of each breath and the spaces between the breaths.  In this way you establish a very close contact indeed with the breathing process.  Concentration deepens further.
 
However, you start to notice that you are frowning! How long this has been going on is impossible to say - but your forehead is, or has become, somewhat tense.  You wonder whether this tension may not be masking some emotion that is hindering further concentration.  To find out, you don't immediately try to relax, but you broaden your focus on the breath.  You allow yourself to feel every aspect of the tension by degrees - you experience the pleasure/pain of it, experience it in your body, experience it emotionally.  As you do this, you become aware of a deep release of feeling and emotion, which comes as a pleasurable relief.
 
And within a few minutes, the whole nature of the meditation is changed - at once it becomes very easy indeed to keep interested in the breath.  A flutter of rapture spreads from your stomach to your heart.  Your heart seems to vibrate, and you find your shoulders relaxing (you didn't even know they were tense).  As you incorporate more feeling into the concentration, you realize that you are well established in access concentration.
 
After a while you also notice that with all this pleasurable sensation, you are tending to get carried away.  At the same time you remember that this is where you got to in your last meditation, just a few hours ago, but you got distracted at that point.  You resolve that this time you will keep the concentration going by counteracting the tendency to drift.
 
To do this, you decide to change the object of your concentration slightly.  For a while you were paying attention to the whole of each breath as it brushed past the point of sensation.  Now you pay less attention to the breath.  Instead, you focus on just the sensation itself.
 
As you begin to concentrate on that tiny point of touch, it is as though that point becomes much bigger, as though it had been magnified.  You experience the sensation that the breath causes in remarkable detail, and it gets extremely interesting.  It feels like an enormous piece of smooth woollen fabric which is being stroked, very smoothly and evenly, with a feather.  At the beginning and end of each breath there is a change in the sensation; at the beginning it is rougher, and at the end it is as though it is melting.
 
After a while, as you watch the sensation more and more continuously, your breath calms down until it seems to disappear altogether.  You are not sure what to do now because you cannot find the object of meditation! There is a danger that you will flounder and lose your concentration altogether.  However, you decide that you don't have to waver like this - the breath must be somewhere, so you can look deeper for it.
 
You look deeper, in a way that isn't easily describable in words.  But whatever it is that you do, it works.  You find the breath.  And you now find the character of the meditation changing again, becoming even more stable and even more finely enjoyable.  You realize that you have arrived at the first dhyana level, and can taste all the special characteristics of the higher state of consciousness.
 
getting established in dhyana
 
We saw earlier that as we work on the ordinary hindrances, there eventually comes a point when meditation begins to get easier.  We arrive at access concentration - the `neighbourhood' (as it is sometimes called) of the first dhyana.  But even though meditation is somewhat easier, we are still not fully concentrated.  There are still subtle obstacles which prevent us from actually entering dhyana.
 
For example, something which often holds us back is our own excitement.  This is quite understandable, since something is happening in our meditation at last! - but it's still a stumbling-block.  It is fairly common for meditators to experience a few moments of access concentration, but then at once to become excited and, unable to sustain it, fall back once again into the hindrances.This is partly due to uncertainty.  So when access first begins to crop up in your meditation, it is worth spending some extra time on your practice if possible, gaining experience of this state and finding ways of encouraging it.
 
One thing that you may already have found from experience is that those times when you do break through to a new level of concentration are frequently followed by a period of less concentrated sessions of meditation.  This can be confusing and disappointing - if you don't know that it is quite normal.  It is not a bad sign at all - it seems that breaking through into a completely new level of integration is rather a shock to your system, and you need to allow a certain amount of meditation time simply to absorb its impact.  You should certainly not be discouraged from your meditation by this, but take heart, recognize the significance of what is happening, and persevere through the `slump'.  Then, if you continue sitting regularly, you will eventually find your way back to access concentration more and more easily, accustoming yourself to it so that you become able to sustain it for longer periods.
 
In establishing access concentration - and the dhyana levels too - you’ll still need to use the principles of PIPER and the others which have been mentioned.  But there is no longer any need to concern yourself with the ordinary five hindrances.  You have passed beyond these (somewhat extreme) states of mind and entered a more subtle, balanced state.  Now you need to establish this balanced state more firmly by counteracting the subtle hindrances.  Think of the subtle hindrances as tendencies for the mind to lose its balance.
 
We can lose balance in two ways, either through a subtle form of dullness (called sinking), or a subtle form of restlessness (called drifting).  Being in access concentration is such a vast improvement on our usual state of mind that we can rest in a false sense of security, and then these hindrances can creep up on us unawares and topple our stability.
 
Unless sinking and drifting are counteracted as soon as you notice them - and they are both there, as tendencies, all the time - they will become stronger and eventually turn into the gross hindrance of either sloth and torpor or restlessness and anxiety.
 
A good general method of working in these more subtle states of concentration is to use the three key points of body, breath, and mind.  Your physical posture, breathing process, and mental states are three principal `viewpoints' from which you can at least maintain access concentration, and develop it further on that basis.  These three points now provide your breadth of awareness.  Being mindful of them provides a more thorough `coverage' of the quality of attention, and within this closer awareness you are more likely to notice the subtle hindrances as they arise.
 
You need:
(1) to maintain your
body in the best possible posture, so that your vital energy is flowing;
(2) to maintain smooth and calm
breathing;
(3) to maintain a balanced absorption by adjusting your
mental state whenever you notice it becoming slightly dull (sinking) or slightly excited (drifting).
 
body
 
You can view your body both in terms of its structure and its energy. You feel:
  • its physical structure of bones, muscles and sinews.
  • the energy and vitality that pervades it.
 
You can use both these points of view to deepen your meditation, so that your concentration comes, as it were, from your body as well as your mind.
 
structure
 
From the viewpoint of structure, you will probably find that in access concentration you are already in a fairly good meditation posture.  An enhanced sense of one's bodily shape and form is a natural part of this mental state.  From the position of the sitting bones on your cushion, you can feel the natural curve of your spine extending through the centre of your shoulders and up to your head.  Your legs and hips feel stable and `triangular', and you feel your shoulders and arms encircling the vertical line of your trunk.
 
If you maintain a clear sense of your physical structure and position, this will lend stability and continuity to your concentration.  Awareness of structure will also help you to contact the vitality and sense of physical aliveness which is the second, `energy' aspect of bodily awareness.  Simply being aware of your physical vitality will bring energy, enthusiasm, and inspiration into your meditation.  And because the experience of pleasure is so much concerned with bodily energies, this awareness is an indispensable basis for developing the pleasurable dhyana factors of piti, sukha, and eventually even upekkha.
 
energy
 
But we are not always in touch with our energy.  Our awareness of it can sometimes be dull and obscure, and this is usually either because of tiredness or physical tension.  Tiredness can be cured by resting, but tension is more complex.
 
Physical tension can be due to physical causes - simply the result of imbalances in the sitting position - but more often it is emotional.  Tension in the face, neck, shoulder, or stomach muscles, for example, is often triggered by emotions which have not been acknowledged.  In principle if you can relax tension, however caused, then blocked energy is freed; this new energy enriches your consciousness, enabling you to take more of an interest in the meditation and so achieve deeper concentration.
 
However, if tension is emotionally based, physical relaxation alone cannot resolve it.  It is necessary to tackle its underlying emotional cause.  For example, if you are tense because you are angry about something, you need to acknowledge that emotion before it will be possible to relax the tension.  Without that acknowledgement, any attempted relaxation will be superficial and even forced - in fact at first, rather than relaxing, you may need to allow yourself to experience the tension and feel the emotion behind it.  If you do not allow for the presence of underlying emotions you will experience a feeling of dullness, and not the enhanced vitality you are looking for.
 
A good way of `tuning in', and working with both the structure and energy aspects of your body, is to try to sit very still and receptively, making a definite decision not to move despite any resistance.  Such a decision can create a very deep stillness in both your body and mind - generally speaking, the less one moves, the more concentrated one tends to become.
 
This tuning in will also reveal subtle imbalances in your posture and energy.  Of course, you will need to move to adjust for these, but you should preserve the stillness of your posture as much as possible by being economical with the adjustments - you should take time to decide what is needed, and move only when you are sure exactly what you need to change.  Such economical use of energy will deepen your focus on the meditation object still further.
 
breath
 

By audible breathing is meant that when sitting we can hear
a faint sound of the breath as it passes through the nose.  If we were
standing or working we would not notice it, but in our practice it
is enough to distract the mind.  By silent breathing is meant that
there is no sound, no compression, no force, simply the slightest
feeling of the tranquillity of our breathing, which does not disturb
the mind but rather gives to the mind a pleasant feeling of security
and peace.  Blowing disturbs concentration, panting gives it heaviness,
audible breathing wearies it.  We can attain samadhi only with silent
breathing.
43

 
Chi-I
 

There is a correspondence between breath and mind: when the mind is calm, the breath is silent with a very smooth, subtle feeling; when we are mentally disturbed or excited, it is audible and rough.  There is also a correspondence between the breath and our body: physical stimulation has a considerable effect on the breathing, so that after we exert ourselves physically, our breathing may sometimes remain coarse for an hour or more.  We might notice, on the other hand, that when we are doing some very detailed task, such as painting a picture or threading a needle, we may breathe very lightly, sometimes even holding our breath in order to concentrate.  So in fact our breath is very intimately involved with both our body and our mind, and the state of our breathing corresponds to our physical and mental state.
 
Awareness of the breath can therefore be used as a key in meditation: by noting the quality of our breathing we can maintain a very sensitive awareness of both body and mind, and so focus extra sensitively on the meditation object.
 
Since the quality of our breathing is such an influence on our mental state, it is not surprising to learn that full dhyana is only attainable with fine breathing.  Although fine breathing is an ideal to aim for, we should not force our breath to calm down - any such efforts would be a strain on our nervous system, and could even be damaging if taken to an extreme.  Nevertheless, if we are patient, our breathing can be gently allowed to quieten naturally.
 
Access concentration is a state of mind which is highly responsive to any attitude we bring to it, and simply maintaining awareness of the quality of the breath may be sufficient to keep us balanced there.  However, awareness of the breath is also the basis for a number of active methods of counteracting the subtle hindrances.
 
For a dull state of mind (e.g.  sinking), for example, you can stimulate more energy by imagining that your breath is coming into your body from your toes, up through your body, to your head; or you could simply focus on your breath high in your body, perhaps at the nose.  For excitement (or drifting), you can imagine your breath flowing down your body from your head to your toes - which has a calming, quietening effect - or focusing on your breath low in your body.  It is possible to experience your breath as though it was coming into your body at almost any point you choose.
 
Generally, if you feel you are too much `in your head' (full of thoughts, perhaps dreamy, without much awareness of your body), then it may help if you gradually try to transfer your awareness of yourself, with the aid of your breath, away from your head and down into your body.  You could do this by concentrating on the experience of your breath lower down - at the point where it touches your abdomen, for example - or perhaps you could pay attention to the external sensation of your abdomen rising and falling with your breath.  Alternatively you could take your attention, and awareness of your breath, straight to your heart area.  You could also take it down your body in stages: from your head to your throat, then to your heart and lungs, then to your diaphragm and abdomen, etc.  You may need to spend a fair amount of time, perhaps twenty minutes or more, doing this - but if you cannot otherwise engage with your meditation, it will be time well spent.
 
mind
 
the subtle hindrances
 
Now we come to the subtle hindrances of sinking and drifting (as well as a third, less problematic, subtle hindrance known as stray thought).  From the viewpoint of mind, working in access involves maintaining a constant awareness of the possibility of one of these subtle hindrances arising, and making appropriate adjustments when it does.
 
All three subtle hindrances are characterized by a lack of strong emotional content - in contrast to the five gross hindrances which are all highly flavoured with greed, hatred, and confusion.  These three hindrances are subtle tendencies which will not develop enough power to take hold if only we can stay aware of what we are trying to do.
 
transcending polar oppositions in dhyana
 
To recognize these subtle hindrances it may help if we understand more about the way our mental energies work in higher states of consciousness.  The meditative state of dhyana is a `middle way' which brings the positive aspects of two sides of our nature into a higher harmony.  If we understand the different aspects of our mind, we can cultivate this harmony more directly.
 
Each of us has both a receptive side and a dynamic side.  Both are very different - rather like the positive and negative poles of an electric current.  But each `pole' needs the support of the other, otherwise it will go to an extreme: receptivity on its own can become dull; dynamism on its own can become hard or over-excited.
 
At the `receptive' pole of our experience, for example, we are calm, openly aware, patient, and still.  Usually, however, we can only maintain calm and stillness for a certain length of time, unless there is also present, within that state of calm, an element of inspiration.  Inspiration is part of the `dynamic' energy pole.  If our mind is merely calm and still, without any energy, we will gradually become dull, lazy, or gloomy, and eventually - in terms of the hindrances - fall into sloth and torpor.  It is only when the receptive pole is united with the dynamic pole that we can maintain a balanced state of concentration.
 
At the `dynamic' pole of our experience, we apply ourselves energetically and enthusiastically, and we are able to penetrate and investigate.  On its own, however, this mental state is unbalanced.  It needs to be `grounded' or `anchored' in receptivity and calm, otherwise its inherent excitability will lead towards extreme distraction and restlessness.  You may know people who tend towards this kind of one-sidedness.  In terms of the hindrances this tends towards restlessness and anxiety.
 
If we can bring both energy poles together in meditation, we will move towards dhyana.
 

Hindrance)
Hindrance)




























Receptive Pole    

       Dynamic Pole

Extreme Negative Aspect (

 
Balanced Positive Aspect
(Dhyana)

Extreme Negative Aspect (

SINKING

 

 

DRIFTING

Sloth & Torpor

Calm

Energy

Restlessness & Anxiety

 

Receptive

Active

 

 

Grounded

Inspired

 

Dullness

 

 

Distraction

Laziness

 

 

Overexertion

Depressed, Gloomy

 

 

Enthusiastic, Hysterical

Transcending Polarities in Access & Dhyana

 
 
Some other aspects of the polarity are shown in the table above, with the different extremes at either side and the balanced qualities of dhyana at the centre.
 
In our normal, relatively unaware state of mind, we usually tend towards one of these poles, and become either too dull or too excited.  Often we oscillate between one and the other (perhaps dull in the morning, excited in the evening).  However, in meditation we can learn to develop a balanced state which contains both heightened vigour and heightened calm.
 
You can learn to generate this state by developing the positive qualities of the opposite pole to the one that you seem to be moving towards.  In other words, if you are feeling energetic (but moving towards distraction), you need to allow an element of receptivity to enter your practice; if you are calm (but tending to be a little dull), you need to cultivate more inspired, active energy.
 
Now that we have this overview, let's look at the subtle hindrances themselves.  As we have seen, there are two main ones - sinking and drifting - plus a third, stray thoughts.
 
sinking
 
`Sinking' describes a state of mind which, though very concentrated, is becoming dull.  In terms of our subjective state, we are just beginning to lose our `edge' of intensity of focus.  In terms of the way we may experience the object of meditation, there is less vibrancy and aliveness in it - perhaps the breath is a little less interesting, our metta is a shade uninspired, or our visualization has slightly lost its immediacy.
 
Sinking is caused by some slight neglect or lack of awareness - at some point you don't register the need for a change in the quality of your effort, and the character of the concentration changes without your knowing it.  You're in access concentration - at least - so you still have a stable concentration on the meditation object: the object is quite clear and the concentration quite pleasant.  But something is missing.  You have started to lose a little of the `dynamic', energizing, inspiring aspect of concentration.  The concentration has become a little too stable - the mind is starting to become fixed and wooden.  This is happening gradually, but the longer you delay, the more the sinking will increase.
 
There are two stages of sinking: first the intensity of the concentration fades, while the object remains clear; then that clarity also starts to fade.  Sinking is akin to the gross hindrance of sloth and torpor, though much subtler.  If your mind is allowed to sink further, this will degenerate into the gross hindrance and you will then fall away from the dhyana state (or from access) completely.
 













     Heavy feeling
     Very little interest in object

Stages of Sinking

Subjective ExperienceExperience of Object

Subtle Hindrance

1.   Subtle SinkingIntensity of concentration fadesObject remains clear
2.   Gross SinkingIntensity of concentration fades furtherClarity of object fades
Gross Hindrance3.   Sloth & Torpor     Dull concentrationLittle or no awareness of object

The Stages of Sinking

 
 
drifting
 
Drifting is also part of a very concentrated state of mind, but we are just starting to get distracted by thoughts and by our senses.  Drifting is caused by slight over-excitement, which in turn is usually caused by making a little too much effort.  Perhaps a few minutes ago you were sinking, and made a counteracting effort, but the effort you made was a little too strong and overstimulated your mind.  Or perhaps your introspection wasn't quite clear enough, and you kept applying that counteracting effort when it was no longer appropriate.
 
When you `drift', the meditation object is in the forefront of your attention.  It may be very clear and stable.  But your attention has started, very subtly, to include objects other than the meditation object.
 
For the time being, your concentration may remain strong enough to include both the meditation object and these slight distractions.  But if the slight excitement remains unchecked, your mind will drift further and further away from its grounding in the receptive mental pole - so far that has been keeping your attention on the meditation object.  Eventually the gross hindrance of restlessness and anxiety will interpose itself and you will fall away from absorption.
 
stray thoughts
 
Sinking and drifting are the main obstacles to look out for as you work to maintain a balanced concentration.  However, a third factor, the phenomenon of `stray thoughts', may also arise in access concentration and dhyana.
 
Stray thoughts are the flotsam and jetsam of the mind.  They consist of thoughts and other mental phenomena, but nothing that we are especially attracted towards.  Since they do not arise out of any desire for distraction, stray thoughts are not distractions in the usual sense.  Stray thoughts are simply present in our general state of consciousness, `in parallel', as it were, to the meditation practice.  They can be compared to radio interference: we can clearly hear the music on the radio, but we can tell there's another programme going on somewhere in the background.
 
The content of these stray thoughts can be almost anything.  Disconnected ideas, in which you have no special interest, may simply arise and present themselves.  You might remember an old acquaintance, who suddenly appears in your thoughts.  Other disconnected mental elements such as old pop tunes, nagging physical discomfort, sounds from outside, etc., can also be of this type.
 
Remember that you are very concentrated.  These phenomena are not actively distracting you - they just remain on the edge of your concentration as potential distractions.  They could eventually become a source of active distraction if you let them do so, but otherwise they are relatively harmless.
 
Nevertheless, since they are a potential danger, it may be worth doing something to counteract stray thoughts.  You may feel them as a `pressure' to become distracted, and that nagging pressure could eventually sap your interest in the meditation.
 
The basic antidote is to recognize them for what they areas merely stray thoughts on the edge of your mind rather than actual distractions.  If you put them in perspective like this, you may then be able simply to ignore them.  It is useful to see stray thoughts in perspective, for that will give you the confidence to abandon them and focus more strongly on the object.
 
You could also apply some more vipassana-type reflection to them: remind yourself, perhaps, that they are conditioned phenomena which, having arisen, are eventually going to disappear.  This may put them in a deeper perspective, which may have the effect of dissolving any power they have over you.
 
maintaining a balanced concentration
 
Now that we know about the subtle hindrances, we can work with the mind to retain a balanced concentration on the meditation object.
 
The sooner you can recognize that sinking or drifting has started, the better you will be able to maintain a smooth, continuous concentration.  You need to be constantly looking for the signs of sinking or drifting.
 
Broadly, the method is to recognize what is happening, then provide what is missing - dynamic vigour in the case of sinking, calm receptivity in the case of drifting.  As soon as you spot the `loss of edge' which is the sign of sinking, you need to make a little more effort to intensify the experience of the object.  This could be done in the Mindfulness of Breathing, for example, by breathing slightly more fully, or experiencing the breath higher in the body.  You could perhaps intensify your Metta Bhavana by trying to create an extremely clear image of your good friend.
 
However, you have to be a little careful that you do not make too strong an effort here: remember sinking is a subtle hindrance.  You are balanced in access concentration (or perhaps dhyana), and very strong stimulation could take you `over the top' into drifting or even restlessness.
 
Indeed, something of this kind is almost inevitable at this stage.  You will tend to oscillate between sinking and drifting, applying now a stimulating antidote, now a calming antidote, at subtler and subtler levels until, as you progress, meditation becomes completely effortless.
 
The general antidote to sinking, then, is to introduce a more dynamic quality.  Concentrate more strongly on the object, grasping it more tightly, perceiving it more intensely.  Sometimes the necessary intensity is there, but nevertheless you may be feeling somehow withdrawn.  In such a situation you can enlarge the `scope' of the object in a number of ways, and widen the feeling of the practice out.  If you are doing the Mindfulness of Breathing, you can imagine that the breath is entering through all the pores of body.  In the case of the Metta Bhavana, you could concentrate on sending the metta outwards to all sentient beings.  If you are doing a visualization practice, you could concentrate on perceiving the details, or brightening the image.
 
The chief antidote to drifting is receptivity.  Slacken off the intensity of your concentration slightly - but not too much, otherwise you may start sinking.  The usual cause of drifting is an over-application of effort.  At this point you can relax a little and be somewhat more receptive to your experience.  Enjoyment, emotion generally, and enthusiasm (as in PIPER), are important aspects of working towards balanced concentration.  As always, you need to check that feeling and emotional response exist in your concentration.  To the extent that feeling is not there, you are likely to be sinking, so you'll need to recover the feeling.  Drifting, on the other hand, has a recognizable feeling tone - perhaps a slightly greedy excitement - which, if acknowledged, can then be `pacified'.
 
After prolonged application and experience with this stage of meditation, you may begin to alternate between sinking and drifting only very subtly.  Eventually, the simple recognition of whether sinking or drifting is arising will suffice to reset the equilibrium of the mental state.
 
taking dhyana further
 
You should now have quite a good idea of how to work from access concentration towards full absorption.  As the oscillations between sinking and drifting become increasingly smooth, the dhyana factors will begin to arise in their fullness.  You will then be in the first dhyana.
 
moving through the four dhyanas
 
Generally, working from the first towards the second dhyana, and from the second to the third and beyond, involves the same technique of balancing; sinking and drifting keep occurring at subtler levels and with varying time spans.
 
We saw earlier the way in which the mind can ascend from the first into the second dhyana, as the absorption factors of initial and applied thought are left behind.  With a little experience it is possible to encourage this to happen.  When you know how the process of moving into the second dhyana feels, you can recollect how much more calm, clear, and enjoyable the second dhyana is, and in that way transcend the thinking mind.
 
You can move from the second to the third dhyana in a similar way, recollecting that bliss is a far calmer and more deeply concentrating experience than rapture, and so on.
 
 

On emerging from the now familiar first dhyana, he can regard
the flaws in it in this way: `This attainment is threatened by the
nearness of the hindrances, and its factors are weakened by the grossness
of the applied and sustained thought.' He can bring the second dhyana
to mind as quieter, and so end his attachment to the first dhyana
and set about doing what is needed for attaining the second.
 
When he has emerged from the first dhyana, applied and sustained
thought appear gross to him as he reviews the dhyana factors with
mindfulness and full awareness, while happiness and bliss and unification
of mind appear peaceful.  Then, as he brings [the meditation object]
to mind  again and again, with the purpose of abandoning the
gross factors and obtaining the peaceful factors, (knowing) `now the
second dhyana will arise'
 
`With the stilling of applied and sustained thought he enters
upon and dwells in the second dhyana, which has internal confidence
and singleness of mind without applied thought, without sustained
thought, with happiness and bliss born of concentration.'  44

 
Buddhaghosha

 
some special characteristics of dhyana
 
Dhyana is characterized by tranquillity or passaddhi.  We saw earlier that this means the whole process of calming down, relaxing and releasing unresolved energy.
 
With this release of energy comes a general
agility of mind (lahuta)45 we become increasingly buoyant, light, quick-witted.  No concerns are weighing us down, and this freedom gives us the capacity to turn our mind quickly to any object we choose.  With this agility, positive emotions such as faith or understanding arise very quickly, and we can work very clearly and quickly in the meditation.
 
There is also a quality of emotional freedom.  There is no rigidity or hardness.  On the contrary, we feel receptive and adaptable in spirit.  We have a willingness to learn and also - just as important - to re-learn from experience.  This is sometimes called
pliancy (muduta).
 
Though the mind feels soft and pliant, that doesn't mean that it is weak.  This softness implies a kind of strength - because there is no brittleness, no tendency to fragment, the mind can really work.  So another characteristic of higher consciousness is its
workability (kammannata) it feels tempered, like a finely made tool.  Because of this workability we can easily keep pace with the subtle changes of sinking and drifting.
 
There is another kind of strength which is the self-assurance and confidence which the experience of dhyana gives us.  We have a certain
proficiency (pagunnata) in working in meditation.  We feel competent, in control.
 
There is also an ethical dimension to the experience.  We feel quite pure in our motivation - there is no sense of crookedness or craftiness in us.  We're
upright (ujjukata), straightforward.  Our intention is completely unambiguous.
 
dhyana involves more than technique
 
Since it is partly a matter of confidence born from experience, it may take us some time to penetrate into higher dhyana levels.  Much also depends on the conditions under which you meditate and the time you are able to devote to your practice.
 
You should bear in mind that getting into dhyana, remaining in it, and moving `up' into higher dhyanas, is not only a matter of manipulating techniques like recognizing sinking and drifting.  The dhyana state is best not regarded as something you `get into’ - it is more like something that you are.  You become the dhyana, and it reflects your whole life, all your actions and thoughts.  It is the outcome of the inner integration of a multitude of unresolved emotions and ideas, and - as we've seen - the process of integration never follows a smooth, logical course.
 
The process of integration often comes to a head in a temporary resolution - a dhyana experience - the clarity of which may immediately reveal the presence of new unresolved material! You will then find it necessary to work with that, which will probably involve re-experiencing the five hindrances.  The experience of dhyana is never a permanent attainment, though it indicates important inner changes.  You may not be able to concentrate so well for a while, but if you are working, good progress will be taking place under the surface.
 
So meditation can never be just a matter of technique.  Many of the factors governing the arising of higher states of consciousness are happening in the unconscious mind, and are therefore outside your direct control.  You can only provide the best possible conditions by living a life as conducive to meditation as you can, and by working systematically in meditation to the best of your ability.
 
samatha and vipassana in daily practice
 
Dhyana is not the end point of meditation, as we saw in the chapter on samatha and vipassana; it is an excellent basis for meditation on ultimate reality, and it is only through insight into ultimate reality that permanent progress can be made.  If you wish to practise vipassana regularly, at least a good general level of samatha needs to be maintained.  If you have had experience of access concentration and dhyana, you can sustain such a level if you meditate regularly.  For this degree of practice you need to meditate at the very least once a day, preferably two or three times.  This means maintaining good supportive conditions for meditation too, not just `putting in the hours' on the cushion.  If you practise in this way, then a certain level of dhyana, and a certain amount of vipassana reflection, may be sustained even in a city environment.