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I started meditating recently formally, after a while of non-formal meditation, and I'm realizing that the objects I meditate on, either the breath or an image, are extremely faint. In the case of the breath, I barely can tell whether I'm on the breath or some other object, and it is hard for me to switch my attention to the sensations at the nostrils. In the case of an image, it is extremely faint and hard to distinguish.

My questions are as follows:

1) Should I continue with the breath, hoping it will become clearer despite not knowing if I'm truly focused upon it, or should I switch to a visual imagined object?

2) Should I keep meditating despite the faintness of these objects of focus or is there a way to dispel this dullness outside of formal meditation? Are there any tips or techniques to do so?

Thank you in advance.

  • Edit: Added line-spacing and paragraphs. Please roll-back if not agreeable. – Lanka Mar 28 '16 at 22:27
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As far as I've been taught (specifically by Richard Shankman), it's fine to pick a place where the breath is strongest for you (for example the rise and fall of the chest), rather than one proscribed by a certain teacher or text. Also, from Joseph Goldstein's Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening: "For myself, I always appreciated the pragmatism of Munindra-ji, my first teacher, who said to observe the breath wherever it is easiest, wherever you feel it the most clearly."

And in general, I wouldn't worry too much about things being "faint." As long as you can feel it most of the time, patience and practice are more important than idealized technique. It's normal for the breath to disappear, so to speak, on occasion.

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... I'm realizing that the objects I meditate on, either the breath or an image, are extremely faint ...

You should move your mind to the object and then you should retain your mind on the object. As a beginner if you do not pratice the latter then the object will be less prominent. You should retain the object of meditation by continuously reviewing if your mind is with the object and regardless of whether it is or has gone to another object you should continuously redirect your mind to the object. After a while you will be able to retain the object and feel the object without issue. With regard to reviewing with the intention of retaining see p35, Knowing and Seeing 4th Ed by Ven. Pa-Auk Sayadaw

... it is hard for me to switch my attention to the sensations at the nostrils ...

For somebody starting out it does not matter if you feel any sensation or not as long as your attention is with the object. More you pratice the object becomes clearer and clearer.

This is like taining to be an athlete. You cannot be Olympic medalist the 1st day on training. You pick up endurance and stamina as you go along with your training. So is meditation.

...

1 )Should I continue with the breath,

Yes.

... I'm truly focused upon it,

As long as your mind is directed at trying to feel the object, i.e., sensation round the mouth you are doing OK.

Once you start feeling the sensations prominently try looking closely at the object, i.e., sensations, until you can see arising and passing of sensations.

or should I switch to a visual imagined object?

This will not develop Vipassana hence it is best to stick to the above.

2)Should I keep meditating despite the faintness of these objects of focus

Yes.

or is there a way to dispel this dullness outside of formal meditation?

Try to retain the object by continuously and persistently trying to retain the object and continuously review if the mind is with the object.

Are there any tips or techniques to do so?

If you are tense and not released then this becomes and issue. So relax your body and mind actively looking at tense or tight sensations that arise looking at arising and passing within them.

Though not related to this the content and references of my answer to this question has further information: How to balance an attitude of "effortless non-striving" with proper posture?

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