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I asked a question previously about the object of meditation being faint. Perhaps I'd like to reformulate my question more specifically as I still encounter these kinds of problems, and I will provide the sensations I experience.

When trying to meditate on the breath at the aperture of the nostrils, the breath is not present and cannot be felt, no matter how much I try to arouse attention. It could only be slightly felt at the level of the abdomen. When I try to visualize any object, this object is usually extremely faint and transparent almost. I have the impression my mental agitation is feeble, but also that the clarity of my mind is very dull.

I'm wondering what could be the causes of this. Is it a too weak concentration? Too weak mindfulness? Is it a kind of lethargy and dullness?

How can I remedy to this? Of the possible solutions I've read about I understand arousing attention (which I have difficulty doing), applying certain antidotes as the perception of light or enlivening the mind, or perhaps some other solution I don't know about. Perhaps changing the object? I'm actually unsure of any of these solutions.

Greatest thanks.

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Meditation is non-doing. However, you must prepare and devote time and space to this "non-doing." That preparation is infact an act of doing in an effort to partake in an act of non-doing. What is in the process of being done has a goal. The goal is to partake in an endeavor of what is not being done. Meditation by it's very nature creates a paradox for the participant. The answer is to relinquish the paradox. How does one do this ? The act, or non-act if you will, must at first be recognizable. Then there is a calling to fuse the act and the participant into one state of beingness. How does one transmute? If you were to focus on the 5 strengths that might be of some use. Conviction, persistence,mindfulness, concentration and discernment can create a looping effect in the mind whereby the one meditating can constantly reflect on how each strength effects not only the current state of mind but also the relation of the 5 strengths themselves. The distraction of the mind becomes the essence of the meditation. In order to break through the thraldom of the senses and the inertia of conceptualized thought patterns the mind needs to be distracted. To have a goal in meditating is not the answer. To be able to transmute the energy of who and what is currently proclivitating in and around us into what is our true nature is meditation. I hope this helps.

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This is often an issue: you attempt to focus, but instead feel a sense of dullness, flatness, "spaced out" ... what have you. Increasing the effort to focus usually increases dissatisfaction with the results. In truth, sensations come and go, some are intense, some are dull. It may help to place the emphasis on being "receptive" over being "concentrated". After all, there is no point in focusing on a sensation that may not even be there.

Instead of saying to yourself "I must focus on sensation" try "I will be receptive to sensation".

Instead of "I must concentrate on my breath" try "I will follow the breath".

Some practices do place an emphasis on focused and willfull concentration, but it is counter productive to force it if you are not at that stage.

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"I asked a question previously about the object of meditation being faint. [...] When trying to meditate on the breath at the aperture of the nostrils, the breath is not present and cannot be felt"

If your breath really was not present, you would be dead by now, wouldn't you?

It's important to understand that it's not the breath which is faint, it's the faculty of mindfulness that is. The breath is always there, always in a observable state.

"And how does a monk remain focused on the body in & of itself?" [...]

"Breathing in long, he discerns, 'I am breathing in long'; or breathing out long, he discerns, 'I am breathing out long.' Or breathing in short, he discerns, 'I am breathing in short'; or breathing out short, he discerns, 'I am breathing out short.' -- MN 10

So if you really can't find your breath, there is nothing wrong about it. Meditation is all about observing and letting go. Just know 'short breath' or 'subtle breath' or 'no breath'. Don't search the breath, try to be clear and present no matter what.

"no matter how much I try to arouse attention"

You named this question Lack of Grasping of the Object of Meditation. I actually think this is the problem. You're trying to grasp the object. Don't grasp. The goal is letting go which is the opposite of grasping. Concentration comes from awareness, awareness comes from surrendering to the present moment.

Understanding Right Effort

Right Effort is key for directing your mind towards the meditation object. Changing your meditation object will not help you, since both problem and solution are lying within your own mind.

Right Effort is trying without trying. If it feels like effort, it's not right effort. If it feels like no effort at all, it's still not right effort. It's about keeping the balance between dullness and restlessness, the middle way.

Also, concentration is often wrongly understood as constant applying of effort, but it's more about clarity and awareness of mind than that.

I suggest you to listen to this explanation of Right Effort by Bhikkhu Bodhi.

"Now what do you think, Sona. Before, when you were a house-dweller, were you skilled at playing the vina?" "Yes, lord."

"And what do you think: when the strings of your vina were too taut, was your vina in tune & playable?" "No, lord."

"And what do you think: when the strings of your vina were too loose, was your vina in tune & playable?" "No, lord."

"And what do you think: when the strings of your vina were neither too taut nor too loose, but tuned (lit: 'established') to be right on pitch, was your vina in tune & playable?" "Yes, lord."

"In the same way, Sona, over-aroused persistence leads to restlessness, overly slack persistence leads to laziness. Thus you should determine the right pitch for your persistence, attune ('penetrate,' 'ferret out') the pitch of the [five] faculties [to that], and there pick up your theme." -- AN 6.55

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Mental dullness goes hand in hand with drowsiness. The drowsiness do not have to be strong but there will be mild drowsiness. If this is the case use the techniques in Pacala Sutta to eradicate them.

The way to increase concentration is to do sustained pratice of Anapana with continuously smaller areas in which you look for sensations:

  • triangular area from top of the nose to the base of the nose and upper lip
  • triangular areas from tip to the base of the nose and upper lip
  • base of the nose and upper lip
  • a spot in the centre of the upper lip

Even if you do not feel anything it does not matter as long as you are continuously trying to and your attention is in the area. The success criteria is not that you feel anything but there is sustained and continuous effort to feel sensation in this area. If you do not feel anything do not get agitated or defeated about this or any trace of anger because you do not feel it. Also there should be no craving for the object but mear effort to still your thinking and pondering mind and stay focused by redirecting your mind to the chosen object where by stilling your verbal fabrications whilst seeing the arising and passing of phenomena clearly at the concentration point.

One you feel the sensation, you should scrutinise the sensation to see smallest elements which make it. At some point you will see they are smaller clusters of sensation and finally the arising and passing of these sensations.

Also see my aswer to: Faintness of Object of Meditation

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Two little tricks:

  1. Wet your finger and dab the rim of each nostril. Breath in and out normally. You should be able to pick up the sensation enough from there to keep your focus on it after the water evaporates.

  2. Instead of trying find the breath a the edge of the nostrils, see if you can find the temperature change at the edge of the nostrils. The in breath is cool, the out breath is warm, cool, warm, cool....

And remember. One breath at a time. Just this breath.

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