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I am new to meditation (anapana) as a daily practise: I've been to one retreat, some 4 years ago, noticed how meditation helped me, and then never mediated again. I always knew I should get back to meditating, and so I did: I've been meditating for about a week now, at least once a day (sometimes twice), each section lasting between 20 and 30 minutes. In the beginning I couldn't meditate for more than 10 minutes, but that changed after some sections.

I have now a weird problem: I'm not sure about when should I exit my meditation. When I experience thoughts my reaction is to be aware of them and internalise the word "thoughts", "thoughts", until they pass. The thing is that sometimes the thought that comes up is "man, damn, you've been meditating for 45 minutes... Time to stop". I try to put this though in the basket of "thoughts", but at the same time I know I must stop meditating sometime. I then start to wonder if I should stop meditating or if this thought is a product of my anxiety. By that time my practise is already spoiled.

I considered timing my meditation, then. Unfortunately, when I do that, sometimes the alarm rings too soon and I'd like to meditate more, and sometimes I'm already worrying about when is it going to ring.

This might be a senseless question, but is there a way to decide it's time to stop meditating?

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I disagree with Sumida and ChrisW, an hour is too long for beginners and experts alike. In Zen monasteries we do zazen for between 30 - 45 minutes followed by about 10 minutes of kinhin (fast or slow walking meditation), then another period of zazen. For a beginner 20 minutes (or even less) is fine. In time you should aim to raise it to around 30 mins. If you want to do more you should break it up with kinhin (or possibly some yoga).

I agree with Chris that you should use a timer (a countdown timer on a digital watch is ideal). When the timer goes off, then get up (some people sway gently from side to side before getting up). You shouldn't be pondering during meditation whether to get up or not, a) you shouldn't be pondering things during meditation and b) if you practise like this you will turn meditation into an aesthetic experience (I'm enjoying this so I'll sit longer/I'm not enjoying this so I'll get up) which is not right meditation.

  • When they told me to stay for one hour I admit I had no idea of how to do it. This morning I meditated for 30 min and at my stage I must admit that felt ideal - and I'm also using the timer the correct way, now. – QuantumBrick Apr 3 '17 at 18:14
  • That's great :) Reading your original question I'd also suggest making contact with a temple or meditation group - keeping up practice on your own can be extremely difficult, having the support of fellow meditators (like-minded people who understand the challenges you face) is an invaluable aid to your practice. – user10515 Apr 3 '17 at 18:53
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I am new to meditation (anapana) as a daily practise: I've been to one retreat, some 4 years ago, noticed how meditation helped me, and then never mediated again.

Continuity is the secret of success in meditation. So be continuous in doing it.

each section lasting between 20 and 30 minutes. In the beginning I couldn't meditate for more than 10 minutes, but that changed after some sections.

Try to target 2 session per day about 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening / night. More on this see these answers.2

When I experience thoughts my reaction is to be aware of them and internalise the word "thoughts", "thoughts", until they pass.

Though some teachers may teach you differently using words like "thinking, thinking, ..." is also thinking and pondering using a conceptual object (pannatti1 - more particularly nama pannatti when using labelling with verbalisation or sub verbalisation). This should strictly not be done according to some teachers. Also meaning (nirutti) of the words, associated with a sound or label, you use are not universal, in all languages, whereas the meditation exercise is to understand the ultimate realities and the universal laws of nature (dhamma), penetrating beyond concepts. So this (self create verbalisation or sub verbalisation) cannot be used for Satipaṭṭhāna meditation, if a concept spontaneously arise let it be, and be aware of the sensations / feeling this bring about; this (Verbalisation, visualisation, conceptualisation, thinking and pondering, etc.) also leads to fabrications (more particularly verbal) and nutriment (Āhāra - more particularly Manosañcetanā Āhāro). Samma Ditthi Sutta mentions the end of fabrication and also nutriment is the right way. More on pannatti on this site see this search. A related concept is nirutti, more this see this search.

I.e. this verbalisation, results in:

  • verbal fabrication generally based on unwholesome root of ignorance, since concepts are not ultimate realities, which can lead to undesired future experiences
  • nutriment to keep existance which can lead to future unwholesome experiences
  • use of concepts than ultimate realities which has the basis of the unwholesome root of ignorance, where as ignorance is displaced when you meditate with ultimate realities as the object of meditation
  • concept proliferation, though controlled, is not in touch with ultimate realities, but uses a stream of repetitive concepts objects ("thoughts, thoughts, thoughts, ...")

One justification of using the labeling is use of controlled vocabulary which relates or close to the ultimate realities:

  • 4 elements: earth, air, heat, water or equivalent names / labels like motion, highness, etc.
  • function of 6 sense organs: seeing, smelling, touching, hearing, tasting, thinking
  • 5 aggregates: conscious, perceiving, feeling, etc.

But as iterated before labeling is conceptual and not ultimate realities. If you insist on doing this stick to the controlled vocabulary at least.

Some meditators start with walking, even mentally repeating "walking", "itching", or whatever. There is no paññā: but at least the practice concentrates the mind.

Source: Discourses on Satipatthana Sutta - S. N. Goenka

But you are required to observe bare respiration, as it naturally is, without regulating it; no word or imagined form may be added.

...

Similarly visualization—mentally picturing a shape or form—can become a barrier to progress. The technique leads to the dissolving of apparent truth in order to reach ultimate truth. Apparent, integrated truth is always full of illusions, because at this level saññ± operates, perception, which is distorted by past reactions. This conditioned perception differentiates and discriminates, giving rise to preferences and prejudices, to fresh reactions. But by disintegrating apparent reality, one gradually comes to experience the ultimate reality of the mental-physical-structure: nothing but vibrations arising and passing away every moment. At this stage no differentiation is possible, and therefore no preferences or prejudices can arise, no reactions. The technique gradually weakens the conditioned saññ± and hence weakens reactions, leading to the stage in which perception and sensation cease, that is, the experience of nibb±na. But by deliberately giving attention to a shape, form, or vision, one remains at the level of apparent, composed reality and cannot advance beyond it. For this reason, there should be neither visualization nor verbalization.

Source: The Discourse Summaries by S.N.Goenka

Also see this answer and this answer.

The thing is that sometimes the thought that comes up is "man, damn, you've been meditating for 45 minutes... Time to stop".

When it arises just be aware and bring your attention back to a focal point. This subdues the wondering mind. This is redirecting the mind continuously and periodically to your meditation object and being very vigilant that these thoughts do not come up.

I considered timing my meditation, then. Unfortunately, when I do that, sometimes the alarm rings too soon and I'd like to meditate more, and sometimes I'm already worrying about when is it going to ring.

Do not fret on time just do the task at hand. If any distraction like this arises just bring back you attention to the task at hand.

If you want to meditate more in many consecutive days increase the timer.

This might be a senseless question, but is there a way to decide it's time to stop meditating?

Set a stopwatch for 1 hour initially. This is a good time for a beginner. As you get comfortable with this time period increase it. But keep the time what you are comfortable with but minimally 1 hour.

Also as you advance stop using a timer and try determination (Adhiṭṭhāna). Think I will stay only for 1 hour. See if the notion to come out happens exactly in 1 hour. More on adhiṭṭhāna see this search. Also related: How to determine the end of a meditation session without a clock?


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The Atthasalini uses different synonyms for nama pannatti (concepts that are names). It is an interpretation, an expression that renders the meaning of something in language (nirutti). A name is a distinctive sign that shows the meaning of something (vyancana). There are sounds which people utter, letters combined as words which express the meaning of something (abhilapa). These synonyms explain the meaning of nama pannatti, a name or term. A term makes the meaning of something known. The idea or notion that is made known can also be called a concept. Thus, there are, generally speaking, two kinds of pannatti:

  1. That which is made known (pannapiyatta or atthapannatti).

  2. That which makes known (pannapanato), the name or term (sadda pannatti or namapannatti) which makes known the meaning of things. If we remember these two classes of concepts it will be easier to understand what a concept is. There are many kinds of concepts and they can be classified in different ways. One way of classifying them is the following (see Abhidhammattha Sangaha Ch. VIII, section 4, on pannattis):

i) concept of continuity: (santana pannatti), corresponding to the continuity of things, such as land, mountain or tree, which concept is based on the rapid succession of the elements.

ii) collective concept: (samuha pannatti), corresponding to modes of construction of materials, to a collection of things, such as a vehicle or a chariot.

iii) conventional concept: (sammutti pannatti), such as person or individual, which is derived from the five khandhas.

iv) local concept: (disa pannatti), a notion or idea derived from the revolving of the moon, such as the directions of east or west.

v) concept of time: (kala pannatti), such as morning, evening.

vi) concept of season: (masa pannatti), notions corresponding to seasons and months. The months are designated by names, such as Vesakha.

vii) concept of space: (akasa), such as a well or a cave. It is derived from space that is not contacted by the four Great Elements.

viii) nimitta pannatti: the mental image which is acquired through the development of samatha, such as the nimitta of a kasina.

We read in the Abhidhammattha Sangaha:

All such different things, although they do not exist in the ultimate sense,

become objects of thought in the form of shadows of ultimate things.

They are called pannatti

because they are thought of, reckoned, understood, expressed,

and made known on account of, in consideration of,

and with respect to, this or that mode.

This 'pannatti' is so called because it is made known.

As it makes known, it is called 'pannatti'.

It is described as 'name', 'name-made', etc.

Source: Concepts II - Pannatti

Question: When there is seeing through the eyes and we know that it is a pen, it shows that we know the word pen through the mind-door. Is that right?

Sujin: Before we can think of the word pen, we already know a concept. A pannatti is not merely sadda pannatti (a concept of sound) a word or name.

Question: After seeing I remember what was seen. Is the object then already a concept?

Sujin: The Pali term pannatti means: it makes something known (derived from pannapeti).

Question: Must each of the sense-door processes be followed by a mind-door process so that the meaning of things can be known?

Sujin: The five sense objects which are visible object, sound, odour, flavour, and tangible object appear through two door-ways. Thus, visible object appears through the eye-door and then, after there have been bhavanga-cittas in between, it appears through the mind- door. In the same way, sound, odour, flavour, and tangible object appear through the corresponding sense-doors and then through the mind-door.

Source: Concepts II - It makes something known

Question: You said that concepts could be known through the mind-door. Therefore, I am inclined to think that if there is awareness through the mind-door, concepts can be the object of satipatthana.

Sujin: In order to have more understanding of satipatthana we should begin with this very moment. Is there a concept while you hear sound now? Sound is a paramattha dhamma. When citta knows the meaning of the sounds it knows a concept and it knows this through the mind-door. Citta thinks about different words. Sati can follow and be aware of that citta, so that it can be realised as just a type of citta that thinks of words.

Question: Thus, satipatthana can know the reality that is thinking, but it cannot know concepts. As far as I understand, each of the sense-door processes has to be followed by a mind-door process, it cannot be otherwise. When there is seeing there is an eye- door process, and after there have been bhavanga-cittas in between, there is a mind-door process of cittas which experience visible object. Is that right?

Sujin: The víthi-cittas of the mind-door process, which follow víthi-cittas of a sense-door process, have to experience the same rupa. If the javana-cittas of the sense-door process are lobha-mula-cittas (cittas rooted in attachment), the javana-cittas of the first mind-door process after that sense-door process have to be the same types of lobha-mula-citta. The mind-door process follows extremely rapidly upon the sense-door process. With respect to this there is a simile of a bird perching on a branch. As soon as the bird perches on the branch its shadow appears on the ground. Even so, when the object has been experienced through the sense-door and there have been many bhavanga-cittas in between, arising and falling away very rapidly, it is immediately afterwards experienced through the mind-door. Since cittas succeed one another so rapidly one does not know that visible object which is experienced through the eyes is only a paramattha dhamma that can appear because it has impinged on the eyesense.

Source: Concepts II - Can a concept be an object of satipatthana? II

Also see: The Dhamma Theory Philosophical Cornerstone of the Abhidhamma by Y. Karunadasa

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This little plant of Dhamma requires service now. Protect it from the criticism of others by making a distinction between the theory, to which some might object, and the practice, which is acceptable to all. Don’t allow such criticism to stop your practice. Meditate one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening. This regular, daily practice is essential. At first it may seem a heavy burden to devote two hours a day to meditation, but you will soon find that much time will be saved that was wasted in the past. Firstly, you will need less time for sleep. Secondly, you will be able to complete your work more quickly, because your capacity for work will increase. When a problem arises you will remain balanced, and will be able immediately to find the correct solution. As you become established in the technique, you will find that having meditated in the morning, you are full of energy throughout the day, without any agitation.

...

When you go to bed at night, for five minutes be aware of sensations anywhere in the body before you fall asleep. Next morning, as soon as you wake up, again observe sensations within for five minutes. These few minutes of meditation immediately before falling asleep and after waking up will prove very helpful.

...

Daily meditation of two hours and yearly retreats of ten days are only the minimum necessary to maintain the practice. If you have more free time, you should use it for meditation. You may do short courses of a week, or a few days, even one day. In such short courses, devote the first one third of your time to the practice of Anapana, and the rest to Vipassana.

Source: The Discourse Summaries by S.N.Goenka

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If you'e doing it with a group other people, or schedule it as a regular part of your busy day, then it's timed.

Instead of "the alarm rings", a usual sound is of a small bell, e.g. like this: Bell Meditation.mp3

The sound fades away, decays.

In real life i.e. physically, such a sound is produced by two little disks/bells, each suspended, which the meditation leader tings together. The leader has a clock within their field of view.

Or it's a simple application for an electronic device.

Apart from "timed" meditation, like that, I guess another way might be to continue until you have reached a goal? But timing is the obvious method.

The point of timing isn't what some people call "spiritual materialism" (e.g. being proud of how spiritual you are, based on how long you meditate), of course; instead I think it's to free you from having to worry about whether the session is supposed to have ended and whether it's time to stop.

I agree that Suminda's advice, i.e. "one hour is a good time for a beginner" and "increase the timer", is feasible. A way to do that is to set the timer for 20 or 25 minutes; decide that you're still alright, and that a period like that isn't harmful ... and that if you could do that, then you can do a bit more; and reset the clock for slightly longer, 30 or 35 minutes.

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Your practice is never "spoiled". It is what it is and it doesn't ever get any better than that. It does not progress in a linear way. It becomes easier to sit for longer but the meditation itself will be different every time. Some days it will feel hard, you will feel restless, anxious, bored etc then other days you will feel the opposite. That's just how it is. Try not to see it as good meditation and bad meditation. It's just meditation and you are learning to be equanimous with whatever occurs. You sound like you're over thinking it. Just sit with a timer and when the bell rings you can choose to get up or you can continue sitting.
The bell does not ruin anything. It's just 'hearing hearing'. If you feel good and want to stay sitting, then stay and enjoy the pleasant feelings. Notice how you want more of them and want them to last longer. Are you craving? and notice how certain feelings your mind translates as "spoiled" and you want to get rid of them - aversion. If you can try to notice how the mind reacts rather than if you feel good or bad then you will be progressing.

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Ideally, based on what Buddha states in Satipattana Sutta, your meditative state doesn't end.

I would suggest acknowledgement of certain interruptions in a meditative manner.

For example, if you suddenly have a thought within the time period of meditation, then you can note the characteristics of the thought (anicca, dukkha, anatta) and let go.

For example, if you suddenly have a thought while exceeding your meditation time (which maybe you can use an alarm to end), you should transition it into Kayanupassana meditation while you get up and move onto your daily activities.

The whole purpose of meditation is to improve your basis of the Noble Eightfold Path and fully understand the Four Noble Truths.

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