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Pretty much what the title says, but expand on it a little -

During breath meditation (also during vipassana, but mostly breath) I frequently see random narratives. Sometimes it is random bits from TV/video games that I play or from real life. But mostly it is random.

For example, today I was meditating on rising and falling on the stomach and in the beginning for half a minute or so I had clarity, but then it transformed into images of ball expanding and contracting (stomach is spherical, so I guess that is why it became a ball). Then within a minute or so it changed to two balls, and competition of which is bigger...and which then changed into someone saying 'you are good at management' which then changed to folder being arranged in finder in macos. You get the idea - they are almost completely unrelated to each other, and yet surprisingly, all the while I am deluded into thinking that I am still on the breath.

If I were to guess, I'd say these are low consciousness states almost like dreams where we are deluded into thinking something while something completely logical and disconnected is happening. But what's more important to know is what these states are and how to fix my technique if it is wrong.

So, please let me know your thoughts; and also I'd be more than happy to discuss it and give any more details. Thanks

EDIT : I want to know what this kind of random images mean in regards to my meditation technique. I strongly think these are bad, in the sense that I am not doing what I am supposed to do in meditation. Maybe it is my technique, maybe I am not serious enough or something else. I know it because at other times in my mediation I am able to achieve concentration in some form or other. Only when I am low energy like that, these dream-like states come.

I am surprised to see this kind of question is not talked about more here because this thing seems so common, kinda like one of the first pitfalls. But anyways, let me know what your insights on this phenomenon. I will be happy to share the exact details of my technique and mind states etc.

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  • There isn't a question-mark ("?") in the text? Can you say what your question is?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 7:30
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    Stuff is going to pop up and you're noticing that stuff. Sounds like you're practicing Satipatthana. What is the problem?
    – Lowbrow
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 7:52
  • I added an edit with the exact this that I want to know. Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 13:33
  • May I ask how many hours of sleep you get? Do you feel refreshed after a night's sleep?
    – Desmon
    Commented Oct 3, 2023 at 16:33
  • @Desmon.i.c.a.sin yes all that sleep, vitamins, exercise etc. is good. this is purely awareness related issue, at least that's how it seems Commented Oct 4, 2023 at 23:28

5 Answers 5

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Your concentration sucks. That's all this is. When we set up on the cushion and turn our attention inward, there are two paths we can take. The first and correct one is attentive, unified, and energetic. The second, which you appear to be falling into, is lax, diffused, and unmoored. In Zen, we call this "dead sitting" and it's as pervasive as it is pernicious. The main danger is that it feels so enveloping, so peaceful, and so enjoyable. It's a narcotic and one that can be easily be mistaken for effective, right practice.

Combatting this comes down to three things - setting up intention, setting up a stable point of focus, and monitoring your consciousness for when these detrimental states begin to arise. Regarding the first, before you even sit down, resolve to yourself that you will not fall into this state. Make it your enemy and vow to avoid it at all costs. Just the act of setting an intention primes your mind in subtle ways. This is karma. You are engaging in an action (of mind) that will ultimately bear fruit. The stronger and more habitual this mental action, the more it will positively impact your practice.

Setting up a stable point of focus is next though it utterly astounds how often people underestimate the importance of this. What you choose to focus on is irrelevant. Use the breath, a kasina, a mantra, or whatever. It makes no difference. What is important, however, is how you establish this point of focus. Meditation is not concentration. I utterly abhor that word. It's arguably one of the worst Pali to English renderings that we have. Instead, think of meditation as the unification of mind. Samadhi, another Pali word that is often translated as "meditation" or "concentration", literally means "to gather together in one place". You aren't so much bearing down on your object of concentration as you are keeping the mind unified at a single point of rest. I fully appreciate that this distinction probably makes no sense at this stage of your practice. But let me offer some practical advise. Rather than "focusing" on your object, lightly touch it. Use the same, minimal amount of force it would take to hold a piece of toilet paper against the wall. Another cue is to imagine how lightly you would have to touch a bowl of water to allow your finger to tug on its surface tension without breaking it and going under. Once you've established this resting point, you are going to notice that your mind feels like it is getting pulled in all directions. It's almost like those video game crosshairs that get yanked all over the place. When those crosshairs start to move off target, just relax and settle back on your object. Maintain that light touch. What's important here is consistency and delicacy. If you allow your mind's crosshairs to go off willy-nilly, you are going to end back up in dreamland.

Lastly, you need to remain vigilant. This is more or less covered by the point above. Any drifting into dreamland is a departure from your stable point of attention. But since this seems to be a specific problem for you, a little extra vigilance is probably warranted. Sloth/torpor (which is the hindrance most adjacent to what you're dealing with) is a sly and crafty little bugger. It wears the mantle of tranquility but if given reign will quickly throw aside his disguise and reveal himself for who he is. He's the trojan horse of the hindrances. The trick is to never let him get his foot in the door. When sloth/torpor begins to establish, it's usually marked by a lack of clarity. You point of focus may get a little fuzzy like it's being viewed through a cloud of steam. Another way some people experience it is as if their attention is getting "smeared" a bit. Somatically, you might also begin to notice that your head tilts forward or that the area around your sinuses begins to feel full and heavy. Your breathing might also feel a little thicker. How these things manifest do vary from person to person, so do make a point in watching for what your descent into torpor feels like. When you notice them, you may find you need to rouse your energy a bit. This could take the form as a few deep breaths, mentally amping yourself up, focusing on a white kasina for a minute or two (oddly effective), etc. See what works for you. And let me again emphasize that catching this early is extremely important. As torpor establishes itself, it will quickly overcome mindfulness. Not only will you quickly fall into it, but the very tools you'd use to combat it will become blunt and ineffective.

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    "If the eye never sleeps, all dreams will naturally cease." - Seng T'san
    – user25431
    Commented Nov 2, 2023 at 22:20
  • @user25431 Thats beautiful Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 2:22
  • This is not just a beautiful answer but PRECISELY what i was hoping somebody would tell me. I have noticed clearly many times pretty much everything that you have mentioned in your answer, and thus I think I know exactly the difference between the concentration and samadhi (the gathering of mind). I just wasn't clear which of these two was actually supposed to be and now I am! I will try my best with all your great tips to correctly do it and not fall into the subtle trap of sloth. Thanks a million!! I hope you keep spreading this wonderful knowledge to others like me. Commented Dec 1, 2023 at 2:38
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Could be you're starting to fall asleep. If so, what you're experiencing would be hypnagogia. It's a normal phenomenon that can occur during and also outside of meditation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypnagogia

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  • Thanks, I looked it up. Any advice on how not to fall into this state? I am sure that this state is unavoidable for some parts of meditation, but I would like to minimize these so to keep my meditation effective. Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 3:08
  • @Kobamschitzo Get more exercise during the day or get some before meditation. There are also the energizing Awakening Factors: Rapture, Energy, and Investigation counter dullness and drowsiness. This has some guided meditations to help you understand the Awakening Factors. dhammatalks.org/mp3_collections_index.html#seven
    – triplej
    Commented Apr 11, 2023 at 17:07
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Incidently, I recently replied to a comment about precisely this. Here is the comment in question:

When I broke the eighth fetter, I went through a bit of mild delirium where my dream world spilled over into my waking reality. All defence mechanisms fell away at the eighth, as there was no sense of inner & outer, no self whatsoever. Whatever is in the lower regions of the mind comes rushing up. Like the dream world, most of it made no sense. So think of dreams as like a locked & unorganised filing cabinet, which, when opened, causes a little confusion. It eventually settled, and I broke through into the tenth fetter!

I don't know what model you're using, but the fetters can dynamically and partially break, especially when doing meditative methods. By the way, although I broke into the tenth fetter, I still had to navigate the ninth, which seemed to be a whole beast unto itself.

What I wanted to point out is that, all attempts to resist experience - which is the regular human state - becomes a defence mechanism that forms a fundamental duality. In Buddhism, this is called subject and object (eighth fetter). Contained within this duality are two further dualities, in which all the previous seven fetters resonate inside. In mainstream psychology (derived from psychoanalysis) this is usually called the conscious and the unconscious mind. Those Theravadins had such an expansive view of the mind hundreds of years before Freud's theory of the conscious and unconscious mind, which is only a small snapshot of the Theravada perspective.

So, you could say that both your unconscious and conscious mind are finding some common ground. From a fetter perspective, you could say that you're seeing through the eighth fetter. Not really helpful without full integration, which means permeating this understanding within your everyday waking experience.

One should have a robust mindfulness practice prior to the sense of self breaking apart, so as not become associated with some of the strange things that can happen in that region. It's also the reason I strongly discourage giving yourself to 'other beings', which can send a practitioner into periods of psychosis.

I'm not suggesting you broke the eighth. However, when meditating, it's possible to see through some higher fetters very easily. When the meditator resumes worldly activities, they are generally pulled back into the form world by fetters 4 & 5, leading them into more cycling and a lot of head-scratching coupled with furrowed eyebrows! 4 & 5 are the karma-creating fetters, which can be dealt with in a number of ways.

Anyway, it's around here that trauma and old memories can surface, so please be sensitive to this, too.

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  • Thx so much for sharing. Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 13:34
  • "my dream world spilled over into my waking reality" This makes so much sense for my situtation, however i REALLY dont think i have broken the eight fetter! I have had some deep psychedelic experiences though. so maybe thats where this comes from in my situation. On a similar note, I noticed I cannot answer the question - 'Is this dream or reality'. By 'cannot', I mean completely unable to differentiate on a fundamental experiential level. On the surface I know this is 'reality' because this is my house and so on. Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 13:37
  • Anyways, can you please tell a liitle on how to meditate so I actually mediate and not dream like that..which in my opinion doesn't give anything significant. Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 13:41
  • @Kobamschitzo - when you say, is this dream or reality this is the perceptual structure bending and buckling under meditative inquiry - typical of 6th & 7th fetter which is all about perception of form, both coarse form (6th) and fine form (7th). I'm not suggesting you broke the eighth, or 6 & 7. However, when meditating, it's possible to see through some higher fetters very easily. When the meditator resumes worldly activities, they are generally pulled back into the form world by fetters 4 & 5, leading them into more cycling and a lot of head-scratching coupled with furrowed eyebrows!
    – user17652
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 18:54
  • @Kobamschitzo can you please tell a little on how to meditate - I wasn't a technical meditator. Instead, I largely adopted the Shikantaza approach from the Mahayana which is just sitting with the sense doors. In my everyday waking experience, I was looking for the fetters.
    – user17652
    Commented Apr 4, 2023 at 19:01
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In the state of such experience. If you can remember anything which is very obvious then you are done. these experience will come and go you need not to resist it.

What is obvious thing that you can remember or stay anchored ?

  1. You are not part of that experience. 3rd party gaze. you are witness.
  2. awareness of breath.
  3. awareness of your body or any part of body.

If you stay anchored on any obvious awareness like above then your job is done. the experience will gently get faded away and wil be replaced by your current meditation object. which is breath.

Now what are these images ?

Its just your consciousness/creativity at its work. your unconscious/subconscious mind is like this only. You are just getting opportunity to see it. there is no way you can modify it. Your equanimous observation is only solution. Thats peaceful. Its nor your mistake or wrong meditation. meditation just uncovers what is undernith. and this is your case. everyone has different experience. but respond is same. equanimity( a vacant gaze). as if you you are not interested in it nor interested in removing it. like a expert father looks at his crying baby.

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  • Thanks! The thing is - that is precisely the problem. In those states I barely even remember what the images are or even if I am seeing the images. It seems to be a very low state of awareness where things happen, even entire stories are told and I cannot remember any or even know I am witnessing them in those moments. I posted here looking at solution for exactly that. Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 3:47
  • You mean to say you have not found solution yet in my answer? ok in case thats the case. when you realise that past few moments were like that. then recall those momment(replay) and remember that even in those state body was there, breath was there. try recalling all the scenes backward. trying to remember is building mindfulness. its remember-fulness.
    – enRaiser
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 5:01
  • Ok that sounds useful (not that your previous answer wasn’t) I will practice with that. Thank you! Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 4:56
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Your mind is not concentrated. Your sanskars are reflecting in your patterns of thinking. Here sanskars means how you approach your thoughts. Unfortunately it means your mind is not well trained. You are not serious about the depth of the problem. If I tell you you are going meet a car accident ,what would you do ? Will you start thinking randomly or will start thinking about how to avoid the accident?

There is an accident ahead. Be serious.Before you start doing breathing meditation visit charnel grounds, see the suffering of people in hospitals , somebody has broken hands , somebody has broken legs , somebody has broken heads, somebody is suffering from cancer etc. Realize how worthless your body will become. Realise how worthless your feelings are , realise how worthless perceptions are , realize how worthless consciousness is , realize how worthless ability to make choices is. Realise how worthless money is. Realise how worthless hunger is. Realise how worthless thirst is. Realise how worthless sex is.All you want is an escape from the suffering ahead. How to realise all the above ? Put theory into practice. Give up wealth , property , relationships, give up desire to have a chit chat or small talk. Talk only on meaningful matters like teachings of Buddha. Talk with seriousness. Do not lie even for a joke. Do not kill anyone.

Until you become serious about escaping the suffering , nothing will materialise properly. I myself have not given up wealth and family although I tried many times. Therefore I am serious but not that serious as a true monk.

Feel satisfied with each breath. All you want is to take care of the wound called body , feelings , perceptions,consciousness, choices. Buddha used to beg to eat and had given up eating at night . You should restrain any lust for food or water.

Once you become serious your mind will not waver into randomness. Even if it does wait for it to settle down and then start to focus on breath again. Do not give up. Once you have become serious be happy that you have chosen the right path. Do not feel depressed. There are several other ways to meditate. Practice them and keep yourself entertained. Understand Anatta it will liberate you.

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