When practicing Vipassana, there are three factors you will play with:
- Introspection (or 'alertness' or 'vigilance' depending on the translation).
Laxity (sloth, torpor) and excitement are the main adverse conditions to the mind abiding on an object continuously. There are things you can do, before and in between meditation sessions, to prevent laxity from arising; and there are antidotes to apply, during the meditation session, when laxity arises. But first, you must study well enough so as to be able to identify the arising of laxity whenever it arises.
MEASURE OF LAXITY
Laxity is due to (1) the mind being overly withdrawn inward and (2) the mode of apprehension of the object being slack, loose. The occurrence of gross laxity results in a lack of clarity in your apprehension of the object.
While lethargy is characterized by confusion, heaviness, darkness, sleepiness... is of the type of an affliction... and occurs even outside the meditation session, laxity only occurs within meditation session, is not heaviness, but a lack of clarity. In the Middle-Length Lam Rim, Tsongkhapa writes:
Lethargy is said to be a heaviness, an unserviceability of the body
and the mind that forms part of delusion. With laxity, the mode of
apprehension of the mind holding its object is slack, and the object
is not held clearly or tightly.
Once mindfulness is established (i.e. you are holding your object) and free from laxity, you will apprehend your object in such a manner that your mind will become clear with regard to it. Conversely Gross laxity causes a lack of clarity. Tsongkhapa writes:
In every meditative stabilization that is free from laxity, the
clarity factor of the mind will definitely arise.
The obvious antidote consists in tightening the apprehension of the object. As a beginner, you have to train in this:
First, you have to put more emphasis on the introspection factor than mindfulness or concentration. The thing is to recognize any instance of (1) excitement, (2) scattering, or (3) laxity. Such recognition should be accompanied with joy (you shouldn't feel "I lost the object, I failed"). Tsongkhapa writes:
If you do not rely on introspection, your meditation will come under
the influence of laxity and excitement.
Introspection is (1) a way to recognize faults and (2) to prolong an established concentration. Introspection is important in order to establish an interrupted concentration, but also in order to prolong it once it is established.
A mind that is lax has withdrawn inward too much and lost its mode of apprehending the object. For that reason it says in Stages of Meditation that you should:
- Tighten your mode of apprehending the object and sustain it
- Attend to a cause for the mind to move outward again, something joyful and virtuous.
- Attend to a sign of light, such as sunshine, and clear away the laxity.
- Not meditate on a disenchanting object, because disillusionment is a cause for the mind to withdraw inward.
- Remember that enthusiasm[...] will counteract laxity.
As a way to train in tightening / loosing the apprehension, it is advised to do sessions in which you try to hold onto your object tight for a while (making quiet an effort) and then you relax to effort without loosing the object. You repeat that throughout the whole session. In Stages of Meditation, Kamalashila writes:
You should eliminate laxity and hold the object tight.
If breath is your object of concentration, drawn you awareness to the manifold features of your breath (its warmth, its arising as one, its falling as another, its trajectory, and so forth) so as to (1) stimulate the mind (2) familiarize with your object and make it clearer to you. This exercise is called “expanding the object”. The Compendium of the Perfections states:
When there is sinking uplift the mind through the power of striving
for special insight.
Other antidotes are:
1. Directin the mind outward
2. Rinsing your face with fresh water
3. Putting an end to the session and going for a walk
What to do
- Taking refuge and generating motivation before meditation session
- Short sessions
- Emphasizing introspection
- Finding joy in applying introspection
- Studying the Dharma in between sessions
What not to do
- Dwell in a warm room
- Dwell in a dark room
- Meditate with your eyes completely closed
- Meditate with a full stomach
You need to do short sessions, because as a beginner, you have to strengthen the power of introspection. This take effort and easily lead to feel discontent. In relation to the length of the sessions, Tsongkhapa writes:
Moreover, if your sessions are long in the beginning, it is easy to
fall under the power of laxity and excitement. Since it is
difficult to correct this state of mind once you have got used to it,
you should do many short sessions.
In relation to studying the Dharma, Tsongkhapa writes:
In between sessions, you should also be concerned with the Dharma
texts teaching that object and recall it again and again.
If you lack enthusiasm on the outset, you will be very prone to generate laxity. Thus, taking refuge in the beginning of the meditation session is useful. The purpose of doing is to generate a virtuous motivation, enthusiasm, dwelling on the reasons for practicing, give yourself a sense of direction so that you are not lost and that your practice really makes sense. That is usually uplifting. While setting motivation, it is customary to intend the application of the antidote (i.e. "Aware that laxity and excitement might arise during my meditation session, I will apply mindfulness to oppose excitement, and introspection to oppose both of them. I will tighten my mind to the object when I will notice it is lax. And so forth"). Tsongkhapa writes:
If you have a strong and constant awareness that sees the positive
qualities of the Three Jewels, and so forth, it is quite easy to
overcome laxity, for many valid sources say that its antidote is to
uplift the mind by looking at positive qualities.
As a conclusion, I would advise you to emphasize the taking of refuge, generating motivation, intending to protect your mind from laxity and excitement from the beginning… emphasize the application of introspection as well… and emphasize the training in tightening/relaxing the apprehension.