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Let me start off by saying that I can do Vipassana meditation for about 20 minutes at present. Accepting thoughts as they arise, noticing sensations without judging is relatively easy, compared to doing Samatha meditation. However, even though my body may feel relaxed and calm after doing Vipassana, my mind is still cloudy and obscured (I suffer from brain-fog and Depersonalization Disorder). Depersonalization Disorder is a sense that you don't really exist, almost as if you are outside your body, lost in a cloud. I feel calm, but my mind still feels foggy.

If I focus on the breath (Samatha), I find that I only manage to sit still for about 3-4 minutes before becoming physically agitated (to the point where my body will curl up in tension). I feel as if I need to go for a run; my mind kind of shouts at me, saying "Go, go go! Get up. Go do something". There is no anxiety, just physical and mental agitation.

My mind feels fine doing Vipassana, jumping from moment to moment, letting things be. But when I tell the mind to focus single-pointedly, all hell breaks lose.

Should I carry on with the breath, even though I can only do it minutes at a time, or should I do something entirely different?

  • Hello and welcome to Buddhism.SE. We've put together some information to help you get started here. – Robin111 Jun 29 '15 at 16:26
  • Given your mental condition, have you looked for medical assistance? Perhaps they could be more effective in guiding you through an adequate meditation technique for these kinds of disorders – Thiago Jun 29 '15 at 16:40
  • Hi and welcome to Buddhism SE. May i ask what you hope to get out of your practice. I mean do you want to achieve insights about reality (vipassana) or do you want to achieve strong states of concentration (samatha)? In vipassana you will have some degree of concentration just not as strong and deep as in samatha where the jhanas can be achieved. In vipassana one gains insights into how reality functions i.e. the 3 signs of existence, thereby slowly eradicating the hindrances. In samatha meditation the hindrances are not eradicated, only temporarily suspended. – Lanka Jun 29 '15 at 18:22
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    The reason I came to Buddhism is that psychology, psychiatry and Western Philosophy never had a coherent model of reality and well-being for me. Buddhism offers a sense that insight into reality and personal well-being should coexist in a holistic sense -- I believe this to be true. So in this sense, I'd like to cultivate both insight and concentration (metta meditation is also a form of meditation i'd like to cultivate). – Steve Jun 29 '15 at 18:43
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I have also found this to be the case when practicing samatha meditation. Here is my understanding of why that is, and how to deal with it:

In vipassana meditation, you do not need to "tune" sensations out. In fact, noticing them is part and parcel of the practice itself. Restlessness and agitation are thus sensations to be noticed and analyzed, and their presence won't really pose a problem.

By contrast, samatha meditation is about concentration on one thing -- in the case of anapanasatti, the breath. One thus becomes far more sensitive to the hindrances that obscure the goal of single-pointed focus, and they actually become an obstacle. The agitation you describe is literally the fourth hindrance, which is described as an inability to calm the mind. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_hindrances#Restlessness-worry_.28uddhacca-kukkucca.29.

On a deeper level, agitation / restlessness are manifestations of a mistaken belief that changing to some new state will end an unpleasant feeling. You thus experience the unpleasantness of the sensation and react by attempting to change the situation.

How to deal with it: Whenever I practice samatha meditation, I invariably experience what you've described above. To overcome it, I walk through a counting exercise I learned in Bhante Gunaranta's book "Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English". He recommends counting each in-out breath up to ten, then back down to one, then up to nine, then back down to one, then up to eight, etc. etc. until you reach one. Oh, and if you mess up, you need to re-establish your mindfulness, and start over :D

From personal experience, I've found that this method works very, very well. I am an inexperienced, impatient meditator, but this method -- when applied with mindfulness and self-honesty -- completely subdues the grosser manifestation of the hindrances for me.

Additional suggestions: Here is where your vipassana practice can and should bolster your samatha practice. Recognize the sensation objectively; recognize its impermanent nature, recognize that moving / shifting / getting up / etc won't truly eliminate the suffering within the experience, and recognize that there is not really a self behind the unpleasant experience -- it is merely an aggregation of perception resulting in you experiencing a hindrance to meditation. Through this process, you will calm the unpleasantness of the experience, and the hindrance will become subdued. Then you gently re-focus and proceed with the breath.

  • Thanks for the information. Raw focus on an object makes me feel overwhelmed -- almost as if there is cognitive and sensory overload. The counting with the breath really helped me along. Depersonalization Disorder I've come to realize is really just a fear to connect with raw sensory states and emotional spaces within. It developed as as a result of sustained trauma and existential angst in my early teens. As another poster commented "It appears your nervous system may need some help." -- my gut always told me this, and I'm glad people on this board feel similarly.Again, thanks for the info. – Steve Jun 29 '15 at 18:35
  • @user2200032 i've added a little more info about how your vipassana practice can help you bolster your samatha practice. see "additional suggestions" above. best! – Ian Taylor Jun 29 '15 at 18:37
  • @Ian Taylor That's a great insight, thanks. – Buddho Jun 30 '15 at 0:27
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It appears your nervous system may need some help. You need to spend time in nature, also try walking meditation barefoot. Avoid caffeine, sugar, nicotine, excitable entertainment and other stimulants. If you can exercise, or perform yoga, that will help. Meditation needs a healthy body, brain and nerves for best functioning. However, this is hardly the end of the road - you can develop khanika samadhi or momentary / moment-to-moment concentration with vipassana. This kind of meditation is ideal for insight and for progress on the path, so there's no need to worry.

  • This is a very precise and helpful answer with lots of advices +1. – Lanka Jun 29 '15 at 18:08
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    Good info. I really do need to exercise and get into my body more -- I am a very cerebral person by nature and I realize this is a hindrance. Khanika samadhi seems very interesting -- I'll definitely try it out. Thanks. – Steve Jun 29 '15 at 18:48
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    @Steve cerebral people have greater difficulty meditating because they are used to using their intellect to relate with everything. Meditation requires letting go of thinking about things too much. Thoughts too can be a form of attachment, a form of possession. Good luck – Buddho Jun 30 '15 at 0:19
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have you tried counting your in and out breaths? this may be a good middle ground for you, as it will give your mind something to do.

Here is instruction for anapana meditation

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