One of the main take-aways from the Concentration Retreat was the active encouragement of a particular state of mind. Rather than just being exactly with what is and observing it, in concentration meditation one actually invites or encourages a state of calm, relaxation and contentment.
Following the breath very precisely, one is encouraged to drop any distractions. The phrase used a lot was to incline the mind to calm. Suggestions to relax the body, quiet the thoughts and calm the mind can be very effective when a certain state of concentration has already been achieved. During Samadhi meditation, it is said that the mind becomes very “malleable” or “flexible” and open to suggestion. Much to my amazement, I found this to be very much the case. Dropping in words or phrases like “not now” to let go of a thought, or “calm” to settle the mind further really did have the intended effect. “Relax, Quiet, Calm” became a very effective shortcut to a more tranquil state. The “quiet” and the “calm”, it should be pointed out, are different. Quiet refers to dropping verbal activity while Calm can sooth restless or unsettled mental energies. This language isn’t very precise, but in practice, there is a calming that can be sensed beyond simply quieting the mental talk.
Once the mind had settled to a greater degree and there was truly some aspects of the mind that were quiet and still, we were encouraged to focus on the calm part of the mind itself– to pour our attention on that still part of the mind. There may have been some gentle talk or the noticing of body sensation.. but once the mind is directed towards the quiet aspect of it’s own experience – that aspect could be allowed to grow and fill more of the space of awareness and the result was a more calm state.
In order to encourage the mind to stay with something subtle and not revert back to fabricating new content or seeking stimulus, another major concept used was contentment. Dropping in the word “content” seemed enough to get the mind to rest with something simple, like the texture of the breath. Resting there allowed for the mind to become more focused on the subtle aspects of the breathing. Any movement by the mind that is a distraction from simple awareness of breath is released by “not now” or labeling the movement a “fabrication of mind”. This label is a little long and cumbersome, but it’s so accurate it wakes the mind up immediately to the nature of the movement and encourages a non-clinging and dropping of the fabrication immediately.
At one point, the texture of the breath was so fine that the movements of the breath were taken as movements of the mind.. the subtle texture filled awareness.. the minute sensations appearing and ceasing were magnified to the point were they were taken as movements of the mind and an attempt was made to drop them, too. Realizing that the movements of mind and the sensations of the breath were in that instant one-and-the-same lead to a short experience of unity with the breath — a merging of subject and object.
During other sitting periods, a focus on “calm” lead to experiences of vivid awareness emerging into some kind of interior space. It was as if my awareness folded in on itself and discovered a new space of empty calm within and could inhabit that interior space. Of course attention remained on the breath, but keeping it there was effortless, as the breath and attention were all that existed within that space. Had I stumbled onto a Jhana? Access consciousness? I can’t say for sure. Perhaps it was just a “meditative phenomena”. More experience with this will be required to understand it. I didn’t get much feedback on this particular experience in teacher interviews.