Over these past 60 hours it has become clear to me, what external factors promote or deteriorate concentration practice. My best days have always occurred during complete isolation and very limited interaction with conventional reality. Anything that one does to be or feel ‘normal’ seems to disrupt concentration practice. Predominantly activities that involve interacting with other people.
My hypothesis, based on self-observation, is that when I interact with people, I begin to unconsciously identify with a ‘self’. Which I otherwise, in periods of present moment awareness, perceive as illusory. This intensified self-narrative seems to increase the volume and frequency of thoughts that arise in my mind. On any occasion that I have meditated after conversing, particularly about something I am passionate about, the voice in my head becomes unbearably loud. Significantly diminishing my concentration. It seems that the more consecutive sits I am able to do in the absence of social interaction, the deeper I can go.
My attention has also been drawn towards the relationship between diet and concentration. On the odd occasion that I have decided to indulge, it has had dire consequences on my practice. One of the most distracting sensations, when one is attempting to pay attention to the subtleties of the breath, is a heavy gut. Even worse, a sore gut. While fasting seems to create altered states that may amplify the potential for insight, I do not believe it has much utility for developing concentration. My best practices have been midway between meals when I am not plagued by hunger signals, but don’t feel like any food is in my stomach. Unfortunately, this window is short lived.
My current routine involves 1-hour sittings, punctuated by periods of research, writing, exercise, and filming. Even these activities seem to have a dampening effect on my concentration states. My hypothesis so far is that concentration is best cultivated on retreats. Meaning periods of complete isolation and full immersion in the practice. My next retreat is in August so I will confirm this then. In the meantime, I have come up with this protocol.
- Spend as much time in isolation as possible.
- Limit activities that tend to invoke unconscious behavior
- Eat as cleanly as possible