Category III Concentration

Category III concentration – Energetic and Aware

We can now, after getting a good sense of the ideal wakefulness of mind we can access now, then the main goal is to stabilize attention and limit distraction. In the previous stage we developed awareness to detect when the mind is off track, and it’s overall state and energy level. We build on these skills to develop centeredness. At this point in development the yogi can regularly access a state free of dullness, and distractions are transient and very rarely develop into long thought trains or daydreaming thoughts caused by dullness. The mind is noticeably sharper, more alert, and the sensate world is richer and more vibrant. 

The key now is to begin to recognize more subtle movements of mind, and work toward increasing stability of centeredness on the object. In this stage of development, we will continue with a broad focus, now beginning to access the refuge of a mind free of gross hindrances. There is a pleasantness to this perception inherently, it feels wakeful and wholesome and lucid. This is when it’s appropriate to cultivate rapture and bliss. Rapture and bliss and other pleasant mind-states such as loving-kindness and devotion, being in the presence of God are precious, wholesome mind states that we intend to cultivate, maintain, and guard with our mindfulness that has gradually developed in the previous two stages. Unwholesome mind states where hindrances are present are unfavorable. Wholesome mind states without hindrances are favorable. 

Having a basic sense of the breath energies in the body, we can then begin to use those sensations as a meditation object, and there is a key shift that occurs in this stage, from antidoting hindrances, to recognizing a more-or less hindrance-free state, and then keeping that watchfulness against dullness and distraction, we can stabilize and begin to experience the first real fruits of our meditative journey. 

The key is to have a playful, open mind about what exactly are the sensations of prana in the body. They can be gross- movement of body parts, expansion of the diaphragm, or subtle, such as a wavelike sensation that travels through the body in phase with the breath. Only with a very subtle and alert mindfulness will we be able to tune into the energy body and the more subtle sensations.

Practice instructions- Advanced Mindfulness of Breathing:

This is a wide practice with lots of room for experimentation and curiosity. We should have now gained a direct first-hand knowledge of the way the breath affects the entire body, and those effects can be felt and tuned into- encouraged and created even. We can imagine the breath as a wave that moves from the head to the toes, and we can massage the breath through any remaining tensions in the body to smooth things out. One can observe different ways of breathing and their effect on the quality of the “breath”. We can alternatively imagine the breath as passing through our pores and out the pores of the body (don’t worry about physiology-or science- this is a different type of science one could say). We learn that if we imagine the breath a certain way, intending through our imagination and visualization to perceive a certain way, then often that very fabrication appears in some form or another. This reveals a key insight into the workings of mind and how intention conditions our subjective experience. 

In the mindfulness of breathing practice and in metta practice, it is often useful to employ skillful visualizations of the breath energies and carry those visualizations into the flow of experience. This is perfectly acceptable and encouraged- we want to create and actively work with the breath energies. We take our active, must-do something minds and we apply it to a fun rewarding task that has direct, immediate feedback. We remain open to embracing blissful rapturous sensations that relate to the breath, but we can also use the energy of that rapture and distribute it into the energy of mindfulness. We also in this stage employ visualization as a way to engage more fully with the breath sensations.  

We can develop an intuition about the mind, and what type of attention and breathing are optimal for this particular mind-state. We can imagine the breath a different way, and that different view and perspective will actually change how we experience that state. We learn directly, through this and many other insights to come, that the mind fabricates experience according to more-or less predictable processes of mind that we can choose to influence! This is groundbreaking and totally different than the normal way of viewing reality- as in- reality is something inherently existing and separate from self. Importantly, the hindrances must be at bay to realize these insights clearly.

At this stage free from the hindrances, the goal is to develop the seven factors. Whenever the mind is free from the hindrances, then we want to cultivate the seven factors. With the breath energies in the body being pervasive, interesting, and pleasurable, this is an excellent way to develop rapture as a factor of awakening. So, if dullness or gross distraction ever recurs, then simply return to Category II, and try again. 

Advanced Mindfulness of breathing excercises

1.) settle into a suitable breathing pattern that feels sustainable and refreshing. In the beginning of the session, we can be deliberate with the breath, and imagine the breath as a healing energy field that moves through the body. This energy field permeates through each one of your cells and travels according to a regular breath pattern. You close your eyes and with each breath, you see a field of light corresponding to the breath. Any gross tense areas, use the healing breath energy that you are imagining and constructing, and use that energy to soothe any tense areas, getting fresh oxygenated blood to those areas. Keep visualizing the nice healing glow of the breath. Gradually soothe the bodily tensions and fabrications this way, until the body feels centered.  Keep a vivid visualization of the breath energies in the body and try to dive into this perception and take in as much as possible. Stay with the breath in the body until the bodily fabrications have ceased completely, and you are in the stage of unification.

2) settle into a suitable breathing pattern that feels sustainable and refreshing. In the beginning of the session, we can be deliberate with the breath, and imagine the breath as a beam of energy that moves through the body. This energy field permeates through each one of your veins and travels according to a regular pattern of liquid networks through your body. These main veins and arteries branch off to smaller arteries and channels and down to capillaries.  The breath comes into your body through your mouth nose and ears, and it travels down your spine, branching out dozens of times before reaching the anus and the liquid shoots out the anus, down the legs and out through the toes. This healing energy takes all the toxins and stress from your muscles and tissues and drains them out. This feels quite nourishing and wholesome. Gradually soothe the bodily tensions and fabrications this way, until the body feels centered.  Keep a vivid visualization of the breath energies in the body and try to dive into this perception and take in as much as possible. Stay with the breath in the body until the bodily fabrications have ceased completely, and you are in the stage of unification.

3)settle into a suitable breathing pattern that feels sustainable and refreshing. In the beginning of the session, we can be deliberate with the breath, and imagine the breath as a beam of energy that moves through the body. This energy field permeates through each one of your veins and travels according to a regular pattern of liquid networks through your body. These main veins and arteries branch off to smaller arteries and channels and down to capillaries.  The breath comes into your body through your mouth nose and ears, and it travels down your spine, branching out dozens of times before reaching the anus and the liquid shoots out the anus, down the legs and out through the toes. On the inbreath you breath in fresh air and it goes in reverse, up through your toes and up your spinen into the head and out the head. As the energy comes in it takes away crud and stale energy and washes it through. This healing energy takes all the toxins and stress from your muscles and tissues and drains them out. This feels quite nourishing and wholesome. Gradually soothe the bodily tensions and fabrications this way, until the body feels centered.  Keep a vivid visualization of the breath energies in the body and try to dive into this perception and take in as much as possible. Stay with the breath in the body until the bodily fabrications have ceased completely, and you are in the stage of unification.

4)settle into a suitable breathing pattern that feels sustainable and refreshing. In the beginning of the session, we can be deliberate with the breath, and imagine the breath as an infinite flux of energy across an ambiguous barrier of the body. As the breath moves into and out of the body as a flux of energy and swirling of energy as the energy comes in, goes into the lungs and is dispersed all throughout the body. You imagine the energy contained in the atoms of air and you visualize them interfacing with the lungs and chemical reactions are occurring. You maintain this sense of energetic flux, and you imagine the energy as having different colors for different areas, and you can imagine all these gaseous particles changing color as they go into the lungs and out of the being in a perfect energetic flux.

The mind increasingly centers on the object, and depending on the intention of the meditator, they can now move from the breath energies in the body to the mental breath sign. This is simply a mental representation of the breath, that is used as a concentration object. We have to have an intention to perceive the mental sign if we want the bodily fabrications to fade from awareness completely. This mental sign is a refined mental representation of the breath, that may have little to do with how the breath is actually physically perceived. What we know as the breath is really a composite of many different sequential sensations patched together and organized by the various parts of our mind.

When we reach the state of physical and mental pliancy and have centered on the breath nimitta, the mental bandwidth can be expanded out to an awareness of the mind itself. This metacoginitive faculty is a key component of mindfulness, and we have cultivated this awareness through a consistently held intention to do so. Now we can take in the mind as a whole, and we can look directly at mind nature in this unified state. For more detailed explanation, see the chapter on Rigpa and mind nature.

Category III concentration marks the entry into the path of supramundane insight. With a stable footing in category III, we can use the mind to develop the seven factors to their culmination with later stages of concentration.