Defeating Dullness – A Practice Manual.
Criteria for Mastery: Dullness of any form no longer arises in any significant fashion, and when it does, it is easily and quickly corrected for, without conscious intervention.
Dullness is an obstacle that we must learn to deal with effectively if we ever want to awaken. Dullness is a familiar state of mind- we experience dullness every time we fall asleep at night, but we also experience varying degrees of wakefulness throughout the day, and can be quite dull without actually falling asleep. The way it presents in the mind, is that gradually the richness of the object and the subtlety fades, and the object becomes very poorly defined and one-dimensional. It can seem like the overall detail of our perceptual experience decreases. With stronger dullness, the mind can throw up unconscious, dream-like material, and often a sign of dullness that is hard to recognize is wandering thoughts with no sense to them, and no relation whatsoever to the object. They are puzzling junk bubbling up from unconscious processes, and as such, they don’t make any sense. For example, a meditator might have a random thought train that goes something like “If I took a train to the Rockies game in a spaceship with bubbly cowdung and t-shirts.” Complete nonsense, right? Well, that is one sign of dullness, when you are having thoughts like this.
Dullness can also present as tiredness and often in meditation it is an unpleasant tiredness because we have an intention for wakefulness. It’s like trying to keep yourself awake when you’re exhausted, it can be quite an unpleasant experience. The comfort and rest of sleep is, at this point, more attractive to the mind, than a state of bright alert mindfulness.
The key to training the mind to not fall into dullness is first to quickly recognize the dullness at its earliest manifestation, and then without hesitation, apply an appropriate remedy for the dullness. The noticing is just as important as carrying out the remedy, because when we intend to notice the dullness earlier, it conditions the mind to detect dullness automatically (karma). The earlier the dullness is detected, the less of an intervention is typically required to bring the mind back to full alertness.
Remedies for dullness (from the strongest to the most subtle)
- Gross, falling asleep, unpleasant type strong dullness, is recognized at some point, and then the strongest remedy is to stand up, move the body, vigorously shake yourself awake, then return to the seated position.
- Another strong remedy is to get up, walk over to the sink, splash cold water in your face, and return to the cushion (with mindfulness and grace)
- Standing Zhan Zhuang meditation can be used for less of a disruption to the flow of the meditation.
- Without moving position, sometimes dullness will abate with a series of bodily clenches and unclenches. This is just what it sounds like, clench all your muscles and release, and do that a few times. This is a deliberate physical action that we can take to directly influence the state of mind in subsequent moments.
- When dullness is recognized, a series of vigorous deep breaths from the belly can wake the mind up. Then when the mind is awakened considerably, one simply returns to the meditation object and remains watchful for any dullness that should arise, and repeat whatever remedies are necessary.
- When dullness is recognized, the eyes can be opened and deep breaths can be taken in a quick fashion, focusing especially on the inhale. Inhale vigorously and sharply, and repeat a few times, then try closing your eyes again and returning to the object
- The cope of attention can be expanded to the totality of experience, the eyes opened, and some deep breathing can be used in conjunction with the expanded attention and deep breathing
- For subtler dullness, a few sharper inbreaths, not much of an intervention, can sometimes be all that is necessary
- Finally, at the most subtle levels recognized immediately, dullness can be evaporated instantly by simple intention for clarity.
- At full development, the mind automatically corrects for any dullness automatically, without intervention or disruption of the flow of the meditation. This is the goal of this stage with regards to dullness.
Dullness should be remedied as soon as it is noticed. The noticing of dullness is necessary to apply an antidote. Thus, we want to develop the ability to know in every moment our state of mind i.e mindfulness.