Category II Concentration – Crystal Clear
In category II the mind has a degree of skilled stability and doesn’t leave the chosen object for extended periods of time and or get lost in thought trains for more than brief instances (less than ~2 seconds). The main problems that arise in this stage are subtle dullness, and subtle distraction. Pain, restlessness, and other uncomfortable sensations still arise in this stage, but to a noticeable lesser extent. They can be ignored and if necessary dealt with using the three-part flow found here.
Subtle dullness and “delusion concentration”.
At a certain point the mind no longer has a tendency to fall into gross dullness that leads to sleepiness or grogginess, and the unpleasant aspect of dullness disappears. This type of subtle dullness that can appear like equanimity or joy, but what is missing is a certain clarity and richness of perception. When more of the mind is brought to the object of attention, it’s perceived detail and richness changes. There is a clear difference we can detect between a dull complacent mind, and a sharp, alert mind that is properly conditioned.
The way this skill is developed, again, rests on a persistently held intention for wakefulness in each moment of the meditation. The explicit intention of the mind is to wake up as much as possible and perceive the most subtle details of the object that we can, while maintaining a broad awareness of the bigger picture in the mind. One basic way this is done is through mindfulness of breathing.
Depending on the object chosen, the idea is to mentally expand our awareness and keep an intention to perceive clearly, like you’re trying really hard to hear the ships in a far-off bay- you don’t need to actually physically strain yourself- but there is a keen alertness that comes about when you specifically train for alertness and presence.
What the common thread is that the intention to perceive the object of meditation clearly, held consistently over time, leads to a change in the mind, and the mind becomes more alert and present and experiences more detail because you have deemed it important with a consistent and persistent intention to do so. Intentions actually do influence the mind, perception, and reality, and thus learning the basic principle of how intention works, in your mind, is the key to success with training the mind how to do these simple exercises and develop this simple skill.
Over time, while training in Category II using mindfulness of breathing, the mind will start to perceive what feel like energy sensations moving through the body with each breath. If one is focused on a mantra, they will notice all sorts of subtlety in what they perceive as they feel the vibrations in their vocal cords saying the mantra, see the mental evaluation of how one sounds, her the sound of one’s voice, and experience the effect on the energy body, and the emotional body, and the heart. If focused on a visualization of a deity or other object, they will experience the object in rich elaborate, impermanent and ephemeral but engaging and enrapturing, there will be so much richness and complexity that is easier and more engaging and fun to keep paying attention in this way (here we are at category III concentration, near 1st jhana). When a person is attuned to this higher level of consciousness, they learn that it is much better than typical mundane states of consciousness. Here they have developed an ability to reach an alert and steady state of mind where they can center on an object and the seven factors of awakening can be cultivated with that meditative basis.
Subtle distractions are simply momentary detours from the object of meditation, but the mind is conditioned to notice the detour right away, and through practice we have built the automatic skill of returning to the meditation object. The way subtle distractions are overcome, is related to the way subtle distraction is overcome- we provide lots of engagement and content for the mind, by using an object that is interesting and pleasant to pay attention to and requires our full mind. We intend for a 100% engagement with the object, and this leaves no room in the mind for distractions. This is much more effective than trying to overcome subtle distractions with a small, limited, boring object. As such, a key development even this early on in the process, is to cultivate prana or energy flow in the body. These phenomena will gradually become rapture, a factor of awakening. This concept may be foreign to some people, but after some practice we can see that there are actually lots of subtle energetic movements that one can tune into in the body, and these energy sensations moving through the body are the beginnings of mental unification. This process begins in category II and continues until the full fruition of calm abiding in stage III. We will elucidate mindfulness of breathing in particular detail to illustrate these subtle energetic phenomena and how they can be used to develop calm abiding.