Thanks Chris, Since I know you've done retreats with Patrick Kearney using such techniques I think you'd find parts of Bhante Sujiva's book on insight helpful. It certainly has some troubleshooting. Here is an example:
How does one handle this sloth and torpor? Let us see some
ways. In the first one or two days, sloth and torpor is usually of a
very heavy kind of mental state. Very often, there is nothing you
can do but just sit and ride through the storm. It is so heavy. The
moment you sit, your mind is blank. If you had been rushing out
a lot of work and you are very tired or you have had a long journey,
it can be really heavy.
However, it is not altogether a permanent feature. If you sit long
enough and if you try long enough, it will usually pass. Worse comes
to worst, if you cannot sit any more, get up and walk. Nevertheless,
after a few days of trying, it will become less and the sloth and torpor
attacks will be more of the milder kind. It will be of the softer type.
It is just like in the early morning when you are watching “rising,
falling, rising, falling…” it is so clear and peaceful. But, somewhere
along the line, everything has gone blank. Why? Because the sloth
and torpor has crept in without you knowing. You said “I was very
mindful but suddenly where did it go?” This is more of the softer
kind of sloth and torpor and it can come on fast and attack
So, when your mind is very peaceful, you have to especially stir
up the energy or if you feel your mind is a bit slow, hazy, and fuzzy,
then it is time to stir up the energy. The factor to counteract this
sloth and torpor is energy or effort. The question is not whether we
have energy or not. Mental energy is always there.
Here is an example. If you have overslept and you would be late
for work but you did not know it, you would not be willing to get
up. However, the moment you realised that you were late for work,
or you were late for your examinations, all of a sudden within five
minutes, you would be ready to go.
Where did the energy come from? The energy is always there. So,
it is a matter of calling it up and a matter of will power to stir up
and arouse the mindfulness. That is what we have to learn to do; to
connect with the proper will power that can arouse the energy
whenever we want. Of course, there are other ways of bringing up
this energy. Energy comes with what we call initial application, vitakka,
that is, increased noting.
Therefore, when you cannot find the “rising” and “falling”
because you are so sleepy, it may be wiser to use the “sitting” and
“touching” method. Of course, because of the sleepiness, your
“sitting” and “touching” objects are also not clear. Therefore, you hold
on to a larger mass, the whole mass of the body as "sitting" and the
contact point as “touching.” So, you continue noting at a regular pace,
“sitting, touching, sitting, touching, sitting, touching…”
Another alternative is to use more touch points ie “sitting,
touching, touching, touching…” Examples of the touch points
are the contact points at the posterior, legs and hands. You
can also alternate the touch points in a rhythm or in an order.
Usually, in the case of very heavy sloth and torpor, it may not
work at all unless you are persistent.
Now, as I said, that won't be of much use to meditators using a different approach, but for me it is very useful. The point that I was trying to make to Zac was that if you really want detailed troubleshooting instructions they need to match the approach you are using. If you are doing jhana-oriente practise then Ajahn Brahm's discussion of the hindrances http://www.dhammaloka.org.au/books.html
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The Third Hindrance—Sloth and Torpor
The third hindrance is sloth and torpor. I don’t need to describe it in
detail, because I’m sure we know it all too well through our experience
of meditation.We sit in meditation and don’t really know what we are
watching, whether it’s the present moment, silence, the breath, or whatever.
This is because the mind is dull. It’s as if there are no lights turned
on inside. It’s all gray and blurry.
Making Peace with Sloth and Torpor
The most profound and effective way of overcoming sloth and torpor is
to make peace with the dullness and stop fighting it! When I was a young
monk in the forest monasteries in Thailand and became sleepy during the
3:15 a.m. sitting, I would struggle like hell to overpower the dullness. I
would usually fail. But when I did succeed in overcoming my sleepiness,
restlessness would replace it. So I would calm down the restlessness and
fall back into sloth and torpor. My meditation was like a pendulum
swinging between extremes and never finding the middle. It took many
years to understand what was going on.
The Buddha advocated investigation, not fighting. So I examined
where my sloth and torpor came from. I had been meditating at 3:15 in
the morning, having slept very little, I was malnourished, an English
monk in a hot tropical jungle—what would you expect! The dullness was
the effect of natural causes. I let go and made peace with my sleepiness.
I stopped fighting and let my head droop.Who knows, I might even have
snored. When I stopped fighting sloth and torpor it did not last all that
long. Moreover, when it passed I was left with peace and not with restlessness.
I had found the middle of my pendulum swing and I could
observe my breath easily from then on.
Dullness in meditation is the result of a tired mind, usually one that
has been overworking. Fighting that dullness makes you even more
exhausted. Resting allows the energy to return to the mind. To understand
this process, I will now introduce the two halves of the mind: the
knower and the doer.The knower is the passive half of the mind that simply
receives information. The doer is the active half that responds with
evaluating, thinking, and controlling.The knower and the doer share the
same source of mental energy. Thus, when you are doing a lot, when
you have a busy lifestyle and are struggling to get on, the doer consumes
most of your mental energy, leaving only a pittance for the knower.
When the knower is starved of mental energy you experience dullness.
At a retreat I led in Sydney a few years ago, a retreatant arrived late
from her high-stress job as an executive in the city. In her first sitting that
evening her mind was almost as dead as a corpse. So I gave her my special
teaching on how to overcome her sloth and torpor: I told her to rest.
For the next three days she slept in until dawn, went back to bed again
after breakfast, and had a long nap after lunch. What a brilliant meditator!
After three days of no fighting, giving hardly any mental energy to
the doer but letting it flow to the knower, her mind brightened up. In
another three days she had caught up with the rest of the group in her
progress through the stages. By the end of the retreat she was way ahead
and one of the star meditators of that retreat.
The most profound and effective way to overcome sloth and torpor
is to stop fighting your mind. Stop trying to change things and instead
let things be. Make peace not war with sloth and torpor. Then your
mental energy will be freed to flow into the knower, and your sloth and
torpor will naturally disappear.
Giving Value to Awareness
Another method for overcoming sloth and torpor is to give more value
to awareness. All Buddhist traditions say that human life is valuable and
precious, especially a life like this one where you have encountered the
Buddha’s teachings.Now you have the opportunity to practice.You may
not realize how many lifetimes it has taken and how much merit you’ve
had to accumulate just to get where you are now.You’ve invested lifetimes
of good karma to get this close to the Dhamma. Reflecting like
this means you will incline less to sloth and torpor and more to bright
The path of meditation sometimes comes to a fork in the road. The
left path leads to sloth and torpor while the right path leads to bright
awareness.With experience you will recognize this fork. This is the point
in meditation where you can choose between the alley to sloth and torpor
or the highway to mindful stillness.Taking the left path you give up
both the doer and the knower. Taking the right path you let go of the
doer but keep the knower. When you value awareness you will automatically
choose the right path of bright awareness.