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jsn's practice log

jsn's practice log
1/27/19 4:53 PM
About me: 46 y/o self-employed software engineer, male, married w/ children, currently living in Central Europe. Not a native speaker of English.

Practice history: 1st A&P at 14 y/o via emotional distress, spent more time in the Dark Night than out of it, psychedelics-based regular insight practice during 2013 - 2018, shikantaza (poorly understood, daily, 35 min) during 2017 - 2018, introduced to MCTB/vipassana/noting/maps/etc in March, 2018, daily 1 hour MS noting sits since ~April 2018.

Current practice: one 1-hour sit per day, choiceless awareness, no labels (except when spacing out or overwhelmed, both are rare and short). Often also a less formal 1-2 hours session in a teahouse.

I can usually start my sit by immediately tuning up to the vibrations. In the first 5 minutes it may take some effort to stay there; sometimes I label some of the lingering emotions / thoughts at this point. Then things settle down and clear up a bit. Then I start fiddling with the effort, trying to drop it enough-but-just-enough; there is a bit of chasing-your-own-tail feeling here sometimes. Then it somehow stops being a problem (or perhaps I get bored by it), and I'm just relaxed with my attention wide. It's not quite vibrations at this point, it's more like a gentle rain, where each sensation is a separate raindrop. If I look closely, I can see the gaps between the raindrops, but I can't (yet?) investigate those without effort. Actually, it feels like the mind has a mind of its own about what to investigate, and at the moment it seems more interested in not trying to catch / hold any raindrops -- because trying to grab and hold on to any of those sensations will inevitably fail, and this failure is suffering. So, letting them go seems to be the game at the moment.

At this point I'm usually 25 - 30 minutes into the sit. The rest of the session is usually spent oscillating around this state. If I manage to drop the effort just the right amount, random thoughts and daydreaming might arise, and can be observed without being lost in content or suppressing it (work in progress). Sometimes by the end of the sit I lose some of the clarity. Sometimes at this point I get some music stuck on repeat in my head -- it seems like a sign of "too much concentration" / "concentration-vs-energy imbalance", I'm not sure, don't know what to do about it, just noting and letting it be for now.

Overall, I'm starting to see more and more things in my mind as something like the weather. I mean, sometimes I have practice thoughts, sometimes I don't; not much I can do here, except to remember that the weather will change again and again. Same with having pleasant sits or unpleasant sits. Same with having enough energy or being sleepy and drowsy (I'm narcoleptic, I think, so my energy levels are not ideal, and there's not much I can do about it). Same with having this great amazing pervasive visceral understanding of no-self one week, and then having no idea what "no-self" could possibly mean next week, and then it flips again: it's like the weather, sometimes it's good, sometimes it's not. Don't read too much into it.

RE: jsn's practice log
1/27/19 7:56 PM as a reply to jsn.
Hi, JSN. Welcome!

If you don't mind my asking: How have you found making the shift from shikantaza to noting? What are the key differences you're finding? If you're not labeling when you note, are you just noting the stimuli with some sort of sound (i.e. "blip")?

RE: jsn's practice log
1/28/19 7:11 AM as a reply to Erin.
Hi, Erin,

The main difference for me when switching from shikantaza to noting was that I did not understand shikantaza very well (and maybe I still don't). I was reading / listening to some U.S. modern Soto Zen people, and the practice instructions I was finding were short, full of Zen paradoxes and generally hard for me to interpret by myself without a teacher. For example, when I read Dogen's instructions about "discarding thoughts of fame and gain", it's unclear to me: should I ignore those thoughts? should I chase them away? should I think about this idea and find it wrong? With noting, it's obvious: I  just note those, notice the 3 characteristics, and move on. And if you do it enough times, you see exactly what "discarding thoughts of fame and gain" means. I remember thinking that I understood more about shikantaza after 3 weeks of noting than after the previous year of doing shikantaza. I'm absolutely not saying that there's something wrong with shikantaza or Soto. But for me, personally, the Mahasi / MCTB's approach, with its clear goals, maps and detailed concise instructions, seems to work so much better.

When I just switched to noting, I was using words as labels. These days I don't explicitly note, not even with "blip" -- as long as I can clearly observe the sensations with at least some of the 3C, without spacing out or getting pulled into content, I mostly just observe. Perhaps it's not unlike shikantaza, but with more "steering" (things like e.g. more effort / less effort, etc).

RE: jsn's practice log
1/28/19 11:08 AM as a reply to jsn.
Hi jsn, great ot read your post.

I also do Shikantaza, but sometimes noting arises, and i "just note" .  emoticon

RE: jsn's practice log
1/28/19 5:56 PM as a reply to alguidar.
I do shikantaza as well, and my practice sounds pretty similar to yours, jsn! Being present and aware without labeling sensations as they come up.

This discussion on what shikantaza is and isn't is helpful:

I especially like this quote from that discussion:
According to Master Shengyen, "While you are practicing just sitting, be clear about everything going on in your mind. Whatever you feel, be aware of it, but never abandon the awareness of your whole body sitting there. Shikantaza is not sitting with nothing to do; it is a very demanding practice, requiring diligence as well as alertness. If your practice goes well, you will experience the 'dropping off' of sensations and thoughts. You need to stay with it and begin to take the whole environment as your body. Whatever enters the door of your senses becomes one totality, extending from your body to the whole environment. This is silent illumination."

RE: jsn's practice log
2/1/19 3:13 PM as a reply to Erin.
Thanks, that's interesting!

RE: jsn's practice log
2/1/19 3:14 PM as a reply to jsn.
It seems like this week I'm in the negative part of the cycle (for the umpteenth time). There's this slight but pervasive aversion to everything. I notice it a lot both when I sit and off the cushion. There's little piti in my sits. There is some vague tension, tightness. There's s stage in most of my sits lately when I feel a distinct urge to move, to stop doing this, to change posture, something (I don't do anything, just observe it). It's considerably more noticeable this week. I wonder what it is, aspects of Disgust, Desire for Deliverance? Then things get more relaxed and open.

I remember going through those cycles for the first time last summer, it was somewhat intense. It's nothing like that now -- I'm somewhat detached most of the time, and as soon as things start getting tight and intense, curiosity takes over, and the whole experience becomes rather interesting.

I notice some attempts to rationalize away the experience. In general, I think I'm having more practice thoughts, that's obviously related to having a public practice log. Hopefully this will return to baseline when the novelty wears off.

Narcolepsy is a bit annoying; about half of my sits this week I have to struggle with the drowsiness for about half of the time. On the positive side, my body seems to have adapted completely to the new sitting arrangements (a rolled-up towel on top of a yoga brick set on its side as cushion). There's just enough painful sensations to help with the narcolepsy thing, and I can sit the whole hour with no or almost no major posture adjustments.

RE: jsn's practice log
2/8/19 10:04 AM as a reply to jsn.
The dark night aspects still quite noticeable. There seems to be some bleedthrough of dissolution-y stuff, can't bring myself to do any work beyond the bare minimum necessary, etc. Other than that though, things are manageable (not depressed, not even particularly anhedonic). The temptation to indulge in substance abuse is stronger than usual, though.

I notice a lot of striving during my sits, and it messes up the effort balance. For the last three days, something new keeps showing up: when I manage to dial the effort and striving back enough, every sensation I investigate turns into very fast, very fine vibrations. Those seem to be about twice as fast as the fastest I've seen before, maybe 40Hz, it's hard for me to gauge. While I can stay on this level, piti is easily available, and both anicca and anatta characteristics of everything are very obvious (and that also applies to the sensations of intentions, striving, effort, watcher, etc). The state itself is not very stable; paradoxically, I get kinda tired of maintaining the balance, and start to drift in and out of it.

Another thing that happened several times: while sitting in what feels like EQ, something like a light hypnagogic state arises, without any drowsiness / sleepiness, and seemingly without any loss of mindfulness. Then something like an (almost) unknowing event happens -- like a falling asleep nod, but without falling asleep or a nod -- and then the hypnagogy disappears completely, and I feel refreshed and clear. (Yeah, no, I don't think it could possibly be a Fruition emoticon) Might be yet another narcolepsy trick, though, I don't know.

RE: jsn's practice log
2/10/19 6:06 AM as a reply to jsn.
Sounds like solid practice! Yeah, it's correct to let those light hypnagogic states happen and maintain a gentle awareness. That's a good domain to explore. 

RE: jsn's practice log
2/17/19 2:02 PM as a reply to jsn.
The lower part of the cycle seems to be behind me at the moment. Three days ago, to my surprise, during my sit I noticed that the striving has somehow disappeared completely (or at least decreased a lot), and it's been this way ever since. As usual, a lot of suffering dropped away with it. On a less positive side, my motivation for practice has decreased considerably; takes some additional effort to stay seated for an hour, and I seem to be a bit more prone to distractions. On the other hand, mindfulness seems to have improved; it's somehow easier to just notice what happens right here and now when you are not trying to get somewhere else.

The hypnagogic states lately either don't show up at all or show up with some drowsiness. When it happens, it's somewhat of an uphill battle against the drowsiness and the hypnagogic stream of weird images and ideations. It often ends with an "unknowing event" / a momentary sleep-like nod, and I immediately feel refreshed, tranquil and effortless afterwards (and till the end of the sit). I don't know, still looks like some narcolepsy stuff to me (but what can I do other than investigate further?).

While the striving seems to have disappeared, the resistance hasn't, not at all. It's quite noticeable now. It's not intense at all, but it seems to be everywhere, like everything has a slight aftertaste of dukkha. I don't have to buy into this, and when I remember not to, it can be interesting to observe (actually, come to think of it, that's how the Dark Night always seem to end: I manage to become interested in how the suffering happens, exactly. So that's how the cycle seems to work: you lose all hope for the progress -> you stop striving and relax -> some progress can happen because of that -> you get to a new and interesting place -> you hope to be there more often -> you're striving -> some regress happens because of that -> rewind and repeat. Interestingly, the intellectual knowledge of the above seems to do absolutely nothing to prevent or speed up the cycling).

I feel unusually (but subtly) light lately. Thoughts and emotions seems to be non-sticky, even when intense. Most of the time, when I'm not occupied by something requiring focus, I tend to space out a bit, but without getting lost -- not losing track of time or something, just very diffuse and calm, silent. When I do have to focus (e.g. because I need to do something), it often feels like I'm way more contracted than the task requires, like I could do all the same things while being much less contracted than usual.

RE: jsn's practice log
2/22/19 10:53 AM as a reply to jsn.
Still feels like I'm through with the negative side of the cycle, for now. Not compulsively striving is actually quite nice, for a change. Dropping the effort seems like a very natural thing to do. I'm starting to understand (again) what they mean when they talk about practice doing itself. That's the funny thing about those cycles: now, when the compulsive striving is gone, this not-striving feels very "me", and it's almost impossible to imagine that it wasn't always like this; at the same time, I remember very clearly that when the striving was ever-present, it also felt like an inseparable part of "me", and like it was (and will be) always like that. (I'm sure there's a lesson in there somewhere about things appearing to be permanent and to be me).

Another funny thing keeps happening for the last couple days, both during my sits and off the cushion. Somewhere at the top of that dropping-the-effort hill, when it feels like the complete letting go, there is this subtle momentary feeling, like you want to sneeze but can't. It's very slightly unbearable, very slightly maddening and very slightly funny. And then there's that feeling that you just missed something, or you were perceiving something formless. Does that sound similar to what MCTB calls "near-misses in equanimity"? This happens a lot lately, and after several minutes of it the sucking void of anticipation / anxiety in my stomach becomes too intense, and then the mind goes to do something else.

Re hypnagogic states: yeah, apparently something's up with those. Firstly, there's no obvious correlation between the level of my sleep deprivation and the intensity of the hypnagogic states (or even their arising) in my sits. I mean, sometimes (like today) I'm rather sleepy all day, but there wasn't any drowsiness in my sit, and the hypnagogic state was quite short and quite light. Sometimes it's very heavy when I'm not sleepy at all (off the cushion). I'm currently testing the hypothesis that the drowsiness and the heaviness of those states is caused by my resistance. It looks promising (it seems much easier to handle when I'm not resisting), but, well, more research is needed.

RE: jsn's practice log
2/28/19 3:46 PM as a reply to jsn.
Between my sleep cycle deteriorating completely because of reasons, and the health issues making it impossible to sit for 10 minutes without succumbing to a severe coughing fit, this week simply wasn't particularly conducive to smooth and nice practice.

The striving didn't return (yet?); come to think of it, even the resistance is apparently greatly diminished. In general, my sits seem very, eh, still and peaceful lately. Very little movement (that is when I'm not coughing), my spine well-balanced, my body relaxed, breath shallow, nothing gets tired, no body parts go to sleep. On the other hand, there's no bliss or rapture, things feel ordinary. It used to bother me, but it doesn't now (at least for now). There's clarity (at least unless the hypnagogic stuff hits hard, more on that later, maybe), but there's most of the time no clear single point of attention, things are diffuse and subtle.

A casina-like nimitta showed up in my sit for ~30 seconds a couple days ago -- a small solid red circle with a slowly rotating golden star inside of it. That's a first; it's about as much of a solid visual nimitta as I was able to get during my (very brief and shallow) encounter with the actual fire casina practice. Some irregular shapes of increasingly clear blue color have started to show up in my sits regularly when the concentration increases.

It seems like my mind is losing its interest in endlessly spinning those papanca wheels. I remember living in that almost 24/7, always thinking some stuff. Then, when my practice took off, I started to notice that a lot, and to make a conscious effort to disentangle myself from it every time. But now I don't have to do anything, any thought that arises just ends all by itself after a while, and the mind goes on to just observe what's happening now, diffuse wide-angle style.

On a side note, it's funny how the exact same things that seemed very problematic in e.g. chronic Dark Night can seem actually nice in EQ. I mean, I used to worry a lot that nothing fascinates me anymore, that nothing seems very attractive, that I can't get infatuated by anything, that I have to always face that terrible sucking void, the absence of meaning, etc. And now it actually does feel borderline nice -- to not obsess over anything, to not be infatuated, to step off the ever-spinning papanca wheel, to just be here and now, facing the calm spacious emptiness, without the burden of backstories, stakes, emotions or narratives. It's actually quite liberating.

RE: jsn's practice log
3/6/19 3:13 PM as a reply to jsn.
No big changes, still feels like EQ (quite ordinary, relaxed, wide, diffuse, calm, low effort, no noticeable striving / resistance).

Almost no coughing lately. Strained my back a few days ago though, getting better now. Still interferes a bit with my sits / walks.

I might be backsliding a bit: less mindfulness through the day, energy vs concentration balance is skewed to "more energy" (which actually is unusual). The reason seems to be that I'm not used to not darknighting / being mildly anhedonic. So when the things suddenly stop being constantly dissolving, fearful, disgusting and miserable for a while, it's sometimes difficult not to get lost in chasing all those new-found small relative joys. Will try to be more mindful of that from now on.

Had to re-read the parts of MCTB about formless jhanas today. I never paid much attention to those parts before because my concentration is not great, I'm nowhere near hard jhanas, and probably won't be before SE anyway, so why even bother? However, a lot of stuff is showing up lately that I can only describe as formless, both on and off the cushion. Never as a solid stable state of absorption, just some bits and pieces, tens of seconds long max of what feels like boundless ones (j5 / j6), just repeated momentary impressions of what feels like nothingness (j7). Not even sure it makes sense, these things are hard to describe clearly (I understand that this is by design).

Nothing that could be described as "near-misses" or "things synchronizing", don't know what that means. Some moments / periods of what feels like being "out of sync with reality".

RE: jsn's practice log
3/10/19 5:04 PM as a reply to jsn.
Aaand back into the dark night we go, apparently.

The peak state in my sits is still the same spacious equanimous peace, it arises several times during each sit, but it seems more unstable, less pronounced, and doesn't last as long. The drowsy hypnagogic states arise a lot, with murky consciousness and somewhat donut-shaped attention, with a very slight body tension with a half-pleasant / half-unpleasant feeling. Letting go of this body tension often brings clarity and equanimity (but after a while I drift back into the murky territory).

Off the cushion, doubts arise sometimes ("All the cool kids have no problems attaining SE, what's wrong with me?"), bringing practice thoughts and striving. However, the ReOb-y state (tight, tense, noisy, no way out) is quite mild and never lasts long -- it dissipates all by itself as soon as I get really curious about it (like all things do in the third vipassana jhana?).

Overall, the feeling tone off the cushion is quite neutral, with very slight tones of non-specific frustration. I noticed though that I'm considerably more irritable during the day (but the feeling of annoyance never lingers for long).

Judging by this log's entries, this cycle was more than a month long. That's new information, I thought it's generally faster.

RE: jsn's practice log
3/17/19 5:53 PM as a reply to jsn.
Actually, I don't know in what part of the cycle I am in anymore. Thinking about it in terms of the longer cycle suddenly seems meaningless. It's like I'm given a light tour of various possible mental states which can all be met with equanimity. This is quite different from, eh, the state of equanimity; it's not necessarily peaceful and open and serene, the dynamic range is quite wide. But even though some of those states are very dukkha-nanas-like, instead of feeling trapped by them, I find myself genuinely interested in how they feel and how they work.

I find myself seeing my situation in terms of shargrol's "Problemness, No Problemness, and Elusiveness" [1] quite often. For now at least, all the three of those actually seem equally interesting. Also, it's somewhat mesmerizing how the transitions between those are happening all by itself, "I" seem to have nothing to do with it. Watching the acute problemness of ReOb very predictably change into complete no problemness, despite (or, actually, because) <<"I" really can't do it>> -- somehow never gets old (or at least not yet).

My sits seem easier, less deliberate, with less effort and more curiosity. I feel a lot less need to adjust posture or look at the timer. Besides my usual hour-long sit, I sometimes now add a second 40-60 minute sit in the evening.

It seems that my tendencies for addictive and numbing behaviour are diminishing. I watch fewer TV series and movies. I think I spend less time on social networks lately. There's a considerable reduction in my use of psychoactive substances, too. I guess I feel less need to self-medicate, and when I'm bored, another hour-long sit now seems more interesting than an hour of chemically induced altered state. That's all somewhat unusual.

My anhedonia still didn't return. It's still a bit confusing, not being uniformly averse to work, etc; I'm still adjusting.


RE: jsn's practice log
3/23/19 3:23 PM as a reply to jsn.
Overall, no big changes. The general feeling tone is neutral-positive and content, no gross striving, no sense of problemness. My dopamine response still seems to be way above what I'm used to, but I'm adjusting.

However, I may have a problem with the hypnagogic states. Those arise quite regularly in my sits now, and when they do, it feels like -- well, not exactly like an obstacle, since my practice doesn't feel so goal-oriented these days, but like a nuisance. I'm not sure what to do about it (besides just keep sitting with it when it happens).

Some days I'm more sleep-deprived, and on those days they are heavier and drowsier; some days I'm less sleep-deprived, and then they are more light. On my more energetic days, I go from the 1st or the 2nd vipassana jhana to the 4th in ~15-20 minutes, then get to stay in EQ for ~10-15 minutes, and then drift into the murky hypnagogic state. On my less energetic days, I go from the 1st to the 3rd in ~20 minutes, and then drift into the murky hypnagogic state as well. One way or another, I then spend ~20 minutes there, and then either I'm fed up with it and go into some recognizable 3rd vj (noting "worrying", "analyzing", "rationalizing", etc), and from there to low EQ, or sometimes just directly into EQ (and then the sit ends).

This week it happens most of the time during my mandatory more formal 1-hour mid-day sit, and almost never happens during my optional less formal untimed late evening sit.

What happens and why it feels problematic:

My mind goes into a murky, noisy, somewhat confused state. There's that growing opaque feeling, like a contraction of attention around some thought, except there's no discernible thought. And then some very bizarre thought or idea suddenly arises fully formed and with that feeling that it's all true and I always knew it.

For example, I might suddenly have a very strong, very visceral feeling that my old red leather jacket, the one I can visually remember lying on my round wooden table in our second floor dining room, is a very natural expression of my commitment to my crime-fighting vigilante career.

Now, obviously, I am not and have never been a crime-fighting vigilante; nor did I ever consider that. I don't have (or ever had) a red leather jacket, that's absolutely not my style. I have no round wooden tables, there's no second floor dining room in my apartment (actually, there's no second floor). And so on and so forth. It's all completely made up, very bizarre.

An idea like that arises suddenly, out of nowhere; there's no thinking, no dreaming, there's no backstory, no narrative, nothing. One moment I just sit there feeling like I know something, but can't say what; next moment the idea like the above arises fully formed, and seems very obvious. It may linger in my mind feeling like some obvious truth for a moment or two; then the acute feeling of "WTF??" arises and scares it all away. Then, in a minute or two, the cycle repeats. Some of them are less bizarre, some more.

When I'm more sleep-deprived, there might be an almost-head-drop during that; when I'm more energetic, there's nothing, not even my thumbs leaving the cosmic mudra position.

I mean, it's kinda creepy; complex bizarre ideas arising fully formed and feeling like completely obvious truths. Not sure what to do about it.

I'm trying to use it to investigate my craving for stable clarity (since those states are the opposite of clarity), but so far it's inconclusive.

RE: jsn's practice log
4/4/19 7:00 PM as a reply to jsn.
There's nothing to write about, actually. My sits are mostly quiet, I basically do nothing, and nothing much happens, nor is there any feeling that something should be happening. Sometimes I do a bit of self-inquiry / "where am I?". I sit for an hour every day, plus additional ~40 minutes before going to bed ~3-4 times a week. Subtle striving comes and goes, light hypnagogic states come and go, some small insight makes me chuckle now and then. Gross agitation and anticipation are mostly gone, subtle ones come and go. My previous tours in EQ were always pleasant, at least to some degree -- this one actually doesn't seem to be. Or maybe it is sometimes, but in a subtle and non-sticky way, I don't know.

I have basically given up on landing the path, at least for now. I don't feel like I'm close to something like that or even that I'm moving in that direction. Nor that I should be, actually. The desire to give up the formal sits completely is very discernible for several minutes during about half of my sits, and seems very "real", even though I already know that it will dissipate without any trace in a few minutes. On the other hand, I sometimes think that a retreat would be nice at this point.

My dopamine pathways seem to be stabilizing; I feel motivated enough to be productive at work, but not so much as to obsess over it.

RE: jsn's practice log
4/16/19 3:52 PM as a reply to jsn.
The quiet, the calm, the clarity -- it's all gone now. I'm distracted a lot during the day. Sits feel somewhat wrong -- though I'm not lost in thoughts, there are a lot of them now, much more than before, mostly about unrelated everyday stuff. Some striving / resistance, too. The sits are slightly more painful, sometimes there's drowsiness (manifesting as hypnagogic states, as usual with narcolepsy). Of the 3C, dukkha is the most obvious during my sits.

I noticed that I'm quite irritable, even volatile, lately -- very reactive. Avoiding the bleed-through of all this into everyday life is surprisingly hard, but not, as one would expect, because of overwhelming drama, but because of precisely the opposite. Somehow it's like "okay, the mind and the body are reacting with anger, no big deal". I have to remind myself that I have to keep my hands on the metaphorical steering wheel.

As always in DN, it's easy to forget that it is important to experience the problemness when it arises. I can see now that there's no real reason not to, but the old habit is just so deeply rooted.

Despite some aversion to practice and diminishing motivation, my format sits schedule is still about the same (1 hour every day + 30-40 min in the evening about half of the days). I'm considerably less mindful when off the cushion, though.

RE: jsn's practice log
4/29/19 5:54 PM as a reply to jsn.
Apparently it's been two weeks since my last update. Somehow the Dark Night-like states don't stick for very long lately. After that, the feeling of everything being very ordinary returned. It is increasingly difficult to write anything in this log; nothing really happens, nothing bothers me much, I'm not having any big insights or experiences, only small ones. This feeling of everything being ordinary is actually anything but: I can't remember feeling so ordinary for so long before.

It's nice not to suffer much from striving and resistance, though. It still seems somewhat unusual that this doesn't feel boring at all.

There's one new thing, though: I think I'm getting a hold of this bizarre hypnagogic drowsiness thing. It still happens in some of my mid-day sits, especially when I didn't sleep well the night before (which is about a half of my days). Apparently, the trick is to capitulate, to give in to it, to stop clinging to the vanishing clarity, to let my mind to become filled completely with those nonsensical thoughts and images. It feels very much like if I let it happen I'll fall asleep, but that, for some reason, doesn't happen. Instead, I get several seconds of the complete loss of clarity, like a delirium state, and then it all drops away by itself, the clarity returns, and the drowsiness is gone.

It's really nice to be able to have a good sit even when sleep-deprived.

RE: jsn's practice log
5/19/19 2:10 PM as a reply to jsn.
Did a half-day home retreat today -- spent 7 hours alternating between sitting and walking meditation. I had to fit in a 20 minute nap in the middle, though -- although I can sit through a narcolepsy attack, it doesn't seem very productive.

This was my third attempt at home retreat, I think -- the last one was sometime last winter. Previous attempts were somehow very exhausting and frustrating. This time I went with a very light effort and tried to be especially mindful of striving, and it seems to work much better. It sure gets very quiet and peaceful after a few hours of doing this. I hope I'm on the right track, will try again in a few days.

Walking meditation is a bit difficult for me, perhaps it takes some getting used to. I only did it before in high-effort mode; light effort mode seems quite different. The fact that I have to use the city streets for that probably doesn't help.

Sitting became quite painful by the end of it. My neck's gonna be sore for a few days, I think.

RE: jsn's practice log
5/19/19 3:37 PM as a reply to jsn.
Sounds like a great retreat!

For walking meditation, one of the tricks is to find a speed of walking that helps balance your energy. If you are feeling dull, walk a bit quicker with a nice upright posture. If you are feeling speedy, then slow down the walk and soften the body. It's a great way to fine tune the body/mind before your next sit... plus paying attention to the immediate sensations of walking itself is a very powerful practice. 

If you have a sore neck, there is a good chance your head is "forward" of your shoulders. Forward head posture (you can google it) makes the neck sore. In theory, the head should balance on the neck fairly effortlessly.

And great job with the hypnagogic drowsiness thing!

RE: jsn's practice log
5/20/19 4:49 AM as a reply to shargrol.
Thank you!

Re forward head posture: yes, the description sounds like what I had for many many years. I mostly fixed it before I started meditation two years ago. When I sit, my chin is tucked in a bit, and all neck muscles feel relaxed. The pain only arises when I sit a lot, and seems to be in discs or joints or something, not in the muscles -- I think I might have some minor permanent damage there, from the years of bad posture or otherwise.

RE: jsn's practice log
5/31/19 7:23 PM as a reply to shargrol.
So, your post got me really questioning my sitting posture emoticon I think I've found the problem (or at least a part of it). Apparently  my palms are a bit too low / forward, by an inch or so, especially when I'm tired. This makes my shoulders move forward very slightly, not enough to knock my spine out of balance, but enough to make me bend my neck slightly backwards a bit to compensate. I'm trying to keep my palms higher / closer now, and it seems to work. Did another half-day "retreat" today, and although my neck's still sore, it's much better than the last time, and much more sustainable.

RE: jsn's practice log
6/2/19 4:03 PM as a reply to jsn.
Did another half-day home "retreat" a few days ago -- more or less the same, 7 hours of sitting and walking. I added half an hour of "dharma readings time" ("The seven factors of awakening" chapter of MCTB\) in the middle. That was quite helpful actually.

Walking meditation seems much easier this time, perhaps I've got more used to it? Somehow neither other people in the streets nor the city noises bother me much anymore. The trick is (as usual) to note everything, including the anxiety, the irritation, the agitation, everything.

On the other hand, going through POI stages while walking is quite weird. Spent whole 5 minutes very stressed out, thinking something like "it's not working, nothing is working, why do I try to spend my precious time literally walking in circles doing nothing, I must go be productive instead somehow, etc, etc". It all seemed very real and serious -- in fact, that's how I knew I should investigate it; I mean, me freaking out *so much* about wasting half a day of my time -- nah, that's definitely not normal.

It seems that if your practice is in some way unbalanced, it gets amplified by an order of magnitude in solo retreat. Obviously, if sitting hurts a little after an hour, it will hurt a lot more after the whole day. Likewise, if you are expecting something from a sit, and get a little frustrated by the end of it, you'll be a lot more frustrated by the end of a retreat day. The same seems to apply to too much effort and other stuff. Apparently it's easy for me to ignore those things when sitting for just 1 hour per day, but they all become serious issues when doing even an 1 day retreat.

Actually, that seems to be the main benefit of these so-called retreats for me at the moment: I get to work on balancing things. And, come to think about it, the 7 factors of awakening seems actually to be a very good framework for those balancing works. For the last few days, I try to keep two questions in mind when meditating: 1) where am I on the 7 factors scale right now?, and 2) am I doing anything right now that I couldn't keep up for many hours / whole day / etc? I like the effect so far.

RE: jsn's practice log
6/3/19 5:51 AM as a reply to jsn.
Yes!!! I wish more people understood this about retreats. A retreat does NOT make things easy. Even with perfect retreat conditions, great teachers, quiet meditators, wonderful food, quite bedrooms, great weather... it will still amplify any umbalance that is there. And most retreats will have problems with the building, the thermostat, have one or more annoying teachers, have a few annoying meditators, serve bland food, have a roommate that snores, and rain and mud, and poison ivy and someone getting sick and coughing a lot emoticon

But the good news is you see how the mind creates needless suffering more clearly. And on a retreat you cannot get away from the conditions you think are "causing" it, instead you have the opportunity to see how the mind causes it.

Most of the realizations on retreat are along the lines of: "why do I make things so hard for myself?" "why do I over-react?" "why do I have all of these ideals of perfection when life isn't perfect?" and "why do I suffer when 99% of the time it's my own attitude towards things that creates problems?"

By the way, great realization on hand/shoulder/neck placement -- those are the sorts of things that only serious, dedicated meditators discover.

RE: jsn's practice log
6/3/19 7:17 AM as a reply to jsn.
my palms are a bit too low / forward, by an inch or so, especially when I'm tired. 

I sit Burmese Comfort position, because i find it facilitates keeping the head centred over the spine and is also very stable and won't fall over if i lose the body.
Lightly place a small piece of foam at the coccyx. It doesn't look like it would have any effect, yet it does apply the smallest tweek thats better than without.
Have an old very light cotton sheet which i bundle up and place on my feet then rest my hands on that. So it significantly raises the height of my hands and takes all the foreward weight off the shoulders, neck and spine. Then i finish with the foreward or backward adjustment of the hands and i'm ready.
Have a bell to start then 1 at 5 minutes. After the 5 minute bell i never make any shift unless the pain overides the practice. I get a little forward rolling of the shoulders at times but generally lifting the hands keeps it in check.

RE: jsn's practice log
6/19/19 4:13 PM as a reply to jsn.
Another period of what feels like stagnation or even backsliding a bit. Adjusting the sitting posture has proved to be *very* problematic. The newly found position does make the neck pain go away almost completely, but it also changes the body balance in some way, so now my buttocks hurt like hell by the end of an 1-hour sit. I thought initially that it'll buff out -- after all, that's muscles, not bones/joints like my neck pain, and muscles should be able to adjust given time -- but no, it's been three weeks or so now, and it only seems to get worse. I guess I'll go back to my previous posture, or try to find some middle ground or something. Tried that today, seems to work.

MCTB recommends -- or at least that's how I read it -- that we get stream entry first, integrate later. That message (or, again, my interpretation thereof) resonates very deeply with some part of me. Alas, that part of me does not seem to actually be in charge. Instead, my mind seems endlessly fascinated with observing what (the quality of) equanimity does to my mind's landscape, how it works its way, slowly and quietly, yet steadily and methodically, through the seemingly load-bearing, almost foundational constructs of my psyche, weighs them on the scales, and finds them wanting. It's not that my neurosis suddenly disappeared completely -- not at all, much of it is still there, but apparently that's not me, never was me (despite what I believed for all those years) and it's somehow very liberating, in a quiet and non-explosive way. Pleasure is still pleasing and attractive, pain is still painful and repulsive, reactivity is still there, reacting, death is still terrifying, etc -- it's just somehow I see now that there's absolutely no need to get all worked up and neurotic about it. You still can, and sometimes you do, but it kinda seems unnecessary.

Phenomenology-wise: the center of tension behind my eyes draws my attention during the sits lately. There is always some level of tension there when I'm not paying attention. When I am, I can relax it for a while, and it has a funny effect: firstly, there's a noticeable change in vibrations (phase? frequency?), and there's also a shift in spacial perception, like the universe feels concave before the shift (like a sphere around me) and then it feels convex after the shift (like I'm looking at that sphere from aside, but not quite, hard to describe). The shift itself is very short and somewhat disorienting, out of focus and a bit dizzy.