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Aiming High and Being Gentle

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Aiming High and Being Gentle
Answer
3/18/19 4:32 PM
Does anyone have any good resources about how to be a high achiever without getting burnt-out

I'm interested in personal philosophies and anecdotes/advice from people here, as well as quotes, videos, books, movies, or any other sources dealing with how to be successful in life (not necessarily meditation related, but that is of course welcome). I feel that many of the motivational, self improvement media that I consume often ingnores the part about being gentle with ourselves. 

Maybe this is some personal conjecture, but I can see how meditation has some major benefits beyond awakening: a person can use self awareness to cut back on unhealthy patterns of conditioning that can get in the way of achieving goals. Has anyone seen the benefits spill into daily life/more mundane goals? What are some ways that we can also be high achievers in the realm of meditation without it becoming a chore that causes burn-out? 

RE: Aiming High and Being Gentle
Answer
3/18/19 7:52 PM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Attention and Effort - Daniel Kahneman

https://youtu.be/z_6u4EUyTVM

I would also look into Deliberate Practice from Anders Ericsson.

Develop a lot of concentration and go into Flow states, and use practice to make information available to your memory to also aid Flow states:

How to get into Flow - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

https://youtu.be/qpeIf8Zcriw

New Year's Day Guided Meditation:

https://youtu.be/Sdoj1XyB9bI

Study Mastery (Learning) Orientation. It shows how much stress is created with external motivation. Internal motivation is about goals that are under your control. What's not under your control, as you can tell in meditation, hurts. The brain gets concerned very quickly. You can see that in the documentary Free Solo very clearly.

Good luck! Lots of practice ahead for you! It won't be easy. High levels of preparation (like Alex Honnold displays) is required. Anything half-assed will be stressful. Make sure that when you are "aiming high" that you have very good reasons for doing so. If you do something like a workaholic, lots of predators would love to exploit that at the expense of your health. Always watch your sleep, exercise and rest.

RE: Aiming High and Being Gentle
Answer
3/19/19 6:06 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
It's really really really simple, maybe so simple that people overlook it: If you are getting burnt out in meditation, figure out why.

Are you pushing too hard? Are you trying to skip steps? Are you focused on the fantasy of achievement and not on what is actually occuring? Are you intellectualizing the work instead of doing the work? Are you ignoring the fact that you don't understand what you are supposed to be doing? Are you failing to seek expert advice? Do you not allow enough time for the work? Are you doing what you "should" do instead of what you deeply "want" to do? Are you going through the motions but not really committing? Are you failing to celebrate your accomplishments? Are you beating yourself up for your failures? Are you managing time to allow for success? Are you investing in the tools, books, workshops that would inform your efforts? Are you getting enough food, exercise, and rest to support your efforts? Do you have friend/associates that you can talk with and share ideas? Are you getting incremental results that inspire you?

Notice how all of these questions/problems are relevant to meditation practice and for every other pursuit in the world. And notice that the real wisdom comes from having problems and finding solutions along the way. And then those solutions are really tailored to you, they are exactly what you needed to learn. 

The key thing here is the feeling of being burnt out IS the teacher. Don't try to avoid it (because then you won't be working as hard as you could) or make it go away (because then you just set yourself for bigger problems), but rather be sensitive to it and spend time figuring out the root cause when it arises. Over the course of getting good at something, you have many many many lessons about burn out as you become better and better at what you do. Experts have just as many problems as beginners, it's just that they have better problems.

People often overlook the one in the middle of that paragraph: Are you doing what you "should" do instead of what you deeply want to do? Life is short and there is only so much that can be done. So spend your time well. It's perfectly fine to experiment with lots of things and try them out, but at a certain point it should become clear that nothing worth doing is going to be easy. But if you seeing results and you want the results, then there is motivation. 

And then the rest is simply arranging your life so that you can do that thing. You can never fit an additional new into your life, you have to give up stuff to fit it in. Unfortunately, people keep adding and adding stuff until they can't do anything well. 

One last koan from a high-level athletic trainer: you don't even have to like the workouts if you LOVE the results. (I certainly felt this way about meditaiton practice for years. Didn't like the experience of sitting, loved what it was doing for my basic sanity.)

RE: Aiming High and Being Gentle
Answer
3/19/19 7:02 AM as a reply to shargrol.
The key thing here is the feeling of being burnt out IS the teacher.

+1

RE: Aiming High and Being Gentle
Answer
3/19/19 8:15 AM as a reply to shargrol.
shargrol:

Are you pushing too hard? Are you trying to skip steps? Are you focused on the fantasy of achievement and not on what is actually occuring? Are you intellectualizing the work instead of doing the work? Are you ignoring the fact that you don't understand what you are supposed to be doing? Are you failing to seek expert advice? Do you not allow enough time for the work? Are you doing what you "should" do instead of what you deeply "want" to do? Are you going through the motions but not really committing? Are you failing to celebrate your accomplishments? Are you beating yourself up for your failures? Are you managing time to allow for success? Are you investing in the tools, books, workshops that would inform your efforts? Are you getting enough food, exercise, and rest to support your efforts? Do you have friend/associates that you can talk with and share ideas? Are you getting incremental results that inspire you?



Great questions!

RE: Aiming High and Being Gentle
Answer
3/19/19 9:49 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Before I started meditation, I put everything "on hold" (work, projects, etc).
I did lots of long walks in open spaces reflecting on what I did, how things worked, my relationships, etc.

When you think about it, it's not about achieving things, it's "what for?".

Most of the things people want, they don't really need. Most of the things people need, they don't look for.

Some of the most important things in life are not that difficult to get (like getting enlightened) in comparison to other things that are a lot more difficult and aren't so important.

All that said, I do keep a really strict diet (more than 5 years) which has improved a lot my health and I did really impressive investment decisions. I also now know whats going to happen in the future.

I don't know if I could (and can) do these things because of meditation or because all that walking and reflecting.

In any case, I do consider meditation the best thing I ever did (and keep doing emoticon).

About being a high achiever in meditation:

1. Do dome walks, evaluate, plan, organize, really think about how you can integrate meditation in your life.
2. Retreats.
3. Put everything on hold and meditate and note a lot (like all day emoticon). When I say "on hold" I don't mean quit things.
4. After doing 2 and 3 for some time, hit the breaks, do some walks, evaluate, integrate.
5. Do 2 and 3 again.

Really try to be honest with yourself when evaluating, planning, organizing, integrating, etc.

At least for me, all the paths came from doing retreats or all day noting and meditation. Meditating one hour a day only helped to move along the stages (and integrating).

RE: Aiming High and Being Gentle
Answer
3/19/19 7:02 PM as a reply to shargrol.
Thank you for the advice. I'll be sure to consider what burn-out can teach me. I haven't really thought of it that way before. 

Also, I consider it interesting that you had difficulties with enjoying sitting, especially because it seems like you had a phase of really hard core practice. It would be interesting to know how that unfolded for you, because I find myself really dreading formal sitting. 

RE: Aiming High and Being Gentle
Answer
3/19/19 7:04 PM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Thank you for the advice and resources everyone! It seems that it really comes down to me: figuring out my own limits, and how to work with those limits in a down-to-earth way. This alone will be a process of discovery and patience. 

RE: Aiming High and Being Gentle
Answer
3/20/19 9:32 PM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
I have noticed that meditation has essentally pushed me to unstick situations that have been stuck for a very long time. For example at my local coffee shop an old man hangs around in the evening watching young men drink coffee. This creates a weird vibe for the coffee shop and its customers. However the shop owner is not mean enough to kick the old man out and the young men want nothing to do with this old man. My meditational insights gave me the courage to confront the old man and figure out the real crux of the issue. (He is lonely and sexually repressed.). If I did not do that the vibe would continue to be weird.

RE: Aiming High and Being Gentle
Answer
3/21/19 6:12 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Hibiscus Kid:
Also, I consider it interesting that you had difficulties with enjoying sitting, especially because it seems like you had a phase of really hard core practice. It would be interesting to know how that unfolded for you, because I find myself really dreading formal sitting. 

You are going to laugh... but I simply became very curious and facinated by the fact that I dreaded formal sitting! Why was that so? Why was I so avoidant of putting my ass on a cushion and sitting there? All the real problems in the world and this is what was freaking me out? Sort a funny. But a real dread. And also something I knew was basically childish and something that I had to overcome if I wanted any deep sanity in my life. If sitting was going to throw me off course, imagine what the rest of life was going to do to me!

And so I would force myself to sit down and I would set my timer and I would watch my body and mind. What was really happening?

Most of the time, the worst part was simply sitting down, like the huge resistance we get before we force ourselves to workout or go to the gym. Once you are there and have started warming up, it's easy to exercise. The hard part is getting there and doing that first few minutes of movement, everything feels like crap... but usually I feel better after a workout than I did before the workout. Same thing with sitting.

Sometimes sitting was challenging but it was like making friends with my old worries and fears. Oh yeah, ha, that's how my mind works, so silly! I could see how I created challenges for myself in real time. No big deal, these memories and emotions would come and go, bubble up and pop. I was always reminded of the dzogchen idea that experience self-liberates: after you have the experience is is gone. Simple.

But sometimes it would feel dreadful, no lie. I would have to use the classic therevadian question: can I experience this a little longer? The answer was of course yes, I wasn't going to die if I kept sitting and feeling yucky. So there I was stuck there experiencing something yucky.... so I might as well investigated it!

Avoiding yuckyness makes you weak. Investigating yuckyness gives you back the power. So... let's do it! What sensations were there, what urges and emotions were there, what categories of thoughts were there? A lot of the time I looked to the body. The body doesn't lie. Where was I tensing up? Could I put my mind there? How would I describe the tension in a word? In a few words? Could I flood the area with awareness? Did it tense up harder, did it stay the same, did it relax? What emotions were associated with this tension? How would I describe the emotion in a word? In a few words? What scenes from my past did the emotion remind me of? How did I feel about those scenes from the past? I wasn't worried about thoughts occuring, no big deal. Sometimes though, the thoughts were really negative and dreadful, in which case I would ask "what category of thought is this?" - a predicting the future thought, a past worry thought, a trying to map my practice thought, a trying to avoid thought, a trying to fix thought, a comparing myself with other meditators thought, etc etc etc. The point is to take a step back and look at these habitual patterns of thinking, not the details, but just "oh look, I'm psyching myself out again by thinking I suck at meditation because it sounds different from other meditators I've read about" or "comparing thought" for short! It's important to make up your own labels as you learn more about yourself. 

And sometimes sits were drama free and I could just notice how my body breathed itself. During these moments (never lasted long) I would go back to the body, notice where my body felt tense during the breath... and basically start again: Where was I tensing up? Could I put my mind there? How would I describe the tension in a word? In a few words? Could I flood the area with awareness? Did it tense up harder, did it stay the same, did it relax?

So you see, it has a kind of natural cycle to it and the experience of sitting itself kinda directs how practice will go. It's not about following some rigid formula and then feeling like shit because you can't do it perfectly (which is how I started off my practice, not knowing any better). Instead it's a really interesting and personal journey that no one can go through but you. And every adventure is different.

I stumbled for about two decades of sloppy and frankly stupid practice... Then I read MCTB and it all made sense. I kept to the basics, practiced consistently, and made friends with other meditators in my hometown that I met on this board. Having mediation friends/mentors is the other piece of this puzzle. Even though our journey is personal, there are aspects that are universal and it can be good to talk about those things. But honestly, it just feels good to know that you are not the only person in the world who is willing to look at all their dark mental/physical junk on the cushion. Not many people are willing to do it and at times it can feel like a strange and dangerous and crazy thing to do... except when you meet other dedicated meditators, they are some of the nicest and sanest people you meet.

(Just avoid the gurus, they're nuts! emoticonemoticon )

RE: Aiming High and Being Gentle
Answer
3/21/19 10:44 AM as a reply to shargrol.
Thank you for sharing your story! It is inspiring and filled with good pointers/advice that are important for me at this point in my development. It seems that I often need to be gently reminded of these simple concepts as I tend to get discouraged. The path is not all fireworks, and it seems awakening is more about examining, embracing and embodying the full spectrum of our personal humanity and not so much about reaching exotic states/territories. I've definitely been the type to compare myself to others and the crazy experiences that they have, which just isn't productive. My practice is very ordinary and that is fine (now only if it were more consistent haha). 

As an aside: It's pretty ironic how after reading MCTB for the first time, I became neurotic about observing the 3 Characteristics (I had no idea if I was doing it correctly, and Daniel states in the book that progress on the path is basically impossible without proper investigation of the 3 C's). All along, the characteristic of dukkha/unsatisfactoriness/suffering has been staring me in the face and I keep looking away and avoiding it. It seems that it's time to gently lean into it and see what I find.

Your patience is extremely appreciated shargrol! You're always looking out for me! Thank you everyone!  

RE: Aiming High and Being Gentle
Answer
3/21/19 12:20 PM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
I got a bit neurotic about the three C:s too, haha. It sounded so complicated at first, before I realized that I have already been reflecting on them in various ways for a long time. I think most people do to at least some extent, but using different concepts.

RE: Aiming High and Being Gentle
Answer
3/21/19 12:52 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
I agree. Now that I have these frameworks and definitions, I realize that I stumbled into some of these things a long time ago by accident.

The one that really stands out to me was that I was about 14 years old and in high school. I was running my first two mile race (3200 meters) at a track and field meet against another school. I wasn't in very good running shape at the time, and I was really struggling on the last lap. My lungs couldn't keep up and my heart and head were pounding and my muscles were screaming.

A kid who I had passed earlier in the race got in front of me right before the last 100 meter stretch. I saw all of my teammates on the sideline and they were screaming at me to sprint the last 100 meters. I remember that I was ready to let the kid go and my mind basically gave up. My body, however, started to speed up. I was still in so much pain, but it felt like all of that was now being viewed from afar (as if I was a little person inside my head controlling a body, but not quite "my body"). 

Comparing that experience to the PoI, I'd say that was clearly Mind and Body. This was territory I got to know pretty well as I continued to run track and such rather competitively for the next few years until I went to university. The characteristics of dukkha and no-self were very apparent in those times when I had to push beyond whichever mental and physical limits that I had. I just didn't realize that this was something "spiritual" at the time.