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Jano's practice log - first 100 days after restarting

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I have recently passed my 100th day of  formally practicing according to the TMI training system. It a new start for me. I practice daily, at least once a day I did 60+ hours of solo meditation in this period. I did a 7 day “vipassana” retreat with Christopher Titmuss. I also did a 2 day Vayrajana identification meditation retreat.
I wanted to write down my observations, so I can more explicitly reflect on my progress so far..
..but equally importantly, to be able to communicate my experience to more advanced practitioners, and ask for feedback and advice..
..and also play a little psychological trick on myself by making this public commitment. It is a double edge sword but I am fine with looking dumb when I change my mind in a year do to some new understanding. As Keynes said – “When facts change, I change my mind, sir. What to do you do? : )

A little background and context, so I am easier to understand and interpret
  • I grew up with very scarce material and psychological resources and support. I knew “something was wrong with me and my head” by the time I was a teenager
  • There was not much quality information in Czechoslovakia in the 1990’s, so I tried what was available – mostly pop psychology mix with new age-ie and yoga stuff my mother had laying around - chicken soups for the souls, autogenic training, a lot of “just wish and you will get it” type stuff.
  • My mental models of how life work in general, and how my brain works in particular were so very much dysfunctional. Lots and lots and lots...and lots : ) of psychological pain was resulted from that for the next 20 years. I managed to finish a university and make a living in IT systems consulting.
  • 10 years ago I came across ideas of Buddhism. They felt interesting. There seemed to be a system. Met an impressive Ashtanga yoga teacher. Did ashtanga with intention to get “Buddhist enlightened”. Did 14 months of daily 1.5 hour practice. Messed up my health and back. Chinese inner martial arts were next.
  • I was not making real progress in managing my brain. Something was missing in their training systems. More searching.
  • Since 2015 I started to hang out and meditate with Karma Kagyu / 16th Karmapa / Ole Nydahl sangha. I met some nice people, but from meditation progress perspective, a complete dead end for me. Lots of other lessons learned not really from them as much as on them.
  • Couple years ago I came across Bill Hamilton’s/D. Ingram’s pragmatic Western approach. I felt this was a step forward. Something clicked. I did not see a training system in his book, but it was great help in understanding the big picture and essence of what Buddhists are talking about.
  • Daniel mentions John Culadasa Yates’ book couple of times. For some reason I checked this particular reference. Hmmm a proper neuroscience teacher from a dual lineage of Vajrayana and Therevada. And he has been at it for 40 years. Good good good.
  • I read the introduction to the book. Virtually every single sentence is useful to me. And every single sentence in the Overview. And in the First Interlude. And so on and so on...
  • I start of practicing according to TMI system in November 2018, but a lot of heavy life happened, and I got derailed. I re-started on March 18, 2019. I held on for my dear life for first 2 months, but now it is like brushing my teeth. I just do it, because I know it’s useful, not matter how I feel about it at any given moment
Observations from my practice
  • Psychological factors / Motivation / Goals / Attitude / Diligence / Potential distractions / Not doing it alone
    • It took me some 2 months to appreciate how essential are these “soft” factors. Stage 1 really is the base on which everything else builds. I work on firing up my motivation every morning as part of the warm up. I virtually never intentionally do something else then meditate during my sits.
    • Why else would I do something so “abstract” as meditation if not because I deeply want to?
    • There was a subtle mental shift from training being something I “must/need to do” to it being “something I “really want to do / it has amazing benefits”
    • I will continue to pull my  deepest motivation up from the heap of distractions my daily life is. I am so lucky that my motivation has been there with me for so long. It’s always there for me, because I want to better understand and “control” my brain so incredibly much ever since I can remember (proper psychological pain for past 20 years does that to you : ).
    • I am adjusting my attitude. I used to be so incredible self-critical – which is not only unpleasant but also ineffective
    • It helps me a lot to have an experience with training and playing semi-professionally basketball. I can apply so many concepts from physical training. When I see meditation as simply another type of training, it is much more approachable form, much more doable.Most concepts are directly transferable
    • It was very helpful for me to start tracking my meditations. I make a phot at the beginning and at the end of every session, and I archive it (not annoying other with it! : ) But it helps me to know that I have a record of my sessions. Also, many thanks to Marc from Tucker’s e-sangha for showing me the Insight meditation timer.
    • It’s so nice to have at least a virtual sangha. It gets lonely in Prague, CZ from brain training perspective. Meditators here are rarely of the pragmatic kind.
    • Sangha, sangha, sangha. I do enjoy company of dedicated practicioners who think things through more often than not :

Posture

  • I had a real problem sitting even 15 minutes in the beginning due to the pain in the knees. Took me some 70 days to be able to sit comfortably for 45 minutes. Today I can do 90 minutes with little pain.
  • I only realized after almost 3 months how distracting the physical pain is. My whole body was tense all the time, and I was using most of my willpower, intentions just to keep and upright posture. But I really liked sitting crossed legged outside, so I pushed through. I ended up sitting on a slopping terrain which allows me to sit upright, and thigh adductors are relaxed
  • Body stopped being a problem

 Intellectual and causal understanding of the instructions
    • This struck me quite recently. After some 80 days I hit the plateau in my development. Sitting got gradually easier, pain of sitting has gotten away, but I felt like I am not making any progress, and mind wandering has returned. I realized I need to rethink how I am using the techniques.
    • I reread the introduction, overview, and first interlude at least 3 times. The text is so dense with information. So many individual sentences compress information from several other books, and studies.
    • I realized my understanding of the attention, peripheral awareness, mindfulness was superficial. I just skimmed the chapters in the beginning with “yea, yea...that makes sense” I started practicing. And I forgot to go back
    • I will make the studying of the TMI a part of my practice. Intellectual understanding is necessary for me to go on, and for my progress.
 
Meditation object, attention and hyper attention 
  • In the beginning, I could not perceive nor feel anything at the tip of my nose. For a while I thought, I will need to change the mediation object, because this is just not working for me. I spent few week just sort of making up sensations. Then there was a session when I noticed something and tuned into it.
  • It was so hard to sit still and do nothing. I did a lot of tibetan visualisations in past 3 years, and this watching the breat felt like doing nothing. I missed my mantras, my everything is magic imagery, the confort of golden and rainbow light every where...I do not miss it at all anymore. If anything they feel like distractions. The world feels like magic now, anytime i just let it be in my peripheral awareness and don’t judge it. Imagining it is all magic feel like an unnecessary extra step
  •  I realized hyper-attention is the standard mode of functioning for me. My attention is either hyper scanning my environment. Instead of just taking it in my peripheral awareness, my attention literally jumps on it. Especially if the sensation is a thought. Very likely the consquence of my hyper anxiety, and hyper active amygdala that has been with me since my childhood.
 
  • I am slowly getting better at letting stuff just be in my peripheral awareness without “attacking” it with my attention. It’s not trivial to train the distinction of just being aware, but I see the difference now
  • I understand now that I actually need to put in less effort into focus. Make my effort lighter so I don’t switch into hyper-focus.
  • My peripheral awareness collapses completely when I am in hyper attention mode. When my attention happens to be perceiving the sensations of breath, I can go very deep in. Most concepts drop, and “my nose” really turns just into a mess of vibrations, and I get a bit “high”
Conscious Intentions

  • Oh, how key they are. They are so deceptively simple and subtle. How much and how often I think everything that can be thought about a technique – and then wonder why am I not doing it.
  •  I am not doing it because I was intending to think about the technique and how to apply it instead of just intending to apply it. Lesson learned. And relearned. And relearned.
  • I RESOLVE TO CLEARLY INTEND before doing.
  • On a good day, I am able to clearly perceive how my “unintentional intentions” drive what I do. Some days it is so easy to play with them, it’s like pushing some bathtub foam around. Other days, my intentions are invisible to me, and I only find out I a began doing something else after I wake up from mind wandering
  • I am starting to experiment more with intention in everyday situations
 
Concentration “highs” 
  • For some reasons, I got used to meditation highs, and I started to subconsciously expect them when I sit down.
  • I was very happy to identify this tendency in me. Not only intellectually, but I also feel that these high are just another type of distraction, and I need to let go of my intention to perceive them, and get back to training.
  • I recently managed to shake myself out of that. So when I sit down, I am not looking for pleasant feelings. I just want to practice, and get better at attention / per. awareness balancing
Going forward
  • Formal training – in the next 60 to 100 days – mastering stage 2
    • I did master Stage 1, but I do not feel like I mastered stage 2 even though I experienced moments belonging to higher stages. I cannot reproduce them consistently, so I will stick to building the fundaments
    • Intending to intent.  Intending to intent not too much so I do not get into hyper focus. Intending to follow the breath. Intending to appreciating spontaneous introspective awareness, etc...
    • It takes usually  3 - 4 weeks to integrate a new habit, but I am allocating some 6 – 8 weeks. With as need be, if I am not making the progress. I am holding these goals lately, but having timed goals does help me psychologically.
    • I will make an integral part of my formal training studying, and intellectual understanding of dharma – in my case it means especially studding TMI and recommended resources, podcasts, an so on. I keep finding more and more useful stuff everytime I read something from John. It’s not that it is new, but it is put so much more clearly and simply and usefully that I ever heard it or though about it before. At the same time I will avoid turning John into a guru in my head. I have a tendency to look for a perfect teacher. I will stay critical and rational.
    • I will find ways how to be a part of TMI and other pragmatic sangha’s. I feel I can do it alone, but I absolutely understand how painfully slower my progress is when going by myself
 
 
  • Integrating practice into everyday life situations
    • I will continue to be fully involved with my everyday life – my family, my work, my hobbies, my plans for future, and so on.
    • It was a revelation to finally understand that techniques used for training the brain are equally useful for doing any mental work I do – from interacting with the close ones, to doing my work, to whatever else.
    • I spend so much more time “off the cushion” than “on the cushion”. It is not rational to expect sitting is enough as formal training.
    • I will seek out company and friends who’s approach to brain training and life is similar to mine
    • I will keep looking for  intelligent ways how to integrate what I do on cushion into everyday life. It does not work for me to just do that randomly. it feels overwhelming. There needs to be a systematic gradual introduction in a similarly to the formal training
    • To avoid the overwhelm I will focus on the essential techniques.
      • Using intention whenever I don’t forget,
      • appreciating spontaneous introspective awareness
      • avoiding hyper focus
    • And when I get out of a tunnel, not attacking myself for not being good enough, but simply relaxing, letting it all come, letting it all be in my peripheral awareness, and letting it all go by itself
 
Couple Questions

  • Because of my tendency to hyper-focus that is followed up by loss of most of introspective peripheral awareness, I am thinking about going back to use the technique of reinforcing spontaneous awareness by properly appreciating when I get back out of the hyper focus. Because it seemed to easy for me, I sort of skipped using this technique properly at the start of my training. Is it a advisable to kind of go back and make this technique my main complementary technique for a few weeks?
 
  • During the practice I need to focus my intention on responding in specific ways – aka techniques – to whatever happens during the meditation. Is it possible to hold more than 1 conscious intention at the same time?  Following the breath, checking, in, sitting up right, relaxing my muscles if they get tense. Or do I just train the habits into my subconsciousness to apply appropriate technique when a particular stimuli arises?
 
Uff, I see there is a lot on my mind about my practice, so I guess I will stop here, and leave other stuff for later. Looking forward to your  comments and feedback.

I left out a lot of stuff, and I am happy to elaborate further on any of the topic

Best wishes to everybody on their way. Hope this log is at least a bit as useful as it is to me

Jano
 

RE: Jano's practice log - first 100 days after restarting
Answer
8/4/19 2:17 AM as a reply to Jan.
Hi Jano, not that I can comment much on TMI though being geographically close, let me send you a PM instead emoticon Cheers!