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Hibiscus Kid's Log #2

Hibiscus Kid's Log #2
Answer
10/11/19 7:39 AM
I've decided to start a new practice log as I begin to take my life and practice in a different direction.

My old log was filled with complaining, striving, frustration, confusion, etc. I want this log to be focussed less on results and more on the work of developing the mind (and my life). I want it to be a more productive, empowered discussion. My mindset has become one of "Just do the practice and the results will follow" and there is no reason to doubt that - it's simple cause and effect.

This urge to start a new log comes about for a few reasons: The biggest factor is that I went on a 13 day retreat with some monks from a Mahasi lineage in September (TMC in San Jose for those of you who are interested). That retreat was one of the most difficult experiences of my life - I ended up fluctuating between intense anxiety, depression, craving, impatience, exhaustion, lonliness, leg pain, etc. for about 8-10 days straight. I was not emotionally, spiritually, or physically mature enough for that experience. Even now, almost a month later, I am still not back to my emotional baseline. During the retreat, I tried my best to objectify these difficult sensations and mind states, but I still got absolutely rocked by my psychology. It was and still is scary to know just how terribly deep my relative issues seem to go and just how much suffering these can cause when they bubble up. I have taken a break from meditating and am slowly getting back into it. Another issue to note: even after being on retreat for 5 days, I didn't feel like I had developed any sort of concentration like many describe. My mind felt as scattered as it always does and I didn't have the sense that I was 'going deep' into the practice.

Additionally, a tumultuous romantic relationship that started in July came to an end this week. I'm not too bent out of shape about it - it was clear that the connection was falling apart and it had become a drain of time (lots of time) and energy. Maybe I'll feel worse about this in the coming weeks and months, but I feel fine as of right now and accept that it has ended. I also look forward to pouring that extra time and energy into personal projects.

Lately, I've gotten into bullet journaling to get more focussed on 'self improvement' and getting work done. I've been thinking of it less as "self improvement" though (I'm not trying to 'fix' myself) and have conceptualized it as "life improvement". An example: if you learn how to cook better, you will have more fun cooking, you'll eat food that is more delicious, you'll become a more adventurous eater, you can treat others to a lovely meal, you can impress an SO, you can eat healthier, you can spend less money on going out to eat, etc.

So in addition to focussing on hobbies and learning every day, meditation fits into a greater picture of enriching life. A well trained mind can support all sorts of growth and enrich life as a whole. The bullet journal has been helpful in organizing all of this and I've been using it to prioritize my meditation sessions.

As I get back into it, I'll be using TMI as my main practice for a while. I'd like to build a better foundation and incorporate more samatha and enjoyment into my sits (and hopefully be able to carry some samatha off cushion as TMI promises, but I'm skeptical of this claim). I'm working with a teacher as well who will guide me and hopefully I can improve on my concentration skills as I've been meditating for years and the jhanas still elude me. So my biggest goals at the moment: sit daily, and really be diligent during each session. Just come back to the breath again and again. I want it to be simple. I trust that this can make a difference somehow.

Not sure how often I will write here, but thank you for taking the time to read my musings. - Alex

 

RE: Hibiscus Kid's Log #2
Answer
10/11/19 7:44 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
It was and still is scary to know just how terribly deep my relative issues seem to go and just how much suffering these can cause when they bubble up. 

This often surprises all of us, retreat or no retreat. It's not necessarily a "bad" thing, you know. It's part of the process. We have to learn to face up to what we are and how much habit and modeling we bring to our experiences. Hooray for you for getting right back in the saddle!

RE: Hibiscus Kid's Log #2
Answer
10/15/19 4:42 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Thank you Chris! I came into contact with a lot of my deep seated beliefs and insecurities. The reason why this bothers me even now: meditation isn't therapy so I am not banking on meditation changing or uprooting the beliefs themselves which have driven my behavior and personality for so long.


Thank you Zachary! For all the support you lent me up to, during, and after the retreat. That phone call came when I was at my lowest and helped to ground me. Always good to hear from someone who can normalize the experience and sympathize - thank you!

RE: Hibiscus Kid's Log #2
Answer
10/11/19 8:51 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Great to have you back emoticon

RE: Hibiscus Kid's Log #2
Answer
10/18/19 6:59 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
I've been sitting 45 minutes most mornings, just trying to be consistent - that's the main goal. Just get the sit in. No need to be heroic. The goal is to make this a daily habit.

I've started introducing a 10 minute sit in the evenings which I will slowly build up in length. For now though, I'll just do 10 minutes and set up a consistent evening practice. 


Practice itself is going well lately. I'm just keeping it simple - rest my attention on the breath sensations at the nose and using meta cognitive awareness as the sort of "quality control" that oversees the various objects that are bubbling up. Awareness is the faculty or quality of 'knowing' from moment to moment.

I'm not so concerned with losing the breath as the object of attention, as long as I am aware of (know that) other objects are popping up. The breath is a convenient anchor.

The breath sensations also are a convenient way to 'cut' chains of thought/mental proliferation. I'm not trying to stop thoughts, but more so just 'inserting' breath sensations in between thoughts to slow the momentum of thought proliferation. Similar to, inserting commas, into a sentence, to create a, pause (see what I did there?).

Sometimes I go into a trance, and that's alright! I just come back to the breath and it feels satisfying. 

There is trust in the process and it feels good to do the work. Life is good!

RE: Hibiscus Kid's Log #2
Answer
10/22/19 10:41 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Just a thought about life stuff and how meditation helps:

Just got out of a relationship 2 weeks ago. Thoughts related to that fact can be painful: a mixture of aversion and fantasy, clinging, missing, loneliness, jealousy, anger, fear, anxiety, the need to improve myself to be a good catch for someone in the future, etc.

I had my first intense brush with depression and anxiety after my first real relationship ended in college. I was a mess. Completely flooded by the emotions listed above and I could barely function. I was a mess for a year.

Compare the end of my first LTR to now: These emotions are still popping up, but I'm not indulging them too much or getting too caught up.

These things can be painful, but no worse than having a slight head cold. Maybe this growth has come about from having been in a few LTRs since then and I understand what a break up is about and what to expect. The meditation skills help me to stay on the sensate level whenever these difficult experiences do arise in the moment.

I am sort of realizing (and I remind myself of this when I get a bit caught up) - "I don't have to feel sorry for myself." It's weird that my initial reaction to these feelings and emotions arising is to indulge them and get sucked into a fantasy that just leads me to feeling sorry for myself. But I don't have to go through that dance.

Now I breathe through the uncomfortable body sensations, emotions and worries and then realize I don't have to carry this burden into each and every room or situation that I find myself in. I can just live. "Here's jealousy arising along with thoughts of what my ex may be up to, yet here I am driving on the highway. I don't have to worry about this now, I am paying attention to the road".

I feel slightly guilty about it because I am not sure if I am avoiding the stuff that needs healing, or if I am doing the right amount of experiencing the unpleasantness and realizing that I don't need to harp on it. The mind creates more problems than it needs to, but the intelligence that guides the spiritual unfolding may need some of this material to do its work. It's really interesting!

RE: Hibiscus Kid's Log #2
Answer
10/30/19 8:29 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
I've got a nice little 17 day streak going where I met my 45 minute minimum goal on 15 of those days. I'll be upping it to an hour the next few days and see how it feels - if it's too ambitions, I'll start at 50 minutes instead.

My teacher recommended that I get a more substantial evening practice going, say maybe 30 minutes a night. I'll do 20 each evening and build to 30 in a week. I have a lot of resistence to sitting at night due to the fact that I'd rather focus on my other interests and hobbies and the time and willpower are so limited. It doesn't feel 'productive'. She suggested I do some more open awareness sort of practice centered in the body for starters so I'll try that.

The sits themselves are a mixed bag - sometimes awareness is good (meaning I catch distractions and go back to the breath or hold other objects or hindrances alongside the breath). Sometimes awareness is terrible and the sit is more difficult as a result. I just remind myself that these are the best opportunities for progress and just keep coming back to the breath. Still trying to figure out a good balance between effort and relaxation - tending to be more relaxed than striving which is better than how I operated in the past.

Doubts and impatience have been arising lately, but I'm just sitting or being mindful off cushion anyway. My mind is naturally more and more present/mindful off cushion as the weeks wear on (I gave up on trying to be present at all after the retreat in September) so I take that fact as a promising sign of progress. Just coming back to the breath and the felt sense of my body and emotions and the space/sounds around me, again and again. Not necessarily trying to look for the 3 Characteristics, but really just trying to be at the sensate level when appropriate.

It's all good!

RE: Hibiscus Kid's Log #2
Answer
11/4/19 7:35 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Lots of personal stuff in this post...

Issue:

Trying to get on with my life after this break up. Thoughts about my ex come up again and again and I feel lots of pain in relation to this stuff. I've been coping by trying to 'man up' and improve myself - lifting to gain muscle (and exercise in general), meditating, cutting down on alcohol, investing time in my hobbies, etc. I'm realizing though, that I am not being vulnerable - I basically just cut myself off from thinking about her or feeling what I need to. I want to power through so that she doesn't 'win the break up'. She is a hard worker and, to me, way out of my league. She has more friends than me, is more active socially, is really pretty and bubbly, etc. She's probably gone on dates since we've broken up, and I haven't. Truth be told, I'm quite self concious about all of this and have had trouble admitting it. I'm essentially the loser ex.

If I am totally honest with myself, I miss her. I fell for her pretty hard at the beginning of our relationship. Later on, I realized that we weren't good for eachother in the long run. We were both holding eachother back. She ended it, but I had been planning to end it. It's a funny thing - I feel sorry about the entire situation and miss her, yet I also wanted to end it. There is a polarity in there and it smells like hypocrisy. I miss her and yet wanted to leave her. I think of her and either feel l am missing out on a great human connection, or that I dodged a major bullet.


Root cause(?):

I think most of this stems from a huge inferiority complex I have. I am not sure where it comes from. I think it has something to do with my height (I'm 5'6) and the fact that I was always told to continualy improve myself when I was young. I'm not the manly guy I wish I was - I am awkward in certain social situations, I am quite sensitive emotionally and cry often, I stutter on occasion, I make dumb mistakes at work, I am not super musclar or socially smooth or smart or particularly good in any of my hobbies. I want to be this emotionally unshakeable Renaissance man who makes other people jealous essentially. I want people to meet me and wonder how on earth I do all the stuff that I do with proficiency. I want validation from others in the form of romantic relationships or just sex. I want to be attractive and successful. I don't want to be the loser ex.

Yet I am not any of that. I am ordinary. But lately, 'ordinary' has seemed so refreshing. The concepts I hold about being some perfect version of myself are pretty damaging and holding me back from being happy or even attempting to step out of my comfort zone. On one hand, that drive is getting me to improve myself which is empowering, but there is a lot of mental torture associated with it. The perfect version of myself isn't allowed to mess up and make mistakes. He has to be manly and unshakeable and cool like James Bond. He has to be interesting like Picasso and well rounded like Da Vinci. Yet, the ordinary humanity, the tough emotions, the awkwardness and embarassment I feel are all at odds with this idealized self.

I really want to just live from that ordinary, vulnerable place. I want to be able to be sensitive and emotional. I want to be allowed to be awkward or to make mistakes. To be a bumbling idiot. To come to terms with my humanity even if it is embarrassing. I'm not manly at all, and I shouldn't have to try and fit myself in that box or feel bad when I don't.

It's alright Alex. You're doing fine. You're allowed to miss your ex. You're allowed to be bad at talking to women. You're allowed to lack confidence. You're allowed to feel bad about being short. You're allowed to have an inferiority complex. You're allowed to 'be behind' in life. You're allowed to not be manly. You're allowed to cry. You're allowed to be a hypocrite. 


Practice:

I need to open to holding concepts and ideas that are polarities. I need to be open to feeling like a hypocrite and experiencing cognitive dissonance. I need to be open to being vulnerable and really feel into the emotional pain that comes up. I need to be open to feeling like a bumbling idiot. I need to come to terms with my basic, embarrassing, awkward humanity and learn to love myself.

I'll practice more Metta. I'll practice being more open to experiencing difficult emotions and allowing myself to cry (cultivating acceptance). I've already cried this morning so I'm already teasing something out.

As all this heart centered stuff unfolds, I'd still like to continue with the self improvement (exercise, hobbies, diet, sleep, meditation, etc.), but do so in an ordinary way. Not to be an idealized self, but because these things are healthy for body and mind.

The fact of the matter is, I've been avoiding doing any of this emotional work and trying to get around it. As a result, I've been getting hung up emotionally and held back spiritually.

I'm not okay today but that is okay. Life is good even when it is bad. I'm learning.

RE: Hibiscus Kid's Log #2
Answer
11/4/19 2:55 PM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
The perfect version of myself isn't allowed to mess up and make mistakes. He has to be manly and unshakeable and cool like James Bond. He has to be interesting like Picasso and well rounded like Da Vinci. Yet, the ordinary humanity, the tough emotions, the awkwardness and embarassment I feel are all at odds with this idealized self.

I'm sorry you're going through this very rough period, but I would ask you to consider that you aren't the "loser ex" at all. I'd say you've already won because this situation is helping you see the folly of what your mind is doing - trying to convince you that you can be unflappable, uber-competent and manly all the time. Think of how much energy that takes! Now you can begin to drop all that and just be human.


RE: Hibiscus Kid's Log #2
Answer
11/5/19 9:12 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Thank you for the encouragement Chris! I don't think I'll be able to drop these ideals for a while as they do get me to improve myself. Similar to when I see advanced practitioners discussing how they 'see through' the identity of being a seeker or meditator. It may be helpful at first to take up these identities because it gets us going, but at some point these identities just hold us back like training wheels. I'm not sure when or how I'll realize I can just drop the ideals yet still work to improve my health and wellness and growth.

@Linda: Thank you! You're always so sweet. I'll be leaving this post up although I cringe a bit when reading it. Oh well, honesty can be that way.

@Ivory: I've been to counseling and such before, especially helpful after other break ups. I guess I am just surprised at how difficult it has been. I've matured and grown spiritually since my last few relationships, but I guess I'm always at risk of getting really pulled into suffering. It has been humbling. I'll take your other advice as well.

Thank you for the therapy session you guys.

RE: Hibiscus Kid's Log #2
Answer
11/4/19 3:16 PM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
”Perfection” is overrated and boring, not to mention rather impossible. Being genuine, like in this post of yours, is awsome. I mean really really awsome. It shows maturity, a far too rare quality. Honestly, I used to believe that you were the kind of person you wish that you were. I am much more impressed now.

RE: Hibiscus Kid's Log #2
Answer
11/20/19 9:15 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Metta is just what I needed! I've been practicing for 15-20 minutes at the beginning of my main sit of the day, in the evening for a short sit, and using it off cushion.

When sending Metta to those 'difficult people' in my life, I am instantly put in touch with my feelings, inner boundaries, defense mechanisms and rationalizations and I'm able to hold all of that reactivity/contraction with a sense of care, understanding and openess. I'm even able to cultivate the actual feeling of friendliness towards those who induce those difficult reactions in me (on some days). The sense of calm and ease that it produces at the beginning of the sit is just so lovely.

This has carried over into dealing with difficult sensations that I face - I can hold all experience with Metta (or at least that's the end goal). A lot of my angst and fears related to my self worth are slowly quieting down. I can just be friendly to myself and friendly to others.

I was really stuck the last few weeks, but I think introducing Metta has been allowing for healing, processing, learning, and improving my well being. I hope these changes flow out so that other people may benefit too.

May this practice and exploration benefit all beings! I mean that, honest!

RE: Hibiscus Kid's Log #2
Answer
11/20/19 10:52 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Yay!

RE: Hibiscus Kid's Log #2
Answer
11/5/19 1:02 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Hi Hibiscus, sorry to hear what you're going through. I too went through a really tough break up and most of what you said mirrors my experience so I thought I'd chime in. Break ups have a way of exposing up our core beliefs. As a result we tend to fix ourselves because in some way we believe we are broken. It seems you you are onto this dynamic. Regardless, you will get sucked into the drama from time to time as your motives oscillate from healthy to unhealthy as a response to the pain. Totally normal and expected. I ended up doing two years of therapy after my last break up and I'm really glad I did. I'll share what I learned. For self-esteem, the best thing you can do is surround yourself with a group of healthy, loving, empathetic friends. Second, take care of your body. Exercise and healthy food are good ways of showing yourself love. Lastly, don't make too many lifestyle changes at once. When you find yourself trying to build too many habits you can bet that ego is running the show. Realistically, you can really only build one habit at a time. Sounds like you're in new territory now so you are going to be challenged. Remember that this too will pass and that you will emerge a better, stronger, wiser person. Wishing you the best.