Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

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Emil Christian Stillhoff Jensen, modified 3 Months ago.

Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 202 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
These days I have a lot of time to meditate because I'm without a job at least until December. In the beginning of my no-job period I thought to myself "cool, I have time to play music, train my guns and meditate for 6-8 hours a day. Awesome!".

I did use this time off to go on a 10-day solo recently and that was really beneficial.

Now some time has passed and I just can't see the meaning of practicing if it's not in a retreat environment. Compared to retreating, concentration and mindfulness has completely gone into the sand and I'm left feeling like it won't make a difference even if I'm able to practice 6-8 hours a day. Even that many hours will be incredibly poor compared to on a retreat. On a retreat I feel that my concentration has shattered if I take even a 1-hour break!

So I guess I'm after some good argument(s) for sitting when off retreat. What say you, DhO? emoticon
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Oatmilk, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 80 Join Date: 7/30/20 Recent Posts
Not sitting off retreat? Then why even bothering sitting on retreat? 
You don't need to be aware of anything 24/7, that assumption comes mainly from "self." This thing that you are looking for is always present, it doesn't need "someone" to be aware of itself. Instead of seeing meditating as a conscious process, rather see it as subconscious process. If you practice, you'll gain momentum and that momentum can be used on retreat for example. It's the same the other way around - you don't need to be on retreat to make great progress. 
In fact, I know a lot of people who have never been on retreat before and accomplished a lot through meditation. 
If Vipassana feels to exhaustive, then you might start to practice Shamatha, or Metta instead, those too are more relaxed and also give great potential for insight. 
Best of luck. 

-O
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Ole Henry, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 9 Join Date: 10/31/20 Recent Posts
Emil Christian Stillhoff Jensen:
So I guess I'm after some good argument(s) for sitting when off retreat. What say you, DhO? emoticon
I have a few ...

How can you avoid meditating when consciousness is meditation

Don't sit - but walk, lay down, or stand!

You haven't lost your breath, so follow breathing!

How do you know you have more time to lose?

If you only gonna meditate when conditions are right for you, how is that anything else but being addicted?
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Angel Roberto Puente, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 161 Join Date: 5/5/19 Recent Posts
Ole Henry:
Emil Christian Stillhoff Jensen:
So I guess I'm after some good argument(s) for sitting when off retreat. What say you, DhO? emoticon
I have a few ...

How can you avoid meditating when consciousness is meditation

Don't sit - but walk, lay down, or stand!

You haven't lost your breath, so follow breathing!

How do you know you have more time to lose?

If you only gonna meditate when conditions are right for you, how is that anything else but being addicted?
Amen to all that!  Pay attention, notice.  With words or without words you can know what your present experience is. Stick close to present experience good or bad and you will learn how you make it more difficult by clinging or rejecting it.  "You will know the truth and the truth will set you free"
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 5293 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
What kind of practice do you have? I always felt that one of the greatest strengths of vipassana is that you can do it anywhere, anytime, regardless of conditions. Waiting in line at the grocery store? Do vipassana! Waiting for the computor to start up? Do vipassana! Getting disturbed by noice? Do vipassana on the noice! Having troubling feelings coming up? Do vipassana on the feelings! Having troubling thoughts about the difficulties in doing vipassana? Just note that! You really can't fail. Do you feel that it should be different from that? Do vipassana on those expectations! 

For me, frequency seems to be much more important than duration. 
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Papa Che Dusko, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 1574 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
"On a retreat I feel that my concentration has shattered if I take even a 1-hour break!"


Well you said it mate emoticon you just learned the big truth about concentration states! They are fragile, they don't last hence do not satisfy. Meditation is not about trying to hang in absorption states but about awakening to the unfolding experience, moment by moment. 

It's really about what you desire from sitting practice? Do you want to feel good? Then chase Jhana states or smoke weed emoticon Works great for monks and for Bob Marley too emoticon 

Wanna wake up to see how suffering comes to be? Well, buckle up your seatbelt and keep noting at least 1-3 sensations per second for at least 45 minutes sit without loosing the stream of noting. Once or twice a day is fine. Increase practice when you get urge to do so otherwise keep it going at least once a day minimum 45 minutes. This stuff needs to build a momentum so keep a daily sitting practice. 

If you have resistance to silent Mahasi noting then use freestyle noting aloud to keep you on track. I love this practice as I also hear the voice. Not easy to get lost in thinking scenarios. 

And yes, this stuff is possible without retreats. Daily practice however is very important. 

Best wishes to you! 

p.s. are you from DK ? What music do play? I'm looking for a song writing partner! 
Jake Frankfurt Middenhall, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 78 Join Date: 9/12/18 Recent Posts
Comparing samatha with smoking weed is highly ignorant. With only 3 hours of practice a day of fire kasina i can feel the incredible boost it has in my cognitive function and personality, it helps me to reach all my goals and makes me a better person. Not everybody wants to be "awaken". Not everybody wants to go thru the Dark Night cicles.. Meditation has many facets.
In my tradition (Mahayana), the bodhisattva trip is the priority, not getting the "Arhant awakening".
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Papa Che Dusko, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 1574 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
Jake Frankfurt Middenhall:
Comparing samatha with smoking weed is highly ignorant. With only 3 hours of practice a day of fire kasina i can feel the incredible boost it has in my cognitive function and personality, it helps me to reach all my goals and makes me a better person. Not everybody wants to be "awaken". Not everybody wants to go thru the Dark Night cicles.. Meditation has many facets.
In my tradition (Mahayana), the bodhisattva trip is the priority, not getting the "Arhant awakening".

"Hey Joe" my apologies mate emoticon all good here. People should do what they desire to do. 

Btw, I'm sure there are those here who compare LSD and mushrooms and such to Samatha absorptions. Good times! Sadly don't last forever emoticon But one can chase after them I guess. One does what one wishes. All good here. 


All the best emoticon emoticon 
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Papa Che Dusko, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 1574 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
"Not everybody wants to be "awaken". Not everybody wants to go thru the Dark Night cicles.. Meditation has many facets.
In my tradition (Mahayana), the bodhisattva trip is the priority, not getting the "Arhant awakening". 

This is interesting emoticon Ironic but true, you see I never ever desired to attain anything. SE or did I ever aspire to go to Argatship. And yet my Shamatha path of a Bodhisattva crumbled after 2 years into utter pile of dissolving rotten shit without me ever wanting to do any Noting or follow the POI. I was a Samatha practitioner who laughed at Vipassana ridiculous noting and scanning emoticon I really had no respect for it at all. 

However our own path has many facets and these might call out for different approaches/techniques. 

Also, I wonder am I less of a bodhisattva if I don't say and exclaim "I am a bodhisattva!" 
Btw, we will never awaken. There is no one there to become awakened so don't worry about ruining that bodhisattva with Awakening emoticon 

Best wishes , sincerely emoticon 
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Jim Smith, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 941 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
What kind of meditation are you doing?
What is your reason for meditating?
What do you use concentration for? What do you do with it? Why do you cultivate it?

Are you trying to concentrate because you want to experience cessation/fruition? If, so you might look at what Shinzen Young has to say about purification it is a different approach to awakening where you work through attachments and aversions. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKrJIV2OEMg



I agree that if you don't feel any benefit there is no point in meditating.

My philosophy is to meditate today for the benefit meditation provides today, not for some benefit I might get someday in the future ... maybe.

If you stop meditating completely you might see how turbulent your mind becomes without any meditation and you will realize that the amount you can do at home does serve some useful purpose - ie that you prefer to live with a calmer mind, more equanimity, and a better mood, than you have without meditating at all.

Or you could try different techniques and see if you can find one that does something for you in the amounts you are able to do at home. It's possible the type of meditation you are doing is not very efficient or just doesn't work well for you.

Because I know how meditation helps me today, and I see the more I do the more benefiit I get, today, that motivates me to practice, and to practice in daily life as much as I can. If I slack off, I miss it, one consequence is that I am constantly trying different things to see what works best for me and  am constantly modifying and improving my practice because I have a way to tell what is works (reduces suffering) and what doesn't.

I don't meditate to cultivate concentration. I meditate to reduce suffering, and to study the origin and cessation of suffering

I find there is a huge amount of insight to be gained from comparing the difference in my mind when I don't meditate (and emotions, take over my mind) and when I do meditate. It's like the difference between living in a hallucination and waking up from a dream. You learn the two things that are the essence of Buddha's teaching: the origin of suffering (2nd noble truth) and the cessation of suffering (3rd noble truth). The desire to escape the insanity and suffering of ordinary consciousness is a huge motivation to practice.
Jigme Sengye, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 189 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
You can see off-retreat practice as training for your next retreat. Depending on what practice you're doing, you have time to experiment with all of the various techniques you're interested in, try various experiments, refine the technique, up the amount of time you can sit without moving while having increased recovery time and try practices that you need to learn bit by bit while reading the instructions for the next step or following up with a teacher who won't be at your next retreat.

Last year I reorganized my practice and focused my daily practice for seven months on training for a retreat that I usually found very difficult. The retreat was a lot easier as a result and I got better results that I'm still benefitting from and building on at home, long after that retreat. That would have been impossible without daily practice. At the beginning of that period I had a problem with breath meditation. My attention was more continuous than it had ever been, but the breath had mostly dissolved as a sensation. I didn't feel that I had the same level of focus with noting and the breath energy was only sporadically sufficiently continuous enough to follow as an object of attention. One thing that rescued me was meditation on discomfort and pain from longer sits without moving. I don't want to cause anyone to hurt themselves, but it simulated retreat situations and gave me something to focus on and hindrances to vipassanize and deconstruct to cause much more continuous and accessible absorption. Would that be useful to try? Another idea is that boredom is a form of anger and fear. Those can be vipassanized. It yields very useful insights into the self. Deconstructing those hindrances also makes life a lot more enjoyable. The suffering that shows up on the cushion probably also exists off the cushion. Every sit is a chance to chip away at that and be happier right now.

Another issue is energy accumulation in the sense of qi (or piti, prana, lung, whatever your tradition calls it). Theravada Buddhism barely talks about it beyond describing the five grades of piti, but it's an obvious factor in how absorbed you get whether you're doing vipassana, samatha or a combination of both. If you don't practice for two days, your accumulation will mostly be gone. The channels will still be open and you can still re-accumulate, but you'll have to do a lot unnecessary work.

Is your practice fun? Do you enjoy it? The main reason I meditate is that it's so unreasonably pleasant most of the time and the difficult bits end up being rewarding by dissolving emotional pain I was feeling off the cushion anyway. Is it possible that the underlying problem is that it isn't enjoyable and isn't delivering relief? It's understandable to not want to do it if it's an unpleasant chore or worse. It's a common problem. If you post about the details, I'm sure you'll end up with useful suggestions.

If you actually have the six to eight hours you mentioned to practice, those basically are retreat conditions. It's enough to maintain some degree of meditative absorption through most of the rest of the day. If it isn't, it's worth examining what's keeping you out of jhana. What feels like dry spells do happen. Have you tried metta with saying verses out loud? It's hard to be completely distracted if you're saying something out loud. The various forms of metta can seem very contrived at first, but it's both healing and a fascinating insight and concentration practice. Another variation would be doing tonglen, starting with taking in your own suffering and sending love and light back to yourself and then potentially doing it for others, just as you would with metta.

You could download the mp3s for one of Rob Burbea's retreats from dharmaseed (like his much-recommended jhana retreat from December 2019-January 2020) and meditate while listening to every talk. Trying to do a technique while it's discussed and seeing if you have the experiences and problems discussed in Q&As and testing them on the spot is a powerful practice. It's hard to get distracted while listening to the retreat talks while trying to meditate on those instructions. If you run into problems or have questions, you'll be able to ask about those things here, on Reddit or in one of the Zoom-based groups for that. That's something that can't be done on retreat, since you'll only have access to one teacher, who may not be familiar with that material. Each of those retreats has something like 30 or 40 hours of material and you'll probably need quiet time between each talk. That's a lot of sitting time. There are downloadable full retreats on a remarkable variety of techniques. If you're looking for something completely different to inspire you, it's probably available on dharmaseed or youtube.

Alternatively, out loud noting works quite well when nothing else works.
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Emil Christian Stillhoff Jensen, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 202 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
Wow, so many answers! Thank you so much for these inputs. It's inspiring and there are some good reminders in there.

In short, these are the suggestions we are looking at with my comments on them:

- Progress is possible outside retreat:
OK! I guess with enough anecdotal arguments of this I will have to give fair trial to home-practice. I believe I can maintain a sitting practice of 1-2 hours a day without any struggle for the next while like I did for three years earlier on in my journey.

-
Try something else (samatha, metta, other Vipassana styles/techniques, walk/lay/stand):
I actually like my practice, and just got the "Practical Insight Meditation" by Mahasi Sayadaw. Gonna have fun following his instructions for a while.

- You can do it everywhere!
Heh, it's funny actually. I find that I already do this quite a lot without meaning to. It's habitual. A good argument to sit is that thishabit stays and permeates daily life in one way or the other. I can see that as a very valid reason to maintain daily practice.

- Look at off-retreat practice as prep for the next retreat (work on specific parameters, such as time able to sit)
Hmm.. I guess this is good advice. I don't resonate that strongly with it though. 

- Meditate for the immediate benefits
Honestly, I feel that Vipassana doesn't really help normal life as much as it does to simply try and live a good life in a more conventional way. The only thing I want from Vipassana is to wash away - that is, to attain cessation and be really really free.

Questions:
- What style I use: Mahasi noting style
- Why do I sit?: I've been Dukkhied right in the face enough to want out...and yet not enough to make this happen at all costs.
- What do I use concentration for?: Vipassana. Sure, I like the way it tickles (jhanic rapture/piti), but I am kind of tired of how unreliable such pleasure is. In conclusions: I'm in it to be able to dissolve this sense of separatedness because I don't want to be dissatisfied anymore.
- Is my practice fun? Hmm. Not really. Especially off retreat when there's not all the wild raptures every day. Those do make it fun...

My remaining frustration
While I find your comments encouraging, this following way of thinking still holds me back. It's a bit pessimistic, sorry for that. However, I tend to be that way when I'm all by myself in doing something, and may just need to hear a simple counter argument:

I believe I made it to EQ in my recent sit. It was very illuminating and happened with AP event occuring at day 2 and EQ after day 5. It was the most clear-cut, refined progress I've made. Awesome. However...!

I feel that getting over that EQ and into fruition at home is super unlikely. I wasn't able to for the last 5 days of my retreat - why should I be able to when going home and all my concentration power has reduced to almost nothing, relatively speaking.

So I am stuck here feeling that the "best thing" I can do is to forcefully attempt to stay in EQ until I find the time to go on another 10- or 20-day retreat. Realistically I'll more likely wallow back into DN sooner or later... In which case I'm actually just as good off by climbing all the way down the insight latter again. I would then be free from trying the impossible and possible free from DN symptoms all the while.

Obviously (if my evaluation of getting to EQ is true) I am capable of doing the technique. So why not forget all about Vipassana until I go on the next retreat, and THEN give it my very hardest effort to reach SE?

Those are my pessimistiv thoughts, thanks for all your participation in this emoticon


(PS: Papa Che Dusko, Yes, I am from DK, I live in Frederiksberg. Send me a PM, let's chat. I'm not at all a music pro, but let's see if we are compatible. I have piano background but experiment with producing quite an array of different genres from blues, RnB, to more electro-y stuff..)
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 5293 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
I have had all my fruitions at home. It's quite possible. 

Best wishes for your practice and wellbeing.
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Ni Nurta, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 562 Join Date: 2/22/20 Recent Posts
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:

I have had all my fruitions at home. It's quite possible.
Me too me too!
Whole universe is my home emoticon

Actually I had important fruition, for 3rd path, at a bus.
I did a lot of meditation at buses because at home I mostly practiced senses and I did not have anything better to do at bus for 1-2h than to meditate. I find these kinds of environments very good for meditation.
Meditating at airplanes is also good emoticon
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Emil Christian Stillhoff Jensen, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 202 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
Ni Nurta:
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:

I have had all my fruitions at home. It's quite possible.
Me too me too!
Whole universe is my home emoticon


Interesting. I see you have practice logs Linda. Perhaps I will skim through that for some inspiration emoticon
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 5293 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
Emil Christian Stillhoff Jensen:
Ni Nurta:
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:

I have had all my fruitions at home. It's quite possible.
Me too me too!
Whole universe is my home emoticon


Interesting. I see you have practice logs Linda. Perhaps I will skim through that for some inspiration emoticon
I think my latest ones are probably rather boring. There was more happening in the beginning. On the other hand, those logs probably contain lots of misinterpretations of stuff. Feel free to ask questions about whatever you find if needed. 

Edited to add: By the way, I agree with Ni Nurta and Jim that practice often works better if you manage to make it interesting. Curiosity can be a great driving force. I know that when everything seems meaningless and full of suffering, it can be difficult to find that curiosity, but maybe it's at least somewhat more reliable than bliss. Maybe there is something else that does it for you. Just find your own way of spicing it up, whatever gives you enough motivation for a daily practice. 
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Emil Christian Stillhoff Jensen, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 202 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
I think my latest ones are probably rather boring. There was more happening in the beginning. On the other hand, those logs probably contain lots of misinterpretations of stuff. Feel free to ask questions about whatever you find if needed.
Thanks! I might just do that emoticon 
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 5293 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
Ni Nurta:
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:

I have had all my fruitions at home. It's quite possible.
Me too me too!
Whole universe is my home emoticon

Actually I had important fruition, for 3rd path, at a bus.
I did a lot of meditation at buses because at home I mostly practiced senses and I did not have anything better to do at bus for 1-2h than to meditate. I find these kinds of environments very good for meditation.
Meditating at airplanes is also good emoticon

I have done a lot of great meditation on train platforms and trains and while walking to and from yoga classes. emoticon (We really should have a "cool" smiley that looks less grumpy).
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Ni Nurta, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 562 Join Date: 2/22/20 Recent Posts
Emil Christian Stillhoff Jensen:

- Is my practice fun? Hmm. Not really. Especially off retreat when there's not all the wild raptures every day. Those do make it fun...
Make it fun, it will be more efficient.
For example instead of doing the same boring practice try something new.
New like invent something or try different technique.
agnostic, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 1243 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
There's probably some part of your life you don't want to face and the idea of going on retreat is a way of avoiding it.
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Emil Christian Stillhoff Jensen, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 202 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
agnostic:
There's probably some part of your life you don't want to face and the idea of going on retreat is a way of avoiding it.

Yes. Well in fact I've learned a lot about dukkha recently and I am quite sick of life in general. 
I have, however, resolved to stay engaged with my life, coming job, relationships and make the best of all of those. 

right now I'm just very focused on dukkha and the cessation of suffering
agnostic, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 1243 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Emil Christian Stillhoff Jensen:
agnostic:
There's probably some part of your life you don't want to face and the idea of going on retreat is a way of avoiding it.

Yes. Well in fact I've learned a lot about dukkha recently and I am quite sick of life in general. 
I have, however, resolved to stay engaged with my life, coming job, relationships and make the best of all of those. 

right now I'm just very focused on dukkha and the cessation of suffering

That's great! That's the best kind of practice there is in my opinion. But then I would say that because I've never been on retreat.  emoticon
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Papa Che Dusko, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Does off-retreat practice even make a difference?

Posts: 1574 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
Let me share this just in case you find it interesting; 

I have a very good friend who was on more than 10 Goenka retreats in India and still does at least one each year but never could get into sitting daily at home. Didn't get him anywhere really in terms of attainments. For some reason he just can't get motivated to sit at home. 

On the other hand you will find people here who never went on organized retreats and only practiced daily at home. I only ever did 2x 3 day solo retreat in my summer house. Each time only 6 hours per day with some walking meditation too. The rest is daily sits, years of daily sits, either once a day, two times or three times (I usually increased sits when hitting difficult stage). 

My view is that daily practice is what counts and does the job. I have nothing against retreats though if they include daily home practice afterwards and before the retreat. 

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