Original Mike's Practice Log

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Original Mike, modified 3 Months ago.

Original Mike's Practice Log

Posts: 16 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Samatha, 57 minutes
My mind is not a fun place to be these days.

I bring my attention to the sensation of the breath at the nostrils. At first a familiar, pleasant coolness beings to arise in my body as my concentration deepens. The cool sensations begin to pervade my body but come up against the feeling of a blockage manifesting as powerful tension in my head.

I continue to attend to the breath but the tension seems to clamp down harder. I redirect my attention to the unpleasant sensations of tightness. I allow my mind to become receptive to the fine details of the tension, discerning its shape and looking for any subtle changes in its character. The sensations clarify into an intense pressure drilling into a tightly localized pinpoint above my left eye. After a few moments the drilling diffuses into a pulsation across my forehead, then coheres again into a tight pinch of pain above the eye.

Memories arise of love and betrayal.

The tightness in my head never vanishes but moves from place to place, from eyelid to forehead to the back of my neck. Then it multiplies into a half-dozen solid nodes of tightness.

I think of two I loved the most, my true family. I remembering the simple and total joy I felt in their presence, the pure joy of being. But remembering is not the same as feeling: it is the sketchy gray outline instead of a picture rich in color. Doubt arises that I will ever know that kind of joy again.

The nodes of tension have hardened into one solid shape, like someone is pressing an iron mask into my face. Faint traces of the pleasant coolness that began my sit remain but they have turned into a kind of heat. It's as if the pleasant energy had tried to arise and leave my body through my head but upon encountering the blocking tension it got stuck, stagnated, and turned into an intense heat. I feel my body temperature rising. I endure the heat and painful tension for as long as I can.

I stop my sit three minutes early, damp with sweat. The heat, it seems, wasn't entirely a mental fabrication.
agnostic, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Original Mike's Practice Log

Posts: 1273 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Congratulations on starting a log Mike!
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Original Mike, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Original Mike's Practice Log

Posts: 16 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Thank you, agnostic. I'm hoping that keeping an online log will motivate me to a more consistent practice.
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Original Mike, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Original Mike's Practice Log

Posts: 16 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Looking back on how much of my last sit was consumed with unpleasant sensations and bitter fixation on the past, I resolved to inject some metta into my practice.

Metta, 30 minutes
For the first fifteen minuets I concentrated on offering forgiveness to myself for ways I had mistreated myself and others, alternating with offering forgiveness to other and asking their forgiveness.

I cycled through friends whom I had loved and lost through bitter interpersonal conflicts, a friend from childhood who had recently taken his own life, and family members I have had complicated relationships with (which is to say, most of them). I repeated in my head the phrases "I forgive myself, I forgive you", alternating the phrases on the inbreath and outbreath, visualizing each person in turn.

This felt mostly like a mechanical exercise. I did not feel a significant positive shift in my mental state. Still, I perservered in my intent to forgive and be forgiven.

After the first fifteen minutes I transitioned into traditional metta using phrases. Out of habit, I used the phrases I learned from Culadas's The Mind Illuminated: "may you be free from suffering; may you be free from ill will; may you be full of loving kindness; may you be truly happy." I offered these intentions towards myself, then two close friends, then to an acquaintence, and then to all sentient beings.

The quality of my concentration was strong, without any noticeable mind wandering for the whole sit. However, no warm feeling of love arose. Like the forgiveness portion of the sit, this also felt like a mechnical exercise -- an empty repetition of words without genuine emotion behind them. I did not let this discourage me, keeping in mind Sharon Salzberg's advice that the proper object of metta meditation is not any particular sensation but instead the strongly held wish for the wellbeing of myself and others. I trust that continuing this practice will shfit my mental terrain in time.

Toward the end of my sit, as I wished for all beings to be happy, the question arose, "How could I possibly be happy with this constant tension in my head?"

I took the question seriously. For the sake of argument, I thought, let's say this feeling lasts forever. What would it take for me to be happy if is a given? I searched the feeling for anything about it that was appealing or at least interesting. I paid attention to its subtle shifts in pressure and intensity. I offered it admiration for its tenacity. If it was here to teach me something, it clearly was not going to relent until I learned.

After a few minutes of this, my perception of it did shift. Instead of perceiving it as an impersonal force crushing my head like a vise, I experienced it as a being clinging to me for dear life. In the spirit of cultivating compassion, I invited it to cling to me as hard as it needed to in order to stop being afraid.

I wouldn't go so far as to say the sensation became pleasant after that, but I do think I made a step toward a more productive relationship to it.

Samatha, 30 minutes
Although the metta sit felt dry and mechanical as it was happening, it seemed to lead to an immense improvement in the quality of the subsequent samatha sit.

The unpleasant sensations that plagued yesterday's sit greatly subsided. Mind wandering was at a minimum. For at least 90% of the session, my attention was tightly focused on the breath at the nostrils.

At the beginning, attention at the breath competed with some mental chatter going on in parallel. Curiously this self-talk took the form of composing the language for this very log -- apparently meditating for an audience changes the meditation!

A few distressing memories bubbled up but not with the same frequency or distracting power as yesterday. The intention to attend to the breath was clear and insistent.

The sit had a notable lack of energetic sensations, pleasant or otherwise. It was a dry session overall, with some boredom. The final timer ringing was a relief.

The best moments of concentration included clear distinctions between the intent to breathe, the concept of the breath, and the actual sensations of the breath. Weaker moments of concentration muddled these phenomena.

Choiceless awareness, 30 minutes
Pretty boring this time. Little to no mind wandering. A couple delicious minutes of feeling very zen, or like Emerson's transparent eyeball.

I kept my eyes open during this portion of the sit. When I do choiceless awareness with my eyes open I reliably see that the closer I examine visual phenomena the less clear they really are. Their boundaries become fuzzy, the light and color that make them up constantly shift, and I swear that somtimes I can perceive little flecks of darkness in between the points of colored light that make up the object's form, as if I can see the pixelation of reality.

Is this a genuine insight into impermanence/emptiness, or am I just scripting over an optical illusion? I've never been able to tell.
Sam Gentile, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Original Mike's Practice Log

Posts: 910 Join Date: 5/4/20 Recent Posts
Welcome to DhO and starting a new log!
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Original Mike, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Original Mike's Practice Log

Posts: 16 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Thank you for the warm welcome, Sam.
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Original Mike, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Original Mike's Practice Log

Posts: 16 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Metta, 30 minutes
Day two of renewed metta and I'm convinced that -- for me at least -- metta needs to be treated as a fundamental, non-optional mode of practice.

Yesterday's metta period felt dry and mechanical but today there were already clear signs of the benevolent intention flowering into genuine emotional connection. After just a few cycles of repeating the phrases I felt an interior opening in my body and the faintest hints of pleasurable energy pervading that new openness. It was a far cry from the intense bliss I used to feel in meditation prior to my current period of chronic anhedonia but it was a welcome improvement over the unpleasant dryness that has characterized my practice for the last few months.

Very good quality concentration; maybe a slim moment of mind wandering but quickly noticed and corrected.

I should donate some warm clothes. Winter will be here soon and with Covid exacerbating the problem of poverty I'm sure the city shelters are in desperate need.

Samatha, 30+ minutes, transitioning into choiceless awareness
This was the best concentration-focused sit I've had in what feels like a very long time. Relatively free from uncomfortable inner tension, I remained laser-focused on the breath at the nostrils.

No mind-wandering happened at all; the breath was always in the center of awareness. There was a period of loud internal talk that took the form of wondering if I should try to reconcile with one of my intensely complicated former friends. I was able to clearly see this time, however, that this internal talk was not me, not mine -- it was an entirely involuntary process happening in parallel to my cnoscious attention. Having been recognized for what it was and deprived of the energy of my attention, the interal talk died down.

After about 15 minutes I attained access concentration or a level of concentration just shy of it. There were noticeable pleasant sensations arising in my arms and face but I couldn't find any stable enough to serve as the foundation for the first jhana. Instead of trying to force it -- which doesn't work anyway -- I just hung out in-or-near access concentration for a while.

The timer rang, indicating that the 30 minutes was up, but my concentration was so effortless at that point I decided to just transition right into choiceless awareness without any break. I dropped the intention to stay with the breath and opened my attention to anything in awareness. I experienced a time of what seems like productive confusion where I couldn't tell the difference between intending to focus on a sound or just being aware of the sound. Intention itself started to feel like an involuntary process in the same way as mental chatter. And if intentions aren't voluntary what is? Anything? Is "volition" even a coherent idea?
agnostic, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Original Mike's Practice Log

Posts: 1273 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Original Mike:
 Intention itself started to feel like an involuntary process in the same way as mental chatter. And if intentions aren't voluntary what is? Anything? Is "volition" even a coherent idea?

Nice insight - everything is conditioned emoticon
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Original Mike, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Original Mike's Practice Log

Posts: 16 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
agnostic:
Original Mike:
 Intention itself started to feel like an involuntary process in the same way as mental chatter. And if intentions aren't voluntary what is? Anything? Is "volition" even a coherent idea?

Nice insight - everything is conditioned emoticon

I have read a lot of theory about dependent origination and emptiness. I'm trying in these logs to only write down insights that I notice firsthand in my practice but it can be quite difficult at times to distinguish between a genuine insight and an expectation generated by having read about what I'm "supposed" to see.
agnostic, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Original Mike's Practice Log

Posts: 1273 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
That's ok, both scripting and genuine insights are conditioned as well emoticon

I remember as a kid thinking that I couldn't really choose to do anything because everything had a cause. Nice to know there's a fancy name for that.
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Original Mike, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Original Mike's Practice Log

Posts: 16 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
agnostic:
That's ok, both scripting and genuine insights are conditioned as well emoticon

I remember as a kid thinking that I couldn't really choose to do anything because everything had a cause. Nice to know there's a fancy name for that.
There are quite a few fancy names for that. Like determinism.
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Original Mike, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Original Mike's Practice Log

Posts: 16 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Metta, 30 min
Interrupted twice (phone, banging on door), throwing me off balance for the session.

Background: for months -- roughly the length of the Covid epidemic but actually starting a bit earlier -- my daily life has had a total lack of joy -- anhedonia in the clinical sense. Coinciding with the anhedonia, my meditation became characterized by intense, unpleasant, solid-feeling tension and tightness in my head and body. I stopped practicing for a while because it was so unpleasant.

When I first started investigating the joylesness and the tensions, I began to believe that they were one and the same. I don't think that's quite true anymore, although they are clearly associated. In today's metta sit, the unpleasant sensations of tightness were mostly absent but the anhedonia was as present as ever. It had the character of a thick mental fog or heavy blanket that severely dampens any other feelings, positive or negative.

There were faint pleasant sensations, especially toward the end of the sit. Mostly though this was a dry session. Just keep thinking the phrases. Just keep thinking the phrases. Just keep thinking the phrases.

Samatha, 30 min
A very high-effort sit. It's amazing how a couple of interruptions at the start of a meditation session can throw me off for an entire hour.

Despite the considerable exertion of effort required to ignore competition for my attention, the faintest beginnings of piti arose in the last 5-10 minutes. This coincided with a clearer sensation of the braing fog, which started to feel like a silky blanket wrapping around me and dulling the sensations of piti coming from the other side of it. It was not entirely unpleasant.
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Original Mike, modified 3 Months ago.

RE: Original Mike's Practice Log

Posts: 16 Join Date: 10/14/20 Recent Posts
Metta, 30 minutes
I'm in total awe of metta. Just three days ago, doing the exercise felt like a chore but today's session left me feeling totally blissed out.

I began with the traditional phrases, directed toward myself for the first 15 minutes. I find the offering of metta to oneself very important, since I tend to engage in a lot of negative self-talk throughout the day. This session was all about reminding myself that holding negative feelings toward myself is not productive. No matter how many mistakes I've made, I won't make fewer mistakes in the future by ruminating on them after their lessons have been understood; no matter how often I skip the gym, holding disgust for the appearance of my body will not make it look any better or get me to exercise any harder; no matter how much I may have wronged others in the past, torturing myself with guilt will not help them or anyone else. In fact I am least likely to harm others when I act from a foundation of self-love.

I held the intention to let go of guilt and ill-will toward myself at the same time I mentally articulated the traditional phrases. I could feel my mind becoming energized and my concentration improving.

For the second half of the metta session, I moved toward offering metta to others in the usual unfolding circle of intimacy: from friends to acquaintances to strangers to all beings. Around the "all beings" step I dropped the traditional phrases and become more improvisational with it, offering metta to bare sensation itself, exulting in the goodness of cross-species animal friendship videos on YouTube, giving thanks to the forces of death and decay for lending drama to life and through their powers of destruction making room for evermore novel expressions of joyous being.

It felt really good.

Samatha, 30 minutes
Strong, clear start to the session slowly giving way to drowsiness.

Clarity of the breath sharpened and blurred in cycles. Fantasizing about future attainments was a notable feature of distracting mental activity. I found I could bring clarity back through exertion of effort but this resulted in unpleasant tightness.

Vivid sensations of piti did arise periodically. Never quite made it to access concentration.

Toward end of sit, hypnogogic imagery began to arise. I offered admiration for the vast creativity of the unconscious. Lots of imagery of horses and reverse-centaur kind of horse-people.

Intention for the future
Try to sit earlier in the day -- ideally in the morning before work -- so I have more energy to sit for longer and incorporate more vipassana techniques. Taking a detour into metta and improving fundamental concentration skill I think has totally been worth it from a quality of life POV, but I've definitely stalled out on insight.

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