Changing Practices

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Gauthier, modified 4 Months ago.

Changing Practices

Posts: 8 Join Date: 11/15/18 Recent Posts
Hello
My question is this: Should I change practices? If so what direction to go? Finding a new teacher(probably hard during Covid times), reading about different practices, or...?

I've been practicing noting meditation with a teacher according to the instructions of Ajahn Tong Sirimangalo for 3 years with the last six months going like this: I did a 4 days noting retreat, started practicing formally again for 1h30 a day, then took a two months at-home retreat where I practiced for a minimum of 2h a day, at the end I did 6h a day for 3 days. Now I do 2x 30min daily.

A session for me usually involves fast noting of almost everything that arises, followed by trying to come back to the breath. I spend on average 3sec with the breath before something arises and I start noting again. I'm often lost (but still noting) and can't find my way back to the body or breath. Psychosis is also an element in my practice where I have to be careful about (I take medication).

I think I should try a new practice for a month or so and see if there is any difference.

Thank you
Tim Farrington, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Changing Practices

Posts: 2470 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Hello, Gauthier, and a belated bienvenue au DhO! 

My question is this: Should I change practices? If so what direction to go? Finding a new teacher(probably hard during Covid times), reading about different practices, or...?

I think I'd need to hear more background on this. Mainly: why do you want to change? What do you think is missing, or lacking right now? Are you drawn strongly to any particular other practice? I gather from your previous post --- Fear, psychosis and how to continue practice - Discussion - www.dharmaoverground.org --- that you've been meditating in the Mahasi Sayadaw Thai vipassana tradition, especially as it comes through Ajahn Tong Sirimangalo, since July, 2018, yes? And you have stayed with a basic noting practice that whole time? So again, what is it about your practice now that has you considering a switch?

In general, the basic wisdom is to stick with your technique, as a huge amount of learning comes from practicing through all kinds of weathers and terrains, and through all phases and cycles. With experience comes nuance and suppleness, and also a steady practice allows the big changes that come to arise in a tested context where you have seasoning and the trust in your technique to let the technique work even when you feel baffled or overwhelmed. So it's a big deal to switch horses.

That said, big deals happen. You have a strong sense of this, clearly, and trusting your gut has a lot to be said for it. But I would still love to hear more about your thinking here.

I've been practicing noting meditation with a teacher according to the instructions of Ajahn Tong Sirimangalo for 3 years with the last six months going like this: I did a 4 days noting retreat, started practicing formally again for 1h30 a day, then took a two months at-home retreat where I practiced for a minimum of 2h a day, at the end I did 6h a day for 3 days. Now I do 2x 30min daily.

A session for me usually involves fast noting of almost everything that arises, followed by trying to come back to the breath. I spend on average 3sec with the breath before something arises and I start noting again.


So far, so good. This is good strong practice, steady, committed, unheroic, basic bread and butter life on the path.

I'm often lost (but still noting) and can't find my way back to the body or breath. Psychosis is also an element in my practice where I have to be careful about (I take medication).

Is this your concern? You first post mentioned that you came to meditation in the first place after a psychotic break. I am bipolar myself, with multiple hospitalizations over the years, so I know how tricky this ground can be. As far as I can tell, you've been on a run of quite some time now, at least since 2018, without another episode of psychosis--- yes? Are you feeling shakier now? I would like to hear more about your diagnosis, history, and what your current treatments and support system are.

I think I should try a new practice for a month or so and see if there is any difference.

Again, you're saying this so strongly that I suspect you're right. But I would still be very interested in hearing more about your situation.

​​​​​​​Thank you for all your sharing. I loved that post on the art you do, by the way. I feel like I have cave painter past lives, lol, though this incarnation I got stuck with mere literacy.
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Gauthier, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Changing Practices

Posts: 8 Join Date: 11/15/18 Recent Posts
Tim

Thank you for your answer.
I asked my teacher about changing practices and she told me only I can know.
She compared it to having a relationship and knowing it's for the rest of your life or not.
She also told me changing is easy.
After meditation, I laid down and visualized me continuing with the practice. I felt in my body a strong disagreement with this option. And also when I imagined not going on retreat the body knew that was the way to go. I do not have an other practice to which I'm strongly drawn. The being lost and the not being able to return are factors that are also making me consider a switch. 

I have been practicing according to the instructions of my teacher. In the first year of practice I stumbled upon restlessness and worry, my first post was about this period. Then I she gave me an new exercise which was to lay down for five minutes and come back to the breath. It helped and I still do that during my day. This was the second year until I went back on a four days retreat and started practicing formally again.

I'm diagnosed with “psychotic disorder” but I'm not sure that is correct. I've only had one psychotic break and one depression for which I've been hospitalized. Currently I'm taking Abilify and see a psychotherapist (who also suggests I change practices to Ajahn Chah's 'take the one seat' practice and welcome who comes in).

Now I feel more stable.
On the at-home retreat things definitely got shakier. Not psychotic but there were elements resembling it. I guess the medication I take helped me not to get lost in it.

I'll give an update on the art post!
Tim Farrington, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Changing Practices

Posts: 2470 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Hi Gauthier, and thank you for your great reply to my questions. Now I have more, lol! I hope you will forgive me, but you're at such an interesting and crucial point in your life and practice, and with the psychiatric factors I feel very humble and really want to just take it slowly enough to get as much of the full picture as I can.

I asked my teacher about changing practices and she told me only I can know.
She compared it to having a relationship and knowing it's for the rest of your life or not.
She also told me changing is easy.
After meditation, I laid down and visualized me continuing with the practice. I felt in my body a strong disagreement with this option. And also when I imagined not going on retreat the body knew that was the way to go.


Well, your teacher sounds right on to me. It seemed like in your first post on this thread you were thinking about changing teachers too? Would she keep working with you if you change your practice? Because it does seem pretty clear right now that all signs point to that being the right move for you, starting with your own visceral certainty. That clarity is a great blessing, and trusting yourself is key.

I do not have an other practice to which I'm strongly drawn. The being lost and the not being able to return are factors that are also making me consider a switch. 

I'm very curious about this "being lost and not being able to return" to the body and breath. You also mentioned it in your first post:

I'm often lost (but still noting) and can't find my way back to the body or breath. Psychosis is also an element in my practice where I have to be careful about (I take medication).

I don't know how much weight to put on the fact that it was immediately following the "lost" that you mentioned the psychosis history. Is the "lost and unable to return" scary? Do you mean lost in thought, or lost in space/emptiness/silence? Basic noting practice is noticing what comes in through "the six sense doors," the five senses and the mind. What are you "still noting" when you're lost and can't find your way back to the body or breath? Do you mean you literally cannot find the breath even when you look for it, and you can't find any bodily sensation even when you look for it? Or do you mean that you're lost in thought and can't remember to attend to the breath and body for periods of time, that you're getting caught up in thought?

I have been practicing according to the instructions of my teacher. In the first year of practice I stumbled upon restlessness and worry, my first post was about this period. Then I she gave me an new exercise which was to lay down for five minutes and come back to the breath. It helped and I still do that during my day. This was the second year until I went back on a four days retreat and started practicing formally again.

I'm diagnosed with “psychotic disorder” but I'm not sure that is correct. I've only had one psychotic break and one depression for which I've been hospitalized. Currently I'm taking Abilify and see a psychotherapist (who also suggests I change practices to Ajahn Chah's 'take the one seat' practice and welcome who comes in).

"Psychotic disorder" is a very broad characterization. To make a fundamental distinction, was your psychotic break more manic in character, meaning characterized by a high energy, ego inflation, and uncharacteristic excesses in activity, or more hallucinatory, in the sense of a truly vivid alternative reality infiltrating your sense of what was actually going on, a kind of psychosis which is more inward-oriented? The depression, severe enough for hospitalization, could be an aspect of bipolar syndrome, but not necessarily. I'm certainly not trying to diagnose you here, but I am trying to get a better sense of what your psychotic experience was. This is such potent stuff, we all walk humbly here.

It is very heartening to me that you have a prescribing psychiatrist and a therapist who is sympathetic and tuned in to your meditation practice, along with your teacher. It's a great support crew!

Now I feel more stable.
On the at-home retreat things definitely got shakier. Not psychotic but there were elements resembling it. I guess the medication I take helped me not to get lost in it.


Again, it's this sense of being lost that I'm most curious about. I just want to understand better what you mean by lost, and what you mean by not being able to find your way back. 

I'll give an update on the art post!

Yes, please do! It would be great if you could actually share some images of your work.
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Gauthier, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Changing Practices

Posts: 8 Join Date: 11/15/18 Recent Posts
Tim

I think my current teacher will only teach in the Ajahn Tong tradition, because she only has experience in this one. So if I change I'll need to find a new teacher.

I'm noting things as they arise through the six sense doors. When I'm lost I mean I'm in super speedy unable-to-catch-up-with distractions of the mind in forms of thoughts and visual stuff. It feels like spheres bubbling up and me trying to get to the center of it all to come back to the breath. I feel like I have to clear up the space by noting before being able to come back to the breath. I don't have the chance to look for it. I know I'm not with the breath but can't seem to mindfully bring it back. It's more frustrating than scary.

My psychotic break was more manic with some subtle hallucinations like seeing demonic eyes on people, but that could be due to the high energy states. There was ego inflation (thinking I was some god sometimes) and at other times I was submerged in a demonic world (being in the garden of Eden, seeing/ hearing things that confirmed this in magazines/ TV/ radio). So both manic and hallucinatory I think, but not true visions or hearing voices.

Thank you.
Tim Farrington, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Changing Practices

Posts: 2470 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
I'm noting things as they arise through the six sense doors. When I'm lost I mean I'm in super speedy unable-to-catch-up-with distractions of the mind in forms of thoughts and visual stuff. It feels like spheres bubbling up and me trying to get to the center of it all to come back to the breath. I feel like I have to clear up the space by noting before being able to come back to the breath. I don't have the chance to look for it. I know I'm not with the breath but can't seem to mindfully bring it back. It's more frustrating than scary.

Gauthier, i may have my head up my ass here, but this sounds like good noting practice to me.  I would say, don't try to get "back" to anywhere during these overwhelming waves of spheres/thoughts bubbling up, and don't have the extra goal of trying to "clear up the space," just note the next sphere/thought you can and then note the next one, without trying to get them all. The mind will eventually adjust (in a wide variety of ways), but while it's happening in that overwhelming way, it sounds to me like you're doing the best noting you can do. The "return" to the breath, if I understand your technique correctly, is simply the "reset" on your technique, if you realize you've drifted off in thought-story stuff: renewal of your noting then is as close as your next in-breath, and you renew your noting of what arises through the six sense doors from there. But it sounds to me like you ARE noting, and if you're noting so hard and intensely and fast that you can't come back to the breath, then i think you're just doing your job, honestly. The noting is the point of the technique, as I understand it, the breath is just where you start, and where you begin afresh. (If I'm wrong here, somebody please jump in and say so.)
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Siavash, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Changing Practices

Posts: 1286 Join Date: 5/5/19 Recent Posts
 I guess the way the technique usually is phrased is misleading.
They often say: When you get lost, come back to your breath!

Well, when you are lost, you are lost and you can't come back! It should have said:
When you came back from a mind-wandering episode (or whatever), and you noticed it, then re-adjust yourself by paying attention to your breathing and then continue noting whatever sensation comes to you.

 
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Gauthier, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Changing Practices

Posts: 8 Join Date: 11/15/18 Recent Posts
I think I will continue with the noting practice for now.
Thank you for your help.
Tim Farrington, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: Changing Practices

Posts: 2470 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
I'll be very interested to hear how it goes for you. Hang in there, my friend, and may your hard work bear fruit.