How do you know if you are making progress?

Artem Zen, modified 4 Months ago.

How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/28/21 Recent Posts
Hello fellow Dharmanites, 


I have been meditating consistently for about 5 years. 

I started with 10 minutes a day using the headspace app. 

Eventually started to do 20 minutes a day unguided, then 20 mins twice daily. 

I later did the TM course, dabbled with that for a bit, although wasn't crazy about it. 

Through these years I have also being using psychedelics at least several times a year. 

These substances have had a profound effect on me in particular 5-me0-dmt which I used 3 times and believe really propelled me on the spiritual path. 

About a year and a half ago I read "Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha" and then "The Mind Illuminated."

Both books had a big impact on me. 

MTCTB because it introduced me to pragmatic dharma which was a breath of fresh after reading cryptic spiritual teachings for years. It also helped me map my 5-me0-DMT experiences and realize that they were most likely A&P events. (that explained my desire to go deeper into meditation as well as my challenges dealing with conventional reality)

"The Mind Illuminated" because I think I finally understood what was happening with my mind during meditation and how to potentially correct it so I can actually meditate instead of being lost in content. 

Since then I became what I would say a "serious meditator" clocking in about 90 mins meditation time daily and now I do at least 2 hours daily (probably for the last year or so). 

A little over a year ago I got to attend a 4-day beginners Zen retreat. It was nice but I was definitely ready for something more intense. 

Last August I hired a meditation teacher who I have been seeing once a week until the last couple of months at which point we started meeting bi-weekly. 

According to her, I am peaking my head into equanimity, although it is clear that I haven't been able to stabilize there. 

I seem to be sliding back and forth and still experiencing a lot of Dukkha in my daily life. 

It usually takes me about 40 minutes sometimes an hour or more to get into equanimity. 

Some sits I don't even get there. 

I am doing a noting practice similar to what Daniel speaks about in MTCTB

Lately, doubt has been creeping in and I'm beginning to question if I am really making progress. 

The TMI practice really spoke to me and that was what I was doing before I started working with my meditation teacher. 

Now I am considering if TMI would be better than a traditional noting practice. 

Maybe it can better alleviate Duhkka and help me concentrate my mind better. 

I have been meaning to go on a longer 7-10 silent retreat but that has not been a possibility due to Co-vid. 

On top of that, I recently had my second son which makes going on retreat even more challenging. 

I have always been a moody up and down person but in the last couple of years, the downs have gotten quite overwhelming.

I never stay down for long but when I am down it really sucks.  

Sometimes I am not sure how much of my dis-ease is due to my meditation practice (Dark Night) or just regular everyday life stuff. 

I have been considering doing some therapy (not due to anything specific) but only because meditation doesn't seem to be helping with the suffering. 

I understand meditation is about transcending narrative and therapy is about creating a healthier narrative. 

Maybe my moods pull me into unhelpful thinking patterns which at this point meditation isn't resolving. 

Sorry for the short essay but I feel like I had to give a little background information to provide context. 

What I am asking is how do you know if you are making progress? Or how can I speed progress up since it feels super slow and painful. 

How do you know when to use a different meditation technique?

Has anyone transitioned from a Mahasi noting to a TMI practice and seen positive results?

How do I know if I should do therapy or if my suffering can in fact be transcended by meditation alone?

I will ask my meditation teacher some of these questions in our next session but I wanted to hear perspectives from a wider variety of voices. 

TIA!
George S, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 2026 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Therapy sounds like it could be helpful. It can work well in combination with meditation. I would say that meditation is just shining awareness on the dis-ease that is already there. If you weren't meditating then it would still be operating below the surface and finding other outlets (probably less healthy).

Why not try splitting your practice time between TMI and noting? In the noting phase you can do investigation of such questions. What is progress? Who would be making progress towards what? What are the effects of different practices? What does this dis-ease actually feel like in the body? What are the sensations like? Are they actually unpleasant when you look really closely at them? Etc etc
Artem Zen, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/28/21 Recent Posts
Hmmm I have been doing that recently "splitting time between TMI &amp; Noting".<br /><br />I guess that is something I can try more.&nbsp;
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Jim Smith, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 1005 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
"How do you know if you are making progress?"

My opinion is that you measure your progress not by what happens during sitting meditation but by what happens during the rest of the day.

https://www.lionsroar.com/on-enlightenment-an-interview-with-shinzen-young/
On Enlightenment – An Interview with Shinzen Young
...
Maybe they’ve been practicing for ten, twenty, or thirty years and it doesn’t seem that much has changed.  And then something big happens like a major bereavement, a major illness like cancer, a serious injury, or their life is somehow threatened. Then they notice how everyone around them is freaking out and how much less they’re freaking out.

I’ll give you an example that happened just a few weeks ago. Someone who has been coming to retreats for quite a while went to have a biopsy to determine whether they had a serious cancer or not. While waiting for the results, this person noticed they weren’t worried.

In my opinion the purpose of meditation is not to achieve some kind of breakthrough, it is to prepare the mind for investigating the origin of dukkha and the cessation of dukkha in daily life.  Understanding the origin and cessation of dukkha in your own mind takes away dukkha's power over you.
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Jim Smith, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 1005 Join Date: 1/17/15 Recent Posts
Jim Smith
"How do you know if you are making progress?"

My opinion is that you measure your progress not by what happens during sitting meditation but by what happens during the rest of the day.

https://www.lionsroar.com/on-enlightenment-an-interview-with-shinzen-young/
On Enlightenment – An Interview with Shinzen Young
...
Maybe they’ve been practicing for ten, twenty, or thirty years and it doesn’t seem that much has changed.  And then something big happens like a major bereavement, a major illness like cancer, a serious injury, or their life is somehow threatened. Then they notice how everyone around them is freaking out and how much less they’re freaking out.

I’ll give you an example that happened just a few weeks ago. Someone who has been coming to retreats for quite a while went to have a biopsy to determine whether they had a serious cancer or not. While waiting for the results, this person noticed they weren’t worried.

In my opinion the purpose of meditation is not to achieve some kind of breakthrough, it is to prepare the mind for investigating the origin of dukkha and the cessation of dukkha in daily life.  Understanding the origin and cessation of dukkha in your own mind takes away dukkha's power over you.


One reason I think measuring progress based on what happens during meditation is not a good idea is because what happens during meditation can be influenced by many environmental factors such as: if you had a stressful day, your metabolic state ie blood sugar levels, and natural flucitions in  brain chemistry. What you experience during meditation can vary a lot and that variation can have nothing to do with your "progress" but can have a lot to do with biological phenomena that cannot be influenced by mental techniques like meditation.
Artem Zen, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/28/21 Recent Posts
Jim, I think you make a very valid and vital point. 

This is something I think about a lot and my recent lack of quality sleep is definitely contributing to the difficult mental states. 
Artem Zen, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/28/21 Recent Posts
I agree but there is a lot of Dukkha in daily experience hence why I'm doubting the practice.
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Dream Walker, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

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RE: How do you know if you are making progress?
Tim Farrington, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 2470 Join Date: 6/13/11 Recent Posts
Hi Artem, and welcome to DhO and the sangha of "fellow Dharmanites." (loved that; we also go by "DhOrks" at times, lol, yours is much more distinguished).

What a great, detailed post, thank you for sharing it. Your journey is inspiring, and you've covered a lot of road. And it is very very lucid and concise, with those one line paragraphs, very cool stylistically, and the style serves the substance well, so props on your writing itself.

Three relatively broad responses occurred to me, as I read.

1) 

I have always been a moody up and down person but in the last couple of years, the downs have gotten quite overwhelming.

I never stay down for long but when I am down it really sucks.  

Sometimes I am not sure how much of my dis-ease is due to my meditation practice (Dark Night) or just regular everyday life stuff. 

I have been considering doing some therapy (not due to anything specific) but only because meditation doesn't seem to be helping with the suffering. 

I understand meditation is about transcending narrative and therapy is about creating a healthier narrative. 

Maybe my moods pull me into unhelpful thinking patterns which at this point meditation isn't resolving. 

As someone who has struggled for a long time with depression intertwined with my path, I can relate to how difficult it is to sort out dark night stuff, with the call to work it through in practice, from dis-ease that is psychological or psychiatric and may be treatable through therapy. I would encourage you to try the therapy you're considering, because if you can alleviate anything there, hurray, and your practice will only be stronger for it, not to mention your daily life in every aspect. Ditto on antidepressant meds, if your therapist says they might help. The dark night is not going anywhere, as you already know: it's an ocean we all have to navigate. But swimming out of the riptide of depression may help you not drown along the way.

2) 

I am doing a noting practice similar to what Daniel speaks about in MTCTB

Lately, doubt has been creeping in and I'm beginning to question if I am really making progress. 

The TMI practice really spoke to me and that was what I was doing before I started working with my meditation teacher. 

Now I am considering if TMI would be better than a traditional noting practice.
 

I think you should raise this question very specifically with your teacher, saying that you are considering whether the TMI practice that "spoke to you" before might be . . . better, for you. I say this very gently and tentatively, because it actually sounds like your teacher is good and has been good for you. But to live with a sense of going against your best instinct in your practice for too long is not going to be good for anyone. The path is more and more about trusting your gut, trusting the path itself, trusting whatever got you going and sustains you, and your discernment of what your gut is telling you will be increasingly seasoned and sophisticated the more you practice. What it's telling you now seems more like a whisper than a shout--- doubts "creeping in," remembering that your TMI technique spoke to you in the past, which you presented here all in past tense, these are intuitions but not strikingly vivid, especially in light of the other factors here (the possible depression aspect, and you still feeling around for some solid way to gauge whether you are making progress, and fearing that you aren't). I am a go-with-your-gut guy pretty much across the board, but it is not a light thing to switch horses on a technique or a teacher in mid-stream. You're going to hit the doubt territory with any technique or teacher. That's why I say, have a very frank discussion with your teacher about the TMI technique, and this crisis of confidence in general. This is the moment to put it on the table with her, and you'll know a lot more simply by articulating your considerations to her, and by how her response resonates. Give her the chance to surprise you, and leave room for surprising yourself. And see what your gut has to say about it then, lol. But seriously.

3)

According to her, I am peaking my head into equanimity, although it is clear that I haven't been able to stabilize there. 

I seem to be sliding back and forth and still experiencing a lot of Dukkha in my daily life. 

It usually takes me about 40 minutes sometimes an hour or more to get into equanimity. 

Some sits I don't even get there. 

This is why I think your title on this post, "How do you know if you are making progress?" is indeed the heart of it for you right now. To me, equanimity is a fucking miracle, and especially in the context of having truly experienced the dark night and its seemingly bottomless misery. That you are poking your head into equanimity after forty minutes meditation or so, on a relatively regular basis, is big fucking progress. I mean, consider NOT getting to EQ at all! I used to live in San Francisco, way out toward the ocean in the fog belt, and there were a lot of days when I went outside into deep fog soup, and walked inland through the park, and a lot of the times, often somewhere around 19th Avenue, I would emerge from the gray cloud into a bright sunny day full of color. That's what we're talking about here. Equanimity beginning to open up for you is precious, spectacular, life-changing progress. It won't cure depression, and the ripples into your life may be stymied by any number of factors, but the simple reality of it is cause for existential celebration. And learning to abide in it for as long as it demands (EQ is actually a very finicky bitch, very high maintenance at some points, in a certain paradoxical do-nothing-intensely way, but wow, you really don't want to be with anything else after the dark night) is progress par excellence. So I think part of what you're dealing with here is simply unrealistic expectations of how fast things should happen. And you're selling EQ short. A taste of equanimity goes a long way, after intense dukkha immersion. Whatever you're doing to get there, however long it takes on a given day, however intermittent it may be, is cause for gratitude and should deepen your trust in what you're doing. How much fog do you need to walk through before a clear sky makes you happy, lol? 

I truly think you're in a great place, Mr. A. Zen, with a strong practice, and the commitment and conscientiousness it takes to do the long haul. I hope you'll stick around here and let us know how you're doing. And good luck, my friend.
Artem Zen, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/28/21 Recent Posts
Thank you for your beautiful and kind response. 

Yea I think I'm just having a difficult time in my life right now and overly focusing on the negative. 

Thanks for the encouragement, the moments of equanimity are truly revitalizing. 
Sam Gentile, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 1345 Join Date: 5/4/20 Recent Posts
>>According to her, I am peaking my head into equanimity, although it is clear that I haven't been able to stabilize there. 

I seem to be sliding back and forth and still experiencing a lot of Dukkha in my daily life. 

It usually takes me about 40 minutes sometimes an hour or more to get into equanimity. 

Some sits I don't even get there. 

I am doing a noting practice similar to what Daniel speaks about in MTCTB

Lately, doubt has been creeping in and I'm beginning to question if I am really making progress. 

The TMI practice really spoke to me and that was what I was doing before I started working with my meditation teacher. 

>>

There is a lot of parallels to my story. I felt like I was making no progress until I met with Daniel Ingram, he set me up up with Fast Mahasi Style Noting and I got set up with a good teacher. Then things started happening. Two A+Ps, Equanmity, and SE. I could tell I was making progress by my experiences - what was happening. You already said you were doing Noting. You have not seen any results from this? Also a good teacher will help you see progress. The question is the rigjt teacher. Like me, I notice you have been all over the spiritual marketplace for years without results. Thats what I did until I totally picked vipassana and MCTB. You need to pick one that speaks to you and produces results. I can't speak for TMI.
Sam Gentile, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 1345 Join Date: 5/4/20 Recent Posts
On a re-read of this, it seems like you are with one method and you are meditatinng 90 minute sits to get to equanimity. Equanimity is a wonderful place to be after the horrors of the dark night. You should be in a great place but I guess the3 dukkha remains. I can speak from my experience that involving a psychotherpist at this point is beneficial.
Artem Zen, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/28/21 Recent Posts
Hey Sam,

Glad to hear about your progress. 

How long did it take you to get to stream entry?

I actually think we have the same teacher because I believe you were the one who recommended her to me.

I think I am seeing progress; I'm just being impatient and hitting another rough patch. 
Sam Gentile, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 1345 Join Date: 5/4/20 Recent Posts
Artem Zen
Hey Sam,

Glad to hear about your progress. 

How long did it take you to get to stream entry?

I actually think we have the same teacher because I believe you were the one who recommended her to me.

I think I am seeing progress; I'm just being impatient and hitting another rough patch. 

I did NOT make any progress for eight years because I chose evrything andd did some many methods and techniques. When I choose the path is MTB and Abre it took me almost 2 years to get stream entry. What does  Abre say to do? I can't believe should would avvise TMI because its a pay for methodology. 
Artem Zen, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/28/21 Recent Posts
She didn't advise it herself but i've mentioned it several times and she is willing to work with me on it. 

​​​​​​​What do you mean by pay for methodology?
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Angel Roberto Puente, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 281 Join Date: 5/5/19 Recent Posts
I'm going to risk sounding trite but it has to be said and understood over and over. If you want to make progress you have to dig deep into one method. All the different methods have their own progress of insight, you get good at one step and then another step pops up. If you think about it, it's the same with any art, music, dance, martial arts, or painting. It's especially evident in the no-bullshit activities where either you can perform or not. It's fine, and maybe inevitable to shop around until you find the practice that suits you. If you feel comfortable with the teacher and method you are following now DIG IN! Follow the steps. Make sure you have mastered the basics and proceed to master the other steps one by one. Eventually, you will be able to zip through the steps and end up in equanimity at will. I know it sounds boastful, but ask around. I'm sure you will find that a lot of long-term practitioners can do this.
Artem Zen, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

Posts: 14 Join Date: 4/28/21 Recent Posts
I agree on the one method and not flip-flopping from one thing to the next. Still, there are times to pivot. I'm going to try the TMI method for 3 months and see if anything changes. 
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Papa Che Dusko, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: How do you know if you are making progress?

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I think concentration and body relaxation indeed is a good thing to have coupled with Vipassana. 

In my experience having a concentration object while practicing noting aloud is super helpful. First it offers yet another noting object and other phenomena associated with it and it aids in concentration and it also develops absorption stuff. 

I did open eyes staring at a small round object. 2 meters away from me. Gently gazing at it while freestyle noting aloud for the duration of the entire sit. 

Got absorption stuff happening during the DN seeing a grey cloud like doughnut coming out of the floor, getting wider and wider then, Puff would disappear just to grow out large again. Pretty good concentration for open eyes and freestyle noting don't you say emoticon 

All I'm saying is there is no reason to walk away from noting just because you want more concentration. 

Choose you favorite object and keep returning to it often and note it often.

This is just me sharing what I did. You choose that which resonates best with you. 

Best wishes to you! emoticon 

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