Eric: Practice Log

Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 6/18/21 2:20 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 6/18/21 3:19 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log George S 6/18/21 4:15 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 6/18/21 8:14 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Kaloyan Stefanov 8/30/21 5:36 AM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 8/26/21 4:03 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Sigma Tropic 4/27/22 2:25 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Chris M 4/27/22 2:28 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Kaloyan Stefanov 8/30/21 5:37 AM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 8/30/21 2:38 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Adi Vader 10/24/21 12:19 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 10/23/21 3:24 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log George S 10/23/21 8:07 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 10/24/21 9:55 AM
RE: Eric: Practice Log George S 10/24/21 12:02 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 12/23/21 1:13 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log George S 12/24/21 9:44 AM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Martin 12/24/21 10:55 AM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 12/24/21 2:00 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log George S 12/24/21 2:28 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 12/24/21 3:53 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 2/9/22 7:30 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log George S 2/10/22 7:45 AM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 2/10/22 6:49 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log George S 2/11/22 8:30 AM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 4/24/22 10:05 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log George S 4/25/22 9:33 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 4/27/22 1:16 PM
RE: Eric: Practice Log Eric Abrahamsen 9/6/22 9:08 PM
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 1 Year ago at 6/18/21 2:20 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 6/18/21 2:20 PM

Eric: Practice Log

Posts: 28 Join Date: 6/9/21 Recent Posts
Okay, I guess I'll give this a shot after all, though I don't know if I'll keep it up or not. I don't expect to post anything like every day, maybe just every few weeks as things seem to be changing. Who knows!
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 1 Year ago at 6/18/21 3:19 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 6/18/21 2:21 PM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

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So this is my "where I'm at" introductory post. I've been meditating seriously for about a year and a half, now trying to up my sits from a half-hour to an hour, with mixed success. I believe I'm somewhere in Cause and Effect -- at least, I'm quite sure I've gone through Mind and Body, and don't think I've reached Three Characteristics, so Cause and Effect it is! I can manage a halfway-decent first jhana, but that's all.

My main practical difficulty is posture: I have a *very* longstanding mobility issue with my SI joint/hip joint/psoas muscle on the left side, which makes it nearly impossible to sit cross-legged. I cant way over to the right, and need to work just to keep from falling sideways. I know we're supposed to lean into the physical challenges, but... it seems a little extreme. So I've been meditating in a kneeling position, sitting on a yoga block, and that works pretty well. I've been slowly addressing the mobility problem with a combination of taiji, stretching and weights, and it's been very interesting to see the direct correlation between increased physical relaxation and the ability to concentrate. The muscles in my hip let go one tiny step at a time, each relaxation happens in the space of a moment, and there's almost an immediate reflection in the calmness of my mind.

In terms of actual meditation, my main issue now is making a distinction between concentration practice and insight practice. So far I've been occupied with the basic work of dealing with mind-wandering and dullness, and it's only in the past couple of months that I've got enough concentration that I can actually decide what to do with it. I think my sits have been a kind of mashup of concentration and insight, and I'm considering maybe separating them into two different sessions per day.

I'm naturally inclined towards concentration, and am enjoying progression into the jhanas, but I feel a bit more lost when it comes to insight: I don't have an intuitive sense of what I'm doing or where it's leading me. I try examining the breath sensations at the nose very closely, trying to see them as coming in discrete moments or vibrations. But most of my physical sensations seem to ripple or buzz or sizzle whether I'm meditating or not, and I can't tell the difference between static in my nervous system and Glorious Insight into the Ultimate Nature of Sensate Reality. Presumably I just need to stick with it.

It's weird: the exhale sensation of air on my upper lip and pressure on the tip of my nose is very obviously buzzing or oscillating, but on the inhale, the sensation of cold and dryness inside my nostrils (which is the strongest of the inhale sensations) isn't vibratory at all, it's completely steady. I suspect that none of this rippling or buzzing actually corresponds to direct perception of discrete sensations.

So I might use something other than the breath, and I'm trying to figure out what. Physical sensations in taiji practice would be an obvious choice, as kind of an analogue of walking meditation, but it might be a little "much"; that's a lot of input, and it might be better to start with something more limited. I'm considering using sound sensations instead, as I've had some luck with completely filling my awareness with the full range of incoming sounds. I can often hear voices and conversations where I am, and a few times I've been able to focus so closely on the sounds of voices that I do not understand what they're saying. For someone usually very attuned to language, I was sort of amazed I was able to do that, and it made me think that might be a good direction to go in.

Anyway, that's where I'm at!
George S, modified 1 Year ago at 6/18/21 4:15 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 6/18/21 4:10 PM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

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Hi Eric,

Congratulations for taking the plunge and starting a log! I hope you find what you are looking for :-)

​​​​​​​I mostly sit in a chair when I meditate. I've heard reports of people making impressive progress sitting on the couch! The main thing is that you are comfortable without falling asleep (although that sometimes happens too and it can be interesting).
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 1 Year ago at 6/18/21 8:14 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 6/18/21 8:11 PM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

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Ha! Thankfully falling asleep hasn't been an issue yet (probably that means I need to practice more). I actually really like the kneeling posture, as it's very easy to keep a straight, balanced spine, and I find that has helped with keeping my energy up. I still rely very much on my body to support, energize, and guide my mind.

Thanks for your response!
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 1 Year ago at 8/26/21 4:03 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 8/26/21 4:03 PM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

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Not too much to report on the practice itself, as I seem to be at a bit of plateau: focus on the breath is steady, but the babble of thought and narration won't quite go away. Just working on it.

In the meantime, I've been thinking a bit about how we get started with practice. I have a few friends who I talk to about this sort of thing, and since I've started meditating seriously of course I nag them about starting too -- these are guys who've said off and on over the years that they've always meant to try. I've been thinking about how difficult it is simply to make that initial decision, that you're going to commit to giving it a shot.

I made a sudden connection between that, and what so many dharma books tell you about the beginning of practice: that the first step is one of morality/sila. That never made much sense to me; or rather the instructions always seemed to be something like: "You must first set aside your raging anger, stop sleeping with the neighbor's wife, and come to terms with the hate in your heart, only then can you start working on concentration". That always puzzled me; I don't feel like I'm particularly consumed by anger or hate, and I don't sleep with my neighbor's wife.

But as time passed I realized that the reluctance to practice *is* a moral issue: we (my friends and I) are accustomed to a life of mild irresponsibility, reacting passively to things, not quite stepping up to the plate. The resolution to meditate is difficult because it requires assuming responsibility, facing life, doing what needs to be done. It looks like retreat, but it's actually an advance. It looks like inaction, but actually it is action. And it's difficult to rouse yourself to action.

So that's our moral issue. In Buddhist terms, we're beset not so much by the defilements of attraction or aversion, but by that of ignorance. That comfortable numbness; procrastination; the pleasure of inaction. So maybe it's "sila first" after all...
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Kaloyan Stefanov, modified 1 Year ago at 8/30/21 5:36 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 8/30/21 5:23 AM

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I made tremendous progress slouching on the couch and gazing at candles and the red led-light of the TV - I am not joking. And of course, this is not a recommendation emoticon

I probably did 95% of the Vipassana heavy lifting couch-slouching, lying down and walking.
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Kaloyan Stefanov, modified 1 Year ago at 8/30/21 5:37 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 8/30/21 5:31 AM

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Hey Eric, great that you decided to start a log and good luck with your practice! Indeed, posture only important in as much as it needs to be comfortable. We all have these ideas of what spiritual postures should look like, better throw these out and stick to what works for you.

"Sila" is better translated as something like skillful action. "Morality" is such a bad translation for that word. Indeed, maintaining a regular practice, setting the right intentions for that practice (e.g. "May I awaken for the benefit of all"), creating the space and time for that practice whilst also keeping things afloat in daily life is skillful action.

What you comment on - sensations buzzing or sizzling etc. is exactly Vipassana / Insight. If you use the 3 characteristics as framework, what you clearly see when you pay attention to these individual sensory impulses is:
1) They come and go, not a single sensation is permanent, nothing lasts.
2) They come and go on their own, in a perfectly causal way. There is the attention towards the sensation at the nose, then there is the sensation of the breath at the nose, then there is the mental impression of that sensation. There is No self (Agent, center, perciever, observer) somehow linked to these sensations
3) Sensations don't provide lasting satisfaction. Everything seems to be fundamentally dissatisfactory in that sense.

Do not hesitate to use also thoughts as objects, using this same framework. If you are skilled at jhana already, and can raise to e.g. 3rd jhana, you should be able to "objectify" the thought stream relatively easily as well. (3rd jhana not a requirement fot this, but it makes it easier for a lot of people) Here are these thoughts, they come and go on their own, "I" seem to be observing them, but not thinking them. Upon further investigation you can also see that this "I" observing is also just a bunch of sensations.

Let us know how we can help emoticon Good luck!
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 1 Year ago at 8/30/21 2:38 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 8/30/21 2:38 PM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

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Thanks very much for this reply!

I definitely feel like the terminology gets in the way a bit, in the beginning, but I also don't see any good way around it: in such an old tradition, with centuries of discourse built up around it, the translations are bound to be inadequate (I'm a translator, and very aware of these problems).

Generally I'd prefer to get familiar with some of the Pali terms and just use them directly: like sila or dukkha or whatnot. Metta is another: the term "loving-kindness" was so annoying to me when I first read it (and the idea of "being happy for everybody" seemed so fatuous) that I didn't do any metta practice for the first year or more of meditating. But plain old concentration practice kind of edged me in that direction (I think because it led to me feeling metta for myself first), and when I finally just tried it it was *such* a powerful experience, almost a kind of relief, it brought tears to my eyes. Not something I ever would have expected.

Anyway, I don't see any easy solution to that problem!

Thanks very much for the tips on vipassana (another term where I'd just rather use the Pali). That's really helpful just to have the confirmation that I'm headed in the right direction. When I wrote my previous log I think I was in one of those "ahead of the game" periods where you're having experiences that are ahead of your "real" level, and now I'm in the opposite: annoyed and distracted, unable to get into any jhana at all, and just grinding along trying to stay focused on the breath. But still doing it!

Your pointers are very welcome, and will be useful once I get out of this trough emoticon
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 1 Year ago at 10/23/21 3:24 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/23/21 3:24 PM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

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No enormous leaps to report, but some really solid incremental progress. I feel like I’m finally leaving behind the “effortful” stage of early meditation. No longer does it feel like I’m learning to ride a bike: wobble along on top of it for twenty seconds and then tip over; wobble and tip over; wobble and tip over. I still swerve from time to time, but I can more or less keep my mind in line without feeling like I’m exhausting myself. I haven’t really tried pushing past forty-five-minute sits yet, but I feel like I ought to be able to manage an hour to an hour and a half without too much trouble. Getting into a base state of concentration is also much faster, and much less dependent on my mood at the time, where I find myself, whether I’ve just had some annoying experiences, etc. All that might make it a little easier or a little harder, depending, it might take a bit longer, but I can always get there reliably. It’s a really nice sense of progress, and makes me think it’s time to try a retreat.

A big challenge earlier this year was (in TMI terms) subtle dullness: I would often catch myself losing mental energy and focus, starting to fuzz out. I think I’ve largely overcome this, but I’m having a related uncertainty now: as my mind gets closer to real quiet, I feel like I might be ready to move towards single-pointed focus, but I’m not sure I can tell the difference between single-pointed focus and a return of subtle dullness. As I have little stretches of real mental quiet (nothing happening at all mentally, at least for a few seconds at a time) and deepen my focus on breath sensations, I feel my awareness of other sensations start to drop off completely – it’s like a sudden mental “dip”, almost a bit vertiginous. I have no idea what that is: whether it’s the onset of single-pointed focus, or it’s my mind trying to go to sleep. I guess I’m suspicious of it because it’s reminiscent of that moment, as you’re falling asleep, when your senses start shutting down. Anyway, that’s been a bit of a question. Not particularly frustrating, though, as I’m happy just practicing staying steady on the bicycle.

I’ve also made a bit of progress in the insight direction: for one, a dramatic increase in the richness and detail of my perception of breath sensations. I’ve had a few sits that were quite extraordinary: like the entire front half of my face became this incredibly fine-grained sensor. I could feel the tiniest tug at the skin between my eyes, and the way that changing pressure registered in my gums and teeth. Very surprising. Not every sit is like that, but more and more, and having the memory of that sensitivity to work towards is very helpful.

Another was an insight that came yesterday. I’d done concentration meditation in the morning, and last night decided to do another short sit before sleep. I’d been thumbing through both TMI and MCTB, and coincidentally in both books had landed on sections on noting, and that seemed like a fine thing to spend half an hour on. Very soon after starting I had a very clear realization that the thoughts and emotions and imagery that I was noting were fundamentally no different than physical sensations I was noting. An image of something that happened yesterday hit my mind in exactly the same way as the perception of a car horn honking outside. That was a nice realization, as it suddenly made it much easier to stay “here and now”: even memories and images of other places and other times only existed at this very moment, in this exact spot. They seemed to be drawing me “elsewhere”, but there was actually no elsewhere to go.

After about ten minutes more, that realization rather suddenly applied itself to ideas regarding my self. I saw how memories of my past, and plans for my future, were no different than any of these other momentary sensations. I’d conceived of myself as somehow “smeared” through time and space, existing coherently in all the times and places I had been, and all the times and places I would be. For a bit, I could see that this was wrong. I was more like a two-dimensional plane, moving through a stream of sensations that were striking my surface. There really was no before or after.

Basically, the sort of idea you can read about in almost every single dharma book out there, but that doesn’t really hit you until you have the insight.

That led very quickly to a real anxiety about death (possibly the first non-hypothetical, non-conceptual, actual gut fear of death I’ve ever experienced?). If I don’t exist in all those other times and places, then there’s not a hell of a lot to “me”; I’m just a tiny volume of space, and a single half-moment. There’s barely anything separating me existing versus not existing! I’ve read about how your mind is likely to recoil at first from real Insight, but this was the first time I’ve experienced that discomfort. “Clinging to self”, I see you! I spent the rest of the sit continuing to prod at that discomfort, like a sore tooth. I’m looking forward to trying again today.
George S, modified 1 Year ago at 10/23/21 8:07 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/23/21 7:51 PM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

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Nice. I think of it as the fear of death being manufactured to try to re-establish the supposed existence of the one who it is assumed would be dying. (I'm talking about the existential fear of death here, the fear of not existing, rather than physical pain.)
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 1 Year ago at 10/24/21 9:55 AM
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I think you're right – it's not actually fear of death so much as fear of non-existence. The fear is basically this concept of the self, attempting to protect itself.

And I realized my initial account was fairly blithe in the retelling – it really was a frightening experience, and I got away from the sensation quick as I could. It was only after recovering for a bit (and probably starting to forget what it really felt like) that I began trying to get it back. And I totally failed when I tried again the next day!
George S, modified 1 Year ago at 10/24/21 12:02 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/24/21 11:35 AM

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The fear is basically this concept of the self, attempting to protect itself.

Yes, shargrol calls it "defending what doesn't need to be defended".

It can be unnerving at first, but the mind gets used to it and gradually it becomes liberating emoticon

With these kind of insights, I always find it helpful to remind myself that really it's nothing new - it's seeing the way things already are or what's already been going on. The problem is the pattern of past denial or resistance to seeing what's really been going on, and in some sense the initial shock of the insight is proportional to the scale of the resistance/denial. There's quite a good book called The Denial of Death which explores the ramifications of this in a wider psychological and socio-cultural context.

[Edited for clarity]
Adi Vader, modified 1 Year ago at 10/24/21 12:19 PM
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Metta (Pali), Maitri (Sanskrit) means friendship. The practice of metta means to cultivate a spirit of friendship in your heart towards yourself and other folks who make up your world.

If you consider any ordinary friendship and take the aspects of competition and jealousy out of it ... what remains is metta. A deep desire that your friends (yourself included) are happy and do well in life.

Loving kindness is a very bad translation. If one must have a two word phrase then benevolent friendliness, or friendly benevolence is more like it.
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 11 Months ago at 12/23/21 1:13 PM
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I wanted to record something that actually happened a couple months ago, I’m not sure why I didn’t write it down at the time.

I hardly ever do walking meditation, but when I do it’s almost always very fruitful (so… do more walking meditation!). The last time I did it was walking around a lake near my house, 2.8 miles altogether, it usually takes me 35-40 minutes, though obviously this time much longer. It’s a heavily-used park, so I stuck to the very edge of the path to stay out of people’s way, and tried not to look too much like I was high or something.

I just focused on the sensations of the feet, and it took ten or fifteen minutes to get into access concentration. I started having some pretty interesting sensory distortions: occasionally feeling like I was perfectly still, and just pulling the world past me with my feet; weird vertiginous “swoops” and “dips”, like the ground was billowing under me; being able to pick out all objects in my visual field that happened to be moving at the same speed in the same direction; an expanded point of focus, so that as I looked at a jogger I saw his whole body at once, equally focused on all parts of him from feet to head, rather than a single visual point.

Anyway, all fun and games! But I had two good vipassana moments as well. The first came as I was enjoying this heightened sensitivity to sensory input, and I thought to myself that these sensations were all I was – there was no self beyond the sensations. It seemed to me that I was like a house where the lights were on, the curtains blowing, water running from the tap, but there was nobody home, nobody living there. I said to myself a few times, “there’s nobody home”, and for a few seconds at a time was able to know that that was true.

It was weird – sort of like trying to balance on a bicycle. You pedal, and balance, and for a brief moment you have the real insight, and then you “fall off” the feeling, and are left merely believing intellectually that it’s true, but no longer seeing it. Then you try again, get back on the bicycle, and for a few more seconds you know it, then you fall off again.

Further around the lake I had another bit of insight, this one more in the direction of impermanence. I was enjoying this feeling that all of reality was simply a constant stream of sensations, that was washing over me as I passed through the world. I could see then that this was all my life had ever been, and all it would ever be: just a constant, never-ending stream of sensations. Until the moment I died, this would be it.

It was the same sort of thing: I knew this to be true, could see that it was true, for a few seconds at a time, and then I would lose it. I attempted the idea several more times, and then I was home again.
George S, modified 11 Months ago at 12/24/21 9:44 AM
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Nice insights, nice description emoticon
Martin, modified 11 Months ago at 12/24/21 10:55 AM
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Very nice! I like the bicycle analogy. (Also, I suddenly want to do some walking meditation in a park.)
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 11 Months ago at 12/24/21 2:00 PM
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A friend and I were talking about the very strange nature of insight: how it's a kind of knowledge that you have to practice knowing.

Insight feels oddly balanced between the mental and physical realms: it's knowledge, in that it's kind of information about the nature of self and reality, but the process of attaining it is more akin to exercise or some other physical discipline, where long-term repetition leads to some transformation of your material make-up. Weird stuff!
George S, modified 11 Months ago at 12/24/21 2:28 PM
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The body knows a lot more than we think!
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 11 Months ago at 12/24/21 3:53 PM
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I've always thought that was true, but meditation practice has really driven it home!
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 9 Months ago at 2/9/22 7:30 PM
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The past few months have been so bewildering it’s been hard to know how to keep a practice journal. Of course the answer is just to write about what’s happening in my daily practices, but the daily practice hasn’t changed all that much! Meanwhile everything else in my life – physical, social, psychological – is in the midst of major upheaval, which I suspect is actually rooted in subtle progress in my practice.

The psychological: I’ve been seeing a mindfulness-based therapist for the past few months, initially to help me with a drinking problem. We don’t talk a whole lot about dharma specifics, but the sessions are very much oriented around present emotions, locating them in the body, and following them back and down to deeper causes. Long story short, I found myself talking about how much I really disliked being myself, and how alcohol was a great method of not being yourself for a while. My therapist was asking me not to react to that head-self with disgust or aversion, but with compassion: recognize that the narrating voice in my head, which never stops reviewing the past and rehearsing for the future, constantly explaining and justifying my actions (and, goddamnit, singing Top-40s pop songs), is simply trying to protect me, protect itself, and I should look at it with gratitude, and compassion, and let it know that its services are no longer required, and it can take a break.

All that landed like a silent bomb, and set off some sort of slow-motion transformation, which I’m still in the midst of. Obviously what the therapist was describing was the conceptual self, the constrained mind-self that we work so hard to preserve, and are so terrified of losing. I am apparently a walking dukkha cliche, because I’ve got that self in a really bad way, and have had it since childhood (I can more or less remember when it came online, around the age of eight, and feeling even then that I’d been cut off from the larger, easier, more powerful self I’d once had access to). But I’m glad to see everything’s progressing just like literally every dharma book I’ve ever read said it would.

Anyway, just hearing that was enough to get the process of loosening started, though it’s very gradual. I said that my meditation practice hasn’t changed much, and that’s only partially true: it immediately felt less effortful, more still, and I have been able to shut off the voice in my head for long stretches of time. In the week following that talk, which coincided (though probably not coincidentally) with massive physical releases of tension, there were a couple of days where I was so completely drained that I just sat on the sofa for long stretches of time, mind wide open and mostly empty. As my energy has returned of course that stillness has become harder to return to, but now I know what it feels like.

I’m still mostly working on the psychological stuff. I have always dreaded work, responsibility, days that seem like nothing more than rosters of tasks to be completed, potentials for screwing up. I think part of the reason I find life so exhausting is that I’m using the wrong parts of myself to engage with it. It’s always been that little conceptual self that has leaped forward to deal with everything that needs doing, but that little self isn’t good at much but throwing up defenses and panicking. If I can get it to calm down and take a break, I suspect I can let other aspects of myself – which are far more adept at taking care of things I need to do – to step forward and do their thing. But I can still feel a vague sense of panic when I try to do that: the little man in my head saying “No, I need to do this, I need to be in charge! What if… what if…” Yeah? What if what?

Lastly, I’ve been listening to Rob Burbea’s Practicing the Jhanas talks (finally found the transcript, thank god), and am now reading Seeing that Frees. There’s a bit from his talks that’s the most accurate summation of my own situation I’ve ever read. It’s something I’ve tried to articulate to myself in the past, but have never done it as well as him. I’ve pulled out the relevant bits and put them together:

      ‘agreement’ and ‘harmony.’ So samādhi as ‘integrity,’
      meaning the elements of my being are in agreement, in
      harmony. There’s an integrity to my being, and a
      collectedness of energy, mind, and desire…

      desire, body, at that point there’s power. I don’t mean
      power over; I mean power. The being has power. The
      person has power. And you can sense it in a person. And you
      can see, over their life, is this person – has their
      soul-power, the power that you sense in them, the power that
      they then also feel…

      When there’s not this capacity and this practice at being
      really wholehearted, really gathered like that, then it’s
      almost like dissipating energy, dissipating mind,
      dissipating – I don’t know, one’s being, habitually,
      probably in very small ways. And over time, you can kind of
      get a sense: something in the being has gotten a bit
      flaccid. The very personality is different.

This is why I started meditating: that sense of dissipation of energy, a failure to cohere, the feeling that the elements of my being were too loosely connected. I had this death-grip on the little conceptual self, and meanwhile the rest of me was just blowing in the breeze. I had no power. I’m pretty excited to see how the rest of this all shakes out.
George S, modified 9 Months ago at 2/10/22 7:45 AM
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RE: Eric: Practice Log

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Good on you for doing this difficult but important work. I developed a terrible self-image from childhood onwards. It was constantly pushing me to do more and then sabotage my own efforts. I was also using addictions to medicate the underlying trapped feelings. I did years of talking therapy, but it wasn’t until I learned to feel the underlying feelings (shame, anger, sadness) that my internal state started to change. Meditation has been invaluable for that, in combination with continuing to talk about and study the issues. It has been extremely draining at times, but it’s the only way I know to become truly free of the past and open to the possibilities of the present. I’m glad that you have found some resources to help you with this. 
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 9 Months ago at 2/10/22 6:49 PM
Created 9 Months ago at 2/10/22 6:49 PM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

Posts: 28 Join Date: 6/9/21 Recent Posts
Thanks for this! I'm very grateful that I started with the therapist I did, I think the "talking cure" would have taken me years, as well. This guy started with the bare emotions, and that got us right into it. Shame, anger and sadness sound about right...
George S, modified 9 Months ago at 2/11/22 8:30 AM
Created 9 Months ago at 2/11/22 8:30 AM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

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They are perfectly normal healthy emotions to feel in context. It's only when they get pushed underground that it creates problems. Fortunately the body knows how to release them and recover over time.
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 7 Months ago at 4/24/22 10:05 PM
Created 7 Months ago at 4/24/22 10:05 PM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

Posts: 28 Join Date: 6/9/21 Recent Posts
It’s been a while since I posted, mostly because things have been changing very quickly, and I haven’t been sure what to write, exactly.

I’m still sitting around 45 minutes a day, mostly shamatha, with a focus on getting into the jhanas. As a long-standing muscular problem in my hips eases, I’m finding that to be easier and easier, and my previous 20-watt first jhanas are now up to, I don’t know, 60 watts or so! And I’m pretty sure that I’m regularly careening into second and third jhanas in an uncontrolled fashion. Each sit feels distinctly different from the last, though in terms of my own “abilities” everything feels fairly stable. In TMI terms I think I’m somewhere in the “Long Seventh Stage”, where you’ve got like 85% stable concentration, the mind doesn’t go a-wandering, but there’s still a very constant stream of mental “voice” going on. It no longer pulls me off balance, but it’s not going away in a hurry, either.

Off the cushion, I regularly do some kind of vipassana practice, whether that be walking meditation, or sitting on a park bench in the afternoon. Nothing very exciting, mostly just whatchamacallit, when you fix the attention on the momentary flow of sensations (I can’t remember or Google for this term at the moment).

While the practice itself isn’t surprising, the real-world psychological/emotional/intellectual effects continue to be massive. For a while I was struggling with a drinking problem largely caused by shame and anxiety, ultimately (skipping over the boring bits) caused by a deeply-held belief that my “self” was somehow in danger and needed to be protected. Over the past few months I’ve been able to dump that whole concept, which is a really big deal since that’s been the principle theme of my engagement with life thus far.

In the absence of that, I’ve gained so much of the inner peace that was promised in my “So You’re a Meditator Now” introductory packet! Seriously, I am just far, far calmer in general, and far less reactive. I also have more conscious control over the reactions I do have: they present themselves more distinctly to my awareness, rather than forming this sort of mudflow that I’m constantly wading through.

In the midst of my newfound peace, I was surprised (though I shouldn’t have been) to discover how much clinging and aversion are still present. Nothing super dramatic, but it is constant. Hardly a moment was going by that I wasn’t moving towards or away from something. I recently finished Seeing that Frees, and Burbea’s description of the fabrication of self as something that happens along a continuum of gross to subtle suddenly rang very true.

More of this stuff is evident to me now, meaning that it’s more open to direct “handling”, and I’ve made significant progress in just defusing these moments of self-creation during the course of the day. If I stop for a moment – while washing the dishes or putting my shoes on – I can consciously choose to drop whatever self-story is going on in my head. It comes back again the moment I stop paying attention, but I’m basically able to drop it at will. I’ll be walking down the street, filling my senses with enough input that my self will be muted to what feels like nothing. Someone will approach walking the other way, and simply having them pass by me – no interaction or acknowledgment necessary – will be enough to make me “me” again. Then they pass, and three or four seconds later, “zoop” I’m gone again.

Both on and off the cushion, there is a very distinct sense of being up against some kind of membrane, a semi-porous barrier that I might be able to push through. There’s the awkward contradiction of wanting to force myself through it, while also understanding that the boundary demands deeper divestiture – that I will pass through it by dropping more unnecessary baggage, not by dint of muscular willpower. But it feels like something is waiting there.

All this has led me to think more about the phases of insight. I’ve read plenty about them, with curiosity, but haven’t spent a lot of time trying to place myself on them, mostly because my experiences never felt like they quite lined up with what I was reading. With one big exception: I’m entirely certain that I had a massive A&P event when I was 17 or 18. It couldn’t be anything else. I’m not sure what happened after that – was it Dark Night? Mere teenage angst? Could anyone tell the difference? – but I’m wondering now if I wallowed through some not-very-dukkha dukkha nanas for a couple decades after that, and now I’m finally coming around to Low Equanimity. I certainly feel equanamous! And the seated meditation practice, though I’m keeping it up, feels fairly inconsequential next to what I’m experiencing simply walking around.

Anyway, I’m not terribly concerned about the maps, I’m concerned with today’s state of mind. But I’m also aware that it can be helpful to be fore-warned. And while my practice to date has always seemed to lead me very clearly to the next steps – I’ve never had a sense of feeling lost or uncertain – in my current state I feel like I suddenly have choices. There are many different ways I could go from here: deeper into jhanas; more psychological exploration of emptiness; just doing the plain old vipassana thing. I have been focusing on shamatha so far because I feel like it’s doing me the most good, and I’m in no hurry. I know Daniel et al are generally inclined towards hitting the vipassana hard and then “coming back” for the shamatha stuff, but I’ve always felt uncomfortable with that. I’ve wanted the moral, emotional and psychological progress to keep pace with the perceptual. But now I’m not so sure.

Anyway, I guess I’m asking if anyone has any advice for my current stage, whatever stage that actually is!

(PS: I’ve been going to weekly sessions at the local Insight Meditation center, and while that’s interesting enough, I don’t feel like anyone there is likely to give me this kind of guidance. Maybe I need to give them more of a chance.)
George S, modified 7 Months ago at 4/25/22 9:33 PM
Created 7 Months ago at 4/25/22 9:33 PM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

Posts: 2596 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
This all sounds really good emoticon

Shamatha/vipassana doesn't have to be an either/or decision. Ideally you do some shamatha to calm and strengthen the mind, then vipassana to analyze what remains that is unsatisfactory ...

Both on and off the cushion, there is a very distinct sense of being up against some kind of membrane, a semi-porous barrier that I might be able to push through. There’s the awkward contradiction of wanting to force myself through it, while also understanding that the boundary demands deeper divestiture – that I will pass through it by dropping more unnecessary baggage, not by dint of muscular willpower. But it feels like something is waiting there.

This could be a fertile area for investigation. Try to dig deeper into how the mind creates this sense of an impasse.  As you go further down the path, the mind creates all sorts of subtle barriers ... but they all yield to investigation ...
Eric Abrahamsen, modified 7 Months ago at 4/27/22 1:16 PM
Created 7 Months ago at 4/27/22 1:16 PM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

Posts: 28 Join Date: 6/9/21 Recent Posts
George S
Try to dig deeper into how the mind creates this sense of an impasse.  As you go further down the path, the mind creates all sorts of subtle barriers ... but they all yield to investigation ...

Ha, that was a good reminder that it is in fact my mind creating the barrier as well. Both the cause of, and the solution to, the problem! I'll explore this avenue, and try to understand what exactly I should be letting go of now. Thanks for your response!
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Sigma Tropic, modified 7 Months ago at 4/27/22 2:25 PM
Created 7 Months ago at 4/27/22 2:13 PM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

Posts: 370 Join Date: 6/27/17 Recent Posts
Your view is brilliant. Please see: https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nanamoli/wheel377.html
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Chris M, modified 7 Months ago at 4/27/22 2:28 PM
Created 7 Months ago at 4/27/22 2:27 PM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

Posts: 4595 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
The resolution to meditate is difficult because it requires assuming responsibility, facing life, doing what needs to be done. It looks like retreat, but it's actually an advance. It looks like inaction, but actually it is action. And it's difficult to rouse yourself to action.

Yeah, this is a nice realization. In my experience, most practitioners get their initial motivation from a deep desire to fix something about themselves. In my case it was a very complex, highly visible career and a nagging feeling that I wasn't seeing the world in the right way - that my interpretations of my own experiences were somehow just "off." In cases like mine, it's easier to get motivated because we can sense how broken we are. That alone causes serious suffering, let alone the experiences that produce that feeling (anger, jealousy, fear, etc.). My motivation to practice changed over the years and curiosity become the driver. I can see that in the case of having a less fraught baseline level of experience there might be less motivation to start a meditation practice.

I have to say, I never considered meditating to be a form of inaction. What it appeared to me to be was the long way to less stress and suffering. I tried many other things first - specifically therapy and medication.
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Eric Abrahamsen, modified 3 Months ago at 9/6/22 9:08 PM
Created 3 Months ago at 9/6/22 9:08 PM

RE: Eric: Practice Log

Posts: 28 Join Date: 6/9/21 Recent Posts
I got into a bit of a meditation rut there for a bit, but now seem to be coming out of it, and it feels like time to post.

I think I've mentioned that I've been dealing with a fairly major body alignment issue: locked muscles along the left side of my sacrum, hip joint, and the Bermuda Triangle formed by the base of my spine and iliac crest have made me grossly lopsided, and I've been working through it for the past several years, with the help of exercise and taiji. I seem to be coming to the end of it, thank god, but it's been playing hell with my meditation.

I'd settled on a focus on samatha practice, in part because I feel naturally inclined that way, in part because I read Burbea's /Seeing that Frees/ earlier in the year and it felt very right to be spending time hunting down moments of self-creation, and letting them go. Now I suspect that the midst of major physical upheaval is a bad time to insist on samatha! For the past three or four months I've been dutifully attempting to meditate every day, one or two 45-minute sessions, but it hasn't been easy. Sometimes I don't have time until after our daughter is asleep, and when I sit down at 9pm and close my eyes I find myself almost instantly dreaming. Even when I'm not quite so exhausted my sits just turn into extended bodywork sessions: I close my eyes, straighten my posture, calm my mind, then soon become aware of some little aspect of tension alongside my spine, or in my left hip. If I just engage these muscles here, and try to relax those muscles there, and then hold it like this for a bit... a bit longer... then ten minutes later something goes sproing! in my hip. I enjoy a nice moment of relaxation, then am gently delivered out of my meditation back onto my chair, and I get up and go about my business. I can insist on trying to continue, but it's no longer meditation, it's just sitting with my eyes closed. I haven't been anywhere near anything like a jhana in several months.

The silly thing is I've actually thought more than once, "I'd better be careful not to start thinking of meditation as something I'll get back to once my body's fixed. Got to keep it up!" Yet somehow I forgot the rule that whatever "your thing" currently happens to be, that "thing" should be the focus of your meditation. A few days ago this finally occurred to me, and I switched from attempting to get into the jhanas back to a more vipassana-style practice: examining all the ways that tension is still running through me, all my messed up body energetics, and making that the subject of my curiosity. I let my body do whatever twisted, off-kilter thing it wanted to do, and almost immediately this led to doing the same for my mind. Between messed-up body and messed-up mind I've found an area of tranquillity, and am able to stay there for long periods of time.

So back to vipassana! At least for now.

I did have one really good experience several weeks ago, related to metta. I've experienced the crimp in my hips as a kind of "flinching away". Both physically and emotionally, it's a self-protective shying away from direct encounter (from direct encounter with what, I have no idea). As my hips have come unwound and deep muscles have released, that's been accompanied by a corresponding emotional release, which feels like a dropping of my guard against other people. A few weeks ago, after a particularly strong release, I had the distinct desire to go outside and see people: to turn my body directly towards them, and kind of "apprehend" them. I imagined taking hold of complete strangers by both hands. I actually did go outside and experience this (I refrained from actually grabbing anyone). It felt like there was some kind of connective flow between me and others, that was only possible because I'd stopped subtly twisting away from them. Once I truly turned to face them, this connection of pure goodwill was made naturally.

A few days later I realized -- that was metta! I was reinventing metta. Prior to that I've done metta practice, but it was very oriented on my forehead, and on the thoughts and even vocalizations of positive wishes for other people. But this was a much more body-oriented practice. Instead of shooting a ray out of my forehead, it was like I'd made my whole torso into a radar dish, from my shoulders down to my upper thighs, and the goodwill was beaming out from my whole body. It was much, much more powerful; I could see how metta might form the basis for entry into the jhanas.

An interesting discovery.

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