A few beginner's questions

Pero Peric, modified 1 Month ago.

A few beginner's questions

Posts: 8 Join Date: 10/8/21 Recent Posts
Greetings everyone!
I'd just like to say I'm glad to be here and participate as part of Dharmaoverground forum.
I have a few questions regarding practice and would greatly appreciate any advice on it.

About a month ago, I joined a Theravada monastery in a country next to mine and decided to "get serious" about my practice.
I'm working with The Mind Illuminated (TMI) by Culadasa.
I try to meditate 7 hours a day which I'm fairly consistent at (I had a few lapses with "5 hour days" because we had some work at the monastery).
I do 30 minutes walking meditation followed by 45 minutes sitting meditation and then taking a break.
My meditation quality oscillates (which I presume is normal), but my best 'work' was something I would regard as successful stage 4 in TMI; being on the breath continuously during most meditation sessions for two consecutive days.

Anyway, ever since I got ordained as a samanera (novice) 10 days ago, my meditation quality has gotten way worse. I would qualify them as stage 2 on TMI scale. So if anyone could help me shed some light on it I would greatly appreciate it. To make it more comprehensive, I'll form the problem in a few questions:

1) First of all, is this the proper way to post on this site?
I'm not really sure whether this would be better posted as part of a practice log, or here in the Concentration category since this is not a completely concentration related inquiry.
I've seen posts of this kind, but I'm worried whether they're really representative of what is expected here and whether I'm making this site more 'cloggy' and less comprehensible.

2) Why has the apparent quality of my meditation dropped so significantly?
a)
Is this something that is normal and expected, and should I just continue with my meditation or do I need to take action?
The way I currently see it, I got more "lazy" in the sense that I'm using less effort while meditating. Looking at the five hindrances, I would say this is mostly a problem of laziness and lethargy with a little bit of doubt; I get myself to meditate, but then it doesn't seem to be "worth it" to apply constant effort. From what I see, the antidote is just continuing with the practice diligently.
Should I put in more effort in keeping the mind at the breath while meditating or is there some trick to it or should I just let it be and in time it will change on its own?

b)
From a pop psychological perspective, I would say that me getting ordained made me feel like something is expected of me. Since I'm wearing monk clothes now, I have a feeling like the current status of my meditation is "not good enough", and I should set an example of what a good practicioner is, which I'm not.
Intellectualy, I understand this is nonsense, however, emotionally, I feel that way. I've talked about this to few people who regulary visit the monastery and they've been really kind to me explaining they don't see it that way and that's definitely not the general spirit of this monastery. However, me sitting at the front row in front of them during meditation with special clothing still does it's job for the worse in my mind.

c)
Advices I got regarding this issue (lowered meditation quality) were to trust the system more and have faith in the process which is the element that makes the problem go away.
Another advice was when that happens, to stop with paying attention to the breath and take some time to notice the state of my mind and sensations that are happening.
From what I understood, my mindfulness is not really sharp enough to be able to do that in that meditation sense, so it would be more like dealing with popular psychology, which can also be useful.
I tried applying these advices for two consecutive sessions but they had little to no effect.
Should I apply these advices to my practice more?


3) I'm not really sure whether I understand the meaning of 'effort' (represented by the flames in the pictures) in TMI.
From what I understood, when paying attention to the breath at the nostrils, we should "push back" the attention to the breath if we notice it's not on it. I deliberately used the words "push back" because that describes best what I feel I'm doing when meditating.
I know not to "fight thoughts" but let them be and just get back to the breath, and I have a feeling like I'm definitely not fighting them. However, when getting on the breath I have a feeling like I'm clutching too much, even though my introspective awareness isn't lowered by it (it still has enough "power").
The question is: Is that approach too rough and should I be more gentle with the mind; is the amount of applied effort a subtle concept where one needs to constantly playfully check is too little or too much effort applied?

4) Sleep and coffee
Do sleep and coffee effect meditation when they are not extreme?
I sleep 5 to 7 hours a night and have one cup of coffee every day. Is that affecting my meditation negatively even though i can't see it?

Thank in advance for answering the questions and let's have a good time meditating. emoticon
Emil Jensen, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 306 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
Hey Pero,

I think your post is pretty well in accordance with how it should be on here. Honest, explanatory, respectful, curious. Good stuff emoticon


I don't know anything about TMI, but I feel I can share something of value with you. 
But just to get it right: your meditation involves point-focus on the breath?

If so, yeah it definitely makes a lot of sense that your meditation has gotten "worse". Or, it depends. 

In the earlier insight stages your mind is good at that sharp focus. But in the later stages, your attention will naturally broaden and it will actually be difficult to stay with something 'small'. 

So, one could guess that you're definitely not getting 'worse' at it, but your state of mind has changed. 

as I don't know anything about TMI, I do wonder: is the whole practice staying with the breath? And the breath in what way? The whole-ness, the broad sense of the breath, or just the tip of the nose? 

I would assume, that if you broadened your awareness to include the breath, as felt in the whole body, perhaps you'd be 'better' at that now..


But, that is all assuming that you are working through the stages of insight. 
can you say anything about having crossed the A&P before?


Just some quick thoughts emoticon
Pero P, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 8 Join Date: 10/8/21 Recent Posts
Hi Emil,

thanks for the well-meaning comment.

Yes, my meditation involves point-focus on the breath.

Thank you also for the novel perspective of making it "feel ok". I've been (and still am) somewhat castigating myself for my (lack of) progress.

Honestly, I haven't read the entire book so I can't tell.
So far, I would say the whole practice has been staying with the breath.
Regarding the focus location, the advice is to gradually move from general sensations through body sensations to the sensations at the tip of the nose (as an intro to meditation session, but then stay at the tip of the nose).
Please someone correct me if I'm wrong, I wouldn't like to be giving false information on the book.

Hm... From what I can tell, the book is a combination of samatha/vipassana practice with emphasis on samatha so far.
Regarding A&P, I'm worried about claiming anything, but I've had some pretty wild experiences with several substances.

Whether I'm working through the stages of insight, I don't know what to say. As my understanding and aspirations are so far, I would like to get the concentration really good, and then switch to insight practice. Maybe I have it all wrong, and concentration somehow goes with insight in ways I don't understand.
After this paragraph, would you still advise switching my attention to whole breath? If so, I would like to give a one-day try and then report back on it.

Metta emoticon
Emil Jensen, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 306 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
Well, concerning your feelings about lack of progress: I would definitely just observe those as accurately as you can, looking objectively at the sensations that make that up. But...perhaps that sort of investigation is way different than the technique you're using and I'm not sure I would advice you going too far away from that. 

But doubt about progress and doing the 'right' thing is totally normal. See it for what it is and don't make a big deal about it. Concern exists, ok. Leave it there if you can emoticon

with regards to your plan of building concentration before going into Vipassana. Well.. I'm not sure you get to choose. Having had wild experiences, which is typically related to A&P, you're already in the Vipassana game, regardless of your plan. 

separating the two, Vipassana and samatha, isn't necesarilly very easy, and maybe it isn't even possible. They are kind of two sides of the same coin. 

the Vipassana journey is about understanding the basic nature of your experience. And the breath can be as good of an object of investigation as any. In fact, it's one of the good ones for sure. But surely, you can not expect to stay one-pointed as your mind progresses through the stages, which it naturally will. 

I don't know TMI, but somehow you have to work with the natural broadening of
your mind. Eventually it will be all-inclusive, and staying at the tip of the nose will at times be absolutely impossible. 
Emil Jensen, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 306 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
About the coffee and sleep: I would say don't worry at all. I don't think it matters at all, at least as long as you're not sleep deprived (which 7 hours shouldn't make you!) or totally buzzing from excessive caffeine - which one cup a day, nor 3 or 4, should make you. I drink 2-4 cups of coffee everyday myself...
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terry, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 1849 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
aloha pp,

   It is not the quality or quantity of your meditation that is of significiance, it is the quality of your prajna.

   Sit with this question: "how can my meditation practice make me a buddha?"

terry

​​​​​​​

dogen's version:


Nangaku one day goes to Baso’s hut, where Baso stands waiting. Nangaku asks, “What are you doing these days?”

Baso says, “These days Dōitsu just sits.”

Nangaku says, “What is the aim of sitting in zazen?”

Baso says, “The aim of sitting in zazen is to become Buddha.”

Nangaku promptly fetches a tile and polishes it on a rock near Baso’s hut.

Baso, on seeing this, asks, “What is the master doing?”

Nangaku says, “Polishing a tile.”

Baso says, “What is the use of polishing a tile?”

Nangaku says, “I am polishing it into a mirror.”

 Baso says, “How can polishing a tile make it into a mirror?”

 Nangaku says, “How can sitting in zazen make you into a buddha?”
Pero P, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 8 Join Date: 10/8/21 Recent Posts
Hi Emil and Terry,

thank you for posting on this thread.

From what I can tell, your posts advise including doing some insight, which, I feel, is a little bit too much for me to wrap around.

I'm giving an update on my practice:

I've listened to the advice on expanding the focus location - during sitting meditation, I allow the attention to rest wherever it chooses as long as it's the breath; during walking meditation, I focus on either the feet or the breath, whatever comes natural that moment.

Secondly, I've talked to a friend. Conclusion of the conversation was that I have a very "head on" approach, like I'm solving a math problem. While that is not problematic of itself, it lacks the relaxation and joy quality needed for absorption states and makes the meditation feel much more like a chore than a fun practice.

What I do now is I generally relax (which works good to an extent) and appreciate the "ahhh..." relaxing feeling in the head during exhalation.

The last change is I've stopped the timer so I don't know how much I meditate now during day, but from what I can tell, not checking the time hasn't reduced my meditation hours. The reason I did that is that meditating with a stopwatch makes meditation feel much more like a chore than doing it without a stopwatch. I will see whether this approach gives some good results and if it doesn't, I'll put the timer back to its use.

So far, this approach hasn't drastically improved my concentration but it has definitely made the practice easier and more fun.

Metta to both of you
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terry, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 1849 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
another piece of insight you may think is being critical (but is not):

perhaps your infatuation with meditation has lost some of its passion upon ordainment in the same way that a love affair can become banal upon marriage...

once all the excitement has found its true end and a permanent commitment has been made, one' expectations change, one takes things for granted...the beloved may be neglected rather than wooed, her charms glossed and eroded by time...

timers are not the problem, it is thinking about time whle meditating that spoils it...I know to the minute when my timer will go off and if I have failed to set it, but have trained myself not to think about it...

I used to meditate 45 mins a day but now find 30 mins twice a day much more satisfying...

I hope you take the pleasure in your meditation that I take in mine, it is better than food or sex...


​​​​​​​terry
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terry, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 1849 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
gurdjieff used to say, "at first it's roses, roses, then it's thorns, thorns."


it used to be wine, women and song...
now it's beer, the old lady and tv...
Pero P, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 8 Join Date: 10/8/21 Recent Posts
emoticon Spot on!

There's also the effect of never having meditated as intensely for such a long time.

It's like the first month in college - you've surpassed your previous study limits by far and you're doing it consistently, but you still don't notice any progress. If it's like my college experience, it will just take a little bit of time and adjustment so that the "studying" gets more efficient which should happen by itself.
As one of the people I appreciate used to say - the most important thing in college is to breathe its air. emoticon (many changes happen just by sticking around the place and hanging with the people who are good at it).
Emil Jensen, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 306 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
 I hope you're coming along well, Pero.
I'm sure, with dilligent and serious practice, like you're definitely putting down, you're bound to get over the hurdles you've told us about in this thread.

And about the insight...
You mention it's a bit too much for you to wrap around.
Fine! ...but that doesn't mean, you're not doing it. Hah!

Deciding to practice samadhi and not panja is like...
Practicing exclusively to become a good sprinter, with the intention of never having a good 5k time.
But really, even if you only practice sprinting, you're bound to eventually have a better 5k time than you did before running at all.

I'll bet you that Usain Bolt runs a decent 5k, even though he didn't practice for that.

And likewise, you can be sure that even if you try to only practice Samadhi, you'll definitely see sensations arise and pass anyway; You'll see sensations as not-you and as not-satisfying. Can't help but to see the basic characteristics of your experience when you spend so much time staring at it.
And so, you'll be making insight progress for sure, whether you try to avoid it or just embrace it. Up to you what you think, but not really "your" choice....just letting you know that :p
 
Pero P, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 8 Join Date: 10/8/21 Recent Posts
Hi everyone,

I'm just posting an update of my practice.

Anyway, I'm back on track!
I've been able to consistently keep the attention on the breath sensations for consecutive five-minute intervals.
The only thing is, it requires constant effort while doing it. As soon as I drop the effort, non-practice related thoughts keep popping up.

I've also tried to enter the first jhana by using Leigh Brasington's advice described in TMI.
I usually get distracted by the "oh wow, something's coming up" effect. My best attempt was having a feeling of something like tiny needles about 10 centimeters radially outside me surrounding my body from the head to the bottom of my torso. I could not tell whether the needles were kind of coming up, or I was going down. I believe I was too excited to focus and that feeling subsided.
It doesn't seem likely to me that I'll be able to enter the first jhana right now because of numerous failed attempts. I've decided to boost my attention practice to make the staying on the breath more effortless and then give it another series of attempts.

Hope you're all having fun,
Pero emoticon
Emil Jensen, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 306 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
 Hi Pero,

Unfortunately I might dissapoint you: I'm not having fun. When I sit to practice my mind is full of sorrow and my body full of discomfort and urges to get up and get the pain to go away. But there's nothing wrong with that, so let's just say I'm "having fun" by progressing through life's ups and downs (y) LOL!

Good to hear that you feel back on track.
Give another update later on, when in doubt or when something new happens  emoticon
 
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Papa Che Dusko, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions (Answer)

Posts: 2219 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
Forget about what Brasington or TMI or Ajhan Brahm or anyone else say about Jhanas emoticon 

Druze Pero, the best is to really drop all that jhana talk and just look at your own actual experience of the outbreathing and inbreathing, how with time those Flavours of Absorption change as you are really Lovingly Flowing with that sensation of each outbreathing and each inbreathing. Now THAT is what makes this Jhubi-li-jhani-thingy stuff arise emoticon You thinking "is this jhana 1 or is it Obi-wan-kenobi Jhana" is but the same La-la Land as thinking about having that cup of coffee with a friend once we meet in that pub around the corner over there, unless the buss is late again and then ... la la emoticon 

The more you LOVE flowing with each in and outbreathing and feeling the sensations and telling a story about this in and then this outbreathing the more these absorbtions want to arise. Not all people have the same depth of absorptions and they dont always have the same dempth anywhay. Impermanence remeber emoticon 

Its OK to actually have a monolog in your mind "Breathing ooouuuuut ... pause ... breathing iiiin ... breathing ouuuuuuuuut ... " and while doing this also see if there are some interesting mind images of body parts associated with breathing happening. Well, sure emoticon notice those and even encourage an image of belly falling  when breathing out and nostrils sensing that coldish air when breathing in. Do your own version and do your own images and monolog as long it is rooted in the matter of fact sesantions of in and outbreathing. We want that Mindfulness to have Curiosity emoticon 

So, once again; FORGET about what anyone say these jhani-jhuni should be like and buy into the story of you breathing in and out and also calming the body while doing this.

Give this practice at least 6 months of once or twice 30 minutes a day. Any new practice needs time to get on fire! Do not give up too early! 

Best wishes druze Pero! emoticon 
Pero P, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 8 Join Date: 10/8/21 Recent Posts
Duško, pozdrav!

Thanks for the insightful and funny post. That's exactly the answer in the context I was looking for.
I'll get right on with the loving. emoticon


Give this practice at least 6 months of once or twice 30 minutes a day. Any new practice needs time to get on fire! Do not give up too early!
Yeah, gotta give those dendrites time to grow.


Best wishes druze Pero! emoticon
You too, you too.
Emil Jensen, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 306 Join Date: 7/16/20 Recent Posts
narstrovia!
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terry, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 1849 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
I agree with pcd...when it comes to jhanas I can't count higher than two...I lose my mind at two...like waiting on the gurney for the anesthetic to kick in, "count backwards from 100"...ok, nnety nine, ninety ay----------

t
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terry, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 1849 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
aloha emil,

   I went through years of patient meditation before it routinely became fun...hang in there.

terry
Pero P, modified 17 Days ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 8 Join Date: 10/8/21 Recent Posts
Greetings everyone,

I'm posting an update of my practice.

I was fairly good at following the breath without any external thoughts (I was constistently capable of doing it for five-minute intervals) but it basically lead to nowhere. If I tried to relax my willpower, that ability extremely diminished and I would find myself deep in various thoughts again. Having a kind, or relaxing attitude towards the breath and situation did not help in upping the concentration, although it did make the concentration more easier or pleasant.

Anyway, I decided to drop the forceful following of the breath using willpower and kind of "lower my energy in the mind". It fairly consistently makes me see some lights and makes my body shake.

Now, for a more detailed explanation. It seems to me that "following the breath" advice is just used to lower the energy in the mind. By not moving the body for some time (for example, 20 minutes), the mind gets some ability to "be pulled into something". If during that time, the mind is thinking about something, those thoughts produce enough energy in the mind that makes the mind too "ripply" or energetic, and the feeling of being pulled in simply subsides.
However, if I am with the breath for some time, that makes the energy low enough for me to be pulled into something.

That something can be described as following:
I feel like the breath is "right in front of me" or "really here"; I can't describe it very well.
The visual headspace is also more "here", or I'm "in it". In that visual headspace I see white light, usually coming from the bottom of that space and rising up. Sometimes it doesn't do that, it just comes from different spots and disappears. I would like to emphasize that the light is definitely not a round disc, or a "completely covering blanket" (from what I understand, that is the description of nimitta).
Sometimes my torso starts shaking for approximately 15 seconds, and then it subsides. I don't have a feeling like I'm doing it, but it happens by itself.
I wouldn't describe any of this as very pleasant or unpleasant.

One more thing; the way I lower the energy is by using the breath as a tool, but it is not the breath that makes it low (at least not directly).
I can partially volitionally lower the energy, and after some time of following the breath I notice I can do it some more. When it is low enough, and I keep following the breath, the stuff described above happens.

Should I continue to lower my energy and/or follow the breath in this manner?
Am I doing this completely wrong or am I on the right track?

Thanks everyone in advance for help and
Metta
shargrol, modified 16 Days ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions (Answer)

Posts: 1654 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Sounds like very good progress! emoticon 

Yes, some will power is necessary in the beginning. Meditation requires some effort to get started.  Initially this will be using our thinking mind, soon it will change to using our natural wisdom, our natural intuition. 

When the busyiness of the thinking mind slows down, it feels like we are living less in our head and more in our whole body --- this feels like the mind going "down".

The mind doesn't need to to stay down. The most important thing is the calmness and clarity that we experience when the thinking mind slows... and that's when the lights begin to appear.

The lights can take on many different forms and sometimes people start thinking again about the lights. ("Is this jhana?, should I make the light stronger?, should I make the light round?, is this nimmita?, etc.). This is the thinking mind coming back again. emoticon  Some people do so much thinking about the lights that they lose the meditation!

The important thing is to return to making the body-mind calm and centered. Let the light do what it wants. The light is almost like a test: The more you greet it like a friend and allow it to come and go when it wants, the stronger it gets. The more you try to make it into an enemy and force it to come and stay, the more it goes away. So treat all experiences that arise in meditation like friends coming to visit! emoticon

Yes, the "pulled into something" is a good sign of progress. This is the natural wisdom, the natural intuition leading your practice onward. Learn to trust the mind and let it pull you into something.

Sometimes when the breath is "right in front of you" and you are "here/in it" you can use the idea of "I'm going to put my face into the breath". Sometimes the tingling feeling will be in your face and you can do the same thing "I'm going to put my face into the tingling feeling". You can explore "becoming closer" to the light and the breath. There is a feeling of "being intimate with the breath" and "being intimate with the light" that tends to lead practice even deeper. 

I think you are on track. Your practice is starting to hit the stage where it is less about "following practice rules" and more about following the wisdom of your mind, following your intuition.

Hope this is helpful in some way! 

As always, don't assume that this is good advice for you -- test it out and see if it works for you. Also be sure to ask questions of the students/teachers at the monastary! emoticon
Pero P, modified 16 Days ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 8 Join Date: 10/8/21 Recent Posts
Shargrol,

thank you very much for posting.

I understand what you're saying and it feels kind of natural.
Nice to hear I'm on the right track.

Metta
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terry, modified 10 Days ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 1849 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
​​​​​​​I think beginer's mind and the mind of long practice same same
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Papa Che Dusko, modified 9 Days ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 2219 Join Date: 3/1/20 Recent Posts
terry
​​​​​​​I think beginer's mind and the mind of long practice same same


One can say this after having a long practice emoticon emoticon 
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terry, modified 9 Days ago.

RE: A few beginner's questions

Posts: 1849 Join Date: 8/7/17 Recent Posts
grandparents understand grandchildren better than their parents,

being equally close to the nothing that all things begin and end in...

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