Practice Questions

Martin D, modified 2 Years ago at 11/16/21 4:56 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 11/16/21 4:55 PM

Practice Questions

Posts: 2 Join Date: 11/16/21 Recent Posts

Looking to confirm the general direction I’m headed at the moment – along with any pitfalls I might expect due to life circumstances.
I’ve been practicing since roughly 2015, with more focused practice in the last 2.5 years. My initial years of practice were mostly daily of times ranging 15-30 minutes, lying down, focused on returning to the breath whenever I was lost in thought. 2.5 years ago I joined a local insight group, with a sitting practice that entailed moving through the six sense doors one by one, knowing the feelings / sensations of each one, and then moving to an open awareness of all senses, for 30 – 60 minutes a day. This method proved very fruitful for both my personal life and practice – allowing me insight into blind spots of my life, allowing me to handle difficult situations in an easier way, and overall being a more kind & caring person.
For the last year there has been some pain (not 100% sure if it’s pain or energy or sensation) in my upper traps on both sides that slowly increased, and came to a head on a 5 day retreat a few months ago. It feels like a burning sensation that increases over the meditation, and there seems to be increased tension all over my upper shoulders during it. It doesn’t come up in any other aspect of my normal life but will be noticeable to a lesser degree in walking meditation as well. On the retreat it seemed to move around, and went from a general pain on both sides to a small quarter sized piece of white hot iron roaming around the entire area of my right shoulder. I’ve gone back and forth with my teacher on this over the year, with different ways of allowing it to be there, noticing how the pain ebbs and flows, how my thoughts get tight around the issue, and flipping between more neutral or pleasant sensations. I have also added stretching into my daily routine, which hasn’t changed the sensation at all. Along with this the insight practice had been feeling more and more dry, it was more difficult to stay with any of the sensations coming up, partially because the pain seemed to dominate, and my meditation sessions generally seemed unproductive, or worsened the pain / tension over the course of it
About 2 months ago my teacher finally recommended to do meditation lying down which seems to be going quite well, I have also beenextremely interested in & switched over to a more concentration meditation focus – following guidance given during some of Rob Burbea’s retreats, practicing 1 – 1.5 hours a day. These include staying with the breath and having a general awareness of the whole body, along with a relaxing attitude. With my insight practice it seemed concentration would come and go almost randomly, now it will stay with the breath fairly easily, sometimes getting really locked in where almost no effort is required at all. There have also been strong feelings of love / gratitude coming up very frequently.
On life circumstances – my mother has a degenerative neurological condition and will likely pass away in the next 6 months. I moved home to help take care of her at the beginning of this year and while tough it’s also been a beautiful process to be a part of. It has provided some deep insight into impermanence, and feels very healing, especially after not having the ability or tools to be around when my father passed away 10 years ago while I was in college.

  1. I am happy with how my practice has been progressing but have some doubt that I may be running away from the insight practice when it got difficult, or the shoulder pain from being too much. This feels a little silly to type, as the concentration shift feels to be the right thing to do, but the notion of doubt is still lingering. Lying meditation also works well for me – I rarely have trouble with sleepiness
  2. I know Daniel has the strong warning at the start of MCTB about how the practice can be destabilizing and want to make sure I don’t push myself into any weird territory during this time in my life.
Appreciate any insight
George S, modified 2 Years ago at 11/17/21 9:07 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 11/17/21 9:06 AM

RE: Practice Questions

Posts: 2752 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
 Hi Martin,

Welcome to the DhO emoticon

It sounds like you have a well-rounded practice base and are handling challenging conditions with aplomb. Congratulations!

You are right that insight practice can be destablizing if pushed too hard to the exclusion of calmness and general life balance. However it is a sliding scale and you get to play with the controls, to a certain extent. You can try a little more insight and when it starts to get a bit too edgy you can back off a bit. Of course this is no guarantee that the territory won't get challenging at times, so only you can decide when the time is right to do that. Having said that, the fact that you are aware of the risks and considering them seriously is a good sign. Often the people who get into difficulties don't have much practice experience, or are in an unstable life situation, or have pressing psychological issues, or aren't aware of the risks, and suddently ramp up insight practice to retreat-level intensity.

So, if you feel like playing with a little more insight then I would investigate these doubts directly ...

What does it feel like to have doubts about insight practice when it gets difficult? What are the sensations in the body? Where do the doubts/thoughts come from? Trace each thought stream back to its origin and see the relation to the physical sensations.

You can even investigate the issue of destabilzation directly - What does it feel like to be afraid of destabilization? How does that fear differ from the actual experience of being destabilized? Can you find some element of your experience right now which feels "destabilzing" and investigate that directly?

You can also investigate the issue of "asking for help" vs "investigating your own experience directly". What does it feel like to want to ask for help? What might you be avoiding by asking for help? What could someone say to you which would make any difference to what you are actually experiencing? [Not saying you shouldn't ask for help, just to explore what help can do for you vs what you have to do for yourself.]

[These are all just some examples of the kinds of questions you can ask yourself as you investigate your experience, no need to answer here. If they don't feel right then please ignore, and of course add your own questions if they seem pertinent. The basic idea is to get really curious about what is actually going on in your direct experience, whatever it may be ...]

Regarding the pain, once you have ruled out any obvious physical issues then that's just one of those things that meditators have to learn to live with at times. Probably it's some kind of long-term "issue" or "knot" working it's way out of the body and the best approach is like you say - giving it space and allowing it to do what it needs to do, without imposing judgement or expectations upon it. Sometimes that just means meditating a little less and doing other grounding stuff more mindfully.
Martin D, modified 2 Years ago at 11/18/21 5:09 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 11/18/21 5:09 PM

RE: Practice Questions

Posts: 2 Join Date: 11/16/21 Recent Posts
Hey George,

I appreciate the welcome and thoughtful response. I have come across your posts numerous times when browsing in the past and they've been very helpful.

The clearer description of how destabilization happens is helpful, and those questions are a great starting point for investigating the issues I brought up. Always neat to hear a different angle on something

Regarding the pain - you mentioned it probably being some sort of "issue" or "knot" - is there any literature that goes more in depth on this sort of thing? I've seen and heard it mentioned numerous times but haven't dug into any source material on it.

George S, modified 2 Years ago at 11/18/21 8:23 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 11/18/21 8:23 PM

RE: Practice Questions

Posts: 2752 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
There's tons of literature on it, but I don't think any of it is nearly as instructive as investigating your own experience of it, and reactions to it, for yourself!