Bravery's Practice Log

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Brandon Mather, modified 9 Months ago at 2/25/22 8:27 AM
Created 9 Months ago at 2/19/22 2:26 PM

Bravery's Practice Log

Posts: 13 Join Date: 2/19/22 Recent Posts
Fair warning, I tend to digress and can be a bit wordy-- the kind of wordy where I can say alot without saying much. Its something i'm (sort of) working on.  This thread will be dedicated to my practice. A bit of my background and what lead me to where I am today: I've been interested in starting a practice for a few years, and have gone through a small journey of finding what works for me. I'd like to be able to get some insights into my practice from the eyes of experienced individuals. I'm doing this alone physically, if not virtually.   I found some transcripts of Robert Adams' lectures and found myself struck by them. I think it was mostly how easy the practice sounded. Contemplate on who you are. Let all the answers go, keep enquiring. Not just for 10 or 15 minute sessions, not just for a single retreat, but continually throughout the day.  Straight away I began to have experiences where my sense of my body would distort, where the fact that what is being 'seen' and 'felt' is all in the mind and not necessarily 'reality' itself is a seed that was planted then. One thing i've learned from this is that these experiences can deepen the more they happen.  My friend told me about this website (and Daniel Ingram) about 9 months ago. I hadn't seen him in a few years and he told me how he had been seriously meditating for that time and had become an arahat, that he had become enlightened. I didn't know if he was delusional or not. He didn't seem like it. I'm still not convinced either way as this is just not something i've come across before and I don't really know how to tell whether or not someone is or isn't what they claim to be in terms of spiritual attainment.  In the proceeding months I continued my practice of self enquiry, as well as centering prayer as taught my Fr. Thomas Keating. These two practices seemed very easy and appealing for that reason. I've found that both practices have impacted me in different ways. Self Enquiry reminds me that my true self is not the contents of the mind, and centering prayer has helped me learn to let go and inspires in me a mild sense of equanimity throughout the day. It wasn't until a week ago that I watched Daniel Ingram and Frank Yang talking about their experiences that I found the inspiration in myself to level up my practice, in a manner of speaking.  A few days ago I took the advice my friend gave me during one of our talks and started to note lifting and placing while walking. I also started to count my breath again as a meditation. I tried this for an hour but found that my ability to think and react effectively during the work day was affected by the process. I figured that an hour might be a bit much to start with, so cut the time in half and did a bit more research on what counting the breath entails. I notice that after these sessions, even the half hour ones, my mind is sharp. The self enquiry practice seems to happen on its own after doing the sitting. I've also started to do some loving-kindness stuff and have noticed immediate benefits. I smile and laugh a lot easier. I'm discovering that some behaviors make me feel more 'closed', that is more self centered and obsessive about my desires and what I dislike. Other things, while a bit less 'fun', make me feel more open-- that is more empathetic and considerate.  Although the loving kindness meditation has these benefits, its difficult. I find it hard to keep my intention on radiating loving kindness to myself, but find it much easier to invoke that warm feeling when its directed to a friend. But i'm reminding myself that it is a practice and that i'll get better at it with time and effort.  Counting my breath on the other hand is a lot simpler and im' not at all discouragarged by sessions where I find it difficult to concentrate.  So those two practices are what my practice logs will be focused on.  I decided to start this log because: Reason 1) I feel like I need a reminder of the fact that advancement as a meditator is not only possible, but realistic and beneficial to me. I also feel like I lack access to experts who can help me when I have question or point me in the right direction to discover the answers. 2) I really like to talk about myself.  I'm also very worried about what i'm going to experience during later experiences. This ties into the community aspect, i suppose. In the past i haven't handled Dark Night stuff very well, but I seem to be pretty obsessive about this and am inspired to continue. So I'm going to continue. I'm used to depression, and at this point I can handle intense emotion to a degree that I can function while at work or among friends, but i'm assuming that what i've experienced is nowhere near as bad as it can get. I've also had some hope for the future recently when i've noticed thoughts coming and going without my interfering with them, which has me thinking that I might just be able to handle whatever my mind might throw at me.  
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Brandon Mather, modified 9 Months ago at 2/21/22 4:41 PM
Created 9 Months ago at 2/21/22 4:41 PM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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My walks to work take 40 to 50 minutes, I use that time to pay attention the movement of my legs. Although like my breath counting, I find that I still get caught up in my thoughts quite a bit. I find it very easy to start thinking about thinking, or noticing the the noticing of thinking and then it becomes the same problem. 

Also noticing a lot of disappointment when the meditation ends, the calm and peace disappear into the pace of normal life, like when i'm at work. 

All that being said, I still think i'm making progress. I'm also going to cut my 30-40 minute breath counting meditations back to 15-20 minutes for a month or two. Whats the point of extending the length of the meditation if I can't concentrate as well as I need to for the shorter ones? 
That should make it easier to fit into my usual daily routines as well. 
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Kaloyan Stefanov, modified 9 Months ago at 2/22/22 6:23 AM
Created 9 Months ago at 2/22/22 6:23 AM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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Hey Brandon, welcome to the DhO! Great that you are starting a log, I really enjoyed reading your entry & thoughts on practice and life in general. 

This is a good place with a lot of advanced practitioners who can help provide inputs and advice.

You seem to be off to a good start and based on your writing have some background and experience with practices! Let us know if you would need any specific advice or if you are facing difficulties! 
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Brandon Mather, modified 9 Months ago at 2/25/22 8:26 AM
Created 9 Months ago at 2/25/22 8:26 AM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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Hey, Kaloyan. Thanks for the kind words.

​​​​​​​The biggest obstacles I'm facing are impatience and self doubt-- questions like why aren't I progressing faster? What am I doing wrong? Will I ever be enlightened? These questions can be a source of frustration when I'm believing them and not letting them go as thoughts.

Many different teachers seem to have contradictory information about practice (to jhana or not to jhana, how to get to the jhanas and what would hinder the process, etc.) But what they all seem to say is that one should practice everyday, as much as they can, but to be wary of attachments to any specific outcomes. I figure that as long as I keep that in mind while practicing my basics I should be okay.
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Brandon Mather, modified 9 Months ago at 2/26/22 7:58 AM
Created 9 Months ago at 2/26/22 7:58 AM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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Motion seems to be very helpful for my meditation. For example: walking or jogging. having the motion to direct my concentration outside of my thoughts seems to have allowed me to gain a perspective on my thoughts-- i'm watching the thoughts while outside of the thoughts. Yesterday, while walking home from work, I was able to observe my mind trying to constantly control things- or at least, to assume control of things. Its interesting how most of what is identified with is just based on this central theme, just constantly trying to control various outcomes, if not outwardly than inwardly. Trying to convince myself that the world is a certain way, trying to convince others that I am a certain way and not another way that they may not like as much. Or, maybe i'm appearing a certain way so that they do dislike me, so long as its in my control.

Its also nice to note that the work i've done in accepting myself has been paying off, I'm not condemning my mind for being this way, just accepting it and even enjoying it to a degree.

Mind you, this is really only the case while i'm meditating. Once i'm out of the meditation and the 'afterglow' has worn off, its back to the usual identification with neurosii. But if i've learned anything over the last week its that this identification gets weaker over long periods of time, so long as practice is continued with the intention to transcend. 
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Brandon Mather, modified 9 Months ago at 3/1/22 1:46 PM
Created 9 Months ago at 3/1/22 1:46 PM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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It seems like there's this constant interpretation of of sensory perception, like an overlay. 

I noticed that my mind gets very chaotic when i'm trying to do something, especially something that seems simple like following the motion of my stomach when I breathe. I feel like the attention can focus very easily, but my ego is always 'trying' to focus the attention. And I notice that, but then upon noticing I get into this loop. 

The answer seems to be to keep going. The mind quiets eventually, for very brief periods. I don't mean the thoughts disappear. Sometimes they're their but slightly in the background. Sometimes its like the thoughts are there but i'm not aware that i'm thinking them. 

But I keep returning my attention to my breath and counting. 

Michael Taft said that concentration isn't necessarily wrestling your mind into submissions, but more like an open embracing of something. I'm trying to keep that in mind, noticing that there's enough space for the thoughts, my self image and assumption of control, as well as my object of concentration. Sometimes the thoughts are so loud, and 'big', that I I have to just let them do their thing for a while before I get a few seconds of solid concentration. 

I don't know if i'm doing it right. I'm trying not to overthink it, 'just do the practice, keep it simple'. 

Sometimes I wish it were as easy as just looking at a map, and that I could use some sort of GPS system to note where I am on that map. But i've tried a map before (Dr. David Hawkins) and all I end up doing is making assumptions about myself and what i'm supposed to be doing with the information. One of the things he says in his books is that a sure sign of spiritual progress is when thoughts turn from the subject to the object. So I spent a while trying to push my thoughts away, trying to see them as objects. The whole trap there is that i'm just making up new thoughts. 

I guess what i'm realizing is that I really can't force progress, my job isn't to change myself, but to allow myself to be changed. 
George S, modified 9 Months ago at 3/1/22 3:56 PM
Created 9 Months ago at 3/1/22 3:55 PM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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Brandon Mather
It seems like there's this constant interpretation of of sensory perception, like an overlay.

Sometimes maps can be helpful! This is classic of the nana (knowledge) of Mind & Body (stage 1 of the Progress of Insight - see MCTB and/or Practical Insight Meditation)
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Brandon Mather, modified 9 Months ago at 3/1/22 7:23 PM
Created 9 Months ago at 3/1/22 7:23 PM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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How necessary is the knowledge of the stages to progressing through them? Will the same practices suffice the whole way through? I suppose I should read one of those books. 
George S, modified 9 Months ago at 3/1/22 10:05 PM
Created 9 Months ago at 3/1/22 9:55 PM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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 It's not strictly necessary. There are people who only learn about them afterwards and then realize that they have passed through them. Personally I found it very helpful to know what I was going through and have a sense of where I was headed. I probably would have been floundering around for years without the POI map. There are downsides. A certain amount of scripting can occur, although since there are people who appear to go through them without the maps it's probably a valid experience. You can start forming expectations about where you should be and get frustrated about lack of progress, although the great thing about noting is that you just note all this stuff and it passes - 'anticipating, planning, frustration etc.' A final downside is that once you do start making progress through the stages of insight with the maps, then you can get attached to this idea of the whole path being about predictable progress. That can work well for the first half, but then you need to let go of that and question the whole thing. On balance I would say the maps are worth using if they appeal to you and you are cognizant of the risks.

EDIT: one other risk. It's possible that you find yourself making faster progress on the insight front and having your morality and/or concentration (calmness/peace/serenity) lagging behind, which can show up as psychological issues. If this stuff is there it's going to show up at some point anyway, and you can always dial back the insight practice if it gets too intense and do some grounding/therapy/relaxation practice or whatever you need. MCTB talks a lot about the kind of stuff that can arise with insight practice and how to handle it, also people on this forum can help and teachers etc.
 
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Brandon Mather, modified 9 Months ago at 3/2/22 8:03 AM
Created 9 Months ago at 3/2/22 8:03 AM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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Thank you for the thoughtful response. Looking ahead i'll be more open minded about maps. Noting sounds very useful, I practiced it a bit when I tried Unified Mindfulness, although my concentration has never gotten to the point of being able to stay with any phenomena. 

I'm wondering if its worth taking it on as a practice but I guess there's only one way to find out. I suppose i'll keep doing what i've been doing for a while and see about returning to noting in the future. 
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Brandon Mather, modified 8 Months ago at 3/9/22 11:01 AM
Created 8 Months ago at 3/9/22 10:59 AM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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My meditation this morning wasn't very focused at all, but there was still some insight. 
Most notably was including others into my sense of self in order to view them compassionately, as well as the 'overlay', or 'interpretation' of phenomena as they arise was brought into some slightly higher degree of clarity. For example, 

A sudden, sharp pain out of nowhere was interpeted as bad or unwanted.
Distracting thoughts was interpreted along the same line, as something that needed to be 'changed'
​​​​​​​Within that overlay, the noticing of the overlay can be interpreted as something to be changed, or something to be seen as neutral (it is what it is), or something to love (the sheer joy of its is-ness).

Its really like a constant chain of opinions about opinions, all of which seems to arise on its own. My sense of self seems to be tied to these opinions. At this point i'm trying to be careful to distinguish between what i've learned conceptually, and what my level of insight is. 

Its very clear to me that this overlay exists, although its mostly apparent when I look for it, which is less a process of 'trying' to look and moreso 'listening' or 'watching' my mind make sense out of the world, like when people are talking and meaning seeming to spontaneously appear, or when i'm 'typing' and the assumption of meaning intrinsic to these words. 

I've been doing work with writing characters, not like characters in a word, but fictional characters, and a small bit of self analysis as as result. I'm assuming that things like goals are tied into the meaning, moreso as a function of the perception of time. When I close my eyes to meditate, I notice that there is the intention of 'meditating', the assumption that the meaning of what i'm doing is 'to meditate'. I assume that i'm breathing out, and that naturally that means that what will happen next is that i'm going to breathe in. 

This is all part of the same overlay, the opinion of whats happening which seems to be a function of memory. All tied to identity. 

Its funny, while I type this all out i'm worried about getting caught in all the intellectual fluff and I start to doubt that I should type it out at all. Which is all just interpretations of interpretations. All just part of that 'overlay,' and i'm realizing that I get quite caught up in this but i'm assuming that this is not something that is unique to me at all. 

So ill go back to the basics. Don't worry about it, just be. I'm in my head today and that's nothing to be ashamed of. 
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Brandon Mather, modified 8 Months ago at 3/14/22 9:46 AM
Created 8 Months ago at 3/14/22 9:46 AM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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On a whim I did some quick research into the fire kassina. 
I have access to candles but I wanted to try it with my phone light. Did just over 40 minutes of that, with 20 extra minutes of following the breath. 

I don't think i've ever been that concentrated on anything in my life. There were brief moments of clarity on the field of vision-- when my eyes were closed and I realized that I must believe that what I was 'seeing' had to do with my eyes and not my mind. It was also interesting to notice how concentration effected the afterimage, how the tension in the eyelids seemed to distract me, even if I thought my attention was fully on the field of vision, thoughts and other things would directly effect how the afterimage was perceived, how blurry it became or how often it would disappear. 

I was also convinced, during the breathing meditation, that my concentration was comparitively poor. However, once I finished the meditation and went to grab something to eat, I felt very clear. Very present, moreso than ever. Its been a very rewarding experience and I look forward to practicing more. 
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Brandon Mather, modified 8 Months ago at 3/24/22 11:33 AM
Created 8 Months ago at 3/24/22 11:33 AM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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Kasina practice has been solid. However, the last couple of weeks i've noticed that i seem to feel tired all the time. Very relaxed, but very much in need of a nap. Buf I take a nap, it does nothing to relieve the feeling. 

Then, a couple of days ago, I started to feel very anxious and depressed. I started to spiral, but I also stayed with it. Not being as engaged with the thoughts, and bringing my attention more towards what I was feeling in the body. I noticed some suicidal ideas, feelings of despair towards the future, feelings of guilt towards paths that I hadn't taken in life. 

The exhaustion mixed with low mood eventually culminated in this sort of apathy towards what was going on. So what if imight  suddenly become homeless? So what if I'm stuck in a low-wage job for the rest of my life? So what if i'm feeling this ovewhelming negative emotion? Maybe i'll kill myself, maybe I won't, it doesn't matter. 

This nihilism isn't new to me. I had gone through a phase a few years back where I was infatuated with nihilism-- funny how in the midst of a meaning crisis we can be very blind to the very mechanism of meaning.

"Oh, but I mean meaning in the cosmic sense. There's no reason for me to be here, i'm irrelevent. Inconsequential. There's no special role for me to fulfill, no heroic journey to embark on. All the continents have been discovered, all the stars have been named, all the monuments have been built and for what? To fade to dust in the end." 

Its the same script, but each time it comes up (especially after having not felt it for so long) it feels new. And inescapable. 

I think the key difference though, this time around, was my willingness to feel it. And I kept feeling it and feeling it, as it came and went, and as I settled down for bed last night I think I might have experienced some of the worst of it. I let the tension, the feeling of energy in the body, I let it all do its thing. I read a book, occasionally bringing my attention back to check on how I was doing, until eventaully I realized I was okay. I could bring my thoughts along those nihilistic and depressive tracks, but the emotions behind them just weren't quite there anymore. I felt calm, and ended up having some vivid dreams. 

I woke up this morning surprised that it was gone. Episodes like this could last a while, in the past. I woke up ready to feel and let go and be all grumpy and woesome. I've also felt some degree of clarity as well, being able to touch upon insights that I only really get after staring at my phone light or following my breath for 45 minutes. I suppose my mind must be a bit more quiet after having exhausted itself. 
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Kaloyan Stefanov, modified 8 Months ago at 3/31/22 2:27 AM
Created 8 Months ago at 3/31/22 2:27 AM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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Hey Bradon, really enjoyed reading your last entry! Seems like things are progressing well for you. I really love your attitude to "stay with the feeling" as this is really key throughout the path, especially in these more difficult patches. It is good that you went through that specific episode with a lot of skilfullness because, if you are like me, it also gives us confidence that we can do it again. So we keep going with some extra courage, openness and trust. And on the path, we most often end up coming back to some of these difficult places more than once...So courage, openness and trust are always helpful

Then we get these brighter, clearer patches where things are just there, and where Insights are easily accessible. ​​​​​​​

The way you describe it sounds like you went through a DN - > Equanimity sequence (if you are into maps - but no need to map yourself also, so wouldn't worry about it too much).

Wishing you good luck, friend, keep going!!!
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Brandon Mather, modified 4 Months ago at 7/25/22 6:26 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/25/22 6:22 PM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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Been a minute since my last update. Sorry if this post seems a bit incoherent in some spots. My brain is a bit tired and this post was entirely unplanned. Since my last update I stopped practicing light kasina.. I may get back to that soon, but might work on a more basic form of concentration practice before that. I hadn't really done any practice up until a few weeks ago.I still practice self enquiry once in a while, but the real juice in my life has come from TWIM. Tranquil Wisdom Insight Meditation. Its metta, from what I understand. And over the last week, i've come to notice some changes in my life. Small changes.

I was addicted to pornography throughout my late childhood, all throughout my teenage years, and up to my early twenties. Over the last couple of years, however, my 'need' for it has reduced significantly, and I attribute much of this to letting go of a lot of the negative emotions associated with this. Guilt, shame, anger, etc.Not just pornography, either. Video games have been a constant in my life since I was a young child. Up until recently, I had felt the urge to try and become a content creator on yotube and twitch so that I could earn money while doing what I told myself I love to do.But after a week of practicing TWIM, not even confident that i'm doing it right, its like somethings shifted.

My mindfulness of my thought is much deeper. I'll be mid thought-stream and i'll just let go, and realize that the entire train of thought was a strange daydream.My addiction to pornography came with all sorts of hang ups and assumptions about life. About what I need in my life. That seems to be gone now. Sex seems so boring, in comparison to what it once meant to me. Im' not saying i'm averse to it, and the craving for gratification might still come up once in a while, but the addiction to stimulation seems to have dissolved significantly. My assumptions about how much money I need to make and how I need to make that money has shifted too. I still have some thoughts and emotions that come up around those, but they're not as intense as they used to be. I have a habit where I will open up a video game as soon as I am viewing my computer desktop. Today was the first time in a long time where I was about to do the same thing, but I realized that I didn't need to do it this time. I'd almost say there was a mild aversion to playing video games right now. Outside of the social aspect that comes from playing with friends, it just doesn't seem like a priority anymore. Is this the 'growing up' part of spirituality?

Maybe its the drive that brought me to seek some sort of escape as a child that's been worked through. Whatever bag of emotions that was behind that has started to empty out, I suppose. Its nice. I feel a bit more free. I feel like there's more to life, now.Sometimes it feels like depression, or burnout. But its not quite the same. Its more positive than those, i suppose i'd say I feel content. Even in the midst of the most neurotic thought loops, the amount of suffering just isn't the same. I'm much more confident in my ability to cope with myself, now.

I mentioned that i'm not sure I was doing the practice properly. I mention this because i'm wondering if this 'shift' i've felt in my life is something caused by TWIM, or if some part of me has just been looking for some excuse to move on from my childhood addictions, and the positive thoughts and emotions from twim took the place of that.I don't know. Either way, its been a positive experience so far so i'm going to continue down this path, along with some mindfulness of breath stuff.

I've also decided to read MCTB.
Eventually.
​​​​​​​Have a great day, everyone.
Martin, modified 4 Months ago at 7/25/22 9:10 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/25/22 9:10 PM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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That sounds really good! Shifts, openings, unbinding. Nice!

Have you read Johnson's book on TWIM? https://library.dhammasukha.org/uploads/1/2/8/6/12865490/the_path_to_nibbana__d_johnson_f18.pdf
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Brandon Mather, modified 4 Months ago at 7/30/22 10:26 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/30/22 10:26 PM

RE: Bravery's Practice Log

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I've not read that one. Thanks for sharing. I'll read it soon.<br /> 

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