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TT's Practice Thread
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1/24/12 7:59 PM
First of all, I want to say that reading MCTB and lurking around DhO has been tremendously helpful and motivating. Although I've been "into" Buddhism for several years, encountering these resources has really raised things to another level for me.

I finished reading MCTB about 2 weeks ago. Here's how my practice has developed since then:
1. I decided the best thing to do was to improve my ability to concentrate on the breath, so I improved that.
2. Then my breath started getting very shallow after I got concentrated, which led to some failed attempts to try to get into 1st Jhana.
3. This morning, when my breath got shallow, I just continued to sit with the shallow breath, focusing on the "anapana spot" (between my nostrils and upper lip). The breath stopped completely a few times, and my lower abdomen seemed to clench tightly. Suddenly, there was a surge of intense bodily pleasure. It was mingled with excitement, and it felt like I had just taken a hit of some drug. The feeling lasted about 10 seconds. I sat for a while and was able to repeat the process, at which point I ended the sitting because I was just too damn excited.

So right now, I'm researching about & wondering whether to continue exploring concentration/jhana territory or start doing insight practice. I also want to clarify for myself why I'm practicing -- what my goals and intentions are. For the moment, I'll just keep doing concentration practice.

RE: TT's Practice Thread
Answer
1/24/12 8:22 PM as a reply to Tony Takitani.
Tony i've noticed this, and i dont think it is the same as jhanic pleasure. as you said it is tinged with excitement, i think that it actually is a sudden burst of excitement that has to do with a sudden sense of being unable to breathe. i don't know whether you shouldnt practice insight or concentration or both, but if you want to do jhana which can be practiced as both, you might want to find a subtler and stabler sense of wellbeing/fullness in the breathing to begin building concentration on.

RE: TT's Practice Thread
Answer
1/26/12 6:42 PM as a reply to josh r s.
I think you're right, Josh. Although I don't think I'm consciously holding my breath/making it shallow, these weird breathing patterns seem to arise way too easily and without much concentration. Very strange. I'll try to breathe more "normally" from now on and see how it goes.

During my last few sittings, a state of deeper concentration arose after this "oxygen deprivation jhana." The breath felt soft, clear, and stable, and it felt like I could pay attention to it without much effort. After a minute or two, this state fell away and the breath felt coarser and less stable. Access concentration, maybe?

RE: TT's Practice Thread
Answer
2/1/12 4:07 PM as a reply to Tony Takitani.
My goal for this month is to meditate for at least an hour every day, concentrating on the anapana spot during each sitting and as much as possible throughout the day. Metta in the morning and evening as well. Finally, I want to sign up for a 10-day Goenka course some time before school starts in the fall.

RE: TT's Practice Thread
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2/7/12 1:32 PM as a reply to Tony Takitani.
I signed up for a Goenka retreat in the beginning of April! This will be my first retreat. I plan to ramp up my daily practice in March to prepare, adding body scanning to my concentration practice.

Been listening to some great guided meditations lately. I learned how to body scan and how to cultivate the Brahmaviharas (currently doing some metta in the morning and before bed). But I'm mostly sticking to concentration practice since that's what I chose to focus on this month. Good progress so far -- I stayed with the breath for about 15 mins straight at the end of last night's sitting, felt very settled and peaceful, and found that afterwards it was remarkably easy to stay with the breath while I did other things. Also felt some definite pleasure/joy at one point (and not from holding my breath, lol).

RE: TT's Practice Thread
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2/23/12 4:56 PM as a reply to Tony Takitani.
Although I intended to stick with concentration practice, I've been all over the place and doing a bad job of sitting every day. Lately I've been doing some concentration and some noting.

40 minute sitting this morning, trying out Kenneth Folk's noting in triplets (body sensation - feeling tone - mind state):

-Noted recurring hardness/nausea/pain in the stomach, generally unpleasant and accompanied by anxiety/aversion. Stayed with these feelings and investigated them until they changed, without trying to change them (they eventually settled a bit).
-In the middle of the sitting, I switched things up and spent a minute or two concentrating on the breath. My awareness was sharper from the noting, so I was better able to feel the subtlety of "going into" the sense of effort/trying. Felt like a pressure in the head, also felt a bit "sticky," like I "locked into" a certain state.
-The feeling-tone notes felt automatic at times -- maybe I should stick with "neutral" unless I'm sure?
-Mind states are very flighty and hard to pin down, kinda feels like I'm noting a ghost.

I'll try to stop jumping around between practices, and I'll try to sit more regularly!

RE: TT's Practice Thread
Answer
2/25/12 11:29 AM as a reply to Tony Takitani.
Yesterday I did a 5-and-a-half hour "mini-retreat," and it was really motivating (even though I sort of ran out of steam during the last 60-90 minutes).

Just did a 40-minute sitting with the intention to "note everything." I ended up paying close attention to two things:
1. Mind: Noting every movement of the mind with "mind," more intently and consistently than I ever have before. Saw certain types of thoughts pop up over and over and over again: proto-thoughts that I couldn't see clearly, planning thoughts, random memory/image thoughts, random verbal phrase thoughts, musical thoughts, thoughts about evaluating the process of noting thoughts... (These were pretty funny. "How is noting everything with 'mind' working out?" "Mind.") Noticed that all these thoughts quickly arose and passed out of nowhere, basically out of my control.
2. Intentions: Trying to see the intentions that precede movements. It went something like this: my attention went to an area, like the mouth. An image/sense of intending to swallow arose, and then I swallowed. But I was also able to call up and "hold" this image/sense of intending to swallow, without actually swallowing. So that image/sense is a candidate for "intention," but somehow I thought that this was too easy. Looking intently, it felt like I could sense a soft little "jolt" immediately before the act of moving/swallowing -- maybe this is "intention?"

This is all very interesting, and I'm excited to keep investigating. I'll probably keep up with the noting, do some concentration practice, and try to become competent at body scanning before the Goenka retreat in April

RE: TT's Practice Thread
Answer
3/10/12 2:23 PM as a reply to Tony Takitani.
A few things to report:

1. Just got a new job, so I'll probably have to skip the Goenka retreat. emoticon I want to make up for this by being more serious about my daily practice until I get another opportunity to go on a retreat. Depending on my schedule, maybe I could do some shorter self-retreats.

2. After listening to this Buddhist Geeks podcast, I started wondering if I could somehow integrate more activities with Buddhist practice in a meaningful/effective way. So far, I've experimented with "contemplative chess" and "contemplative exercise." In both cases, I found out some interesting things just by being more mindful and aware:
  • With chess, I'm trying to look at how my mind operates when I play or solve puzzles. It's difficult to do this while I play because most of the mind's processing power is being used up, but I've gained some interesting insights after I've finished playing. Really looking forward to seeing how this goes.
  • Trying to meditate while exercising is interesting. I did 10 mins of kettlebell swings today -- pain and discomfort in the beginning, with aversion, attempts to let go of the aversion, and attempts to distract myself from the pain by focusing on something else. Towards the end, it felt like I got into a groove. My body flooded with pain-blocking endorphins and I found it surprisingly easy to narrow my concentration on my body, my hands, the motion of the kettlebell, etc. It'll be interesting to see what happens during longer workouts, and what it's like to try to sit down and meditate after all of this.

3. Going about my day today, I tried counting each breath, continuing to count higher rather than starting over after 10. (Actually, starting over after 10 would probably give the same results, but never mind.) This helped develop sustained attention, made me more mindful in general, and gave me instant feedback when I did anything that lessened my concentration. Maybe trying to note everything is more useful, but it was still pretty cool.

RE: TT's Practice Thread
Answer
6/16/12 9:03 AM as a reply to Tony Takitani.
For the past 3 months, I haven't had much time to meditate. That's going to change soon, since tomorrow is my last day at my 2nd job.

What little time I've had to meditate has been devoted to concentration practice, following Culadasa's meditation manual (and also a bit of Alan Wallace). I've had some encouraging results so far, so I want to stick with this practice for a while and develop my concentration further, resisting the urge to jump between different practices.

So my current goal is to develop uninterrupted attention on the breath, to the point where I can say that, for the majority of my sits, I didn't completely lose touch with the breath. My subgoals include any technique, in formal sittings and in daily life, that can help me accomplish this goal.

RE: TT's Practice Thread
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1/14/13 3:05 PM as a reply to Tony Takitani.
Finally had some time to get back into meditation after a busy semester at school, and now I want to have another go at this practice thread. I'll try to make a post once per week, summarizing my sits for that week.

Still practicing shamatha as per Culadasa's instructions. Using a cell phone program, I've been dividing my sessions into different intervals. So, for a 40-minute sit, I'll spend:
-3 minutes getting settled
-5 minutes cultivating as much energy & mindfulness as possible
-30 minutes maintaining that energy & mindfulness as I follow the breath as consistently as possible. During this 30 minutes, the bell sounds every 5 minutes, which keeps me on track and encourages me to try to follow *every* breath for 5 straight minutes.
-2 minutes mentally reviewing the sit

My plan for practicing consistently during the Spring semester is to meditate for 2 hours right after breakfast every morning. Any additional time in the evening/on weekends/etc is just icing on the cake.