Message Boards Message Boards

Practice Logs

Sheldon's Meditation Journal

Toggle
Sheldon's Meditation Journal
christian background beginning first post sheldon
Answer
11/29/12 1:01 PM
Hi, this is my first post on the DhO! I'm not sure if anyone will read this but it seems like a good idea to keep a journal like this for my own purposes any ways.
*Because I am making this primarily for my own purposes it probably won't be well written or organised, sorry.

Background Info on Me:
I am, currently, an ABSOLUTE BEGINNER. I'm 19, not in school, working part-time.
I grew up in Brasil, my parents were Baptist missionaries there. Obviously my upbringing was strictly evangelical christian.
When I was 11 we moved to Ontario, Canada. Sometime around 2008/9 I became disenchanted with "the church" and "God" in general. I think this came about because of my relentless desire to know what is true, or maybe to just know more than anyone else. Whatever it was, I am incredibly thankful for it!
A year later, or so, my parents split up.

In 2010 I was really feeling empty, since I had lost "God". So I turned to philosophy in the hopes that it could show me meaning. From then until August 2012 was pretty much one long existential crisis for me. I was trying to think, and conceptualize my way to the truth (at the same time I was employing a wide variety of the usual distractions to stave off the meaninglessness). After a while I kind of realized that logic, reason, western philosophy do NOT lead to meaning of any sort. So I gave up for a while and just tried not to think too deeply.

2. Lead-up to My Interest in Meditation
arising and passing away dark night mtcb
Answer
11/29/12 5:15 PM as a reply to Sheldon Frith Nicholson.
Life Changing Experience

*Oh, I forgot to mention that in December 2011 I moved to Victoria, BC, Canada. That is where I am now.

Then, in August 2012 I had a life changing experience. It might have been the Arising and Passing Away; I have read all of the descriptions but I just don't know.
What I described it as to myself afterwords was roughly 4-5 hours of being a genius. My mind was crystal clear, I was thinking at a level I never even knew was possible. There was definitely BLISS, but it seemed to arise because I was so enchanted with my own abilities. My mind was working so hard that my breathing the whole time was "frantic", "sporadic" and fast, characterized by sharp intake and then holding the breathe. My vision was incredibly vibrant and clear. I had a huge amount of control over my body, at one point I actually switched my "handedness" from right handed to left in my brain (its hard to explain this). Even though I could control my body when I was focusing on it, for the most part I was in my head, so I was twitching and swaying my head back and forth, etc. A few people saw me... I must have looked like I had a severe mental problem of some sort!

Any ways my mind eventually came to a state where I perceived time as non-linear; I realized everything was predetermined and I felt empowered because of it; I came to appreciate how the forces of evolution/natural selection drive everything; I understood that I was one with the world; happiness and sadness are not real, I even hurt myself rather badly to prove that pain was not real; I did not care what happened to me, or humans, or life because I was thinking from the perspective of the Universe. I realized that my "search for meaning" was absolutely irrelevant and fundamentally misguided. However this "knowing" state of mind quickly passed and now I am left only with the memory. Keep in mind that the description I just gave was completely inadequate, I have no idea how to really convey it.

At the time I was, I guess, a "believer in science"; so all of the realizations I had were interperated through the lense of evolution, physics, neuroscience etc.

Having recently read descriptions of REAL insight, and descriptions of the Arising and Passing Away (from this website and MCTB ) I don't really think this was it: The insights I gained seemed to be very much wrapped in concepts and content, not so much insights into "the actual sensations that make up reality".

Its a bit embarrassing now, after reading MTCB, but I actually thought I was "enlightened" for a long time.

Whatever it was it was life changing. In the next few days my mind was still working at much higher capacity than usual. I came up with a "grand plan to save the world and bring perfection to everyone". (go to https://github.com/PEPmembers/Perpetual-Existence-Project/ and read the "README" for a brief overview of my "grand plan") My primary goal at first was how to guide other people to the realizations I had, because nothing else mattered more than the "truth" I had realized. However that desire has faded as the memory has faded. I am struggling now with how I can lead other people to these realizations when I'm not even sure how I achieved them? How do I know that I am acting "truthfully" (based on the truth I realized, that is) when I am not experiencing that "truth" all the time?

My Path to The Path
The "post-experience energy" that I had faded very quickly and I actually seemed to go backwards with my lifestyle; bad habits flourished which hadn't before, I became very disenchanted with my job, motivation disappeared, I was not very happy. In fact, these effects are still with me 3 months later. Possible the "Dark Night"? If so, its very close to "ordinary" life.

So my new goal became to find a way to repeat the experience I had had. Ideally I would find a way to permanently be in that state of mind, and state of "realization". I was pretty much stumped, I didn't even know what I had actually experienced. I thought of trying psychedelic drugs, but run-ins with law enforcement scared me and I did not want to jeopardize my "grand plan" by having a criminal record.

Somehow, in the past month or so, an interest in Buddhism has grown in me. Probably a lot of it started when I read "A Brief History of Everything" by Ken Wilber. Buddhism, Hinduism, Shamanism, Spirituality or whatever it didn't matter; they all seemed to describe things similar to what I experienced. And, more importantly, there seemed to be ways for achieving this state again!

So I started reading books on Buddhism (this was just like 2 weeks ago actually) and very quickly ran into MTCB. I LOVE THAT BOOK!

First Steps (Unanswered questions in red)
concentration 1st jhana
Answer
11/29/12 5:14 PM as a reply to Sheldon Frith Nicholson.
On November 21, 2012 I formally committed to the goal of understanding the perceptions that make up my reality clearly enough to achieve enlightenment.

I left for the woods that day (I have done it before, it wasn't really like I was "abandoning my life" or anything) and determined not to return until I had achieved the 1st Samatha Jhana. If you are interested I have kept a journal of my experiences "living in the woods" @ sheldonsjournal.blogspot.ca

I want to achieve enlightenment as quickly as I possibly can so that I can start changing the world! From what I understood of MTCB it seems like the first, neccessary step is to acheive the 1st Jhana, and then dive into insight practice. Is that the right thing to do? Or should I just start with insight right off the bat?

So I tried to meditate as much as possible every day while in the woods. However this time of year the woods are really cold, wet and dark. In reality, on average, I only meditated for like 2 hours a day. There are also a lot of distractions. I had a really hard time.

Anyways, here's how it went in the woods:

I had the goal of achieving the 1st Jhana so I was trying to do only concentration practices, I was primarily using the breath as an object.

There was some confusion about how exactly to do "concentration meditation" as opposed to "insight meditation". I wasn't noting or anything... I was confused about whether or not there were supposed to be any thoughts in my head;
MTCB says I am supposed to "conceptualize the breath as a coherent and continuous entity, with many different types of sensations all being thought of as being the breath" (description of the First Jhana). "Conceptualize" and "thought of" seem to indicate that, besides focusing on the sensations of breath, I should be conciously performing mental activity? Am I misinterpereting that?
I kind of thought that really concentrating well entailed kind of trying to kind of get a direct link between the physical sensations in each moment and "conciousness" or "attention". Am I not trying to achieve a state of such intense concentration on the actual physical sensations that there is no room for thoughts, intentions or mental phenomena of any sort; all of the awareness is completely occupied with pure physical sensations?


Anyways for most of my meditation I tried to simply focus as directly and consistently as possible on the actual physical sensations of the breath, so the only mental effort I put forth was to focus my attention. I tried to feel the sensations of the breath "broadly" so that they would seem more coherent. I actually found it quite hard to concentrate on the breath as a coherent object; the individual sensations showed themselves more readily to me than the breath as a whole. Another thing I noticed practising in this way was that the gap in between breathes when there are no physical sensations related to the breath to be aware of and so thoughts inevitably arise to fill the void. Throughout most of it there was inevitably some mental chatter and stories; sometimes quite a lot and sometimes almost nothing.

One thing I found really distracting throughout was trying to maintain the proper sitting posture. I know that the posture is not important as long as it is sustainable, but there has got to be SOME benefit to the traditional half/full lotus position? Is there?
Eyes opened or closed? I found it much easier to concentrate with my eyes closed, but is it not more beneficial to learn to focus with the eyes open (so that mindfulness comes easier off the cushion and distractions become less of a proablem)?


I found that setting a timer and clearly stating my intention out loud before meditating was ESSENTIAL or else I would simply give up a few minutes in.

This stuff is incredibly difficult! However I really noticed positive benefits almost right away. Everything around me was clearer, more beautiful (probably because I was actually SEEING it haha). I also noticed a definite boost in my mood after each session.

I am noticing that I don't really have the motivation and drive that I need. Meditation has the feeling of something that I am forcing myself to do because I think it is good for me. I would much prefer to be working on my "grand plan" than meditating.... I wonder why? I think maybe I need to see some obvious improvement soon to motivate me. I bet the feelings of the second Jhana would probably give me tons of motivation, maybe.

Should I worry about ALWAYS being mindful? Is it possible for me to always be mindful?

I have found that lying down works well for me, BUT NOT lying down where it is that I sleep.

All of the thought-distractions that I seem to be struggling with I have noticed are verbal. Most of them are directly from the various Dharma stuff I've been reading lately. So I have a problem with constantly needing to give myself advice.

I am also having a hard time making it "fun" and being able to laugh at myself, which is supposed to be important. How can I change this?

I have found that actually exaggerating my breath and trying to eliminate the break in between helps because stronger, more continuous sensations are easier to focus on. But maybe this is not good?

Conclusion; Possibly Attained First Samatha Jhana:

So on November 26, 2012 I think I might have attained the first Jhana.

It happened during an hour, lying down session with the breath as the object. Instead of doing what I usually did, which was super hard and I was getting frustrated with, I relaxed my attention a bit. Instead of focusing directly and precisely on the physical sensations of the breath I tried to be generally aware of it while conceptualizing it as a continuous, very pleasant thing. I was actually mentally making effort to feel good. I focused on any pleasant sensations I felt. For about the second half of the hour (although my sense of time was almost non-existent so I'm not really sure)I was in a relatively steady state. I would describe it as very pleasant. Not really blissful or happy, just pleasant. There was some pain in my back that I was still aware of but it didn't bother me at all. After I came out of it I felt really good for a few minutes. I didn't really move for a while. The best way I can describe the afterglow is "pleasant satisfaction". However it actually faded really quickly and then turned into annoyance since I didn't know whether or not I had achieved the first Jhana. I also was annoyed that I had to leave that state; I would have loved to just lay there feeling pleasant forever!

I kind of really doubt that this was the first Jhana for a few reasons: My concentration was actually not that strong compared with other sessions I had had. My mind was still very active, there were thoughts, basically the whole time. It wasn't really the very exciting, incredibly pleasant event like I expected it to be.

It just seems like I kind of worked myself into feeling good because I really wanted to achieve the state and I had a pretty good description of it from MTCB. There didn't seem to be what I would call concentration much involved.

Also, in MTCB, Daniel says that once the Jhanas are achieved the concentration shifts to the actual characteristics of the state itself. I was definitely concentrating on pleasant sensations but I found it really hard, pretty much impossible, to concentrate on the state of pleasantness.

Does anyone disagree; am I just second guessing myself too much?

Anyways I was cold and it was good enough for me, so I left the forest and went home.

4. Back at Home; Struggling
dark night friends motivation community
Answer
11/29/12 8:46 PM as a reply to Sheldon Frith Nicholson.
So I'm back at home now after my initial burst of meditation in the forest, and after possibly attaining the 1st Jhana.

Things aren't going well.

I have tons of time but I just haven't been practising, I've got no motivation. I know, I know I've got only myself to blame!

I spend TONS of time reading about meditation; watching videos; listening to pod casts; writing about it; and thinking about it...
BUT NONE OF THAT MATTERS IF I DON'T PUT IN THE EFFORT AND ACTUALLY MEDITATE!

I like to feel sorry for myself and I like other people to feel sorry for me too. I think, for some fucked up reason, I am not meditating (even though I know I should and know that it is the most useful thing in the world I could be doing) so that I can say "Oh, poor me! Look I'm so stupid that I can't even do a simple thing like meditate even when I know its good for me. Poor me..."

And obviously I want other people to feel sorry for me too or I wouldn't have posted this publicly...

Its like my sole goal in life is to extract as much information as possible about every subject there is. Its as if I think that if I eventually have enough "knowledge" I will get insight/wisdom.

I think one problem is that I don't have friends, or a community, that are also interested in meditation. I need to find some!

I watched Jane McGonigal's talk on how game design and buddhism interact. I really liked it. I love videogames. I don't play them any more because I would end up getting addicted and my "real world" life would suffer because of it. Anyways I wonder how I could make meditation as fun for me as videogames? I think maybe if I had a friend we could compete for "Dharmic Achievements" (achieving higher states, more hours of practice, etc.) and this would help to motivate me; as I mentioned before I'm very competative. Don't worry this is not some thinly veiled way of asking you to be my friend: I need a real life, face to face relationship.

Any ways that's enough complaining for now. Maybe this IS the Dark Night after all... or, more probably, I'm just making excuses.

RE: 4. Back at Home; Struggling
Answer
11/30/12 4:55 PM as a reply to Sheldon Frith Nicholson.
Maybe I'm just lazy, but I find it hard to post at a thread with so many questions, so I will just mention some points quickly.

What you think was 1st jhana looks more like what people call access concentration.

As far as I know the posture matters for concentration and energy practices, but can still be done without and the difference usually is subtle and can only be noticed much later as you progress, and for insight isn't needed.

For now do not think too much about the difference between insight and concentration, it will become clearer as you progress, and just follow the instructions of the meditation you chose.

Sheldon Frith Nicholson:
Its like my sole goal in life is to extract as much information as possible about every subject there is. Its as if I think that if I eventually have enough "knowledge" I will get insight/wisdom.

I also had a lot of problem(and sometimes have again but in a smaller scale) with obsession with information.
The approach that worked the most with me, is:
1 - if you are frequenting some kind of website that contains a lot of "potentially useful information"(like maybe facebook or reddit), I advise stopping completely, or imposing severe restrictions, so after a while "recovering from the addiction" you can realize how stop frequenting it didn't really affect your life and that website was useless after all
2 - if you are having new interests all the time and keep searching information about them, try keeping some sort of to-do list, and when you have some urge to search about something, put it into the list and let it be there for a while, if you still want to know about it and think it's really useful after some days, then it's okay, do it
3 - reading books is fine, as long as you are not jumping around between different books and never finishing one, but trying to read few at a time

Also, I recommend reviewing this chapter of MCTB

RE: 4. Back at Home; Struggling
Answer
11/30/12 6:31 PM as a reply to Sheldon Frith Nicholson.
I am also having a hard time making it "fun" and being able to laugh at myself, which is supposed to be important. How can I change this?


See any irony in asking this?

So I'm back at home now after my initial burst of meditation in the forest, and after possibly attaining the 1st Jhana.

Things aren't going well.

I have tons of time but I just haven't been practising, I've got no motivation. I know, I know I've got only myself to blame!

I spend TONS of time reading about meditation; watching videos; listening to pod casts; writing about it; and thinking about it...
BUT NONE OF THAT MATTERS IF I DON'T PUT IN THE EFFORT AND ACTUALLY MEDITATE!

I like to feel sorry for myself and I like other people to feel sorry for me too. I think, for some fucked up reason, I am not meditating (even though I know I should and know that it is the most useful thing in the world I could be doing) so that I can say "Oh, poor me! Look I'm so stupid that I can't even do a simple thing like meditate even when I know its good for me. Poor me..."

And obviously I want other people to feel sorry for me too or I wouldn't have posted this publicly...

Its like my sole goal in life is to extract as much information as possible about every subject there is. Its as if I think that if I eventually have enough "knowledge" I will get insight/wisdom.

I think one problem is that I don't have friends, or a community, that are also interested in meditation. I need to find some!

I watched Jane McGonigal's talk on how game design and buddhism interact. I really liked it. I love videogames. I don't play them any more because I would end up getting addicted and my "real world" life would suffer because of it. Anyways I wonder how I could make meditation as fun for me as videogames? I think maybe if I had a friend we could compete for "Dharmic Achievements" (achieving higher states, more hours of practice, etc.) and this would help to motivate me; as I mentioned before I'm very competative. Don't worry this is not some thinly veiled way of asking you to be my friend: I need a real life, face to face relationship.

Any ways that's enough complaining for now. Maybe this IS the Dark Night after all... or, more probably, I'm just making excuses.


This sure sounds like narratives I've had in Dark Night experiences. I'd say keep it simple and keep practicing concentration. Don't worry about the little details of technique so much, the main thing is that you are paying attention to something in the present moment. I think a good goal for now is to limit the volume of distracting thoughts, remembering not to get mad at yourself if/when you fail to live up to expectations.

A bunch of your 'story' sounds similar to mine, and my advice is to put a lot less stock in it. Keep practicing some sort of attention technique and let things work themselves out for a bit.

RE: 4. Back at Home; Struggling
Answer
12/1/12 9:12 AM as a reply to Adam . ..
I'm new to these forums, didn't really have a background in meditation prior to an experience very similar to what Sheldon is describing. After the experience I discovered I could meditate "like a champ" for a few months and my perception and consciousness changed drastically for weeks... I believed that I was "enlightened" too. Then it faded (or that's what I thought happened.) I found it really important to let go of all that, which is very difficult because dang it was so special!

I'm not going to offer much here, but I felt it important to say that I became obsessed with reading about it as well.
I don't believe reading about it helped the situation very much (aside from allowing my belief system to understand that I was not mentally ill and that this happens). Obsessively reading about it possibly made the "Dark Night" phases harder to get through... because it set up some sort of precedent for "progress."

Everyone here is trying to describe something that is impossible to describe with words, that can be a very precarious thing to subject yourself to, when a means to an end is to dissolve labels in the mind. Be careful about reading too much what other people have to say about enlightenment and meditation maps... the dog will keep chasing it's own tail. Oh oh better get Maiko!

I hope this post is appropriate, I felt I should write it and if it breaks any rules in this forum I will not be offended if it is removed. Being a newbie and all. emoticon

Peace!

RE: 2. Lead-up to My Interest in Meditation
Answer
12/1/12 8:18 PM as a reply to Sheldon Frith Nicholson.
Reading your description, I am amazed... you described many things that happened to me last Febuary... the time distortion and new perspective on the mechanics of how reality flows is something that changed me forever.

I started meditating for hours a day. I had a lot of trouble getting my work done. One thing I can offer is just continue to trust in your experiences, understand "it" changes all the time, and consider words like gentle and playful over words like HAPPY and EXTREME... you know?

I didn't practice meditation, have any mind/body beliefs or know anything about budhism. I don't even understand where I am at with this... but I had to REALLY understand that it doesn't matter where I am in the process... not concern that and then the most miraculous things started to happen!

Do you have any weird pressures in your body? There's one that is present sort of in the area behind my eyes and another at the top of the head and center forehead.

Be careful about withdrawing from the world too much... You may be in for quite a ride!

RE: 4. Back at Home; Struggling
Answer
12/4/12 5:59 PM as a reply to John P.
Wow thanks for actually reading all that; AND replying! thanks

John P:
Maybe I'm just lazy, but I find it hard to post at a thread with so many questions, so I will just mention some points quickly.


I completely understand. In the future I will try to narrow my focus a bit more. I just had a lot of stuff to say with those first couple posts.

Thanks for all the advice! It seems, from what you say and from what I have been discovering in the past few days, that the best thing for me to do is to stop worrying about all of this and just PRACTICE! But I knew that all along.

John P:

2 - if you are having new interests all the time and keep searching information about them, try keeping some sort of to-do list, and when you have some urge to search about something, put it into the list and let it be there for a while, if you still want to know about it and think it's really useful after some days, then it's okay, do it


All of your advice was good, but I especially like this one! After reading this I have realized the truth of it in my own experience: If I put EVERYTHING I want to do on a list I will usually only end up doing a very small percentage and will realize that a lot of it I actually didn't want to do that much. I will definitely just start piling all of my urges into a notebook or something to do later (except for Meditation, of course).

RE: 4. Back at Home; Struggling
Answer
12/4/12 6:05 PM as a reply to Adam . ..
Adam . .:
I am also having a hard time making it "fun" and being able to laugh at myself, which is supposed to be important. How can I change this?


See any irony in asking this?


Sorry but I am completely lost when it comes to "irony".

This sure sounds like narratives I've had in Dark Night experiences. I'd say keep it simple and keep practicing concentration. Don't worry about the little details of technique so much, the main thing is that you are paying attention to something in the present moment. I think a good goal for now is to limit the volume of distracting thoughts, remembering not to get mad at yourself if/when you fail to live up to expectations.

A bunch of your 'story' sounds similar to mine, and my advice is to put a lot less stock in it. Keep practicing some sort of attention technique and let things work themselves out for a bit.


Thanks for the advice. In the past few days of research I have kind of concluded that its pretty likely that I AM in the Dark Night. Strangely, and wonderfully, this knowledge has actually kind of made me MORE motivated... Now I know that all I have to do is just practice, practice, practice and everything should work out!

RE: 2. Lead-up to My Interest in Meditation
Answer
12/4/12 6:32 PM as a reply to David S.
Hey David, Thanks for your posts! I didn't think there was anything wrong with that first post, personally.

David S:
Reading your description, I am amazed... you described many things that happened to me last Febuary... the time distortion and new perspective on the mechanics of how reality flows is something that changed me forever.

It is really cool to be finding out that there are other people out there who have had the same/similar experience as me! I totally thought I was like THE chosen one of the human race or something, HAHA.

consider words like gentle and playful over words like HAPPY and EXTREME... you know?

Thanks for this... As much as I appreciate MTCB I have realized that maybe a less "hardcore" way of thinking about the Path (I'm not saying less focused practice or anything like that) might be better for my personality type. "Gentle" is a good word for it.

Do you have any weird pressures in your body? There's one that is present sort of in the area behind my eyes and another at the top of the head and center forehead.


I'm not sure about "pressures" (which probably means I'm not experiencing the same thing as you)... But I have noticed the last few days that while I'm meditating the right side of my face REALLY tenses up. After I noticed this I also noticed that there seems to be a really subtle sense of whatever I'm concentrating on being to the right somehow, even if its really not. Probably something to do with using the left side of my brain more, or maybe not, who knows.

I have also noticed this weird thing happening recently where for a few minutes my body (especially my head and neck) seems to be making constant really small, really rapid movements. I usually become aware of it when my vision seems to be "shaking" around uncontrollably, but subtly.

But any ways, I probably shouldn't dwell on these physical things... just more things to be attached to!
Thanks