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Practice Log for Chris

Practice Log for Chris
12/29/12 8:22 PM
It feels a bit odd posting here. Until 48 hours ago, I had never even heard of nanas, jhanas, stages of insight, or any of the other terms folks use around here. The sum total of my meditation experience consists of about a dozen ten-minute sessions that I tried a year ago before giving it up. I've never been on a retreat. To my knowledge, I've never met a practicing buddhist. I've read a few books on meditation that promised a great deal but frankly didn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to me.

I'm not quite sure how I found this website. And yet, the things I read here seem to ring a lot of bells for me. In my previous attempts at meditation, I had no trouble at all recognizing thoughts, emotions, etc. as objects outside of "me." For me, at least, this didn't really register as an 'insight' at all, just an interesting confirmation of something that I already believed intellectually.

I gave up meditation very soon afterward, though, after finding that focusing on my breath, instead of causing me to relax, left me feeling like I was suffocating and gasping. I would sit waiting for a breath . . . and nothing would happen . . . and eventually I would have to intentionally take a breath . . . and the whole experience seemed stilted and uncomfortable and exactly the opposite of what I assumed was normal. I thought that there must be something uniquely wrong with me that made me unsuitable for meditation.

But now my experiences seem an awful lot like "Mind and Body" and "Cause and Effect" as they are described in some of the materials on this site -- which has the double effect of validating to me my own experiences and suggesting that the contributors to this page seem to know what they're talking about.

I will also say that some of what I've read about how individuals may have unknowingly experienced an "Arising and Passing Away" in their lives without intending or knowing it, and may be sitting at "Dark Night," also seems to resonate with me. If "Dark Night" feels anything like a mid-life crisis coupled with a constant restlessness and frequent feeling of being pissed off, I'm there. I don't have any specific recollection of what might have triggered it, but I've had a number of unusual mental experiences in my past that strike me as plausible candidates. On other hand, some of the description doesn't fit as well, so perhaps I'm just suffering a regular old mid-life crisis. I don't suppose that it really matters either way.

At any rate, I'm going to give this a go and see where it takes me.

RE: Practice Log for Chris
12/29/12 8:39 PM as a reply to Chris Coleman.
I sat for a few short sessions of about 5 - 10 minutes at a stretch today, interspersed with reading MCTB. I am focusing on the breath -- still find it very jerky and gasping, but am now just accepting that this is my experience. I am coupling this with the "noting" practice.

I haven't really noticed anything like the "vibrations" that are described in the text. My breath seems pretty "solid" to me (strange terminology, but apt). Perhaps I am supposed to be creating the "vibrations" or points of experience myself by "checking in" on my breathing at rapid intervals? As in, "there's the breath . . . there's the breath . . . there's the breath . . ." etc.? That doesn't feel right to me, though. My understanding is that my task is to observe the reality that presents itself to me, not try to create it.

For now, I will stick with focusing and noting the breath as it presents itself, and see what happens. My constant desire to understand everything is probably getting in the way. It may be best to put my questions on hold for the time being, and just spend time racking up experiences.

RE: Practice Log for Chris
1/1/13 12:59 PM as a reply to Chris Coleman.
I sat for about thirty minutes two days ago. Felt like a really long time -- I don't know how people can go for an hour or more at a time. It wasn't unpleasant, though. I was able to stay, if not *on* the breath, then at least in the general vicinity of the breath for most of the time. Thoughts and sensations would intrude, but I was generally able to catch those intrusions as they arose, and was only swept away by them a handful of times. I may have fallen asleep at one point for a moment or two -- i'm not quite sure.

My breath still seems completely "solid." I'm still content to just see what happens rather than try to search for or impose an experience that I think I'm supposed to be having.

I have also been trying to experience mindfulness while walking in everyday life by focusing on my feet. I am finding this more difficult than the sitting/breathing practice. My mind is much more active, and I find it much more difficult to give up on my thoughts. I enjoy thinking while walking, and it's more of a sacrifice to give that up.

I continue to be flooded with questions about this whole process. I am finding it difficult to resist the urge to spend my time thinking and reading about conceptual questions rather than actually engaging in practice.

RE: Practice Log for Chris
1/4/13 11:30 AM as a reply to Chris Coleman.
I have not yet settled into a routine sitting practice -- partly because of obstacles in my life right now, but also, if I'm honest, because I find sitting to be rather unpleasant. Instead, I've been practicing mindfulness while walking, focusing on the feeling in my feet. With some practice, I'm finding that I can sustain attention for fairly long periods of time.

I was re-reading the "Stages of Insight" section of MCTB and was struck by the possible realization that I may already be in stage 3, and perhaps have been there for such a long time that it now simply feels "normal" for me. As I mentioned before, I've understood my thoughts and body sensations to be objects for almost as long as I can remember. Indeed, it's only now occurring to me that perhaps other people don't perceive their world that way -- sort of a "reverse insight" into the way others may be living. I must say, if there really are people who see no distinction between their thoughts and sensations and "themselves," they are asleep indeed.

"Cause and effect," as I am coming to understand it, also seems to be something that I've realized for a long time. My understanding of this stage is something like this: Before "Mind and Body," if you truly identify with your thoughts and sensations, then you are either blind to them, or you believe that you are causing them through the exercise of your free will. Once you achieve "Mind and Body" and are able to examine those objects with some distance, you soon notice that they have causes and effects. For example, your thoughts are not pristine exercises of free will, but rather can be seen to arise and fall in response to certain stimuli, etc. What's more, you realize that one thought causes the next, which causes the next, etc., and can see that (if you are asleep to them) these chains can extend for days, weeks, even years at a time, one causing the next -- with you and your life being carried unknowingly along with them. You have the illusion that you are choosing your life, but in fact you're just being carried along.

If that realization is "Cause and Effect," then I've been there a long time. It's really the inevitable result of being aware that your thoughts and sensations are not you. But that makes sense, because it's precisely because it's an inevitable conclusion that it's a universal stage that everyone who looks will perceive.

Finally, I think "The Three Characteristics" has been part of my outlook for years as well. I'm less sure of this one, but at least one aspect of this insight seems to be that these chains of causation that you're able to observe have nothing to do with "you" -- they're just things that happen. And another aspect of the insight seems to be that you really can't put your finger on anything in your world or mind that isn't somehow part of these chains of causation. If these are the insights, then this is something that has been part of my worldview for years.

Again, it's a bit surprising to me that others may not see the world this way. That said, it does seem to explain something that has sort of puzzled me. I tend to have a very philosophical outlook on life, in that it's easy for me to disengage from events and recognize that things happen for reasons that aren't clear, but that there's no real reason to get upset as long as the sky is blue and the breeze is gentle, and so on. Why get wound up in the drama? This is a natural outlook for me -- but I've noticed (obviously) that lots of other people emphatically do *not* see the world this way. In ways that are sometimes hard to understand, it's been a wall that exists between myself and others -- including otherwise highly-intelligent people that I would have thought should be able to perceive the world as I do. I've struggled to understand this in the past, but it now strikes me that these early stage insights might just be the explanation. There's a truth -- a very simple truth that anyone can grasp with some basic observations -- that is completely obvious to me but that lots of other very smart people have simply never noticed.

If anyone's reading this, does it ring any bells to you?

RE: Practice Log for Chris
1/4/13 2:51 PM as a reply to Chris Coleman.
Chris Coleman:
I sat for about thirty minutes two days ago. Felt like a really long time -- I don't know how people can go for an hour or more at a time. It wasn't unpleasant, though.

No need to worry about that. Sitting becomes easier when the mind gets used to calming down and concentration develops. I started with 5-10 min sessions and increased the time gradually. For me the following ideas helped in the beginning:
  • Maintaining concentration for a long time may seem unmanageable, but it is always manageable to stay with the next breath.
  • At some point I started to consider it freeing that for the sitting session I am allowed to drop thinking other things. I am allowed to rest in the breath without any fight or struggle. If distraction happens, just gently concentrate on the next breath.
  • Timer is useful so that one does not have to think all the time whether to continue or stop.