Best practice to support a demanding daily life?

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Aziz Solomon, modified 12 Years ago at 4/9/10 4:28 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/9/10 4:28 PM

Best practice to support a demanding daily life?

Posts: 24 Join Date: 4/9/10 Recent Posts
I am new to Dharma Overground- indeed it is the first online community I've ever joined- and it is really exciting to be a part of it. The spiritual journey can be intensely isolating, so it is great to find fellow-travelers who are striding ahead on the path (and with their feet clearly still on the ground!)

I have been doing vipassana (having learned at a Goenka course) on and off for about 7 years. My meditation practice recently received a significant boost, thanks to guidance from Daniel's book, but I am also very unsure of which direction to take it right now. Just as I am starting to get some real insight into the 'three characteristics', the demands of my work/ personal life have massively increased and have to become my top priority.

Without going into too many details, I am about to become a father of twins and am struggling to finish a PhD and get started in a challenging new career at the same time. I am therefore quite terrified of entering 'the dark night' at this juncture and getting totally overwhelmed and unable to fulfill my 'worldly' responsibilities. I don't think I will have the opportunity to go on a serious retreat in the next few years, so my goal is really to focus on living the best life possible 'off the cushion' until my babies are a little grown up.

I do want to keep meditating though, and would be extremely grateful for your advice with this: Is samatha practice generally more directly beneficial for keeping anxiety levels low and motivation high? I have generally found vipassana more profoundly transformative, but then I haven't yet attained to any of the jhanas. Any suggestions for where I should be aiming would be much appreciated!
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Aziz Solomon, modified 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 6:11 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 6:11 AM

RE: Best practice to support a demanding daily life?

Posts: 24 Join Date: 4/9/10 Recent Posts
To put it slightly differently, do you think that 'insight' or 'concentration' practices do more to support the training of 'morality' (and the engagement with everyday responsibilities and challenges)?
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Florian, modified 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 12:30 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 10:22 AM

RE: Best practice to support a demanding daily life?

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Aziz,

Hm. I tend to view these three as separate dimensions or axes, and "where I am" in terms of what shapes my current experience is determined by where I am on each of these. I.e. I could be a complete jerk who is highly skilled in concentration, or a very kind and generous person who has absolutely no truck with "ultimate wisdom" regarding impermanence, not-self etc.

In the past few years, since I started to observe myself in these terms, here's what I found out about myself. YMMV of course:

Whenever I'm overdoing the concentration training, I become fascinated by all kinds of strange stuff, put too much emphasis on elevated mind-states, high concepts, dreams, and unusual views of reality, often at the expense of everyday common sense and kindness, and also at the expense of increasing insight into the fundamentals of how this existence presents.

At those times where I push myself too hard insight-wise, I'm again often a bit too dis-interested in everyday concerns and emotionally incomprehensible to those close to me.

I don't think I ever really overdid the kindness and generosity, yet. While a theoretical possibility, this doesn't seem something I'm prone to. emoticon

For a more fine-grained decomposition of the threefold "morality - concentration - insight" training, maybe studying the individual factors of the noble eightfold path in detail will be as useful to you as it is to me.

Cheers,
Florian
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Aziz Solomon, modified 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 2:04 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 2:04 PM

RE: Best practice to support a demanding daily life?

Posts: 24 Join Date: 4/9/10 Recent Posts
Many thanks, Florian, for your replies. I'll definitely follow up your suggestions.

I do find that when I do vipassana, I generally feel that greed, hatred and ignorance have much less of a grip on me. This does seem to affect my day-to-day decisions quite significantly for the better.

However, I am not at a very advanced stage in the progress of insight (probably due to desultory practice), and am afraid of getting more deeply into it at a time when I may not be best able to handle the destabilizing side-effects. Specifically, having read up about the 'dark night' and its inevitability, I don't want to get stuck there until I am in a position to dedicate a good amount of time and energy to hauling myself through it.

So I am trying to work out whether I might be better off sticking primarily to samatha meditation for the moment...

On the other hand, in the Goenka tradition I was taught that samatha doesn't really make a lasting impact on one's sankaras, and can be a form of escapism. If that it true, samatha practice would seem to offer only limited scope for making tangible improvements to life "off the cushion".

So I can't work out which to focus on at this point in my life. In my limited experience so far, vipassana has offered very positive "bleedthrough" into my everyday life, but it also seems to offer lots of future scope for very negative bleedthrough if I continue to higher levels.

Any more advice from experienced yogis would be very greatly appreciated!
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Florian, modified 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 5:27 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 5:27 PM

RE: Best practice to support a demanding daily life?

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Aziz,

the dark night, well... as Daniel keeps pointing out, if you're poking around sites like this, chances are very high that you have crossed A&P already, maybe years ago, and are already acquainted with the dark night.

Daniel's depiction of the dark night in MCTB is very detailed, and covers the more extreme ways it can manifest. There are so many Dharma books out there which gloss over this, MCTB goes to the other extreme of emphasizing it. Thus, cosmic balance is restored ;)

I'd relax a bit. Like you, I find insight practice a good thing. Now that you know about the dark night, you can keep an eye on tell-tales like being in a strangely reactive mood after some opening experience a few days earlier, being edgy and buzzy, and so on. Common sense really helps, and places like this and KFDh are great resources.

Cheers,
Florian
J Adam G, modified 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 5:49 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 5:49 PM

RE: Best practice to support a demanding daily life?

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
I don't know that I have much to offer you in the "experienced yogi" department, but I want to point out a seemingly minor nitpick about Goenka's statement that is more important than it may seem at first.

Shamatha can become a form of escapism -- but that doesn't mean that it always is a form of escapism, even if at a point in your life you're practicing just shamatha and sila and not practicing vipassana a lot. If you're practicing shamatha because your life sucks and you're getting into all these high mind states and your morality trip starts to fall apart, and you stall on the Insight path in a place that you really don't need to stall like Dissolution or Reobservation, then that's a problem.

It's a whole different picture if you're mindfully deciding that the wisest thing to do in your life at the moment is to practice shamatha for the purpose of building up your concentration skills (and if you get some fun and enjoyable mindstates, then that's a pleasant bonus on the side) so that you can be more efficient at vipassana when you do decide to take the plunge and get through the dark night.

My personal opinion is that the second use of shamatha is much more skillful than the first one, and I don't believe it counts as escapism at all. The results that you get from the first way of doing shamatha aren't anything you want. But the results of the second use are that you build up a "muscle" that you'll need later when you really increase your commitment to insight.

What's the catch? It's no good to start out with wonderful intentions matching the skillful second context for shamatha use and end up converting to the first use. That would be starting out with skillful resolve but losing it along the way. Keep the right resolve up so that you always remember what the real purpose of shamatha is -- it's supposed to help you with insight. Entire schools of practice use jhana as the base for insight, as discussed in another thread. It's a powerful practice! But never lose sight of what it's really for. Then it's not escapism. It's preparation.


</opinion>
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tarin greco, modified 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 7:21 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/10/10 7:17 PM

RE: Best practice to support a demanding daily life?

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
Aziz Solomon:

On the other hand, in the Goenka tradition I was taught that samatha doesn't really make a lasting impact on one's sankaras, and can be a form of escapism. If that it true, samatha practice would seem to offer only limited scope for making tangible improvements to life "off the cushion".


i was taught the same. i was further taught, in the mahasi tradition, that vipassana doesn't make a lasting impact on one's sankharas either, and that only the attainment of stream-entry would effect a permanent change to them. if that is true, vipassana practice (particularly of the desultory sort) would offer only limited scope for making tangible improvements to life 'off the cushion' unless you take it all the way and get path.

i assume that your interest in making insight progress is due to what you already know is possible and that your trepidation about going through the knowledges of suffering is due to having had a taste of them before, as after seven years of sitting with goenka, you are, as florian said, likely in the dark night already. if this is so, then you are more than halfway there... perhaps you just need an incentive?

picture is related.

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Ruth Laura Edlund, modified 12 Years ago at 4/11/10 10:56 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/11/10 10:56 AM

RE: Best practice to support a demanding daily life?

Posts: 32 Join Date: 1/13/10 Recent Posts
How about a metta practice, or a practice in cultivating all four of the brahma viharas? Love and compassion are particularly useful when one is caring for newborns.
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Aziz Solomon, modified 12 Years ago at 4/11/10 3:21 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/11/10 3:21 PM

RE: Best practice to support a demanding daily life?

Posts: 24 Join Date: 4/9/10 Recent Posts
Thanks, all, for very thought-provoking responses!
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Aziz Solomon, modified 12 Years ago at 4/12/10 6:46 AM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/12/10 6:46 AM

RE: Best practice to support a demanding daily life?

Posts: 24 Join Date: 4/9/10 Recent Posts
i assume that your interest in making insight progress is due to what you already know is possible and that your trepidation about going through the knowledges of suffering is due to having had a taste of them before, as after seven years of sitting with goenka, you are, as florian said, likely in the dark night already. if this is so, then you are more than halfway there... perhaps you just need an incentive?


Prisoner Greco- I can't seem to figure out for sure where I am on the map! I have only been on one 10 day retreat and then I let my practice slip for a few years, and then it was reignited about a year ago by a 3 day retreat. Some of the descriptions I have read of the stages leading up to "dark night" and "dark night" itself sound familiar to me from my experience, but some don't.

Still, let's say I am a "dark nighter", what might it take to get first path? I definitely do want to go for it, but I just don't know whether there's much chance that I'll be able to make any real progress until these next few hectic years have passed. If I can only do say, an average of half an hour meditation per day for the next few years, do I realistically have any chance, assuming I don't have some exceptional innate aptitude for enlightenment?! If not, would I not be better of spending my limited time developing samatha, in the hope that it will lay the foundations for serious vipassana work (and hopefully enlightenment!) when I have a bit more time on my hands to meditate for long periods and go on retreats?
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tarin greco, modified 12 Years ago at 4/13/10 12:39 PM
Created 12 Years ago at 4/13/10 12:39 PM

RE: Best practice to support a demanding daily life?

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
Aziz Solomon:
i assume that your interest in making insight progress is due to what you already know is possible and that your trepidation about going through the knowledges of suffering is due to having had a taste of them before, as after seven years of sitting with goenka, you are, as florian said, likely in the dark night already. if this is so, then you are more than halfway there... perhaps you just need an incentive?


Prisoner Greco- I can't seem to figure out for sure where I am on the map! I have only been on one 10 day retreat and then I let my practice slip for a few years, and then it was reignited about a year ago by a 3 day retreat. Some of the descriptions I have read of the stages leading up to "dark night" and "dark night" itself sound familiar to me from my experience, but some don't.

Still, let's say I am a "dark nighter", what might it take to get first path? I definitely do want to go for it, but I just don't know whether there's much chance that I'll be able to make any real progress until these next few hectic years have passed. If I can only do say, an average of half an hour meditation per day for the next few years, do I realistically have any chance, assuming I don't have some exceptional innate aptitude for enlightenment?! If not, would I not be better of spending my limited time developing samatha, in the hope that it will lay the foundations for serious vipassana work (and hopefully enlightenment!) when I have a bit more time on my hands to meditate for long periods and go on retreats?


if you have already crossed the a&p, a some measure of your mental processes are already allocated to solving the insight problem, and either concentration or insight practice, done well, will contribute to the development of those processes. hence, more important than which style of practice you do is the intent with which you do them, as well as how much that intent remains running while you are going about your everyday life. given what you wrote about the efficacy of your current method of practice[1], consider continuing to do things this way.

tarin

[1]
Aziz Solomon:

I do find that when I do vipassana, I generally feel that greed, hatred and ignorance have much less of a grip on me. This does seem to affect my day-to-day decisions quite significantly for the better.

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