(Re)Kick-starting practice: Questions on timing

Victor S B Cova, modified 8 Years ago at 6/28/13 11:04 AM
Created 8 Years ago at 6/28/13 11:04 AM

(Re)Kick-starting practice: Questions on timing

Posts: 11 Join Date: 6/27/13 Recent Posts
Hey people,

Background: I've been meditating on and off for quite a few years now. I usually meditate pretty intensely for a month or two, then stop for a few weeks, then start again for quite a few months at a much lesser intensity (30min/day max), then I stop for a few weeks, then start again quite strong. I started off with some concentration practice a loooong while back, then started noting about 3 years ago, then shifted to some "accepting everything" practices, then went a bit more into the powers/magick... And now I want back into noting. I'm quite certain I'm pre-A&P.

Context: I'm pretty free to use my time as I please for weeks at a time, then I have to travel for a couple of weeks where I cannot do as I please, and that's when I usually stop practicing consistently. I have about a week before I have to travel for 2 weeks, and I thought I would try meditating intensively and doing a mini-retreat to kickstart the work and help me get back into gears. I got inspired by the Reformed Slacker's guide to retreats on this forum.

So far:I started yesterday, Did 1h of walking meditation upon waking, then started sitting but got interrupted by a flatmate, but started again later on in the afternoon and sat for 60 minutes without any difficulty. Of course, the concentration was crap, and I needed to try things out to remember how it worked, but considering all that it was pretty nice. Today, I did about 3 hours of meditation pretty much back to back, walking and sitting, with some stretching exercises in the middle to make it easier to lotus. Shit concentration throughout, then heavy sleepiness on the last 1 hour sit (I've been sleeping well and enough last night, so it's meditation induced sleepiness). It then took me a while to recover from, I crawled into bed and sort-of curled into a foetal position for about 20 minutes waiting for things to feel ok. Not sure what that was, as the sit was mainly boring /dozing off, but I'm thinking perhaps I overdid it and should either work my way back up to long hours much more slowly than I have, or space meditation time throughout the day more evenly (ie: instead of 3 hours in one go, 30 minutes every 2 hours)

Question: What do you think of very long, very intense sits? Do you work your way up before you go on retreats? Or do you use retreats to give you momentum to continue practicing more intensively? What is your experience with all this? If you've taken time to read my stuff, what advice would you have for me?

I cannot wait to hear your thoughts!

Kind regards,
V.

P.S.: There may very well be a previous post or bunch of posts on that topic that I did not find. Do not hesitate to send me links to them if you find them!
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katy steger,thru11615 with thanks, modified 8 Years ago at 6/28/13 12:57 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 6/28/13 12:57 PM

RE: (Re)Kick-starting practice: Questions on timing

Posts: 1740 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
Hi V,

Welcome to this forum.

Question: What do you think of very long, very intense sits? Do you work your way up before you go on retreats? Or do you use retreats to give you momentum to continue practicing more intensively? What is your experience with all this? If you've taken time to read my stuff, what advice would you have for me?
I would look across my own body and recognize if there are any problems that are being aggravated by sitting (even 10-20 minutes, or upon sitting down). I would deal with those so that the sitting does not create or exacerbate a body problem.

So, commonly, before I move meditation into a more intense practice period I change my diet and I do slow, slow long-hold stretching with long, slow deep breathing. After this the mind is able to start its own practice from a rational place (not worried about damaging the body by, saying, sitting at length when circulation has already sluggish or stagnant) and it can start early exercises like the jhanas of joy and contentment before the who-knows-what-'s-coming of the mind dropping in equanimity.

Fivebells just posted perhaps 10 days ago an excerpt regarding Ajhan Bua's sitting through naturally arising pain, too.
Victor S B Cova, modified 8 Years ago at 6/28/13 6:36 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 6/28/13 6:36 PM

RE: (Re)Kick-starting practice: Questions on timing

Posts: 11 Join Date: 6/27/13 Recent Posts
Hey Katy,

Thanks for your response, your welcome, and for sharing your experience! I'm curious about what you say here:
- What sorts of changes do you make to your diet?
- To make sure I understand you correctly: you do some stretching, then you do some sort of shamata practice before going to insight stuff? Is that combination specific to longer sits? And if so, why? How do you combine the two usually? What specific practice do you do?

So far, pain has not been such a problem, but I have been doing stretches, and some mindful bodyweight exercise as well. I think that was pretty beneficial to my sit afterwards, as I was more aware and less lost in thoughts. Tomorrow I'll try to do metta during my walking meditation, and then shift over to noting for the rest of the day.

Yours,
V
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katy steger,thru11615 with thanks, modified 8 Years ago at 6/29/13 4:47 AM
Created 8 Years ago at 6/29/13 4:47 AM

RE: (Re)Kick-starting practice: Questions on timing

Posts: 1740 Join Date: 10/1/11 Recent Posts
Hi Victor,

- What sorts of changes do you make to your diet?
Everyone has different needs in this regard at different times. Basically, what I do now is abide the Theravadan eating schedule; eating whatever at/by midday. I also try to increase eating leafy greens.

To make sure I understand you correctly: you do some stretching, then you do some sort of shamata practice before going to insight stuff? Is that combination specific to longer sits? And if so, why? How do you combine the two usually? What specific practice do you do?
Basically, I just do a slower stretching with long slow deep breathing if I've had a busier week/weeks. If by shamatha, you mean calming: yes. If I do long, slow, deep breathing "into" a stretching area (like "breathing into the psoas"), then the muscle spindle there and in related area seems to release better and this openness throughout the body as a result of stretching slowly with long slow deep breathing (at least five seconds inhale, five seconds exhale) evens out energy in the body and makes the entire body energy more connected and flowing. To me, this creates calming and can support my mind into settling down.

Why? Not only will these two things help remove tension and relax/open body energy, but if I add back tension early in the retreat, I'll see that addition more easily. For example, if a teacher makes a comment during the lecture hour or Q&A to which I react aversely, I'll have no confusion about where my aversion and tension are coming from and where those land in the body.

Good luck. I look forward to learning from your practice again,
Katy
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Eric G, modified 8 Years ago at 6/29/13 8:19 AM
Created 8 Years ago at 6/29/13 8:19 AM

RE: (Re)Kick-starting practice: Questions on timing

Posts: 133 Join Date: 5/6/10 Recent Posts
One spin is that what seems to have worked for a lot of people is simply regular, earnest, daily practice. A fair number of people on these boards have been "successful" without ever going on retreat, not that retreats aren't useful. A half hour or an hour a day, every single day is pretty powerful stuff, particularly if one can bring increasing moments of mindfulness into one's daily life off the cushion. Sure, two hours, even better, but personally I'd be a lot more interested in someone who is doing it every day than just on retreats here and there. When I did two hours a day I liked to spread it out, an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening.

Then again, it depends. If you're close to a tipping point, a retreat might be do the trick.

You're describing a schedule where a retreat approach could be opportune, but during your travel times, maybe you could commit to a token 15 minutes a day "maintenance" or something like that. And I think building up to a retreat makes sense, a lot of people recommend that.

I think about it in terms of developing a muscle or skill. If I want to develop endurance, or muscles, or skill at juggling, I need to be working consistently, otherwise those systems are going to atrophy. Stopping for a few weeks is probably not going to be optimal.
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Tommy M, modified 8 Years ago at 6/29/13 6:47 PM
Created 8 Years ago at 6/29/13 6:47 PM

RE: (Re)Kick-starting practice: Questions on timing

Posts: 1199 Join Date: 11/12/10 Recent Posts
Hi Victor, welcome to the DhO.

The issue sounds mainly to be one of consistency and momentum. If you're working mainly with the Mahasi model, consider the first three ñanas as being something like a ramp leading up to Knowledge of the Arising & Passing Away; 4th ñana can be thought of as a jumping-off point, a "peak" of sorts. You need to get some momentum going, although this comes only through consistent and focused practice. I can assure you that it's possible, in fact recommended, to bring insight practice into your everyday experience and see the transient, empty nature of whatever arises in every situation. With enough intent and determination, it's possible to get the point where you're noting from the moment you wake up; to the point where you're mindful of whether your first breath upon waking is an inhalation or an exhalation.

If you have the opportunity to sit for extended periods, or to sit for several periods of no less than 30 minutes throughout the day then I strongly suggest you take advantage of it. Consider it retreat-lite and resolve to remain mindful during all of your activities through the course of your day; do mini-retreats, like 24 hours where you practice from 6am in one-hour sits and alternating between walking and formal sitting. There are lots of ways you could use your situation to engage in intensive practice which, if approached sensibly and with awareness of when to dial back if things get a little too much, would be conducive to landing Path if the intent is strong enough.

Less intensively, but with no less dedication: Concentration practice can be incorporated into a lifestyle where travel is common, as can noting and various other bare attention techniques. It's worth knowing that noting and bare attentiveness develop concentration, not in the same way as samatha does but to a level which facilitates a greater ability to deconstruct sensation. Use breath meditation while travelling, for example if you're on the train or bus then there's usually little else to do and these opportunities to practice are priceless. Some of the most profound and life-changing insights come from these moments, that paradoxical effortless effort involved in just observing with bare attention the way that experience occurs.

I've got a few suggestions on my blog, which sorely needs to be updated, that might be of use to you:

Methods of Awakening

Work on developing consistency in your practice and building that momentum, it is so, so, so worth the effort although it's not an easy process sometimes.

Hope this helps a bit, practice well!

T
Victor S B Cova, modified 8 Years ago at 7/5/13 8:43 AM
Created 8 Years ago at 7/5/13 8:43 AM

RE: (Re)Kick-starting practice: Questions on timing

Posts: 11 Join Date: 6/27/13 Recent Posts
Hey Eric and Tommy,

Thanks a lot for your advice, and for reminding me of the importance of regularity and momentum. I've been trying to do this, though shifting from "loads of free time and no stress" to "loads of stress and no free time" has not helped a lot. I've found that the more intense sits I did last week (3, 4h) did really help to motivate me to continue doing it. I'm back to a slower rhythm now, but still pretty motivated and reasonably intense (aiming for an hour or two each day).

Tommy, I sent you a message, did you receive it?

Yours,
V

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