Message Boards Message Boards

Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Pressure and stuckness and taking oneself too seriously!

Toggle
Hello there,
I am writing to see if anybody might be able to offer some guidance to me.
I've been practising meditation for almost 10 years - my commitment has wavered at times - and this period has included a goenka retreat near the beginning when I was about 18, quite a few visits to the forest monasteries in britain, and a handful of retreats at Amaravati retreat centre.
I've generally tried using mindfulness of the breathing / body - and it has been a rather arduous path. I am able to sit still for much longer periods than in the past, but in general I do not feel that the mind has really settled down very much in all these years. Sometimes I can feel calmer, during other sittings I can feel quite agitated, but in general there seems to be a lack of clarity and I'm not sure I've ever really had a taste of the mind free from hindrances.
Over the years, there has been a sense of blockage / tension in the upper back area, and it includes the chest area. It is a blockage that seems to be bound up in some way with the breathing, and it feels like it could be connected with the mind trying to control things. It is almost always there when I sit - the extent to which it disturbs me, however, varies. It has got to the point where this feeling is often with me, to some extent, when I'm not sitting. Off the cushion it is often associated with a 'pressure' feeling - a feeling of somehow that I need to be doing more. It's also associated with anxiety - and this has been a recurring theme - there is often a sense that the breathing does not feel like a 'safe' place to put my attention.
If I am sitting on a bus, for example, and I try to be mindful of the breathing, I can often end up feeling a bit more vulnerable and anxious. I am wondering whether my approach to meditation has caused me more problems - whenever I try and be mindful, it is often now bound up with this pressure feeling. (In the first few years of practise, I was coming from an ideological place of 'this is something I must do to sort myself out' - and that habit pattern is still there. I am aware that I could do with just trying to relax, and ease up, but I'm not sure now how to go about approaching the practice in general.
In daily life too, I've struggled to put into effect the changes that, at least on some level, I would like to. For example, I would like to live more generously, patiently and more simply - without, for example, always needing the stimulation of a novel or a film - and I would like to feel just more of a sense of being at ease with myself, of feeling ok in my own skin, without feeling the need to rush from place to place, or for sense stimulation. I have a decent theoretical understanding of the practise (based on the Sutta's / forest ajahns teachings) and in some sense there is some intuitive understanding - but I'm not sure that I've really directly benefitted - on some level I'm aware that there is this clinging to a false sense of self, but it doesn't really feel like there's much of a refuge at present.
I'm currently practising with the samatha trust, to try and stick to one tradition a bit more, to see how that goes with the support of a teacher, but I am still plagued by all doubts in my ability, in the suitability of the breath for me, and how I might move forward.
Thank you for reading!
Be well,
Oli.

RE: Pressure and stuckness and taking oneself too seriously!
Answer
8/21/13 9:19 AM as a reply to Oli First.
Could you describe your observations of your next sit? Or a recent one? Do you take notes? What technique/s are you using?

RE: Pressure and stuckness and taking oneself too seriously!
Answer
8/21/13 3:00 PM as a reply to Oli First.
Oli First:
Hello there,
Over the years, there has been a sense of blockage / tension in the upper back area, and it includes the chest area. It is a blockage that seems to be bound up in some way with the breathing, and it feels like it could be connected with the mind trying to control things. It is almost always there when I sit - the extent to which it disturbs me, however, varies. It has got to the point where this feeling is often with me, to some extent, when I'm not sitting. Off the cushion it is often associated with a 'pressure' feeling - a feeling of somehow that I need to be doing more. It's also associated with anxiety - and this has been a recurring theme - there is often a sense that the breathing does not feel like a 'safe' place to put my attention. If I am sitting on a bus, for example, and I try to be mindful of the breathing, I can often end up feeling a bit more vulnerable and anxious. I am wondering whether my approach to meditation has caused me more problems - whenever I try and be mindful, it is often now bound up with this pressure feeling. (


Oli,

I struggled with what seem to be very similar experiences for some time. I underlined certain phrases you used, which really struck a chord with me. I had all of the experiences which I underlined above, and I also had the thinking that focusing on the breath at my nostrils/lip was more destabilizing for me than focusing on it at the belly, but that was just a thought I used to have.

I had maybe two or so years of struggle about pressure, anxiety, and worry regarding the breath. I didn't really have these issues if I tried other non-breath practices, like metta or kasina, or 32 parts. I eventually overcame my struggle with the breath, though. Or it just went away, not really sure.

Let me make the caveat that it would be hard to tell if we had the same "issue" whatever that is. I don't know what my "issue" was really. But hopefully I can give you some ideas that you hadn't considered:

(1) I found it useful, for a time, to do a regular yoga practice. Like 5 days a week of about an hour. (I did a beginner form of ashtanga, very beginner format). On some level, I felt that this helped relieve some of the tension I felt for a long time around my throat. I had a history of feeling tension in the throat in social situations, or needing to hyperventilate, especially after I had recently been meditating focused on the breath.

(2) After doing yoga for a while, I saw a video on youtube from Shinzen Young. He described teaching meditation to those with "weak egos" in the western, psychotherapy sense. Basically, Shinzen described grounding yourself in the 'see out', 'hear out', 'feel out' noting practice when you need to. I tried what Shinzen described when I started feeling anxiety and really really helped. I think it is just a different focus, subtly different, then what I was doing before. It was like, "what am I doing right now, and what am I seeing, and what is my posture?" Before, when I'd try to meditate to calm myself, I would do more of a 'focus in' and get more spacey and feel more insubstantial, so Shinzen's suggestions helped, even if I don't fully understand it. I don't understand this point enough to explain it well.

(3) just a thought - for a while, I thought my struggles were a symptom of the 3rd nana, and that they were partly relieved by moving to A&P. Who knows, though? I think I started a thread a while ago, on this board, about my theory on this point.

(4) when I was still having problems with the breath as an object, before this problem went away for me, I did find relief in trying different meditation practices, like metta, or even a kasina. These seemed more stabilizing. I noticed that during these practices, I breathed more easily, and breathed a lot less, than when I struggled with the breath as an object.

Anyways, you might have very different causes underlying your issues, I don't know. I had to post though, because I had very similar symptoms and similar thoughts like "breath isn't a good object for me" etc. Now, I do a noting practice with the breath at the belly being the primary object, and I don't have any of these symptoms anymore.
Best of luck in addressing your concern and moving past it!!!

Mike

RE: Pressure and stuckness and taking oneself too seriously!
Answer
8/21/13 4:02 PM as a reply to Duane Eugene Miller.
Hi, thanks for asking me to observe my next sit - it actually helped me focus a little.
I've been practising in the 'Samatha Trust' tradition since about January - prior to that I was basically practising mindfulness of the body / breathing. I would basically pay attention to the breathing, often throughout the whole body, but sometimes focusing at the nostrils or the hands and feet, or sometimes at the forehead where I sometimes get some pleasant feeling. Sometimes I would feel fairly settled, other times I would feel really tight, and restless, and basically my agitation would increase and this feeling of tension in the back would increase.
I have just sat using the samatha tradition technique, which is much more structured and systematic than what I had been doing previously, but I still encounter similar issues around this tightening and tension in the back/chest, the general restless / agitated feeling and the general sense of it not being all that clear what is happening / of there not being much concentration. The technique is based on mindfulness of the breathing, but one moves between different lenghts of breath (longest most comfortable, longer, shorter and shortest), and one moves from counting the breathing, to following, then to staying with one point at the nostrils and finally to a 'settling' stage, of which I don't have much experience.
In my sitting just now, I felt fairly calm, but there was not a sense of there being much clarity. I noticed the mind wander off on a number of occasions (I could hear music in my mind, I noticed I was thinking about coming on here and what I was going to write etc) but in general it's not that clear when the mind wanders off (it's a little bit like I'm aware of the breathing whilst at the same time also being distracted - but not giving either my full attention, and therefore I don't really notice when the mind is with or not with the object).
I have this habit of thinking of myself as having a really weak attention span / an inability to stay with one object for more than a couple of moments and this thought in itself can generate a sense of worry or a feeling that I've got a long long way to go!
Thanks.
Oli

RE: Pressure and stuckness and taking oneself too seriously!
Answer
8/21/13 4:09 PM as a reply to Mike H..
Hello, thanks for your response.
I will check out that shinzen young video - are you basically saying that in daily life instead of trying to be mindful of the breath, you would ask those three questions 'what am I seeing, hearing and what is the posture right now?'
Thanks for your reassuring comments - I do intend to start up some yoga practice (again, it's something that I've not fully committed to).
There is this overall sense that I could do with changing my lifestyle to live more simply but I am left with this feeling of 'stuckness'; I never seem to fully commit to making daily life adjustments (e.g., cutting out eating outside meal times, learning to be happier to eat a meal slowly etc, being more authentic / patient with others), and part of me feels a bit hopeless at the prospect of succesfully introducing change - given that I've been trying to change (I guess half-heartedly) unsuccessfully for quite a long time. PS, I do acknowledge that things have changed in some way, but I'm not sure to what extent they've really changed deep down (e.g. I will still get stroppy with my mum and sister of petty things)...
Thanks again!
Be well,
Oli

RE: Pressure and stuckness and taking oneself too seriously!
Answer
8/21/13 6:35 PM as a reply to Oli First.
Oli First:
Hi, thanks for asking me to observe my next sit - it actually helped me focus a little.
I've been practising in the 'Samatha Trust' tradition since about January - prior to that I was basically practising mindfulness of the body / breathing. I would basically pay attention to the breathing, often throughout the whole body, but sometimes focusing at the nostrils or the hands and feet, or sometimes at the forehead where I sometimes get some pleasant feeling. Sometimes I would feel fairly settled, other times I would feel really tight, and restless, and basically my agitation would increase and this feeling of tension in the back would increase.
I have just sat using the samatha tradition technique, which is much more structured and systematic than what I had been doing previously, but I still encounter similar issues around this tightening and tension in the back/chest, the general restless / agitated feeling and the general sense of it not being all that clear what is happening / of there not being much concentration. The technique is based on mindfulness of the breathing, but one moves between different lenghts of breath (longest most comfortable, longer, shorter and shortest), and one moves from counting the breathing, to following, then to staying with one point at the nostrils and finally to a 'settling' stage, of which I don't have much experience.
In my sitting just now, I felt fairly calm, but there was not a sense of there being much clarity. I noticed the mind wander off on a number of occasions (I could hear music in my mind, I noticed I was thinking about coming on here and what I was going to write etc) but in general it's not that clear when the mind wanders off (it's a little bit like I'm aware of the breathing whilst at the same time also being distracted - but not giving either my full attention, and therefore I don't really notice when the mind is with or not with the object).
I have this habit of thinking of myself as having a really weak attention span / an inability to stay with one object for more than a couple of moments and this thought in itself can generate a sense of worry or a feeling that I've got a long long way to go!
Thanks.
Oli


So just from my experience and impressions from what you're saying (especially the bit about practicing for 10 years and feeling as though you're not really getting anywhere), my initial thought is, if you're not getting anywhere, maybe try something different? Or maybe apply more focus. As you said, my questioning your sitting made you focus more, maybe try applying that type of focus as often as possible. From what I've experienced, it seems like the more attention and focus one applies to the object (whatever it is - the breath - the body - awareness in general - a spot on the wall - whatever) the deeper one goes at a more rapid pace. For me it really was/is just that simple. Not just MORE practice but "GOOD" practice. Practice like your hair in on fire, as often as possible. But again, that's just what seemed/s to work for me.

RE: Pressure and stuckness and taking oneself too seriously!
Answer
8/21/13 8:07 PM as a reply to Duane Eugene Miller.
Oli, sometimes people are unaware that sitting and paying attention is just one of many ways to achieve insight. It's not the 'be all and end all'.

Your temperament might be better suited to spiritually-oriented psychotherapy, reading spiritual literature, sitting in a satsang group, jogging for 10km until you hit the zone, Osho-style dynamic meditations, talking to plants (Castaneda)....whatever!!! Get creative! And FFS stop beating yourself up with bloody vipassana. The amount of suffering that goddamn technique has caused people in here is off the scale.

RE: Pressure and stuckness and taking oneself too seriously!
Answer
8/22/13 10:17 AM as a reply to This Good Self.
C C C:
Oli, sometimes people are unaware that sitting and paying attention is just one of many ways to achieve insight. It's not the 'be all and end all'.

Your temperament might be better suited to spiritually-oriented psychotherapy, reading spiritual literature, sitting in a satsang group, jogging for 10km until you hit the zone, Osho-style dynamic meditations, talking to plants (Castaneda)....whatever!!! Get creative! And FFS stop beating yourself up with bloody vipassana. The amount of suffering that goddamn technique has caused people in here is off the scale.


As I agree with this statement, all I'm really saying is if you're going to continue using the practices that you are, perhaps applying more focus will help. There is certainly more than one (thousands probably) way to skin an ego.

And yes, certainly, don't beat yourself up. Kindness to oneself should come before everything else, IMHO.

RE: Pressure and stuckness and taking oneself too seriously!
Answer
8/22/13 11:02 AM as a reply to Oli First.
Oli First:
I will check out that shinzen young video - are you basically saying that in daily life instead of trying to be mindful of the breath, you would ask those three questions 'what am I seeing, hearing and what is the posture right now?'


To answer your specific question, I'd suggest checking the video and just trying to experiment a bit. I can only really describe my personal experiences over the last couple of years. So for me, I would tend to get anxiety creeping up in social situations which was pretty clearly tied to having meditated recently and (I believe) sort of taking apart my ego in a way. So in that situation, I would take a subtle change of focus and instead of just noting 'anxiety' 'worry' 'shaking' etc. (yes it was bad sometimes, and this type of noting would just make it worse), I would sort of pose the question to myself 'what am I doing right now?' and then note 'sitting/feeling out', 'seeing out', 'hearing out'.

That is how I understood Shinzen's point, but again I am not Shinzen himself. To me, it was sort of solidifying my sense of a healthy ego through mindfulness, and strengthening what may have been a weak ego ("ego" in the western, psychotherapy sense).

Another idea about meditation, from my in-person teacher, would be to sort of 'zoom out' during a sitting. If you feel really constrained and focused on changing the breath, or anxiety during a sit, try to not change anything, and just sort of mentally 'zoom out' and take in the whole picture of your physical and mental process, and give it a bit of mental room.

But more generally, it sounds like you are beating yourself up a bit. About a lot of different things. In the big picture of everyone who meditates, it would be pretty normal to meditate for 10 years without attaining something really big like stream entry, or to become someone who perfectly follows right speech. Try to give yourself a little mental breathing room. Maybe do nothing but metta for a while, including metta for yourself. (I don't claim any attainments, I only overcame my problem with anxiety in meditation/breath and advanced a bit up the stages of insight, maybe).

Hopefully, over time, meditation will become something that is calming and recharging for you, at least most of the time, and then that will probably help you accomplish your various goals more easily. This has been my experience. Now that the breath isn't my enemy (literally), I feel a bit better about working with the precepts and being a little less focused on TV etc.

Mike

RE: Pressure and stuckness and taking oneself too seriously!
Answer
8/22/13 2:43 PM as a reply to Oli First.
Oli First:

Over the years, there has been a sense of blockage / tension in the upper back area, and it includes the chest area. It is a blockage that seems to be bound up in some way with the breathing, and it feels like it could be connected with the mind trying to control things. It is almost always there when I sit - the extent to which it disturbs me, however, varies. It has got to the point where this feeling is often with me, to some extent, when I'm not sitting. Off the cushion it is often associated with a 'pressure' feeling - a feeling of somehow that I need to be doing more. It's also associated with anxiety - and this has been a recurring theme - there is often a sense that the breathing does not feel like a 'safe' place to put my attention.

Sounds like you may have a built in dukkha/stress sensor. Want to test it? Go outside in view of the general public and act like a mime. Do this very mindfully. Any ridiculous thing will do that causes your sense of self to be stressed.
How did it feel? Same thing?
Why not take this sensation as your focus and try to perceive the impermanence/mind trying to control things. See if this sensation implies a self in any way. See if this is stressful. Does the stress increase or decrease with this investigation? Are you able to effect control over it or is it controlling you? Where is the you either way?
As CCC pointed out
C C C:
The amount of suffering that goddamn technique (vipassana) has caused people in here is off the scale.

I agree completely it is a very effective path to perceiving suffering/stress. It brings to the forefront impermanence and no-self and stress. That is what I like about it. Not everyone's cup of tea mind you...

Good luck
~D