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Feeling Very Stuck
body scan insight meditation stuck regression inconsistent results obstacle
Answer
9/26/13 12:28 AM
I have been struggling for the past three years with a particularly stubborn neurosis that has made it enormously difficult to practice insight meditation. When I was first introduced to insight meditation in Barre, Mass. at IMS, I connected in a profound way to the practice and to the teachings. For months afterwards, practicing insight meditation brought me tremendous joy, peace, clarity and equanimity. I felt happier than I had felt in my entire life, for I had discovered the path to lasting, unconditional happiness. After about four months, however, a new, unfamiliar neurosis began to develop. I became obsessed with practicing perfectly. My practice was overtaken by neurotic thought processes that thoroughly succeeded in highjacking my ability to connect with the technique. I have been sitting for the past three years stubbornly hoping for insight into the nature of the neurosis to arrive. For two and a half of those years, I was not using any technique, because any effort to apply a technique would result in an upsurge of unpleasant, neurotic, perfectionist thoughts and emotions about trying to do the technique perfectly. I would just sit, and zone out completely. Two months ago, however, I began doing body scans. Implementing the technique has resulted in very inconsistent results. I sometimes stand up from a sit feeling great relief and clarity. Other times, I feel more confused, further lost in concept. I have not been able to identify what leads to sits that result in clarity and what leads to sits that result in confusion.

I have talked with many meditation instructors from many different traditions about this obstacle. The technical advice they have offered has proved unhelpful, as I still am unable to put their tips into practice. That said, I now have turned to you all. Any thoughts or pieces of advice for how to dislodge this deeply embedded thought pattern would be appreciated.

RE: Feeling Very Stuck
Answer
9/26/13 1:45 AM as a reply to Jacob Swan Richey.
Jacob Swan Richey:
I have been struggling for the past three years with a particularly stubborn neurosis that has made it enormously difficult to practice insight meditation. When I was first introduced to insight meditation in Barre, Mass. at IMS, I connected in a profound way to the practice and to the teachings. For months afterwards, practicing insight meditation brought me tremendous joy, peace, clarity and equanimity. I felt happier than I had felt in my entire life, for I had discovered the path to lasting, unconditional happiness. After about four months, however, a new, unfamiliar neurosis began to develop. I became obsessed with practicing perfectly. My practice was overtaken by neurotic thought processes that thoroughly succeeded in highjacking my ability to connect with the technique.


Hi Jacob,

What is the approach/technique that you have employed up till now? Perhaps a tweak here and there could help address the 'block' so to speak.

I have been sitting for the past three years stubbornly hoping for insight into the nature of the neurosis to arrive. For two and a half of those years, I was not using any technique, because any effort to apply a technique would result in an upsurge of unpleasant, neurotic, perfectionist thoughts and emotions about trying to do the technique perfectly. I would just sit, and zone out completely.


What techniques did you use that resulted in an upsurge of unpleasant, neurotic, perfectionist thought and emotions about trying to do the technique perfectly?


Two months ago, however, I began doing body scans. Implementing the technique has resulted in very inconsistent results. I sometimes stand up from a sit feeling great relief and clarity. Other times, I feel more confused, further lost in concept. I have not been able to identify what leads to sits that result in clarity and what leads to sits that result in confusion.


What is the body scan technique in detail, how you actual put it into practice? What occurs, what is observed, how is t observed?

I have talked with many meditation instructors from many different traditions about this obstacle. The technical advice they have offered has proved unhelpful, as I still am unable to put their tips into practice.


What tips and technical advice did they give that has not worked for you?

That said, I now have turned to you all. Any thoughts or pieces of advice for how to dislodge this deeply embedded thought pattern would be appreciated.


More info and detail needed. What is your short term goal? Stream entry as talked of here? Settling those neurotic perfectionist thoughts?

Nick

RE: Feeling Very Stuck
Answer
9/26/13 2:01 AM as a reply to Jacob Swan Richey.
Do you feel up to examining your "neurosis" directly?

If so, you could try something like this:
- practice your preferred insight technique
- as soon as the thought pattern arises, focus on the thoughts and investigate: where are they located? do they manifest as audio or video or both? are there specific bodily sensations that go with them? how repetitive, predictable are they? how exactly does the pattern unfold? what is the driving force behind the pattern? how are you involved?
- write down the story of your thoughts after your sit.
- analyze your writing: who is it that tells this story? what genre is it in? is it compelling/entertaining? who would write such a story? which kind of audience des it address? who are you in this story? is it the same story in each session? do thoughts change in any way in response to your investigation? do they increase/decrease in intensity, volume etc?...
- repeat this investigation for a week or two. write down what you learn. become an expert in perceiving this particular pattern, study it, learn to anticipate its twists and turns, its feeling tone, its bodily texture, its visual, auditory and bodily components etc.
- the goal of this inquiry would be to objectify the pattern, make it less special and less threatening and see it as just another interesting, transitory and unpersonal manifestation

Engaging with thoughts in this way can be challenging and destabilizing, so you should only do it if and as long as you feel you can handle it.

Also, you could examine your expectations about practice. The expactation of consistent results for example is not very helpful; also, expecting lasting peace, clarity ect. is problematic, because insight techniques tend to be deconstructive and results can be confusing and painful at times.

Adding some gentle, relaxed concentration technique like metta to your practice is a good idea, and this is the one thing I would totally recommend in your situation, because these practices give you some additional stability and grounding and, if practiced continually, can change your attitude towards yourself an others in very useful ways.

Best wishes!
Christian

RE: Feeling Very Stuck
Answer
9/26/13 8:36 PM as a reply to Jacob Swan Richey.
Hi Jacob.

I have experienced something similar but in a slightly different context. For a long time I became neurotic about being free from feelings of guilt...coming from a desire to be absolutely pure so that I could get enlightened. My mind would constantly search for things to feel guilty about, however trivial. Then it would latch on like a rabid dog and make it difficult to just even act normally in public life. It also would have a physical manifestation of tightening in my right jaw, making it difficult for me to smile normally. This lasted for a couple of years and I still get hints of it now and then.

How I am getting over it is what has already been suggested. I started watching those neurotic thought patterns intensely. The tone/images of the thoughts, the manifestations in the body, etc. I objectified these neurotic thoughts and created some distance between "me" and these thoughts...

So yeah, based on my experience I would 2nd Christian B and recommend trying out inquiry

RE: Feeling Very Stuck
body scan impenetrable fog body sensations breath awareness scan technique perfectionist
Answer
9/29/13 1:42 AM as a reply to Nikolai ..
Hi all,

Firstly, I am filled with gratitude that others care enough about my situation to offer advice. Thank you.

Nikolai:

What is the approach/technique that you have employed up till now? Perhaps a tweak here and there could help address the 'block' so to speak.


The technique that I was first taught was simple breath awareness. Since the obstacle arose, every time I attempt to follow my breath, I tense up, my attention is stolen away by powerful body sensations charged with unpleasantness and I end up totally lost in a dull, impenetrable fog when I get up off the cushion.

What techniques did you use that resulted in an upsurge of unpleasant, neurotic, perfectionist thought and emotions about trying to do the technique perfectly?


Because it was over three years ago, it is hard to remember exactly what technique I was using. I think what happened was that I became extremely preoccupied with doing it "right." This only resulted in intense contraction and tightening of the mind.

What is the body scan technique in detail, how you actual put it into practice? What occurs, what is observed, how is t observed?


I sit and pay attention to the heat, pressure, coolness, tingling, etc. occurring in my hands as they rest on my thighs. The sensations change, of course, and I try to simply observe without getting involved. Like I said, what occurs during my sits is very inconsistent. Sometimes, I become very serene and tranquil, other times, anxious and tense. Sometimes the sensations are observed with great clarity, other times, without any.

What tips and technical advice did they give that has not worked for you?


Meditation instructors who I've talked to have offered various techniques such as breath awareness, noting practice as taught by Shinzen Young, metta, and body scan. They have described in great detail how to do these practices; however, when I try to apply what I have heard, I encounter only resistance and anxiety. In fact, throughout the course of the meditation session, I become more and more lost in cloudy tension and anxiety whenever I try to implement one of techniques I have been taught.

What is your short term goal? Stream entry as talked of here? Settling those neurotic perfectionist thoughts?


My short term goal is to first ground myself in an insight practice that I am confident will lead to progress. Ultimately, however, attainment of stream entry and the paths beyond are what I aspire towards.

RE: Feeling Very Stuck
Answer
9/29/13 1:55 AM as a reply to Christian Calamus.
Hi Christian,

Thanks for posting.

Do you feel up to examining your "neurosis" directly?


I will try out the writing exercise you have suggested. However, when I apply certain techniques, the neurosis does not even arise. For whatever reason, the neurosis is much less intense and sometimes even absent when I pay attention to the sensations in my hands. However, when I try to apply any technique that I have learned, such as noting, full body scans, metta or breath awareness, the neurosis arises full force. It almost seems like I can control whether or not it arises depending on what technique I am using.

Also, when I have taken the scientific approach you have described, I end up feeling more lost in thought than when I began. It feels like any attempt to free myself or to pay attention with a technique is an attempt of my ego to mimic doing actual insight practice.

RE: Feeling Very Stuck
Answer
9/29/13 1:56 AM as a reply to Jason Emmanuel Snyder.
Hi Jason,

Thanks for sharing. It is encouraging to hear stories of people who have worked through difficulties similar to the ones I face. As I mentioned my response to Christian, I will try the inquisitive approach.

RE: Feeling Very Stuck
mindfulness kayotsarga lying meditation standing meditation walking meditation
Answer
10/6/13 10:04 AM as a reply to Nikolai ..
Hi Jacob:

I won't comment on your neurosis issue. However, I can address how I've dealt w different obstacles in my practice over the years.

A few thoughts:

1. I used/use the the word/mantra Buddho (in/out breath for ea syllable) at all times and in all situations that are stresslful. As I remember to bring it back, the forgetful gaps in time between remembering diminish significantly over time. Lately, My one-pointedness has increased. Now, when I breath in I automatically use Bud and Dho arises automatically when I breath out. It's imprinted in my memory bank and available at all times, when needed and when not forgotten :-).

2. I very much vary the postures (standing, lying, walking, sitting) and have been doing so for past the 5-6 years. In the metro/subway, I stand and meditate for the duration of the # of stops I'm on it for. I repeat "buddho" silently, standing, eyes shut (as long as I have a grip :-) ).

3. Prior to sitting meditation: recently, I was becoming signficantly restless (I had just returned from a retreat) and as such there was little to gain if the restlessness didn't subside when I was about to sit.

A) So, I chose to do walking meditation and change my focus of attention from the breath to the feet, so to feet, so to speak. Here are an article and a video:
--Article: Walking meditation in the Thai Forest Tradition @ http://www.dhammaloka.org.au/articles/item/1204-walking-meditation-in-the-thai-forest-tradition.html
Meditationhttp://www.dhammaloka.org.au/articles/item/1204-walking-meditation-in-the-thai-forest-tradition.html.
--Video: How To Meditate III - Walking Meditation with Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IFvablc6EI.

Initially, walking med gave me strength, literally, in my legs and body in general. As a result my mind learnt progressively to better deal with the stress related to my restlessness.

The hallway in my apartment has about 24 paces, one back&forth would take about 5 min. Initially, I was able to do but 3-4 times. As I realized the gains above, I progressively brought it up to 5 and then chose to challenge myself, after a couple of weeks, and raised the bar to 6 for about a 30 minute period. Now, occasionally I take it 45 to 60 minutes.

Now, sometimes I find the walking med to be sufficient and preferable. I may not sit for that period. I walk. Both have/had the same merit in that moment in time. I don't know how quickly a walking med practice can ameliorate one's mental balance but, if I were to hazard a guess, there would be progressive gains in body (strengthening) and mind (loosening & strengthening). Gradually, the gains from walking med translate into benefits when practicing mindfulness when doing the dishes for ex.

emoticon I also chose to practice simple - not always so simple emoticon - standing and lying meditation. At Bhavana Society retreats in WV, a number of us would stand, or walk for that matter, when necessary.I've found it very beneficial in the fact it reduced/neutralized my discursive mind, as Sister Ayya Khema would label it, and then I could sit back down and deal w whatever might have bothered me earlier when sitting, such as pain in the knees, anxiety, restlessness et all.

I was listening to audios from Venerable Dhammadipa's retreat held 3 years ago at Chuang Yen Monastery. In one of the first two or three recordings (http://www.baus.org/en/?p=253) he began to talk about yoga and how our posture directly impacted the quality of meditation. He spoke of the Jains who practices a standing meditation.

This led me to search, discover "Kayotsarga" a standing/lying meditation technique practiced by the Jains well before the Buddha. Here is an excellent description of the process: http://www.jainworld.com/preksha/hpmtrain/pm03.htm. It is done both standing and lying: working from the toes, one leg at a time and progressing all the way up to the torso and the head (in a very non-invading manner btw). It takes about 15 minutes or more by repeated practice. I very much believe in this practice of standing meditation technique.

Over the years, I had been doing lying meditation each and every day, at bedtime and on wakeup, for 5-10 minutes before rising. Doing lying Kayotsarga has enriched my practice as distinguished from my earlier general approach. I've gained greater knowledge of my body and mind.

C) Mindfulness, practiced w my breathing at all times or whenever "not forgotten", is paramount for me. I look at as going back to basics. Basic training if you will. It's the glue that holds my practice together.

D) Ayya Khema on the Meditative Mind @ http://www.vipassana.com/meditation/khema/hereandnow/meditative_mind.php.

with Metta and encouragement, Georges

RE: Feeling Very Stuck
Answer
10/6/13 1:33 PM as a reply to Jacob Swan Richey.
I had a similar problem and most people get it when they have too much attachment to instructions and rehearsing. How I got though this was a noting practice where I just acknowledged (noticed) what was hitting my consciousness (knowing part of my mind). I didn't have to put a word label because the brain knows what's registering. By seeing that being a conceptual "meditator" and evaluating my practice will make my brain react like it does to most evaluations of likes and dislikes I didn't have to continue any stories or narratives of the practice. It's also okay to stop in the middle of clinging thoughts and let them drop. Sometimes there's a need to keep going and finish the thought but if it's too stressful it might be better to return to the present moment by any sensory anchor. By continuing to note how reaction is occurring and seeing how your thoughts create affect in your body there should be less clinging. Eg. Notice how thoughts about the practice can make your body feel displeasure and notice how that displeasure can create more thoughts and go in a vicious circle. Try to notice self-referencing while you practice. As I remember the Dalai Lama said "don't constantly check in to see if you're enlightened. Check if you are in 25 years." emoticon

There are some good stickies on this site that you should review:

Hierarchy of vipassana practice

Favorite threads

I've also gotten a lot of benefit by elongating the noting practice. Drink deeply of the experience and try to keep doing that for longer periods of time. Short staccato noting can allow too much evaluating thoughts in. Also just elongating your experience with ambient noise hitting your hearing consciousness helps with quieting mental talk.

Good luck!