My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety [Elijah Smith] [MIGRATE

Migration 6.2 Daemon, modified 6 Years ago.

My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety [Elijah Smith] [MIGRATE

Posts: 66 Join Date: 5/7/14 Recent Posts
My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety [Elijah Smith]


Elijah Smith - 2013-07-30 23:18:11 - My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

I figured I'd post up a practice log since I've been slacking on my private one and am about to hit an intense period in my life (starting grad school) and want to make sure I'm staying on track with my meditation.

I've been meditating steadily for 40 minutes a day or more for nearly two years at this point with a heavy emphasis on mindfulness of every day activities. I got into meditation as a result of developing a medium amount of social anxiety after a couple tramatic experiences. Thus far, my journey has liberated some of my emotions but introduced other new ones. For a while I didn't understand why I wasn't rapidly improving given my intense effort and all of the scientific research I read. I got a teacher, but didn't find the interactions to be that helpful.

I saw Daniel's book over a year ago, but the intro turned me off since I wasn't really interested in "enlightenment" but rather just wanted to reduce my psychological suffering. I instead kept practicing while reading from more psychologically oriented teachers.  I think most people are in this camp... my local practice group has a mentoring program, and I was told the mentors who stated they were also therapists were getting exponentially more requests from potential students. However, I've started to realize that a lot of people who are very diligent for long periods of time are going to encounter periods of psychological distress caused by meditation, and that a lot of mainstream mindfulness teachers ignore this fact. It would have been helpful to me to have been made aware of this earlier, but it makes some sense why they would ignore this; perhaps they don't want to turn people off from the practice or suggest to them that they will encounter these emotions, given that it is already difficult for many people to get the motivation to practice. Furthermore, most of the research on mindfulness is either on monks, who have probably dealt with these issues already, or beginning meditators, who are experiencing a honeymoon phase.

As of now, my practice consists of either brief periods of choiceless awareness cycling with brief periods of concentration, noting practice, or occasionally metta. I am intentionally avoiding long periods of noting or concentration practice since they can be destabilizing. In the future I plan to do them, but for now, I am doing a lot of choiceless awareness since I find it stabilizing and I've been getting brief insight from it.

-------------------

fivebells . - 2013-07-31 00:22:47 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

There is probably another way to practice concentration which is not destabilizing.  How you are practicing it at the moment?

-------------------

Elijah Smith - 2013-07-31 01:21:32 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

I did concentration in the way that it is typically taught; anapanasati, with the intent of being with the breath for its full cycle. The last time I was practicing concentration intensely I had a huge surge of doubt and worry that lasted a few days; whether it was definitely a result of the concentration practice I can't say for sure but since stopping I haven't felt that way. 

I also posted a video a few days ago in which Willoughby Britton, a researcher who looks at negative side effects from meditation, interviewed Leigh Brashington. They both seemed to agree that concentration tended to derepress psychological content, which is often destabilizing. I was actually surprised by this as well and it was what led me to make the above connection (though once again it could be spurious).

-------------------

Elijah Smith - 2013-07-31 04:30:52 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

Two twenty minute sessions today. 

First: short few minutes of breath awareness followed by choiceless awareness for the rest of the time. Towards the end of the practice the sense of a solid self at the center of experience starting to dissolve.

Second: ten minutes of noting followed by ten minutes choiceless awareness. Feeling some doubt during the choiceless awareness. The questions I ask myself are is this doing anything, and am I far enough to be doing this practice fruitfully? This is the one bothersome thing about the practice and a reason I'm looking for a teacher who has experience with shikantaza. On a few occasions I have gone very deep and felt vibrations while doing it however. This reassures me.

Edit: That night I actually had some weird feelings that I would say felt sort of like what I expected DN would... a sort of unpleasant anatta. The day after they were gone but while I was at the gym and after the sense of self was greatly diminished. Thoughts would come, I'd see them as not self, then they'd quickly vanish. Shikantaza seems to give this effect, even though I haven't experienced A/P. Helps to clear up some of my doubts.

-------------------

Elijah Smith - 2013-08-07 04:01:20 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

Haven't been meditating too much due to just moving. Roughly thirty minutes a day. My stuff has been coming up a fair amount the past few days but i am overall adapting to the move quite well. Tonight I did about eight minutes of noting before I felt like I might be going into AP. Since I don't want that rightnow I opened my eyes and stopped noting for a minute, then switched to shikantaza, occasionally asking myself the question "what is this?" After a bit I felt what I thought the second jhana would feel like, though I didn't really notice a first; a profound feeling of sukha. This was quite a motivating experience. I did my best to continue open awareness.

-------------------

Elijah Smith - 2013-08-08 19:29:56 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

I got to the same 2nd-jhana-like state again last night. I am not sure if it is really a jhana or what. My breathing slows down greatly which feels quite weird. The first night I think I could have sustained it for quite a while but last night it wasn't as solid and I got up right at minute 20.

-------------------

Elijah Smith - 2013-09-10 03:37:29 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

Long time no post - been busy, and going through a break up. I've continued to practice in the same manner, and had rather great success over the past month through acceptance/opening. The emotions I used to experience still come up but often aren't as sticky. What I've been doing is saying to myself internally "yes," "opening" or "softening" and internally let whatever the feeling is do whatever it wants to. Sometimes I will even say "do your worst" or "let it cut me" and feelings that I used to get stuck with will loosen or even dissolve. Interestingly I never used to give any credit to techniques that were simply saying some phrase internally, but I've found that words can serve as a way to bring me to a place of acceptance. 

Occasionally I won't be able to open to some feeling, and I'll go down the vortex of negative thoughts. Once in the vortex, I find not much works but just waiting it out, it seems meditation is most effective at preventing the vortex from happening in the first place.

When difficult experiences come up during formal meditation, I'm also finding it more useful to drop the anchor, and just "let things be" with loose awareness.

-------------------

Dan From Virginia - 2013-10-08 08:16:47 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

Wishing you only the best and perhaps even a little luck (as it never hurt anyone...as far as I know.)

Dan from Virginia

-------------------

Elijah Smith - 2014-01-14 04:32:49 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

Thanks! I appreciate the Feynman avatar. Haven't posted in a while but I've been keeping up the practice. I think I am in DN territory and had no idea because I hadn't read much about it up until recently. I think what I thought was jhana may have actually been A&P experiences, I've had several of them over my span meditating and they've left me mind blown. The weirdness of the sensations I've been having, and reading others testimonies make it seem like I might be dark nighting, especially since I never felt anything of this sort prior to meditating.

I've been able to conquer a lot of the fear I've experienced through completely opening and surrendering. I think I am going to just start noting practice in place of what I was doing since I find it quite high powered, and was only avoiding it because I was scared of the DN.

-------------------

Elijah Smith - 2014-01-24 15:13:10 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

I just took a look back at the log I was keeping for myself from a year ago. A lot has really changed since then, primarily for the better. It seemed from a recent meditation experience that I was cycling through DN/EQ. (clear transitions from fear to misery to EQ). However, in the grander scheme, it appears that I've moved from fear to misery. The persistent anxiety/worry that I used to feel has diminished greatly, however, now I am more sensitive to self-consciousness. I often feel long-lasting experiences of tension/pain in my head area. (The latter is often triggered when I have to study very intense topics for hours a day)

Other changes: I now feel emotions in the body (especially the feet, strangely enough), previously I felt them almost exclusively in the head. I think this has been a result of the open awareness practice. 

In my last post I mentioned I was going to go to straight noting, I had some negative reactions which I couldn't explain (it got me very amped up one night, couldn't sleep for a while due to the negative feelings). There seems to be something special about open awareness meditation for me.

-------------------

Ian And - 2014-01-25 06:26:59 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

Elijah Smith:

I've been meditating steadily for 40 minutes a day or more for nearly two years at this point with a heavy emphasis on mindfulness of every day activities. I got into meditation as a result of developing a medium amount of social anxiety after a couple traumatic experiences. Thus far, my journey has liberated some of my emotions but introduced other new ones. For a while I didn't understand why I wasn't rapidly improving given my intense effort and all of the scientific research I read. I got a teacher, but didn't find the interactions to be that helpful.

I saw Daniel's book over a year ago, but the intro turned me off since I wasn't really interested in "enlightenment" but rather just wanted to reduce my psychological suffering.... 

As of now, my practice consists of either brief periods of choiceless awareness cycling with brief periods of concentration, noting practice, or occasionally metta. I am intentionally avoiding long periods of noting or concentration practice since they can be destabilizing. In the future I plan to do them, but for now, I am doing a lot of choiceless awareness since I find it stabilizing and I've been getting brief insight from it....

You said in the past that you aren't really interested in "enlightenment," but rather that you "just wanted to reduce your psychological suffering." 

Yet you seem not to have made the connection between gaining self-knowledge and a reduction in general dissatisfaction. If you know what is causing your dissatisfaction (dukkha), isn't knowing that a pathway to an enlightened state? If you don't know what is causing you pain, how are you ever going to relieve it? Meaning, if you know the cause of unsatisfactoriness, and are able to see it for what it is (anatta or its without-self nature), through renunciation you take its power away to harm you. It no longer can affect you in the way that it once did.  

Perhaps your definition/perception of the concept of enlightenment needs to expand. You think? 

Elijah Smith:

A lot has really changed since then, primarily for the better. It seemed from a recent meditation experience that I was cycling through DN/EQ. (clear transitions from fear to misery to EQ). However, in the grander scheme, it appears that I've moved from fear to misery. The persistent anxiety/worry that I used to feel has diminished greatly, however, now I am more sensitive to self-consciousness.I often feel long-lasting experiences of tension/pain in my head area. (The latter is often triggered when I have to study very intense topics for hours a day)

Moving from fear to misery could be seen as a move in the right direction. If by fear you mean that you lost a sense of empowerment, of being able to be pro-active about reducing the fear, feeling helpless. Misery can become a motivating factor to want to move beyond the misery itself. And to find release. 

The heightened sensitivity to self-consciousness is a positive development. It means you have an opportunity to recognize the source of your dissatisfaction and anxiety and to root it out with wisdom.  

The sensation of tension or pressure in your head is indicative of an increase in the level of concentration. Use that sensation wisely to let you know when your mind has become concentrated so that you can use that state to examine (contemplate) the content of your mind in an effort to see things clearly.

Ideally, the practice of meditation is meant to help one develop and cultivate the mind. If you are truly interested in learning how to "reduce psychological suffering," then use this skill that you are developing to assist you in reaching that clarity of mind which helps you to put an end to the suffering you are causing yourself by shining a light on it so that you can let go of it! 

By developing the four establishments of mindfulness -ñ namely, contemplation of the body (rupa), contemplation of feeling (vedana), contemplation of mind states (cittanupassana), and contemplation of phenomena (dhammas) ñ you begin the journey to discover the source of your unsatisfactoriness. Letting go of attachment to and developing equanimity toward these sources of misery leads one to final release and eventual enlightenment. That's all enlightenment is. It is all that Gotama ever promised could be accomplished through practice of his Dhamma. 

"Formerly, Anuradha, and also now, I make known only suffering and the cessation of suffering." (SN 22.86) (MN 22.38)

"The mind imbued with wisdom becomes completely free from the corruptions, that is, from the corruption of sensuality, of becoming, of false views, and of ignorance."  (DN 16.4.4) 

"Nothing is fit to be clung to. If a monk has learnt that nothing is fit to be clung to, he directly knows everything; by directly knowing everything he fully understands everything..." (AN 7.58

Here is a hint he gave about the contemplation of feeling (vedana). See if you can use it in your practice. "Is feeling permanent or impermanent? . . . Is what is impermanent suffering or happiness? . . . Is what is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change fit to be regarded thus: 'This is mine, This I am. This is myself'?"  (SN 22.59)

-------------------

Elijah Smith - 2014-01-29 05:27:31 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

Thanks a lot for the detailed response. 

I made a post about a week ago saying that I was sure I was in DN, but really I am not. I don't see the suffering I feel stemming from an insight into impermanence or no self, even if it often doesn't seem to have much of a base in anything in the real world. I still think I very well may have crossed the A/P at some point. I imagine I am not going to arrive at any hard answers and frankly it doesn't matter since I will probably do the same practices either way. 

Today I did some metta since I was recommended it on here. I hadn't done it in a while and it felt quite good.

-------------------

Elijah Smith - 2014-01-31 03:53:31 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

Interesting meditation tonight. I was doing open awareness and switched into mind watching for a while. I started to have a bunch of weird thoughts that would just repeat themselves. Then I started repeatedly blinking and feeling the muscles around my eyes contracting over and over (this has happened before, its quite strange). I just kept watching the thoughts and they started to lose the sense of an I. I felt a dissipation of self after a while of doing it. Things feel different now, my mental space is very light and I feel centerless, I am pretty sure this is first path. Its subtle and hard to describe but the word I would use is centerless. I am laughing for no reason. Maybe I'll wake up tomorrow and be back to normal and feel like an idiot, but who knows.

This is wild because the past couple days I was really stuck in misery. I was just doing metta. Then today I switch to this practice and boom.

-------------------

Elijah Smith - 2014-01-31 03:58:58 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

Another strange thing about it. My 10 minute meditation bell rang, then I kept going and all this happened, I was sure I had been meditating for an additional 20 minutes, and I had just tuned out the second bell, but I looked down and only 8 minutes had passed! It blew my mind.

Edit: Next morning. I feel like my center is mostly returned. This is probably not first path, whatever happened was still very outside the range of my prior meditative experience though.

-------------------

Elijah Smith - 2014-04-22 02:55:00 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

I've been doing a lot of low effort practice and haven't been doing enough formal practice. It's harder to get the motivation when I am so busy now. To some extent I feel like I am going in circles. I would certainly practice consistently 2 hours a day, if I thought it would help, but I am not entirely sure given that in the past when I practiced too much the results were not always beneficial.

Since I really started doing a lot of open awareness and completely opening to fear and distress, I noticed a lot of changes. A lot of the anxiety subsided. However, in its place is a new set of sensations, more along the lines of pain than anxiety. One weird and strong one is tension in my feet. Historically I always felt emotions in my head, and very rarely in my body. I feel them more in my body now, but they center often in my feet. Strange!

Second, I have a certain scary thought that repeats itself in my head, I don't believe the thought at all but it is almost like a song that I can't control. It isn't that distressful because I don't believe it, but it's weird and the only thing I could compare it to is something I found called pure O OCD. It also often just turns into movement with no words (don't know how else to describe it)

Finally, there's this sharp tension in my head that sometimes forms, especially when I am distressed or frustrated. I have to study 60 hours a week and this very often aggravates it, as you might expect!

I don't know if these effects are a result of insight meditation or something else. I didn't really experience anything of this sort pre-meditation, but many of the negative effects I experienced pre-meditation I can now handle better now.

Time to go do 20 minutes of breath awareness.

-------------------

Elijah Smith - 2014-05-01 02:45:06 - RE: My practice log - Meditation & working with anxiety

The past week I've been experimenting with concentration. I think it is possible to do it without experiencing the adverse effects I found in the past by making sure to allow whatever energy is in the background to be rather than to try to force it out with focus. It seems like I am able to take some of the openness I've learned from insight practice into the concentration practice.

Also, I'm finding that increasing concentration alongside the pure open attention insight style practice I was doing in the past is alleviating some of the above effects that I was experiencing. It's only been a week of doing this but that is my experience thus far. I've also upped my practice time a lot. I was getting very lazy and hearing about people meditating 3-5 hours a day at home made me realize this! 

I've been doing a few 20-25 minute sessions a day and some 30 minute sessions here and there. I am not sure whether I should start trying longer sits again (I used to do them when I first started meditating) so I can get concentrated and then try the open insight practice I was doing. I do like the short sits because they leave me feeling refreshed and they make good breaks while studying.

Breadcrumb