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Help with getting a grasp of whats required

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Firstly thanks in advance to anyone who takes the time to consider this. It’s a bit long but I’m not sure how to ask more concisely. I’m almost finished reading MCTB and have was watching the interesting cheetah house videos. I’m also close to starting 3rd year of an MSc in Mindfulness studies.

I’m trying now to consider what is unique or actually being prescribed practically, in what is being advocated in MCTB and on this site? I’ll summarize some of my understanding and then ask for advice on the rest.  
Perhaps the 1st bit, is changing mind-set that enlightenment is actually possible and achievable. There are practices that can actually be mastered and there are recognizable stages that can be worked towards in a goal orientated approach. This certainly contradicts what is advocated on my MSc training, but interest’s me a lot. I’ve often noticed how my practice can vary from intense, focused, blissful, to unfocused or impossible to focus, to simply meandering regardless of effort. If feels as though there “should” be potential wisdom from someone more experienced that offers perspective and evaluation, rather than soupy statements like, “whatever happens, happens” and being ok with it. I have a strong desire to know truth and maintain hope that someone with experience can say something specific on it. Frank and open discussion of experience in this regard is useful.

There are various maps and what is necessary for growth at one stage is different than at another. Ie. Cultivating access concentration and being able to focus at one point, is a useful effort, whereas in some dark night stages attention will be wider and less focused and it is futile trying to narrow again focus. There will be states of peak experience and these are likely followed by disillusionment and perhaps fear and other things that come with the dark night, which can be seen as a potential sign of progress and worked through, rather than being blindsided by this and slipping into self judgment or worse. In MCTB it says most people interested enough to read this far are probably at least dark night yogi’s and will continue to cycle through these stages and so should be aware of this and work to get stream entry.

There is a focus on sticking with the instructions and observing sensations, rather than getting caught in psychologising about content.

In considering timing, Ingram advocates something like a time focused approach, preferring to do relatively a lot in a shorter period, so retreats or intensive practice is considered more useful than the same number of hours spaced out in a longer/more regular timetable. He compares this to pushing a car and getting momentum going.

Now! Where does this leave me…Ingram mentions MBSR type of approaches and makes something of a comparison between these and hard-core Dharma practice to kindergarten and college. I wonder if it can be gauged where MBSR or MBCT aim at within these maps, or considering their potential in relation to a kindergarten to college spectrum. I presume a lot of it is down to the actual practitioner and their efforts and many factors. I think Ingram mentions that people can attain these paths by yoga and tai chi and I’m not sure which other practices other than Insight meditation practice. How much does choice of technique matter? In practical terms what is the path? Don’t psychologise, put in the effort, do retreats, be aware of the maps and ?

I’ve done a number of Goenka retreats in the past, also some Kryia yoga. I’ve often found my base practice to be some form of breath awareness, sometimes with self enquiry, asking who am I and examining a sense of subject and object. On the Mindfulness MSc I am doing there has been typical MBSR practices of breath and body awareness, quite a focus on compassion practices such as Meta, Tonglen and others, and some insight practices such as backtracking, choiceless awareness and noticing the arising of thought and the subtle thought and identification with it. The training touchs on the examination of self and no-self. Connected (loosely) to the training is Lucid dream practice, which I have often had a practice of and consider it a very interesting investigation into reality. I have also used noting practice in the last while.
If I am to estimate how my experience relates to the maps, I’d guess I’ve crossed the A+P event and had aspects of dark night experience. After that I’m not sure how to apply the maps.
What now? I hope to get to my 1st retreat in years later this year. Even then, what do I take from all this? On retreat I will follow instructions and get where I get anyway… In my daily practice its hard to know how the maps apply. I think I went through a Dark night period of a couple of months a while ago, where, even when attention was very present, I had a sense of “yeah…now what…whats the point anyway”. I still get this at times, however more often there is enough equanimity.

So if you’ve read so far the questions I’m putting out are, what is actually suggested to realise truth?

Is it particular technique? Investigate the sensations making up my reality, be this through Goenka like body scanning, reflecting upon the 3 characteristics in a koan like manor, or perhaps many practices may be used skilfully…
Is it knowing how experience correlates to the maps and having an idea what to look for?

Is it effort and time spent, i.e. make the time for retreats or up the time of daily practice (which is usually 30-40 mins presently (I have kids and a lot on)). If it’s just practice diligently, I know a lot of people, (myself included at times) who practice very diligently, but might not be progressing in the way discussed here.

A separate but related consideration is that next year I will be doing my thesis on the Mindfulness studies MSc, which may be a research project. I’m considering how I might use the time spent in this, to deepen my own enquiry into the meditative potential, both personally and in a way that might be useful for others…Ingram mentions that the MBSR community’s make claims which are akin to Kindergarten pupils saying there’s no such thing as college, whereas if many of them know of the graduate courses, at least a number of them would be very interested. I’m not doing MBSR, but it overlaps enough. I’m opening to ideas. Such how maps may be related to peoples experience within the training…if any charts of progress can be made. Perhaps looking at peoples peak experiences, what understanding they make of these and where they think their practice is going. Perhaps looking at peoples goals within practice, both goals realised and loftier ones held quietly. Even though on our training there are teachings (liberating in ways) against goal setting and striving.
 
Thanks for reading and considering
 
 
Patrick
 

RE: Help with getting a grasp of whats required
Answer
5/24/14 12:57 PM as a reply to patrick o connor.
I'm hearing two kinds of questions here: (1) about practices in general, and (2) about a practice for you in particular. If you address question (2) first, you'll have a much deeper perspective from which to eventually answer question (1).

RE: Help with getting a grasp of whats required
Answer
5/24/14 1:17 PM as a reply to patrick o connor.
Hey Patrick,

I think it's important to remember that any one person is not going to be able to tell you what you actually need to do to reach your goals.  Daniel's book lays out a specific tradition that worked for him, and he does a good job of "breaking the ice" so to speak and making the impossible (enlightenment) seem less like a magical or religious occurance.  That said, the same ethos that helps dispel myths probably goes too far and he ends up disparaging tradions that really do work (like pure mindfulness training).  It's true that these traditions have a fad quality to them, but that doesn't mean they're wrong.

I think, in the end, the methods that work best for each individual are going to depend greatly on their personality.  The best way to find a teacher is probably to seek out someone you feel connected to on a personality/emotional level.  If you have really connected with Daniel's book, and you are attracted to his description of enlightenment, then by all means, give the methods a try, as they will probably work for you!  If you find they aren't working, or they seem to be leading you in the wrong direction, then change them or scrap them depending on what seems to be bringing you closer to your goals.  Daniel is a strong personality, haha, and he speaks with so much confidence that it's easy to question your own methods if he disagrees with them, but there are a lot of people in this "business" of mental improvement, and they all have their own dogmas.  Eventually you will need to develop the confidence to stay with what is working for you.

All of that said, you sound a bit like you haven't found what you're looking for with your mindfulness practices, so maybe MCTB is realy what you're looking for!  Just remember that the goal is freedom, and eventually you will have to abandon teachings and make the final steps on your own.  This practice doesn't "produce" anything - so the only measurment of success is your wellbeing.  Only you can judge that.

Edit: Just to give some personal advice since you asked for methods, I spend most of my time these days resting in open awareness.  I've found that the idea of progress in general conflicts with this practice, so I've abandoned maps and simply set my goal to "be completely content in this moment for as long as this moment lasts."  That's one of the reasons these practices don't mix well.  If you're looking to achieve something, then spending your time "doing nothing" is just going to be frustrating.

RE: Help with getting a grasp of whats required
Answer
5/25/14 12:16 PM as a reply to patrick o connor.
Hiya

Thanks a lot for your responses. Perhaps for individual guidance I do need to seek out and make relationship with a teacher. But there is something that appeals to me in what I read in MCTB and here, about frank discussion about ideas of progress.

For instance Not Tao, I also like to rest in open awareness. Sometimes as a self instruction, I begin with telling myself to stop meditating and just be here. At times this can lead to what feels like a very natural state of allowing life just to be...a relaxed and expansive embrace of experience...giving less habitual preference to certain thought activities, or identifications with world views and actually resting in the midst of experience.  At other times for me in this practice, I can feel unfocused, or unclear in intent. Not leading to clear seeing, but to confusion about what meditation is...in a certain sense,  as you suggest, thoughts of progress seem to corrupt the natural acceptance of experience.yet there is still a doing, or a not doing...an intention to be with experience in a certain way, that requires something...In this sense I think that in a way, over time, there can be more or less success with this method. As it says  In a nice description of choicesless awareness on The DHO  "One is also advised to various degrees depending on the tradition or teacher to be actively mindful of what arises, rather than just "sitting there like an idiot," as a Zen teacher once said."
So even being mindful requires a certain development than can increase or decrease with time. I don't want to indulge aversion to what I might judge as a "bad meditation" or a series of this experience. I think its good to just keep sitting regardless of what happens. However another part of me feels that, over time I should be able to evaluate my practice. Am I more able to skilfully navigate within my experience? Creating the conditions under which more clear and expansive perception can occur, and recognising and avoiding conditions that lead to fumbling within meditation. I remember years ago seeing a video in which Ken Wilber is hooked up to an ECG machine and quickly goes through various states, that show on the machine as being predominantly alpha waves, then Theta, then Delta waves. This showed a level of mastery and knowledge of the internal terrain, rather than only being able to sit with whatever arises, be that confusion or clarity. 

In many ways I'm quite happy with my current practice and the teachings I engage with. However there remains the voice that strives for awakening...
At times I think this voice can have a craving for the certainty and perhaps safety that I can project onto Ingrams teachings. Also a rejection of my own experience or doubt in  my own practice as you suggest. Rob Nairn, from my training has some beautiful writing on avoiding striving, which at times can lead to a much more relaxed letting go of expectations and appreciating reality, as it is experienced...However I think Delusion does exist, can be recognised and a path towards clarity can be established. To a certain extent I am on this path. However I haven't really apprehended how what I read in MCTB needs to be applied to make this path clearer. It was useful a while ago when I stuck in doubt, to consider that this is a DN experience, and to examine the experience of doubt as best I could, rather than believe it fully. Asides from that, I am to investigate the sensations that make up reality and examine the 3 characterises and don't get stuck in content etc. fine in theory. How to make this more effective in practice. Making time to go deeper in retreat would be useful no doubt and this seems to be core part of people's "progression" here, if I am correct. Does this in some way imply that just a daily practice is likely to keep one within kindergarden? Obviously there is a lot of judgment with that and I don't wish to discount my own experience, but you get the point hopefully...
Perhaps my actions should be to keep going as I am, practicing to the best of my ability, make time for retreat when able and integrate any of these teachings when they really connect with me. I'm just seeing if I can help make these teachings more specific in practice and wondering what stream entry really means, and is it achievable without the freedom to devote much time to retreat.
Thanks again 

Patrick

RE: Help with getting a grasp of whats required
Answer
5/25/14 5:24 PM as a reply to patrick o connor.
Sounds like a conversation might be better than posting...do you do google hangouts or skype? I'd be happy to chat with you.
~D

RE: Help with getting a grasp of whats required
Answer
5/25/14 5:36 PM as a reply to Dream Walker.
Wow, v cool and kind of you... Skype would be great. Is tomorrow (mon)evening anytime or else morning b4 12 (gmt)good? If not, when suits?
 Thanks a lot

Patrick

RE: Help with getting a grasp of whats required
Answer
5/25/14 6:09 PM as a reply to patrick o connor.
Maybe you could try developing the jhanas.  Those mental gymnastics you were referencing were likely some kind of concentration states.  The Jhanas can be very impressive and have a way of validating meditation due to the "special effects" they can cause. emoticon

Noting has, in my experience, been a helpful addition to choiceless awareness as well.  Perhaps you could spend 20 minutes doing pure concentration, then move into choiceless awareness with some noting.  Essentially noting and choiceless awareness are doing the same thing, which is practicing acceptance of everything that arises.  As you learn to accept phenomena, you'll begin to get insights into anatta that are very liberating - it's about learning to be "effortless" I think.  This has just started to happen for me, and I've been very surprised by it - wasn't expecting it at all.

As for the jhanas, they aren't as difficult as they may seem to be.  You can get some soft jhanas in a few months with just 20-30 minutes of practice each day.  Just be very diligent about paying attention to some object (breath, body awareness, etc) and don't worry too much about stopping thoughts.  Try to build awareness in little spurts and see every moment of noticing as a success.  If you treat it like a game it'll progress much more quickly. emoticon

Maybe try to develop a clear idea of what your goal is as well, then you'll be able to make progress towards it.  If you say, "I want to awaken", that's very abstract, so you'll never really know if you're moving in the right direction.  But if you say, "I would like to strengthen my concentration and be able to demonstrate for myself the factors of the first jhana," then you'll have something very clear to move towards.  A few suggested goals might be:  Develop body awareness, develop the ability to maintain concentration on an object, practice complete awareness when taking a shower, etc.  There are lots of fun lists in Buddhism that might give you some ideas for what to work on as well.  Check out the 5 hindrances, the 7 factors for awakening, and descriptions of the 8 jhanas.

Eventually you're going to have to figure out exactly what awakening means to you.  Does it mean perceiving the world in a non-dual way?  Does it mean the complete end of suffering?  Does it mean finding and stabilizing a ground of being or a higher self?  These are all things people can mean by awakening, and they'll all tell you they're the only ones who are right, haha.  It's best to figure out what you want early on and stick with it!  That way you'll know if something is working or not.

RE: Help with getting a grasp of whats required
Answer
5/26/14 3:19 AM as a reply to patrick o connor.
patrick o connor:
Wow, v cool and kind of you... Skype would be great. Is tomorrow (mon)evening anytime or else morning b4 12 (gmt)good? If not, when suits?
 Thanks a lot

Patrick


I should have time to chat tomorrow evening Monday west coast time. What is your email or skype name?
~D

RE: Help with getting a grasp of whats required
Answer
5/26/14 1:08 PM as a reply to patrick o connor.
Dream walker, thanks so much for your kind offer, you have my contact details now. I’d love to have a conversation about this. Let me know what time would suit, I’m in Ireland and have good availability today and tomorrow.

Not Tao, thanks again for responding. That actually seems like a good goal or plan to have, regarding the Jhanas. I may post in the concentration sections on this site as I go along and queries arise. I’ve kept a meditation diary for the last couple of years and I don’t think concentration development is a remotely linear path. Though I’d certainly be interested to find otherwise.I find concentration somewhat comes and goes and at times my mind will be focused easily and I have access concentration, (especially on retreat, naturally) at other times however I can find it impossible to get stability. I bring acceptance to this, but would like if I there was a more skilful way to navigate states of mindlessness and states of awareness. What I like about setting this as a formal goal, rather than just an interest, is I can then see, after time, if its happening or not, and this is a place that I can perhaps reflect on how that path goes and get feedback.

The combination of initial breath focus and then choice less awareness with noting, is pretty much what I find myself doing recently. I will check out some of the writing’s here and also get “the practical insight meditation” book, which I see recommended, for more on noting.  Sometimes I find my experience similar to the effortless manor in which you describe. Christina Feldman has a lovely talk on effort and effortlessness http://dharmaseed.org/teacher/44/talk/22667/. She gives the example of a concert pianist who’s best music, flows, as if by itself, as they stand out of the way, yet in the background is years of diligent effort to create these conditions.

I have a few ideas for what waking up means. 1 is not as frequently being lost in the river of mindless thoughts and undercurrent. At times it happens that I am not, however weather I am lost in this river or not, seems governed by factors that operate generally outside of my awareness. 2 might be having a deep awareness of the three characteristics. In terms of Annata, I sense my self contraction, the sense of being soo much more important than the rest of what is in my experience and within the universe. I don’t believe in this viewpoint, yet it operates mostly. I have a sense, from lucidity within dreams and other things, that I am in fact the wizard of oz, keeping the illusion going, but forgetting that I am the one pulling the wool over my eyes, about the fact that I have created this grand illusion, perpetuating conditioned beliefs and ignoring the creative potential of life. Like a leg I’ve sat on too long and its gone asleep and been mostly forgotten. I want to wake up. As you say though, that might be too abstract to know if Ive realised it or not. Perhaps my bucket list in this regard would include, Being able to navigate into Jhanas; a deeper awareness of Impermanence and Annata; leading to less self absorbtion and being more available to really make a positive difference to others and the world. Lastly increased lucidity within dreams and deep sleep.

Thanks again for feedbackn best wishes
 

RE: Help with getting a grasp of whats required
Answer
5/26/14 4:53 PM as a reply to patrick o connor.
1 is not as frequently being lost in the river of mindless thoughts and undercurrent. At times it happens that I am not, however weather I am lost in this river or not, seems governed by factors that operate generally outside of my awareness.


Something that has helped me a great deal with this is to realize that this river of thoughts and emotions doesn't need to be changed at all to step out of it. You don't have to feel good or stop your thoughts to enter into the "presence" or awareness mode. I like to think of them as two separate worlds, and the gateway is through the senses. If you simply accept whatever is in your mind as it is and come back to the senses, the mind has a way of disappearing on it's own. Acceptance, then awareness. Make it a knee-jerk reaction and things will change very rapidly - they have for me since I started doing it.

I've noticed that this ability is directly related to absorption practice as well, so both your ability to reach jhana, and your ability to "dwell as the witness" will support each other. From the reading I've done on high stages of attainment, it's generally reported that there are no feelings, and no self-referential thoughts in the people who have stabilized non-dual awareness. I've taken this as a cue for practice and I don't rest satisfied until I'm able to stabilize a mode of perception that is completely free of that "inner world". Just go for the throat, I think. When in this witness mode I notice the concept of a central controller is weakened a great deal. I think it's only a matter of time before it goes completely.

Full disclosure: I've based a lot of my practice on the Actual Freedom stuff, but that's more because it already fit into what I was seeing experimentally. I may be completely wrong. emoticon