Lost in Practice

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Hemant Kathuria, modified 11 Years ago.

Lost in Practice

Posts: 25 Join Date: 1/16/10 Recent Posts
Hello,

I come from a background where I had a deep emotional setback some years ago. Prior to that I was enjoying deep bliss in the Kundalini style meditation. However, some questioning into my former practice led me to search for better things and I stumbled into Goenka Style of Vipassana. In order to heal quickly, I attended several 10 day camps and did as seriously as possible.

Emotional trauma is gone, and some other baggage of childhood are also gone. However, there are a couple of problems that started when I started my first camp and am still into it. So I thought of posting it here in hope of getting some good practical advice.

1. Am experiencing difficulty in concentrating. While am not meditating, I find it difficult to concentrate on work and other things. Most of the times it is some old song or some chatter (usually around some fear) that is repeatedly being played in my mind. Many at times the dreams are dark and heavy, and when I get up in the morning my mind is like scattered in 20 directions and I feel as if I've never meditated.

I read MCTB by Daniel, sought advice, and guessed that I might be into a dark night and that I should 'watch' things come and go into my mind but as soon as I start watching them the contents suck all my attention and I find that I'm pondering over them. So that means that the observing technique is not working for me (well, may be because my equanimity towards them is underdeveloped) .... Intellectually I know that these things happen, and that concentration building is not the ultimate goal of a vipassana practice but I seem to start comparing myself with the older days when I used to enjoy a clear and peaceful mind, a by product of which was that I was able to excel in any worldly pursuit that I undertook in those days. I still have a strong desire to excel in the worldly attributes, and now that I'm finding it very difficult to concentrate I just don't know what to do.... Also tried increasing my practice in the hope that it will 'cure' the situation but nothing is working actually.
Is this a normal thing, or have I deviated from the path. Any advice ?

2. When I'm working and not meditating even then I'm observing my sensations so a part of my attention is always occupied in observation and because of a diluted attention I get a feeling that I'm not giving my 100 % at work and I feel like a cheater. When I observed myself and asked why am I doing this I found that a part of the reason is because subconsciously I know that all other things are anyways 'not the ultimate' and this is the ultimate thing so I thrive hard to be aware anytime that I get and not just on the cushion. Obviously this happens at work as well and so even between work am observing how is my breadth, how are my stress levels, what is the mental content.
I've read that when one undergoes meditative practice their work output increases. Unfortunately, that is not the case with me. I'm not even bothered to learn new skills at work rather I ask 'how can I be an even better meditator'. Earlier I used to wonder on the many things in nature, the inventions done by mankind which inspired me to learn skills myself but now have stopped that and all the time my attention is inside. Even when I'm carrying a conversation with someone I'm observing my own self.
I think I've become a meditation maniac and something is wrong somewhere. Any advice with this one ?

How I practice: When I start usually my mind is scattered. I just accept and try to observe whatever is within my reach. Soon my mind is more in control and I try to concentrate it calmly on my breadth and observe sensations as they are. In the initial stages the observation is linked to tags like 'right, wrong, same, different' but when I observe that also then after some time breadth is more observational and less judgmental, and I can observe them clearly and with less interruptions. Number of continuous breadths that I can observe vary like 1-12, as immediately after that some lucrative thought or some old problem in life arises into my mind and my mind is soaked into that. In some seconds/minutes (maximum being 15 minutes) I realize what I'm doing and I again try to observe breadth sensations. This is how I repeat the practice untill my time for meditation is completed. While doing this sometime I end up exhausted sometimes very peaceful.
Daily Practice time: 30 minutes to 2 hours.

Hemant
Dan K, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Lost in Practice

Posts: 33 Join Date: 5/15/10 Recent Posts
Agitation sucks, but it is normal. If you can marginalize the negative effects of your practice bleeding into your life as you describe, then keep at it. I doubt you are becoming a maniac at 30 minutes to 2 hours per day. Something interesting is probably happening, though.

Remember that thoughts are sensations too. The mind wants to go there? Fine. Analyze it. Get in the habit of scrutinizing thoughts, and they will start to lose their power.
J Adam G, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Lost in Practice

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
Try being a bit more loving with your mind. Yeah, I said it. It's shroomy and new-agey, but it really does work. And after all, in the hardcore dharma scene, results are important. (It's often said that clinging to results is to be avoided, but the fault there is with the clinging -- not the results themselves.) This instruction comes from no less than Ajahn Brahm, who teaches what could best be called "extreme jhana," as well as Dipa Ma, one of the best insight meditation teachers to live in the previous century.

In fact, Dipa Ma is known to have said that mindfulness and lovingkindness cannot properly be separated from each other, and vipassana (and according to Ajahn Brahm, shamatha too) should be done with high levels of acceptance and love and all that stuff in the background, or foreground if it gets really hard to keep meditating.

If meditation becomes quite difficult and even painful, switch your concentration object from the breath to one of the brahmaviharas: lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, or equanimity. Watch and note the sensations of the brahmavihara arise and pass away if you're doing vipassana, or become one with the sensations and feel all sensations as the brahmavihara as it becomes all that is present in your mind. That would be the pure concentration practice. Combine the two approaches at will, to supercharge the vipassana.

Remember the instructions for meditating in the dark night: when you're irritated at apparent lack of effective meditation, note the irritation. Use more acceptance and kindness towards yourself in meditation. Do not mistake "beating yourself up" for "seeing the truth about your shortcomings," because those two processes are not only different, but they are in fact incompatible. You won't even see the mind's real habits and tendencies until you look upon the mind without creating views and feelings about how it works.

So just accept that your perception is messed up in the dark night, which your descriptions do match, and don't believe dark-night-ish things you think. That includes thoughts of "meditation sucks," "I suck at meditating," "the world sucks," "I suck," and "this isn't working." That last one is especially insidious.

A common cognitive bias is to believe that because you have thought something, the thought was correct (even if it's dead wrong). Usually, that works pretty well in daily life, but don't use that heuristic during the dark night because the mind is inclined towards suffering, so it sees suffering. (And not-self and impermanence.)

Best of luck! Bring us questions to answer when you don't know what to do!
C C C, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Lost in Practice

Posts: 946 Join Date: 3/9/10 Recent Posts
Adam, what on earth is so "shroomy and new agey" about love? A person with great insight and no ability to love himself and others is like a airplane without wings - absolutely useless in the real World. Being particularly "hardcore" and "technical" in your practice is just the ego talking. Trying to be "one up" on everyone by being more gritty and serious. It's a tone that permeates this whole forum, and it's really wrong.
J Adam G, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Lost in Practice

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
C C C:
Adam, what on earth is so "shroomy and new agey" about love? A person with great insight and no ability to love himself and others is like a airplane without wings - absolutely useless in the real World. Being particularly "hardcore" and "technical" in your practice is just the ego talking. Trying to be "one up" on everyone by being more gritty and serious. It's a tone that permeates this whole forum, and it's really wrong.


I don't personally think that love is new-agey or shroomy, but I do also recognize the potential for an association between love or brahmavihara practice and so-called "softcore dharma" which is essentially the practice of teaching people how to live well in ordinary life. Now, the way I see it, the fact that teachings on love are so useful that they apply to ALL of the three trainings actually means that the teachings on love could be counted among the most powerful or precious of the teachings.

Not that I can deny an unusual liking for being gritty and serious here. Perhaps I just like Daniel's writing style too much =P
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Bruno Loff, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Lost in Practice

Posts: 1094 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Hermant,

I conjecture the following: (1) before meditating you could concentrate because all the "tensions/impurities/samskaras" in your nervous system didn't manifest, likely because you avoided behaviors and situations that would trigger them, and because there was an overall layer of tension keeping things in place; (2) as you began meditating, these started coming up to the surface of awareness, one by one you released the surface tensions, and thus the underlying samskaras started bubbling up to the surface, which is very unpleasant and distracting; (3) now you've gotten yourself in a situation where these things have to be either held firm again (by causing more tension until you are successfully "blocked up") or released, one by one, until there is no more tension left.

I'm guessing you prefer the second possibility, and I don't think anyone here can informedly explain how to close things up again to the way they where, if it is at all possible. I remember reading a saying somewhere that said: "better not to start. once started, better to finish"...

Until you get stream entry, the ROOT of all these tensions, the process that caused them in the first place, is still working in full strength. This not only counteracts your effort by creating more tension (without you being able to see it), but also causes the mind to engage in obsessive thinking.

--- this is my conjecture ---

EDIT: I should have mentioned, this conjecture holds for both you and me Hermant. I also used to be able to do stuff somewhat better than I can do now, and during my first dark night it was much much worst. I conjecture that also for me, stuff will eventually clear up and concentration will return and even improve.

Also, don't be fooled: you got into this emotional setback because of kundalini meditation, and the same would happen with goenka-style practice; it is not necessarily the case that Goenka-style meditation is "better" than whatever you where doing.

You'll notice that Goenka describes, in his retreats, that at some point the practitioner should dissolve stuff inside the spine, from the bottom up. The root of all aflictions, the attachment/aversion/ignorance process, happens at the top of the spinal nerve, in the middle of your head (if you where to draw a line between each temple, the the eye-brow level, it's in the middle). If you notice it, you can work directly with it. I got stream entry by "stopping" this process (by relaxing it) and then waiting for a little while.

I discovered that (at least for me) attachment/aversion/ignorance happen in this place, by first catching "ignorance" doing what it does. I suggest you try: Ignorance is the process in your mind that makes you not "see" certain other mind processes, such as intentions, attachment and aversion, and obsessive trains of thoughts. This is an active process, it works by "touching" a perception, and making it "out of phase" with your attention.

You can try the following exercise: before sitting down for meditating, you do a bit of standing meditation: you stand with the mind-set of taking a step forwards, with the goal of catching your "intention of giving the step forwards" arising in your mind. The important thing is not to take the step forwards, it is to "catch" the intention of doing so when it arises. Two good things happened for me because of this exercise: (1) it was a great opportunity to get insight on "no-self," because the moment that the intention of stepping forward arises and the way it arises reveals that there is no-one who decides that it should arise then and there, it is something that comes more-or-less arbitrarily at random times because of the "mind-set" of "taking a step forwards." (2) more relevant for this discussion, I was able to directly understand why it is so hard to "see" intention; it is because as soon as intention arises in the mind, there is another process which "touches" the intention-perception and perturbs it in a way that makes it go into the "background" somehow; this process is "ignorance," it originates in the middle of the head, as I've described.

It takes some mental power to see "ignorance" happening, but once you see it, then you know where it happens, and it will be easier, by keeping focus on that spot, not to be sucked into obsessive mental stuff. In the same place you should be able to see the attachment and aversion processes (they are a sort of "inclining towards" or "pushing against" a perception). Now you can sit down and do a "ignorance/attachment/aversion" meditation: your only purpose during the meditation is to focus on these three processes directly, eventually with the goal of relaxing them into inactivity for a little while.

This was how I got stream entry, maybe it works for someone else...
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Hemant Kathuria, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Lost in Practice

Posts: 25 Join Date: 1/16/10 Recent Posts
Thanks everyone for your responses.

I've become more compassionate towards myself and I've seen my practice going deeper now.

Hemant
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Lost in Practice

Posts: 3199 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Just a few things...

What you report is very common. Darknighters can sometimes have a hard time at work, focusing, in relationships, etc. This is normal, but can be mitigated in various ways, such as some of those mentioned above.

I would compartmentalize somewhat:

When at work, be at work, pay attention to the work, with just enough vipassana to see fear, agitation, distraction, and other distracting things and remember to get back to work.

When doing insight practices, 3 Characteristics are key, and avoid spinning in your dark stuff. As thoughts of your dark stuff are seductive and sticky, as you and everyone else who has done this has noticed, avoid them when possible until you get your concentration somewhat stronger, and then perhaps even then. Give them just enough attention so that you don't get caught in them, and stick when physical sensations whenever possible, as these are way easier if less pleasant sometimes.

Go on retreats. While practice in daily life when one has the time can be very helpful, most here who have had success have oscillated between normal life and retreats, doing normal life as well as can be done when in normal life with what mindfulness they can muster, but then going on retreats where for a period of time they go for stream entry with everything they have got, as that is the first major key to doing better.

Sorry for the late reply: working a lot these days.

Daniel