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My new practice log
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8/14/14 5:43 PM
Hi all,

I am starting a new practice log as a lot of the content and title of my old log isn't the focus of my practice anymore. To summarize some of what went on in my old thread, and add a bit more background, I was interested in spirituality and Buddhism when I was in my teens but didn't go very deep. I was generally a very happy person growing up. Then, a few years ago, I had an experience with psychedelics that drove me to start practicing (my only time experimenting with such things, and I did it out of intellectual curiosity). That experience drove me to a dark night, and for a while it was dominated by fear. A couple years in I started to learn to accept and open to fear, and since then, while I still work with fear, I now deal more so with general free floating angst. I have had several A/P experiences. While my experience does not map into the nanas perfectly, I would put myself in misery or reob.

Practice wise, I have moved around a lot. The first couple years I did a lot of breath awareness, more recently I have done a lot of open awareness. I have experimented with noting but have not stuck to it for a long period of times. The past few days I have been noting outloud as Kenneth Folk suggests. I practice roughly an hour a day. 

One of my biggest practice challenges is doubt and skepticism, perhaps because I am a highly intellectual person and currently in a phd program that is ramming in my head that constantly questioning ideas is the way to go. However, from a practice point of view, I would like to have more faith. I am hoping that by gunning for stream entry, I could gain a stronger faith in practice. 

My last session was interesting because I had a very strong sensation of ants crawling on my skin after noting about thirty minutes. The sensation was so lucid that I was really certain there was an insect on me at first. Apparently this is a symptom of desire for deliverance.

RE: My new practice log
Answer
8/15/14 1:11 PM as a reply to Elijah Smith.
Elijah Smith:

Practice wise, I have moved around a lot. The first couple years I did a lot of breath awareness, more recently I have done a lot of open awareness. I have experimented with noting but have not stuck to it for a long period of times. The past few days I have been noting outloud as Kenneth Folk suggests. I practice roughly an hour a day. 

One of my biggest practice challenges is doubt and skepticism, perhaps because I am a highly intellectual person and currently in a phd program that is ramming in my head that constantly questioning ideas is the way to go. However, from a practice point of view, I would like to have more faith. I am hoping that by gunning for stream entry, I could gain a stronger faith in practice. 
Hello Elijah,

Perhaps your "highly intellectual" personality is holding you back a bit, especially as it is being challenged by the PhD. program you are currently engaged in. Perhaps, if you come back down to earth, using that high intellectual curiosity as a tool, you may come to realize and experience the faith that you seek. 

One of the simplest, and yet most profound, descriptions of the practice I've ever come across is one offered by S.N. Goenka in a 2000 Tricycle interview he gave. Though I'm generally not much of a Goenka fan, I did like his simple description of what the practice is and what it entails. Unfortunately, nowadays Tricycle has seen fit to make people pay for its online content, and a link to that article is no longer accessible to the public. However, katy steger has provided us with a reprint of that interview here.

But what I am referring to is contained at the very beginning of the interview, where Goenka explains how he came to practice with his teacher, U Ba Khin.

Goenka:
Interviewer: According to some people, Vipassana is a particular meditation practice of the Theravada School; for others, it is a lineage of its own. How do you use the term?

Goenka: This is a lineage, but it is a lineage that has nothing to do with any sect. To me, Buddha never established a sect. When I met my teacher, Sayagyi U Ba Khin, he simply asked me a few questions. He asked me if, as a Hindu leader, I had any objection towards sila, that is, morality. How can there be any objection? But how can you practice sila unless you have control of the mind? He said, I will teach you to practice sila with controlled mind. I will teach you samadhi, concentration. Any objection? What can be objected to in samadhi?Then he said, that alone will not help—that will purify your mind at the surface level.Deep inside there are complexes, there are habit patterns, which are not broken by samadhi. I will teach you prajna [panna, in Pali], wisdom, insight, which will take you to the depth of the mind. I will teach you to go to the depth of the mind, the source where the impurities start and they get multiplied and they get stored so that you can clear them out.

So when my teacher told me: I will teach you only these three—sila, samadhi and prajna—and nothing else, I was affected. I said, let me try.

If you, using your highly intellectual nature, can find any objection to learning the simple yet difficult practice of sila, samadhi, and panna, then perhaps you will never find the faith that you seek. On the other hand, if you can see the efficacy in learning these three practices, then perhaps you will find the faith that you seek. One of the ways that faith is built is through recognition (wise attention toward) of the truth of what works and is effective in assisting one to achieve his goals. If these three practices do not seem wise to you, then do not practice them. Above all, keep things simple, not complicated. The more complicated a mind becomes, the more difficulty is encountered in clearing out the "complexes" and wrong view habit patterns "which are not broken by samadhi."

This is your first lesson. Keep things simple. Accept it or reject it as you see fit. If you should accept it, you may find benefit far beyond any words there are to describe such practice.

In peace,
Ian

RE: My new practice log
Answer
8/15/14 1:31 PM as a reply to Elijah Smith.
I would also include "doubt" in your noting because if it is there then note it. When you are noting you're not stressing. The difficulty is to remain aware and noting can give you a feedback loop to keep doing it.

RE: My new practice log
Answer
8/16/14 9:36 AM as a reply to Ian And.
Thanks for the response. I guess the doubt I usually have is that I have practiced for two and a half years but still haven't really relieved much of the suffering I started out with (though it has changed). It happens pretty regularly that I will apply the meditation techniques (noting, relaxing, acceptance, awareness) in the face of negative emotions and not get much of anywhere. What keeps me going is the thought that it simply takes time; I do think my concentration skill and insight are improving, but slowly. 

Perhaps these thoughts are simply a product of being in the dark night.

RE: My new practice log
Answer
8/16/14 9:44 AM as a reply to Elijah Smith.
That's right it does take time.

Develop consistency of practice and understand that development happens on its own from that. You might want to look at the 8 fold path and see if something is missing but otherwise it's to keep going.  The ego can't "make it happen" in a certain timeline.  The best way I can look at faith is that if you keep diligently doing the practice (including the important daily life practice) results will show up as conditions you are creating. Whenever you're suffering just look at that as a moment of attachment and lack of mindfulness.  Any stress is fuel for practice.

The fact that some of your suffering has changed (I'm assuming for the better) is because you created the causes and conditions for those benefits.  Mindfulness always brings up all the repressed stuff we don't want to look at and if it keeps coming up it's because it's heavily conditioned.

I also think that those who have less attachments in the first place or they haven't suffered with real loss can get to equanimity much sooner because their mind is already calmer.  If one has deep seeded preferences for how one's life should be then it's much more practice and consistent mindfulness to uproot that.  

For most people it's a lifetime practice because even if old habits are weakened a weakened version of that habit can wreak havoc so we can't even give those impulses a chance or the predictable result of stress will appear again.

RE: My new practice log
Answer
8/16/14 12:13 PM as a reply to Elijah Smith.
Elijah Smith:
I guess the doubt I usually have is that I have practiced for two and a half years but still haven't really relieved much of the suffering I started out with (though it has changed). It happens pretty regularly that I will apply the meditation techniques (noting, relaxing, acceptance, awareness) in the face of negative emotions and not get much of anywhere.

Try going for twenty years and having that same result, and wondering whether it is all still worth pursuing. Things were better, even after a year or two in my early practice. But the same nagging negative reactions were still arising, and I was not any closer to solving them then than I was when I started. The reason things haven't changed quickly is because your attention is being diverted from the real CAUSES of the stress (dukkha) or basic dissatisfaction, and you are not discovering the causes and putting an end to them.

When a person seeks relief from stress (dukkha) in the mere practice of meditation itself, they are cutting themselves short of attaining the goal of Dhamma practice. Meditation is just one tool to be used in the whole process of practicing the Dhamma. Once a person is able to begin seeing and identifying the causes of stress, then they are able to pinpoint a target which they know must be destroyed if relief is to be achieved.

The practice that Gotama recommended for the destruction of dukkha was the practice of satipattana. The practice of satipattana helps you to begin to identify the causes of stress, to see these causes at their inception, and begin to weaken and ultimately destroy them. Find and read Ven. Analayo's book on Satipattana, The Direct Path to Realization. It will help to guide you in this practice.

One thing you can do to begin identifying the source of dukkha (once your concentration is up to par) is practicing the second satipattana wherein you watch for and identify the arising of vedana. Once you are able to quiet the mind enough to see the arising of vedana (the tendency to judge pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral reactions to an object) and you understand (with insight) why these judgments have been made, then you are able to alter your reaction to them. This practice gives you direct insight into what is causing the ultimate negative reaction pattern that you are seeking to find and destroy. The patterns begin at the level of vedana, when one reacts with "this is pleasant" or "this is unpleasant" or "this is neutral" to whatever object one is observing. The whole point of satipattana practice is to help you see and to stop identifying with these reaction patterns. To develop equanimity toward them, thus dissolving the experience of dukkha.

That was the whole point in the discourses where the admonition (and thus release from dukkha) is expressed as "This is not mine, this is not me, this is not myself." When you recognize that these unwholesome reactions are being grasped by your ego and identified with, then you can release them, let them go, and in the process, experience relief from dukkha.

Elijah Smith:

What keeps me going is the thought that it simply takes time; I do think my concentration skill and insight are improving, but slowly.

Dhyana (jhana) practice can help to solidify concentration abilities. It will teach you how to enter into samadhi at will. Samadhi is a state wherein concentration is at its peak, and where other objects (like the causes of stress) can be observed and noticed for what they really are and then released (let go of). This practice when combined with satipattana can help you begin  making progress in relieving stress.
 
Elijah Smith:

Perhaps these thoughts are simply a product of being in the dark night.

Be very careful what concepts you allow your mind to accept. It's okay to recognize a condition, but don't allow yourself to begin labeling a condition ("dark night") and then falling into identity with that condition. That can just exacerbate the condition (if it is not viewed with wisdom and insight, and thus broken up, dissolved).

Richard had some very good things to suggest and of which to take heed.

Richard Zen:
The best way I can look at faith is that if you keep diligently doing the practice (including the important daily life practice) results will show up as conditions you are creating. Whenever you're suffering just look at that as a moment of attachment and lack of mindfulness. Any stress is fuel for practice.

The fact that some of your suffering has changed (I'm assuming for the better) is because you created the causes and conditions for those benefits. Mindfulness always brings up all the repressed stuff we don't want to look at and if it keeps coming up it's because it's heavily conditioned.

I also think that those who have less attachments in the first place or they haven't suffered with real loss can get to equanimity much sooner because their mind is already calmer.If one has deep seeded preferences for how one's life should be[,] then it's much more practice and consistent mindfulness to uproot that.

For most people it's a lifetime practice because even if old habits are weakened a weakened version of that habit can wreak havoc so we can't even give those impulses a chance or the predictable result of stress will appear again.

RE: My new practice log
Answer
8/18/14 8:51 PM as a reply to Ian And.
Thanks Richard and Ian, your responses are very helpful and motivating to continue my practice. I will report back soon.

RE: My new practice log
Answer
8/21/14 7:44 PM as a reply to Elijah Smith.
Noting indeed seems like a fast way to make progress. I crossed through A/P twice earlier this week and felt like I hit EQ once (it felt like the correlate of the second jhana).

The way I've been progressing is to make sure that I am paying attention "faster" in that I am always noting something that just occured in the present moment. To achieve this I make sure that I am noting something "real," i.e. something in my direct sensory experience now rather than something that was there a moment or two ago. Doing this seems to help prevent my attention latching on to a thought or sensation; by the time it would have done so, that moment has passed and my attention is on something new.  

RE: My new practice log
Answer
8/28/14 7:46 PM as a reply to Elijah Smith.
I don't like to come here to just express my doubts repeatedly but I am curious what you guys have to think on the following.

Could it be that perhaps certain meditation techniques work well for certain people over long periods of time while for other people they aren't very effective? Then perhaps they people they work for think they can work for others, but perhaps those techniques simply won't have the formulaic result that the first person got, and the person should be looking elsewhere. When I look at a lot of other logs it seems like some people get golden success from the techniques while others struggle for very long periods. 
 
For me it seems like I don't really get the same results that other people get with standard concentration or noting on a short term basis, so I simply have to hope that the results will come in the long term in order to stick to a particular technique. This takes a lot of faith, especially when it can seem in the short term like things are getting worse. This forum in particular is motivating though because it does suggest in the short term things can get worse, but again, why is it the case then for a lot of people that the results seem so much more linear?

RE: My new practice log
Answer
8/28/14 11:21 PM as a reply to Elijah Smith.
Elijah Smith:
I don't like to come here to just express my doubts repeatedly but I am curious what you guys have to think on the following.

Note doubt, note doubt....
Elijah Smith:
Could it be that perhaps certain meditation techniques work well for certain people over long periods of time while for other people they aren't very effective? Then perhaps they people they work for think they can work for others, but perhaps those techniques simply won't have the formulaic result that the first person got, and the person should be looking elsewhere. When I look at a lot of other logs it seems like some people get golden success from the techniques while others struggle for very long periods. 
You bring up some good points. Look at it this way, what brain centers are you modifying? Are different practices so different in modifying these centers? Might people have already worked on these centers during their whole life while others are starting more from scratch?
Work on your awareness center. Work on seeing stuff in the now. Work on your love center. Stop working your fear center, lost in thought center, self absorbed ego center. What ever seems to work best in this will create results I think you might like long term.
 
Elijah Smith:
For me it seems like I don't really get the same results that other people get with standard concentration or noting on a short term basis, so I simply have to hope that the results will come in the long term in order to stick to a particular technique. This takes a lot of faith, especially when it can seem in the short term like things are getting worse. This forum in particular is motivating though because it does suggest in the short term things can get worse, but again, why is it the case then for a lot of people that the results seem so much more linear?
If you see enough others getting results that you want, you may wish to follow that. This might be faith to you but it's kinda obvious to me even slipping into dark night is results that prove something is happening.
We all have our doubts, some more than others but what is the alternative? I can't stop cause I have to do this....always have had his drive. Once I finally found the path I can't stop til I get there. Diligence and skill....like any other thing. Go hit a retreat if you can. Find a local teacher/sangha where you can get a shot of motivation weekly.
Good Luck,
~D

RE: My new practice log
Answer
8/29/14 11:14 PM as a reply to Elijah Smith.
Dear Elijah,

I am sorry you are suffering so much.  Meditation can and does help, but not always in the way one may predict.   The stages and maps can be useful, especially if something bizarre comes up, but what might work well is to sit just to sit.  Have no goal in mind.  Do not try to get anything out of meditation.  Very tense attention to every sensation and thought, while noting, and remembering it all - wow, that sounds stressful! 

For some reason, your struggles remind me of Shunryu Suzuki - have you read (or listened to, I LOVE the booktape!) Zen Mind, Beginners Mind?  Here are the quotes that your messages above sparked in my mind:

“While you are continuing this practice, week after week, year after year, your experience will become deeper and deeper, and your experience will cover everything you do in your everyday life. The most important thing is to forget all gaining ideas, all dualistic ideas. In other words, just practice zazen in a certain posture. Do not think about anything. Just remain on your cushion without expecting anything. Then eventually you will resume your own true nature. That is to say, your own true nature resumes itself.”

"After you have practiced for a while, you will realize that it is not possible to make rapid, extraordinary progress. Even though you try very hard, the progress you make is always little by little. It is not like going out in a shower in which you know when you get wet. In a fog, you do not know you are getting wet, but as you keep walking you get wet little by little. If your mind has ideas of progress, you may say, “Oh, this pace is terrible!” But actually it is not. When you get wet in a fog it is very difficult to dry yourself. So there is no need to worry about progress.”

“Hell is not punishment, it’s training.”

“Enjoy your problems.”

I hope this somehow helps.  Much peace, Dave.

RE: My new practice log
Answer
10/7/14 8:44 PM as a reply to Elijah Smith.
Thanks for the comments guys, they really keep me motivated. I've still been stuck in that dark night, in fact, it's becoming more consistent, though it does feel like it is part of some kind of natural evolution of the energy.

In particular, when I pay attention to the sensations in my body during the day there is a persistent gnaw that is there, generally without reason, most often appearing in my calves and head. I associate with a "spiritual" dark night because it is a pain that doesn't seem to be caused by a life issue. The sensations in the calves previously occured in my feet but have moved upward (this is somewhat interesting, maybe someone could provide some insight). It feels like a sharp contraction. There is also a generally weird foggy/dazed type feeling in social situations that sort of popped up out of nowhere. In general this sounds like bad stuff but it also just feels like the next step of some energetic process. It would be much easier if I just knew for sure that this energetic process was going to unfold into something positive, rather than just taking over.

On other days, instead of following body sensations I just try to surrender to whatever is occuring without even trying to pay attention carefully. It's pretty crazy how much this changes the experience of the sensations (though not necessarily in a good way - it is just different). Instead of feeling anxious sensations throughout my body, they tend to be more head based and more "pain" than "fear." 

On a somewhat more positive note, mindfulness seems so automatic now. Even when I intentionally set aside the intention to be mindful, feeling my feet while walking, hearing sounds, hearing thoughts, all just seem to happen.

RE: My new practice log
Answer
10/8/14 1:21 AM as a reply to Elijah Smith.
Hey,

I dealt with anxiety for a long time, so I can understand what you're going through.  It's very tempting to see meditation as a cure-all, but the bad news is that it isn't.  Noting sensations and emotions will not stop cronic depression or anxiety, and it may make them worse due to the increased concentration if you are trying to escape with a sense of desperation.

Please realize, you're going to need to change the actual thought patterns and beliefs that are fueling your anxiety.  Meditation techniques can be helpful in analyzing your mind to discover the source of your anxiety, but the reason you feel afraid is going to be mundain (i.e. everyday life).

What you are calling the dark night, here, is a habit you've developed to focus on negative emotions and thought patterns.  This is habitual rumination at its core.

Here is what I did to break out of my own thought patterns.  Maybe you can try this before meditating each day.  Firstly, open yourself up to how you feel, don't suppress anything.  You need to be able to see your thought patterns clearly.  If you're like me, you might find that, not only is something specific on your mind - but your also afraid of the fear itself.  You might see desperation to escape, and a distrust of contentment, specifically, because it hasn't been reliable for you.  These thoughts make up a chorus of voices in your head that want to be heard, and because of habitual supression, they've gotten louder and louder over the years.  Your mind is split into pieces.  Some of these pieces are trying to communicate, and others are trying to ignore, and it's all just a massive struggle.  Once you let go of control and allow everything to say what it wants, the mind can relax its efforts.

Now letting go can be confusing and seem hard to do - but, by definition, it is the easiest thing you can do.  Instead of trying to deny the fear and push it away, give it a moment to express itself.  The next moment, a doubt will come up, or an alarm will tell you "no, you're not doing it right, you're trying to suppress something!"  Let that alarm through as well.  Let it say what it wants to say.  Let all of the doubts, fears, fears about doubts, anger, resentment towards your own mind, desperation, etc.  Let it tell you what it wants to say.  And, because you are finally listening, they will begin to quiet down, take turns, and present you with real information about what you believe and why you believe it.  In the short term, this technique can even cause temporary blissful states of ease and relaxation.  But then thise old doubts will come back and say, "you can't trust this contentment, it isn't safe!"  You must let that through as well.  Let it say what it needs to say.  You will lose the contentment, and it can be painful and create desperation again, but that must be let through as well.

Now, as you settle into this receptive attitude, your mind will understand that you're willing to listen, and you'll be able to gather information about who you are.  You can use this information to work through your problems logically and sanely without the desperation to escape.  It's important to remember, as well, that you aren't trying to focus on the painful manifestations of an emotion and wait for it to go away, you're specifically trying to let go of control and allow the suppressed reason to make its way into your consious thoughts without resistance.  Ever tiny spec of anxiety you feel has a real life mundain cause, I'm going to make that guarantee to you.  There is no such thing as formless anxiety - we are very logical creatures.  I used to think I was anxious for no reason, or maybe for some chemical reason in the brain, and I'd spend my time laying on my couch asking, "why do I feel like this!? It makes no sense!"  The reason I couldn't figure it out was because I was so focused on how bad I felt.  If you feel stuck in an emotion, go distract yourself for a while until you feel a bit better, then come back to it.  During the transition between feeling good and feeling anxious, you can often see the trigger quite clearly.  Don't dismiss any reason as silly!  My "formless anxiety" actually came from a fear of touching sticky or dirty objects.  Imagine my suprise that it was something so simple!

Now, once you know the beliefs that are causing your fear, I have an exercise I like to use to challenge them and remove them.  You have to realize that, unless your life is full of dangerous situations, you are basically afraid of your imagination.  You're afraid of what it will present to you.  The solution, then, is to allow your imagination to run wild, and face what it has to offer calmly.  My anxiety has been caused by a number of things over the years: spiders, driving a car, touching sticky objects, calling a stranger on the phone, knives, the list goes on.  So what I do is sit down and imagine scenarios like getting into a car accident, having spiders crawl on my face, getting stabbed, being mocked or shamed, and as I imagine these things, I challenge each reaction that comes up.  I might feel a little jump in the heart reagion, so I'll stop for a moment, say to myself, "no, I'm not going to hold onto this reaction," and then confront the same scene again.  It works very quickly to completely disable a habitual reaction because you're facing the worst your imagination can offer you, and you're coming out of it perfectly fine.  You can supliment this with images and videos if your fear is physical (I googled spiders and accident photos, for example).  The goal is to unify the mind, remove all inhibitions, and let go of the guarding mechanisms you are using to protect yourself from thinking certain thoughts.  Once these guards are removed, you will be free to experience contentment without the distrust because there will no longer be anything to run from.  You will be fearless, rather than brave.  See what I mean?

I know how you feel, so I hope this helps.  If you need some hope, it really only take a few weeks to disable a phobia.  If your fears are more existential, and you feel they are justified, it may take longer as you reorganize your pholosophy of life to account for them - but it is posiible, and it's possible sooner rather than later.  Remember this, fear does not make you better able to cope with anything, it doesn't help you remember anything better, it doesn't make you work more quickly, and it doesn't make you treat people better.  It's completely useless - a mind that is content is willing to do any of those things, and can do them better because it isn't preoccupied.  It is safe to let go of the fear.  It is safe to be happy, even when life is difficult.  A happy mind can solve any problem better than an axious one.  You can give yourself permission to trust your future self to handle things.  You don't need to rehearse for bad situations, and you don't need to solve problems and mistakes that have already happened.

Once you have freed yourself from the guarding mechanisms, vipassana practices will be much easier because there is very little resistance to things.

RE: My new practice log
Answer
10/8/14 1:33 AM as a reply to Elijah Smith.
"On other days, instead of following body sensations I just try to surrender to whatever is occuring without even trying to pay attention carefully. It's pretty crazy how much this changes the experience of the sensations (though not necessarily in a good way - it is just different). Instead of feeling anxious sensations throughout my body, they tend to be more head based and more "pain" than "fear.""


I can relate to this as well. If this is happeneing, you're pushing the cause of the fear away so far that you're losing touch with it completely. It's tempting to follow this track because it offers a bit of relief, but it is a good idea to ask yourself if this state is really something you enjoy, or is it just a path of desperation? In my case, I determined that it wasn't where I wanted to go. What if it becomes perminant?

RE: My new practice log
Answer
10/8/14 3:06 AM as a reply to Ian And.
Ian And:
Elijah Smith:
I guess the doubt I usually have is that I have practiced for two and a half years but still haven't really relieved much of the suffering I started out with (though it has changed). It happens pretty regularly that I will apply the meditation techniques (noting, relaxing, acceptance, awareness) in the face of negative emotions and not get much of anywhere.

Try going for twenty years and having that same result, and wondering whether it is all still worth pursuing. Things were better, even after a year or two in my early practice. But the same nagging negative reactions were still arising, and I was not any closer to solving them then than I was when I started. The reason things haven't changed quickly is because your attention is being diverted from the real CAUSES of the stress (dukkha) or basic dissatisfaction, and you are not discovering the causes and putting an end to them.

When a person seeks relief from stress (dukkha) in the mere practice of meditation itself, they are cutting themselves short of attaining the goal of Dhamma practice. Meditation is just one tool to be used in the whole process of practicing the Dhamma. Once a person is able to begin seeing and identifying the causes of stress, then they are able to pinpoint a target which they know must be destroyed if relief is to be achieved.

The practice that Gotama recommended for the destruction of dukkha was the practice of satipattana. The practice of satipattana helps you to begin to identify the causes of stress, to see these causes at their inception, and begin to weaken and ultimately destroy them. Find and read Ven. Analayo's book on Satipattana, The Direct Path to Realization. It will help to guide you in this practice.

One thing you can do to begin identifying the source of dukkha (once your concentration is up to par) is practicing the second satipattana wherein you watch for and identify the arising of vedana. Once you are able to quiet the mind enough to see the arising of vedana (the tendency to judge pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral reactions to an object) and you understand (with insight) why these judgments have been made, then you are able to alter your reaction to them. This practice gives you direct insight into what is causing the ultimate negative reaction pattern that you are seeking to find and destroy. The patterns begin at the level of vedana, when one reacts with "this is pleasant" or "this is unpleasant" or "this is neutral" to whatever object one is observing. The whole point of satipattana practice is to help you see and to stop identifying with these reaction patterns. To develop equanimity toward them, thus dissolving the experience of dukkha.

That was the whole point in the discourses where the admonition (and thus release from dukkha) is expressed as "This is not mine, this is not me, this is not myself." When you recognize that these unwholesome reactions are being grasped by your ego and identified with, then you can release them, let them go, and in the process, experience relief from dukkha.

Elijah Smith:

What keeps me going is the thought that it simply takes time; I do think my concentration skill and insight are improving, but slowly.

Dhyana (jhana) practice can help to solidify concentration abilities. It will teach you how to enter into samadhi at will. Samadhi is a state wherein concentration is at its peak, and where other objects (like the causes of stress) can be observed and noticed for what they really are and then released (let go of). This practice when combined with satipattana can help you begin  making progress in relieving stress.
 
Elijah Smith:

Perhaps these thoughts are simply a product of being in the dark night.

Be very careful what concepts you allow your mind to accept. It's okay to recognize a condition, but don't allow yourself to begin labeling a condition ("dark night") and then falling into identity with that condition. That can just exacerbate the condition (if it is not viewed with wisdom and insight, and thus broken up, dissolved).

Richard had some very good things to suggest and of which to take heed.

Richard Zen:
The best way I can look at faith is that if you keep diligently doing the practice (including the important daily life practice) results will show up as conditions you are creating. Whenever you're suffering just look at that as a moment of attachment and lack of mindfulness. Any stress is fuel for practice.

The fact that some of your suffering has changed (I'm assuming for the better) is because you created the causes and conditions for those benefits. Mindfulness always brings up all the repressed stuff we don't want to look at and if it keeps coming up it's because it's heavily conditioned.

I also think that those who have less attachments in the first place or they haven't suffered with real loss can get to equanimity much sooner because their mind is already calmer.If one has deep seeded preferences for how one's life should be[,] then it's much more practice and consistent mindfulness to uproot that.

For most people it's a lifetime practice because even if old habits are weakened a weakened version of that habit can wreak havoc so we can't even give those impulses a chance or the predictable result of stress will appear again.



This is it.
Thanks again Ian And and R. Zen for the source of inspiration. Much appreciated.

I'm sorry I can't give you an advice Elijah. I can only give thumbs up and moral support. For what it's worth we come from similar backgrounds. Doubt and scepticism is also what drives my intellectual mind. But we also have curiosity. ;-) I believe I've managed to make that first step and finally start meditating. It took a lot of time/reading but I finally started. What's to lose? Hehe.

with metta,
ftw

RE: My new practice log
Answer
10/8/14 1:17 PM as a reply to Not Tao.
Hey Not Tao,

Thanks for the advice, good to hear from you. It's good to hear from other people who have made progress on similar issues. See comments below:
Here is what I did to break out of my own thought patterns.  Maybe you can try this before meditating each day.  Firstly, open yourself up to how you feel, don't suppress anything.  You need to be able to see your thought patterns clearly.  If you're like me, you might find that, not only is something specific on your mind - but your also afraid of the fear itself.  You might see desperation to escape, and a distrust of contentment, specifically, because it hasn't been reliable for you.  These thoughts make up a chorus of voices in your head that want to be heard, and because of habitual supression, they've gotten louder and louder over the years.  Your mind is split into pieces.  Some of these pieces are trying to communicate, and others are trying to ignore, and it's all just a massive struggle.  Once you let go of control and allow everything to say what it wants, the mind can relax its efforts.

Now letting go can be confusing and seem hard to do - but, by definition, it is the easiest thing you can do.  Instead of trying to deny the fear and push it away, give it a moment to express itself.  The next moment, a doubt will come up, or an alarm will tell you "no, you're not doing it right, you're trying to suppress something!"  Let that alarm through as well.  Let it say what it wants to say.  Let all of the doubts, fears, fears about doubts, anger, resentment towards your own mind, desperation, etc.  Let it tell you what it wants to say.  And, because you are finally listening, they will begin to quiet down, take turns, and present you with real information about what you believe and why you believe it.  In the short term, this technique can even cause temporary blissful states of ease and relaxation.  But then thise old doubts will come back and say, "you can't trust this contentment, it isn't safe!"  You must let that through as well.  Let it say what it needs to say.  You will lose the contentment, and it can be painful and create desperation again, but that must be let through as well.

Now, as you settle into this receptive attitude, your mind will understand that you're willing to listen, and you'll be able to gather information about who you are.  You can use this information to work through your problems logically and sanely without the desperation to escape.  It's important to remember, as well, that you aren't trying to focus on the painful manifestations of an emotion and wait for it to go away, you're specifically trying to let go of control and allow the suppressed reason to make its way into your consious thoughts without resistance.  Ever tiny spec of anxiety you feel has a real life mundain cause, I'm going to make that guarantee to you.  There is no such thing as formless anxiety - we are very logical creatures.  I used to think I was anxious for no reason, or maybe for some chemical reason in the brain, and I'd spend my time laying on my couch asking, "why do I feel like this!? It makes no sense!"  The reason I couldn't figure it out was because I was so focused on how bad I felt.  If you feel stuck in an emotion, go distract yourself for a while until you feel a bit better, then come back to it.  During the transition between feeling good and feeling anxious, you can often see the trigger quite clearly.  Don't dismiss any reason as silly!  My "formless anxiety" actually came from a fear of touching sticky or dirty objects.  Imagine my suprise that it was something so simple!
This really reminds me of the opening technique that helped me deal with the most extreme anxiety I was getting. I just sat with the feelings and let them do whatever the hell they wanted. Complete surrender, I wouldn't really put but a really light intention to feel exact sensations, but rather just let it present itself. This helped a lot. For whatever reason I'm finding this doesn't work as well with the misery type state I'm encountering now, and that's why I went back to putting a larger intention to pay attention to specific sensations, with the hope that I could reach some new insights that would lead to changes.

Now, once you know the beliefs that are causing your fear, I have an exercise I like to use to challenge them and remove them.  You have to realize that, unless your life is full of dangerous situations, you are basically afraid of your imagination.  You're afraid of what it will present to you.  The solution, then, is to allow your imagination to run wild, and face what it has to offer calmly.  My anxiety has been caused by a number of things over the years: spiders, driving a car, touching sticky objects, calling a stranger on the phone, knives, the list goes on.  So what I do is sit down and imagine scenarios like getting into a car accident, having spiders crawl on my face, getting stabbed, being mocked or shamed, and as I imagine these things, I challenge each reaction that comes up.  I might feel a little jump in the heart reagion, so I'll stop for a moment, say to myself, "no, I'm not going to hold onto this reaction," and then confront the same scene again.  It works very quickly to completely disable a habitual reaction because you're facing the worst your imagination can offer you, and you're coming out of it perfectly fine.  You can supliment this with images and videos if your fear is physical (I googled spiders and accident photos, for example).  The goal is to unify the mind, remove all inhibitions, and let go of the guarding mechanisms you are using to protect yourself from thinking certain thoughts.  Once these guards are removed, you will be free to experience contentment without the distrust because there will no longer be anything to run from.  You will be fearless, rather than brave.  See what I mean?
Your approach reminds me of CBT, which I tried prior to starting meditation. My issue was that it sometimes seemed to make things worse because I would challenge the thoughts yet the feelings would still be there. I found that an approach of purely accepting the feelings and thoughts seemed to be the only thing that kept me from totally freaking out, though there was still a lot of pain. My issue with modifying thoughts and CBT in general seems to be that the underlying assumption there is that thoughts case feelings. On the other hand, in my case, it also seems like feelings cause thoughts. Really they jointly arise and working with the thought doesn't necessarily help. Though to be honest, I never gave it a full on shot, I tried it for a couple weeks, it didn't do much, so I stopped. I also think the way that you apply it in particular, of simply realizing that you can cope with any bad outcome, is a more useful method at this point than trying to convince myself that none of the negative thoughts I have are true, and could be worth giving a shot. I intellectually realize they aren't true, but they continue to arise anyway.Thanks again!

Also, out of curiousity, do you think any of the progress you had would be possible without having done a bunch of meditation first? I often wonder whether meditation makes possible progress using other nonmeditative techniques.

RE: My new practice log
Answer
10/8/14 3:26 PM as a reply to Not Tao.
Not Tao:
Hey,

I dealt with anxiety for a long time, so I can understand what you're going through.  It's very tempting to see meditation as a cure-all, but the bad news is that it isn't.  Noting sensations and emotions will not stop cronic depression or anxiety, and it may make them worse due to the increased concentration if you are trying to escape with a sense of desperation.

Please realize, you're going to need to change the actual thought patterns and beliefs that are fueling your anxiety.  Meditation techniques can be helpful in analyzing your mind to discover the source of your anxiety, but the reason you feel afraid is going to be mundain (i.e. everyday life).

What you are calling the dark night, here, is a habit you've developed to focus on negative emotions and thought patterns.  This is habitual rumination at its core.

Here is what I did to break out of my own thought patterns.  Maybe you can try this before meditating each day.  Firstly, open yourself up to how you feel, don't suppress anything.  You need to be able to see your thought patterns clearly.  If you're like me, you might find that, not only is something specific on your mind - but your also afraid of the fear itself.  You might see desperation to escape, and a distrust of contentment, specifically, because it hasn't been reliable for you.  These thoughts make up a chorus of voices in your head that want to be heard, and because of habitual supression, they've gotten louder and louder over the years.  Your mind is split into pieces.  Some of these pieces are trying to communicate, and others are trying to ignore, and it's all just a massive struggle.  Once you let go of control and allow everything to say what it wants, the mind can relax its efforts.

Now letting go can be confusing and seem hard to do - but, by definition, it is the easiest thing you can do.  Instead of trying to deny the fear and push it away, give it a moment to express itself.  The next moment, a doubt will come up, or an alarm will tell you "no, you're not doing it right, you're trying to suppress something!"  Let that alarm through as well.  Let it say what it wants to say.  Let all of the doubts, fears, fears about doubts, anger, resentment towards your own mind, desperation, etc.  Let it tell you what it wants to say.  And, because you are finally listening, they will begin to quiet down, take turns, and present you with real information about what you believe and why you believe it.  In the short term, this technique can even cause temporary blissful states of ease and relaxation.  But then thise old doubts will come back and say, "you can't trust this contentment, it isn't safe!"  You must let that through as well.  Let it say what it needs to say.  You will lose the contentment, and it can be painful and create desperation again, but that must be let through as well.

Now, as you settle into this receptive attitude, your mind will understand that you're willing to listen, and you'll be able to gather information about who you are.  You can use this information to work through your problems logically and sanely without the desperation to escape.  It's important to remember, as well, that you aren't trying to focus on the painful manifestations of an emotion and wait for it to go away, you're specifically trying to let go of control and allow the suppressed reason to make its way into your consious thoughts without resistance.  Ever tiny spec of anxiety you feel has a real life mundain cause, I'm going to make that guarantee to you.  There is no such thing as formless anxiety - we are very logical creatures.  I used to think I was anxious for no reason, or maybe for some chemical reason in the brain, and I'd spend my time laying on my couch asking, "why do I feel like this!? It makes no sense!"  The reason I couldn't figure it out was because I was so focused on how bad I felt.  If you feel stuck in an emotion, go distract yourself for a while until you feel a bit better, then come back to it.  During the transition between feeling good and feeling anxious, you can often see the trigger quite clearly.  Don't dismiss any reason as silly!  My "formless anxiety" actually came from a fear of touching sticky or dirty objects.  Imagine my suprise that it was something so simple!

Now, once you know the beliefs that are causing your fear, I have an exercise I like to use to challenge them and remove them.  You have to realize that, unless your life is full of dangerous situations, you are basically afraid of your imagination.  You're afraid of what it will present to you.  The solution, then, is to allow your imagination to run wild, and face what it has to offer calmly.  My anxiety has been caused by a number of things over the years: spiders, driving a car, touching sticky objects, calling a stranger on the phone, knives, the list goes on.  So what I do is sit down and imagine scenarios like getting into a car accident, having spiders crawl on my face, getting stabbed, being mocked or shamed, and as I imagine these things, I challenge each reaction that comes up.  I might feel a little jump in the heart reagion, so I'll stop for a moment, say to myself, "no, I'm not going to hold onto this reaction," and then confront the same scene again.  It works very quickly to completely disable a habitual reaction because you're facing the worst your imagination can offer you, and you're coming out of it perfectly fine.  You can supliment this with images and videos if your fear is physical (I googled spiders and accident photos, for example).  The goal is to unify the mind, remove all inhibitions, and let go of the guarding mechanisms you are using to protect yourself from thinking certain thoughts.  Once these guards are removed, you will be free to experience contentment without the distrust because there will no longer be anything to run from.  You will be fearless, rather than brave.  See what I mean?

I know how you feel, so I hope this helps.  If you need some hope, it really only take a few weeks to disable a phobia.  If your fears are more existential, and you feel they are justified, it may take longer as you reorganize your pholosophy of life to account for them - but it is posiible, and it's possible sooner rather than later.  Remember this, fear does not make you better able to cope with anything, it doesn't help you remember anything better, it doesn't make you work more quickly, and it doesn't make you treat people better.  It's completely useless - a mind that is content is willing to do any of those things, and can do them better because it isn't preoccupied.  It is safe to let go of the fear.  It is safe to be happy, even when life is difficult.  A happy mind can solve any problem better than an axious one.  You can give yourself permission to trust your future self to handle things.  You don't need to rehearse for bad situations, and you don't need to solve problems and mistakes that have already happened.

Once you have freed yourself from the guarding mechanisms, vipassana practices will be much easier because there is very little resistance to things.

Can I share this with people outside of this forum?  This is exceptional.

RE: My new practice log
Answer
10/8/14 3:42 PM as a reply to Elijah Smith.
It is not actually the meditation that ever helps.

But eventually it is what you learn from the meditation once you are able to do it long and deep enough.

I swear on everything holy that these techniques, and the others you will learn, completely and utterly cured me from a lifetime of depression. A despair that no hospitalization or medicine or therapist had ever even slightly eased.

Depression is not a physical condition manifesting in the mind, It is a spiritual condition that manifests itself in the body.

All Spiritual paths teach that suffering exists from a delusion.  The delusion is in caring about your temporal life.  

You have recieved the best advice I have ever read in this thread.  These guys are amazing!  So I can't add anything to make it better but I do want to tell you a place in my practice that was pivotal for me:

Stop caring about whether or not your depressed.  Stop caring about ever being happy.  Let it go.  Disregard the rest of your life.  Decide to live like the Cats live, perpetually napping and eating.  Decide to live just to help the people you love without ever letting them know you're helping.  Live as if you died.

RE: My new practice log
Answer
10/8/14 8:38 PM as a reply to Jeremy May.
Jeremy May:
It is not actually the meditation that ever helps.

But eventually it is what you learn from the meditation once you are able to do it long and deep enough.

I swear on everything holy that these techniques, and the others you will learn, completely and utterly cured me from a lifetime of depression. A despair that no hospitalization or medicine or therapist had ever even slightly eased.

Depression is not a physical condition manifesting in the mind, It is a spiritual condition that manifests itself in the body.

All Spiritual paths teach that suffering exists from a delusion.  The delusion is in caring about your temporal life.  

You have recieved the best advice I have ever read in this thread.  These guys are amazing!  So I can't add anything to make it better but I do want to tell you a place in my practice that was pivotal for me:

Stop caring about whether or not your depressed.  Stop caring about ever being happy.  Let it go.  Disregard the rest of your life.  Decide to live like the Cats live, perpetually napping and eating.  Decide to live just to help the people you love without ever letting them know you're helping.  Live as if you died.

Good to hear from you Jeremy, great to hear about your successes. In the most fearful places I've had to learn to come to terms with everything I care about (my career, mostly, which is the center of my life... graduate school at the moment) going away completely. It's a hard ass thing to come to terms with but the dark night forces you there.

RE: My new practice log
Answer
10/8/14 11:01 PM as a reply to Elijah Smith.
I think it's easy to miss the reason for a feeling - especially if you're dealing with a whole mass of anxiety.  Untangling it requires a lot of honesty.  I'll give you a recent example of a discovery I made.  I've had some instability with my job, and it's been on my mind a lot.  I was feeling anxiety about it, but it seemed like everything I did to work through it fell flat.  Just yesterday, though, I realized that the reason I was anxious was actually my old driving phobia expressing itself through my fear of losing the ability to work at home.  I haven't made much effort to disassemble to driving phobia, and I can readily admit that I've been avoiding it.  The problem was that I was using my focus on my job to hide from the driving phobia so I didn't have to deal with it.  Dealing with it is so much easier than trying to calm down all the time, though, and I know now that it's actually possible to change the feeling associated with driving.  With my fear of spiders, I was actually able to remove that sick feeling in the heart so that my experience with spiders doesn't require bravery anymore - I just feel fine when I'm around them.

The moment I pinpointed that it was driving that I was afraid of, I felt a great flood of relief.  It became so obvious - and I already know the techniques work - so I saw a way out.  The thing is, acceptance and surrender do work, but they work on the simptoms, not on the root of the problem.  You could treat it like a skill to eventually perfect, where you're always automatically letting go - and that's a noble enough goal - but it can happen much faster if you ALSO pay attention to the triggers.  It isn't a either/or thing - what you describe as surrendering is exactly the first step, you keep doing that while investigating the emotion.  You can surrender to the fact that you want an emotion to go away, you don't need to do any mental acrobats to trick yourself into surrender.  If you can find the triggers, though, you can practice surrendering with negative visualization - I see it as an aid to the process of letting go, not a replacement nescessarily.

I agree that feelings can cause thoughts, but one of the reasons for this is because feelings are such a mystery.  When you can see your thought patterns clearly, the mystery is gone, and you don't get stuck in ruminations.  I think you're on the right track with what you do currently, I'm just saying there are things you can add to it that will make the process faster and more directly available to you.  Surrender, alone, works on a subconscious level to let go of things.  If you watch carefully, though, you can see what those things are and do it intetionally next time.  The hours of waiting for relief and trying to figure out exactly how to give yourself over completely turn into a few moments of self examination.  It really has worked this way for me! emoticon  You don't have to stay in the dark to surrender - just surrender to your desire to understand, and your desire to escape as well - make it so there is nothing off limits for your mind to think about.

Something you said, about trying to prove negative thoughts wrong - I've had trouble with that too.  I had more success embracing the idea that I don't need fear/anger/sadness to cope with negative things.  An example is that I became a bit upset when I read a story about how people were killing a bunch of animals because they were an invasive species.  I was angry and I was trying to convince myself not to be angry about it.  It didn't work, though, because it felt like I had to give up my opinion that it was wrong.  So, instead, I came from the other end and asked myself, "what would my goal actually be in this situation?"  I realized that what I really wanted was for the people to stop killing the animals, and that if I was angry at them, I wasn't going to be able to convince them of anything - I'd spend the whole time focused on myself and how I wanted to make them feel bad.  So I was able to let go of the anger because I understood it didn't have a reason to exist.  Each time I felt it, I was able to turn my mind away from it without feeling like I was betraying myself.  This kind of thing can be thought of as actively ignoring a prompt to feel a certain way about something as soon as you see it.  If an emotion is sticking around, even though you want it to go away, you probably still see it as legitimate for some reason.  This is all your mind, and it really is accessable to you and under your control.  We ignore most of the inner workings because it's more efficient to live that way.  Eventually, though, if you can untangle the web and prune out the things that are causing you trouble, it will allow the good habits to grow and you won't even need to think about it anymore.

@Jeremy: Feel free if you think it will help someone. emoticon

RE: My new practice log
Answer
10/14/14 10:53 PM as a reply to Not Tao.
Interesting stuff, I went through some of your A/F post as well and I can relate a lot to where you were. For instance, last night, I was feeling pretty good until I went down to sit, then a minor thought from the short list of things that causes me to react came up. This led to some tension in the body, and my practice was to just feel that tension as much as possible while ignoring thought. It seemed to just get worse and turn into a spiral of tension that was there for no reason any more.

A good 70% of the thoughts and emotions that cause me trouble are related to fear of negative feelings continuing. Fear about negative emotions themselves has been a major difficulty.

Would you say the following is a good summary of your core practice:
When a negative emotion comes up, look for the fundamental reason driving that (even if it is subtle). Then, remind yourself, perhaps using internal thought at first, and over time relying on intuition, that this is not a reason worth being unhappy for. To assist with this, you compare it to a PCE.

So, my one question is, which came first, the chicken or the egg? That is, how could you follow the latter part of this method if you hadn't been able to use the method to land at a PCE yet?

RE: My new practice log
Answer
10/15/14 6:44 PM as a reply to Elijah Smith.
Indeed.  The egg is never without it's chicken.  The chicken is never without it's eggs...