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A Young Man's Gradual Englightenment

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A Young Man's Gradual Englightenment
Answer
6/8/15 10:09 AM
Hello, let me introduce myself and my practice log.

I'm 20. I'm on my second gap year. Soon I'll be at university abroad in the Netherlands. My purpose for meditation is like most, enlightenment, but more realistically balancing that with the purpose to bring its fruit into my daily life, learning to live more peacefully, at ease, and loving. At the moment I'm overstriving to my detriment, so bringing the practice down to earth a bit more and becoming a bit more acceptant and kind seems to be the antidote. Please let me know if you have any advice that counters my own.

Each post will be brief, succinct, and nicely concise, looking something like this

Previous day's Evening sit (what happened, did I note it, what happened after noting, positives and lessons for next time)

Morning sit (what happened, did I note it, what happened after noting, positives and lessons for next time)

How I integrated into my day today (what compassionate, nonharming, positive actions did I do, was I mindful in an activity, what actions can I rejoice in?)

Extras (thoughts)

So, here's my background to all this meditation stuff; how I got here, what I've done so far, and where I'm at.

In November 2014 I started meditating with Headspace. I had recently returned from travelling and taken up more spiritualesque activities in the pursuit of more sustainable forms of happiness - first I began with yoga, maybe I could find union and presence through the body? Then I took an interest in lucid dreaming, if I awoke in my dreams then maybe I'd awake in real life? 

This trend of searching for quick fast pill's to enlightenment followed into movement and nutrition. I soon noticed that I was doing everything in my power to avoid just meditating, and so upon reflecting on the conversation's I'd had with some fellow travellers and with the inspiration of Sam Harris' two year silent retreat stint in his twenties, I decided to do a ten day goenka retreat, after all "everybody should do it once in their lives", I was told by the goenka possy.

In February of this year I went on the goenka retreat. I found it extremely tough and managed about six hours per day, with no continuity of mindfulness in between sits. I left the retreat feeling like I'd missed out on something (with everybody around me seeming to have had much more profound experiences) - I left with the desire to maintain a two hour daily practice despite my severe doubt in the method.

The two hour daily practice continued however the effort within the practice itself was very haphazard, I found myself consistently lost in thought and full of doubt about the goenka style body scanning, I altered my practice to focus on anapana and the cultivation of more concentration, but alas it was to no avail. I found myself becoming increasingly uptight about the practice and felt as though I was less mindful in general than before, a real bummer.

I decided to leave body scanning behind for good and found MCTB. Shortly after I applied to a second meditation retreat in the mahasi noting style with the new found knowledge that this was the style of meditation Sam Harris referred to when he wrote about vipassana in his book "Waking Up".

This second retreat (in april - seven weeks after goenka) was a much better experience. There was much less doubt and much more faith in the practice, although I still had a lot of trouble with concentration and vast overexpectations (I was expecting stream entry after the seven day retreat), resulting in self criticism and anxiety. I left feeling humbled and as though I'd gained insight into cause and effect, which I may or may not have. I could now discern the difference between the mental impression in my head and the physical object that contacted the sensebase e.g. I heard a bird and an image of a bird arose in the mind. This was new territory for me and pretty damn inspiring. I left the retreat and maintained the two hour daily practice. Vowing to incorporate more metta (which I didn't end up managing as it felt too forced).

I applied for a third retreat (in may - five weeks after) at the same retreat center (Satipanya).

Just before going on retreat I had begun developing a lot of anxiety around meditation. The cause turned out to be fear of loss. I was so scared that I'd lose the habit that I placed meditation on a very large pedestal, as this big thing which I had to sit down for one hour at a time for, and never move an inch and blah blah blah. My reasoning for going on so many retreats was to make it a lifelong habit that I would never ever lose.
However, although the intention was good it incited a lot of unnecessary stress. The fear of loss turned out to be the main reason for me becoming more adverse to practicing and in turn the losing of more mindfulness day after day.

The fear of loss and its manifestation in anxiety followed into the third retreat as the main theme. I still had very high expetations of myself and instead of rejoicing each time I became mindful, I felt scared of the present moment, and beat myself up for not having been mindful. I had also subconsciously made myself believe that I should forever live the life of the monastic and that nothing else was good enough. Once again my misunderstanding of the dharma resulted in my aversion to the present moment. The main lesson of this last retreat was finding the fine balance between striving for enlightenment and rejoicing and accepting myself where I am, right now, with a gradual approach to enlightenment, hence the journal title.

This balance is what I'm attempting to cultivate, by ordering my life around meditation (going on lots of retreats before university to make it more natural of a thing to do/trying to be aware of my feet and breath in daily life/trying to be ok with doing nothing but breathing sometimes (blocking use on my phone for vast periods of each day)/and by practicing both metta and vipassana).

Here's where I'm at now. On that third retreat I experienced about twenty minutes of experiencing the innate selflessness of sensations where the knowing of each sensation occured at the same time as the sensation with no feeling of mine, my or myself in any sensation. This escalated to excitement for knowing this, which I duly noted and fear of loss, which I also noted. Everything became very very clear to see at this point, and this clarity lasted until the end of the night and ultimately to the passing of the experience. I'm unsure if this was the knowledge of mind and body, selflessness, or the arising and passing away. I have no idea, and don't think it makes much of a difference. However the experience gave me even more faith in the practice.

Since that last retreat I've been cultivating some more metta, and have been fairly lost within some of the hindrances (mainly dullness and lethargy). I will go into more detail in my next report.

I left that third retreat and booked a two week mahasi retreat for july (seven weeks later), a few weeks before I depart to the netherlands for university.

My reasoning for meditation now is much more swayed towards becoming more peaceful, at ease, loving, and compassionate right now. Stream entry and all that jazz would be a nice extra.

So on that note

May I/you be safe
May I/you be well
May I/you be peaceful
May I/you be filled with loving kindness


I hope you're all practicing well.

RE: A Young Man's Gradual Englightenment
Answer
6/6/15 5:03 PM as a reply to Tim.
Balancing striving and surrender is one of the main aspects I've run into in my practice. I come from a Shinzen young background where he speaks openly about enlightenment but de-emphasizes particular stages with an emphasis on technique instead, contrary to the Mahasi style of this board.

Knowing there is some vague thing as enlightenment is a serious motivator to practice. Without going into details my entire life is orientated around practice, post graduation of college, so I get monastic level hours while living in daily life. I wouldn't make such a sacrifice unless I had a strong motivating reason to do so, so maps, notions of enlightenment keep the motivation burning strong over long periods of time. I take practice extremely seriously. This leads me into the type of issues you run into, where you are really going for it, but lose the war in trying to win the meditation battles as the sense of self entangles itself with the process of meditation, or, the problem begetting itself, ironically.

One of my reconciliations with this is an attitude I call loving-playfulness, it's simply an attitude I bring on a superficial level to my actions to keep things light. And also to reconcile the idea, 'There is no one home, yet engaging action continues.' Well, action arises spontaneously, playfully, tenderly caringly from seeming nowhere, a beautiful dance of life expressing itself beyond any mechanical rational explanation from me needed. I brainwash myself into thinking that the playfulness in the arena of this embodied moment is an opportunity to express loving-playfulness with my practice and my actions. I've never read about Taoism, but my superficial glance is that this is an english take on the central notion of Wu-Wei, or effortless effort. This notion reconciles a lot of the issue of 'going for it' but not being a renunciate. How to we participate in the world that is going through it's greatest and most important transformation in it's billions of years history in our very lifetimes and be awake? This simple multiple day resolution or resolve for caring about this life and playfulness seems to be grounding and sensible in a way that allows me to go for it and be easy on myself. I wish I could describe it better, but maybe I'd say continue to resolute a sense of lightness and diligence. But there seems to be the notion, 'I resolute for this attitude, and over time it slowly forms via habit of the mind and habit of daily life actions'.

I am currently in the process of reinventing my own heart meditations, vaguely inspired by the heavenly abodes, but since they are in some ways at odds with the standard Buddhist faire, I don't plan to share them until they get past a more primordial and fragile stage. However, heart meditations have helped me considerably, as you seem to have noticed for yourself. Reading your post, I get the sense that the answer you're looking for is already known to you. But back to how I handle it, is with notions of loving-playfulness as surfing between effort and effortlessness, throughout a day my practice has significant swings between qualities of mind and if it's heavy I expend effort, if I'm light then no effort, it seems to do itself, and I notice these qualities by noticing, trial and error it seems to improve and as far as a sense of ease, peace, love for it all it definitely is a worlds a part months ago, years ago, etc. I like keeping it heartfelt myself, as that tender love for it all is a deep instinct for the process of awakening it seems.

RE: A Young Man's Gradual Englightenment
Answer
6/6/15 7:53 PM as a reply to Tim.
Currently, there are many people who are very goal oriented.  We are trained to take things by steps and try to obtain the steps one by one, theoretically with some kind of reward on a upper most step to be obtained.  I think that works better when you already understand the steps well.  But for markers along the enlightenment paths, I don't think they can be predicted or understood in advance so easily and trying to strive for something that you have an incorrect perception of, IMO, can cause problems.  Because while you are striving for THING X (whatever it is), first of all, you may be striving for something that you have many incorrect notions on, ie you may well be striving for something that does not exist.  And second, while you are striving for something that does not exist, you are not paying attention to all the many things that do exist.  In fact, I think preconceived notions often block true experiences.  If you become rigid about what you want, then all the many things you never even knew about have a much harder time getting through.  Easier, IMO, if you come with an attitude of curiosity as the main driver, curiosity helps you find things without passing judgement and also with an attitude of not yet knowing what it will be that you find.  Right, now, sounds like you have a lot of issues with comparing yourself to others, expecting certain rates of progress, etc.  You may also be expecting certain things to happen and being nervous that they won't or don't, and that if they don't, then it implies something bad about your skill and value as a meditator.  Meditation is perverse in that trying hard/forcing seems to work not so well compared to lettting go and letting things flow a bit more, which is something that has become increasely contrary to how various 1st world countries are currently training their fledgling humans.  I bet you will experience all kinds of amazing and cool things, but they will probably not be what you expect or when you expect it.  ;-P
-Eva  

RE: A Young Man's Gradual Englightenment
Answer
6/7/15 2:51 PM as a reply to Ryan J.
Wow, thank you so much. Yep the balance is much needed - knowing enlightenment is there and attainable and then letting that go whilst I focus on the specifics, all the whilst keeping a tender/gentle approach. I really appreciate that response, I've read it about three times now and still find it fascinating.

"a beautiful dance of life expressing itself beyond any mechanical rational explanation from me needed. I brainwash myself into thinking that the playfulness in the arena of this embodied moment is an opportunity to express loving-playfulness with my practice and my actions." - this is lovely, I'll keep pondering over this and reminding myself that I don't have to renounce everything in life and shave my head! In fact that would most likely be detrimental (the adversity that would arise would turn into a hindrance no doubt, as well as the fact it just isn't ethical in lots of ways to remove myself from the world - responsibilities etc. The middle way is better and seems to be revolving my life around meditation whilst still living and experiencing my ordinary life - watching the beautiful dance of life express itself infront of my eyes.

Thank you once again Ryan

Little recap for myself to remember some helpful points

I'll lay off the expectations of the maps and just keep in mind it is possible
I'll keep on cultivating that loving tenderness towards myself when self aversion arises
I'll remind myself that I don't need and shouldn't renounce the world, but incorporate meditation into my own middle path

RE: A Young Man's Gradual Englightenment
Answer
6/7/15 2:53 PM as a reply to Eva Nie.
Thank you Eva emoticon your response was great and very timely.

RE: A Young Man's Gradual Englightenment
Answer
6/7/15 3:09 PM as a reply to Tim.
Day one (of this journal)

Morning sit
I woke up at 6am (the earlier I wake up the more effort I feel I place in my practice - probably because I'm waking especially to meditate) and meditated for an hour and ten minutes. 45 mins vipassana, 15 mins metta, 10 mins vipassana. I noted the dullness that arose and noted quickly around my body (to embody the sensation of dullness and keep my head above the water instead of getting lost again), this helped quite a lot and allowed me to observe the sensation of dullness in a clearer manner, I then went back to the rising of the falling of the abdomen and noted.

How I incorporated into my daily life
Repeating phrases of metta to myself and others throughout the day at various points, just feeling the breath every so often (in a broad, just knowing way, not too investigative).

When I was fairly bored I decided to go and sit again for 20ish minutes, a good use of time, did a little vipassana noting and then metta.

Didn't use phone/internet outside of the 1 hour a day, felt great (gave more space to practice/deal with any anxiety and rejoice more - spent a few minutes in the afternoon going through my good deeds/wholesome actions and appreciating them).

Incorporated the teaching I was given about being able to enjoy pleasures of the world but not indulging (being mindful with them and entering them with positive intentions) - I read TIME magazine with the intention of not eating whilst reading and to feel my body as I read. I finished the magazine feeling lovely as a result of my fulfilled intentions. Instead of feeling guilty for enjoyment I rejoiced in the knowledge I had good intentions, and I enjoyed it without indulging.

Read some more of Sharon Salzberg's Loving Kindness and joined Worldwide Insight's live stream of Tara Brach to ask about metta - her response - do whatever makes you feel more, and then stick with one practice.

I got pretty damn excited at the prospect of this forum earlier today (it's potential to keep meditation as a strong value in my life), I became aware it made me excited, and noted it/enjoyed it.

Evening sit - will add in tomorrow (although right now feeling rather tired, yet again (set my bedtime for 11pm, and it's now 10pm, think I may have to push back the evening sit to a more reasonable time so I don't leave halfway through and conk out).

Main point of today - bringing metta into daily life along with basic mindfulness of breath, making meditation more of a relaxed thing (when I feel as though I should go and do more meditation, noting that judgement and just feeling sensations in that one moment, this usually takes meditation off of its pedestal and back down to earth as just a nice thing to do for myself.

Peace

RE: A Young Man's Gradual Englightenment
Answer
6/7/15 7:19 PM as a reply to Eva Nie.
Currently, there are many people who are very goal oriented.  We are trained to take things by steps and try to obtain the steps one by one, theoretically with some kind of reward on a upper most step to be obtained.  I think that works better when you already understand the steps well.  But for markers along the enlightenment paths, I don't think they can be predicted or understood in advance so easily and trying to strive for something that you have an incorrect perception of, IMO, can cause problems.  
Probably best to have a mentor who teaches goal-oriented insight if that is how one chooses to frame their practice.  It has made all the difference for me, avoiding potential problems and skyrocketing understanding.  No problem, of course, with not framing one's practice via nanas, cycles and paths.  Different approaches, but each potentially effective.

RE: A Young Man's Gradual Englightenment
Answer
6/7/15 11:18 PM as a reply to Tim.
@Tim, Nice! Glad you enjoyed it and your takeaway was essentially my post.

@Noah/Tim: I think in the land of enlightenment there is a perennial split between legitimately realized people who push goals and de-emphasize them, or even a mix of the two. My take on it is that it simply depends on the person as far as style goes, and utilizing resources like this forum, the internet, teachers allows one to hone in on their style. Experiment, experiment, experiment.

RE: A Young Man's Gradual Englightenment
Answer
6/8/15 10:44 AM as a reply to Tim.
Last night's sit 
The sit occured despite my fatigue, although I finished about 20 minutes in and went to sleep, all good. Will push back the time to a more manageable hour tonight (last night it was 1030pm tonight it shall be 9-945 latest). Noticing in my sits that I am more embracing towards thoughts as an object of meditation when they are predominant. Instead of noting "thinking, thinking" with the intention of getting rid of thought so I can go back to the breath, I now note with genuine curiosity to see how the thought ends, and what is going on. I also noted sleepyness when it arose and it's associated feelings (curious as to how my body reacts when I almost fall asleep and get jolted awake again, very prevalent wave of feeling in face and side of head).


Morning sit (what happened, did I note it, what happened after noting, positives and lessons for next time)
Noted to a clearer extent than normal, felt very calm and light, although still found it fairly hard to keep attention on the rising and falling of the abdomen, ended with 15 minutes of metta - using my own phrases as a vehicle to send loving intentions towards myself - currently this feels slightly more like compassion (as I tend to feel more visceral when considering getting rid of suffering as oppose to feeling happy, same thing, expressed in a slightly more pessismistic (probaly realistic) way, however it still feels nice and is definitely helping me accept myself more and more. (The self doubt arose at one point around the fact that I wasn't attaining jhanas which was ridiculous, I noted and embraced it with love and tenderness and hugs and kisses. Putting my hand on my heart seemed to help)

How I integrated into my day today 
Noted sensations that peaked my interest whilst being driven somewhere earlier today, without strain - great practice for me, realizing over and over noting is not a strain, appreciating the effortless effort it can entail.

Noting left, right for my feet at various one off moments as well as sometimes tuning into the general knowing of the rising and faling.

When getting worked up or agitated noting the feeling in my body and then sending metta to it and actively letting go/relaxing with a sigh.

Feeling myself becoming anxious as a result of free time, I went outside to sit and stay with it and feel it in my body. Would enjoy learning more ways to be mindful in the day (downloaded some talks), however right now I seem to be doing it in a very non goal oriented manner which is suiting me fine (balancing out the tendency of perfectionism, overstriving, and resulting anxiety.

Last but not least, I spent hours skimming through DhO to my detriment. Too much irrelevant theory really messes with my head (makes me very sluggish and full of self doubt), I noticed this feeling and decided to use the opportunity and free time at my disposal to go and sit down to meditate, the feeling dissolved relatively quickly on noting self doubt.

Extras (thoughts)

My time scouring DhO was unskillful and I intend to use DhO next time as either a fun pasttime to read interesting topics to get a sense of the community and contribute, or to find an answer a specific practice question I have (which I didn't, which is why looking at practices of other people right now is detrimental, it inspires conceit and self doubt in myself), or to update my journal.

Became very "grass is greener on the other side" with respect to other practices today, especially towards the TWIM style of practice. (applied to do their online course during my first week of university which should be interesting (will be when I'm moving in, and doing introductory stuff at the university, which should be manageable). My main intention for doing that retreat will be to develop my metta practice to balance out my anxious, self-doubting tendencies. If the retreat seems to help a lot, then I may consider adding it into my practice and altering a little bit, however currently sticking with one practice is definitely what is needed by myself (I have strong tendencies - aware I've used the word tendency a lot..- to jump ship from one practice or interest to another, so far my 3 month stint in mahasi seems to have lasted the longest, and is still going strong, only issue with it is the overstriving which 15 minutes of metta at each session will help).

Ahhh, just writing this journal up has made me feel lovely, I'm currently enjoying the sensation of pleasure mindfully, not indulging.

Peace and love to anybody reading.

By the way - I don't want this to turn into a self gratification journal, I just want to use it to develop my practice, alter it where needed, and use it as an opportunity for wise reflection of the dharma and my practice.

RE: A Young Man's Gradual Englightenment
Answer
6/8/15 10:32 AM as a reply to Ryan J.
Ryan J:
@Noah/Tim: I think in the land of enlightenment there is a perennial split between legitimately realized people who push goals and de-emphasize them, or even a mix of the two. My take on it is that it simply depends on the person as far as style goes, and utilizing resources like this forum, the internet, teachers allows one to hone in on their style. Experiment, experiment, experiment.
Yes Ryan!!
By the way, read your suggestions for improving DhO - I agree with pretty much all you said (y)

RE: A Young Man's Gradual Englightenment
Answer
6/10/15 5:25 AM as a reply to Tim.
So, in the last update I'm pretty sure I mentioned something about TWIM (tranquil wisdom insight meditation) and the 6Rs as described by Bhante Vimalaramsi over at Dhamma Sukha. I may be wrong and maybe I didn't mention it, but I definitely thought about it long and hard to see whether I should jump ship with Mahasi (which I have felt has caused a lot of overstriving and seriousness) and jump onto the TWIM/6Rs/Metta ship.

I contacted Dhamma Sukha and signed up for their online 9 day retreat.

At first glance it just seemed like it was metta and relaxing, which seemed perfect for me, but on further inspection I noticed that what they're teaching seems to make the most logical sense to me out of any practice. They have a big focus on only following the suttas for instruction, not commentaries, which is interesting, and I thought not possible.

However, it seems like it works very very well.

One of the guys there started practicing Mahasi at 19 (like myself) and continued for 20 years on and off retreat, which seemed like the direction I was headed in. He strongly recommended I drop mahasi noting while I'm ahead, not go on the two week retreat in July and instead try out the TWIM online retreat using metta as the object of meditation to return to.

Worst comes to worst, I come out of this with increased metta (which I obviously need to counter this overstriving/anxiety that tends to spring on me from the effort involved in noting), and better concentration, which I can always bring back to mahasi.

Best comes to best, I come out of this more confident in my practice, learning to live my life as a continuous meditation, enjoying it every moment I let go of craving using their method (which seems to fit very very accurately with the buddha's descriptions in the suttas), and not so accurately with the Vishudamagga.

So, the method they use is using the 6Rs (as a way to develop mindfulness with both serenity and insight simultaneously - recognising a distraction, releasing (letting go) of that clinging to the distraction, relaxing (releasing the tension, asociated with craving, in the head, eyes etc), re-smiling (smiling with your eyes and corners of your lips to bring up a wholesome state), and then returning to your meditation object (in this case metta or relaxing the breath), and then repeating (staying there, in that wholesome state for as long as possible until you get distracted again).

So, that's it, switching to this method seems to be the wise thing to do in this point in time.

I'll keep updating with my sits (completely diferent style so keeping it at 30 mins at a time (unless I want to keep sitting after).

Peace!

[url=Here's their mini booklet on how to do the metta mindfulness (super interestihttp://www.dhammasukha.org/metta-barebones-booklet.htmlng) ]Here's their mini booklet on how to do the metta mindfulness (super interesting) - it'll blow your miiiiiiiinds, maybe..

P.s. let me know your thoughts on TWIM