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I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing

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I've been practicing for 8 years in the goenka tradition. I started by doing one course a year, and now sit one course a year and serve one course a year. Following Goenkaji's admonishment, I felt it was best to stick with one practice rather than bounce around, so that is what I have done. 

Aside from my practice, I've studied a decent bit and I am basically fluent with the beliefs of theravadian buddhism. 

I have a great deal of trouble sitting still for an hour, or sometimes even five minutes. Despite a lot of work, I feel completely powerless to control my restless mind, and I feel like it is a huge hurdle. My eyes open, my hands wander, my legs open, I stretch, I look around the room, I day dream, and I'm generally very restless. 

In general, I hate the process of meditating. I do it because I know that it improves my mental life, but I just hate it. Sometimes it's a bearable mix of good and bad, most of the time I just flat hate doing it. 

I don't know how to handle this. Sometimes I am at peace with my restlessness and accept that I don't have that particular virtue, other times I am really disheartened. How can I do anything if I can't even sit still? There are many sessions that go by where it doesn't seem I meditate at all. 

Is there anything I can do to overcome this hurdle? 

I have recently begun mixing in contemplations of the decaying corpse, which have helped calm me a bit, but not in a way that seems to resolve the problem.

(This also makes it very difficult for me to maintain a daily practice). 

RE: I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing
Answer
8/25/15 1:06 AM as a reply to Joshua D.
Some thoughts:
-try noting instead of body scanning
-try freestyle noting instead of fixed-object noting
-try noting in daily life
-get a meditation mentor to communicate with on a regular basis throughout daily life practice instead of the traditional retreat-interview format

RE: I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing
Answer
8/25/15 1:06 AM as a reply to Joshua D.
It sounds like you've given Goenka a good try.  Many people who've come up through Goenka find their way to this pragmatic tradition.

A few months after my first retreat (Goenka), I found my way here, read 'Mastering the Core Teaching of the Buddha' and found a whole new path forward.  I gained a *great* deal from that first retreat, but I found a lot to gain here.

You probably will hear from people that say you're doing just fine.  Being able to 'stick it out' instead of giving up is priceless, but I'd guess, you should really shake up your practice, try new things.  Good practice, on and off the cushion, produces noticeable results, on and off the cushion.

Matt

RE: I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing
Answer
8/25/15 1:12 AM as a reply to Matt.
Jhana meditation can be a huge kick in the pants. Be forewarned, it can be distracting and addicting, but it can also be a great way to shake up your understanding of your own mind.  Check out this series, see if anything sounds familiar:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PRdiOoTZC3A

It seems ludicrous that it can be so simple, but you may be surprised at what you recognise.

Matt

RE: I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing
Answer
8/25/15 6:27 AM as a reply to Joshua D.
Joshua D:
I've been practicing for 8 years in the goenka tradition. I started by doing one course a year, and now sit one course a year and serve one course a year. Following Goenkaji's admonishment, I felt it was best to stick with one practice rather than bounce around, so that is what I have done. 

Aside from my practice, I've studied a decent bit and I am basically fluent with the beliefs of theravadian buddhism. 

I have a great deal of trouble sitting still for an hour, or sometimes even five minutes. Despite a lot of work, I feel completely powerless to control my restless mind, and I feel like it is a huge hurdle. My eyes open, my hands wander, my legs open, I stretch, I look around the room, I day dream, and I'm generally very restless. 

In general, I hate the process of meditating. I do it because I know that it improves my mental life, but I just hate it. Sometimes it's a bearable mix of good and bad, most of the time I just flat hate doing it. 

I don't know how to handle this. Sometimes I am at peace with my restlessness and accept that I don't have that particular virtue, other times I am really disheartened. How can I do anything if I can't even sit still? There are many sessions that go by where it doesn't seem I meditate at all. 

Is there anything I can do to overcome this hurdle? 

I have recently begun mixing in contemplations of the decaying corpse, which have helped calm me a bit, but not in a way that seems to resolve the problem.

(This also makes it very difficult for me to maintain a daily practice). 

This is what I did when I moved on from 8 years of Goenka inspired practice. You might need to try something else that engages your conditioning more so than current approaches. If you need to chat, send me an email at nhalay at gmail. 

Nick

RE: I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing
Answer
8/25/15 7:52 AM as a reply to Joshua D.
My only thought on this is that I've learned NOT to try to 'control my restless mind.' My job is not to control my mind. My job is simply to observe its tendency to wander and chase, and then gently bring it back to the chosen object of meditation (which in my case, currently, is Metta). There's a reason it's called "monkey mind." We all have that. The trick is getting to know its tendencies, then setting up a practice that gently and gradually tames it.

As for your tendency to move about and fidget during your sits...that's likely a symptom of your hatred of sitting in the first place. But it's not like your body decides to move without your brain first telling it to do so. Next time you sit and the urge to idget arises, take a look at yourself...what is driving this desire? Is it a bodily need (like pain)? Not likely, since this desire is happening so often. There is something else that is driving this and it could very well be boredom, ill-will towards having to sit in the first place, whatever - Just remember, you are in control of your physical faculties, and you will need to start reeling in these tendencies.  Maybe engaging in a practice that you actually *enjoy* and find *fun* and which *feels good* would be a good rememdy for this right now?

RE: I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing
Answer
8/25/15 10:06 AM as a reply to Joshua D.
Thank you for your thoughts everyone, and I would appreciate any more that you might have. 

After posting this (and reading this article: http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/dharma-wiki/-/wiki/Main/ReformedSlackersGuide?p_r_p_185834411_title=ReformedSlackersGuide) I sat again last night, but with a zealous intention to pursue awareness at every second, in the vein outlined by that article. That shorter late-night sit was without much aggitation or restlessness. The hatred of sitting wasn't present (although I got up after about 15 minutes). 

Similarly, for this morning's hour sit, I adopted the same mindstate. Less laid back, more zealous. More engaged and hungry. Similarly, this session was free of much physical restlessness. I reacted to a plane flying very low over head (by opening my eyes), I shifted my posture a few times, and wiped a hair off my face once. Otherwise, I was able to push past the restlessness into awareness.

I worked in a little bit of "noting" (in my limited understanding of it) while still staying in the basic framework of Goenkaji's teaching. When my mind was more diffuse, I let my attention wander from place to place noting sensations (and some mental phenomena) as they arose. When my mind was more acute, I moved part by part, but with a more engaged mind than I typically have. 

I tried filling the un-engaged parts of my mind with two things: 1. awareness of being aware (as outlined in the article above) and 2. understanding of annica. 

I don't fully "get" that second one. I did my best to just conceptualize and realize that things are impermanent while being aware and equanimous. The idea of "with the understanding of annica" (Goenkaji's words) is a difficult one for me to translate into action.

I'm going to continue pursuing this more aggressive style of meditation and see how it goes. I think perhaps one of my problems was being too lax. 

---

After a long period of tumultuous sensations and mental states (perhaps 45 minutes), my mental state shifted and the excitement and noise fell away. However, at this point, I found it more difficult to be aware of sensation, which was surpising to me. It took me a few minutes to recognize this. Once I did, I had to sort of re-calibrate my mind to the more neutral sensations, but the mind remained a bit less able to feel them or willing to observe them attentively.

Any thoughts on that?

Thank you again for your thoughts. 

RE: I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing
Answer
8/25/15 10:53 AM as a reply to Joshua D.
Joshua D:


I don't fully "get" that second one. I did my best to just conceptualize and realize that things are impermanent while being aware and equanimous. The idea of "with the understanding of annica" (Goenkaji's words) is a difficult one for me to translate into action.
Hey Joshua, lots of good advice in this thread. About this quote...

I personally find Goenka's advice on equamity to be misleading and even counterproductive at times. Equanimity is a characteristic of certain states / stages of the progress of insight, and not of others. In particular, during the Dark Night, nanas 6-11 (Fear, Misery, Disgust, Desire for Delivery, Reobservation) it is very normal to be not equanimous at all. Trying to force myself to be equanimous does not help. Keeping on noting Mahasi-style does. Eventually I get into the stage Knowledge of Equanimity about Formations and things get better but not because I tried to be equanimous, but because it happens on its own by doing good meditation practice. 

So, long story short: my first advice is to stop trying too hard to be equanimous. It will come on its own.

Mahasi noting is much more effective at pushing me out of the Dark Night and into Equanimity. Differences between Mahasi noting and Goenka body scanning:
1. You note not only body sensations but also sounds, thoughts, smells (and, as practice deepens, space, self, the background... this will make sense in due time)
2. you can use labels whenever you need to if it helps,
3. awareness is choiceless instead of going in a pre-defined sequence of body parts.
That's it. Give it a shot.

At the most basic level, in the framework of Mahasi noting, anicca means: Since your conscious attention cannot grasp two things at the same time, even the seemingly solid sensation of "butt on the cushion" is, on closer inspection, not there most of the time - for example when, for a split second, your attention goes to the sound of someone shouting out of the window. So the sensation "butt on the cushion" is impermanent. That's pretty much it. Can you "see" that in your practice?

RE: I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing
Answer
8/25/15 10:50 AM as a reply to Joshua D.
Joshua D:


After a long period of tumultuous sensations and mental states (perhaps 45 minutes), my mental state shifted and the excitement and noise fell away. However, at this point, I found it more difficult to be aware of sensation, which was surpising to me. It took me a few minutes to recognize this. Once I did, I had to sort of re-calibrate my mind to the more neutral sensations, but the mind remained a bit less able to feel them or willing to observe them attentively.


This happens regularly to almost everyone and it is not necessarily a sign that you are not meditating well. It might even be a sign of progress.

It might not be that you are having difficulty being aware of sensations, but that you have switched your attention to a "stratum of mind" in which fewer things "happen", for example because you are paying attention to perceptive phenomena that are more in the background. (Happens to me in Dissolution)

A second possibility is that, having reached a state of greater equanimity, you are tempted to enjoy the newly found mental state (what Ken Folk calls Mid-Equanimity).

Whatever the case, keep inspecting.

RE: I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing
Answer
8/25/15 11:54 AM as a reply to Nikolai ..
Nick, the URL you linked to in "This is what I did..." just reverts back to this same thread.

RE: I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing
Answer
8/25/15 3:14 PM as a reply to Joshua D.
Joshua D:
...

After a long period of tumultuous sensations and mental states (perhaps 45 minutes), my mental state shifted and the excitement and noise fell away. However, at this point, I found it more difficult to be aware of sensation, which was surpising to me. It took me a few minutes to recognize this. Once I did, I had to sort of re-calibrate my mind to the more neutral sensations, but the mind remained a bit less able to feel them or willing to observe them attentively.

Any thoughts on that?

In my experience, my facility of awareness changes over the course of one sitting session, as does the sensations that seem to be available for awareness.  45 minutes was always a big turning point, where 'things get interesting'.  I think if you feel awareness of sensations is more difficult, that's a sign that you are in a *good* spot! emoticon  It's an opportunity to raise your game, move awareness to the next level of subtlety.

Check out this: http://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/1973107 for a discussion of the different levels of vipassana practice.  This link was a doorway for me into a new kind of practice.

Good luck!

RE: I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing
Answer
8/25/15 3:20 PM as a reply to Jeff Wright.
Jeff Wright:
Nick, the URL you linked to in "This is what I did..." just reverts back to this same thread.


Sorry, it was meant to be this link:
http://thehamiltonproject.blogspot.com.au/2011/01/yogi-toolbox-noting-part-1-nicks.html?m=1

RE: I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing
Answer
10/30/15 9:06 PM as a reply to Joshua D.
Joshua D:
I've been practicing for 8 years in the goenka tradition. I started by doing one course a year, and now sit one course a year and serve one course a year. Following Goenkaji's admonishment, I felt it was best to stick with one practice rather than bounce around, so that is what I have done. 

Aside from my practice, I've studied a decent bit and I am basically fluent with the beliefs of theravadian buddhism. 

I have a great deal of trouble sitting still for an hour, or sometimes even five minutes. Despite a lot of work, I feel completely powerless to control my restless mind, and I feel like it is a huge hurdle. My eyes open, my hands wander, my legs open, I stretch, I look around the room, I day dream, and I'm generally very restless. 

In general, I hate the process of meditating. I do it because I know that it improves my mental life, but I just hate it. Sometimes it's a bearable mix of good and bad, most of the time I just flat hate doing it. 

I don't know how to handle this. Sometimes I am at peace with my restlessness and accept that I don't have that particular virtue, other times I am really disheartened. How can I do anything if I can't even sit still? There are many sessions that go by where it doesn't seem I meditate at all. 

Is there anything I can do to overcome this hurdle? 

I have recently begun mixing in contemplations of the decaying corpse, which have helped calm me a bit, but not in a way that seems to resolve the problem.

(This also makes it very difficult for me to maintain a daily practice). 

Joshua, thank you for posting this and I really appreciated reading the replies and seeing your options opened up. I'm at the stage where I need to make my mind do things in order to get some command power over my mind. My instructors gave me practices to do consciously what my mind does unbidden and that includes immersion in creative visualization, since my mind is always creating or re-creating scenarios. I do that until the mind goes quiet.  

Since, like yourself, I have a rather noisy, distractable mind at this point, I one day decided to create all around me a "quiet mind" - as a concept. That was a blast! - watching the transformations of the mind until it went wholly quiet on the subject. Then I went into my core practice of removing some of those distractables from the mind.

I was taught to balance the negative core practice with the positive creative practice and it is working for me, slowly and surely. It also teaches me a better way than to struggle with the mind, and lose. If you chase the mind it runs away and if you try to run away from the mind it chases you. It always wins. Instead, be the Mind Whisperer  :-))


RE: I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing
Answer
10/30/15 11:43 PM as a reply to Joshua D.
Things that came to mind were more walking practice and/or working out before practice to burn off some of the energy and settle the body in the body in a more energetically balanced way.

Other thoughts: give the restless mind something to do: really power every fraction of a second mindfulness. That can go two ways: some people will find it uses the abundant energy and thus helps. Others at times will find it makes things worse. If it makes things worse, that is a sign that there is too much of that side of things:

Of the 7 Factors of Enligntenment, the first three: mindfulness, energy and investigation, are the edgy side.

Rapture is somewhere in the middle.

Tranquility, Concentration and Equanimity are the other side.

If you need more Tranquility: try pulling the energy way down the body, like to the breath in the abdomen or even farther. Try visualizing slow waves of breath going down far into the earth into the cool stone. That sort of thing can ground down the energy.

If concentration is lacking: nothing like candle-flame to boost that: www.firekasina.org.

If Equanimity is lacking: Open it up wide, include space, sound, visuals, and sit eyes open, gazing widely on the diffuse area in front of you with easy eyes and an open disposition that just accepts what comes as best you can in a low-key, chill way.

My thoughts this late night.

Happy Halloween!

RE: I Just Can't Sit Still / I Hate Practicing
Answer
11/1/15 5:04 AM as a reply to Matt.
re: matthew sexton (8/25/15 1:12 AM as a reply to matthew sexton.)

”Jhana meditation can be a huge kick in the pants. Be forewarned, it can be distracting and addicting, but it can also be a great way to shake up your understanding of your own mind."

I agree with this suggestion, as so much of what Joshua D depicts looks like an imbalance towards what Daniel M. Ingram calls the "edgy side" of the overall factors or mental qualities, solid and balanced establishment of which open a clear path.

The advice of Thanissaro Bhikku, who teaches a less formal, less distinctly sectarian (compared with the Mahasi line) method, is to find something that's pleasant and relatively peaceful to focus on initially, to extend through the bodily awareness ("get the body into positiong to meditate") so the mind has less distraction, to "get the mind into position to meditate". Be it some agreeable breathing through the body, or some calming focal point like a steady flame, or pool of water, or the grounding of earth, or some kind of good will (metta) feeling, or compassion or joy to share in observing other people's good times. Something along one of these, or some other direction – it's highly individual what actually does the job.

Given some such basis, calmly focus, gowith, concentrate with interest rather than pushy compulsion on it, and watch it grow, gathering strength and energy to support propelling into more arduous practices. That's what samadhi/concentration does in close cooperation with and support of insight work. That's an overall strategy of a balanced practice of samadhi-vipassana that's so firmly embedded in traditional teachings (and ostensibly in the recorded teachings of the Buddha).

The dictum "Be forewarned, it [concentration/jhana practice] can be distracting and addicting…" is very much overstated in Western circles, stemming to a large extent from lack of proper training and experience. That is, historically, the initial wave of Western teachers were handicapped in this way, and subsequently slant the issue s/w defensively; and oddly, to my mind, taken-up by much of the pragmatic school. I think there's also a tinge of deeply rooted Western-Christian Calvinism at work here too, in the suspicion of enjoyment. (As in the notion the body is evil, deserves punishment, while the soul alone embodies goodness.) Especially in the USA – a paradoxical situation pitting it's clear and persistent, if often subtle, roots in it's Puritan foundations against the sense of all-out individual freedom.

A co-relate in Buddhist teaching makes a distinction between enjoyment of "sensual" things, which is clearly distracting, addicting, vs the "blameless" enjoyment of mental tranquility, as a much better substitute ("trading candy for gold" as Thanissaro says), as well as directly supporting insight. In fact, one of the more advanced objects of study in vipassana work is the mind inconcentrative / jhanic states, as they have something in common with the end-goal peace and equanimity of mental liberation ("touching nibanna").

The thought from matthew sexton – "45 minutes was always a big turning point, where 'things get interesting'"– especially applies when mixing in, or alternatively with concentrating on samadhi-type practice. It just happens, for many people, that the mind (and body) often just needs to churn around, maybe to let habitual living tensions unwind on their own ,for a period of roughly 30-60 min. And then, all by itself, the mind often finds a place to enjoy the comfort of dropping all that, and a calming energization that's very rewarding, in both ease and pay-off in clarity and insight.

btw: a late night slip-up on the part of Daniel M. Ingram or new insight – that might bear more explanation? Traditionally, mindfulness is the central, balancing fulcrum between the "edgy" qualities of rapture, energy and investigation, and the calming, stabilizing qualities of tranquility, concentration, and equanimity.