Start over from zero

Darrell, modified 6 Years ago.

Start over from zero

Posts: 143 Join Date: 2/22/15 Recent Posts
Greetings all,

As some of you, at least those of you who have taken the time to read my posts and respond, may recall, I recently made a big(ish) move. I relocated back to Texas, where I'm originally from, after being in Georgia for fifteen years. The move was voluntary, and something my wife and I both wanted. That hasn't made things any easier at all. Well, it's been five weeks now, and I'm finally getting around to posting. It's good I waited, as it has allowed time to really see the effect the move had on me. Despite this being a return back home, it has done the number on me that big moves are known for. But the biggest toll has been on my practice. I didn't sit at all the first several days after we arrived here (or rearrived to borrow a word from James Joyce). I was really upset to get what I did once I did sit that first time, and it hasn't gotten much better since then. When I sit, my mind is just racing, out of control. It's worse than what it was like when I first took up meditation in the spring/summer of 2004. My concentration wasn't great before the move, but there were signs it was on its way to improving and deepening. Namely that I'd get small stretches of a very single pointed focus. Now it's a miracle if I can keep my concentration through one inhalation exhalation. Usually by the time I go to exhale, I'm gone. I've tried counting breaths, and other techniques, but nothing seems to help.

I'd also previously been working on keeping my attention in the present moment, and in spite of my poor ability to do so, again, there had been progress over the last ten months or so. That's also taken a hit, and I'm basically back to zero. The really distressing one, as if the interference in my meditation weren't enough, is that desire for things has returned. After a pretty powerful experience last October or November (I wrote about this experience in the diagnostic forum) my desire for almost everything was either seriously diminished, or in many cases, gone altogether. After being a musician of 33 + years, and earning a living from it for about twenty of those years, all desire was gone. It wasn't apathy, or depression, but an actual freedom from desire. There wasn't much that could add to or improve whatever was happening right then. Strangely, I find myself more motivated to play, to seek out opportunities to do so with others, as well as desire for other things that had receded into the background, or disappeared almost completely.

I've been fairly discouraged by all of this, and it has made me have thoughts of just quitting. Fortunately, there is something inside that won't let me. It just refuses to quit. And I keep sitting, in spite of it seeming to be unproductive. I have cut my time down from two hours a day, morning and night, to half an hour morning and night. Although I have added walking meditation for ten minutes prior to each sitting. But still, there are times, when I feel like the effort is questionable. Just today, I realized I was out and about in the car, and I wasn't listening to a talk the way I always would, at least for the last year. I thought to myself "To heck with it, I should just listen to music instead." but chose silence instead.

Anyway, there's not a question here. But if anyone has any experiencwe with this, or something like it, I'd really appreciate hearing it. Any input or feedback would be great too. This whole affair has raised many questions in my mind. I'll get back to bugging everyone with my questions, per my usual M.O. here shortly.
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Noah, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Start over from zero

Posts: 1532 Join Date: 7/6/13 Recent Posts
I'd also previously been working on keeping my attention in the present moment, and in spite of my poor ability to do so, again, there had been progress over the last ten months or so. That's also taken a hit, and I'm basically back to zero. 


You still spent time carving out pathways in the mind and brain, which is a momentum that can't disappear completely.  When you return to meditation, and to going through the nanas/jhanas, it will obviously be easier than if you had never meditated.  Thats my experience.  I think all the effort piles up in the cookie jar over the years, rather than draining out of a hole in the bottom.  I did tons of unfocused, inconsistent experimentation with different techniques that I think helped me once I got serious.  
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. Jake ., modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Start over from zero

Posts: 698 Join Date: 5/22/10 Recent Posts
This all sounds totally normal. I don't have any really technical advice or anything but figured I would just chime in and normalize your experience. I'm hearing you say that for a while things were one way (apparent freedom from desiring), which was a big and apparently positive change from how they were generally before that (desiring things), and now things have changed again. That sounds super normal.

What I've found over the years is that things have continued to change, and to do so in a non-linear way. what does non-linear mean in this context? well, if you'd plot a line of development from less-desirable states of mind (more distracted, agitated, disconnected from others) towards more desirable (more focused. at peace, connected):

less fun states as baseline>>------------->>more fun states as baseline

it's not a linear steady progress from left to right. The whole process naturally circles around alot. I think there are lots of factors at play most of which are beyond our control (hormonal seasonal cycles, life circumstances, presence or absence of stressors) and possibly many which are beyond our awareness.

BUT what seems to have been happening, when I zoom out and look at the big picture of how life is unfolding, is that attachment to things being a particular way is consistently fading over time. This means when I am circling back to experiencing a lot of racing thoughts or agitation, for instance, and sitting has become relatively chalenging, there's also a sense of nonchalance about that. not indifference, just, being open to and not struggling with the racing thoughts and agitated sensations. Not using these phenomena to define a stable separate sense of self as much. Paradoxically, the experience of having racing thoughts and sensations of agitation/restlessness while I'm sitting now actually feels very different than it did when I first started meditating. They feel like just racing thoughts and agitated sensations. No big whoop. [ETA: Also, the same attitude increasingly applies to 'spiritual experiences'. For some reason I find this particularly funny sometimes. Being in a really powerful spiritual state with lots of bells and whistles where previously I'd be like "aha- this is IT! this is IT! Now how do I make this stick?" and now it's just, just a powerful spiritual experience of oneness or whatever. Same flavor as the racing thoughts and agitation!]

Make sense?

Also, during times when such phenomena predominate, I have found it useful to engage in physical forms of meditation- yoga, movement practice, just mindful jogging. Mindful guitar playing. Active meditations. sometimes our energy just isn't authentically geared towards sitting still and that's OK too. It's also OK to experiment with sitting still even so and being open to the racing thoughts and agitated sensations.
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Start over from zero

Posts: 1641 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Like Jake says this is normal and we all go through "ahhhhh I'll just go watch a movie...ahhhhh I'll just go have a beer." What I found is that because I never stopped searching for different practices (including western psychology) I always found different tools to use.

One thing I've learned is that people like Thanissaro Bhikkhu are good at reminding people of the "wet path" and to just enjoy the breath as it is. Even if you don't go into a jhana the enjoyment part of your mind being treated as an ally to follow the breath is very skillful when the mind wants to wander. Making your breath comfortable makes your mind comfortable. Attitudes can bend to causes and effects that you create.

I've also found that once meditation has reduced stress down to a low level it's possible to use intrinsic motivation to follow healthy goals and blameless pursuits so that those desires don't bite you back. Use your breath to sooth yourself and then let habitual intentions arise and pass away. Then put in some pleasant imagery of something you should do and make it vivid (eg. Thinking of washing dishes won't do it but thinking of the dishes being clean already will), so your desire is directed and the intention moves where you want it to. You don't want a fight or flight response to healthy desires.

There's something about acting on desires to numb the stress that is painful but acting on desires out of intrinsic motivation feels so much better.

You'll notice this is working when you have a little aversion to do something but you stop and relax with the breath until you feel better and then think of the benefits of some short-term goal and act on that intention.

Taking a break is good and sometimes seeing the mind getting noisy again can remind you to comeback to what you know will bring peace again.
Darrell, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Start over from zero

Posts: 143 Join Date: 2/22/15 Recent Posts
Noah - Excellent point. It does help to remember there's a neurological component to this, and that we are talking about actual brain change, no matter what else is going on, or happens. I haven't stopped meditating, although there have been a few days where I thought maybe I ought to give up. And I haven't stopped what practice I have, but I certainly have been stymied and frustrated. But quitting isn't an option. If I'd actually made it to the jhanas, then I suspect we'd be having a different conversation. And the nanas are where I have my sights set once I'm through whatever this is I'm currently experiencing. I enjoy a cookie jar as an analogy for all this.

Jake - Having someone normalize this is perfect. It helps to know you're not alone, that others have gone through the same or similar. The idea of progress on the path reminds me of a quote from someone about how we're dealing not with something linear, but cycles nested within cycles, nested within cycles. But if I understand you correctly, you're saying that you come back through this and other territory regularly, or semi-regularly? Interesting. But yeah, I get what you're saying about things just being racing thoughts, or a powerful spiritual experience. You mean that you're not identifying with them, making a self out of them, and becoming embedded in them. That's something I'm aware of, and am able to a little bit. I still have a long way to go with that. But your last comments - I'll try to just let the racing/busy thinking be and just sit. I suppose it could be a means of practicing watching things rise and pass away, seeing as how staying with the breath is getting nowhere.
And it sounds like adding walking meditation to my practice is the right idea at the right time. I'm really learning how to do it this time, whereas when I was a part of a Zen sangha, no one ever explained it, they just said "Do it" basically, and you were on your own.

Richard - So the constant search for different practices keep you spread thin? I've done a fair bit of jumping around over the last year, and have wondered if it wasn't working against me. But are you saying different tools have helped you when you were stuck at different points in your practice? I've heard Than Geoff discuss that very thing you mention, and have been working with it since around the beginning of last summer, but haven't gotten too far with it yet. I've suspected that maybe greater/improved concentration will allow me to have more success with that, but perhaps I've got it backwards.

And I've heard a lot about this wet path vs. dry path. What is this exactly? And at risking appearing dense, how would define and explain intrinsic motivation. I'd like to know that I understand you correctly.
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Start over from zero

Posts: 1641 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Darrell:

Richard - So the constant search for different practices keep you spread thin? I've done a fair bit of jumping around over the last year, and have wondered if it wasn't working against me. But are you saying different tools have helped you when you were stuck at different points in your practice? I've heard Than Geoff discuss that very thing you mention, and have been working with it since around the beginning of last summer, but haven't gotten too far with it yet. I've suspected that maybe greater/improved concentration will allow me to have more success with that, but perhaps I've got it backwards.

And I've heard a lot about this wet path vs. dry path. What is this exactly? And at risking appearing dense, how would define and explain intrinsic motivation. I'd like to know that I understand you correctly.
Intrinsic motivation is what you would do without coercion. Read this:

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/683539.Why_We_Do_What_We_Do

I would read Flow by Csikszentmihayli on how to induce Flow states simply by adjusing your skills or challenges so you don't need meditation all the time.

The wet path is to use the enjoyment of concentration and to do all the jhanas but to end up knowing that there is always some form of stress with your attention span. You let go of intentionality completely for some rest. Each movement of the attention span can possibly have stress because the amygdala is surveying the environment to have a fight or flight response to control the environment. Preferences cause stress (even meditation preferences) and seeing that having a preference to meditate or not can be filled with the same intention/stress. You want to have less by doing things like the Sky-gazing practice where you relax the intention to pay attention. You can see it working when you let go of attention to objects (of any kind) and re-engage reactivity in more skillful ways. Eg you don't want to walk into a lamp-post. 

Then I would look at Albert Bandura for understanding Self-Efficacy. The highest form of motivation is when you experience mastery experiences and of course this goes will with Flow in that you want to avoid biting off more than you can chew or doing something that is too easy.

This stuff is better explained than what Daniel said (no offense) but he meant the same thing when he said people shouldn't overly restrict their intentions.
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Noah, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Start over from zero

Posts: 1532 Join Date: 7/6/13 Recent Posts
Richard:

This stuff is better explained than what Daniel said (no offense) but he meant the same thing when he said people shouldn't overly restrict their intentions.


Can you elaborate on this?  Are you referencing MCTB?  Sorry, not trying to stir up the pot, just genuinely interested in self-efficacy.
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Start over from zero

Posts: 1641 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Noah:
Richard:

This stuff is better explained than what Daniel said (no offense) but he meant the same thing when he said people shouldn't overly restrict their intentions.
Can you elaborate on this?  Are you referencing MCTB?  Sorry, not trying to stir up the pot, just genuinely interested in self-efficacy.
He was responding to another poster that I read (probably a couple of years ago) to let go of controlling intentions.

To me I just soothe stress with the breath quickly then look at the benefit of some intention you should have (trying to sell it to yourself in small chunks of goals) and act on it over and over again. This is intrinsic motivation. Then looking at Myers-Briggs they want you to notice how much less pain there is when you do something over and over again until it's a new habit.

It's also possible that I have so much less stress from meditation that the motivation part is just easier to use now.

I'm mixing a whole bunch of stuff together because I find each area gets only part of it right, but when put together it's awesome. 

Self-efficacy is just knowing that you can do something. So you develop your skills long enough precisely to get to that point because if you know you can do something it's hardly aversive and the motivation is at it's highest. If you do mental contrasting and feel that the goal is too difficult you'll probably give up or find it stressful to force yourself against your will.

Here's a Buddhist article on Intrinsic motivation:


http://www.tricycle.com/blog/turning-intention-motivation
Darrell, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Start over from zero

Posts: 143 Join Date: 2/22/15 Recent Posts
All of this is very interesting. It brings to mind a talk I listened to recently by Ajahn Brahm (who I find entertaining, but have some doubts about as a teacher). He describes conditioning, in order to get results, in terms of desired action from others or yourself as simply expressing an idea verbally. If done simply, without coercion or pressure, just expressed as a simple, quiet idea, that the brain will grasp hold of it, and eventually produce the desired result. I was dubious when I listened to him describe it, and I am still. But these ideas your presenting here, Richard, seem much more viable. Thanks for the information.
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Richard Zen, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Start over from zero

Posts: 1641 Join Date: 5/18/10 Recent Posts
Darrell:
All of this is very interesting. It brings to mind a talk I listened to recently by Ajahn Brahm (who I find entertaining, but have some doubts about as a teacher). He describes conditioning, in order to get results, in terms of desired action from others or yourself as simply expressing an idea verbally. If done simply, without coercion or pressure, just expressed as a simple, quiet idea, that the brain will grasp hold of it, and eventually produce the desired result. I was dubious when I listened to him describe it, and I am still. But these ideas your presenting here, Richard, seem much more viable. Thanks for the information.
Whatever works is the motto of this website. Just keep the meditation to reduce stress until you feel better then look at the benefits of some small goal or small part of a larger goal (never the big goal in total because it works in the opposite direction. Break it down in actionable chunks in a day). Try to enjoy directing your intentions to do things you thought you couldn't do before. It's a lot of fun. But remember to use meditation to let go of unskillfulness and have goals that don't attract blame or self-blame.
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Noah, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Start over from zero

Posts: 1532 Join Date: 7/6/13 Recent Posts
Darrell:

And the nanas are where I have my sights set once I'm through whatever this is I'm currently experiencing.


Dude, this probably IS the nanas.  There are lots of sub-stages within each nana.  As you go through each of these, as your cutting edge on the cushion, you might experience the side effects of that cutting edge most strongly while off the cushion.  Meaning, you might cycle up and down from your cutting edge several times a day (both on and off the cushion), but if you've been having a shitty time, your probably in dn stages or 3rd jhana sub-stage of one the first 3 nanas.

Your spiritual cutting edge cross-polinates with brain chemistry, life situations, and lots of other stuff to create your mood.  So there is no clean cut way to tell, but if you keep a regular practice log a teacher could probably say with high certainty.  



Darrell, modified 6 Years ago.

RE: Start over from zero

Posts: 143 Join Date: 2/22/15 Recent Posts
Noah, I hadn't considered that. But having read the description from The Progress of Insight, and one or two other places, my experience hadn't seemed to match any of the descriptions I'd read. I'd been wondering for some time how it is that a person initiates and continues to make progress through the nanas.

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