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wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?

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Hi, I wish to start another insight practice again but have several queries I hope I may find answers or at least discussion of. I’ve tried numerous times, two 10 day retreats, one Mahasi one Goenka, main practice since finding DhO is noting. The problem is I didn’t ever seem to get anywhere apart from feeling a bit better. No recognisable stages of insight. Some peak experiences perhaps and some low ones too. I have a couple of ideas why I failed and a couple of alterations I'd like to me, which I think since may run contrary to the accepted ideas here may be worth asking your opinions. BTW I’m fully expecting someone to say 're-read the book, practice more, with better resolve, get lost, etc.' The thing is I tried that, and maybe for that reason you’ll write me off as a quitter, if so please feel free to stop reading now because I really don’t need that advice.

What I’ll say is that with the utmost respect for the dedication and achievements many here have achieved, I suspect there are many like me who for want of a better word failed. Before writing us all off as quitters I’d ask you to consider that perhaps the approach for some reason just didn’t quite fit? Not to give away my own responsibility to practice but I think in retrospect it may not be as simple as ‘quitter’ or ‘mushroom factor’ being the reason.

I’ve been dipping into Moshe Feldenkrais’ work, which is a movement form which teaches to improve movement and awareness and approach it from a nervous system first way, or in other words it is about learning, not forcing and repeating till you hit lucky. No he didn’t like Mahasi have instructions on stream entry through meditation(though he had some funky philosophies about self-awareness) but I think there may be something to be learnt and applied from his approach.

The Vipassana I’ve been exposed to so far has been pretty much been ‘sit there and note what comes up. Not getting anywhere? Try harder.’ Agree/disagree DhO people?

Please let me tell you about a couple of Feldenkrais principles and why I think they may be applicable to meditation. Firstly as said; in his approach (which I admit has different  goals) the approach is learning, and maximising the learning experience. He says that willpower is for people without skill and knowledge(watch a good dancer, do the strain?). If you were learning history say, would you prefer to write out a 1000 lines of each fact and thus learn via repetition? Go to 6 hour lectures? Or engage your nervous system, imagination, see from different angles, understand. Which do you think would give a fuller understanding? What about efficiency of time and energy?

Likewise let’s say you’re trying to improve your posture/learn a new movement? You can do it by squeezing/stretching muscles till they hurt, trying to copy others or advice, or alternatively listen to your body. Approach it with curiosity, interest, with a complete lack of pressure. If you are tense you feel less. If it hurts? Of course learn equanimity; but is that done best by forcing yourself to sit cross legged for four hours or perhaps you could expose more gradually. You come across a physical or emotional issue you can handle, approach with curiosity. Neuroscience is telling us that if you put the body in a painful position it will sensitise further to the pain. The threshold doesn’t get bigger, your willpower may, but the position elicits more and more pain with less effort(your brain perceives it as threat). Feldenkrais believes that pain like tension blinds and slows learning.

To summarise, the principles are be playful and curious, go slow and notice more, don’t work with an endpoint in mind, and enjoy the journey. Can these principles be similarly used in a successful meditation practice? Because it seems to me that meditation is a learning activity too.

My practice before was really working toward a goal (influencing my practice and perception?), fight through pain(to the point where yes I had the word equanimity in mind but also ‘hurry up and finish so I can get out of here’), achieve something(A&P, equanimity whatever I thought that means etc), and being very busy on the cushion trying not to miss anything(I think I was noting but not seeing what I noted).

So I’m curious if I applied some of these other principles;  slowed down, investigated, perfected posture, worked within limits, not tried to imagine my achievements ahead of time, or in general tried to enjoy my sits, would I still potentially learn the same lessons do you think?
I’m curious, don’t mean to be disrespectful to those who did it as prescribed and made it (and realise this post may come across arrogant which isn’t the intention). I’m sure if this was Burma I’d be kicked out the temple by now for disagreeing with the teaching, but the world is changing, we ask questions and that’s how we progress in my opinion.

What I want is an effective practice which takes me to the goal and doesn’t half kill me on the way(or makes my family disown me, lose job etc). Having failed more than once I can’t see the value in repeating past mistakes. I’m grateful for what I learnt then and it did help but also seemed to cause stress which was unsustainable then and is now. Does this really have to be a warrior quest? Because I’m not one. I don’t think I’m a mushroom either but if anyone wants to call me one go ahead.

Anyway if you made it this far thanks and I appreciate any feedback.
Sam

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
2/29/16 2:20 AM as a reply to sam sykes.
I feel you. I, too, have usually found the forcing of things to bite me in the ass later on. Or even right away, through the problems that come with physical tension to which you referred. And I suspect that even when I didn't notice the forcing to cause problems, it did, in some way that I'm too tense/shortsighted to see.

Seems to me, however, that learning happens either way: you take it too easy, you learn; you take it too hard, you learn; the pendulum will swing back. Pain and pleasure both show the way. Seems that merely the sustained intention to be more aware sooner or later leads to finding and developing more effective means to be aware. Of course, we might practice in part to punish ourselves due to feelings of worthlessness, or to get social approval, for instance. But even then, the suffering involved often helps clarify our goals. Like Alan Watts said: Sincerely, not seriously.

Over the last two years that I've been daily practicing, I've tried a bunch of different techniques, none of them longer than 4 months. I've spent some that of two years feeling centered and relaxed, but probably more time feeling confused, frazzled, doubtful, frustrated or even like being ripped to shreds and not being able to stand being in my own head; yet, I also notice a gradually growing ease in my life, a spontaneous gratitude and enjoyment in merely existing that I don't remember having ever been there before, and an increasing awareness of the ridiculousness of most of my thoughts. I like to think that the techniques which emphasize forgiveness, compassion and other forms of relaxation have been more effective for me, and maybe even for most people, but it seems that I still do the harsher kinds of techniques, as well. And I think it's better that I'm ok with that, too, that I be relaxed about not being relaxed. At least I seem to get more useful things done that way.

Take heart: Though on the DhO you'll find little consensus, you'll find plenty of people who appreciate where you're coming from: For instance, what is probably the most enduring thread on the forum is about Reichian therapy and related bodywork, techniques which mainly involve the releasing of emotional blocks through releasing chronic physical tension. Even traditions far from such bodywork have at the forefront people like Than Geoff and Culadasa, who are also frequently referenced on this board, and are dudes that over and over again instruct us to find and spread pleasure and ease in the body, and more generally to take joy in skillful action.

Edited for clarity. And out of compulsiveness.

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
2/29/16 2:11 AM as a reply to sam sykes.
Hi Sam,

Have you tried working with a teacher ? There are people happy to work remotely via internet/phone - Shinzen Young comes to mind.

Have you been involved with a local meditaiton group ? Sometimes it is much harder to stay motivated when isolated. 

Will be great seeing the post on how you solved this emoticon 

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
2/29/16 4:38 AM as a reply to sam sykes.
howdy sam.
good post.
in the olden daze people were born into a culture and were indoctrinated into that single culture with all of its advantages, disadvantages, warped and enlightened peculiarities.  so those people were stuck with what was accesible to them.

within those separated cultures there was most certainly a mix of predilictions and talents allowing for some to be considered geniuses and others to be considered idiots and the full range of possibilities in that spectrum.   some individuals have a karmic (physiological, mental) makeup which influences their optimal learning path.  for example, some people are very good at faith based approaches while others are more logically minded.  additionally some people are more wired for calm and others more for discrimination.

we live in a world now where there are virtually limitless possibilities to unfold our deep understanding of reality.  anyone who is a seeker of knowledege these days has unprecedented access to philosophies and techniques than ever before.  this fact can be a blessing or curse depending upon how one handles it.

the blessing is obvious.  an individual seeker can choose his course from a globally rich collection of traditions and even cherry pick certain aspects of many different methodologies which he believes to be beneficial.

the curse CAN be that due to the richly set table of possible choices, he goes to each seperate offering and takes a taste without ever settling down to find which offering is the best for him long term. 

i have been at this stuff for many years now and in some ways feel like an absolute beginner. in other ways i feel highly accomplished.  i have seen people come to this site and blaze through, reporting great success and awesome achievements.  i really respect and cherish those people and the example they set. 

my course, my progress, my accomplishments, have followed a less dramatic path.  stepping back and looking over the territory i have traveled I can see much improvement which was not necessarily visible at the time.  much of the reason for the obscurity of obvious progress was due to my expectations not aligning with my personal experience.

expectations are easy to grasp onto and to believe that they will mirror your personal journey.  the old saying that "the map is not the territory" is apt.  maps, others' experiences, the translation of all of these complicated concepts can never exactly match your path and to try to force your experience into an exact mold can be a recipe for dissapointment.  there are some people, though, who can attach themselves to a certain set of practices and work through them linearly and reach the goal easily.  these are the exception rather than the rule.

you are working with the body in your feldenkreis method.  that is good.  if it appeals to you that is a really great place to start.  the buddha also emphasized working with the breath (body) and other 'physical' practices.  these he placed at the beginning of his teachings for good reason.  they are understandable and everpresent. the deeper views do not need to be understood or even accepted to notice progress although those views will become more obvious, as being right or wrong, as one's practice deepens.  the buddha emphasized that the deathless was attained through the body.  he often mentioned the benefit of being born human as it is through the body that one reaches the ultimate goal.  event the devas and other beings in his cosmology were unable to practice deeply due to their lack of connection to the physical plane and its inherent dissatisfactory nature.  you don't need to believe in his cosmology but it doesn't hurt the case for bodily grounded practices.

many traditions use the body as a tool to calm down the citta to a point where one sees through the illusion of matter being the basis for reality.  the deeper ,more refined and subtle teachings can often only be genuinely understood when one has conquered agitation or torpor to some degree and so putting emphasis too early in one's practice on these things can lead some to frustration or feeling that they are making no progress.

in my case, much of my genuine progress was masked by the expectations i overlayed them with.  this mismatch between what others experienced and my interpretation about how i should feel, see etc. obscured my direct contact to what was happening IN EVERY MOMENT.

learning to enjoy as much as possible where i was and how i am as much as possible allows me to release the conceptual layer standing like a wall between the way things are and the way i though they should be.

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
2/29/16 7:12 PM as a reply to sam sykes.
Sam, I think you should the actual details of why you think you "failed" so that we can distinquish the failure from "I was making good progress but I hit the reobservation nana and it was too much for me." The details are important for diagnosing what went wrong (if anything).

From reading your description, I'm going to take a guess that with all of your striving you probably overlooked some of the basic dynamics of how positive, negative, and neutral experiences create greed, aversion, and ignorance. My experience is that it's possible to do quite a lot of sitting, but have things fall apart because we are never quite looking closely enough and instead we're kinda ignoring what's happening while thinking about progress and the goal. (Happened many times to me!) Basically, meditation will beat us up until we take a step back and reconsider what we're doing in the first place. Just sitting and noting without progress feels like masochism, because it is.

Sitting must be an intelligent investigaton. It isn't about how many breaths you can count in a row or about how continuously you note. The whole point of sitting is to provide an opportunity for the mind to see that there is a difference between sensations and emotions. Sensations are just sensations, and emotions are too... but usually we see emotions as "I" and we suffer. We experience an emotion and old habits of reacting kick in, and we make a mess of things.

So sitting is about noticing what is occuring, including more and more of our subjective experience into awareness, and --- most importantly --- seeing how our attitudes toward sensations of self lead to suffering. Watching the breath and noting is designed to help us look >right now< at how our very primal attitudes toward very primal experiences create suffering. Normally the natural intelligence of the mind will tease this all apart for us if we just sit and use the breath or noting as an anchor... but sometimes we get so fascinated with the anchor (or our thoughts about how well the practice is going) that we need to be pointed back to the actual experience of the sit.

At any given moment, there is a sense of being, a sense of self. Those sensations change. So does our feeling of self worth. It's not as simple as as when we feel pleasure, we feel good, and when we feel discomfort, we feel bad. It's bizarrely complicated (yet completely knowable). Sometimes we feel good when we're in pain because we think we're making progress. Sometimes we feel bad when we feel pleasure, because where ashamed of feeling pleasure. And of course, sometimes pleasure makes us feel good, pain makes us feel bad, and neutral sensations lull us into ignoring what is going on (followed soon by fantisizing).

Once you get a sense of what you are looking for, meditation becomes endlessly fascinating. Look at this subjective experience of "I having an experience". Notice the I-ness. Notice the quality of the experience. Notice how those relate to each other. Notice how we are trying to pull some kinds of experience toward us (want it!) and how we push some kinds of experience away (no!). And wow, seconds later, it's a whole difference experience. In a thirty minute sit, we can be reborn about 200 different times. Each "birth" creating a new moment of grabbing, avoiding, or ignoring. How exhausting and how strange, since all we are doing is sitting on a cushion doing absolutely nothing.

So why do we put such trust in the reality of this mind?

After a while, it becomes easier and easier to see how the reality of the mind just happens and is constantly changing and is, at best, a good guess at reality. So you don't take it as seriously. Yet all the time spent sitting makes the mind very sensitive, so it's more accurate than ever. Except where it is still inaccurate, which causes suffering. Eventually you don't worry about suffering appearing, you actually welcome it, becuase you know what where there is suffering, something important is being ignored. So you welcome suffering and you investigate it, which is a totally different way of going through life.

Nothing throws you off track anymore, suffering has become >fuel< for investigation, for intelligence in meditation. And all the nanas and paths happen.

It's pretty much that simple. If you are having a shitty time in meditation, take a look at your attitude. Why is just sitting around, breathing, and doing nothing beside being aware so shitty? If it is just the pain of sitting, it's okay to adjust your position or try standing instead. But if it is thoughts and emotions, what is your relationship to them. Are they "you" or are they occuring in your awareness? Can you experience them as not-you but within-you? Does suffering increase or decrease when you do that? At the contact point of experience, do you see how your habits of mind react to sensations of pleasure, discomfort, or neutral sensations with greed, aversion, or ignoring?

The closer you can look at that point of contact where sensations becomes suffering, the better your natural intelligence will tease apart how suffering is created. 

If there is no suffering, then simply rest in the experience. Allow yourself to rest as awareness.

This cycle -- rest, suffering, investigation, rest -- simply happens many thousands of times during practice, unteasing the whole problem of suffering.

Hope that helps in some way. 

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
3/1/16 2:20 AM as a reply to sam sykes.
This sounds like you didn't have a very helpful teacher. A 10-day retreat is often enough to really get somewhere. Even if you do not end up at Equanimity, you would normally have some real insights to see for yourself that the method works for you.

So, it is totally possible that noting/body scanning doesn't work for you. There are different methods for a reason, so you could go and try something different.

Re Feldenkrais:
I don't like the focus on pain either. Some teachers (Bhante Sujato for instance) will tell you that you should avoid pain in your meditation, because it makes your meditation about pain and that is just not helpful.
"Trying harder" if you don't get results is a recipe for disaster, unless you were really slack before.

If you do a normal ATM-lesson(I'm a fan), what happens is that you lie down to get relaxed and temporarily free the mind. Then you slowly try some basic movements. Then the chaotic mind kicks in - the conditions you set allow the mind to try out 100 different variations of the movement which you didn't know before. By chance, you will discover more muscles, which you can then relax, and you will also find more efficient movements. You have learned something.

If you do an hour of sitting meditation/10 days of retreat, what happens is that you create an environment where your usual reactions are ignored. You sit down to relax and temporarily free the mind from its usual burdens. Then, in a relaxed fashion, you are mindful of the breath. Then the chaotic mind kicks in - the conditions you have set allow the mind to do 1.000.000 different things, which it doesn't usually do. Since you have nothing else to do, you can see those things in more detail.
But what happens now is completely different from what happens in an ATM-lesson: many of the things the mind does are unskillful, and you can see how they lead to suffering. The simple act of observation and noting itself will lead you through the progress of insight. At equanimity, the process finally becomes somewhat reflexive/recursive and simply confusing. This sort of thing just doesn't happen in an ATM-lesson because you distract yourself with the new movements.

Similarity between ATM and meditation:
1) Be relaxed. That provides conditions for the brain to go chaotic and do new things.
2) Avoid pain. This facilitates relaxation and prevents distraction.
3) Simply create the right conditions and don't expect stuff/don't try to do things "in a good way". Just show up and follow the basic instructions, learning will arise by itself.

Differences:
1) In meditation, pain can sometimes be ignored. When the mind is focused on the meditation enough, the pain is often not sufficient to pull the mind out of meditation, so you can continue and actually still profit. If the pain becomes too strong, you have to change your posture.
2) In meditation, the chaotic mind is not immediately liberating. It shows you a lot of suffering first.
3) In meditation, posture will be influenced by the nana you are in. Perfecting posture is therefore hardly possible. You run the risk of being distracted with posture instead of meditating.

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
3/1/16 3:34 AM as a reply to sam sykes.
Hello Sam, welcome! emoticon 

You write a lot about your interpretation of why "it did not work", but almost nothing of what actually happened during your retreats and your practice. Before we discount your practice so far as ineffective, personally I would like to know more about how it actually works for you. There is the possibility that you are not particularly prone to strong sukha/piti effects and not particularly sensitive to DN-like effects, and you are making progress on the Insight map without realising it. Or maybe you are overestimating how strong the effects of the insight stages are supposed to be,

So, if the traditional stages of insight do not seem to describe your practice, what about Daniel's Hierarchy of Vipassana practice?

http://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/2714156

1) Not trying to practice, lost in one's stuff, spacing out, mindfulness weak.

2) Mindfulness weak, lost in one's stuff, but at least attempting some technique at times, even if one can't actually do it. People spend whole retreats at this level, unfortunately.

3) Able to actually practice and follow basic instructions somewhat, such as noting, body scanning, or whatever you are trying to do. I'll go non-technique specific here, as this is a guide to the essence of the thing. Basically any technique or object or posture that moves you up this hierarchy and keeps you there is what matters, and nothing about the specifics of what you are paying attention to or how you are trying to pay attention to it is important so long as it serves that fundamental goal. 

4) Able to actually do a specific vipassana technique or set of techniques well with few interruptions.

5) Able to actually do that with no interruptions.

6) To be able to directly perceive the Three Characteristics of objects in the center of attention consistently and directly whether or not one is using a more specific technique or not. In short, if you can do this, at that time and for however long that lasts, whether or not you use a more formal technique is irrelevant.

7) To be able to directly and continuously perceive the sensations that make up the coarse background components also in that same light of strong, direct vipassana awareness, meaning direct comprehension of the Three Characteristics of not only the foreground objects, but things like rapture, equanimity, fear, doubt, frustration, analysis, expectation and other sensations in the periphery, as well as other objects as they arise, such as thoughts and the component sensations of feelings as well as the primary object or objects, assuming one is even using primary objects at this point, which is not necessary.

8) To be able to do #7 very well and then add core processes such as the sensations that seem to make up attention itself, intention itself, memory itself, questioning, effort, surrender, subtle fear, space, consciousness, and everything that seems to be Subject or Observer or Self all the way through the skull, neck, chest, abdomen and all of space such that nothing is excluded from this comprehensive, cutting, piercing, instantly comprehending clarity that is synchronized with all phenomena or just about to be.

9) Able to do #8 naturally, effortlessly and clearly due to one's diligent efforts to write that wiring on the mind as one's new baseline default mode of perception.

10) We are back where we started: one comprehends simultaneously two of the Three Characteristics of one's entire sense field completely including, space, consciousness, and everything else in that volume as an integrated whole and so attain to Change of Lineage, Path and Fruition. That's what you are shooting for if you are going for stream entry at least, and it even works well for the sort of continuous complete mindfulness that brings on higher paths.


Which of these stages best describes your vipassana practice so far?

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
3/1/16 3:40 AM as a reply to sam sykes.
Last, but very much not least:

No one here will think of you as a mushroom or kick you out of the temple. Whatever your answers to my other questions, I would be super curious to hear about your Feldenkrais approach. I am a huge fan of meditating while taking a walk outside. And I don't mean the slow, mindful walk of a Mahasi retreat, but a fast, energetic walk through parks and city streets, with the noise, distractions and all - what I mean is, different things work for different people: Whatever works for you is the right thing to do emoticon

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
3/1/16 5:00 AM as a reply to neko.
neko:

I would be super curious to hear about your Feldenkrais approach.[...]

I'm not the OP, but I can talk about my own experience about it after taking lessons for almost 2 years:
Feldenkrais method is awesome.
(if you search for dharmaoverground the feldenkrais method, you'll find an old account of my first encounter with it)
It mainly consists of doing weird slow movements rolling on the ground with lots of breaks. Then, after an hour or so, some basic aspect of movement feels better, feels more elegant, has more range and is suddenly pain-free.
And you have little idea how that happened, because you learned stuff in small steps while on the ground, and you hardly noticed. It feels like magic, and the mechanism involved is unknown to most people.
You thought that yoga/tai chi/physical therapy/massage/... was the way to go if you wanted to learn better posture/movement? Think again.

What is interesting about it is how many of its basic principles fly in the face of everything else, including common sense and many aspects of meditation culture:
-Repetition is avoided. You will NEVER get an assignment such as "do this simple exercise over and over for 10.000 hours" as you would from a meditation teacher. The reasoning behind that is that you stop learning if you give the mind the same input again and again. Therefore, if you take Feldenkrais lessons, you will do something else every time.
-Pain is avoided at all costs. Pain will be the strongest sense impression you have, and thus shut out your ability to sense the fine nuances of everything else. If you can't follow the instructions without pain, modify the instructions.
-There is no right way to do stuff. Try out everything, and you will find better and better ways to do movements.
-If you can't do something, it's probably because you use too much and misguided effort. "Try harder" is a recipe for getting better at doing things poorly.
-Stretching and warming up is not a part of it. Warming up is not necessary because it is not exercise. Stretching is simply not necessary to find better ways of movements. You can improve range of motions to a great extent just by improving body coordination.

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
3/1/16 8:36 AM as a reply to bernd the broter.
You got me interested. Is it possible to give it a shot on one's own with a book and/or videos?

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
3/1/16 12:17 PM as a reply to neko.
Hi everyone,

Thank you for taking the time to post to me and make your wiise suggestions. I'd like to give a general reply but I'm not quite sure how to on the forum, I will certainly be re-reading again. Nice to hear of others having similar experiences, finding/not finding the way, nobody rebuking me (yet!).

I tried with a few teachers and I wouldn't say they were bad. To answer your post Neko on Daniel's stages I would say I reached a 4 maybe a 5 on a good day(right now I'm way back to beginner). On retreat I'd hoped to make great progress but I could sum it up like this: first few days, fresh and exciting, ready to face my fear, crack this shell etc. Middle days mundanity begins to ensue, worse so than sitting for an hour a day. I try to note what I feel, but it begins to feel like I could be sitting at a desk writing the same lines over and over. So boredom, pain, desire for something else, desire for deliverance, more food. I note it, feel the physical sensation, then it comes back the same. I get it that that is kind of the point but can't sustain the practice after a certain point. I start to think of other methods I've done that gave more reward in the past; emotional processing, forgiveness work. It felt fresh, challenging but ultimately rewarding. I'm sorry and maybe it is the point of my problem that I say this, some psychological need within me to get rewarded for working hard, after a while I can't do it.

Interestingly I came and resigned on here recently as I was slightly frustrated with Feldenkrias. It makes me feel great, but each of the lessons feel like little stories with no endings. As Bernd said there is no repetition, so I'm concurrently trying to find out where the Feldenkrais path may take me also. But the approach is kind of being your own teacher, learn how to learn. Maybe as others point out that independence may lead me to make some mistakes which will block progress in meditation.

So I guess I'm curious if people regard meditation as a skill to be learnt, and if so is there any chance the method of learning may be adapted to the individual to optimise the effect? If I'm left after an hour of sitting meditation with a sense of gratitude isn't that going to encourage me to carry on, apply in real life more too perhaps?

On Feldenkrais; yes I think you can learn for yourself but a teacher maybe initially would be good. There are loads of brilliant lessons available free and paid for online but there are subtleties which are not always easy to learn initially, especially since it runs contrary to pretty much any other exercise/movement program you may have taken before. It's also very good for learning to apply awareness to day to day activities: reaching, walking, running, talking even seeing. I'm still kind of fresh, though ten years as a body worker, a few years of Feldenkrais, I feel like my physical mindfulness isn't bad.

Back to insight. I've been doing little bits here and there, 10-15 minutes every day, trying to increase and it feels good. I would also say I've recently been through a stressful few years which led me to quitting vipassana, as it felt like it was hurting me more. I'm ready to get back on my feet now. As I said I will re-read the thoughtful replies I received to this thread and see if I can figure it out. Thank you everyone it's really appreciated.

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
3/1/16 3:06 PM as a reply to sam sykes.
Hey, 
in addition to the many things that have been said, a couple of things that I've realized work for me. I have no idea if these are generally good advice or not, but thought they might atleast help broaden the perspective.

- Keeping content and insight practice strictly separate. The most "progress" I've made with Vipassana was when I've pretty much 100% didn't care what the content was. Initially this happened because the content was so intense and uncomfortable that I really didn't want to get involved with it, but noticed this actually seemed to work really well for me. Whatever the feeling from pain to dullness, boredom, thoughts... all are perfect material. When dullness hits, it can be broken apart into "what kind of sensations form this dullness". "What kind of sensations form this feeling of hate" etc. This takes away the emotional reward on "working on your stuff", but it really seems to help on the insight side. And the insights seem to help a lot with the content (difficult emotions, memories, beliefs etc), but just in a different way. And they seem to make dealing with the content easier separately. 

- When paying attention to sensations, at some point I noticed a weird shift. When paying attention to certain part of my body for a longer time, I felt like the initial sensation had a big mind-component, and could be penetrated into a "more physical" feeling. Like paying attention to a sensation would first bring up the minds' closest guess as to what it probably would feel like, but when that's ignored something more real can be reached? I can't really put this to words really well, but this seemed to push things forward for me. 

- I've noticed very little use in trying to perfect posture. Sometimes it's ok, never perfect, mostly pretty far from ideal. This might mean more in longer retreats, but for 10 days retreats has served me fine.

- My experience is that meditation is very much a skill you can learn, and more progress than what I would've thought a couple of years ago can be made in the "how to meditate". The ability to reach certain states (like equanimity, a/p, ...) at will to me feels very much like "well if I do X and Y with my mind, and then let Z go, then equanimity's going to appear". But explaining those steps feels ridiculously more difficult than doing them. I feel I kind of accidentally found them by trying to observe sensations in different ways. Other people might have a more efficient or systematic approach to this.

- To me, some people who talk about this stuff give a vibe that seems to resonate physically, that when I see them talk (even on video), I feel some weird vibe. I suspect subconsciously I see something from their body-language and the way they carry themselves. I've always been interested in movement methods and bodywork (did 15ish years of different mostly "internal" martial arts, dabbled rosen, alexander technique, fiddled with feldenkreis stuff, etc) so that might have made me more sensitive to physical side of it. But that felt and still feels useful, although I can't really make up a nice explanation as to why or what the benefit might be. It feels a bit like it gives a pointer of the direction in a language more clear than words.

- I've found a lot of benefit from meditation-like practice like self-inquiry-ish stuff, trying to really think at different angles to impermanence, suffering and not-self of sensations (meaning my whole experience of the world and life), reading on non-duality, zen, buddhism etc.

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
3/1/16 3:46 PM as a reply to Marcus.
Thanks, your first point especially about keeping content and insight separate resonate a lot with me. I started into meditative practices as a way of healing. So when I say emotional processing for example finding the physical sensations of an event that troubled me and basically feeling them in different ways until they dissolve and I realise the event no longer bothered me. There's gratification, feeling of progress, healing. Also a kindly attitude I was taking to myself which I don't think I was with insight. After reading MTCB and around and realising the practice and goals are different perhaps I swung too far in the opposite direction. In contrast after a sit I felt like I hadn't achieved enough, hadn't tried hard enough. Perhaps I was trying to do both at the same time and getting lost.

Maybe I could set aside a time for practicing insight and a time for the other. Maybe I could take a more kindly attitude while practicing insight(without slipping into content practice). Give myself a little break at the end of a practice session so it doesn't knock my motivation to keep going, instead of growing fixated that the dull, painful sensations are all that there is. This feels like a good idea as I definitely want to get back into insight but not by charging headfirst into a door day after day as it sometimes felt.

I also think I was overly fixated on the maps, which may be influenced where my attention was going and of course ultimately discouraged me when I failed to cross them. I'm not sure just thinking a bit here.

Thanks again for the thoughtful responses.

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
3/2/16 5:01 AM as a reply to neko.
neko:
You got me interested. Is it possible to give it a shot on one's own with a book and/or videos?
I would recommend a day/half-day workshop as an introduction first. Look for a good teacher, it makes a difference.

The problem with audios is that
-often they're low quality
-you don't understand how you're supposed to do the movements
-there's not enough time to actually do the instructions. if you feel pressed for time, it completely defeats the purpose.

Maybe there are videos which solve those  problems somehow. Sam Sykes claims there are good ones out there, but I don't know of those.
Maybe this is a good start though to get an idea:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZSletIPIN30

The problem with books is that you have to switch between the books and the actual exercise. Again, those are more helpful after you got a grip of the method.
"Awareness through movement" by Feldenkrais himself may be helpful (look for pdf on google or get book from local library) or maybe Jack Heggie's (a bit non-standard) "Running with the whole body".

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
3/2/16 5:11 AM as a reply to sam sykes.
sam sykes:

Maybe I could set aside a time for practicing insight and a time for the other. Maybe I could take a more kindly attitude while practicing insight(without slipping into content practice).
A relaxed attitude is of paramount importance to insight practice. Somehow people read MCTB and get that idea that they have to use MORE! EFFORT!, which is totally wrong-headed and leads them to a bad place. MCTB 1 had that insistence on effort because lots of people didn't realize that the work may pay off (mushroom culture) and therefore didn't put in ANY effort, in which case "more effort" is exactly the right strategy.

Basically, ATM lessons and insight practice need to be approached with the same mindset of "relaxed, curious, no goal". The only difference are the actual instructions (movements, where to direct your awareness).

Also, why do you want to do insight practice? I completely don't get that from your post.
Also: whether or not you take up insight practice, content work and Brahmaviharas are always a good thing. No need at all to drop those.

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
3/2/16 1:00 PM as a reply to Marcus.
Marcus M:
- Keeping content and insight practice strictly separate. The most "progress" I've made with Vipassana was when I've pretty much 100% didn't care what the content was. Initially this happened because the content was so intense and uncomfortable that I really didn't want to get involved with it, but noticed this actually seemed to work really well for me. Whatever the feeling from pain to dullness, boredom, thoughts... all are perfect material. When dullness hits, it can be broken apart into "what kind of sensations form this dullness". "What kind of sensations form this feeling of hate" etc. This takes away the emotional reward on "working on your stuff", but it really seems to help on the insight side. And the insights seem to help a lot with the content (difficult emotions, memories, beliefs etc), but just in a different way. And they seem to make dealing with the content easier separately. 

- When paying attention to sensations, at some point I noticed a weird shift. When paying attention to certain part of my body for a longer time, I felt like the initial sensation had a big mind-component, and could be penetrated into a "more physical" feeling. 


Really well said Marcus!

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
3/2/16 2:55 PM as a reply to bernd the broter.
bernd the broter:
sam sykes:

Maybe I could set aside a time for practicing insight and a time for the other. Maybe I could take a more kindly attitude while practicing insight(without slipping into content practice).
A relaxed attitude is of paramount importance to insight practice. Somehow people read MCTB and get that idea that they have to use MORE! EFFORT!, which is totally wrong-headed and leads them to a bad place. MCTB 1 had that insistence on effort because lots of people didn't realize that the work may pay off (mushroom culture) and therefore didn't put in ANY effort, in which case "more effort" is exactly the right strategy.

Basically, ATM lessons and insight practice need to be approached with the same mindset of "relaxed, curious, no goal". The only difference are the actual instructions (movements, where to direct your awareness).

Also, why do you want to do insight practice? I completely don't get that from your post.
Also: whether or not you take up insight practice, content work and Brahmaviharas are always a good thing. No need at all to drop those.

*edited 3/2/16)

Thanks, I totally get that in ATM. They train us very well in Feldenkrais I'm sure you have found to undo that behaviour. I'm not sure how many hours I've done of ATM, maybe hundreds, and I'd never approach a session from the perspective of say trying to achieve full lotus. But it seems I have been doing just this in insight. Thank you for helping me make that connection.

Why do I want to practice insight? To put it siply I want to experience the big E with all its blessings and curses. WhileI have  enjoyed many other practices aimed to do that none of them felt that they were taking me in the right direction, which may be some validation that the practice was working after all.

Speaking of which, there is a practice set by a zen practitioner and Feldenkrais teacher called Russell Delman, 'An Embodied Life', which I believe somehow integrates the two. I'm not sure exactly how and have not found many reviews of it online but you may like to take a look and see what you think.

I will shortly email yourself and Neko some of the resources I've found
helpful for ATM practice solo, though I agree a teacher is the best way
to start. However for arousing curiosity there are some simple exercises
I think can be done which give you a flavour of the power of ATM.

edit:sorry I couldn't figure out how to PM either of you and am not sure so will try and advise and hope this stays within the rules.

For Neko it is possible to have a taste of a Feldenkrais ATM and to get a taste of it, there are lots of websites offering audio streams and even lessons included on youtube(be sure to include ATM in thetitleif you searcg). The ptifall which can be got around with a teacher is that without that direct feedback of a teacher is that despite the seeming simplicity of the rules of an the lesson (ie. don;t even approach the boundary of pain, don't approach the boundary of stretch, just try to move softly and with as much ease as possible), most of us will habitually find ourselves holding our breath or pushing to hard at some point(even after years of practice) and therefore a teacher can gently guide us back and remind us. I would say have a little look on youtue to see what it looks like, read around to try to understand why and how it's performed and when you're ready find a short audio lesson you can close your eyes and listen along to. I recommend checking out the audio library at the UK Feldenkrais website, which has 10-15 minute lessons where you can experiment with. If you don't get on with it, it may be something conceptually didn't click, you may have misinterpreted the instructions or perhaps the eacher just didn't click for you. There are others there you can try.

For Bernd I would ask have you tried any of the products or just the free resources? They do often sell them to be used by individual practtioners so perhaps ou haven't been lucky in your choices yet. You may be aware of kinesophics which I found uniformly great, and openatm, not so much.  recently found another which I think is really excellent(not sure if I can tell?. And I have only used(apart from with my physical teacher of course) lessons which you stream and donate if you choose. Otherwise a lotof the more expensive courses have free trial lessons you can see if you like or not. Sometimes I find a teacher's voice distracts me, or the quality is old and not good. But I've found a lot I'd recommend also. Just those two I mentioned have hundreds of hours of ATMs between them so I'd hppe you'd find something in there you would get on with.


Thanks

RE: wants to restart, but is there a better way for me?
Answer
3/31/16 2:51 AM as a reply to sam sykes.
Hi everyone,

Thanks for all the replies I've had here and advice I've had from friends. I've come to the conclusion that perhaps the straightforward Vipassana style isn't for me at this point in my life. It's not been an easy decision to make but sitting on the fence became painful after time so I'm now going with whatever practice/practices make it easier to live better. Perhaps the yield may be lower but I'm not in the position to expose myself to more difficulties than I have currently going on so I'm bowing out of the Vipassana practice for now. I'm still practicing mindfulness, movement therapy, compassion etc though I suspect not at the level which would satisfy requirements for traversing the stages of insight or attaining the jhanas. I will leave the door open and hopefully one day I will be able to make it a priority again but for now it can't be. Thanks again for all your input and helping me to come to this open decision.

Sam