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From the beginning: documenting the journey from 'haven't a clue'

Hmmm.... there's a lot of advanced stage logs on here, i'm motivated to record my efforts to get started: that is the hardest part.
This will not be a busy log.

So here's the context:

More that 6 months ago/ less than a year i stumbled on MCTB and found it quite interesting, specifically the assertion that 'yes you can do this' and further 'in this lifetime', and i found the analysis of various traditions a very useful perspective.

So i made an abortive attempt to mindfully watch my breath but there was something missing and i didn't continue, but i lurked on the DhO and eventually it paid off.

Let's just mention Gratitude twds 'the Daniel' and i have an eye on his posts w/ a view twds modelling the cheerful non agressive helpfull demenour: HTH does he do that????

MCTB is partly autobiographical, and from where i am I can't pick up enough info on how to do concentration, hence my failed attempt to get going.

But... I picked up a link to Culadasa posted by Noah (let's be honest he's posted about almost everything :-)) and while the download seemed useful it was not enough, and it ended with the sentence 'There are certain important ancilliary practices that will be discussed that will help the meditator do just that.'  So eventually i hit amazon and bought a copy of John Yates book 'The Mind Illuminated' and it is truly magnificent, containing explicit detailed and content free descriptions of how to pay attention and how to deal with things that distract you

Also i got a copy of Leigh Brassington's 'Right Concentration', very useful: he describes the 4 rupa jhanas and you think 'isn't he missing a lot that is generally recognised as relevant?', but then in part two he explains why and it makes sense.  What's relevant here is 'is it jhana enough to support insight practice' and while i'm not there yet it's a parameter i can work with.

So initially I'm working thro' John Yate's' protocol, target stage 6 or 7, then morhping to vipassana and maintaining samatha practice so it doesn't all leak out of the bucket.

Currently working on stage 1 (establishing a practice) & 2 (noticing and recovering from mind wandering) I've managed a week of 30 min sits; it no longer feels difficult to find the time and motivation ... i've only done a week so it's not very convincing but the salient point is to choose a time (early morning) and to set things up nicely (get up at 5am, have coffee, exhaust the internet of distractions, wash, shave, clean teeth, dispense with any other pressing issues) and then settle in. I get the secondary gain of an extended yin yoga posture (half lotus today) so that all helps.
I've noticed that shortly before my timer goes off i get achey legs (30 mins or 40 mins it makes no diff), that's useful, and also that after 20 mins i get blue/purple visuals (and acknowledge them and carry on), that will be the aubergine track yeah!

Previously i tried to 'mindfully watch my breath' but ended up driving it. I've read commentaries on anapanasati and they don't explicity say 'don't do that' unless you have been introduced to the language first.  I've no idea how i got past that hurdle but it just happened.  AFAICS if you drive yr breath than that's an energy practice, which takes you down a different rabbit hole. I'd be interested in knowledge of this if anyone has it, but if so please start a different thread.

RE: From the beginning: documenting the journey from 'haven't a clue'
6/10/16 4:36 PM as a reply to baba ganoush.
baba ganoush:

I've noticed that shortly before my timer goes off i get achey legs (30 mins or 40 mins it makes no diff)

Try the Burmese sitting position, see if it is easier on your joints.

and also that after 20 mins i get blue/purple visuals (and acknowledge them and carry on), that will be the aubergine track yeah!

You might actually use that. Read the part of The Mind Illuminated on the Luminous Jhanas.

AFAICS if you drive yr breath than that's an energy practice, which takes you down a different rabbit hole.

Yes and no. You can cheat by driving your breath a little bit, causing a pleasurable sensation, then switch your focus to the pleasurable sensation as a shortcut to jhana. It is cheating, but what you get is a true jhana, so who cares? emoticon

The Mind Illuminated calls what you get this way the "Pleasure Jhanas", but you don't have to strictly follow Culadasa's instructions. You could also see what MCTB says about first jhana and this beautiful one-page instructions by Leigh Brasington:

basically cause something pleasurable to happen (tingling, a smile, push your breath through the part of your lungs that feels the best to breathe through, imagine that it smells like a rose, imagine that it is a wave crashing against a rock, or a tree growing... anything you like) and then focus on this nice thing.

RE: From the beginning: some small progress following Culadasa
6/21/16 6:49 AM as a reply to baba ganoush.
Probably not very exciting for established masters....

Stage 1: establishing a practice (using stage 2 of course)
'done a week of 30 min sits' is not convincing so here goes:

Culadasa he say: 'sit every day and never miss a session' and that you can achieve this 'within a few weeks', but also mentions that stage 1 was added as people would make no progress in stage 2 due to not practicing.

Surely it's trivial? well yes and no, my previous attempt failed after about 3 sessions, and starting that attempt used up several months of procrastination. For me a detailed road map was necessary, and also creating a ritual to set up the practice. Then i used some peer pressure as a kick start: once a week my yoga class has an optional 30 mins available for meditation beforehand so i turned up 30 mins early and was faced with the teacher sitting down closing her eyes and getting on wth it, so no options there for a major faff, can't even fidget as that would be rude.

Personally i think that 'never miss a session' is a bit harsh and decided that 5 days out of 7 would be adequate but it all went horribly wrong and i've not ever missed a session yet :-) (That's a bit of cat herding: be forgiving of yr weaknesses, but i still think 'never' is harsh).  Ritualising the sit is a prop that works but no longer necessary, even done some days with two sits. (cue sutta quote about the boat).

Aches and pains from sitting: i'm not a fan of white knuckle practice, yes burmese posture is maybe the easiest, but i find that a rolled up towel to support one leg helps, and also jacking up the cushion a bit higher sorts out pointless problems such as back pain. Alternatively do two sits with a break in between to stretch/ shake out. (re MCTB: '10 seconds really with the breath better than an hour of not').

Stage 2: overcoming mind wandering.
Initially practice was counting breaths up to 10, a prop to control attention on the breath, but it soon becomes a distraction so i dropped counting very quickly (but still start with one count of 10). Nothing can break through a strident count ... but maybe if i was counting down could have hit 'ground control to major tom'.

Yes to begin with i managed some quite magnificent monkey mind meanders, woke up 'thinking WTH was i doing?' without a clue of how long for. The most spectacular was at 10 min sit before another yoga class and i just went off somewhere and the teacher had to ask me to stand up and join in.  So embarrassing that i haven't done that again and now always catch it by the second thought at the latest & can remember the breath before that, that's one effective way to set resolve. Lucky me.

How do i know its max 2? good point ;-)
Stage 3: never forget the breath (can be peripheral but always in awareness)
hmmmm..... the work begins, but still working on #1/ developing my practice and keeping an eye on #2, so no cocky claims being made here.  There's a few things in here so it may take a while...

Some random notes:
- i hit the 'zen lurch' once, it was quite a shock, and then not since then. (technical terms: 'strong dullness --> zzzzzz')
- the DhO is a febrile source of mental chatter, a valuable resource if concentration is getting too easy, so best practice ATM is not to check in too often.
- i'm noticing dreams a lot more vividly
- tried following visual effects and can get 'further in', when they appear it's vital not to pounce, instead divide attention between that and the breath, gently increasing it away from the breath (can actually breathe into the visuals, and keep on the breath that way), and then it's possibly to shift them in various ways but hard to sustain for too long. Having looked at Culadasa the relevant info is in stage 8 so i'm getting a bit ahead of myself. It's fun to play but the plan here is to rigorously develop fearsome concentration skills so that i can focus on neutral and less fun things at will.
- stage 3 exercises are harder and require more mental agility

RE: From the beginning: documenting the journey from 'haven't a clue'
2/12/17 10:48 AM as a reply to baba ganoush.
As i'm on here due to an internet parasite/ DhO hack...

I stepped off the cushion a while ago, so little to report, yet I'd like to log a couple of beginner insights.

1) the first road block is 'watching the breath' and people (and that includes me) can't start on that without forcing it.  Eventually i got through it without knowing how and while it's possible to accept explanations like 'the mind let's go' I think some explicit instructions might help. So: if you have to force the breath then that implies that you are not breathing 'naturally' ie you are holding your breath. Now this can only occur if (a) your chest and diaphram are held rigid or (b) you have closed your throat. It's a case of 'flight fright or freeze', big hurdle with comtemplation ahead, sieze up!!!  So... consciously open your throat and sit, eventually a breath will happen. If not then practice closing and opening your throat and if that fails work on chest & diaphram.  You'll end up watching your breathing without 'spontaneously relaxing the mind', or not, depending on circumstances.  But i reckon there's little Mind involved in this.

2) pins and needles/ insects crawling all over me
Rumour has it that yr mind will try ever so hard to distract you from yr practice, so as soon as you settle in and focus real clear on whatever then you get distractions. Now: yr body regulates temperature and that involves erecting or not small hairs and also sweating. If you happen to have turned down some mental small talk then these bodily sensations are relatively louder so you experience them.  But sweat evaporates and the movement of hairs is not that exciting, so the distraction fades quite soon if you just wait and avoid grasping the distraction. If you just say hello to each and watch them go then they stop distracting you. There's no deep psychology involved here!  I suggest that there's no mental barriers to contemplation in this, but that it can appear that way if you don't realise what's happening.

OK there's a bit of equanimity towards small things there, maybe it's useful??

(Sorry this is really basic....)

practice revisited (TMI)
9/26/17 5:59 AM as a reply to baba ganoush.
Muddling through The Mind Illuminated (Culadassa)

TLDR: 3 months of hindsight covering TMI stages 1-4. I'm pretty slow. if you read this you may need to refer to TMI.

a practice: sustainable or not?

ummmm .... first attempt at this failed and resulted in about 1 year of entertaining hinderances, predominantly procrastination. So how to generate motivation?  Discipline/ diligence wasn't me and I needed a different kind of drive, what got me back on the cushion was a desire to deal with a very itchy allergic rash (which resulted in subsequent dullness), but I was able to add in some busy minded curiosity to take over, sheer luck on my part ... i can run that program again if it runs out. Started approx 3 months ago and have built up to 40 mins most days, but now I'm adding in second sits second sits are arising as often as not.

My original thoughts were to aim for concentration and jhana, skills rather than insight (#1 needed to get anywhere, need to hit jhana to verify the skills), work through to #4 before starting insight, but now i think this is unwise: insight may be needed to reach #4. Daniel I (i think) said that after the first then the next 3 come quite easy, but he'd done a lot of insight??  However TMI provides a skill set to verify, and then 'jhana happen spontaneously or easily'.

stages 2,3 preventing forgetting & mind wandering, and then gross distractions and dullness

It's relatively easy to lock into the breath so that it's always in awareness, but not so easy if you let it be slow and subtle. Initially it's difficult not to drive it consciously but instead by relaxing the throat (especially) and chest and diaphragm, breaths can be made to come naturally.  However, initially, and epsecially when 'trying to identify as many sensations of the breath as possible' it's easy to sit there huffing and puffing away, generating lots of loud sound effects and tactile sensations, aiming for a high score like in a computer game. OK i exagerate a bit. Problem with this is that you get a fight/flight/freeze mentality with that kind of tight focus.

So to compensate i tried relaxing more and letting the breaths become slower and more subtle... i had to stop searching for obscure/ faint nuances, may cycle back to that later.  With slower breathing you get longer pauses between in and out, a period of inattention ... it opens the door for distractions and then pretty soon you're wandering again.  Until i went 'Doh! there are sensations to observe during the pauses'.

Soon I realised that i'd cut out peripheral awareness too much and had to skip fwds to stage 5/ body scanning to address this, it seems to have worked enough to let me carry on.

Why, I wondered, do narrative thoughts have more power to distract then physical stuff eg pins and needles?
That was the busy minded curiosity - to scratch that itch i have to practice, so it becomes self sustaining, it's my take on integrating practice into daily life, practice becomes an exploration and play rather 'something i maybe ought to do'.

I wonder if verbal events implicitly require a long period of time to process (as they go thro' the brain's speech circuits, which are attuned to the pace of normal speech), thereby attracting more attention?? or they are complex/ combined perceptions so require more bandwidth to process.  One obvious response is to try to split them apart ... insight becomes part of concentration.

Earlier 'visual effects' from over a year ago are still there but i've let those go. Neko suggested (i think) they could be a stepping stone to jhana, and they still could be.

Stage 4 overcoming strong distractions and dullness, watching the mind at work

Working on this, aiming to hang out and wait for stuff to appear.  Well not strictly, starting to edge fwd to stage #5, can always revert to #4 on demand .... it took me a while to realise that was always an option ;-(    It's taken several weeks to gain confidence that i can work explicitly w/ distractions.   As far as concentration/skills go it seems to me that daily chatter and older/stronger stuff are the result of very similar/ the same processes, so it's the same response to both.

When do you regard gross distractions as vanquished? I'd guess that they have to have fewer moments of awarness than the meditation object, but I can't count those! I've decided that it's not important, it's not a binary distinction between gross and subtle and it would be over-analysing the situation. Whether i'm stuck on stage 4 or not is also not important, it's all fluid and i have more options. Just trying to be practical here.

Some random things:

There was a post recently about memory/ magick which mentioned using 'beads on a string' to count distraction events, what a good idea!

Dullness is a bit tricky to spot but TMI suggests that if a noise startles you then it's likely to be there, so set your timer to go 'bong' more frequently (i use mindbell).  Perhaps expecting to be startled encourages more vigilance/ mental bandwidth?? (... i need to experiment to see if i've been trained and still function without the bongs ... pavlovian mediation: i'm working on the pravda hahhaha)

Reviewing the diary frequently, check the previous week/ two weeks to spot what works what doesn't, if nothing's happening then maybe it's time to try some variations.  Junk sits are like junk mileage for runners, why bother??

A strange thing happened one day ... a person i haven't seen for a few years popped up during a sit, so i did the 'let it be, let it go thing'. The next day i noticed that they'd paid some money into my bank on that day.  Wierd huh? I had written it down, so it's not a confabulation.