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housecrow's beginner practice log

housecrow's beginner practice log
12/17/16 8:56 PM
I have only a little sporatic experience with meditation. As part of a yoga practice I would spend about 15-30 min twice a week concentrating on breath. Most of the time after about 10 minutes I would feel like what I would think of as a "breathing bag." An empty object like a bellows just moving air in and out, a natural part of the room with no mind to suppress or body to wrangle.

Recently I started thinking that the only way to really treat others ethically, and to be able to know that one is treating others ethically, is to kill the ego. It is depressing to think how much of my analysis of others' wants and experiences is actually projection, memory. etc. And not just other people but everything encountered. I want to kill my ego and to be able one day to see things how they really are. I realise I am unlikely to ever get there but I want to try. I think any progress I make can only benefit others, if that progress is genuine.

About two weeks ago I started reading MCTB. This actually messed up what little meditation practice I had, although I started doing much more of it, around an hour a day. Now I began to wonder about what my brain was doing, what "breathing bag" is properly termed, if it was important I get to it or avoid it etc etc. So I had to fight off a lot more intrusive thoughts. Everything became noisier. I wondered if anything more quiet than a babbling brain was now beyond me because I could not refrain from overthinking and from WANTING more, wanting different mental states, etc.

However I did start meditating also on the three characteristics, especially suffering. Meditation on suffering was the most surprising to me because I thought I observed that, contrary to what I thought previously, my various physical and emotional desires are the same desire from a bottomless desire machine. It is not so different to want to shake out my legs from wanting to be loved from wanting to do X Y and Z in meditation. All of that want seems enormous and unsatisfiable and deeply sad.

Two days ago I sat to concentrate on my breath, and finally got again to this breathing bag feeling. This time I paid attention to the component parts of the feeling. As I hunted them down to identify them, a feeling of delight spread through my mind and body. It seemed so real. I began then to attack this feeling so to speak and figure out what it too was really made of. Suddenly the delight mellowed to an even better feeling and my concentration seemed to bloom, I could feel it seemed my entire circulatory system. I thought I could feel every tiny muscle in my face, every phase of my heartbeat, the motion and direction of blood inside my jugular vein and carotid artery, my thighs, etc, with the breath a multi-faceted background to this, observed, but not in the forefront. When I heard sounds or observed anything out of my body they did not disturb me nor did I ignore them. I was aware of how different it is to have closed eyes than to be blind -- like I could see so much which I never thought about (the location of light in the room for example and decent precision about shadows).

After that it was again back to the chattering mind and I felt discouraged again.

Today I sat for an hour in the evening, slightly preoccupied and with low expectations. I thought to keep tackling concentration because it is much harder for me than insight, ever since starting to read MCTB. I spent half an hour observing my breath, at the nostrils whereas I usually put most of my attention in my nasal chamber. I heard that trying to keep attention to the edges of the nostrils is harder and therefore quiets the mind more and this seemed true for me. After about five minutes, and it seemed all of a sudden, my mind stopped chattering. The occasional thought did not seem instrusive, it just arose and went away on its own as concentration was sustained. Concentration carried itself. Once or twice I felt like I was about to be brought into a state of great pleasantness but at the moment I have a bad cough and that seemed always to dispel the buildup of sensation.

After half an hour of that, I switched to observing my circulatory system, since that was so interesting for me before. It did not have the magical, good-feeling tinge of that special time, but it provided rich material for insight practice. It felt very sober, so to speak.

Although I have an inkling about some of what is going on I also know I don't know nearly enough to make an accurate guess. I am keeping on with my reading. I think a lot now about suffering and desire whereas before I do not believe I ever spent a moment thinking about it in a meta sort of way, only about how to fulfil these apparently but (perhaps) not really various desires. If humans are desiring machines so much is futile, even the desire to make others happy and well is futile because their own desiring machines will never shut down, they operate in a realm separate from my action.

I don't know what direction to take out of so many potential candidates for primary focus. It appears that there is so much work to be done.

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
12/20/16 6:09 AM as a reply to housecrow.
I have been managing an hour a day, no obvious progression from the first post to now -- it is such a short timespan, I know. Just this morning I woke up before the household to sit, the first time I tried this (most of the time I meditate in the evening). For 40 minutes or so, it was just babbling thoughts being dragged back to breath, slowly with more time spent on the breath. And I had thought the early hour would make a quieter mind. I tried to take a good attitude towards my own frustration. Like what exactly is being frustrated, put it aside and go back to the breath.

In the last 20 minutes, my attention sharpened so that I could feel precisely how my pulse affected my breath. As I went to investigate this, it felt as though my pulse rose in loudness so to speak (although not speed) and I could track it easily in a corridor from my heart through my throat to my face and nose. This pulse/breath combination completely enchanted my attention. No effort was needed.

When I got up to walk away though I nearly faceplanted. I was shocked at how gone my legs were.

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
12/28/16 8:15 PM as a reply to housecrow.
Things have been going more or less the same. An odd thing happened yesterday where I suddenly felt full concentration as I was walking to my cushion, and an immediate feeling of intense mental pleasure and supreme focus just as I sat. There was no reason for this as far as I can see. I tried to pull those sensations apart to investigate them and succeeded somewhat, but nothing (e.g. in my mental/emotional state) changed. I do not know why this happened. It was not a good or bad day.

Today two unrelated things happened which saddened me. I was unhappy in love. And I was not believed when I reported abuse. Therefore I sat to examine unsatisfactoriness, what really is pain, where is it. I thought I could perceive a tightness in my chest that lessened if I made it my direct focus. I also found sore and tired spots all through my body which likely come from my asana practice, but which I have been ignoring in order to be productive. I noticed how all these feelings are in constant flux. They cannot be pinned down, they were not there yesterday, they were there the day before, they were gone the day before that, even now that they are "here" they are really networks of tiny sensations.

I also looked into what it was like to make pain my entire focus. It did not amplify the pain. I thought about how usual it is that people do not believe their beloved family figures, or teachers, or anyone close to them, are capable of really hurting a vulnerable person. I have not experienced one time that someone with a serious stake in someone who abused a third party was able to really confront what was going on. This seems like avoidance of dukkha, a determined ennervation to its presence throughout life. But I see that it cannot be escaped.

My sister told me that she practices thinking about each person she venerates as a potential agent of harm. Not as distrust as she does not suspect anything and she says it does not reduce her feelings of love for these people. Simply to prepare herself as a potential observer of pain. I think I am doing something similar in meditating on dukkha. I see a strong connection to the ability to sit with it and the ability to deal ethically with those experiencing sharp, urgent hurt. So I will continue to cultivate my ability to sit with it.

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
1/8/17 8:53 AM as a reply to housecrow.
Things have been going what I want to call well, which really means, I suppose, dramatically. Last week I sat and rather quickly for me went to what I think is first jhana. I tried to break out of it to second jhana with observation, after spending a few moments enjoying it, but just could not budge. When I finally went to stand up, I was taken off-guard, that the experience of jhana did not evaporate when I opened my eyes and moved. It was still there. I noticed my right leg was asleep, and then that it was actually somewhat paralysed. I tried to explore this paralysis and to see what was going on in my leg, all with this jhana feeling. It only disappated when the feeling (and therefore sharp, tickling pain) came back to my leg.

After that, I went for a trip back to the Old Country quite far away from where I normally live. The jet lag has been killing my practice. No matter how I sleep, whenever I sit I just feel a sharp exhaustion, and any success in concentration just puts me back to sleep. I can do little metta exercises though which take on a new meaning here, in this country of suffering people.

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
1/10/17 7:04 AM as a reply to housecrow.
dear housecrow,
excellent log!

you are indeed making progress and i would encourage you to take the long view.  try to see the patterns over a longer period of thime than just between individual sits as these have good amounts of variance in them.

your descriptions of some of your concentration states are almost textbook examples of "access concentration" as well as "dropping through the jhanas".  moving from piti to sukkha and the resulting clamer space is pretty clear to me.

try focusing on the feelings of joy and happines them selves.  try generating them by bringing to mind happy events or people who make you happy, then try to capture the essence of those sensations and stay with the pure sensations of those states.

keep it up


RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
1/16/17 6:17 AM as a reply to tom moylan.
Thank you, Tom; this comment really did prompt me to start taking a longer view. And this is what I found:

1. I used to think, "It takes me about five minutes of wrestling with my mind to calm it down." Then I found that it took me about five minutes even if I was in no way "wrestling" but spacing out, going with the flow of mental chatter, etc. This in turn made me wonder about the gap between intention to sit and actually sitting (among other intention gaps). Same thing? I feel cynical about the role control and intention plays in action, at least control in the sense that I am used to thinking about it.

2. Formerly in insight practice I distinguished between choppy and smooth parts of the breath cycle. When I looked closer it seemed to me that the actual breath is all the same amount of choppiness/smoothness (from a physical perspective) and it is really the observation which is choppy or smooth.

Back in the Old Country I had that "white nothing" exprience. I hoped this was evidence of new skills. Not so. I returned to New Country and am not sure if it post-A&P or simply jet lag, but every time I sit, it seems like my mind alternates between chattering like crazy, and borderline falling asleep (or even actually falling asleep). So, so far, I have not gotten a chance to try your advice about focusing on the feelings themselves, because I cannot get there right now. Meditation on unsatisfactoriness though always seems to go pretty well, whatever "well" means in that context.

What I try to think is that no matter what sitting is valuable and that it is a matter of sharpening one's perception in a variety of circumstances, including these current "adverse" circumstances (/good circumstances with an "adverse" mind, whichever).

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
1/29/17 7:50 PM as a reply to housecrow.
Depression has really derailed my practice. I do still sit but my thoughts race and revolve around painful memories and desires, desires which seem the worse for really seeing in a tangible way how futile and literally impossible they are to satisfy.

Part of what I do in real life is study laws and customs. For awhile now the particular subject has been rather sad, about dealing with the aftermath of people's pain and victimisation, and it almost hurts to read, I procrastinate and distract myself, and clash regularly with my mentor, whom I admire greatly but cannot seem to stop arguing with. I thought about quitting but a colleague talked me out of it.

So when I go to sit I just think about all these fights and sad ideas and the trouble people run into in the world. Concentration is completely disrupted. Insight is a little better but I remember loving learning how to feel things in more and more minute detail, now I wonder why anybody would even want that. Dukkha, it is like looking at the sun. I have more luck with metta these days. May I be happy, may my mentor be happy, may everyone who turns to a legal code for solace be happy... it doesn't feel like I am "radiating" metta in an emotional sense, but when I wrote to Visu to ask if that indicated a problem, he responded (very generously):
In metta meditation the metta (goodwill) is expressed through the
phrase. Everytime you wish that someone may be happy, that is metta. It
is the wishing well. So even though you think you are having a 'cold'
feeling, the fact is that you are wishing well for the person.

Actually what you reckon as a cold feeling may be a calm and equanimous feeling.
This feeling is normal as it arises from the repetition of phrases. In
other words the repetition of phrases tends to generate a calm and
equanimous feeling. However, metta is still being sent or radiated.

As you continue to repeat those phrases the mind will become absorbed in
the metta radiation. This means you can feel that the mind has entered a
deeper state of concentration and the metta flows easily. This is also a
pleasant state of mind.

There is sincerity because you are wishing well for the person. You are not
wishing well for the person but thinking 'I am not really wishing well
for this person.' You have the sincere intention to wish well and you
are carrying out that intention by repeating the well-wishing phrases.

Anyway, if anyone reads this and has some advice for what kind of practice can help when one feels overwhelmed by misery -- I would be grateful to hear it.

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
1/29/17 7:57 PM as a reply to housecrow.
Housecrow, what motivates you?

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
1/29/17 8:26 PM as a reply to Noah D.
To be able to see and respond to people and circumstances as they really are, instead of all this mental fabrication; real equanimity...

For example right now I realise that in these fights with my mentor a disgusting amount revolves around wrongs I probably have invented, my own emotional neediness, things which actually require no response at all but only understanding. I wish by fiat I could separate out all the issues, respond to this other human being according to their genuine need, not this huge sea of my psychological BS between me and every potential subject, actually to have no "me" in the way at all.

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
1/29/17 10:33 PM as a reply to housecrow.
Ok.  So you're motivated by relationships.  And you're feeling depression.

Does it help to think that if you can disembed from this depression (even though that compounded the pain) you will eventually gain a mind that is capable of the relational functioning you desire?

Or that goal orientation may be toxic.  Lemme know.

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
1/30/17 6:15 AM as a reply to Noah D.
Aha, now I understand the reason for your question.

I'm pretty good at doing things I dislike. But...

- Is a long sit of "concentration" "meditation" any good if in reality it ends up being nothing more than stewing in your own issues with like 5% of the time returning to actual breath? Concerned that it just re-inforces bad habits and thought patterns, like I am almost certain now that when I sit for this what I will actually be sitting for is a rehash of arguments and irritants.

- Is it better to keep working on what is hard, to try to work back up to a past (illusion of?) competency/clarity? A good sit of metta is something I can actually keep on task for and feel like positive changes are happening to my thought defaults. But, maybe this is actually an easy way out, I want to work on the practices that will result in longterm change and good rather than a short-term feeing of accomplishment.

Hey Noah, thanks for responding.

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
1/30/17 2:56 PM as a reply to housecrow.
Whether you are intentionally cultivating concentration or loving-kindness, mindfulness will come into play.  To do either of those effectively, you must "know" they are happening.  The clarity of this knowing leads to insights.  The insights will help build the strengths you want in your mind.

The reason you are having doubts about technique is likely a side effect of the meditation, which means it is working.  This too is good to "know."  Perhaps allow yourself to do the metta, but maintain the fundamentals.  No need for discipline for its own sake.

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
2/2/17 8:30 AM as a reply to housecrow.
A good sit of metta is something I can actually keep on task for and feel like positive changes are happening to my thought defaults. But, maybe this is actually an easy way out, I want to work on the practices that will result in longterm change and good rather than a short-term feeing of accomplishment.
In my experience, the metta practice will result in longterm change. What makes you suspect that it wouldn't?

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
2/2/17 11:10 AM as a reply to bernd the broter.
Ha. That (for me, at present) it is pleasant and "easy" which of course must mean it is trivial. I know this is a deluded instinct and your point is very well-taken.

Gratitude to you both. I started to be able to do concentration semi-effectively again, now trying to balance 15 min formal metta, 60 min concentration (that is how long it takes me to get to access concentration now...), 15 insight. And little everyday metta whenever I can remember. Thanks to Noah for encouraging me to keep at it.

This is a very "stoned teenager" type comment so I apologise in advance, but the metta gives me a little whiff of direct experience that happiness for one creature is happiness for all creatures -- and that has some bearing on what really is (no)self that I am trying to investigate.

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
3/21/17 8:23 PM as a reply to housecrow.
Concentration -- I can now get to first jhana (relatively) quickly and easily, but can do nothing with it other than enjoy it. It feels a little self-indulgent to go there too often so I save this for a few times a week.

Insight - 1 hr/day. Attention is stable, awareness is decent, things are going ok, just have to let the skills grow with time and gentleness I think.

The ability to disidentify with my reactions is often helpful to me, but it is an ability rather than an automatic disidentification. I remember the understanding gained in insight meditation and bring it out after rather than disidentifying in the moment.


I had a dream this week which has been weighing on me. I often dream vividly but this dream was outside my usual genre, so to speak.

I was standing at an abandoned industrial intersection near where I live in real life. I saw a bird fly down the road and went to follow it.

As I went, the landscape shivered and deepened. The trees were all twisted and dead instead of their usual winter-dormant. Thorn bushes were everywhere that concrete was not. There were hundreds of creatures, but they all had wrinkled, leathery skin instead of fur or feathers; the birds were like pterodactyls. I felt a stab of fear as I realised every living creature here was a predator, everything in a cycle of compulsory and automatic consumption.

As I kept going, my fear increased. I came to a little clearing where a huge library stood. The doors to the library were shut, not sure if locked; it was concrete and absolutely stuffed with books, but empty of any person at all. In front of the library was a sculpture. I looked more closely and saw that the sculpture was of David (as in "and Goliath") being beheaded by a giant machine. His severed head was caught in the gears and his body was already completely ground up. Looking at this sculpture, my terror overwhelmed me, and I turned and ran. I could not run fast enough. I could not get the sight of the sculpture out of my head.

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
5/16/17 8:02 PM as a reply to housecrow.
An hour a day is now my minimum; hopefully I get an additional half-hour early in the morning, about 3-4 days a week.

I recently had the flu and it was weirdly good for my concentration. My sits during those two weeks had no distraction at all and only minor dullness which I could remedy with body scans and so forth. It must be admitted, disgustingly, that my nose was a lot more interesting of a place then. Now that I'm better, my energy has skyrocketed and a hundred distractions clamour at me -- but at least now I can catch them quickly and return to the breath. Slowly, slowly I'm getting closer to a single-pointed focus.

Since the illness I see simply how thoughts and mind are not actually the same as the observation. I used to think of distractions as a shift in focus (same actor, same activity, different object) and now they seem more like clouds across a sharper, more primal mental gaze.

The other good thing is that it is easier to see how emotional reactions are not my self. They are their own things. I am glad (ha) when I notice emotions as separate when they occur off the cushion. It always seems to be a useful thing to notice.

RE: housecrow's beginner practice log
9/14/17 11:52 AM as a reply to housecrow.

Two times this week, I sat and was able to control dullness and distraction. If I felt a distraction coming on, I could return it to my breath before it developed. I could monitor how sharp my focus was and increase the level of detail I observed when I noticed it was starting to fall off. I had to be vigilant, however. It felt a little like mounting a horse.

Continuing an hour of insight daily with two days a week where I do two hours.