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Dave's Journal

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Dave's Journal
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2/20/18 3:29 PM
Hi everyone,

My name is Dave. I'd like to start off by providing an overview of my meditation background, current practice, long-term goals, and a few miscellaneous notes.

I first became interested in meditation in late 2013. My interest grew gradually over the next year or so. My practice was pretty inconsistent and without much direction, mostly comprised of 5-10 minute sits focused on the breath. Sometime during 2015 I started taking meditation a little more seriously and became more consistent in consistency and focus. I did not notice any meaningful progress during 2015 and most of 2016, but I continued with the practice. In 2016, I meditated around 350 days. The sits also became gradually longer, normally between 15 and 30 minutes. In the latter half of 2016, I had a few sits that stood out from the rest of my sits up to that point. It is difficult to articulate what I experienced, but basically two things would happen, often at the same time, but sometimes separately. First, my focus would "settle" onto my breath and I no longer had to work to pull attention back to the breath. I simply rested on the breath. Second, my conscious field would be filled with bright light that seemed to crowd out thoughts and other sensations. This light felt warm and slightly energizing, and normally when it was present my attention settled fairly easily onto the breath, with my mind enjoying a sort of bright, warm experience focused on the breath. When these experiences happened, they normally would occur for 5-15 minutes. With that said, I was unable to consistently produce these experiences.

Beginning in 2017, I decided implement goal orientation and discipline into my practice. I came to believe that my experiences noted above were me experiencing access concentration and perhaps even some level of jhana, but because I am not well read on the topic I am not confident in asserting this. Regardless, from my time reading DHO and reading the first 100 pages of MTCTB it was clear to me that I needed to develop my concentration ability to the point where I could begin vipassana. And so I developed a program for developing concentration. I started meditating for 5 minutes at a time. If I was in what I deemed to be access concentration for most of the sit, I made a note of that. If the next day when I meditated I did the same thing, then I would increase the sit duration to 6 minutes the next day. If I did not replicate the experience, I would again try to achieve 2 consecutive days of access concentration. And so on. The ultimate goal is to have 2 consecutive days of access concentration for 30 minute sits. At that point, I believe I should have sufficient concentration to begin vipassana practice. I am open to feedback on whether this approach seems reasonable. 

Looking out into the future, I have two views that superficially appear at odds with each other. There is one part of me who already recognizes logically (and at times experientially) that there is nothing further for me to really do, that I am (or should be) already content with my life and that nothing further really needs to be done. Yet, on the other hand, I realize I am only 28 and that there is a good chance I have many decades of life left, so I would like to progress down the path of insight. So while I am generally at peace with my current place of practice and my place in life, I still think it worthy of my time to focus on developing a vipassana practice. In some sense, I am not sure I can go back at this point, as I feel I have taken the red pill of knowing what such a practice can do, and it only feels natural for me to progress down this path as far as I am able.

There are a few more things that may be worth noting. First, I am a fairly patient person and I do not expect consistent and rapid progress. I appreciate the benefits of applying effort over a long period of time in several areas of life (weight lifting, knowledge, investing) and don't see why meditation would be any different. I believe this to be a strength in my practice, as I intend to work at this for hopefully the remainder of my time here. This means I am able to take a slower approach to things if I think it is likely to improve the odds off long-term success.

Second, it is worth noting that I do not consider myself to be naturally skillful at concentration (in the meditation context) whatsoever. I have spent a lot of time on the cushion, but I continue to this day to struggle with concentrating well. In talking with others throughout my life, it appears to me that my "monkey mind" is relatively intense. This is a little frustrating in cultivating meditation skill, but we all must play the hand we are dealt.

Third, I experience anxiety and low levels of depression periodically throughout my life. Neither has ever been so intense to interfere with normal functioning, but it is a factor worth noting.

Fourth, I have a had a few interesting experiences (out of the normal day to day experience) that although may not be of any significance, I thought I would share as I would appreciate any insight the members of this forum have. The first experience I had was a sort of out of body experience I had while under the influence of anesthesia during a dental operation when I was ~10 years old. I don't have much to say expect that I felt I was looking at myself from the outside and it was extremely uncomfortable/confusing as I lost the normally-present focal point of self. I had recurring dreams of this experience for some years. The second experience occurred when I was ~15 years old eating lunch in high school. It is very difficult to describe, but in effect is is like my normal stream of consciousness shut off and suddenly I had no idea who I was, where I was, what I was doing, or anything. It is like my mind turned off and when it restarted I had no sense at all of what was going on. I had no anchor points of "this is me", "these are my friends", "I am at lunch", it was more just sensory awareness of what was going on, but I was aware that it was extremely unsettling and unusual. It lasted for a few minutes. Finally, sometime in the summer of 2015, after a meditation, I went for a walk during a warm night and I felt very connected to everything. I felt peaceful. The stream of thoughts that normally accompanies me at all times (IE the monkey mind I noted above) turned off and I just there, part of a lovely summer evening. This experience lasted a little over an hour. I have actually had this experience for a shorter duration and with less intensity a few times over the last couple of years, but that night in 2015 was the most extreme.

So, that is a fairly long introduction to a practice log, but it seems worthwhile to lay it all down at the start of this log as a means of providing some context as to how I came to this point. I keep a daily meditation journal that I will not share on this site, but I do plan to update this log periodically with thoughts, progress, and questions.

Thank you to the DHO community for all that I have learned from you so far, and my warmest regards to all.

-Dave

RE: Dave's Journal
Answer
7/24/17 5:38 PM as a reply to David R.
Concentration training is progressing, although not at a rapid pace. Today I completed the second consecutive 22 minute sit where I spent the majority of the sit in access concentration. As noted above, I am working my way up to two consecutive 30 minute sits spent mostly in access concentration before moving on to vipassana practice.

Some days my mind seems to concentrate better than others, and I have not yet been able to identify why this is. Nevertheless, I am treating concentration like a muscle that needs to be exercised consistently and repeatedly, and I have seen some progress with the ease, speed to obtain, and strength of concentration.

I have found the following quote from Pawel K as helpful practice instructions:

"So sit on the cushion, close your eyes and concentrate on breath. Do not try to see yourself concentrating on breath but become breath to the point of there being only breath that you cannot identify with because there is no concept of identifying or even being anything and such...."




RE: Dave's Journal
Answer
7/24/17 9:56 PM as a reply to David R.
Thanks for sharing Dave.  I predict that wonderful things will bloom in your practice.

edit:  I would recommend you follow the mind illuminated book.  Your practice already will blend perfectly into it.  It's not what I did, but I keep seeing it work for people both online & in person.  It appears that ppl are able to do progress of insight & concentration at the same time using it. 

RE: Dave's Journal
Answer
7/28/17 12:32 PM as a reply to Noah D.
Noah D:
Thanks for sharing Dave.  I predict that wonderful things will bloom in your practice.

edit:  I would recommend you follow the mind illuminated book.  Your practice already will blend perfectly into it.  It's not what I did, but I keep seeing it work for people both online & in person.  It appears that ppl are able to do progress of insight & concentration at the same time using it. 

Hi Noah, thanks for your kind words.

It's funny you mention that book. I actually own it, but I haven't started reading it yet. It is interesting and impressive that folks are making progress on both concentration and insight using the process described in the book - I thought it was strictly a concentration book.

I'm open to that suggestion, but I am curious as to your thoughts on using the format presented in The Mind Illuminated as opposed to moving to vipassana practice as outlined in MTCTB once I am able to sustain 30 minutes of access concentration. As I am a beginner, I don't have a good sense on how to evaluate the differing approaches. So far I have just adhered to Daniel's advice in the book of gaining the ability to enter access concentration before moving on to vipassana practice.

RE: Dave's Journal
Answer
8/24/17 5:18 PM as a reply to David R.
I have successfully completed the concentration training laid out in my introductory post (increasing sit durations until able to sit for two consecutive thirty minute sessions where the mind is mostly in access concentration). I am giving thought to how I want to move forward from here. Originally I planned to move into vipassana training at this point, but I am also considering following Noah's advice of beginning The Mind Illuminated program.

Any feedback the community may have would be much appreciated in helping me make this decision.

I am leaving in a couple of days to go on vacation which will disrupt my normal practice. I intend to continue to meditate, but the circumstances of the vacation will make a normal practice difficult. Once I arrive home, I will organize a plan for how to move forward with my practice.

RE: Dave's Journal
Answer
2/20/18 3:36 PM as a reply to David R.
Well, it has been about half a year since my last post. I wish I had more success to report, but the truth is there has not been much progress.

I have consistently meditated for 5 to 30 minutes every day since my last post. However, my concentration has, if anything, weakened since that time. This has been a little frustrating.

Despite having read several different sets of instructions on how to consistently achieve access concentration, I still find myself experiencing significant monkey mind. At times, I do achieve access concentration. But it is not nearly as consistently as I did for a period in 2017. 

I have been trying to implement Daniel's advice in MTCTB of just staying on the object of concentration like a rabid dog, but it does not always work so well. I have not yet dug into The Mind Illuminated, as I was hoping to improve concentration ability by just sitting on the cushion and doing the work.

Neverthless, I am recommitting to the process of improving my concentration one sit at a time.

RE: Dave's Journal
Answer
2/21/18 4:01 AM as a reply to David R.
Hi Dave, TMI is very good, another option you might want to look into is Shinzen's Unified Mindfulness system. It's primarily a 'simplified/streamlined' vipassana practice, but with a few tweaks that add in small doses of concentration too. You don't need AC to start with his stuff. The entire system is very all-encompassing, though the information is a little scattered at the moment (Shinzen is working on a new complete manual). If you're interested see below:

https://www.shinzen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/SeeHearFeelIntroduction_ver1.8.pdf

https://www.shinzen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/FiveWaystoKnowYourself_ver1.6.pdf

http://unifiedmindfulness.com/core

The first 2 URLs are long-form articles outlining some of the key aspects of the insight practice and of the broader context of the system. The last is an online course you can take which is very comprehensive. The presentation style may or may not be a bit off-putting (it's aimed at a very general audience and is a bit powerpoint) but it's a very effective program.