Where I am, what was that, how to practice?

Tom Delaney, modified 11 Years ago.

Where I am, what was that, how to practice?

Posts: 3 Join Date: 7/6/10 Recent Posts
Hello, all. This is my first post. I feel very lucky that I found this place where I can post such questions. I've been doing this on my own for a long time, and it's nice to be able to bounce things off others, so thanks in advance for any insight you can provide.

Brief meditation autobiography: I've been practicing in some form or other for about 16 years. I started gung-ho with zen after I finished college. I later did a 10-day Goenka retreat and some subsequent shorter retreats and practiced in that style for about 6 years or so. I stopped doing those retreats due to physical issues (back and knee) that couldn't handle the fact that, at least back then, they wouldn't let me sit in a chair. So I just sat at home for about 3-4 years, by the end of which time I was just sitting on the couch for 20 minutes doing nothing. However, I renewed my practice with a 5-day retreat at Spirit Rock last December and then recently with a 7-day retreat at Cloud Mountain in WA state last month. Now the questions:

1) At the recent retreat, I saw very clearly how *everything* I do is conditioned by craving and aversion moment by moment, and not just gross stuff, but subtle stuff like occasionally choosing to use hand sanitizer instead of soap because it's faster and doesn't make my hands cold like soap and water. I also had some pretty intense experiences which are hard to describe but I'll try. My practice was following the breath as an anchor, but paying attention to whatever sensations, etc. arise. If I try to describe the experience, words like large, spacious, and dark come to mind. After one particular period this feeling continued even after the sitting ended, and in fact even now I can kind of access it at will to some extent. It feels like if I turn awareness towards some place behind me and above me and a little to the left, I get a sense of spaciousness again.

Question: Is this anything? It's not really pleasant or unpleasant, but mostly neutral. Maybe slightly pleasant sometimes. Although I feel like I realized something, I don't know exactly what to make of it. Also, unlike other retreats where I came back and felt a lot of positive emotions for a long time, this time, I got kind of irritable and grumpy which caught me a little off guard.

2) Since this retreat, I've really dedicated myself to practice. The teacher, Rodney Smith, convinced me that it might actually be possible to awaken and that it doesn't have to be something that takes decades and decades of practice to do if you start with right view and right intention. So I've been looking for a teacher and stumbled upon MCTB. Wow. Since reading about the importance of noticing the three characteristics (not self, impermanent, and suffering) and Mark's description of "flickering" "TV static" perceptions in meditation, my sitting has been very different. Now when I sit down, I immediately notice the whirling tornado of feelings, thoughts, sensations, etc. that makes up my experience. It feels true, but I also get a sense of sadness while sitting with this hurricane. Somehow, trying to follow the breath feels very artificial and like I'm suppressing what is actually going on. I decided to try to focus on following the breath in the midst of all this to see what would happen, and I could do it, but the breath just seemed boring and beside the point. Away from sitting I continue to be grumpy and irritable.

Question: In my sitting, should I keep going with awareness of all these flickering feelings, sensations, perceptions. etc. or should I put my effort back on following the breath? I am aware of the breath while I sit, but as just another one of the thousands of other sensations that are happening as well...

Another question: I usually sit for 40-60 minutes in the morning, and then again for 20-30 minutes at night. Sometimes (3-5 times/week), I try to do metta practice in the evening. Lately, I feel the same way about metta practice as I do about following the breath: It feels artificial and beside the point. I feel like it might be useful for counteracting my grumpiness so part of me thinks I should do it, but I find it hard because it feels like I'm moving away from what I should be doing when I try to do metta lately. Should I keep trying to do metta, or just let it go for a while? I would like to not be so grumpy with family members...

Sorry for the lengthy post, but I've never tried to explain these things before so I'm perhaps not so good at it. I will greatly appreciate any feedback anyone can provide.

Thank you,

Tom
Tom Delaney, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Where I am, what was that, how to practice?

Posts: 3 Join Date: 7/6/10 Recent Posts
*bump*

Anyone?

Thanks,

Tom
Trent H., modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Where I am, what was that, how to practice?

Posts: 361 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hi and welcome,

Tom Delaney:
Question: Is this anything? It's not really pleasant or unpleasant, but mostly neutral.


Not enough info for me to tell; going to refrain from throwing guesses at ya. If you can provide further, detailed information, such as time durations of the experience, specific feelings arising, etc, I might be able to say more.

Tom Delaney:
Question: In my sitting, should I keep going with awareness of all these flickering feelings, sensations, perceptions. etc. or should I put my effort back on following the breath? I am aware of the breath while I sit, but as just another one of the thousands of other sensations that are happening as well...


Following the breath probably won't yield much due to that expectation mentioned below of it feeling "beside the point" (unless you change the expectation). And the feeling itself is probably a cue that you're "beyond" getting anything out of such a practice. In any case, the former, if done properly, can yield all sorts of things...and the latter is less likely (but is a good way to learn how to properly do the former).

Tom Delaney:
Another question: I usually sit for 40-60 minutes in the morning, and then again for 20-30 minutes at night. Sometimes (3-5 times/week), I try to do metta practice in the evening. Lately, I feel the same way about metta practice as I do about following the breath: It feels artificial and beside the point. I feel like it might be useful for counteracting my grumpiness so part of me thinks I should do it, but I find it hard because it feels like I'm moving away from what I should be doing when I try to do metta lately. Should I keep trying to do metta, or just let it go for a while? I would like to not be so grumpy with family members...


I have no idea what you "should" do, but I have personally always thought metta practice to be a grand waste of time. I suspect many would oppose that idea, and perhaps one of those folks will post so as to give you an alternative opinion.

Peace,
Trent
Tom Delaney, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Where I am, what was that, how to practice?

Posts: 3 Join Date: 7/6/10 Recent Posts
Thanks, Trent--I really appreciate the input.

I just wanted to clarify something. You wrote:

In any case, the former, if done properly, can yield all sorts of things...and the latter is less likely (but is a good way to learn how to properly do the former).


When you say "the former" are you referring to "maintaining awareness of all these flickering feelings, sensations, perceptions. etc." and when you say "the latter" are you referring to following the breath?

Again, thanks.

-Tom
Trent H., modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Where I am, what was that, how to practice?

Posts: 361 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hi,

Tom Delaney:
Thanks, Trent--I really appreciate the input.


No problem, you're very welcome.

Tom Delaney:
When you say "the former" are you referring to "maintaining awareness of all these flickering feelings, sensations, perceptions. etc." and when you say "the latter" are you referring to following the breath?


Yes. [Edit] Following the breath is a great exercise at any time though...I don't mean to imply the contrary at all. You'll just have to include wider sensations along with the breath to make insight progress past a certain point (sensations such as space, this and that, observing, etc).

Trent
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Daniel M. Ingram, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Where I am, what was that, how to practice?

Posts: 3199 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
The breath is interesting and has some somewhat unique aspects relating to how mental shifts occur and falls interestingly on the border of control and not-control in a way that is more obvious than some other types of sensations at times for some people, now, given that highly qualified statement:

I would go with what is regardless of what it is if you are able to stay with it, the chaos unbridled as it presents, directly, clearly, second after second.

If you can't do that, the breath is a good anchor and reveals the same things.

You may find yourself oscillating between these as your level of stability varies.

Helpful?

Daniel

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