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Quality of sits cycling over time

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Quality of sits cycling over time
Answer
6/16/17 4:47 PM
Hey all, I've been having a situation lately where the quality of my meditations has been cycling from bad to amazing and back again over the course of about a week, plus maybe a couple days.  On the best days, my focus is clear, strong, and steady, and almost effortless, with no physical pain over the entire hour.  The mind is calm, and I get an amazing afterglow after I've finished.  On the worst days, my mind is just a chaotic mess, the focus is scattered, even though I apply great effort, and I continually lose my object of focus (the breath) like a newby.  On these days there is often pain, sometimes to the point where I strongly want to quit and get up (though I always do gut it out). The state of my meditations is also reflected in the state of my mind throughout the day.  But it's not just that some days are good and some bad, it definitely cycles repeatedly back and forth over that period of 7 - 9 days or so.

I honestly have no idea where I am in the stages of insight - I've found it almost impossible to pinpoint that ever (I can rationalize almost any stage), but I've been using Culadasa's 'The Mind Illuminated' as my main practice guide (I highly recommend it!).  For those familiar with that method, I am nominally practicing in stage 4, but on my good days I feel solidly in stage 6, while on the bad days I feel like I'm struggling to maintain stage 3.

So far my approach is just to accept what comes and diligently continue to practice, whether it's easy or hard.  However, the cycles seem to be getting more extreme over time (higher highs, lower lows), to the point where I am now asking for advice because I fear it may be hindering my progress.  Any insight (heh) into this would be much appreciated.


Update: After reading through some of the material on this board, I can add that I have passed A&P.  If A&P is characterised by intense vibrating/tingling sensations along with very strong energy currents, then that definitely happened about 9 months ago, only a couple months after I began my formal sitting practice.

RE: Quality of sits cycling over time
Answer
6/17/17 5:25 AM as a reply to Chris Weeks.
Sounds like everything is going as it should! There will be different factors that determine where your meditation leads. For example, your concentration will be affected by recent activity depending on the strength of kamma and when it was performed. You may have changes in diet or sleep that can create different sensations or levels of concentration. As it takes time to develop your sila (morality) to a place where it easier to identify what is affecting what, having faith in the knowledge that continued practice and well established intention will inevitably lead to progression. Remember that the mind is just a process, and not actually 'you', so controlling it is not an option, just the gentle guidance of intention, which takes time. If you are concerned about your health for any reason, then lessen your practice and seek advice, but I don't think this is the problem here.

What this sounds like is cycling through the dark night into equanamity. Equanamity is the ability to accept the highs and lows equally to a degree where you can fine tune your concentration and incline your mind towards Nibbana.

How long are your sits at the moment? It can sometimes take half an hour at least to allow the mind to settle into the task at hand enough to gain further insight.

I recommend spending the first half of the sit trying to build enough concentration to shed all the thoughts that aren't necessary right now, as I is actually the doubts, not the states of mind that are a barrier to progress.

Once your are well concentrated, try rise up through the dark night, dispassionately making note of all the sensations, but more importantly, your 'personal' reaction to them. Realising the nature of your bias is going to allow you to drop them at high equanamity so you can observe the formations that will incline your mind towards Nibbana.

In short, as your mind needs to stop, it needs to 'trust' that everything will be fine when it does!! The process of stopping is similar to 4th jhana, except that it feels it doesn't need to look for objects anymore, rather than it happening as a consequence of great concentration.


I think with skillful direction and focus, you can get this in less time than you think, but you may need to reign in the desire for stream entry (I assume this is your aim for now), as these desires will be disruptive when in high equanamity and will downgrade a path moment into a near miss which could even derail your session if you are not careful. Near misses are useful however as they teach you not to do the same thing again.

If you're having one meditation session a day, turn it into 2 as this will keep momentum going into the other sit.

Finally, start noting day to day life as much as reasonably possible. You won't need to do it ALL DAY, but that certainly helps. Whenever you walk anywhere, see if you can walk mindfully, eat mindfully etc, as this will make the mind much more pliable in observing sensations and itself during you meditation. 

When you're at this stage, you're going to have to push it to get path moment like you did when you were at 3C's, hence the need for momentum. Thank goodness it's more interesting ;)

Best of luck and hope this makes sense.

RE: Quality of sits cycling over time
Answer
6/17/17 10:06 AM as a reply to Chris Weeks.
I also find great variation in the quality of my sits. At times I would put myself at Culadasa’s level 5, 6 or 7 and think, OK, the higher levels are achievable. But then I’ll drop way down on the scale. For me, this cycling is occurring over periods of maybe three months.

Culadasa says progress is non-linear, but I didn’t think it would be as non-linear as I have found it. For me it is closer to chaotic.

Dom Stones’s answer above is helpful, with the idea of incorporating the “Progress of Insight” model into the picture.  I’ve really only been using Culadasa’s map to gauge progress, but incorporating the idea of cycling is useful.

Related to this, I was at the airport yesterday and the plane was delayed.  So, I tried meditating while sitting there.  It was noisy chaos in a crowded room, so I just watched the chaos in the room.  If I was to gauge how good this meditation was as far as concentration, I would say it was very poor.  However, while in flight and in landing I, entered what I recognize as an A&P state.

One thing that I did find useful is incorporating morning sits into my practice.  I’m not a morning person, but my concentation is much better in the morning sit.  My after work sits are normally much poorer these days.  I have to concentrate intensely at work, so I’m now wondering if I’m “using up” my concentration resource.

RE: Quality of sits cycling over time
Answer
6/17/17 10:24 AM as a reply to C P M.
C P M:
One thing that I did find useful is incorporating morning sits into my practice.  I’m not a morning person, but my concentation is much better in the morning sit.  My after work sits are normally much poorer these days.  I have to concentrate intensely at work, so I’m now wondering if I’m “using up” my concentration resource.
I find value in trying to sense, actually feel, the aspect of experience that says 'bad sit going on right now'.

This guy writes that mental focus requires biological recources and those resources (basically glucose or something like that) are quite limited and effected by effort and recent diet.  He wrote a book about that: https://www.amazon.com/Willpower-Rediscovering-Greatest-Human-Strength/dp/0143122231

Before I was aware of that book I found myself in a habbit of eating some peanut butter and chocolate chips before a late evening sit.  With that onboard I was less likely to be suffering fatigue and more likely reaching my bleeding edge of awareness.

RE: Quality of sits cycling over time
Answer
6/17/17 12:55 PM as a reply to Dom Stone.
Thanks for providing some very helpful perspective.

I know what you mean by recent activity affecting what happens during the sit, but I think this is different.  I do experience what you mention, where, depending on what's been going on, it takes some time to settle the mind down before getting on with the sit proper.  However, these types of things just come and go, they don't regularly cycle.  Also, when I'm at the bottom of a cycle, it doesn't matter what I do, the mind won't calm and the focus won't come. 
My practice is to sit for an hour every morning, then I do self-inquiry throughout the day, as well as being as mindful as possible as much as I can all the time. I have been naturally inclining towards wanting to sit a second time, but that only happens a couple times a week.  
Equanamity is the ability to accept the highs and lows equally to a degree where you can fine tune your concentration and incline your mind towards Nibbana.

Yeah, thanks for that, that's interesting, actually.  Lately I have been accepting more and more the idea that "bad" sits are just as valuable as "good" ones, and learning to be less disappointed/judgemental of them.  I hadn't connected it before, but the cultivation of this attitude does seem to have coincided with the ramping up of these cycles.  I wonder if there's a connection there.

As I sat this morning, I tried following your advice to try and see my resistances and reactions to the sit as it's happening.  I noticed a lot more fear based reactions than I would have expected.  Also a fair amount of harshness toward myself. I guess truly accepting things as they come, or as they are, is going to take some more work.  Maybe some Metta?  I never do metta because I always feel like my sit time would be better spent on other practices, but maybe I should reconsider that.

RE: Quality of sits cycling over time
Answer
6/17/17 2:16 PM as a reply to Chris Weeks.
Metta (and all the brahma viharas) is really valuable. Don't undersestimate it. Effort put into it will certainly pay off, it is a transformative practice. 

RE: Quality of sits cycling over time
Answer
6/18/17 9:52 AM as a reply to Chris Weeks.
Chris Weeks:

Yeah, thanks for that, that's interesting, actually.  Lately I have been accepting more and more the idea that "bad" sits are just as valuable as "good" ones, and learning to be less disappointed/judgemental of them.  I hadn't connected it before, but the cultivation of this attitude does seem to have coincided with the ramping up of these cycles.  I wonder if there's a connection there.

As I sat this morning, I tried following your advice to try and see my resistances and reactions to the sit as it's happening.  I noticed a lot more fear based reactions than I would have expected.  Also a fair amount of harshness toward myself. I guess truly accepting things as they come, or as they are, is going to take some more work.

This is good news! As insight isn't specifically intellectual, your mental narrative is unlikely to sync up to it in the way the ego desires. In fact it's only after a flash of insight, when the mind scans around to try find out what's different. This is why it can be helpful to observe the body and mind over time, to ease the mind into a safer space where it can trust new insights.

Yes, it will take some more work, but how much work that will work is entirely dependant on your ability to let go. I surprised myself with Stream Entry as only a few days before, I was also harsh with myself. This is a sila issue, and can be resolved with patient and persistant guidance.

1. Your thoughts have no jurisdiction here, they just should be encouraged to do what they are told! Thinking, thinking. ;)
2.Who is the thought being harsh to? Is the thought of harshness being harsh to itself? (There is no independant object that can observe itself)
3. Is the thought referring to a self? Did the self exist in the space between that thought and the thought before it?
4. Where does this thought go once you note it?
5. Does another thought answer, are you in control of this, can it be predicted?

If realising you aren't in direct control, and your mind is once again harsh (Remember this is not you, so don't feel guilty!) perhaps stick to some Mahasi style noting, trying to observe the characteristic of No Self until it is no longer 'you' so much, it doesn't need to be a fixed realisation, that's what path moments are for.

I can't comment on Metta as I have a similar issue with it, but I have faith that, being a bramavihara that safely includes all sentient beings, it must be immesurably helpful in a society where you have to do things you don't want to, even if it's as simple as answering the door!

This did prompt me to look up on Metta bhavana so I can start to incorporate it into my practice. I found this article useful. 

http://www.fivetattvas.com/blog/six-stages-of-loving-kindness

RE: Quality of sits cycling over time
Answer
6/19/17 12:27 AM as a reply to Chris Weeks.
So, another thing I'm recognizing through all this is that I have cultivated an adversarial relationship with thoughts and thinking that can't be helpful. I am very enamoured with the blissful states that come when the mind is very still and thoughts are few, and I definitely crave for those. I also strive for the complete silence of thinking when focusing on my meditation object, but I think that's not necessarily correct. I seem to be having trouble finding the balance between quieting the mind, and keeping the object of focus primary despite thinking happening in the background. The mind just always feels noisy and abnoxiously repetitive when it's doing much of anything.

Just within the last few days I've been noticing feeling sensations much more strongly, to the point where there are fairly intense physical accompaniments.  I'm always laid back and detached emotionally, so it's pretty unsettling to me, sometimes bringing on fear. I also feel like I'm having more moments of insight into the 3 characteristics lately. The 3C are actually a subject I've had trouble grasping in the past, but I feel like I'm getting it now, and they are coming faster. The ones involving no-self in particular sometimes cause me to laugh out loud.