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To Start Down the Path?

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To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/20/17 9:05 PM
Thanks in advance for your indulgence:

I am in my mid-50's.  Lucky to be successful married, kids, etc.  Blah blah blah.  Fairly stressed out and basically a melancholy personality but I have decent standard coping mechanisms:  mild alcohol use, exercise, screwing off on the internet, etc. 

I was fascinated by this comment in a recent post here on Bob Wright's book.  The thread took another direction but this question from T DC was the one that fascinated me:

Regarding the mass, if dilute, cultural spread of dharma via the secular movement - this is related to something I have thought about for a while, which relates also to the spread of pragmatic ideas.  Personally, I found the path to be very difficult, so much so that it kind of scares me to imagine people I love and am close to undertaking it.  The path is incremental, and surely we only get out what we put in - nevertheless, I'm not sure people realize the gravity of the situation.

Maybe this is overly dramatic, my point is just that there are no quick fixes.  As the Tibetans say, "Better not to begin, but if you begin, better to finish".  Once we realize the path is really the only way out, we're in for a long journey.  I think all I'm really expressing here is how long and trying I found the path to be, and how I wouldn't necessarily wish it on anyone, although certainly its fruits represent a major improvement over my pre-meditation state.


I have been meditating for about a year, 45 minutes per day.  Did one mild Jon Kabat Zinn 5 day retreat.  Very cool but no fireworks or anything.  I am absorbed and fascinated by dharma stuff and I have devoured books, podcasts etc.  

Trying to decide how much effort to put in and whether to try to keep going, maybe some day dive into the super deep end (assuming my brain is not too hardened even to do it).

I wonder how many of you who have gone a way down the path are glad you did.  I keep hearing how hard and scary it is and then I wonder, do I need this? But I'd love to understand what reality really is (if that is possible).  And maybe stop worrying about things so much (what other people think of me, my own coming death, etc)..

I am sure there are many prior threads on this, but thanks in advance for your answers.



 

RE: To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/20/17 9:42 PM as a reply to Francis M. Crawford.
Hey There, I'm mid fifties and have been meditaing fo maybe 2 1/2 years. I began because of real suffering from a medical condition, and after all this time I agree with Bob's comments. In fact, before reading this thread I wondered if others felt like I did in that I'm not sure I would recommend this approach to people close to me. IOW, It isn't easy or straightforward. However, if you apply yourself it is, of course, the best thing you can do in your life...

You should maybe feel about that same way if you've really dilligently practiced (every day) for 45 minutes for a year, in that you've felt and seen the real diligence required to really make progress.

After 2 1/2 years I have conquered the majority of my medical / mental issues thanks to mediation... My practice is about an hour a day. 

My primary regret: That no one taught me to mediate when I was in my teens or twentys.

From that perspective, I might approach close friends and explain, like anything of real value, you have to be really committed to get the benefits of the practice. In my case, only the daily pain forced me to start and continue. Most people don't have that motivation...

RE: To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/20/17 10:16 PM as a reply to Francis M. Crawford.
I'm a pretty similar demographic, and have been on the path coming up for two years.  I find that the further I go the more it seems I have yet to do. The path is, I think, really long, although that might be partly because of how I practice.  But I have reached the point that no longer matters to me - I'm not grasping after the next stage any more.  More importantly, I've made enough progress that whole swathes of suffering have now completely gone, and will never return.  Even though I have far to go, that is itself hugely worthwhile and has transformed my perceptions of life.

But be warned, some insights can be pretty painful.  For example, if you don't exist, then neither do the people you love the most. You need pretty good support structures to help you there - strong mind, somewhat purified body and faith in the dharma and sangha.  I did reconnect with my householder life, and loves, with more detachment, but there were a few rough spots.  More generally, the wisdom in MCTB and the dharmaoverground really helps.

I'm very glad I started.

RE: To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/20/17 11:19 PM as a reply to Francis M. Crawford.
Hi Francis! 

Just to clarify about that quote, I am extremely glad I encountered the path.  As to the difficulty and the reward, it really seems that you get out of it what you put in. 

If you are clearly driven to meditate to improve your situation, that is IMO the best reason to start on the path, and the one most likely to lead to success, versus a vague interest in meditative progress.  Best of luck, and as far as a dedicated, rational, pragamatic approach to practice, this is a great place to be!

RE: To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/20/17 11:40 PM as a reply to Francis M. Crawford.
Well one view on this is that if you are fascinated by this stuff you are already past A&P and thus already on the ride.

It was well worth it for me.

I think its perhaps possible to classify the difficult stuff into meaningful categories and consider antidotes.

Here are a few examples from my experience (in the order I experienced them on the path):

1) Facing dark night type stuff and emotions

Helps if you deconstruct the emotions. (bodily feelings + visual thoughts + verbal thoughts). Also helps if you aren't too attached to your own emotions, and have experience facing fears etc.

This is no longer a difficulty for me, mostly because of how I experience emotions now.

2) Difficulties stemming from adjusting to a new world view.

I struggled with deal with a shifted perspective without personal agency, self, and ideals.

I don't really have this anymore. I think getting right understanding Madhyamaka philosophy as well as Adivaita type philosophy really helped me get over it and give me a good existential framework for things.

This is no longer a difficulty for me, I am pretty well adjusted to the worldview (which doesn't seem like it is going to change further).

3) Fear of becoming too enlightned and letting go too much.

I had this fear that I would completely become disinterested in worldly things and become some sort of completely detached zombie. Having role models or other people who have accomplished the same or greater levels of attainment helps in the beginning.

And then after a few shifts I also remembered my own previous fears and how unfounded they seemed afterwards, to help me have the motivation and faith to continue.

This is no longer a difficulty for me, atleast in a gross sense. My view is I want to get as enlightened as possible. I definetly have some subtle attachments pertaining to this.

4) Release of emotional trauma and subtle energy purification

This is difficult, ongoing, and occasionally problematic for me. It is also very rewarding and liberating when a deep seated emotional / psychological trauma is resolved.

RE: To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/21/17 5:23 AM as a reply to (D Z) Dhru Val.
(D Z) Dhru Val:

I struggled with deal with a shifted perspective without personal agency, self, and ideals. 

I don't really have this anymore. I think getting right understanding Madhyamaka philosophy as well as Adivaita type philosophy really helped me get over it and give me a good existential framework for things.

Hey (D Z) Dhru Val, got any more pointers on this existential framework?  I had a big non-dual insight experience with depersonalisation, but I recoiled from it because it was so challenging. Since then I have been working on concentration so that I am better prepared next time (if there is a next time). I do seem to making subtle progress on non-dual perception and reimagining other people in a non-dual way, but it is slow. I can almost, but not quite, see the non-dual framework I think you are referring to.  I know I need to lock it in.  Any tips ?

RE: To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/21/17 6:27 AM as a reply to Francis M. Crawford.
Francis,

Robert Wright's warning is a really good one. Basically after a certain point in meditation, it really does become about dropping defense mechanisms (in the psychological sense) and purification. A lot of our old ways of thinking/coping become blatently obvious and seen as childish, and in its place is not a new stability, but rather an ability to navigate in a world of ambiguity. If folks are really comfortable in their life, then short meditations as a sort of adult "quiet time" is probably fine... but if you increase the dose with meditation retreats or serious daily practice, then things _will_ change. 

One thing that seems clear to me in retrospect, is so much of our habits and behaviors are kind of wired into our body. As a result, when we start turning over rocks in our psyche, it is a full mind-body process and it feels a bit like a slow-speed drug detox. 

Now that said, if you go through it all, then it is very easy to say "good riddance" to all those defense mechanisms and it is very easy to prefer the results of meditation... but it is a lot like saying I just spend 7 years going to the gym everyday and my body is stronger and healthier --- well it should be with all that effort! emoticon  

So yes, anything more than short recreational meditation should come with a warning label. It can be disruptive and difficult. It definitely makes you both more sensitive and resilient, but you have to go through phases where it is quite difficult -- old stable perspectives are falling apart and no new comforting perspectives take their place, except for a very adult (and paradoxical) sense that "meditation gives you stability by becoming aquainted with instability". 

Just a few other cautions:

* People have lots of horror stories and glamour stories of what meditation does (you find no self, you find true self, you have no agency, you're on autopilot, you are empowered) -- my experience is while there are states that suggest these have an element of truth, in the end there is an appreciation that these are simply states that people cling to. It's much more accurite to say everything becomes an honest "middle path" between extremes states of self and no self, intention and no agency... etc. etc. 

* People have a lot of ideas about what philosophies someone who has gone through the whole deal would have (vegan, omnivoire, pacifist, warrior, meek, wrathful, etc. etc.) -- my experience is while all of these are valid views in their own way, again in the end there is a lot more appreciation for both their true and falseness and living life becomes -- rather that living out a particular philosophy -- much more of navigating life on a case by case, moment by moment basis. Again, very middle path when it comes to views.

* There are many people (myself included) who started meditation in part as a way to get away from the shadow part of their psyche --- these people often have an idealized version of what meditation is and does... and it can be a harsh wake-up call when meditation gives them a much more complex insights and results.

* Ultimately, meditation will point out our very very very basic sense of "woundedness and lack" and shine a big spotlight on it. It will never heal that wound or fill that lack, but rather point out how we were confused in the first place about being wounded and lacking. It's a very strange process to describe, but by going deep into how we relate to the world as self and object, interior and exterior, we eventually see that there is a very basic coping mechanism of trying to put the world "over there" so it can't really hurt us, and me "over here" so I'm in control. The end result is the boundaries become much more porous and flip-floppy and there is a greater clarity and intimacy with what is experienced. It is a bit like waking up from a dream, waking up to the obvious.


To wrap it up, I was personally compelled to really do the work and "get" what this was all about. It was basically something that haunted me my whole life. I don't push meditation on my wife, family, or friends. It's not essential for a pretty good life, especially if the person is trying to be a good person and create a good society for everyone. That said, yes there is something deep in this stuff that people who do not do the practice will miss out on, they will not have the same deep sense of "knowing oneself" as a meditator. But maybe that's no big deal. My hunch is that when people reach their developmental limit and feel the stagnation, then they are probably ready for it and will hunger for a meditation practice. 

RE: To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/21/17 6:59 AM as a reply to Francis M. Crawford.
Hey Francis,

I too like the quote that T DC gave and think there is some truth to it. But I don't feel you have control over this; if you feel drawn to the stuff the Dharma talks about, you are already on the ride, so to speak.

If you feel unsatisfied and something is missing - or whatever it was that has drawn you to meditation - in a way you have already started. There is a good chance that (without deliberately trying to suppress it) you will just find yourself tugging at the dharma thread, seeing where it goes, even without a formal practice. The person who isn't interested and OK with the way things are, well that is fine too. Maybe one day that will change and they will come to meditation. Maybe not. 

my personal experience is that it is hard work and has its ups and downs. But at the same time, Shinzen Young's quote of rather having one more day of 'this' than a whole lifetime of how it was before also has some resonance to it. Although the path is ups and downs, I also think with the right practice it can be all good, too, even in the rough times. 

But as Shargrol says, I definitely wouldn't 'force' meditation on anyone currently. Letting people know of the option of maybe there being another way, if they want, is the closest I would come to it.

I have done a lot of practice with the book The Mind Illuminated and it may be worth considering yourself as a method to try - concentration naturally seems to bring joy and it can provide some cushioning against any unsettling times.

RE: To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/21/17 9:24 AM as a reply to Francis M. Crawford.
Francis M. Crawford:
Thanks in advance for your indulgence:

I am in my mid-50's.  Lucky to be successful married, kids, etc.  Blah blah blah.  Fairly stressed out and basically a melancholy personality but I have decent standard coping mechanisms:  mild alcohol use, exercise, screwing off on the internet, etc. 

I was fascinated by this comment in a recent post here on Bob Wright's book.  The thread took another direction but this question from T DC was the one that fascinated me:

Regarding the mass, if dilute, cultural spread of dharma via the secular movement - this is related to something I have thought about for a while, which relates also to the spread of pragmatic ideas.  Personally, I found the path to be very difficult, so much so that it kind of scares me to imagine people I love and am close to undertaking it.  The path is incremental, and surely we only get out what we put in - nevertheless, I'm not sure people realize the gravity of the situation.

Maybe this is overly dramatic, my point is just that there are no quick fixes.  As the Tibetans say, "Better not to begin, but if you begin, better to finish".  Once we realize the path is really the only way out, we're in for a long journey.  I think all I'm really expressing here is how long and trying I found the path to be, and how I wouldn't necessarily wish it on anyone, although certainly its fruits represent a major improvement over my pre-meditation state.


I have been meditating for about a year, 45 minutes per day.  Did one mild Jon Kabat Zinn 5 day retreat.  Very cool but no fireworks or anything.  I am absorbed and fascinated by dharma stuff and I have devoured books, podcasts etc.  

Trying to decide how much effort to put in and whether to try to keep going, maybe some day dive into the super deep end (assuming my brain is not too hardened even to do it).

I wonder how many of you who have gone a way down the path are glad you did.  I keep hearing how hard and scary it is and then I wonder, do I need this? But I'd love to understand what reality really is (if that is possible).  And maybe stop worrying about things so much (what other people think of me, my own coming death, etc)..

I am sure there are many prior threads on this, but thanks in advance for your answers.


Thank you so much for the thoughtful replies so far.  This is a great and unique forum.....

 

RE: To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/21/17 4:08 PM as a reply to Francis M. Crawford.
I always advise people to give it a go. I feel compelled to warn them about the difficulties they will face if they suceed but I think it's better to just bite the bullet and go for it. It's certainly true that once you've crossed the A&P you can feel you're in limbo dedicated to years of meditation with no other way out. But even when going through the shock and misery of the dark night, I always thought it was better to be like that than how I was before. Living in a fantasy just doesn't work. It's better to know.

RE: To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/21/17 4:40 PM as a reply to Francis M. Crawford.
In my experience there are a number of ways down the path.  The process most people here are using is essentially a careful examination of the mind and how it fabricates reality.  This can be a really tough road at first because it lowers mental defense mechanisms so painful narratives that you have been pushing away will suddenly become very present in the mind.  Once you pass through this stage for some time, you begin to see that the triggers in the world that you used to use to experience happiness and love are also fabricated and this can make people feel trapped in anxious isolation. 

Eventually, you gain insight into the way the mind actually produces the experiences we call happiness and love and see that no triggers are required.  These are just the nature of the mind.  This feels good and produces a much more relaxed and happy person.  

I really recommend Yoga instead to start.  It   takes you pretty far through the stages with out as much mental drama and evens moods rather than driving some of the manic depression that meditative cycling can induce.   

A general question to the community.  If one had an hour a day for a year to practice, would Yoga or Vipassana or Concentration take you farther?  

If you did Yoga for a year and then switched to meditation, after two years would you be farther along or not as far as a meditator who did two years with the same commitment? 

RE: To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/21/17 8:18 PM as a reply to curious.
curious:
(D Z) Dhru Val:

I struggled with deal with a shifted perspective without personal agency, self, and ideals. 

I don't really have this anymore. I think getting right understanding Madhyamaka philosophy as well as Adivaita type philosophy really helped me get over it and give me a good existential framework for things.

Hey (D Z) Dhru Val, got any more pointers on this existential framework?  I had a big non-dual insight experience with depersonalisation, but I recoiled from it because it was so challenging. Since then I have been working on concentration so that I am better prepared next time (if there is a next time). I do seem to making subtle progress on non-dual perception and reimagining other people in a non-dual way, but it is slow. I can almost, but not quite, see the non-dual framework I think you are referring to.  I know I need to lock it in.  Any tips ?

For Madhyamaka you can read this: https://meaningness.com/ (The writer, Alan Chapan, is a buddhist practitioner)

For Adivaita, it is more about seeing the luminous, knowing, aspect of consciousness (rigpa in buddhism) as a touch of the divine in the world.

Keep in mind they are opposing schools of thought. Buddhists tend to view Adivaita as eternalistic, Adivaitans view Buddhism as Nihilistic.

 Overall I think Adivaita type schools emphasize oneness too much. And Buddhist probably emphasise deconstruction too much.

RE: To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/22/17 5:29 AM as a reply to Francis M. Crawford.
The other thing Francis. You do hear a lot of stories from people who really struggled through the dark night stages of the insight map. These stories can of course be very severe and you ought to take that into account if pushing forward with insight meditation. However, you rarely hear stories from the many people who went through a dark night and it just wasn't that bad. For the record, when the dark night started for me, I had no idea what was going on. I just got into it my accident from using meditation as a tool to take the edge off negative emotions. At first it was a real shock and I was really miserable and very irritable. It did feel like my world had fallen apart. But then I discovered this site and others that described the process. Once I knew what was going on, I found it actually pretty manageable. I developed a fascination with the process and started to regard the effects as a postive thing which made it much easier to endure. It's not possible to predict what it will be like for you but don't let yourself be too persuaded by the more extreme examples that you hear of. Though it's wise to take them into account.

Adam.

RE: To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/22/17 11:26 AM as a reply to Adam M.
Adam:
You do hear a lot of stories from people who really struggled through the dark night stages of the insight map. These stories can of course be very severe and you ought to take that into account if pushing forward with insight meditation. However, you rarely hear stories from the many people who went through a dark night and it just wasn't that bad. For the record, when the dark night started for me, I had no idea what was going on.


I've noticed that people tend to follow the very human tendency to be overly dramatic in their descriptions of the dark night. I sometimes wonder if this makes it worse for the people going through it, if they've read those descriptions. Instead of the "oh god, it's so horrible and soul crushing" descriptions, i'd much prefer people to instead describe some of the ways to work through it. Most descriptions I see of the dark night contain minimal guidance on how to navigate it, just dire warnings of how horrible it can be.

Personally I found that as soon as I was able to see my experience of the dark night as simply another type of experience/sensation, it suddenly wasn't so bad. When I had the idea in my mind "oh this sucks, why is this happening to me!", it was horrible. As soon as that perspective changed to "there is the sensation of sadness, which has the factors of X, Y and Z", it fell away quite quickly. I think this is what is usually hinted at when you hear the usual "keep practising" advice, but perhaps that advice could be expanded a bit. I've read descriptions of meditation techniques which fill entire books, yet dark night usually just gets a short "keep practising".  emoticon

Dark night doesn't have to be as horrible as people make it sound (though it absolutely can be if you don't know what's going on). As you mentioned, simply being aware of what it is can help, but having some idea how to deal with it is even better. Would be nice if that was more the focus instead of the "oh god it sucks" descriptions you see everywhere.

RE: To Start Down the Path?
Answer
9/22/17 9:49 PM as a reply to Lars.
Lars:

Personally I found that as soon as I was able to see my experience of the dark night as simply another type of experience/sensation, it suddenly wasn't so bad. When I had the idea in my mind "oh this sucks, why is this happening to me!", it was horrible. As soon as that perspective changed to "there is the sensation of sadness, which has the factors of X, Y and Z", it fell away quite quickly. I think this is what is usually hinted at when you hear the usual "keep practising" advice, but perhaps that advice could be expanded a bit. I've read descriptions of meditation techniques which fill entire books, yet dark night usually just gets a short "keep practising".  emoticon

I absolutely agree. An attitude of this is awful I need to get out of it and focussing on mediation time will work in the end. But much better to see if you can try to see this new world as a new fascinating place to be investigated and explored. By the time you've embraced it, it will be over.