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Advice on finding a teacher
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1/31/18 6:14 AM
Hi all, 

I have decided to try to find a meditation teacher to work with me over video call, and was hoping that people on here might be able to give me recommendations if I tell you all a little about my circumstances. I have come across a few in my research, but they seem to be charging $100 per hour minimum (K Folk for example). If absolutely necessary I could afford that for a limited number of sessions but I'd like to explore all options first.

My background: I've been meditating for a few years and went on a Goenka retreat in 2014, but I feel I only really started a proper serious practice last spring when I stumbled across MCTB. I then went on another Goenka in May and crossed the A&P.  
After that I suffered in the dark night for a few months until I went to Panditarama in Yangon and did a 21 day retreat in October/November.  I feel like this got me out of the dark night into equanimity (although I start to feel dark night symptoms if my practice slips at the moment), however I did not really take to the technique as I expected to and I feel like it probably is not the right one for me going forward.

Which leads me to my current predicament: basically I am very confused about where I should be going from here, which technique would be best for me to be doing daily etc. I am currently chopping and changing between counting breaths (to improve concentration), focusing on vibrations at nostril/upper lip and sometimes doing the Mahasi noting.

I would like a teacher who has attained stream entry and can advise me on choosing a technique to stick with aimed at achieving this and help me through the process, and ideally who has experience of Mahasi noting as I have some unresolved queries regarding it.

If anyone can help me with this I'd be very grateful!

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
1/31/18 7:41 AM as a reply to Beleza.
Cannot help you with your teacher issue but I can try to briefly answer what you question so that others can take over to answer your deeper queries.

Dark Night - You used the word suffer/predicament - Need to drop that way of thinking! Their actual names all start with "Knowledge of". Start seeing them as lessons/insights that you learn to get you to transcend them and be able to use the knowledge for your long life thereafter to be free from suffering.

Equanimity - This is the quality/mind state to be cultivated that will get you from start to finish. What is your understanding of it? 

Counting breaths is IMO a pretty bad idea, you are focused on counting, have very low clarity of what you are supposed to observe and fall into the monotonous dredgery of losing concentration instead. What is wrong with how you are focusing on vibrations and noting?

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/2/18 1:54 AM as a reply to Yilun Ong.
Thanks for your reply.

Appreciate the comment RE the dark night. I certainly thought of it as suffering at the time and became very caught up in feeling sorry for myself for a while. Looking back to that stage now though I can see it as more of a learning experience, so I will try to be more careful about the language I use and the way I speak/think about it in future.

When I mentioned equanimity I'm referring to the stages as laid out as by Daniel Ingram in MCTB. Admittedly it is just my own not very expert self-diagnosis, but what I am experiencing tallies up quite well with his description of it so until I find a teacher who can tell me otherwise I'll go with it. Somewhat ironically a big part of the reason I think I'm in this stage is that I've stopped really caring that much about what stage I am in, something I was putting a lot of importance on before doing my last retreat. Also there was a quote from the book along the lines of 'all the stuff from the dark night might still be going on, but it has lost its ability to bother you,' that tallied up exactly with how I was feeling when I read it after the Panditarama retreat.

Regarding counting breathes, it was recommended by Kenneth Folk in an article that I found a link to on here, as a way to improve concentration, and is also recommended I believe in the Mind Illuminated (or possibly another book I read a couple of months ago, the name of which escapes me). I am counting only after the in breath, so am free to concentration on the sensations of the breath for the rest of the time. I felt like I did not get as much out of the last retreat in large part because of my undeveloped concentration abilities, so I resolved to develop these further, but I'd be happy to hear recommendations on better techniques to try for achieving this.

My overall feeling is that I've stumbled into territory I'm unprepared for, and could really use someone who has been through it before to talk to and help me work through it.

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/2/18 4:24 AM as a reply to Beleza.
When I mentioned Equanimity - I am referring to the quality/mind state to be cultivated that will get you from start to finish. This is the thing to build and is way more important than the Stage of the same name, which requires it to reach BTW.

I am not sure about counting or even noting past a certain stage, as any intervention is a blockage to clarity. I am only aware that it is used for beginners to bring their attention to the breath and to help keep it there until reasonable stability is reached to abandon it to achieve greater concentration. I suggest you try dropping it and seeing what happens. This self-diagnosis of lack of concentration is difficult to prescribe a remedy, first of all Vipassana does not have a high entry requirement for concentration, secondly it is a relaxed, flexible concentration that past Access Concentration requires little-to-no noticeable effort to sustain <- this bubble-like place where things go on of their own accord where one is simply required to stay interested and investigate, not continue to power up their concentration.

If you detail your problems, there are many here who can help you. Where are you stuck or are facing issues with? I hear having a teacher will speed up the process, you can search here and find a suitable one.

Hope that helps!




RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/2/18 5:36 AM as a reply to Beleza.
Beleza, could you say more about where you live, your practice, your goals (short term and long term), and what kind of guidance you are looking for? My guess is a generic question won't get as much good replies as something more specific.

If you have noting questions, feel free to ask them on this thread. I can reply off-line as well if you want to send me a private message.

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/2/18 9:08 PM as a reply to shargrol.
^
|
 
Cannot come with higher recommendations! emoticon

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/3/18 12:02 AM as a reply to Beleza.
Hey Beleza,
I really feel for your position. I've had some terrible Dark Knights myself. Personally, I would recommend the Thai versions of the Mahasi tradition; like Wat Chom Thong or Wat Rampoeng. They take a much saner approach; gradually increasing meditation time incrementally. Also, I feel the softer approach is somewhat more effective. But, that is just my two cents and I respect both schools.
I've also heard that K Folk's student Ron Crouch (and alo a practicing clinical psychologist I think) is good. I think he operates on donation basis and has appointments on Saturday.

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/5/18 6:25 AM as a reply to shargrol.
Hi Shargrol,

I live in England and my practice currently consists of between 20 mins to 1.5 hours, depending how busy I allow myself to get.

My short term aim is to find a technique that suits me and stick to it, and increasing my daily sit time to 2 hours every day. Improving my concentration is another short term aim and maybe a prerequisite for further progress with insight.

My long term aim is to attain stream entry and then from there who knows, however I know I need at the very least to decide on a technique first and go on one or several more long retreats before this might happen.

RE my current practice After posting this topic and seeing the initial response I decided to drop the counting and return to noting practice and my practice seems to have improved a bit, but it's early days yet. My issue with Mahasi noting is that I spent 21 days at Panditarama and felt like I was treading water for much of it, so I can't help feeling that doing an hour or 2 a day in my daily life is not going to get me anywhere, and that I should experiment with new techniques and see if they suit me better.
 
And regarding my problems with noting, the first 7/8 days at Panditarama I was in a lot of pain and towards the end of that period having serious aversion to practicing, what I took to be reobservation. Suddenly all the pain and the aversion dropped away and I felt very peaceful. However, I did not kick on from this position as I hoped to and by day 14 or so and even by the end of the retreat I was still struggling to maintain concentration for long at a time, especially during sitting.

I was also becoming very frustrated by the idea of 'seeing the true nature' of the sensations in the feet/stomach during walking/sitting. The audio talks each day kept telling me that if I was not 'seeing something special' about true nature by this stage I was not putting in required effort, which added to my frustration as time went on and I was not perceiving anything more than I had been, despite a huge amount of mental effort. Maybe I was trying too hard? I'm not sure, but the idea that I will start perceiving these things now doing an hour or two a day when i couldn't for 21 days on retreat seems unrealistic and makes it hard to stay motivated.
 

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/5/18 6:28 AM as a reply to Mettafore.
Thanks for the recommendations, Mettafore.

Ron Crouch is unfortunately not taking on new students at present, but I've had a look at Wat Chom Thong just now online and it will certainly go on my shortlist for next long retreat.

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/5/18 12:37 PM as a reply to Beleza.
Beleza:
RE my current practice After posting this topic and seeing the initial response I decided to drop the counting and return to noting practice and my practice seems to have improved a bit, but it's early days yet. My issue with Mahasi noting is that I spent 21 days at Panditarama and felt like I was treading water for much of it, so I can't help feeling that doing an hour or 2 a day in my daily life is not going to get me anywhere, and that I should experiment with new techniques and see if they suit me better.
 
And regarding my problems with noting, the first 7/8 days at Panditarama I was in a lot of pain and towards the end of that period having serious aversion to practicing, what I took to be reobservation. Suddenly all the pain and the aversion dropped away and I felt very peaceful. However, I did not kick on from this position as I hoped to and by day 14 or so and even by the end of the retreat I was still struggling to maintain concentration for long at a time, especially during sitting.

I was also becoming very frustrated by the idea of 'seeing the true nature' of the sensations in the feet/stomach during walking/sitting. The audio talks each day kept telling me that if I was not 'seeing something special' about true nature by this stage I was not putting in required effort, which added to my frustration as time went on and I was not perceiving anything more than I had been, despite a huge amount of mental effort. Maybe I was trying too hard? I'm not sure, but the idea that I will start perceiving these things now doing an hour or two a day when i couldn't for 21 days on retreat seems unrealistic and makes it hard to stay motivated.
 

Your retreat experiences are very suggestive of a path forward. It seems like you have two challenges: "maintaining concentration" and "seeing something special"... but my hunch is that you are indeed trying to hard on both of these challenges.

One of the phases leading to stream entry is going to be a phase where the mind kinda falls apart, where maintaining concentration is impossible. It might seem like this is a roadblock, but actually the trick is to let the mind have its troubles and simply notice what is going on. Too often, we want the mind to be clear, calm, spacious or focused, attentive, percise.. but --- especially on retreat --- there will be times when it's sloppy, chaotic, confused... basically a mess. That does not mean it's "bad meditation". As you point out, reobservation is always a mess and yet it is an essential stage of practice. 

My suggestion is to learn to be much much much much much more accepting of a sloppy mind. If you can notice/note some aspect of the sloppiness a few times a minute, maybe every outbreath so about 12 times a minute, that is enough for making progress. You might be tempted to try to "fix" the mind, but if you can't, then fighting it will just burn you out. That's when you need to switch gears and simply observe the mind as it is, as messy as it is, just as it is. If you are aware, that is enough. Just ride it out. That's all you need to do.

Ironically, same thing with "seeing something special". The special thing you need to see is just how it is... and the fact that you can be aware of things as they are (i.e., the not-self-ness of sensations that seem like self). My hunch is you already are capable of "objectifying" the contents of the mind as not-you. I'm pretty sure that's the special thing they were pointing toward and I bet you were already seeing it. 

In any case, in you daily sits, try to get used to sitting with a crappy mind. Non-retreat sitting is actually better for this, because the mind might not have time to settle down --- perfect! emoticon  Your job is getting used to just letting your mind be as it is. Be more of an observer, don't assume that you "are" the mess.


I absolutely guarantee (oops, I should probably say: I'm fairly sure) that this practice is a perfect approach for training for your next retreat. The thing you need to get good at is >not resisting<. When that happens, you'll move through the early stages more quickly and you'll will have more energy for equanimity and beyond. The problem you have now is you wear yourself out battling the early stages and don't have enough energy to power a open, clear mind in equanimity, so you don't really continue to move forward.

Equanimity is actually a very tricky stage. It requires even more >not resisting< even when sitting just seems like normal life. You need to keep the seat of the pants to the seat of the cushion and not be thrown off by doubts or boredom. Just sitting, simple -- but nearly impossible if you are fighting with yourself.


I think you're in a good position to make progress. You've kinda learned what doesn't work. Now you need to build a much more allowing/accepting approach to practice. Notice worries about making progress, feelings of futility, needing to move more quickly, frustrations AS emotions and thoughts. That's it. That's what you need to get good at now.

Try a few sits where you just don't care what happens. Try saying to yourself "I'm making no progress and I like it." After a certain point, you might find it funny. It really is this simple, even though we make it so hard for ourself.

Yes, there will be tough experiences during meditation, of course. But if you get your effort balanced --- just high enough so you keep the practice schedule (sitting daily at home, sitting/walking on schedule on retreat), but just low enough that you aren't resisting/fighting what arises --- then you will continue to make progress.

Mastery is just mastering the basics.

Hope this helps!

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/5/18 12:35 PM as a reply to shargrol.
As far as practice methods goes... I would recommend very gentle noting practice ~ one note on an outbreath, switching to simple awareness (noticing, not noting) when things are calm and easy, and switching back to very gentle noting practice when things get difficult. Don't use noting to "fix" anything, but rather as a way to prove to yourself that you are aware even in the midst of a messy mind. 

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/9/18 12:40 AM as a reply to Beleza.
@Beleza, if you’re still looking for a teacher and you’re serious about meditation practice, Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu, who teaches in the Mahasi Sayadaw tradition and spent years at Wat Chom Tong, offers on-line meditation courses. There is no fee. I believe he requests you meditate 2 hours daily ( you can work up to it) and that you keep 5 precepts in order to qualify. You can log onto his meditation site  https://meditation.sirimangalo.org/login. Under the top left drop-down menu you’ll find his booklet available to see if it’s the kind if practice that resonates with you. Under the same menu there is a Schedule option. If you click on a time slot you can schedule an appointment with Bhante (explicit directions in green at the bottom of that page). 

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/9/18 4:40 AM as a reply to shargrol.
Apologies for delay in replying, Shargol.

Have been taking your advice now for a few days and it's been brilliant.

I have stopped stressing myself out and tying myself in knots and my practice has completely transformed overnight.

I'm now able to sit for an hour+ or more easily whereas before anything over 20 minutes was becoming a real struggle. My concentration has improved massively and I am enjoying my meditation for the first time in a good while.

In short I feel like your advice has allowed me to get out of my own way, and I finally feel that I see a way forward and am making progress, so thank you, I very much appreciate it.

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/9/18 4:41 AM as a reply to Beleza.
Haha wise words I am sure!

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/9/18 4:48 AM as a reply to Aurora Schatzberg.
@Aurora. Thankyou for the tip, it's much appreciated. I will take a look and see what I think

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/9/18 5:14 AM as a reply to Beleza.
Hi Beleza,
You are welcome. The advice from Shargol is pretty good. I am glad you are doing better. Another thing you can do for not resisisting chaotic emotions and being more accepting is cultivating some Metta (and/or other Brahmaviharas) practice (could be daily life or sitting). Despite having a decent retreat gig, Metta has done wonders for my practice. 

Some useful resources are: 
Bernd the Broter's posts
Gil Frondsal's guided metta audio meditation
www.visuteoh.net
The Karaniya Metta Sutta

Also, more important than any method is to to get a feel/pulse for the Dhamma. You can listen to some good Dhamma talks on YouTube maybe while commuting or doing chores. My favourite are the Thai forest tradition monks (Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Jayasaro, Ajahn Sona, A. Sumedho, A. Amaro, A. Achalo etc.) and Ayya Khema.

RE: Advice on finding a teacher
Answer
2/9/18 3:51 PM as a reply to Beleza.
Beleza:
 I finally feel that I see a way forward and am making progress, so thank you, I very much appreciate it.

Cool, rock on! emoticon