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Beginning again Tashi Tharpa 4/4/18 8:54 AM
RE: Beginning again Tashi Tharpa 4/5/18 6:59 AM
RE: Beginning again Tashi Tharpa 4/6/18 7:54 AM
RE: Beginning again Tashi Tharpa 4/7/18 6:56 AM
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RE: Beginning again spatial 8/10/18 7:54 AM
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RE: Beginning again spatial 9/5/18 1:06 PM
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RE: Beginning again Tashi Tharpa 9/6/18 6:18 PM
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RE: Beginning again Tashi Tharpa 9/19/18 8:55 AM
RE: Beginning again spatial 9/19/18 9:43 AM
RE: Beginning again Tashi Tharpa 9/20/18 5:08 AM
RE: Beginning again Tashi Tharpa 10/5/18 7:04 AM
RE: Beginning again Tashi Tharpa 10/13/18 7:42 AM
RE: Beginning again Tashi Tharpa 10/21/18 8:05 AM
RE: Beginning again Tashi Tharpa 10/23/18 8:48 AM
RE: Beginning again Andromeda 10/24/18 4:13 PM
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RE: Beginning again Tashi Tharpa 10/25/18 8:20 AM
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RE: Beginning again Chris Marti 10/25/18 10:17 AM
RE: Beginning again Tashi Tharpa 10/25/18 10:48 AM
RE: Beginning again Chris Marti 10/25/18 12:39 PM
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RE: Beginning again spatial 10/26/18 8:54 AM
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RE: Beginning again Tashi Tharpa 11/4/18 6:12 AM
RE: Beginning again Thor 5/17/18 1:25 PM
Beginning again
Answer
4/4/18 8:54 AM
Wed., April 4, morning 
Put 20 minutes on the Insight Timer.

Sitting on the sofa, eyes closed. The dog, wanting to be scratched on the belly, had his front paws on my right leg. I started the sit by feeling the tips of my fingers as they scratched the dogs fur--'softness, pleasant.'

I noticed sounds--the squawking crows outside, gusts of winds blowing through the pine trees, sounding almost like ocean waves, the tick-tock of the second hand on the clock on the wall. I noted the endings of the sounds, the unpleasantness of the squawking, the pleasantness of the wind blowing through the trees. I started watching for the sounds before they happened, to notice the beginnings. The sense of silence and space 'between the notes' became more pronounced. 

I sank into the body and noticed the deliberate intention to drop below the neck. I felt the warmth and pleasantness of the body--the back of the legs, the back, my left elbow--on the cushion. 'touching, warmth, pleasant, pressure'

The dog curled up next to me. 'warmth, pleasant, amusement, affection' 

I noticed planning thoughts and imagining thoughts, particularly around what I would journal. I noticed unpleasant and intense pressure between the eyes, and some kind of subtle sounds in the ears, not unlike what you'd hear if you put a shell to your ear. 

'rising, falling,' feeling the too-fat belly move up and down and the warmth there. A sense of space and stillness opened up. I opened my eyes. The body seemed like an aggregate, a formation, suddenly suspended in the space. The pressure began to have a quivering quality, like the brain itself was quivering. 

Take the brain itself, the head, as object? I noticed the intending and turned the attention to the head--more subtle sounds. The sense of stillness deepened. Most of the thoughts that came up had to do with anticipation, again, around the journaling and reporting. 'planning, imagining' and back to the body or the breath. A lot of buzzing outside--yard equipment. Irritation, noticing the similarity to the sound of bees or wasps. Imagining. Seeing.

Remembering, (internal) seeing: the dream I had last night, recalling a moment in the meditation hall 20 years ago, when nothing was there but the hall itself. Noticed the teeth and the tongue, mild pains in the neck, the pleasant sounds of tweeting song birds outside the window. Caught impatience--an eagerness to 'stop' practicing--when the timer went off. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/5/18 6:59 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Thurs., April 5, 2018

Sat on the drummer's throne and put the practice pad--a wooden octagon topped with a thin sheet of blue rubber--on the snare drum. Picked up the metronome, set it to 100 BPM and turned it on. Click, click, click. Too loud--unpleasant. Turned it down. Put 20 minutes on the Insight Timer on the phone and then picked up the drum sticks. They rested on the inside joint of the index fingers, held match grip style. Started the exercise: "doubles" (left-left, right-right) with the 'one' count of the metronome coinciding with the first strike on the left.

Started counting in my head "one-e-and-ah, two-e-and-ah, three-e-and-ah, four-e-and-ah." Closed the eyes, sat up straight as though on a meditation cushion, put the attention into the fingers. The sticks were warmer than I had anticipated. Moved the sticks ever so slightly in both hands until the fulcrum--the first joint of the index finger--felt right. Tried to ease off of the tension until the sticks were bouncing like basketballs, rather than being forced by too much muscle tension in the fingers. 

Fits and starts in getting the grip where it felt best. Turned the palms down for a bit, but then turned them back up by about 45 degrees.

Listened carefully to the metronome and the internal counting. Imagining and planning thoughts would arise. Noticing them and then going back to the listening and to the feeling in the fingers. Counting, counting. Attention would shift to the blackness of the visual field or the wider sense of the body--the pressure of the stool on the backs of the legs, the feeling of the shirt on the body. Back to the fingers. 

At times, attention shifted below the neck, down into the body--just the body playing the doubles. Noticed a sense of rightness and satisfaction but very quickly attention would come back up into the head. Noticed that this seemed like a problem--attention always wanting to bob like a cork back into the head. 

The left hand was coming down on the one with pretty good accuracy, but in listening more and more carefully, it was clear that the rest of the count wasn't perfect. There was still enough tension in the fingers and in the movement of the wrists to create either slight lag or slight speeding up here and there. Was there any groove? Tried to relax and sink, count, count, breathe, listen. 

More imagining, planning, evaluating. Returned to the fingers. Relaxed. Noticed fear and the thought that it felt something like the fear of falling that you'd have in walking along the edge of a building. It had to do with wanting to stay in time and not mess up. It was a form of tension in and of itself. 'Tension is the enemy of music.' 

When the air conditioner stopped running in the mechancal closet next to the drum set, the sound of the sticks on the pad began to seem too loud. Noticed the unpleasantness and slight worry--wouldn't want to wake anyone up. Tried to relax and modulate the volume, softer, softer. 

Typical meditation sensations were present, such as the pressure in the forehead. Absent, mostly, was much awareness or focus on the breath. Took a few deep breaths during the period and attention did switch to these breath sensations for just for a second or two. 

More sinking and relaxing, fingers, fingers, counting, listening. Incrementally, things were starting to click. The fulcrum seemed right, the middle, ring and pinky fingers were pulling up just enough to facilitate the easy bounce of the sticks. There had been mess-ups--missed beats here and there during the 20-minute period, especially when attention became absorbed in imagining and planning thoughts--but now the doubles seemed to be in perfect time without much effort. 

When the Insight Timer went off, noticed surprise and even disappointment, a desire to keep playing. The time had passed remarkably quickly. Seemed more like 10 minutes than 20. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/6/18 7:54 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
30 minutes on the Insight Timer. Sat on the sofa with the dog curled up next to me and my feet on the floor. Noticed the warmth and pleasantness of the contact with the dog. Sounds--lots of songbirds tweeting away outside. Listened for the beginnings and endings. Attention moved to the visual field--black, with colored dots, kind of greenish. Seeing, seeing. Hearing, hearing. Noticed tension in the face, a pain right in the center of the right eyeball, pinprick like. Noticed the unpleasantness. Felt the tension around the mouth and lips, the feeling of the cheeks, pressure between the eyes, the contact of the body on the warm sofa--softness, pleasant, pressure. 
At no point did I notice or note anything 'neutral,' per se. I noticed lots of imagining and planning, labeled after the fact; noticed noticing that the labels were coming significantly later than the phenomena themselves.
Things seemed to be moving quickly. Dropped the notes and just noticed; tried to put the preponderance of attention on the sensations themselves. Pretty fast. The sense of silent, inky blackness or space seemed to deepen. The body sensations seemed more like they were hanging in space and not me. The intention arose to put awareness below the neck and to sink into the body, feel it directly, and get out of the head. Noticed the intending. The subtle sounds became louder, ocean wave-like. Pulsing had started and there was a quick head snap just as the bell rang. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/7/18 6:56 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Dragged out the old zabuton and bench and put them on the new jute rug by the window to the back deck. Tried a few different positions before finding something reasonably comfortable. Put a pillow on my lap and rested my hands on it. 30 minutes on the Insight Timer.

Started by paying attention to the breath at the nostrils. Attention moved to the tightness of the shirt on the belly, the softness and warmth of the shirt, or the feeling of the hands on the pillow, the rise and fall of the abdomen. Noticed the inky blackness of the visual field. There was a lot of tension around the mouth and in the face and jaw. I started relaxing this and noticed, after the fact, that this had involved feeling + reaction + intending and then the action.

There was a sense of silence and peace underneath everything. I noticed wanting; almost as soon as the silence/peace was noticed, there was a desire for more of it or a deeper experience or non-experience of it; the intention arose to 'tune in' to this and then I started listening, listening, relaxing, tuning in...

Profound silence and peace, a sense of being the space in which all of the other phenomena were coming and going, but then attention was off again. Thoughts about what to journal came up; thoughts about what to do later in the day--imagined scenes and scenarios.

Noticed the unpleasant dimension of experience here and there--various pains in the body, sometimes with some fear around them, mostly the fear of injury. A raindrop hit the metal flue of the chimney. I experienced the ring of this as though it were a meditation bell--surprise and then following the sound to its terminaton. Noticed the chemical smell from the rug; unpleasant and then noticed that I was thinking about how I hadn't been noticing smells at all during practice--a whole category of sense experience was going unnoticed.

The body started rocking ever-so-slightly, pulsing.The subtle sounds in the ears roared up but this time kind of stuttered in synch with the pulsing, a bit like a wah-wah pedal. I heard the dog stirring from under his blanket. This triggered imagined scenes of the dog coming over, curiousity about what the dog would do, and a thought about journaling all of it.

The usual pressure, mildly unpleasant, between the eyes and in the forehead.

Felt the hardness and coollness of the bench underneath the legs. Didn't notice or label the feeling tone. 

The birds were waking up and starting to sing, uproariously. Listened to the sounds and noticed the ticking of the second hand of the clock on the wall. Restlessness and impatience started to come up. When would the sit be over? Noticed wanting--to stop, to check the timer, to open the eyes and look around. 

Opened the eyes and stared at the brick wall in front of me (the window to the deck was to my left side) and felt the whole body and the breathing as I sat straight up. A lot of spaciousness and equanimity.

The bell went off. I stretched my arms up. The dog came over. A sense of gratitude, amusement, quiet happiness.  

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/8/18 8:10 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Put 30 minutes on the timer. Sat on the bench/zabuton. Started the sit with an intention to back off a bit and notice rather than note, but also to pay attention for the emotional, rather than just sensate, feeling tone of experience, and to pay a little more attention to the content of thoughts and the relationship of them to mind states/emotions. 

Noticed the intending and the curiosity/investigation. A thought came up about the journaling-to-come--kind of a quick visual image of the DHO screen on the Mac. Another thought came up about how journaling supports the factor of interest or curiosity; underneath this was an unspoken and barely cognized misgiving, probably related to the shadow side of journaling, which is its tendency to prop up stories that involve creating a self. 

The dryer was running in the other room. Listened to those sounds, cacophanous and unpleasant, and noticed that underneath them were the sounds of the birds outside. The HVAC unit, too, was running, humming, neutral. The physical posture was comfortable. Noticed gratitude at having found a way to sit on a bench/cushion again. Felt the pressure of the various contact points--ankles, shins on the soft zabuton; hardness, coldness on the bench on the backs of the legs; softness, warmth and pleasantness of the shirt on the body. 

Attention drifted to the visual field and the blackness. At a certain point, the sense of stillness, of vast space, became pronounced; there was a moment of natural merging with or being this, but it very quickly gave way to noticing a whole constellation of mind states and thoughts around the experience: wanting it to increase, being with the wanting, noticing a 'bargaining quality' ('gotta stop pushing and pulling in order for this to continue'), feeling that too much was now happening, stepping back and just taking the body as object again to get out of the head space. The quietude came with an enormous sense of potential--'this is where it could go'--but we were back to the immediately obvious coming and going of sense phenomena. 

More listening, most likely sparked by the dryer suddenly stopping. The HVAC was still running, but the birds outside were now loud and in the foreground again. A cracking sound, from one of the floorboards upstairs: fear. Will somebody come down the stairs and interrupt here? 

Imagining thoughts during the sit had to do with scenes in which my son came downstairs, saw me practicing, and was inspired to start practicing himself. Or of my wife coming down and being weirded out, maybe turning around and going back upstairs. There were scenes of dialog and interaction at a sangha meeting. My mother had spent the night to be with the kids. She had left a few minutes before I started sitting. The mere thought of her triggered sensations of anger and sadness in the chest. I felt these, watched them. A flurry of thoughts about psychology, attachment theory, generational samskaras--then back to breathing. Relaxed the face, felt the tongue, teeth; noticed swallowing.

Subtle sounds in the ears, felt a very slight rocking of the body, noticed brightness of the visual field and then the thought 'is this from concentration or just because the sun has come up?' When the bell went off, everything felt equanimous, peaceful, easy. I kept sitting for a few minutes; there was no restlessness or wanting to quit.

 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/10/18 8:24 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Put 30 minutes on the timer. Sat on the bench/zabuton. Took a few minutes to get reasonably comfortable and stable-feeling.
Attention was drawn to the visual field initially, eyes closed, blackness, subtle light, greenish. The dryer was running. Listened to the spinning drum of the dryer. A continuous hum but with the knocking and spinning of the drum recurring over it. Didn't note whether it was pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. The metallic banging, maybe of a button from somebody's jeans, was annoying.
Felt the shoulders hanging down, the hardness and coldness of the bench under the legs, the unpleasant and mildly frightening pressure on the feet, which were dangling off the zabuton and pressing into the jute rug. Tried to push the 'tripod' forward a bit so that more weight was on the knees. Felt the pressing of the body on the knees, the hardness of the knees. Felt the tightness of the belly as it rose and fell, the softness of the shirt on the body, warmth and pleasantness here and there, as with the hands resting on the small pillow on my lap,

The dog was sitting next to me on my right. I was aware of this and had some thoughts around it but didn't notice them in the moment.

Noticed the tinitis in the ears, heard the clock on the wall. A banging sound happened outside--three times. The dog woofed! a bit. I noticed that I'd wondered if it could be a gunshot and that I'd had a quick thought about somebody shooting somebody or committing suicide, but then noticed that the sound had had more of a lid-closing-and-slamming type of quality, like a dumpster lid being slammed down somewhere, or maybe some kind of jackhammer?

Hardly any attention paid at all to the breath-at-the-nostrils, or to the tension in the face. A lot of fantasizing about different things--various images and thoughts, including a couple of lustful ones. Not much thinking about journaling. Tried to sink into the body and put attention below the neck here and there. Started feeling restlessness and wanting to quit, wondering how much time was left. Opened the eyes at 6:42 or so left on the timer. Closed them again. The dog snuggled closer--warmth, pleasant.

Zero noticing of bird sounds. No intimations of a deeper silence or spaciousness. Peaceful, yes, but the attention mostly moved to different body sensations, seeing and hearing, and noticing of thoughts and images. Subtle sounds in the ears here and there. A slight sense of the body wanting to rock or sway. Opened the eyes for the last few minutes of the sit. Restless. Checked the timer with 1:32 left. When the bell went off, I was ready to get up. Felt very sleepy when I went to journal the sit.

 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/11/18 8:21 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
30 minutes, sitting on the sofa.
Noticed sleepiness from the outset, imagined journaling about it and explaining the insomnia from last night; tuned into sounds--birds, the clock, the dog breathing under his blanket next to me. Noticed that subtle sounds, like putting a conch shell to your ear, were there. Remembered that they've started popping up during the day and, again, imagined journaling this.

Felt the contact points of the body on the sofa--the softness and warmth, the pleasant aspect--and also noticed some pains here and there, like in the ankles. The cellphone went off, indicating that an email had come in. I wondered if it was the work email I'm anticipating. A sense of urgency--I had to pick it up and check it. Kind of halfway did an 'intending, intending' type of thing and just picked it up, checked it, and put it down. A mild sense of shame arose.

Felt the baseball hat on my head. More sounds--a school bus going by; a slamming car door, prompting two 'woofs!' from the dog under his blanket; amusement--not urgent enough to stick your head out of the blankets, eh?

Went into some kind of hypnogogia. Sludgy. Came out of it and knew right away that I wouldn't be able to recall any of it. Other imagined scenes had to do with the meditation group and 'planning thoughts' related to squaring various things away: domestic responsibilities. 

There were some sensations that are hard to describe. Some kind of central channel piti that I could feel inside the body as I breathed--pleasant and subtle. Noted some vibratory stuff, like around the upper arms and shoulders. I think there was a head snap at one point but can't quite remember. 

During one portion of the sit, the 'witness'-type consciousness or awareness seemed very prounounced. Just about everything happening that had to do with intentionality was being seen as kind of happening on its own, along with all of the body sensations. I think this is when the sounds in the ears became more intense but I could be mis-remembering. The head snap, if it occurred, could have occurred at this point as well. 

Interesting how a moment of clarity like this could be forgotten and subsumed by recollections of how sludgy and sleepy the sit had seemed to be at times, but it wasn't all like that. Impermanence. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/12/18 8:33 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
30 minutes, sitting on sofa

Another very sleepy sit. Don't feel like journaling it but will press on.
Started out aware of the right arm, which I was trying to keep away from the dog, who was on the sofa next to me and, for some reason, had been intent on licking my hand over and over (unpleasant, mild disgust).

Noted seeing, seeing--the visual field, blackness--and hearing, hearing. Lots to hear: the dishwasher running, the birds outside. Didn't note or notice the ringing in the ears, which is always there. Noticed pains in shoulders and upper arms. Don't remember paying much attention to contact points.

Noticed the pleasant, subtle-seeming feelings in the central channel of the body, the intense and unpleasant pressure between the eyes and, now, more toward the top of the head. Slipped into various hypnogogic states at different times during the sit. I remember saying to myself 'Well, there you were actually asleep' at one point when I kind of snapped out of it. The content of these states seems gone now. Maybe one of the visualized scenes had something to do with a dog?

At a certain point, wanting to up the energy, I opened my eyes and saw the morning light falling onto a Persian rug on the wooden floor. Pleasant, pleasant, seeing, seeing. I wasn't much aware of the dog, who was still there.

Also in a bid to up the mindfulness, at a certain point I started noticing/noting more vigorously and quickly. I believe the subtle sounds in the ears, the rushing sounds, picked up at this point. There was a head snap at some point. Thoughts came up about cycling. When the sounds rush in and the head snaps like that, was it the A&P point in the cycle?

Restlessness and wanting to quit. Opened the eyes. Intending to look at the timer, looking--surprise. 10 full minutes left. Lately, the wanting to quit has come up later in the sit than this.

Closed the eyes and tried to feel any unpleasant sensations or tensions in the body. Didn't pay much attention to the breath in this sit.

When the bell rang I felt very sleepy and sluggish. Relief to be 'done' with the sitting period.  

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/13/18 12:56 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Woke up before 6 a.m., made coffee and sat on the sofa. Started to listen to a podcast, but turned it off. Put 30 minutes on the Insight Timer and kind of resolved to pay as much attention as possible as I drank the morning coffee. 

In contrast to the sits of the past couple of days, in this case I was quite awake and alert. Energized and also inspired, primarily by the Thomas Metzinger/Michael Taft podcast I had listened to the day before.
 
My inclination was to back off and allow things to be just as they are, with less direction or intentionality. Still, as I started paying attention, what I noticed at first were the usual somatosensory inputs: sounds, contact points, rising/falling. 
 
For a minute or two, my mind was very quiet and I was quite aware of the space and the silence. Pretty quickly, though, practice-related thoughts flooded in. There was a point where I wondered if MCTB was available as an audio book, and there were thoughts about the arrow and the knock (from the Shinzen and Metznger interviews by Taft). Noticing that this was happening, I came back to the space. Peaceful, calm. Noticed the pixelation of the visual field. The room was dark enough that I could see little greenish dots along with the Persian carpet, the kitchen 20 feet away, etc. 
 
That brought up thoughts about Metzinger’s comments again, which stirred a recollection of ‘the headless way.’ I started looking at the sense of headlessness. Energized, clear, still, bright, expansive. Just a few minutes of this, and then more practice-related thoughts flooded in. Imagined scenes of saying and doing. Things to read or listen to. Future thoughts: Imagined scenes of things I could do when my wife and kids go out of town next month. 
 
Sipped the coffee, but didn’t pay much attention at all to the sensations there. There was no careful noticing of the feeling of the mug in the left hand, or the weight of it, or the hotness and bitterness of the coffee, or the neutral and unpleasant vedana of certain sensations as the coffee touched the inside of the mouth, tongue, throat. It all happened automatically. Probably the only thing I noticed was the general pleasantness of the coffee-drinking, an autopilot response. Mostly, attention was poured into the visual field, the sense of pressure between the eyes, and in process of noticing the absence or presence of various thoughts. 
 
It didn’t feel like a particularly successful effort to truly notice the heretofore-unnoticed. Despite the energized and awake quality, there was a sense of shallowness, overall, to the 30-minute period. The attention had a quality of stability, but that quality went uninvestigated. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/16/18 3:09 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Put 30 minutes on the timer. Sat on the edge of the sofa, with a half-folded pillow underneath to get a little higher up than usual. Straightened the spine, hands on legs near the knees. As the opening bell faded, the intention arose to start by seeing what physical sensations I could note/notice. 
 
Noted the warmth and pleasantness of the hands on the legs, the shirt on the body; noted the neutral-to-pleasant feeling of the lips touching; noticed tension in the face and its mild unpleasantness; intending to relax, relaxing; as the faced relaxed, noticed the pleasantness or relief that came with this.
 
Paid attention to the tightness and pressure at the belly; rising, falling; warmth and pleasantness there but also unpleasant constriction. Noticed the contact points on the sofa, but not the lower legs or feet. 
 
Paying attention to the physical sensations in this way seemed to ramp up the khanika samadhi pretty quickly. There was brightness in the visual field, a growing sense of pressure between the eyes/in the forehead; the ocean-like sounds picked up in the ears.
 
Noticed the unpleasantness of the pressure between the eyes and that there was something beyond the pressure-related sensations that didn’t have this unpleasant quality—a sense of quietness, spaciousness, nothingness. Tuning into this made it easier to see the pressure and associated phenomena more as sensations arising in space; the visual field seemed wider, blacker. The intending to tune in became more noticeable and also somehow wrong, like it was pushing and pulling. Backed off of it and just watched.
 
Quick head snap, flash of light and noticing that it had happened.
 
Various thoughts and imaginings—planning, remembering—stuff about politics, dharma, journaling. Bringing attention back, I would tune into sensations or sounds again. Listened to the secondhand of the clock on the wall and tried to be aware of the arising, sustaining and falling of each sound. Noticed for the first time that all of the secondhand ‘notes’ were not the same: the pattern is actually ‘LOUD, soft, LOUD, soft.’
 
It’s overcast and cold. No birdsong. The dog heard something, jumped off the sofa and stuck his nose through the blinds to look outside. I opened my eyes and watched the dog. Restlessness arose but I couldn’t tell if it came up and precipitated ‘wanting to check timer’ or if opening the eyes is just a conditioned cue to check the timer, which as a result spurs the wanting to check the timer. Noticed this lack of clarity about the sequence.
 
Had also noticed and labeled ‘confusion’ at a point in the sit in which it was as though two thought streams were yelling at each other, one on the left side and the other on the right. One of the thought streams had a vague visual image associated with it, like one of those half moons with a face on it blowing the wind in a particular direction, like on an old map. There was a very clear moment of snapping out of this, recalling what had been going on and then noting the confusing, chaotic quality of it.
 
Resisted the urge to check the timer and, instead, felt the pattern of sensations related to this process in the body, then relaxed and went to the contact points, etc. However, a few minutes later, I opened the eyes and, intending, intending, turned and looked at the timer. 5:20 left. Noted the mild surprise. I had thought there would be 1 minute or 30 seconds left on the timer. 
 
Went back to the sit with the eyes closed. Restlessness remained but then faded as I tuned into the breath, contact points, etc. I was lost in a thought—about what I can’t remember—when the bell went off. Mild sense of relief as I went to turn off the timer.

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/17/18 8:50 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Went out on the back porch, sat in a wrought-iron chair and put 30 minutes on the timer. The deck is on the second floor and looks out over a creek and a forest of hardwoods and pines. I wore a coat. It was unseasonably cold--maybe 50 degrees. I left the back door open so that the dog could come and go.
The dog came out and started sniffing around and also looking out to see what was going on between the slats of the deck. I noticed a bit of fear; didn't want the dog to jump through the slats and go after a squirrel but decided to trust the dog and not worry about it. 

I sat with eyes open and just let the eyes relax and see on their own. The green of the new leaves was intense, almost bejeweled. The rushing sound of the creek, and the singing of the different birds, was very peaceful. Certain birds were insistent--tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet--like a car alarm. I would listen to the arising and passing away of each sound. Concentration seemed to deepen.

Attention would switch here and there from the body to the visual and auditory fields. Noticed the pleasant coldness of the morning air on different exposed parts of the body, like the hands, and the pleasantness, warmth and softness of the coat I was wearing. The hardness and coldness of the wrought-iron chair on the back of the legs. Probably neutral-to-unpleasant but never noticed this.

Relaxing the tension in the face. Noticing the pressure between the eyes. Seeing, seeing. The visual field was very wide. When the face was relaxed and the eyes unmoving, just seeing all on their own, the visual field would collapse into a silent, unitary tableau. Shimmering, fraying at the edges. The leaves on the different trees were intensely luminous and pleasant to see. 

Thoughts would come up--about journaling or the dog--and the whole thing would collapse. During the 30-minute sit, the dog would jump up on my lap or off of it. When the dog would jump up, I would hold the dog and feel the pleasant warmth of the fur, the quivering that was going on inside the dog (was the dog excited to be outside? scared?). There was affection but I didn't note it at the time. 

I'd turn back to the visual or auditory fields. Here and there things became very quiet, without much thinking at all, and the sense of the body would become less distinct. The pressure in the forehead seemed connected to similar pressure at the top of the head as well as a pleasant effervescence that I could feel in the abdomen, toward the sides of it, and up into the chest and throat. Not much in the heart, though, although I can feel that now as I write.

Now and again I would direct my eyes. I focused on a huge tree on the other side of the creek. 'The word tree is not the actual thing.' Stared at it, stared. At a certain point its incredible mystery kind of peeped through the clouds of normal perception. At a certain point, the tree completely disappeared. It was like the brain had stopped processing the visual information into 'tree' and 'other stuff.' Now there was just the unitary visual field, shimmering, luminous, quiet, beautiful. I noticed that I couldn't see the tree at all and, of course, out it popped again.

The dog came and went from my lap several more times. In touching the dog, I noticed coldness where there had been warmth. For example, his leg and paw were now noticeably colder than they had been at the beginning of the 30 minute period.

Ringing in the ears, rushing of the creek, sound of the birds, but no prominent subtle, ocean-like sounds in the ears for a change. Plenty of thoughts toward the last fifth or so of the sit. Thought about dissolution and kind of resolved to stay with any restlessness. At around this time, I looked over at the phone on the wrought iron table--8 minutes left on the timer.

I returned to the visual, auditory and body sensations. Must have stayed with things pretty well because when the bell rang it seemed as though only two minutes had gone by.   

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/18/18 8:45 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Busy work day. Put 20 minutes on the timer and sat on the sofa. 
Closed the eyes. Subtle sounds started up right away, heard the clock on the wall, birds outside. Felt the various sensations of the body--contact points, in particular. A few minutes into this sit, there was a period of time in which thoughts became very, very wispy, almost nonexistent, and things just seemed to be happening on their own. 
This morphed into some kind of sleepy hypnogogia. An email came in on the phone, which I had forgotten to silence; the sound of it snapped me out of this hypnogogic type of state. Back to noticing sensations. 
When another email came in later, I realized I was caught in a long train of thoughts and images. I came back to the body again. No judgment about it. 
Just a minute or so before the bell rang, I had an intense visual image of a jar of peanut butter and my hand stirring it up with a butter knife. Amusement came up at the randomness, and some surprise. There was a lot of variation in just this 20 minute sit: moments of clarity and attention in which the sounds and body sensations were coming and going on their own, and also a fair amount of dullness, sludginess, imprecision, wandering, sleepiness. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/19/18 5:18 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
After a long period of slumping motivation and spotty practice, I resolved to start journaling again and posting stuff on the DHO. The hypothesis was that this would arouse more curiosity, spur more mindfulness during daily life and contribute to a kind of rebalancing of the awakening factors. 

Determining 'progress' can be tricky. For example, I'm pretty sure that practice is noticeably easier when the moon is full. This morning when I came downstairs, I brewed some coffee, sat on the sofa, and immediately noticed that I seemed to be in a state of meditation already. In paying just a little bit of attention, I could see that the visual field was very wide and clear, the mind quiet and the 'outline' of body sensations quite faint. The subtle, ocean-like sounds were there in the ears.  

I see it as a consequence of sitting and/or paying attention in daily life more regularly, all of which appears to be a direct result of getting back on the DHO and starting up practice reports again. 

Of course, I cannot really know if my take here is correct. The moon isn't full--it's in the waxing crescent phase--but there's always a sine wave type of structure to the gatheredness of the mind. Some of the variables involved are likely outside of your awareness and control. Nonetheless, my gut feeling is that I'm seeing signs of progress. I think it's a good idea to notice and acknowledge this type of thing whenever you can spot it.

 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/21/18 6:32 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Put 40 minutes on the timer and sat on the seiza bench. Started out with a lot of shifting around, trying to get the feet and ankles in the right positions. Noticed that my attention was there at the feet and legs--monitoring the level of pressure and pain around the ankles, feeling mild fear if there was too much, trying to adjust, adjust to get it right. 

Found a decent position, but didn't note the neutrality of the sensations there, which is what it means to find a decent position.

Felt the hardness and coldness of the bench. Sounds were noticeable--the birds were waking up and making a pleasant racket; the second hand on the clock was doing its usual thing; the subtle sounds in the ears picked up immediately, as did the sense of a very wide visual field and inky darkness, tinged with green pixels. Noticed the unpleasant tension in the face and relaxed it. I felt more sensations on the sides of the head, just above the temples, as though this part of the brain were coming alive or 'opening out.' Hard to articulate. Neutral sensations, I'd say. 

Felt the warmth and pleasantness of the cushion under the hands. There was more monitoring of the ankles again, some leaning forward to get more weight on the knees. A lot of 'journaling thoughts.' I'd notice something new and novel and then immediately an imagining thought would follow it in which I could hear the words I'd type after the sit or maybe see the DhO screen for a second. 'I noted warmth actually inside the stomach from the coffee' or 'I felt the solidity of undigested food in the stomach' or 'I felt fear and immediately noticed some kind of nervous energy in the chest and throat.' 

I noticed this tendency to have journaling thoughts and had thoughts about journaling the journaling thoughts.

Catching myself, I would come back to sensations. The pressure between the eyes, the subtle sounds in the ears, the birdsong, the second hand, the sense of the body rocking or pulsing. The tinitis in the ears was quite strong. I tuned into it a few times, kind of used it as object, but didn't note or notice the consequences of this in any distinct way.

Noticed that I was looking to notice sensations related to intending and directing. An idea or view was operative--backing off enough to disembed from this process.

Journaling thoughts would follow on after this. I even noted 'pride' a couple of times. Noted investigating, looking. At a certain point I had backed off quite a bit and things really did seem to be coming and going all on their own. There was a noticeable intensification of the subtle sounds in the ears, as well as a deepening of the sense of stillness, peace and nothingness. 

Then it all seemed to collapse. Restlessness came in, and more thinking. I noted 'dissolution,' felt pride and labeled it as such, and had journaling thoughts about catching what I figured was A&P, followed by Dissolution. 

I opened my eyes and saw the rock fireplace. For a bit, the sense of nobody being home at all, of there just being a body in space and a lot of different sounds and body sensations coming up, hanging out and disappearing, was back and quite clear, but then sludginess and restlessness came in. I don't remember the process involved in its return or what imagining thoughts or what have you were occurring.

I must not have stayed with the restlessness that well. The ankles were hurting. I felt fear. 'Let's not fuck up the ankles, please.' I imagined overdoing it and suffering the consequences. In a half-assed way, I noted 'intending, intending' and just got up, walked across the floor and sat on the sofa to finish the sit. 10 minutes left on the timer. 

The dog was next to me under the blanket. I listened to his breathing and then noticed that the birds were squawking and tweeting at each other with less urgency. When the bell rang I was caught in some kind of imagining thought or revery. I picked the timer up pretty quickly to end the sit. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/22/18 7:27 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Sat on the sofa and put 40 minutes on the timer. 
I felt like tuning into sensations without using verbal notes and wanted to investigate, in particular, sensations associated with the 'me,' the actor, doer, observer, etc. 
To start with, though, I tried to just take in and observe the sensations that were coming in. The eyes were open, so I started with the visual field. The eyes became still, just taking in the visual field. The large room, kind of like a 'great room' in a 1970s house, but with low ceilings, was vivid but also a bit shaky or shimmer-y. Other sensations came in: the birds outside, the warmth and pressure of the contact points on the soft sofa. 
Very quickly, my mind grew very quiet--not a lot of thinking for quite a stretch. The subtle sounds came up in the ears. I noticed some pulsing or rocking of the body, very faint. I turned attention in to the torso, head, heart center and could see the pattern of observer-sensations. There did seem to be a sense of this being irritating, like an obstacle. At a certain point I closed my eyes in response to a strong desire to do so. 
Then I think I made a mistake of sorts. I looked at the timer. Ten minutes had passed. I resolved to spend the rest of the sit focusing only on below-the-neck sensations. I wanted to sink into the body, like Casper the Ghost dropping down and getting out of the head. There was something worthwhile about paying attention more carefully to the tingling in the toes, slight pain in the left ankle, warmth of the body on the sofa, internal sensations in the chest, rising and falling of the abdomen, etc. But the initial intention, before making this resolution, had been to investigate the observer-sensations.
Now there was too much directing. I noticed the sense of conflict--a good chunk of the observer-sensations pattern was actually in and around the head, in addition to the shoulders and back of the neck, and yet I was supposed to be elsewhere. 
So for the rest of the sit I alternated between trying to loosen up on this resolution and then going back to it. Here, there was an opportunity just to take in the sensations associated with the process of conflict, but I didn't get it at the time.
Still, I had some success in noticing the observer-sensations and the sense of irritation or limitation there.
Various imagining thoughts came and went, distractions. All in all, a very silent sit--a lot was happening, but not a lot of self-talk or thinking, except for some of the stuff about directing, resolving and the intended and unintended consequences of that. 





 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/26/18 6:30 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Sat on the sofa with 30 minutes on the timer. Started by paying attention to the warmth and softness of the dog leaning against me. Pleasant. Mind state of mild affection. Closed my eyes. Having watched Daniel's video on Vimeo called "Vipassana," I've been focused much more on investigating the sensations associated with the feeling of 'I' or of being an observer. I've also been looking more into just feeling and noticing sensations directly and quickly, as opposed to using verbal labels as much. In tuning into the observer-sensations, I noticed where this sense of the observer seemed to be situated, as a pattern, in the body. It was behind the sternum down into the chest, and in the shoulders and behind the eyes toward the center of the forehead, and up toward the top of the head. More peripheral sensations were also being noticed and, here and there, tuned into. For example, the tinitis seemed very intense. That led to thoughts about playing the drums and some imagining of drumming and thoughts about future deafness. Noticed this thought train and came back to the sensations.

As I tuned in, there was less a sense of 'me trying to watch the sensations associated with me,' and more of just being those sensations. At that point vibratory stuff picked up a lot. The proprioceptive outline seemed surrounded by a vast, dark stillness/spaciousness. As I do this now, I see that the pattern has changed. I seem to be much more behind the eyes and in the face, and the facial tension actually is quite painful and unpleasant and seems very strong, like my jaws are tense. It also feels as though I've been scrunching my forehead and squinting my eyes, which I don't think I've actually been doing.

My concentration definitely seems to be stronger. I've been practicing more. There was a lot of brightness in the visual field at times. At a certain point, I started slipping into sleepy, hypnogogic territory. Didn't sleep great and have felt tired today. When I would pop out of this, I would start noting more mechanically--seeing, warmth, pleasant, aching, unpleasant, etc.--and then I'd eventually turn back to investigating the observer-sensations again. Still, probably the last third of the sit was dominated by sleepiness if not outright nodding off. When I opened my eyes to check the timer there were just a few seconds left. 

Overall, I'm feeling good about having some momentum in practice again. Noted on a walk with the dog today instead of listening to a podcast. The new leaves in our tree-filled neighborhood are practially calling out for me to pay attention to them--to sit and just stare at them--whereas they might have otherwise gone, if not unnoticed, maybe less noticed. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
4/30/18 8:30 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Sat on the sofa for 30 minutes.
Concentration felt low, so did breath-counting 1 to 10 and back down three or four times. (I was able to stay with the 10 counts throughout but lost track of the actual number of 10 counts performed; had intended to do this three times.)
I'm trying to work with speed/frequency. Did a bit of verbal noting here and there--seeing, imagining thought, touching, warmth, pleasant, etc.--whenever the mind would kind of get off track--just kind of noting myself back into the present moment.
I noticed a lot of brightness in the visual field, pulsing, rocking of the body, vibrations and subtle sounds in the ears. At times phenomena did seem to be coming and going quickly as the mind seemed to be in a place of non-interference--open watching. A few times I noticed tension in the face and would try to relax; caught the intending there. The unpleasant tone of the pressure in the forehead was pronounced--by far the most unpleasant aspect of the sit. Tried to just relax around this and be open.
Distractions came--mostly imagining thoughts related to practice; things to do; various creative ideas; imagined scenes of interacting with other sangha members, etc. 
I'd come back, often with some verbal notes. As sounds and physical sensations came in, there didn't seem to be a huge amount of mental reactivity to them. So I'd hear the clock secondhand, kind of know it was a clock, but there would be no imagining of the clock on the wall--mostly just awareness of the sound coming and going. 
Questions were there: How much to direct the attention in a speedy way and try to notice more and more? Little reminder questions/pointers would pop up: 'Catch everything,' or 'How is it right now?' Well, I have a business call now. Have to stop... 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/4/18 8:21 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Sat on the sofa for 30 minutes.
Challenging events have occurred involving myself and family members. In sitting down, I felt into the sadness in the chest, a hangover effect from all of the rumination that I've been fighting lately. Off the cushion, some thought will come into my head about what's going on; typically there will be a visual image; often, I'll start rehearsing something to say--words that I imagine would protect me or my family and help tidy up and make manageable the situation at hand. All of this will be coincident with upwellings of worry and sadness. 

In sitting, I felt into the sadness in the chest and did some mechanical noting of sounds, felt sensations. I would drop the noting and try to back off and just watch. The subtle phenomena kicked up like the internal rushing sounds in the ears, visual brightness, pulsing. I would drift into some kind of dull, hypnogogic state and then--bam!--a head snap and possible bright flash, followed by wakefulness again. I'd have a thought about whether this was a cessation or just what happens when you wake up after having fallen or nearly fallen asleep.

I noted the touch of the lips, the tension in the face, the rising and falling of the abdomen, the softness and warmth of the dog against me, but I never noted any vedana throughout the sit, as best I can remember. I also don't remember noting mind states or thoughts very much. Not much in the way of 'imagining thought,' 'worrying,' etc. When there was emotion, it was more like I just went right to the sensations. 

The cell phone email notification went off a couple of times; I'd listen to the fading of the sound. I noticed the bathroom fan running, the clock secondhand. 

With about 12 minutes left, I did a clunky 'intending, intending, opening eyes, opening, intending, turning, intending, looking' and glanced at the timer. I resolved to try to catch everything and maybe did for a bit but then got lost.

I was caught in some sleepy revery about work or something when the bell went off.

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/5/18 6:13 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Put 40 minutes on the timer with wood block clacks at five-minute intervals. Sitting on the sofa.

Started by feeling the pressure, warmth and softness of the body on the sofa. The unpleasant tightness of the jeans. Heard the clock on the wall, ticking, ticking, and the birds waking up outside. Didn't notice the feeling tone of either but just listened, listened. 

Heard the dog breathing next to me. 

The rushing sounds started up; attention moved to the visual field; now all of the sensations were more field-like, coming and going. Felt things like the baseball hat on my head, the earbuds still in my ears, little pains in the neck and wanting to shift.

Not in chronological order:

At times, the attention was drawn to the visual field. At the same time, there was a sense of a nothingness or quietude that had nothing to do with the visual field or sound or body sensations. There was some kind of wanting to focus on a spot in the visual field, kind of right in the center, but down a bit, and seemingly just a few inches away. 

Tuning into this for just a moment, there was a feeling--this is what it is all about; this is where it needs to go; this is what you have been missing. These thoughts not necessarilly verbalized, so to speak, but known or felt. Imagine a person standing straight up, in water that is one inch over his head. The person's feet are on platform. Now the platform rises until just the very top of the person's head is out of the water. That's what it felt like for a moment, as though the top of the head was now ... I don't know how to describe it.

Journaling thoughts, thoughts about parts of the brain being activated, memories of past meditative 'peak experiences' in which top-of-the-head parts of the brain came alive, wanting an increase, wanting stabillization, deepening. 

Listening, listening. Witnessing, lack of involvement, things coming and going. But then also drifting away into thoughts about practice, events coming up today--visual images of playing music, hanging out with friend.

Hypnogogic flash: powerful visual image of being very small and flying across a tile floor, like a foot off the ground. Disappears almost immediately. 

A flash-head snap.

The idea behind the wood blocks--they would serve as a cue to bring me back in the case of wandering. There were seven in total. In one case, a reverie was happening and the wood block sound did almost nothing to snap me out of it, but then I noticed that it had not snapped me out of it, and was snapped out of it.

This was mostly shikantaza, just sitting and watching, but toward the end of the sit I engaged with faster noting: seeing, seeing, hearing, hearing, touching, aching, unpleasant, pressure, softness, warmth, pleasant, etc. I went ahead and sped things up, like turning up a metronome. 

There was a sense of being more present, but in a different way. The bell went off. I wanted to quickly grab the timer and stop, but instead sat back and watched the restlessness and wanting.

At a certain point, I had a thought about the wakefulness and energized quality of this sit, for the most part, as opposed to some of the extremely sluggish and thick sits of the past week or so. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/7/18 8:48 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Put 30 minutes on the timer with wood block clacks at five-minute intervals; sat on seiza bench/zabuton.
Not in chronological order:

Felt into the tender-but-not-that-unpleasant feelings in the upper chest and throat. Noted hardness, coldness of the bench, softness and warmth and pleasantness of the leg on the zabuton, clothes on on the body. Subtle, rushing sounds came up in the ears and seemed to be the sound of the vibratory, field-like quality that was now emerging vis-a-vis sensations.

I probably really noticed/noted only three of the five wood block clacks. Noticed blackness and greenish pixels in the visual field; pain in the shoulders; the lips touching each other; never noticed the tinitis but it was there we can infer.

A long imagined dialogue with no one in particular: 'You can take a chair into your back yard, sit down in front of a tree, rest your eyes on that tree and look/listen, look/listen, look/listen until you see the tree without the word--in the now, as though it were the first time you had ever seen a tree before or heard its silence. Take that same approach to your inner world of sensate experience.' 

Noted the imagining thought and internal dialog; came back to seeing, hearing, feeling, but also tried to follow the instruction described above and just watch the sensations in a completely open way, like the tree. These sits in which I drop verbal noting are much, much harder to recall and journal. It seems as though there were parts of this sit in which sensations were more of a flow and there was less directing, and it seems like I could see any impulse to push or pull as being no less of an object than pressure or warmth. 

I recall some strange hypnogogic scenes: one involving the visual image of a dog's eyeball, another eye ball kind of out of an anatomical drawing, and then a sense that my own eyes were rolling up toward the top of my head. Another one, very strangely, seemed to involve people standing outside a convenience store, kind of where you might expect to see an ice machine, and haggling over firewood.

The strangeness of this one, its novelty, prompted a journaling thought.

Used a few pointer questions: 'What is happening right now?' 'Where is the suffering?' 
The suffering seemed to be in any wanting for the sit or the path to evolve in any particular way.

There was a head snap at one point. I opened my eyes at one point, in part to combat dullness after wandering off. 
A few times thoughts about difficult life situations would pop up and there would be a rush of nervousness, anxiety, fear, felt low in the abdomen, but then this would dissipate pretty quickly as the attention went right to the sensations there.
Got up with the sense of it having been a very 'good' sit, probably because of the sense of flow. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/9/18 8:26 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
30 minutes on timer with wood block clacks at five-minute intervals. Sat on sofa.

Started with concentration feeling quite low; did breath meditation for the first five minutes or so and also once-per-second type noting: seeing, pressure, aching, unpleasant, touching, softness, warmth, pleasant, etc. 
Noted a lot of different sounds and noticed that the tinitis was present, early in the sit, but not any of the subtle sounds in the ears, the ocean-like sounds.
Hypnogogic visual images came up: a curly haired person with an acoustic guitar walking toward me; several other scenes, now forgotten.
Thoughts or heard dialog about politics. Probably three of the wood clacks found me in reveries of some sort or another and snapped me back to sensations. 
Eventually the subtle sounds started up. Noting faster seemed to increase this. Some sleepiness/dullness came and went a few times. At one point, it felt like I needed to let go more, relax more, surrender more; a sweetness in the heart was glimpsed for a bit; there was a wanting for this to increase and continue, but this all went away and was supplanted by something else, now forgotten. 
Noticed vedana somewhat deliberately at one point and looked for where sensations were pleasant, neutral or unpleasant; the unpleasant ones suddenly became quite distinct whereas before, they were unconscious to some degree--things like mild soreness in a shoulder or a slight amount of aching in a hip joint.
Right now concentration feels much stronger than earlier. Thoughts are faint if I pay attention; there's a kind of pressure that extends from the third eye region to the place where the tongue touches the upper teeth and roof of the mouth. 
When the bell rang, it felt like this had been a relatively uneventful, typical sit, hardly worth journaling, etc. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/12/18 6:30 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
60 minutes, starting at 4:30 a.m. 
Hello insomnia.
Mostly samatha focused on the breath. Ironically, very sleepy sit, drifting in and out, struggling to maintain focus.
That said, I do appear to be building more concentration during the day. Instead of listening to podcasts when walking the dog, I've started putting 20 or 30 minutes on the iPhone timer with wood clacks at 1-minute or 5-minute intervals. The cumulative effects are noticeable--more width and vividness of perception, a quieter mind.
Still, plenty of room to be more mindful during the day. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/13/18 7:21 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Put 60 minutes on the timer. Went through the six initial steps in The Mind Illuminated, which I have just started reading: motivations, goals, expectations, diligence, distractions, posture.
Started with open awareness, allowing, relaxing, tuning in to pleasant vedana a bit; moved to noticing body sensations only--hardness, pressure, coolness, itching, tension, etc; moved to paying attention only to the distributed sensations associated with the breath; and then finally tuned into breath at the nostrils, kind of knowing the count on the out breath and then saying it in my head during the pause at the end.
I probably counted about 50 breaths before losing count. Did another 30 or 40 and then lost count again. At a certain point, I stopped counting, seeing it as a bit of a barrier to tuning in to the sensations directly. 
Some things I noticed: the breath became very shallow, almost not there. When I had stopped counting the breaths inwardly, I noticed that there was nothing to notice when you get to the pauses--no sensations of breathing at that spot at the nostrils, only the watching. 
I noticed, in what the author describes as peripheral awareness, sounds coming and going; journaling thoughts; very subtle prideful mind states when I was locked in on the counts and then, on the flip side, some kind of chargrined or shame-related mind states (not very strong, but there) when I became distracted.
I noticed brightness in the visual field but never focused on it; it was almost more of a latent potential. Had to turn the attention back to the nostrils a few times after attention had shifted to the blackness of the visual field, earlier in the sit.
Strange, vivid scenes popped up a couple of times--in both cases related to the dishwasher [?]. Seeing cups and glasses in their rows, pulling dishes out of the bottom of it.
Noticed the subtle, rushing sounds in the ears, and the pressure in the forehead, but never focused on these. My wife came downstairs after 40 minutes and I ended the sit early. 

 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/17/18 8:20 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Continuing to work on concentration via the framework in The Mind Illuminated. 30-minute sits last night and this morning were full of lethargy, sleepiness and wandering mind. My approach with breath meditation has always been to go very narrow, right at the nostrils, kind of in Pa Auk fashion. Working now with these ideas of maintaining a connection to peripheral awareness. I'm noticing attention toggle quickly from the breath to other objects and back again. I might hear a hawk calling outside, tune into that and then go back to the breath. Tuned into a very pleasant sensation that seemed like it would last for the duration of the sit; it went away. 

Breath-counting was a joke in the sit this morning--quite different from some sits earlier in the week in which 30 or 40 breaths would happen before I lost count. Sleepiness was such that various hypnogogic scenes came up. A lot of peace and spaciousness at times at the beginning and ending of breaths. Working on noticing when in-breaths and out-breaths begin and end. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/17/18 1:25 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Sounds great for a poem, but has nothing to do with realisation.

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/18/18 7:19 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
30 minutes of breath-counting this morning. I was able to count 100 breaths without losing track of the count, although attention strayed from the breath here and there and I almost lost the count two or three times. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/20/18 6:28 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
45 minutes of breath-counting, followed by 15 of just following the breath.
Managed to stick with the counting for most of the 45 minutes, or 250 breaths.
Spent the first few minutes going through some of The Mind Illuminated preminaries: tuning into peripheral awareness, then body sensations, then the distributed sensations associated with the breath, and then the breath at the nostrils.

Tried here and there to connect with pleasantness but probably didn't do quite enough of this. 

Still a little unclear as to how to maintain a sense of peripheral awareness without closing in too tightly on the breath. I get the analogy of carrying a tea cup and yet still being aware enough of your surroundings not to spill it; I just have a sense that I'm closing in pretty tightly at times and losing track of the periphery.
 
I started with my palms down on my legs just above the knees, sitting on the sofa with the back straight and feet on the floor. Each time I hit ten, I would curl in a finger; when all my fingers were closed on both hands, I started over and straightened a finger each time I hit ten.

There was some inconsistency: Sometimes I'd only count the breath during the pause at the end of the exhalation; at other times I would start the count immediately upon beginning the exhalation. When I did it this latter way, it had the quality of counting partway through the breath, like "threeeeee..." Seemed better to do a quick count toward the middle of the pause at the end of the breath cycle: "three." Felt like I was more in tune with the direct sensations that way.

Also, when I counted on the exhalations, the pace of the breath seemed faster. This made me question whether I had started counting an inhale as 'one,' and an exhale as 'two.' I realized I hadn't.

I noticed some patterns. I came closer to losing track of the counting toward the end of the first and second sets of fifty. I also tended to come closer to distraction toward the end of some of the ten counts--like on breaths seven or eight. 

Sometimes I was quite tuned into the sensations of breathing and was noticing the beginning and ending of the breaths and the nothingness of the pause at the end. I was seeing how short and shallow some of them were.
 
In other cases it was more like the sensations of breathing were in the periphery. I was still aware of them, but more dimly, and attention was off on a thought or fantasy, even though the mind was still keeping track of the count, kind of automatically. There were even a few vivid hypnogogic scenes during the sit, including a dream-like one in which I was being welcomed into a forest monastery type of place. 

I lost track of the count once or twice and had to start the 10-count over again at 1. 
I think this was in the 140s and maybe also in the 170s. Toward the very end of the breath-counting, 230s amd 240s, I noticed a lot of temptation to look at the timer and a lot of wanting to quit. Here, too, there was a toggling between being tuned into the sensations of breathing vs attention kind of switching to thoughts or other distractions.

At one point, the silence and peace of the present moment seemed to become more predominant and the whole exercise of counting and structuring seemed like a drag that had a level of dukkha associated with it. 

Fifteen minutes were left on the timer when I finished the 250 and decided to stop the breath-counting and just stick with sensations of the breath cycles in silence. 

I had inadvertently used one of my timers with wood clacks that strike every five minutes. Toward the end of the sit I found myself guessing--the clack would go off and I'd think "10 minutes left?" I resisted the tempation to look at the timer but eventually woke up from a distraction, opened my eyes, and peeked at it. 

The overall sense that I have after this sit is that I'm making some progress in building concentration but that something is off. Maybe that's a perfectionistic impulse. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/25/18 7:09 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
45 minutes, concentration 
struggled
 
Tues., May 22,
45 minutes, concentration
struggled mightily—basically unable to count even 10 breaths (prior night’s insomnia the cause?)
 
Wed., May 23
45 minutes; interrupted by business call; started again.
More intense sleepiness and dullness. Unable to count even 10 breaths yet again despite having slept reasonably well the night before. Lost count and/or fell asleep over and over again. 
 
Thurs., May 24
45 minutes. More of same—falling asleep over and over. Tried walking meditation to boost the energy. Helped somewhat, then sat back down and the sleepiness came back again. 
 
Fri., May 25
45 minutes. Slept a good eight hours last night. Sat on the sofa in a relaxed position—leaning back, not all that upright.
Prior to the sit, I studied the Stage II section of The Mind Illuminated. I realized that I had missed the instruction to try to deeply appreciate and savor moments of waking up to the reality that the mind had wandered. Instead, I’d been defaulting to trying to ‘gently come back.’ There’s a difference there—Culadasa wants you to reward the unconscious process of noticing and then coming back. So I resolved to do this in a pronounced way during the sit.
For this particular session, attention stayed on the breath for longer periods and with less overt effort. There wasn’t as much of a sense of tightness around the breath. Each time I noticed the mind had wandered, I’d say something to myself like “Awesome—way to go,” and then go back to the sensations at the nostrils.
 
The breath itself was very subtle and short, and the sensations were at times vanishingly faint. At one point, just to test and confirm that I was staying with the breath a bit better, I started up the breath counting. Lost it a bit here and there but was present for most of 50 breaths. Stopped after that. 
 
Attention would here and there switch to pleasant body sensations, loud sounds (once or twice I caught the mind’s response: to visualize or interpret the sound), itches, pains, muscle tension, etc. 
 
I noticed the kind of pulsing and rocking that usually develops during noting sessions, some brightness in the visual field and the subtle ocean-like sounds in the ears (there, but not as loud as when I note). The sense of the contours of the body started to break up; I felt that I could just surrender and become the space and probably slip into some kind of jhana, but I stayed with the sensations at the nostrils and tried to just let this be in peripheral awareness and do its thing. 
 
Toward the end of the sit I started to notice timer curiosity, wanting to quit and general restlessness. I was off on some kind of visual, imagining thought when the ending bell rang. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/27/18 7:03 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Sat., May 26
Sat for 45 minutes on sofa, good posture. Went through the ‘preliminaries’ mentally before starting. Resolved to put some oomph into the process of savoring/rewarding moments of coming back from mind-wandering. Throughout the sit, each time I’d come back from a distraction, I’d say something to myself like “Awesome. Way to go. This is a moment of awakening.” 
I hadn’t slept all that well last night and felt a little tired this morning. Nonetheless, attention did indeed seem to stay with the object—the breath at the nostrils—a lot more during this sit. 
The primary challenge was the shallowness and subtlety of the breath itself. The sensations were barely there a lot of the time, which made it challenging to notice the beginning and ending of exhalations or to know when the pauses were occurring. At times I did a bit of noting: “in in in in pause pause pause pause out out out out.” 
Noticed the usual timer curiosity and restlessness toward the end of the sit but resisted the temptation to look at the timer. The jhanic quality of the sit was quite strong at times—very pleasant—but I stayed with the sensations at the nostrils. How to tune into pleasant without making pleasant the primary focus? The instruction is to savor and enjoy the pleasant qualities of meditation, but it seems like this requires taking attention off of the object. Is that OK?
Nice sense of progress here. 
It will be interesting to see whether that extreme sleepiness comes back at some point. 
 
Sun., May 27
Sat for an hour on the sofa with good posture. Continued with the positive affirmations/savoring whenever the mind came back from wandering. Worked on ‘following the breath’—paying attention to each part of the in-breath, out-breath and the pauses, noticing the shortness or length of each, feeling the coolness of the sensations on the in-breath, etc. 
The breath sensations were very faint and wispy at times. The sense of controlling the breath was there now and again, followed by some discomfort around this—it’s not what you’re supposed to be doing. Should I counteract this: “You’re not actually controlling it”? 
 
A full hour is unusual for me. A bunch of different times I caught the resistance/timer curiosity/wanting to quit right as it arose—very early in the process—and it didn’t gather strength and proliferate but kind of went away, like the popping of a bubble. 
 
Strong sense of silence and peace at times. Noticed at one point that I was smiling, possibly even grinning. Noticed various things in peripheral awareness [?]—the dog’s breath on my leg; the sound of the dishwasher running; birds outside; pains in the shoulders. Or was this attention actually switching to these things very quickly since I can remember separating them out and noticing them?

Had some hypnogogic imagery come up, including a disgusting image, but popped out of it and, again, said something to myself along the lines of “You’re back. Awesome,” and tried to savor the moment of waking up. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/27/18 12:38 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Tashi Tharpa:

How to tune into pleasant without making pleasant the primary focus? The instruction is to savor and enjoy the pleasant qualities of meditation, but it seems like this requires taking attention off of the object. Is that OK?


I have gone through this line of thinking so many times. Do you mind if I give my take on this, as a complete non-expert?

You ask if it's OK to take your attention off the object in order to find the pleasant qualities of meditation. I think there is already something funny going on here. If you just left your attention on the object, you would have already found the pleasant qualities, because a state of real concentration is itself pleasurable. So, it seems that you realize that your attention is just not going to stay there. But, you also probably notice that if you spend the whole time chasing positive feelings, you aren't spending any time meditating.

The theory behind affirmations is, I guess, that congratulating yourself when you come back from mind-wandering is supposed to reward you, and thus make it more likely you will do it in the future (and also make meditation a more pleasant experience overall, perhaps). I think you need to ask yourself if that affirmation is truly a reward. For me, I have realized that they are often not effective, and any rewarding feeling really comes from the sense of either distracting myself from negative thinking, or perhaps from feeling like I'm doing something to work on the problem.

It seems to me that a better strategy might be to find an intrinsic reward in the act of mindfulness itself.

Part of the problem might be that the exercise is viewed as "fix the attention on the breath." Thus, when the mind wanders, it is automatically viewed as a failure of some kind. And, one might imagine that the better you get at meditation, the less the mind will wander. I question whether this is really true, however. My suspicion is that if you look at the best meditators on the planet, you will find that their minds wander just as frequently as anyone else's, but the difference is that they are better at bringing the mind back quickly. So, what if the exercise was "observe the breath, and when you notice that it wandered (which it will), bring it back." Then, the wandering becomes part of the exercise, and the skill you are really practicing is the act of bringing the mind back (rather than fixing it in position). If you can find something interesting (or at least neutral) about this practice the way I'm describing it, there is no need to congratulate yourself with positive affirmations, because it will be self-reinforcing. (You might then ask "what is rewarding about noticing that my mind wandered?". Well, that observation itself almost certainly provokes a whole other chain of reactions, and you can practice equanimity with respect to each and every one of them. There must be something fascinating in playing this game!)

Please understand that this is just my personal viewpoint, based on what I think has been working well for me so far. I hope someone with more experience will correct me if necessary.

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/27/18 6:39 PM as a reply to spatial.
From my experience over the years meditation ends up being less about focusing on one thing and staying squarely in that mode than it is about being aware of whatever is happening, right here, right now. It helps at first to develop an ability to focus on one thing for an extended period of time but, eventually, our focus has to widen and include more and more of what's going on in our sensual vicinity, and with the typical flights of mind we all have.

Also, that pleasant feeling - warm, fuzzy, blissful - that arises on occasion is also an object one can focus on, and doing that can lead to the jhanas. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/28/18 2:05 PM as a reply to spatial.
spatial:
If you can find something interesting (or at least neutral) about this practice the way I'm describing it, there is no need to congratulate yourself with positive affirmations, because it will be self-reinforcing. 

I think this is the key to my misunderstanding of Culadasa. You know, sometimes we insert the I/me into stuff even when it isn't supposed to be there. If you listen a bit more carefully to his instruction, it's not at all to congratulate yourself for coming back to the present, which is how I initially interpreted it. In fact, what he says is that neither mind-wandering nor coming back have anything to do with 'you.' You didn't decide to wander off and you didn't decide to come back, either. These are processes just occurring as they will, along with many other mental processes.

So his actual instruction is to savor that moment when you come back and pay careful attention to its pleasant qualities--and this is the self-reinforcing part, as you suggest. So "way to go!" is not the way to go. It's more like, "Ah, this..." 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/28/18 2:19 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
From my experience over the years meditation ends up being less about focusing on one thing and staying squarely in that mode than it is about being aware of whatever is happening, right here, right now. It helps at first to develop an ability to focus on one thing for an extended period of time but, eventually, our focus has to widen and include more and more of what's going on in our sensual vicinity, and with the typical flights of mind we all have.

Also, that pleasant feeling - warm, fuzzy, blissful - that arises on occasion is also an object one can focus on, and doing that can lead to the jhanas. 

Thanks, Chris. Yes, Culadasa's idea here is to pay attention to the sensations of the breath while simultaneously maintaining what he calls 'peripheral awareness' of everything else. The analogy is of picking out an object on the horizon. You're still aware of the broad horizon with its multiplicity of phenomena, even as attention is focused on the one object within that scene. So it's explicitly a concentration practice but is intended not to be a super-tight one. (He urges students to avoid trying to focus on one object to the exclusion of everything else.)

The map here is a fusion of Tibetan samatha cultivation and stuff from the Theravada commentaries, with insight introduced later in the process. 

Overall, I agree that, in the end, it's always about what is happening right now. Whatever's center stage, that's what's center stage. However, I'm interested in following these instructions and seeing what happens if I build more concentration and practice with more discipline than I have in the past. For example, Culadasa's Stage 1 is merely having an unshakeable practice of 45 minutes to an hour that you stick to every single day. I've been at this since the 1990s. Guess I'm ... working on Stage 1.  

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/28/18 2:25 PM as a reply to spatial.
spatial:
Part of the problem might be that the exercise is viewed as "fix the attention on the breath." Thus, when the mind wanders, it is automatically viewed as a failure of some kind. And, one might imagine that the better you get at meditation, the less the mind will wander. I question whether this is really true, however. My suspicion is that if you look at the best meditators on the planet, you will find that their minds wander just as frequently as anyone else's, but the difference is that they are better at bringing the mind back quickly.

Here, Culadasa's claim is that if you follow his instructions the mind will come back more and more quickly and that, eventually, it will cease wandering altogther. It's an audacious claim, to be sure. I don't know enough about the teacher and his students to have a sense of whether this is realistic. However, it could be that he's onto something. Right now, working with these instructions seems beneficial. I'm inclined to run the experiment and see where it goes... 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
5/28/18 2:38 PM as a reply to spatial.
spatial:
You ask if it's OK to take your attention off the object in order to find the pleasant qualities of meditation. I think there is already something funny going on here. If you just left your attention on the object, you would have already found the pleasant qualities, because a state of real concentration is itself pleasurable. So, it seems that you realize that your attention is just not going to stay there. But, you also probably notice that if you spend the whole time chasing positive feelings, you aren't spending any time meditating.

Hi Spatial.
Sorry for all the responses. Just taking some time to digest and reflect on your perspective. 

So, my full quote was:

The jhanic quality of the sit was quite strong at times—very pleasant—but I stayed with the sensations at the nostrils. How to tune into pleasant without making pleasant the primary focus? The instruction is to savor and enjoy the pleasant qualities of meditation, but it seems like this requires taking attention off of the object. Is that OK?

You're saying, "If you left your attention on the object, you would already have found the pleasant qualities, because a state of real concentration is itself pleasurable."

My observation was actually that the quality of the sit was quite pleasant/jhanic, which to me indicates that attention was left on the object and that the pleasant qualities of the sit were, as you point out, a function of this, not something separate from it. 

So it wasn't that I was interested in chasing or generating pleasantness in its absence. 

I think I felt a pull to take the focus of attention off of the breath and to tune into the pleasant quality of the sit in a focused way, making this the new focus of attention (as Chris pointed out, this is actually a specific instruction for attaining jhana). 

I think the answer, in this Culadasa framework, is still a bit unclear to me, but it may be that it's OK for your attention to move around a bit. After all, how can you savor the moment of coming back without momentarily taking your attention off the object to do so? 

In this framework, any conscious choice to focus on any individual phenomenon is defined as a function of attention, whereas awareness is broad, open, de-personalized and regards all phenomena equally. I'll keep inquiring on this. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
6/1/18 8:43 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Mon., May 28
40 min.
 
Tues., May 29
60 min. Another mighty struggle. Darkened room, raining outside, hadn’t slept well. A lot of forgetting and losing the object. Gutted it out. 
 
Did another 40-min. sit later; kind of more of same.
 
Wed., May 30
60. min. total. First 40—Culadasa guided meditation on mind/body; last 20—followed the breath. Struggled w’ a lot of sleepiness but had quite a few moments of coming back, which I appreciated in a positive way. Hypnogogic visual imagery and strange, dreamlike scenes and thoughts were pronounced.
 
Another 40 min. sit later in day; still a struggle.
 
 
Thurs., May 31
60 min., focused on those moments of coming back. They were quite regular. Eyes open a lot of the time; sit had a little more of a shikantaza flavor, with the focus on the breath almost seeming to be more of the background than the foreground. Had less of a problem with the drowsiness—not that it wasn’t occurring, but I was just more OK with it. Maybe less of the subtle negative associations creeping in. It was more like “OK, you’re back. How is it now?” Did more vipassana-like check-ins here and there. Tried to notice the process of losing the object but was never able to catch it. Probably didn’t string together too many instances of following/connecting with the whole breath cycle. Sporadic and incomplete breath-counting as well, for the most part, when I tried to do that. Stuck with the whole hour; felt the temptation to check the timer here and there but didn’t. 
 
Fri., June 1 
60 min. Listened to a Culadasa guided meditation for the first 40 or so, an exploration of peripheral awareness and attention. Strong sense of energy flows, kriyas, etc. Some doubts about the framework but am continuing to explore and test it. I have noticed that concentration is getting better. If I go for a walk, for example, I’m much more likely to be in a meditative state and to feel no need to distract myself with a podcast or what have you. My brain seems ‘hungry’ for more moments of mindfulness during the day, and paying attention seems less like a struggle or chore than before. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
6/6/18 7:01 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Sat., June 2
Sat for 60 min. This time no sleepiness to speak of. Focused on appreciating that moment of having come back. Worked on a less verbal approach to the savoring—one that had more to do with really feeling the moment than with thinking something like “Great. You’re back,” etc., although I certainly did a bit of this. While I felt that attention stayed with the object pretty well, it became clear to me later in the sit that there weren’t very many moments in which one entire breath cycle was connected to many other breath cycles. Attention is clearly going off of the object pretty frequently, and it definitely is returning to the object frequently but not noticing or appreciating it when this happens, because the time intervals are shorter.
 
In other words, that appreciation is much more likely to kick in after a long departure involving multiple thoughts and imagined scenes. 
 
I also noticed that the appreciation moments seemed to happen on the pause after the out-breath. Kind of seemed natural to soak things in there. Didn’t do a lot of ‘check-ins’—some, but not a lot. I need to re-read that section. Did a fair amount of breath-counting. At the beginning, I did count three sets of 1 to 10 and back to 1. Very easy for the words to become mantra-like and for attention to actually switch to the verbalizations and leave the object. In awareness during the sit were things like shoulder pains, birdsong, angsty listening for stirrings of others upstairs, the subtle roaring sound in the ears. 
 
Mon., June 4
20 min morning. Sleepy. Little bit of walking meditation later.
 
Tues., June 5
45 min. Alert. Stayed with breath for fifty counts, then dropped counting. Sensations became very subtle at the nostrils, hard to tune into. A few times attention seemed to return to the object very early in the process of distraction happening. Tried to appreciate these moments in a non-verbal way by noticing the actual way it was and felt. 
 
Wed., June 6
Slept really well, probably eight hours. Sat for 45 minutes. Started by breath-counting to 60. Attention stayed on the breath quite well. I also found that it was returning to the object pretty quickly once a distraction had carried it off. For example, at one point there were some planning and visual thoughts happening—thinking about what I would do later in the day—and attention noticed this right away and went back to the breath. I tried to appreciate these moments and soak them in. 
 
As the sit progressed, though, things got a little shakier. Toward the very end, the distractions would carry on longer and, a bit more frequently, attention would come back without remembering the instruction to appreciate the quality of that moment. 
 
There was again this sense of spaciousness and silence becoming more and more noticeable. I tried to soften and relax into this while still keeping the mind on the object. As I did so, there was more of a sense of absorption. Not hard jhana necessarily. There was some swaying of the body. 
 
In paying closer attention to the breath, I realized that, while I had been thinking that I was keeping the attention at the nostrils, in fact it was moving around there in the general area of the nose a lot more than I had appreciated. So sometimes it was deeper inside the nose and sometimes right at the nostrils and sometimes I was actually paying attention to a mental image of what was happening ('this is the pause before the exhalation') rather than the direct sensations. The sensations were pretty faint at times.
 
I tried noticing the relative lengths of the different components (longer, shorter, etc.) a bit. Also did some ‘check-ins’ here and there but I need to re-read this section to get clearer on the instructions. No heculean struggle with sleepiness during this sit. Not a lot of restlesless toward the end. Never checked the timer. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
6/14/18 7:16 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Thurs., June 7
Skipped. Half-hearted walking meditation for about 20 minutes at the park. 
 
Fri., June 8
60 minutes. 
 
Sat., June 9
60 minutes. Not sleepy. Very little forgetting for the first 30-40 minutes. A lot of it for the last part. 
 
Sun., June 10
Sat for about 50 minutes.
Extraordinarily strong concentration. Attention stayed on the breath very well. A lot of brightness in the visual field, pleasant absorption-y feeling, some swaying/rocking, subtle sounds in the ears. Used breath-counting some and also noticing the beginnings and endings of the inhalations and exhalations with attention to minute detail. The latter technique seemed particularly effective. Attention wandered off in a substantial way probably fewer than 10 times during the sit but maybe 10-15 conservatively. Otherwise, if it wandered off, it seemed to come back and realize what was going on pretty quickly. Brief moment of appreciating the qualities of the wakefulness and then back to the object.  
 
Disappointed a bit to see that one of the predominant distractions was “journaling thoughts.” Even before it was over, I wanted to journal this sit and had imagining thoughts related to doing so, as though this “good sit” had something to do with me, my abilities, etc. But OK, if I can see the disappointment clearly when a sit is chaotic, and stand back from that disappointment and watch the process of it mindfully, then I can do the same when the opposite phenomenon occurs. 
 
This was about following the instructions to facilitate a certain process and causes and conditions to come together, nothing more.

RE: Beginning again
Answer
6/14/18 7:16 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Mon., June 11
Believe I sat on this day but forgot to journal it. 
 
 Tues., June 12
About 50 minutes. Same basic pattern: excellent concentration for first 40 minutes or so, and then a bit of a jumble. In this case, the phone rang. Who could be calling this early? Got up and checked it, sat down and felt a bit scattered. Went back to breath-counting but it was a bit hit-or-miss. Dog freaked out and started barking at noises outside with about 10 minutes left. Got up and took the dog out. 
 
For the majority of the sit though, attention stayed on the object very well. There was a lot of tranquility and pleasantness. Worked with inclining or intending attention to stay at the nostrils, appreciating moments of return to the object when the mind strayed, which it seemed to be doing less frequently and for shorter intervals, although there were certainly some moments of true mind-wandering here and there. 
 
Wed., June 13
Gutted it out for the full hour this morning after a night of terrible insomnia. Lots of forgetting. Very sleepy. Each time I’d say something to myself like, “OK, let’s see if we can get to five breaths without getting lost,” I’d still get lost. Tried to appreciate the moment when the mind came back. Realizing that, other than opening my eyes, I’m not really applying any ‘antidotes’ when sleepiness like this is an issue. Need to study those and give them a good faith effort. 
 
Sat again for 30 minutes in the evening. 
 
Thurs., June 14
Sat for 60 minutes. Slept well last night and was relatively alert throughout the sit. Experimented with counting those moments in which attention had come back from mind-wandering—it happened about 27 times. Jettisoned this in the last 15 minutes or so of the sit after having the thought that this was also counting the number of times forgetting had happened; therefore, it could turn into a negative thing, so let’s drop it. This sit felt neutral-unpleasant a fair amount of the time. I seem to expect attention to adhere to instructions for a higher ‘stage’ in Culadasa’s framework—i.e., to stay continuously for the entirety of each breath cycle.
 
I can feel a certain amount of unconscious pressure to master this stage, move on to the next, etc.—one of the downsides of using a progress-oriented model. It’s not too heavy or anything but is just a subtle inclination I seem to have picked up on during this sit. No doubt the counting of moments of return had something to do with it.
 
There was some pleasant unification here and there; noticed attention wanting to go to the heart center and kind of connect it with the breath and the third eye and top of the head. Still a lot of uncertainty about the peripheral awareness concept and whether I’m focusing too tightly or narrowly on the breath at the nostrils. Tried to check in here and there to make sure I wasn’t clamping down too much by opening to the awareness of everything else.
 
Noticing some more doubt—had a few thoughts about dropping the Culadasa stuff and just going back to noting, but I’ll stick with it.  

RE: Beginning again
Answer
6/16/18 6:21 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Fri., June 15
Skipped.
 
Sat., June 16
Sat for 1:07. Woke at 5 a.m. and figured it would be a sleepy, dull slog. In fact, the opposite. Went through the usual preliminaries—motivations, expectations, goals, diligence, distractions, posture--and then tuned into awareness, kind of shikantaza-like. Immediately noticed silence, stillness and a sense of the body being faint, as though concentration were already there and strong, just waiting for me to notice it. Tuned into body sensations, then distributed breath sensations, then breath at the nostrils. 
 
Started breath-counting. Attention stayed on the breath very well. Counted 100 breaths and then moved to noticing the beginnings and endings of inhalations and exhalations. Did this for quite awhile and then noticed some slipping—a few moments of mind-wandering or forgetting—and so went back to breath counting. Got up to about 90 breaths and then the one-hour bell rang. Kept sitting to finish the 100 breaths and also did some noting to end the sit, maybe for the last three or four minutes. 
 
At one point, I saw in a flash how the process of restlessness/timer curiosity/wanting to quit begins: knowing that it’s getting late in the sit leads to anticipation of moving on to the next thing, which leads to wanting to check the timer, which leads to a sense of conflict created by (remembering) the prior resolution not to check the timer, which leads to restlessness and agitation. Instead of going down this road, however, the mind saw it all in a flash and gently moved back to the object, short-circuiting the process. At this point, I savored/appreciated the moment of wakefulness and had the sense of having dodged some dukkha, like if you were to duck a baseball flying at your head.
 
At other points in the sit, there was some pretty quick turning away from the process of mind-wandering. Was this a Stage 3 sit, in Culadasa's framework, in which attention left the object only briefly throughout the period? Pretty close, I’d say. Toward the end, there was a bit more mind-wandering, hypnogogic imagery, etc.

One thing that I observed: At times during breath-counting, the attention flips over into a kind of mantra recitation. The counting becomes the primary object, i.e. the repeated words "one," "two," "three," and when this happens there can be some faint thinking in the background. One of the signals that this is occurring: I seem to start counting on the exhalation rather than during the pause after the exhalation. It's like I'm being subtly impatient or inattentive.

When attention is actually at the nostrils, the counting happens during the pause after the exhalation and the word itself feels faint, like a little whispy marker and not at all like the primary object.  

RE: Beginning again
Answer
6/19/18 7:30 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Sun., June 17
Put 60 minutes on timer but sat for only 30—wife came downstairs earlier than expected. 
For this 30-minute period, attention stayed ‘tethered’ to the object the whole time, just as in the analogy by Culadasa. In other words, it would stay focused on the object to varying degrees but never entirely forget it and go off into la-la land. It would never get too far away.
 
When my wife came downstairs, I was sitting with a strong sense of motion—as though going backward in a train car. It was kind of a sense of flying through space. 
 
Mon., June 18
Sat for 60 minutes. After Sunday's sit, I had periodically had the thought, “OK, cool. I must be at Stage 3,” but during Monday's sit there was, in fact, a lot of forgetting—the tether breaking. Maybe I jumped ahead a bit in a couple of the previous sits. Still, the idea that a person could sit for, say, 60 minutes and never entirely lose the object no longer seems like a tall order to me. 
 
There are a lot of tropes out there to the effect that mind wandering is just inevitable: “Your liver excretes enzymes; your brain excretes thoughts.” I get the idea there. You’re trying to discourage negativity around any of the phenomena that occur in meditation, mind-wandering included. “Thoughts are not the enemy.”
 
The shadow side of this, though, is that it obscures the reality that with a few techniques the development of stable attention is actually pretty doable. Well, we’ll find out, I guess. Not entirely there yet. 
 
Tues., June 19
60 minutes. Attention stayed on the object quite well as I counted 100 breaths. For this first part of the sit, maybe the first half or so, attention strayed from and truly ‘forgot’ the object maybe two or three times. 
 
After 100 breaths, dropped the counting and moved to noticing the beginnings and endings of breaths and trying to notice the relative lengths of the inhalations, exhalations and pauses. Shakier here. 
 
On the one hand, dropping the counting seems to get you closer to the bare sensate reality of the breath—there’s less going on mentally. As a result, when you’re tuned in, there’s more clarity and more communing with the silence and peace that is there. On the other, you lose the structure of the counting technique and can maybe more easily drift unless you maintain intention and interest in following/connecting with the breath.
 
Definitely got lost many more times during the back half of the sit and had some long ‘practice thoughts’ in which I was journaling, asking questions on Reddit and engaging in other imagined scenarios. Still, there were other instances of attention coming back pretty quickly—within a few seconds of drifting off. 
 
With respect to breath-counting, another sign that I’m not quite on top of it: Instead of getting to 10 and then going from 10 to 1, I’ll go back to 1 and start over. Really, the intention is to go 1 to 10, 10 to 1, rinse and repeat. The other two signs: counting on the exhalation instead of the pause after it (which is just what I have resolved to do), and failing to notice and stay with the pauses, instead allowing the mind to drift off for quick little thinking sessions during those pauses. 
 
During this sit I did check-ins to see whether sleepiness or other things were going on and tried to appreciate in a direct way those moments of coming back by feeling, feeling, feeling what it was like to be back. At the very end of the sit I was in some kind of absorption state, very pleasant, in which the sense of the body was almost gone and activity of the mind/volition, such that it was occurring, didn’t seem to be “me.” 
 
A sense of: Well, why don’t you just do this all of the time? This is really what it’s about. Just stop!
Hahaha!  
  
  

RE: Beginning again
Answer
6/26/18 7:23 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Wed., June 20
30 min.
 
Thurs., June 21
60 min.   
 
Fri., June 22
60 min., but too scattered—allowed myself to get distracted, get up and do things, sip coffee, feed the dog, etc. Need to get a room set up and be more disciplined.  
 
Sat., June 23
60 min. 
 
Sun., June 24
Put 60 min. on timer—interrupted after about 30
 
Mon., June 25
Put 60 min. on timer—interrupted after 20  
 
Tues., June 26
Since Friday my in-laws have been in town. They’re taking care of a three-year-old opioid orphan who has a crazy sleep schedule and has been doing a lot of loud crying. One of my brothers in law will be living with us for the next two weeks. 
 
So my formal sitting, which I usually do in the living room, has been interrupted repeatedly. I’ve also been getting sucked into Facebook, and I feel like I’m not making enough of an effort to be mindful during the day. Feels like I’ve taken a step backward or two here. 
 
I’ve never really taken seriously the idea of having a specific, kind of inviolable space for meditation. I probably need to figure that out. I also need to make a bigger push to overcome this compartmentalization. I’ll be doing a half-day retreat this coming Sunday so maybe I can restart things a bit. 
 
Tues., June 26 [cont.]
Sat for 60 minutes, this time in the office. Attention stayed with the breath for most of the period. Counted 1 to 10 or 10 to 1 a total of 200 times and then dropped the breath-counting. Attention got lost in the count once or twice. Several times, there was a quick correction where the count had gotten to 10 and needed to go back in the opposite direction (10 to 1) but where I’d started back over at 1. So I caught this before getting to ‘2’ and went back to 10 to 1. 
 
The count was mostly soft and transparent; counted on the pause after the inhalation this time. I liked how this allowed a sense relaxing and flowing out with the out breath. It also had the effect of making the pause after the out-breath more noticeable/enjoyable. There was some pleasant, absorption-y stuff, with the third eye region feeling, I dunno, more energized or active but with softness, not hardness/pressure. Tuned in to smiley pleasantness. Not much pulsing or rocking. Not a lot of visual brightness or paying attention to the blackness of the visual field. During the early part of the sit, there was more tuning into peripheral awareness and introspective awareness check-ins. Latter half felt a little tighter, like maybe I was paying too close attention to the nostrils and losing the peripheral awareness part a bit.

RE: Beginning again
Answer
7/2/18 6:34 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Wed., June 27
40 min. (interrupted)
 
Thurs., June 28
60 min.
Very blissful sit, with tenderness in the heart center and sense of absorption or loss of the body contours for most of the hour after running through the preliminaries.
 
I had counted 100 breaths to start with and then moved to following/connecting.
 
40 minutes in, I had to pee and the dog was nosing my leg, wanting to be fed, so I got up, peed, fed the dog, and slugged back a little more coffee. I told myself, “Be as mindful as you can as you do this,” but I didn’t quite pull that off.
 
When I sat back down, it felt like my mind had been stirred up a bit. Did some more breath-counting and things settled down more. 
 
Probably the last 10 minutes or so was more on the shikantaza end as I dropped the technique a bit more. Very peaceful and blissful. Tuned into the silence. Saw the activity of the self and volition, the pattern of sensations of the ‘me’ as object or not-me—a flow. 
 
The sense of being on the cusp of an OBE seemed to spark a flash of fear, but the concentration was so strong that the fear seemed to get short-circuited or deconstructed, like it wasn’t given the fuel it needed to grow. 
 
Fri., June 29
60 min. Got up too early this morning. Sleepy, hypnogogic. Some moments of clarity and wakefulness, which I tried to appreciate, but also a sense of pointlessness. Weird how one morning I can count to 100 to 200 breaths without any problem, but then the next I can’t get from 1 to 10. Is sleep really that big of a factor?
 
Sat., June 30
40 min. Another ‘good’ one, but interrupted again. Gotta get some kind of room set up.
 
Sun., July 1
Sat for about four hours at a half-day retreat event with about 20-25 other people. I tried to stick to the initial practices in The Mind Illuminated for the whole thing, although I kind of winged it for the walking meditation because I don’t recall reading any specific walking meditation instructions from TMI. 
 
In terms of constructive material or insights, the sit seemed to show me that, yet again, I’m practicing from a sense of lack. It seemed that I had gone from feeling lost in the wilderness (a couple of months ago I wasn’t posting on the DhO or really following any particular approach) and having no practice goals, techniques or trajectory, to this place where, now, I really hope that I’ll make linear progress and “ascend” to the point where I can jhana jump, attain paths, etc.
 
In other words, some part of me is still looking for my subjective experience to be transformed and different than it is now as a result of making meditative progress. I thought I had been burned enough to be through with all of that.   
 
In the TMI instructions, you’re supposed to run through these preliminaries before you sit: Motivations, Goals, Expectations, Diligence, Distractions and Posture. So, in sitting down for this half-day, I went through this list. I sensed the striving even before starting to practice and tried to say to myself, “It’s just about being here now and greeting whatever arises with acceptance. It’s not about striving.” But was this just a kind of bargaining?
 
When the sit was over, I felt again that trying to develop concentration is pointless. I seemed to feel the painfulness of it: I had a lot of pressure and pain in the third eye area and head and noticed a lot of tension in the face and jaw. There was a lot of physical pain in the shoulders and some in the neck, and my butt hurt. :-D I had struggled with sleepiness, dullness and forgetting throughout the day—the room was hot and then the walking meditation outside was in the hot summer sun, which I actually enjoyed a lot but probably didn't help on the sleepiness end of things.

I noticed that, despite my efforts to savor/appreciate moments of coming back, there was a lot of disappointment going on in response to how things were going. It was that familiar feeling of being a failed meditator and of the half-day not going well and being a big waste of time. 
 
I’m not lamenting any of this or seeing it as a sign that I should quit what I’m doing. This all strikes me as good stuff to see and understand. A lot of what I'm talking about was there in the background. It wasn't so much articulated as verbal thought. Good that I was aware of it. 
 
The sit felt painful and difficult and tense and the mental response to that included a lot of resistance, which reinforced the painfulness of it. OK. 
 
Certainly, there were moments of clarity during the sit. I did breath-counting and following and connecting throughout. At times attention was locked in and/or the savoring/appreciating of moments of coming back would be sincere. Many times I noticed a relatively quick recovery from mind-wandering. The recovery was happening on its own and was not me. 
 
In reviewing some of Culadasa’s instructions, my guess is that I’m focusing to tightly on the breath and on trying to maintain thoroughly continuous attention on it. The instructions for this stage, though, are to really leaven that with peripheral awareness and to not worry about interrupting your connection with the breath. What I’ll probably do this week is experiment with an opposite extreme to see if I can find a middle way. How far can I back off of the breath without losing contact with it?

RE: Beginning again
Answer
7/2/18 6:00 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
You have to totally let go of the idea that you control where attention stays. That's what's causing the feeling of forcing, you are straining to do something you simply cannot do and it's causing frustration. All you can do consciously is place attention, not stabilize it. Stabilizing it comes from familiarizing yourself with what introspective awareness and extrospective awareness feel like, and then using that knowledge to form the intentions that are fundamental for this stage.
First, make sure you totally understand what the extrospective aspect of awareness is. Walking meditation is a great way to familiarize yourself with that, but you'll also want to reread the First Interlude for help as well.
Then make sure you understand what introspective awareness is. You can check-in between every breath and at some point you'll see thoughts, etc running alongside the breath. Don't try to shut this out, it's introspective awareness.
Then, develop a solid understanding of intention so that you can use it to progress. An intention is a bit like a rational wish or mental inclination/determination. It can be helpful to verbalize that intention both before the sit (as part of the Six Point Prep) and also to refresh it every time you feel the need to. The intention will not produce results right away, but if you repeat it often enough eventually it will become an action. This will eventually become an unconscious habit of mind that no longer needs upkeep. The way this works is almost magical. You don't have to do anything. You just intend. Use as much self-talk as needed, at first.
If you do the practice this way, you will sail through the stages. But you absolutely must give up the idea of control.
So to summarize S3 practice, once you've familiarized yourself with what these things are: Sit down with an intention (or a few) in mind. Place attention on the breath. Do not try to hold attention there. When you realize you've forgotten, appreciate the aha moment and intend to re-engage with the breath without losing peripheral awareness. You must know what extrospective awareness feels like or you won't be able to intend this. Refresh this intention through verbal means if you need to. Then check-in from time to time in order to invoke introspective awareness.

RE: Beginning again
Answer
7/2/18 6:02 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Appreciated the Reddit post above from a teacher-in-training on The Mind Illuminated discussion board. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
7/7/18 6:46 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Mon., July 2
30 minutes. Working w' instructions from Reddit post.
  
Tues., July 3
60 minutes. Worked with these instructions. Tempted to wax poetic but will wait and keep working with this before making any evaluations. 
 
Wed., July 4
Skipped
 
Thurs., July 5
60 min. Slog—sleepiness and forgetting. Very similar to old pattern but tried to roll with it. 
 
Fri., July 6
60 min. Started the morning by getting into it on Facebook with my Trump-supporting brother in law. This stirred up the mind in a major way. Political thoughts and imaginings kind of bubbled to the surface throughout the sit, which nonetheless had lots of moments of clarity and connection. As things settled the sit was very pleasurable, which made me think about some of the cautioning language in The Mind Illuminated about pleasant states of dullness. 
 
Sat., July 7
60 min. 
This sit started with an unusual amount of clarity, energy and stability on the object. That led to thoughts of making progress, etc. Counting went very well. Probably for the first half-hour attention forgot or came close to forgetting the object just a few times. Switched to following and connecting. While there was some relief at dropping the counting, the forgetting started to happen more often, which is fine. Definitely noticed restlessness emerging very quickly in the process of that happening (awareness of the sit progressing toward the end, and of the dog nosing around and wanting to be fed). Felt into the restlessness and it was kind of pacified as attention went back to the object. Toward the very end of the sit, a lot of thoughts came up and it got pretty drifty. I was in the middle of one of the imagined scenes when the bell rang. 
 
Much of the time it feels like “I” am controlling and directing the breath. Sometimes I can see the whole process of that—kind of take the whole controlling thing as object—and sometimes there’s embedded-ness, a lack of distance. I get the sense that this controlling impulse is a big deal, that it’s important to let go of it, but of course trying to let go of it is problematic. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
7/14/18 7:29 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Sun., July 8
Sat for 60 min. Went through the preliminaries and noticed a lot of energy and clarity—went to bed early and slept very well last night. 
The pattern lately has been to count up to 100-or-so breaths and to then drop the counting and move to following and connecting (which I still don’t have a great understanding of and need to re-study). At that point, typically things will get a lot fuzzier, with more forgetting, etc. 

[EDIT (6-14-18)
I later reread the passage on Stage 3 practice and had to laugh: I had entirely missed Culadasa's instruction to count to no more than 10 breaths; he sees breath-counting as something that tends to become automatic and is of limited value. Not that there's anything wrong with doing your own thing, but the goal here is to actually follow the instructions. Argh.]

So for this sit I decided to stick to breath counting for the entirety of the period. When the bell rang, I was at 270 breaths. I count the total by putting my hands on my legs with my fingers extended. When I get to ten (or from ten to 1), I’ll close a finger; once all 10 fingers are closed, I’ll open them up again and start from the beginning, closing fingers from left to right. 
During this sit, I wanted to count during the pause after the inhalation. What I find is that, when attention if farther out on the tether, the counting will tend to happen on the inhalation itself or during both the inhalation and the pause ("three three three"). When attention is closer to the object, the counting will happen on that pause after the inhalation. It will feel quick and transparent. 
 
There’s also the question of whether attention is on the actual sensations at the nostrils, while maintaining peripheral awareness, or whether it’s actually on the counting in kind of a mantra-like fashion. 
 
During this sit, I’d say I lost track of the counting and laped into outright forgetting fewer than five or six times. The rest of the time, attention was either right on the sensations at the breath or kind of focused on the counting process, which I would interpret as being father out on the tether but still a few clicks away from outright forgetting.
 
I would try to appreciate/savor those moments of attention being dialed in on the sensations at the breath or after it had come back from some wandering, either farther out on the tether or all the way into forgetting.
 
The thought might be, “OK, what’s it like now that you’re back?” And then I’d try to just feel into what was going on. 
 
Several times during the sit, attention seemed to come back from sleepiness/hypnogogia very quickly, as though it had quickly noticed what was happening and said “Ooops!” and jumped back to the object. There was a feeling of the forgetting process having been short-circuited before it carried on further. 
 
Tried to appreciate this. 
 
I also tried to check in with the mind to see what was going on. Often I’d do this during the pause after the exhalation and find “OK, sleepiness and hypnogogia” and kind of recover to a more mindful place after this. 
 
Since the sit seemed to be going well, I also noticed journaling/reporting thoughts and some sense of pride and wanting to get some kind of affirmation of progress from somebody. I had thoughts about asking Reddit: “Was this a Stage 4 sit?” 
 
A couple of times the sleepiness was more pronounced, so I opened my eyes and continued with the counting. 
 
At one point I tried to notice where there was tension or struggling and relax the body more and let go of controlling. 
 
Some gentle reminders—“Just intend to place the mind on the object; you can’t keep it there so don’t worry about that.” 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
7/14/18 7:26 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Mon., June 9
Schedule disruption. 20 min. walking and some breath meditation here and there throughout the day.
 
Tues., June 10
Listened to 40-min Culadasa guided meditation | about 10 min of preliminaries before starting 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6jQ6pXPu8gM
 
Clarifying about how to practice in this method. Yeah, I’ve been focusing overmuch on the sensations at the nostrils in an exclusive way, only venturing out from this to ‘check in’ with awareness, but Culadasa is wanting you to maintain that awareness throughout. Hmmm… 
 
Wed., June 11
Slammed with work and kid stuff. 20 min. walking meditation
 
Thurs., June 12
40-min. Culadasa guided meditation—incredibly sleepy, nodding off multiple times, struggling to pay attention
 
Fri., June 13
Slammed at work. 20 min. walking meditation
 
Sat., June 14
40-min. Culadasa guided meditation. Mind was sharp, clear, calm and wakeful. Continuing to work with principle of paying attention to breath at nostrils without losing awareness of everything else. When this seems to be balanced, there is a ‘big mind’ thing that happens—a sense of wide-open connectedness. 
 
Culadasa’s instructions to notice the difference between things like calmness and restlessness or sharpness and dullness are interesting. They seem to show you where this calm and clear part of your mind is. You can see how it’s always there and stands back from this other stuff. It’s there to be tuned into, but the tuning into is also just more of the aforementioned ‘stuff.’ 
 
Noticing at least two different sensations on both the in-breath and out-breath is challenging. Putting words to it, I can noticed coolness and motion, but without words it’s subtler and more in the moment, kind of impossible to describe--tiny little puffs or pressure in a particular part of the tip of the nose or the sense of concentrated energy at the nerve endings at the very end of the nose. The out-breath was very, very subtle and vanishing because the mind was so calm, so picking up on those sensations required a lot of sharpness and clarity.
 
Had a few instances of forgetting, including a couple that I did not recover from all that quickly and a couple that I seemed to catch and recover from right away. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
7/25/18 7:34 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Sun., July 15
60 min.
 
Mon., July 16
40-min Culadasa guided meditation. Another sit without sleepiness/obvious dullness. Feel like I’m starting to “get it” and am probably on the verge of Stage 4. Forgetting did happen here and there during the sit, usually with quick or relatively quick recoveries.  
 
Tues., July 17
60. min total | first 40, Culadasa guided meditation 
More sleepiness and forgetting during this sit. Very peaceful and blissful absorptions happening at end of hour. Instructions seemed too busy and complicated at times. 
 
Wed., July 18
60 min. Miserable slog of sleepiness and forgetting. Didn’t sleep well last night.
 
Thurs., July 19
Slept well. 60 min. Very blissful and peaceful sit. Probably a lot of this was pleasant dullness as the mind went off of the object quite a bit. Sense of the body faded substantially at times. Tried to stay aware of everything while keeping attention on the breath. Succeeded here and there. Breaths were very, very short with very faint sensations, especially on the out-breath. Recovery from mind-wandering, when it occurred, didn’t seem quick or instantaneous. Attention went off on some tangents. But some of the time this might have been due to deliberate tuning in: “Where is calm, pleasant?” Or “where is sharp, clear?”
 
Last 10 or 15 minutes were very blissful but also drifty—probably dullness happening there. 
 
Fri., July 20
Drove to pick up kids from camp a couple of hours away. Missed. 
 
Sat., July 21
60 min. 
 
Sun., July 22
60 min. 
 
Mon., July 23
Exhausted and busy with work stuff. Skipped sitting practice in morning but did some walking meditation later.
 
Tues., July 24
60 min. 
 
Wed., July 25
60 min. 
Interesting how missing just a couple of days, and also engaging in more distractions like listening to podcasts while walking the dog instead of doing walking meditation, seems to have negatively affected at least my sense of making progress with the practice. Last couple of sits have started out well, with a lot of sharpness and clarity and a decent sense of knowing what the point was—i.e., to work on intending to stay with the breath at the nostrils without losing peripheral awareness, to find the balance between attention/awareness, and then to appreciate moments of coming back. However, at about the halfway point things tend to start to deteriorate. Forgetting kicks in, attention starts to dart around and there’s more restlessness/timer curiosity/wanting to quit.
 
OK.
 
I’m still sticking with these hour-long sits and working with this. For example, the last 15-minute period this morning was full of attention bouncing around, but I would notice this and see how attention was finding other things—like planning for the future, getting breakfast, starting a 24-hour fast, cleaning the living room, etc.—more salient than the sensations at the nostrils. Seeing that this was happening, attention would come back. “Good, you’re back.” I’d tune in for a bit more and wander off again. 
 
I feel like I’m having moments of really getting it where there does indeed seem to be this metacognitive monitoring of what’s going on—this process that short-circuits forgetting—while still staying with the breath. In these moments, the instructions make sense at a visceral level. 
 
However, I’m having to deal with some disappointment. I’m certainly not sailing through these stages or making rapid progress. Couldn’t confidently assert that I’ve hit Stage 4. Overall, though, I continue to be interested in what this TMI approach is about. I’ll keep at it.

Certainly, the number of instructions continues to seem daunting to me. They include:

>tuning into pleasant sensations
>doing check-ins vis-a-vis the state of the body
>checking in to the state of the mind
>knowing when the inhalations and exhalations begin and end
>noticing at least two specific sensations on each in-breath and at least one on each out-breath
>not losing peripheral awareness as you do this
>savoring/appreciating the moments when attention returns to the object after wandering off

It's a lot. 

In other news, starting a 24-hour fast this morning. Did a 48-hour one a couple of weeks ago. Seems to have a beneficial effect on practice somehow, although that’s not my primary motivation in doing the fasting.
 
One thing that it does highlight for me is how often I eat when I’m not even close to being hungry. I’ll just go into the kitchen and mindlessly scarf down handfuls of cashew nuts or tortilla chips. Need pay more attention to this process. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
7/25/18 8:59 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Tashi Tharpa:
Sun., July 15
 
Certainly, the number of instructions continues to seem daunting to me. They include:

>tuning into pleasant sensations
>doing check-ins vis-a-vis the state of the body
>checking in to the state of the mind
>knowing when the inhalations and exhalations begin and end
>noticing at least two specific sensations on each in-breath and at least one on each out-breath
>not losing peripheral awareness as you do this
>savoring/appreciating the moments when attention returns to the object after wandering off

It's a lot. 

 

I wonder what would happen if you just sat down and decided you want to simply pay attention to the breath. After doing this you may notice a certain problem cropping up repeatedly, then choose one of the actions from this list to remedy it. Then repeat the process with simple intention to pay attention to the breath, another problem comes up, remedy that for a while, etc. Eventually it will become second nature to automatically respond to each hindrance that arises with the appropriate remedy, without having to think of what to do. 

I've always taken the TMI instructions to be more of a problem/solution manual rather than a "do all this stuff exactly like this" manual. You just try to pay attention to the breath, something prevents you from doing so, then remedy the problem until that problem doesn't arise anymore, rinse and repeat.   

 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
7/26/18 8:13 AM as a reply to SigmaTropic.
SigmaTropic:
I've always taken the TMI instructions to be more of a problem/solution manual rather than a "do all this stuff exactly like this" manual. You just try to pay attention to the breath, something prevents you from doing so, then remedy the problem until that problem doesn't arise anymore, rinse and repeat.   

 

Thanks, SigmaTropic. This is helpful. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
8/6/18 5:27 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Keeping up the practice of late but went through a period of frenetic activity related to work and family and haven't been journaling as much. Feel like I'm making some progress in better understanding the TMI method. Still struggling a bit with the concept of peripheral awareness.

For these 60-minute sits, I'm often getting up 30 minutes in to pee and feed the dog. It kind of feels like I'm starting all over again when I start the second half and the second half often seems to involve a lot more forgetting and general driftiness. 

Anyway, just to be consistent and keep this going, I'll post this... 

Thurs., July 26
30 min. 
 
Fri., July 27
Practiced along with track No. 3 of Culadasa’s series on the jhanas.
https://soundcloud.com/culadasa/sets/the-jhanas
 
I found this to be a really helpful guided meditation. Some interesting stuff here, such as taking as object the sensations of the breath at the abdomen and nose simultaneously as well as the sensations in the upper arms and shoulders. 

I also really like the emphasis on tuning into the 'peaceful stillness of the body.'


Sat., July 28

Practiced along with track No. 3 of Culadasa’s series on the jhanas.
https://soundcloud.com/culadasa/sets/the-jhanas
 
Sun., July 29
60 min.
 
Mon., July 30
30 min. Busy.
 
Tues., July 31
30 min.
 
Wed., Aug. 1
30 min.
 
Thurs., Aug. 2
52-minute guided meditation, Culadasa (“The Jhanas,” No. 3)
 
Fri., Aug. 3
60 min., unguided. Very drifty and sleepy. A lot of forgetting but also a lot of energy/piti. Gutted it out and stayed with the restlessness/wanting to quit toward the end. 
 
Sat., Aug. 4
60 min.
 
Sun., Aug. 5
60 min. A couple of interesting moments during this sit. At one point, I felt that I was actually just enjoying the sit fully and had actually dropped all expectations. I always have a storyline around trying to enjoy sits and drop expectations, but that doesn’t mean that this actually happens. But in this case it did.
 
At that point there was a dramatic increase in the enjoyment of the moment. The stillness deepened as did the pleasantness of the clarity and silence and the overall level of energy. The sense of the body dropped away. 
 
Almost immediately, the mind kicked on. In an instant, there was a non-verbalized thought along the lines of “Oh, I get it. This is what you have to do.” Then there was this imagined scene of me always trying to enjoy sits and drop expectations in this same way. 
 
Yeah, the whole thing then disappeared. LOL.
 
But that was just the activity of one particular sub-mind. I do get the sense that I need to drop thinking about stages and just continue working on mastering some of this skills described in this method. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
8/8/18 8:13 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Wed., Aug. 8
60 min. 
Attention stayed with the breath quite well for the majority of the hour. Concentration built noticeably. Visual brightness, rushing/roaring sound, some absorptions or near-absorptions here and there, very pleasant feelings, but also some unpleasant pressure at the third eye area. 
 
At times, the breath became very, very faint, especially on the out-breath. Many instances of attention coming back after quickly short-circuiting various imagining or planning thoughts. 
 
The focus on the breath at the nose was tighter. How else to tune into the sensations associated with the beginning, middle and end of each inhalation/exhalation?
 
But instead of consciously switching attention away from the object to ‘check in’ to various things—whether I was aware of this or that—I just had the sense that, “OK, it’s fine if these other things come in and you’re aware of them, but you don’t have to ‘go out’ and look for them.” That seemed to help attention stay on the object a bit more continuously.
 
During the last third of the sit, which is usually when things kind of fall apart, I was able to notice that restlessness/mind-wandering was starting to happen and quickly short-circuit the process. 
 
I was actually surprised when the bell rang after the hour was up. Typically I would have been in ‘waiting for the bell to ring’/restless mode by then. I never got up to pee or do anything during the sit. Sat for the whole hour. 
 
My assessment would be that this was a very solid Stage 3 sit. Maybe you could call it Stage 4 if you were to go by the 80 percent yardstick, but what does that matter?

RE: Beginning again
Answer
8/10/18 7:54 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Tashi Tharpa:

But instead of consciously switching attention away from the object to ‘check in’ to various things—whether I was aware of this or that—I just had the sense that, “OK, it’s fine if these other things come in and you’re aware of them, but you don’t have to ‘go out’ and look for them.” That seemed to help attention stay on the object a bit more continuously.


I started reading TMI the other day, and it is quickly becoming one of my favorite books on meditation. There is just so much great advice in there. Culadasa is a really smart guy, and he knows how to present instructions in a way that addresses lots of pitfalls that others overlook.

For example, I love how he insists on maintaining peripheral awareness from the very beginning. So much of the stress we experience when our attention misbehaves is really due to the fact that we are shutting down peripheral awareness in an attempt to maintain rigid attention. It's a very liberating feeling when you realize that you can let things come and go and also maintain concentration on an object.

RE: Beginning again
Answer
8/11/18 5:39 AM as a reply to spatial.
spatial:
I started reading TMI the other day, and it is quickly becoming one of my favorite books on meditation. There is just so much great advice in there. Culadasa is a really smart guy, and he knows how to present instructions in a way that addresses lots of pitfalls that others overlook.

For example, I love how he insists on maintaining peripheral awareness from the very beginning. So much of the stress we experience when our attention misbehaves is really due to the fact that we are shutting down peripheral awareness in an attempt to maintain rigid attention. It's a very liberating feeling when you realize that you can let things come and go and also maintain concentration on an object.
Yeah, I've tended to live in a meditation universe where the options were basically threefold: do utterly single-pointed practice, assiduously note the four foundations or just drop all pushing and pulling whatsoever and let everything be precisely as it is. The truth seems to be that you have to mash all three of these approaches together and sometimes emphasize or de-emphasize on or more of them based on where you are in the cycle/progression. If you haven't checked out Culadasa's guided meditations (links above), some of those are pretty interesting as well.  

RE: Beginning again
Answer
8/21/18 8:23 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Thurs., Aug. 9
60 min. Intense concentration and energy. 
 
Fri., Aug. 10
Skipped—slammed at work. 
 
Sat., Aug. 11
50 min. and then interrupted. 
Ate yesterday but still seemed to feel the effects of the 60-hour fast. Very intense (for me) concentration and energy again. For the first half hour, attention stayed on the breath quite well. I seemed to pick up on a higher-resolution of sensations at the nostrils: the coolness was more intense on the in-breath; the sense of nothingness-pressure (how to describe?) on the out-breath was easier to feel; noticed sensations around the tip of the nose that seemed to be pinprick-like; stayed with the pauses and noticed the beginnings and endings on some of the breaths. 
 
Proprioception/sense of the body faded at times. No pulsing or rocking or swaying. Not much attention to the visual field, but the roaring/rushing sound in the ears was noticeable. For me, remarkable lack of sleepiness even though I didn’t sleep all that well. 
 
Noticed a lot of thoughts in the background. Sometimes I’d short-circuit something by smiling to myself and saying inwardly “compelling.” Noticed that many of these thoughts were related to the weekly dharma group, practice, etc. 
 
Half an hour in I thought someone was coming downstairs and got distracted, opened my eyes, etc. Things were rockier after that—a bit more drifting off, with the thoughts progressing a bit further before being noticed. When I heard my wife coming downstairs 50 minutes in, it seemed like things had shifted to an inky blackness that had a cool, relief-like feeling to it, but then I got up.
 
Sun., Aug. 12
30 min?
 
Mon., Aug. 13
30 min., 20 min. walk, 10 in car 
 
Tues., Aug. 14
60 min.
Heavy sleepiness and sloth and torpor for first 30; energy recovered in second half but attention scattered easily for the whole hour. Sat in the car for maybe ten minutes waiting for the kids later on in the day.  
 
Wed., Aug. 15
60 min.
Sadness this morning as well as fear and worry prior to the sit. I feel better after sitting for an hour, although it is still there. Heavy sleepiness and repeated forgetting. No sense of progress at all—feels like a complete reversal. Once or twice I seemed to isolate the feeling of sleepiness before it mushroomed but for the most part this was a sit in which I just fell nearly asleep and slipped into hypnogogic imagery over and over, repeatedly losing the object. Did try to appreciate those moments of clarity when attention came back. Part of me is extremely weary of having to face this sleepiness. Ugh. 
 
Thurs., Aug. 16
60 min. More alert. I’m still looking to make ‘progress’ by having a perfect sit in which the mind never wanders, there’s no forgetting, etc. Not a great approach. Instead I need to continue to work on the actual skills being taught, such as appreciating moments of coming back, intending to attend to the object, maintaining peripheral awareness, actually enjoying meditating, etc. Taken together, all of the above should be intrinsically rewarding enough. Need to avoid the future orientation and comparing mind. Feeling better but am still working through some tough emotional stuff. 
 
Fri., Aug. 17
Skipped
 
Sat., Aug. 18
Skipped but did some walking meditation 
 
Sun., Aug. 19
20 min. 
 
Mon., Aug. 20 
60 min.
Focused on staying with the object while maintaining extro-spective awareness via check-ins. Stayed with the object pretty well until the last quarter or so of the sit, when attention started bouncing around more and getting into planning thoughts, etc. Pauses between breaths were more pronounced (or were attended to more closely). A moment or two of enjoyment but neutral/unpleasant seemed to predominate. Do I need to relax more? At the beginning of the sit, there was a strong sense of quietness/spaciousness. Turning attention away from that and toward a predetermined object seemed like a mistake but I stuck with the practice anyway. But what is that nothingness? Is it introspective, extrospective or neither? Seems like neither. It doesn’t seem like it falls into the category of bare sensate phenomena; it seems beyond intentions, volitions and thoughts; and it is beyond both the seen and the heard. 
 
Tues., Aug. 21
60 min.
Very intense concentration—noticeable increase in ‘observing power.’ When things became very pleasant and absorptive, so to speak, a little correction would pop in: “Dullness, though?” I would then tune into the breath at the nostrils a little more closely and look to see if there was vividness and clarity. Sometimes, yes, and sometimes, no. A lot of brightness in the visual field. 
 
The idea here was to keep it simple and focus on intending to maintain attention at the object with periodic check-ins, again, for extro-spective awareness (mostly listening). Expectations were low. The mind certainly drifted off here and there but attention was on the object pretty well. Did a little bit of comparing: noticing whether an in-breath was shorter or longer than the one that preceded it, etc. Tuned into the coolness of the air entering the nostrils or the barely discernible puff of pressure on the exhale. At least one small, quick head snap followed by the rushing/roaring sound. A few instances of catching/short-circuiting distractions quickly via mindfulness (sleepiness, planning, fantasizing). Plenty of instances of not catching things for quite a while.  
 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
9/1/18 5:45 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Aug. 22-28
Continued sitting either 30 min. or 60+ per day but have been slammed. Blew off journaling. 
 
Wed., Aug 29
Sat for 30 min. in the morning and again in the evening 30. 
Morning: Focused again on attending to the breath and doing periodic check-ins, both extro- and introspective awareness. A few times the rapidity of the recovery after (“How is the mind?”) or just listening to the outer environment was almost instant. Still, lots of drifting and sleepiness—coming very close to being actually asleep. Plenty of hypnogogic imagery. Dullness. 
 
Thurs., Aug. 30
Sat for 60 min.
Started by going through the preliminaries: motivations, goals, expectations, distractions, diligence, posture. 
Attention wandered multiple times during this. Various thoughts about practice, the dharma group and so forth. 
For the sit-specific ‘goals,’ told myself that I would maintain attention on the breath and check in to extrospective and introspective awareness a bit more frequently. 
 
Didn’t really work out that way. Very drifty sit. A lot of thinking. A lot of restlessness toward the end—wanting to quit, checking the timer, changing the posture. 
 
I tried, though.
 
I did notice a few times that when I checked in (‘How is the mind?’), and then noticed sleepiness or tiredness, the tiredness/sleepiness would more or less vanish upon being noticed. I would then return to the breath.
 
Maybe only one time did I follow the core instruction of savoring the moment of coming back. That instruction just kind of slipped my mind. 
 
I did try to notice the beginnings, pauses and endings during breath cycles, with some success here and there. 
 
Tuning into the external world of sounds and the feeling of coolness/air on my skin had the effect of broadening things out. Several times, I went to the feeling, not just of the air coming in and out of the nostrils, but also of the abdomen rising and falling and the nostril sensations kind of simultaneously. Seemed to reduce the sleepiness. 
 
Fri., Aug. 31
About 20 minutes at the end of the day.
 
Sat., Sept. 1
60 min.
Insomnia. Rose at about 4:40, went downstairs, drank some coffee and sat for an hour. Surprisingly, not a ton of sleepiness. Yet again, though, a lot of mind-wandering, including a long, philosophical tangent about free will. 
 
Started with just allowing attention to roam freely and listening to and sensing the external environment; brought attention in gradually—body sensations, and then distributed sensations of the breath, and then breath at the nostrils. 
 
A lot of energy. The sense of the body as a vibrating column. But also a lot of tension. Probably needed to relax way, way more and tune into pleasant. A lot of unpleasant body sensations, itching, aching, tension. 
 
When I did remember about tuning into pleasant, the pleasant didn’t seem to be particularly predominant, more like it was hard to find. 
 
Noticed during the sit that many of the core instructions had been forgotten, not followed. Would recover occasionally by noticing pleasantness of returning to the object or noticing the beginnings, endings and pauses of the exhalations or inhalations. But there was a lot of freelancing going on.  
 
Dropped all the instructions here and there and just watched. Tons of restlessness toward the end. During the preliminaries I had made a point of resolving to stay diligent for the whole hour. Really wanted to check the timer and/or quit toward the end. Tried to watch the restlessness; did breath-counting. A lot of resistance came up.
 
When the bell rang, I had resolved to make it to 30 counted breaths. I was just trying to stay with the sit and not quit. The bell range after a couple of breaths. 
 
Had thoughts during the sit of ‘this is not working for me, this TMI stuff,’ etc. 
 
On the one hand, the sense of failure here could just be a sign of progress—more resistance, a greater sense of challenge, could be arising as things deepen. (My concentration, despite all the mind-wandering, seems sharper during the day and when I am actually focused on the object.)
 
On the other hand, I seem to be forgetting some of the core instructions like checking in to extrospective and introspective awareness pretty frequently; backing off of the object and taking a lighter touch when the awareness end of things vanishes and the breath-at-the-nostrils sensations are predominant; tuning into the sense of pleasant stillness; savoring when attention returns to the object, etc. 
 
I do this stuff intermittently, not continuously. 
 
In other words, tough to say the TMI stuff ‘isn’t working’ if you’re not actually following the instructions. That’s fine. I can keep at it. No huge sense of judgment or self-flagellation here. 
 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
9/5/18 8:20 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
 
Sun., Sept. 2
About 30 minutes of Culadasa “Jhanas No. 3.”
 
Mon., Sept. 3
30 minutes 
 
 
Tues., Sept. 4
Sat for 60 min.
Another diffuse sit. Went through the preliminaries, etc., and the mind wandered quite a bit. Nonetheless, no sense of failure on this one. Instead, I patiently worked on coming back and, when attention was on the breath, checking in to either extrospective or introspective awareness.
A bunch of birds outside were making a racket. I tuned into the breath but was also listening to the birds and noticing whether any visual image or conceptualizing about the birds was happening. A loud sound happened on the street and I noticed as the mind labeled it a “Harley.”
At times the mind seemed bright and attentive, but there were also periods of sleepiness and dullness, including one flash of a horrible monster face during a dreamlike, hypnogogic state.
My phone was next to me. I had forgotten to silence it. Emails were coming in. A few times, the email bell jarred me out of some reverie or other. I noticed restlessness and wanting—to quit sitting and go pee, in response to some bladder urgency, to check the emails, in response to the audio alerts. 
Opened the eyes. The bookshelf was there. Thoughts about the different books—which ones I’d give away. I imagined holding a bonfire for the nutrition books, with their conflicting messages.
 
During the preliminaries, the instruction to just watch your attention as it moves around seemed to lead naturally into a noting practice. I had to stop myself from just doing the noting for a whole hour as it seemed to be going well, with a high level of detail (for me). 
 
At several points, I noticed a lot of tension, really something more like panic or anxiety, in the chest/heart area and somehow related to my tendency to control the breath or to feel as though I’m the active agent responsible for breathing. Tried to relax and soften in this area. Achieved some relief but typically attention would move on to something else after a minute or two.  
 
Wed., Sept. 5
60 min.
Went through the preliminaries—motivations, goals, expectations, distractions, diligence, posture—but for this sit decided to change things up. Resolved to do only two or three things: listen to the silence underneath all things, relax and tune into pleasant. 
Started by listening, first, to actual sounds and then moved to listening to or tuning into silence.
In no particular order, some recollections from the sit:
The rushing/roaring sound came and went several times; seems like it lasted about 30 seconds each time.
As the listening deepened, everything that had to do with the usual ‘me’—body sensations, thoughts, mind states, volitions—seemed to separate out and become something that could be ‘listened’ to, just as you would listen to a sound.
A different part of the brain seemed to be activated, kind of near the temples and up near the outer edges of both eyebrows—it was a sensation of wideness.
Things opened out tremendously when the listening opened out. Moved to listen to the silence of the entire moment—not just within the head space, in other words, but the silence of the morning, the house, the surrounding yard, neighborhood, sky, everything.
Listened to the body below the neck; vibratory, moving.
Hindrances were few. Almost no restlessness even toward the end of the sit. When the bell rang after 60 minutes, the usual sense of relief—“Whew!”—wasn’t there because there wasn’t much future-orientation or restlessness.
Struggled with what to do with the visual field. 
Largely neglected relaxing and tuning into pleasant as the task of listening seemed to predominate.
Adjustments needed to be non-verbal, non-conceptual and entirely by feel. They had to do with increasing openness, deepening the listening, interfering less some of the time but then also directing attention/listening in different ways at other times.
 
Mind right now is very peaceful, open, spacious. 
 
Speculation: There’s something intrinsically rewarding about making silence the focus of attention. Could it be that the breath doesn’t work for me? Couldn’t you use silence as the anchor and still work with the peripheral awareness ideas in TMI?
 
 
 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
9/5/18 1:06 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Your last session is very interesting to me. It reminds me very much of a particular turning point I had.

The reason I like to use the breath is because it is always there, it is always changing, and the subtleties in it are very obvious to me. I remember at my first retreat when I realized that there is an entire world right underneath my nose, and this gave me a feeling of peace and security, because it felt like a safe place from which I could observe all of my other experiences. It sounds like you might have found something similar with "silence".

Culadasa says in Stage One: "Although the breath as meditation object has many benefits, the same principles and methods apply to any meditation object, and most other meditation techniques."

You seem to have some kind of aversion to focusing on the breath, for some reason. I wonder what would happen if you tried to observe the silence underneath the breath.

Now, I'm saying this as someone who is still a neophyte: I'm not convinced that the concept of an "object" really makes sense in insight meditation, because in my experience, when I feel like I'm really doing insight meditation, no object ever remains the same for more than an instant. And, it feels like the insistence that things DO stay the same is what causes a lot of misery and frustration with meditation. I feel like things opened up for me a lot when I started letting go of the idea that "the breath" is a thing, or that "focusing continuously on the breath" is a thing. Maybe a lot of this is subjective.

RE: Beginning again
Answer
9/6/18 6:02 AM as a reply to spatial.
spatial:
You seem to have some kind of aversion to focusing on the breath, for some reason. I wonder what would happen if you tried to observe the silence underneath the breath.

Now, I'm saying this as someone who is still a neophyte: I'm not convinced that the concept of an "object" really makes sense in insight meditation, because in my experience, when I feel like I'm really doing insight meditation, no object ever remains the same for more than an instant. And, it feels like the insistence that things DO stay the same is what causes a lot of misery and frustration with meditation. I feel like things opened up for me a lot when I started letting go of the idea that "the breath" is a thing, or that "focusing continuously on the breath" is a thing. Maybe a lot of this is subjective.
It's possible that I do have some level of aversion to focusing on the breath. Certainly, I never feel that the breath is 'happening naturally,' uncontrolled. Typically, if I'm aware of it, I feel that I am in control of it and that the controlling is a bit of a problem. (Culadasa says not to worry about this, but I tend to have some level of concern.)

Also, I nearly drowned as a toddler. Apparently my mom and her sister were walking and talking along the edge of a lake, not paying attention to me as I walked behind them. My mom has described turning around to see me floating facedown in the water. I've always wondered about the story and what really happened. Seems like there had to have been more to it. Wouldn't they have heard the splash? The armchair psychologist in me wonders if that could be playing in.

Anyway, I think I'll continue with this approach of working with silence and see where it leads. 

The other thing that stood out yesterday: At times during the sit, various adjustments were being made in a space that was free of concept. These were alterations in the scope of attention or in the level of relaxation. If attention was on the visual field, for example, there might be an adjustment related to finding just the right spot, if only temporarily. This is a far cry from merely 'following the instructions' out of a book. I'm not suggesting that the instructions should be dumped, just that these types of by-feel-only adjustments might be part of the art of meditation and something I have neglected.

To your point about objects, I would be hard pressed to pin a label on these things. I've certainly tried in the past by usng labels like "third-eye pressure, unpleasant" or "third-eye pressure, neutral," etc. But that's an after-the-fact, crude sort of echo. Not the same as tuning into that whatever-it-is, silently, in the moment. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
9/6/18 9:03 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Tashi Tharpa:
It's possible that I do have some level of aversion to focusing on the breath. Certainly, I never feel that the breath is 'happening naturally,' uncontrolled. Typically, if I'm aware of it, I feel that I am in control of it and that the controlling is a bit of a problem. (Culadasa says not to worry about this, but I tend to have some level of concern.)


When I meditate, I normally do not have the sensation of controlling the breath. And when I do have that sensation, it doesn't bother me. However, this was not always the case. I used to totally obsess over this. How can I possibly observe the natural breath, when the act of observing puts me in control of the breath!!??

This started to change when I actively worked at letting go of that sense of control. I inhaled and thought "OK, I will not exhale deliberately. I will wait until an exhalation happens in its own." I exhaled and did the same thing with the next inhalation: "I will not inhale until it happens on its own." I sat there forever, just waiting for the inhalation to happen. I felt panicked and gasping for air and out of control, but I kept doing it, because I was sick of feeling responsible for controlling the breath all the time. Eventually, I felt myself separate from the whole thing. "Observing the breath as it is" also means observing yourself trying to control it. You need total acceptance of the entire process. You won't suffocate if you try this. The body knows how to take a breath on its own, when it really needs to.

I can also mention that eventually a new feeling of panic arose when I really noticed that the breath was happening on its own, despite my full attention. This felt like I was hooked up to a machine, and my body was out of my control. All of these fears need to be experienced and accepted, I think. The breath is one of the main sources of pain and anxiety, and our attempts to diminish our suffering often manifest as attempts to control the breath. Letting go of the control of the breath is a sign that you are letting go of the need to control your pain, and this helps in meditation.

I've tried this type of exercise with many aspects of my body, and I don't think I would be able to sit with the amount of ease that I currently do, had I not done that. It's not a pleasant process, but it's very liberating. I'm sure I have a ton more work to do. This lack of acceptance shows up as gross pain, gross distractions, need to adjust posture constantly, irritation towards sounds, doubt about the meditation technique, obsession with anatomical problems, etc. It's maybe all a way of avoiding facing the fact that you just can't sit there and let yourself breathe!


The other thing that stood out yesterday: At times during the sit, various adjustments were being made in a space that was free of concept. These were alterations in the scope of attention or in the level of relaxation. If attention was on the visual field, for example, there might be an adjustment related to finding just the right spot, if only temporarily. This is a far cry from merely 'following the instructions' out of a book. I'm not suggesting that the instructions should be dumped, just that these types of by-feel-only adjustments might be part of the art of meditation and something I have neglected.


I can't tell you the amount of anger I have felt toward teachers of various kinds (mainly in music), as I have realized that their cookie-cutter instructions don't seem to work in the literal way I was expecting them to, and even realizing that much progress I have made actually depending on doing the opposite of what they suggested.

As children, we are taught to "follow directions", and in school we are even given quantitative assessments based on how much we "got right". I think we carry this mindset into other areas of our lives, especially when we are triggered by instructions or teachers of any kind. But really, we have to remember that it is completely made up and arbitrary, simply the result of social conditioning. So yeah, I think what you're saying is right, in that we need to learn how to do this by feel. The instructions are a starting point, intended to provoke a certain experience that we can then explore moment-to-moment (where the real learning happens). We are not computers executing instructions.

At my recent retreat, there is a line from the Goenka recordings that kept echoing in my mind. He says, in his funny accent, "Let the nature play its own role. Let dhamma play its own role." It took on profound meanings for me, especially in these moments where I was so frustrated that I couldn't figure things out, or that I wasn't sure which subtle course of action to take. The fact is that the drama will play out (the body will breathe, the attention will wander, the attention will return, pain will arise, pain will pass away) regardless of whether I do the right thing or the wrong thing, regardless of whether I feel in control or not, regardless of whether I follow the instructions or deliberately subvert them, etc. Because it's all just nature, and at any point I'm free to just watch what's happening.

Also, I think these paragraphs from Culadasa are useful:

"However, even though the Stages are presented as a linear path of progress, the practice doesn’t actually unfold in such a straightforward manner. For example, a beginning meditator will be working on Stages One and Two at the same time. As your practice progresses, you will frequently find yourself navigating several Stages at the same time, moving back and forth between them over weeks, days, or even during a single session. This is perfectly normal. You can also expect to have times when you seem to have jumped to a more advanced Stage, as well as days where you seem to have gone backward. In every case, the important thing is to practice according to whatever is happening in your meditation in the present. Don’t get ahead of what is actually happening. On the other hand, once you have overcome the obstacles for a given Stage even temporarily, then you can work with the obstacles for the next Stage."

and

"Doubt becomes a hindrance if, instead of reevaluating the situation rationally, we respond only to the emotional uncertainty it creates. Too often that keeps us from making the effort needed to validate something through our own experience. We can never succeed at any difficult task if we simply abandon whatever makes us uncertain."

I think the key here is to understand that doubt is not merely the presence of doubting thoughts, but is instead the behavior of letting emotional uncertainty guide your actions. Our culture doesn't teach us the difference.

I hope I don't sound like I'm preaching or anything, or giving advice that I'm not qualified to give. I have been reading your logs for a while now, and I relate to so much of what you write about. It sounds like you have been working hard for a long time, and I really want to see you succeed!

RE: Beginning again
Answer
9/6/18 6:18 PM as a reply to spatial.
spatial
This started to change when I actively worked at letting go of that sense of control. I inhaled and thought "OK, I will not exhale deliberately. I will wait until an exhalation happens in its own." … Letting go of the control of the breath is a sign that you are letting go of the need to control your pain, and this helps in meditation. 

This makes a lot of sense. I’ve been dimly aware at times of the possibility of working more with this sense of control but have never really acted on that. You’re helping me see that this might be worthwhile to explore. 
 
I can't tell you the amount of anger I have felt toward teachers of various kinds (mainly in music), as I have realized that their cookie-cutter instructions don't seem to work in the literal way I was expecting them to, and even realizing that much progress I have made actually depending on doing the opposite of what they suggested.
 
As children, we are taught to "follow directions", and in school we are even given quantitative assessments based on how much we "got right". I think we carry this mindset into other areas of our lives…
 
Yes, and if you tend as I do toward low self-esteem and high self-criticism/self-doubt, then the fear of "doing it wrong" is maybe a little higher. ("Bad meditator! Bad!") Such a person might be more likely to toggle between trying to follow the instructions too literally and then worrying about whether the effort has been faithful or good enough. The right approach is to allow for discovery and experimentation within whatever framework you’ve chosen. Pretty important for anyone working with TMI as it is complex enough to drive someone crazy who's obsessed with nailing down and mastering every little detailed instruction. 

I think the key here is to understand that doubt is not merely the presence of doubting thoughts, but is instead the behavior of letting emotional uncertainty guide your actions. Our culture doesn't teach us the difference.
 
I do think it’s an important distinction. I've paid attention to 'doubting thoughts,' labeling them as such in a noting practice, but maybe haven't watched the emotional resonance very closely. 
I hope I don't sound like I'm preaching or anything, or giving advice that I'm not qualified to give. I have been reading your logs for a while now, and I relate to so much of what you write about. It sounds like you have been working hard for a long time, and I really want to see you succeed!
 
Thanks very much for the kind words, spatial, and for the very helpful and interesting post. No preaching at all, as I see it. Really great stuff! 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
9/9/18 7:52 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Thurs., Sept. 6
60 min.? Don't remember. 

Fri., Sept. 7

Skipped formal practice but did some walking meditation and checking in here and there.
 
Sat., Sept. 8
Did a two-hour Zoom call, along with several other students, with one of Culadasa’s teachers in training.
Described the practice as I’ve seen it of late: I’ve felt that after an initial period of having multiple sits in which attention seemed quite ‘tethered’ to the object for good chunks of an hour-long sitting period, possibly even the majority of the time here and there, it has seemed of late as though I were waylaid by distractions. 
 
I didn’t get into the stuff about listening vs. the breath.
 
Working hypothesis from the teacher: This could be a wall of resistance coming up—something that’s there but that part of me doesn’t want to face. 
 
It would make sense. I’ve had rather a rough time over the past few years. It’s possible that the current theme—“I’m better now, full of appreciation for life and happy with things as they are”—is a bit overstated. Not a mask or smokescreen. But maybe there’s more tough stuff to be unearthed?
 
So what of the stages?
Is it really true that at any point I could have honestly said “most of the time when I meditate, I never lose the meditation object”? Hmmm… 
Seemed that way for sure when I was breath-counting up to 200 breaths, etc. But was that really attention staying on the object or was it a kind of automaticity kicking in, like what you’d expect of a swimmer who counts 30 laps every day?
 
In re-reading the journal here at the DhO, I’d say I’ve had what seemed to be some Stage 4 sits here and there over the past few months. It’s certainly true as well that, at times, the mind comes back from forgetting quite quickly. 
 
I need to study and memorize some of the definitions: subtle vs. gross distractions, forgetting vs. true mind-wandering, etc. 
I tend to use mind-wandering and forgetting as synonyms. I believe what is overcome in Stage 4 is true mind-wandering in which ‘losing’ the meditation object is so pronounced that you’ve gone off on a long tangent and totally zoned out. 
 
So with all of those caveats, maybe it’s true that we're somewhat in the Stage 4 category and therefore should be working with Stage 4 instructions.
 
Among those instructions suggested to me on the call was to work with micro-intentions. 
 
Stage 4 tips from Nick Grabovac:
 
… you’re working on developing the skill to continuously monitor what’s going on in the mind with introspective awareness, while maintaining sufficient attention on the breath...
 
…What often happens, however, is that the thoughts that your attention are rapidly alternating with (and you may not experience this alternation at this stage because it is too fast for you to notice yet, which is fine) slowly become more and more prominent until they begin to eclipse the meditation object. This is the point where what was a subtle distraction is now becoming a gross distraction.
Much of Stage 4 practice involves noticing this kind of thing and correcting for it. And it’s your introspective awareness that lets you realized when this kind of thing is occurring...
 
…awareness is not under your direct, conscious control, so you can’t directly make it do anything. It does respond indirectly, however, to the skillful use of conscious intentions.
 
This is really key to this stage of practice, and will become more and more important as you move along to Stage 5, 6 and beyond...
 
The “doing”, “effort”, “energy” and “diligence” involves the consistent application of intentions.
Having clear, strong intentions is what drives all progress through the TMI stages. But intentions become clear and strong, not through force or the intensity of delivery of the intention, but rather, through a very light, gentle touch that is consistently, repeatedly reinforced.
So, when Culadasa instructs you to “tighten your focus on the meditation object”, for example, all that’s required is a very light touch of intention, as if you were trying to brush a fragile snowflake with the tip of a feather.
When this quick, gentle intention is repeated consistently (perhaps with every breath cycle, or even two or three times during each breath cycle), it’s power grows and the mind eventually complies.
I call these “micro-intentions” to highlight their, quick, light, gentle quality.
 
It’s important to understand that there will often be a delay (sometimes considerable), between when you begin to apply micro-intentions and when you notice an effect. Often, it can take a few breath cycles of “micro-intending to notice greater detail and vividness in the meditation object” before you actually perceive a change.
So, be patient and diligent, keep refreshing the intentions, and stuff will happen =)
Here are some specifics for using intentions to develop continuous introspective awareness…
There are two main approaches that my students and I have found effective:
  1. Monitor the quality of your attention as you focus on the meditation object
  2. Connecting
 
 ..any time you notice the meditation object beginning to get fuzzier, less distinct, fainter, less intense, etc., it means it’s time to refresh your micro-intentions to notice more detail, with greater precision and clarity, and greater vividness.
The idea is to maintain a sufficient quality of attention so that it feels challenging, but doable…
 
If you’re not used to monitoring the quality of your attention yet, you can develop this skill by using the “checking in” practice from Stage 3. Every few breaths, take a moment and gently “check-in” with your attention to see how clear, vivid, detailed, etc the meditation object is. By doing this, what you’re actually doing is bringing attention to a “snapshot” of what your meditation object was like just a moment ago. By repeatedly “checking-in” like this, you inform the unconscious mental processes that govern awareness that it’s important for you to regularly know what the quality of your attention is like.
 
Some people like to have multiple separate intentions that they repeat at different parts of the breath cycle, others like to have a single intention that contains multiple aspects to it (such as monitoring the quality of attention, keeping awareness broad and open, and seeing the meditation object with greater detail and vividness - a meta-micro-intention ;-) ) that is refreshed periodically. Try different things and see what works and feels most natural.
 
OK, so I’ll work, as advised, on using micro-intentions and noticing whether and how resistance comes up in the practice—the ‘Nah, don’t want to do this’ feeling. 
 
 
 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
9/10/18 8:15 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Mon., Sept. 10
60 min.
Went through the preliminaries—M,G,E,D,D,P—and set particular intention to use microintentions (vividness, clarity). 
At times during this sit the monitoring seemed to work well: the beginnings of sleepiness or imagining thoughts would be caught quickly. After coming back, there would be palpable sense that proliferation into gross distraction might otherwise have occurred. However, especially toward the end of the sit, there were plenty of moments in which attention went off into hypnogogic or other reveries and the object was eclipsed if not lost altogether. 
 
When things were clicking well, there would be a microintention (“vividness and clarity”) and attention to the sensations at the nostrils would be more precise. Coolness, movement, puffy pressure. But I don’t think there was ever anything truly new or different in terms of the resolution of what was perceived.
 
While attention was on the nostrils, I’d remember or set the microintention to check in—to the state of the body or the sounds, coolness of air on the skin, broader environment generally—and this would happen, without the object being lost. 
 
At these points, the total observing power of the mind seemed stronger. Sometimes different things would be noticed and corrected. 
 
Other phenomena: rushing roaring sounds, small head snaps, imagined scenes that seemed to have nothing to do with me (in particular, a scene in which individual human parts--disembodied face, with a hand and forearm in space a few feet away, unconnected--seemed to have their own identities and agencies; almost a literal image of the subminds?). Sleepiness was pretty strong at times but restlessness was barely present at all. When the bell rang, I could have sat longer—I wasn’t sitting there impatiently waiting for the hour to be over.
 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
9/15/18 6:38 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Tues., Sept. 11
60 min.
 
Wed., Sept. 12
30 min. – morning 
30 min. – evening
 
Thurs., Sept. 13
60 min. 
Slog 
 
Fri., Sept. 14
Skipped.
 
Sat., Sept. 15
45 min. (interrupted)
After a week or so in which doubting thoughts came up pretty frequently (“Can anybody really do this—keep the mind on the object for an entire session? Is this realistic?”), the sit this morning was, if not solidly Stage 4 in the Culadasa system, about as close to it as has occurred thus far. 
 
The initial four-step process was a little sketchy. Attention wandered a bit at each stage (extrospective awareness, body sensations, distributed breath sensations, sensations at the nostrils). However, after settling into the latter stage, attention became tethered to the object in a noticeable way, and this continued for the remainder of the 45 min. sit, albeit with variation. 
 
I don’t know if this had anything at all to do with me or with anything I was doing or not doing.
 
I did use micro-intentions pretty frequently, as advised on the call last week, and remembered to tune into the sensations at the nostrils directly and to aim for increasing vividness and clarity while also checking in to the state of the mind and body and, sometimes, the ‘external’ sensate field. 
 
The observing power seemed to increase in a tangible way. Brightness in the visual field was strong. There was a temptation to go to this but instead attention continued to tune into the sensations at the nostrils directly.
 
The breath became very short and seemingly faint. However, in tuning in with more attention, there was a lot to notice—pleasant coolness on the in-breath, the sense of the nostrils flaring a bit, a tapering sensation as the in-breath faded into the pause, a sense of a space or gap upon the pause which seemed vaguely tied to blackness in the visual field and silence; the out-breath was mostly about pressure and space—very faint. Sometimes there was a pulse-like quality to the out-breath. 
 
Things left in peripheral awareness included the visual field, reporting thoughts, a sense of being pleased with what was happening, external sounds, various joint aches and pressures, tingling, pulsing; pressure in the third eye area; the sense of controlling and of a controller, both of which, perhaps because of Chris Marti’s comment in spatial’s log, were left alone more than in the past; the sense of absorption or losing the contours of the body. 
 
spatial: I think that what I really need to do is get out of the way and trust that all of that stuff will work when it needs to.

Chris: Major insight!


There was no sleepiness at all. Toward the end of the sit, there was just the faintest hint of restlessness but it never proliferated (might have a bit more if I’d been able to sit a full 60 minutes). 
 
The biggest distraction seemed to be the reporting thoughts. I might do another online session with some TMI practitioners this morning, so there was imagining, dialog, etc., related to this at times. However, attention still seemed tethered during this. The object would be temporarily forgotten just a bit but then attention would come back without having shifted into true mind-wandering.
 
So this sit was confidence-building in the sense that it showed the viability of building concentration in the way it’s outlined in this approach. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
9/19/18 8:55 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Sun., Sept. 16
60 min.
Another sit in which attention was tethered to the object for the majority of the session. At the far end of the tether, so to speak, there were some hypnogogic scenes: an image of flying over an old white, country-looking house with a big front porch, as though it were a shot taken from a drone; an image of being inside some kind of corner bar with louvered blinds closed over all the plate-glass windows.
 
But these scenes were noticed relatively quickly and attention went back to the nostrils. For the most part in this sit, any forgetting of the object was brief. Maybe a quick reporting thought or imagined scene involving the dharma group or some kind of planning for the day would happen, and then the mind would come back in an effortless way. 
 
Continued to use the microintentions ‘vividness’ and ‘clarity’ pretty frequently. Did some check ins with the state of the body and mind as well, and some listening to the very pleasant sound of the rain falling on the leaves of the trees in the yard. 
 
Followed the breath, in the sense of tracking the beginnings and endings of the cycle, and tried to notice more: ‘What’s interesting about the breath?” was a question I asked a couple of times. 
 
The breath controlling/controller stuff—important and needs further work.  
 
Mon., Sept. 16
Sat for about 60 min. Interrupted toward the end.
Another sit that seemed to be pretty solidly stage four. The use of microintentions—frequent reminders along the lines of ‘vividness,’ ‘clarity’ or ‘what are you noticing about the breath?’—seems to make a difference.
 
Seems prudent to be conservative and to keep questioning: How closely are you really observing the breath? What do these words vividness and clarity really mean as experiences rather than concepts?
 
Mapwise, Culadasa writes that … “the goal for stage four is to overcome gross distraction and strong dullness. Set and hold the attention to be vigilant so that introspective awareness becomes continuous, and notice and immediately correct for strong dullness and gross distraction. Eventually, noticing and correcting become completely automatic.”
 
The definitions… 
 
Strong dullness: A significant lack of mental energy that often manifests as drowsiness. In meditation, attention still clings to the breath, but the focus is diffused and weak and sensations are vaguely perceived. Details aren’t all that clear. It’s like trying to see through a dense fog. Often, the breath becomes distorted, transformed by dreamlike imagery, and nonsensical thoughts start drifting through the mind. Eventually this leads to falling asleep.

Gross distraction: When some mental or sensory object becomes the primary focus of attention and pushes the meditation object into the background but not out of awareness.
 
Subtle dullness: A slight dullness that makes the meditation object less vivid and intense and causes peripheral awareness to fade. This type of dullness has a pleasant quality and is therefore easy to overlook.

Subtle distractions: Brief moments of attention directed to distractions in the background of peripheral awareness, while the meditation object continues as the primary focus.
 
For the past three sits, the strong/gross stuff seems to be a lot less predominant; microintentions may be helping a lot. 
 
In particular, mental energy seems higher. When attention is on the object and everything else is being allowed rather than shut out, it’s sort of like that moment when the wind fills a sail—pop! 
 
I know impermanence well. It will be interesting to see whether random backsliding occurs. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if, say, next week I feel waylaid by intense sleepiness and an inability to focus on the object. 
 
Tues., Sept. 18
60 min.
Spent first 45 minutes or so in solid stage four territory. Worked on microintentions—vivid? clear? continuous?—and also simultaneously allowing everything else. Distractions and dullness seemed to be quickly corrected.

However, at about 45 minutes in, I’m guessing, I came back from a grosser distraction in which the object was pretty well lost. “Well that was a gross distraction.” From here until the bell rang, seems like it was back to stage three with some forgetting and mind-wandering (dharma thoughts, planning, imagining, reporting thoughts, etc.). 
 
There was a sluggish-sleepy-heavy thing going on. Not as severe as I’ve dealt with in the past. Still, even during this last 15 minutes there were recoveries and quick corrections and some continued questioning/microintentions along the lines of the above. 
 
In this sit I did work on continuity more. Trying to see if I was really with the object for full cycles or if attention was alternating more than I was aware of. Also continued to work on the question of vivid/clear—‘Do you really know what it is?” 
 
This was done with a spirit of investigation and curiosity that seemed energizing. 
 
 
Wed., Sept. 19
60 min.
This sit was similar to yesterday’s. The connecting with the breath, supported by microintentions (vividness, clarity) was pretty strong for the first 40 minutes or so. However, definitely drifted off here and there during this sit—mostly into sleepy, hypnogogic territory. Lots of very quick corrections in which attention came back to the object automatically; but many times during this sit attention was off the object and into dullness, sleepiness, visual imagery, etc. 

However, none of these instances had quite the miserable quality that I’ve experienced in the past. When attention would return, things would be quite bright, clear and vivid—sharp. 

Toward the end of the sit, attention seemed to be moving closer and closer. There was some kind of sharper curiosity or skepticism. I noticed coolness, motion, puffy pressure, beginnings and endings, but also questioned all of this. These were instant, wordless questions that could be expressed as…  
 
“Is the spot—right at the nostrils—actually the object, or is the object you're paying attention to the 'breath'? If the object is really the spot, is attention really continuously there or is it scattering?”
 
“Is this actually the sensation of motion or is ‘motion’ just a concept that is being overlaid onto ‘breath’?”
 
“What’s really happening to attention during these ‘pauses’?” [Image of a toddler getting bored, dropping a ball and walking off.]
 
Closing in, seeking actual continuity, I would also remember to allow, allow, allow everything else (sounds, body sensations, wispy thoughts).
 
The body was swaying and actually wiggling in a weird, wormlike way—like tiny wiggles. 
 
At one point I came quite close to falling asleep. Sat with eyes open for a while. A few times I’d open things up to include breath at the nostrils and in the chest ‘at the same time’ (alternating). 
 
When the bell rang at 60 minutes, there was a deep desire to just drop everything, all activity or pushing or pulling. The rushing-roaring sound came up, the sense of the body faded, the coarseness or slight unpleasantness of what I was feeling was noticed, started looking for what wasn’t course, ‘listening’ for it. Haha! Suddenly bored and ready to quit. Noticed this and kept on sitting for a few minutes. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
9/19/18 9:43 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
There is something I have found very productive. Certain thoughts or events recur frequently in meditation, and I have found it very useful to identify sensations that show up during these events. For example, when you experience:

"attention came back to the object automatically"
"things would be quite bright, clear and vivid—sharp"
"attention seemed to be moving closer and closer"
"At one point I came quite close to falling asleep"
"Suddenly bored and ready to quit"

don't be satisfied with these narrative descriptions of what is happening (each of these is simply your mind's interpretation of specific sensations, anyway). Investigate where in your body you feel them. Or, even if you aren't sure that you feel them anywhere, investigate where in your body you do feel anything, whenever these events happen.

RE: Beginning again
Answer
9/20/18 5:08 AM as a reply to spatial.
spatial:
There is something I have found very productive. Certain thoughts or events recur frequently in meditation, and I have found it very useful to identify sensations that show up during these events. For example, when you experience:

"attention came back to the object automatically"
"things would be quite bright, clear and vivid—sharp"
"attention seemed to be moving closer and closer"
"At one point I came quite close to falling asleep"
"Suddenly bored and ready to quit"

don't be satisfied with these narrative descriptions of what is happening (each of these is simply your mind's interpretation of specific sensations, anyway). Investigate where in your body you feel them. Or, even if you aren't sure that you feel them anywhere, investigate where in your body you do feel anything, whenever these events happen.

Thanks, spatial. Yes--going directly to the sensations is always the way!

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/5/18 7:04 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
 Thurs., Sept. 20-Tues., Sept. 25
Went to the beach. Spent a lot of time sitting on the balcony, staring at the waves coming in. Beautiful. I noticed one morning that despite the incredible scene in front of me, there was this sense of discontent, unrealized potential. All of that was just another pattern of sensations to be opened to. I saw that bargaining was happening: "OK, I'll open to you, and then I'll get what I want--the complete unification with natural world around me." Nope. 
Another day, naturally and without any effort [insert Tibetan dzogchen poem here].
 
Wed., Sept. 26
40 min. Starting with body scan. 
Evening sit: 30 min. 
 
Thurs., Sept. 27
60 min. 
Did Stage 4 at-the-nostrils practice for first 30 or so; last 30 was very slow body scan (starting to work on Stage 5 instructions) from head to toe. Continued to use microintentions—vivid? clear? detailed?—and worked on noticing the effects of the breath on these distributed sensations. Pleased to be able to see the effects of the breath pretty easily. I seem to be able to feel it even in parts of the body that are pretty far from the torso or nostrils; or is it my imagination? Investigate. 
 
Fri., Sept. 28– skipped; no opportunity in morning (evening though, bro?) :-D 
 
Sat., Sept. 29– about 20 minutes and then interrupted
 
Sun., Sept. 30– 60 minutes. Stage 2-3 mostly but several moments of clarity, presence, vividness; a good amount of noticing dullness/sleepiness upon checking in and making the correction; likewise with savoring those moments of coming back. 
 
Connecting continues to be elusive but worked on following and microintentions (vividness, clarity, detail).
 
Some growing questions around the spot versus following the sensations. Am I paying enough attention to the nothingness aspect of the pauses between inhalations and exhalations? Is the real object the spot, Shaila Catherine style, or the sensations of the breath? If it's the latter, then why do we talk about a 'primary object'? There is no single primary object becuase the sensations of the breath are complex. The breath contains multitudes. 
 
Kept sitting, shikantaza style, for a bit after the hour was up. 
 
Mon., Oct. 1
60 min. Snoozefest. Stages 2-3. 
 
Tues., Oct. 2
60 min. 
Random notes…at one point in the sit, I had the sense that I needed to really drop everything. The visual field became very bright, to the point of flashing, there was a greater sense of sensory flow—and then I seemed to fall asleep or lapse into dullness. Was all of this just dullness, actually? A&P to dissolution? Beats me.
 
Certainly, it was very pleasant. 
 
A lot of losing the object, sleepiness, dullness and coming back in this sit. Stages 2-3, I guess, which is fine. 
 
Earlier in the sit, attention seemed to be picking up on distractions and returning pretty quickly and automatically. A key seems to be to tune into the 'primary object' (wait, what?) while also having this feeling of allowing everything else. I think a lot of the time I’m bearing down instead of doing this. 
 
Wed., Oct. 3
Took a break from TMI this morning and did 60 min. of whole-body breathing. A friend had suggested a calming-the-formations guided meditation. I have some problems with it, but I like the basic approach and will listen to the others he suggested.

Huxter is a hilarious name for a meditation teacher.

Malcolm Huxter, “Mindfulness of the Breath,” http://www.buddhanet.net/mp3/huxter/huxter_mindfulness%20of%20breath.mp3  (17 minutes)
 
Using the breath to bring attention to sensations throughout the body:  Malcolm Huxter, “Body Scan,” http://www.buddhanet.net/mp3/huxter/huxter%20_body%20scan.mp3 (17 minutes)
 
Using the breath to calm bodily formations:  Malcolm Huxter, “Calming the Body with the Breath,” http://www.buddhanet.net/mp3/huxter/huxter_calming%20the%20body%20with%20the%20breath.mp3 (15 minutes)
 
I did get the sense that there’s quite a bit of unexplored potential with respect to relaxing.
 
Instructions included the usual injunction against controlling the breath. Throughout the sit, I would periodically feel that I was controlling it, consciously choosing to breathe in or breathe out. This created a little tension. I tried to just keep relaxing and ‘be OK’ with the breath regardless of whether there was a sense of controlling.
 
A shortcoming of these instructions, unlike a body scan in which you’re feeling the effects of the breath on different parts of the body as you relax them, is that it seems easier to feel that this same non-existent homunculus that thinks it is controlling the breath is also ‘relaxing’ the body from its high tower.
 
This can create a sense of separation.
 
What I did find eventually, though, was that the locus shifted down below the shoulders—more of a ‘body in the body’ feeling. That seems to be where it’s at with this technique.
 
Other observations: I found it difficult to relax on the in-breath; the natural flow seems to be to relax tensions as you exhale. The in-breath feels more like a gathering of energies. However, if you relax on the in-breath, the relaxing can start to feel more continuous, which seems promising.
 
Once it becomes more continuous, though, it’s easy to make relaxing itself the object instead of the breath, if that makes any sense. I noticed some flipping back and forth there.

This technique definitely opens out into a wide-open spaciousness when things are clicking and aligned, but dullness and drowsiness also are a big possibility unless you’re mindful because it’s a very chill state, so to speak. 
  
Thurs., Oct. 4
Probably 30-40 minutes of walking meditation with the dog.

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/13/18 7:42 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Fri., Oct. 5-Sat., Oct. 6-- ?? 
 
Sun., Oct. 7
60 min. 
Started with preliminaries. Knew it would be a stage 2-3 sit and it was. Lately things have been wide open and quiet. I would not call it a ‘shift,’ though it can seem like that at times. Somehow awareness seems more accessible, dis-identification with the body easier. Maybe that’s not the right way to put it. Is this the whole ‘witness’ thing becoming predominant? The no-dog-in-the-hunt thing? 
 
But no ability to stay with the object over the past hour. Not even for five or ten breaths. Lots of sleepiness, dullness and forgetting, intermixed with moments of seeming clarity and presence. Tuned into pain in shoulder directly and watched it change, break up. Was very OK with all moments of forgetting. No self-flagellation whatsoever. Lots of check-ins, automatic corrections. Tons of hypnogogia. 
 
15 min. ‘calming the formations’
 
Mon., Oct. 8
60 min. TMI | 2-3 
 
Tues., Oct. 9
60 min. 
Woke up at 4 a.m. with insomnia. Quite a slog. Had to do walking meditation, open the eyes, etc., just to try to hang in there. 
 
Wed., Oct. 10
Sat for 60 min. TMI, but kind of diffuse or half-hearted—not a strong intention to follow the TMI instructions carefully. As a result, not a lot of application of the instructions. Did some of this: checked in to introspective and extrospective awareness, savored coming back, looked for vividness and clarity here and there, but also spent a lot of the sit in a kind of drifty place.  
 
Thurs., Oct. 12, and Fri., Oct. 13
20-30 minutes walking meditation/micro-hits on sofa, etc. 
 
Sat. Oct. 13
60 min. Went through TMI preliminaries. Set microintention—‘enjoy’ rather than ‘vivid? clear?’  
Nice effect. The microintention to enjoy led to closer tuning in to the actual senations, which led to greater vividness/clarity. Simple. 
 
Stage 4 sit again—attended to the object very closely for most of the sit. There certainly were thoughts (reporting, planning, etc.) but until the last quarter of the sit they were quickly corrected. Last quarter was more diffuse. Goofed around a bit by trying to relax tensions in shoulders, ‘just stop,’ etc. Got up to feed the dog and pee. 
 
Very pleasant sit. Nice moments of tuning into the breath at the nostrils while simultaneously allowing everything else. 

Just in general in life lately, more moments of disidentification with the body. At times this is active, with a sense of amusement. 'Ah, see, you can do this. You don't have to be afraid or freaked out even if something is going wrong with the body or it is in pain.' 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/21/18 8:05 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
 
Sun., Oct. 14
60 min.
Started by setting intention to notice subtle distractions, brief moments of attention directed to distractions in the background of peripheral awareness, while the meditation object continues as the primary focus.

 Used the microintention ‘enjoy,’ again, to a good result.
 
For at least the first half of the sit, enjoyment of in-breath, pause, out-breath, pause seemed to ramp up the vividness and clarity. There was more precision about where the focus of attention was—right at the nostrils—and what was going on there, including the pauses.
 
At a certain point the nothingness of the pause after the out-breath seemed to open out into an inky blackness. But introspective awareness seemed to know that the visual field was not the primary object and there was a quick correction back to just enjoying/tuning into the sensations at the nostrils. 
 
Simultaneously maintained that sense of allowing all else to be in peripheral awareness, which opened things up. Quick corrections were happening. 
 
Noticed the inherent pleasantness of the breath sensations, their faintness on the out-breath, and their warbling, wavy quality on the in-breath.
 
Then dullness and distractions along with outright sleepiness and hypnogogic scenes started to increase. I had set an interval bell at 40 minutes. This was when the body scan was to begin. But really it was a mess from about 40 minutes until the end of the sit. The scenes included a bunch of young people building a bridge over a river; it was half-completed. [?] 
 
Some outright forgetting and mind-wandering seemed to happen. Some of this seemed to drag on for quite a while. The sit became a slog but I kept trying to return to the microintention to enjoy and the intention to notice subtle dullness. Opened the eyes, etc., but to no avail. Wasn’t upset at the end of the sit or anything. OK, it was like that.  
 
Mon., Oct. 15
60 min. Complete snoozefest 
 
Tues., Oct. 16, and Wed., Oct. 17
60 min. Same basic pattern for both sits: initial clarity and precision, gradual deterioration into dullness/sleepiness.
 
Thurs., Oct. 18
30 min.
 
Fri., Oct. 19
30 min. following suggested insight approach by shargrol
Started with 10 minutes of just settling. Very peaceful. Felt the weight of gravity, like a downward force of settling into the body, feeling ‘in the body’ rather than up in the head. A sense of wideness and silent spaciousness was there.
 
After two five-minute-interval wood clacks on the timer, started noticing body sensations. Began by noticing rather than noting. Noticed the pain in the shoulder and how it was throbbing and moving around to different parts of the shoulder and arm. Warmth, softness of hands on thighs or shirt on body. Pressure in forehead (body?). Seeing, blackness, pixels, wideness of visual field. Pulsing of body, slight. 
 
Hat on head, tension in face (intending to relax, relaxing), tongue touching roof of mouth, teeth. Predominant—pain in shoulder. Noticed thoughts about it. Notions of going into it and emotional releases being triggered or of it being purified and healed. Went back to the bare sensation of it. Pulsing, throbbing, moving. 
 
Later in the sit, noticed that it was gone.
 
Wood clack. Moved to ‘feelings/emotions.’ Thought about whether focus should be on vedana mostly but decided it should be both vedana and ‘feeling what you’re feeling.’ Noticed various unpleasant sensations in the body—shoulder, tension in various places, aching, aching. But ‘feeling what you’re feeling’ was very pleasant, whole-body, absorptive. Wide space, inky blackness; investigated sense of ‘me’ as pressure in face and forehead, felt the warmth, heaviness and softness of the contact points of the body on the sofa. Hearing (clock on wall). ‘Pop!’ sound, quick knowing that it was an acorn on the roof, barely cognized suggestion of a visual image of same. 
 
Wood clack. Thoughts/mind states. Noticed looking/investigating, reporting thoughts (a lot of them). ‘Remembering reporting thought’ after cognizing a reporting thought that seemed to have passed seconds ago. Various imagining thoughts triggered by different sounds. Not remembering a lot of other mind states/thought categories. 
 
Wood clack. Freestyle. Seeing, blackness, pixels (purple dots, brightness), hearing. Warmth, pleasant, softness. Aching, unpleasant. Some rising and falling of the abdomen but very little focus on the breath during the sit. Distinct silence and spaciousness. No drowsiness despite having insomnia and waking at 4:30 a.m.
 
Hard to describe a lot of this. There was a moment that felt important. Everything was happening by itself. Sense of the me was just there as a pattern of sensations. [Not sure if these are the right words.] 
 
Bell rang. Just sat in an open way for a bit. 
 
Sat., Oct. 20 and Sun., Oct. 21
30 min. TMI / 40 min insight, noting, etc., as above
 
On Sunday during insight sit, seemed to see very clearly that ‘going out’ to find sensations is itself a process of objects. The response was to try to stop doing this—also a process. Saw that the seeing of this, too, was a process, as was the sudden feeling of consternation at the futility, the infinite regress. 
 
Must have been in equanimity—sat for a total of about 70 minutes and felt that I could just keep on sitting. There was definitely dullness, sleepiness mixed in: at one point an acorn popped onto the roof and the startle reflex happened. Here and there, the beginnings of noticing little pockets of discomfort, unpleasant vedana, tightnesses. 
 
The aching in the shoulder, so pronounced and intense, disappeared midway through the sit. Noticed that it was gone. The noting was a mix of verbal labels (‘imagining thought,’ ‘hearing,’ ‘seeing,’ ‘aching, unpleasant,’ etc., and silent noticing. There was a sped-up moment, a lot of things being noticed at once. 
 
There was a feeling of wrongness, of not knowing what to do, of being in the way, of futility, confusion. The analogy comes to mind of somebody painting himself into a corner and suddenly realizing ‘this isn’t going to work’ but not knowing what to do about it. This wasn’t an all-pervasive sense. I just know that it was part of the sit. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/23/18 8:48 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
 
Mon., Oct. 22
Probably 20 minutes of walking meditation at the park. A bit of checking in here and there during the day. Busy. 
 
Tues., Oct. 23
30 min. TMI followed by 30 min. noting (settling, body sensations, vedana/feelings, thoughts/mind states, freestyle noting, ‘just sitting’/integration.) 
 
Woke up at about 3 a.m. feeling some kind of dread/sadness in the center of the body. Knew that the task would be to feel it as it is, to go right to it in an open way, without trying to change it, figure it out or conceptualize it. The sadness was there as I made breakfast for the kids and got them out the door. 
 
Started with TMI. Went through the preliminaries. For ‘goals,’ just set the intention to notice the beginnings and endings of the breath and to attend to the pauses as well, to use microintentions ‘vivid,’ ‘clear’ and ‘enjoy.’ Went to the four-stage transition. Listened to the various noises in the environment, then went to body sensations, distributed breath sensations (chest, abdomen and nostrils), then to the nostrils alone with a sense of allowing everything else to be as it is. 
 
Concentration was pretty good during the sit. The previously set intentions seemed to lead to a decent amount of clarity, vividness and savoring; there was definitely more attention at the pauses.
 
Worked on noticing rather then verbal labeling during the noting portion. Right now I do feel more in touch with the sadness in the body, the heart center and lower chest abdomen. I feel more at peace, quieter, but still sad, in a physical way rather than in response to particular ruminations or worries. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/24/18 4:13 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
I pretty much never read practice logs, but was poking around for a good example of one to show a friend who is looking to start one. Yours was a great example, so thanks for keeping a public log! And it looks like you are doing some really great practice as well. Yeah, sadness...

emoticon

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/25/18 5:07 AM as a reply to Andromeda.
Andromeda:
I pretty much never read practice logs, but was poking around for a good example of one to show a friend who is looking to start one. Yours was a great example, so thanks for keeping a public log! And it looks like you are doing some really great practice as well. Yeah, sadness...

emoticon
Thanks, Andromeda. Jason Siff has some very interesting ideas about journaling. He wants his students to sit and then journal immediately after. Some of the principles include avoiding the use of any Buddhist jargon or ready concepts and, instead, simply describing what happened in your own words; not worrying about chronological order; feeling free to use actual sketches; not being concerned about not being able to remember stuff--whatever you can remember is great; otherwise, no worries.

I periodically want to stop journaling and have a strong 'what's the point?' kind of impulse, but overall I think there's value in reflecting on what's going on, hearing others' feedback, etc. You should check out spatial's practice journal! 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/25/18 8:20 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
 
Wed., Oct. 24
Morning: 30 min TMI/30 min. noting, etc.
A bit of walking meditation during the day 
Night: 30 min. TMI at dharma group 
 
Thurs., Oct. 25
30 min. TMI/30 min. noting 
 
Woke at 4:30 a.m. Went to the cushion feeling slightly sad and kind of dreading the coming hour. Felt so sleepy and heavy that I anticipated a hard slog of sloth and torpor. 
 
Not quite. There was a lot of sleepiness and dullness for sure. Some very drowsy, hypnogogic states. At one point a vivid image flashed in my mind’s eye. It was as though I were seeing a snapshot that someone standing 10 or 12 feet in front of the sofa had taken. The snapshot that I was seeing was of me sitting and practicing on the sofa but there was a white-haired old woman sitting next to me. It was startling, jarring.

Next came the quick thought that this was possibly a paranormal vision, that I was being shown the ghost of someone who was sitting there with me. Next came thoughts of who it could be: My maternal grandmother? An old lady who had lived in the house here before we moved in? I prayed some apologies to my deceased grandmother, whom I have criticized repeatedly over the years for the way she treated my mom. I think I was apologizing because I was afraid of the ghost. I was trying to use the apologies like a talisman of protection. 
 
A better response: ‘seeing, seeing,’ ‘fear,’ ‘bargaining,’ ‘thinking.’ But that ain’t how it shook out. 
 
I felt some tension or unease during the sit with the separation of the different foundations—working on body sensations for five minutes, then working on vedana after another five, then shifting to mental objects, mind states, etc. This seems to break the flow of an anything-goes, freestyle noting practice: ‘itching, unpleasant, wanting to scratch, intending to scratch, scratching’ or ‘(internal) seeing, remembering, chest tightness/tension, unpleasant, sadness.’ The speed of the noting and the sense of flow did seem greater when I got to the freestyle noting part of the sit. 
 
Structure-wise, I’m beginning these sits with the preliminaries and then the four-stage transition of TMI: You start by listening to sounds and paying attention to the external environment; then you move to body sensations; then you move to the distributed sensations of the breath, i.e. the abdomen and the nostrils at once and the way the body moves with the breath; and then you move just to the nostrils. 
 
I think I might try a structure like this: preliminaries (motivation, goals, expectations, diligence, distractions, posture), then the four-stage transition as described above; then 30 minutes of TMI and then 20 minutes of freestyle noting followed by ten of just doing nothing/integration. I spent a year or two working with Kenneth on isolating mind states, vedana, etc., and feel pretty grounded in using once-per-second noting (I used to do it out loud) to disembed from the different links in the chain.
 
What I’m interested in moving to is the kazoo-less flow of objects/knowing without as much emphasis on the labeling—more of an MCTB style of noting, getting closer to the bare sensate process. Removing the partitions might help. The current structure seems a little too complex. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/25/18 10:12 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Oo, now things are really getting interesting!

Working at the level of bare sensations, that's where it's at. My early practice was more Zen styled and so the hypercompartmentalization of Theravada, especially pragmatic style, quite surprised and confused me when I first encountered it. It took me a long time to understand why some people find it and the verbal noting helpful early on as a crutch. The kazoo analogy cracked me up, but it does a very good job of explaining things! 

An interesting exercise might be: investigation of the sensations that make up the urge to pick up the kazoo when your intention is to listen to the orchestra. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/25/18 10:17 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
... to disembed from the different links in the chain.

I'm curious about this phrase - can you elaborate? Is it a reference to dependent origination?

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/25/18 10:48 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
... to disembed from the different links in the chain.

I'm curious about this phrase - can you elaborate? Is it a reference to dependent origination?
Right. As I think of it, based on Kenneth's instruction, 'embedded' would be to reactively scratch an itch with hardly any awareness that this had happened. By contrast, if the person were paying attention closely enough, the person could note 'itching, unpleasant,' sense the mind state of 'wanting to scratch, aversion' in response to the unpleasant vedana, and then  'deciding to scratch, indending to scratch,' and finally the volitional action of 'scratching.' 

Who or what is disembedding, though? emoticon

 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/25/18 10:50 AM as a reply to Andromeda.
Andromeda:
An interesting exercise might be: investigation of the sensations that make up the urge to pick up the kazoo when your intention is to listen to the orchestra. 
Hmmm...A koan to ponder! And test. 
:-D  

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/25/18 12:39 PM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
I worked with Kenneth in the way back timeframe, as in way back before he did any of what I now call "Kenneth-y" stuff. For a while, the dude went completely off the rails. We got back together at a nice dinner overlooking Lake Tahoe. I paid  emoticon

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/25/18 1:23 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
I worked with Kenneth in the way back timeframe, as in way back before he did any of what I now call "Kenneth-y" stuff. For a while, the dude went completely off the rails. We got back together at a nice dinner overlooking Lake Tahoe. I paid  emoticon
Ha! Yeah, it's amazing how quickly time passes. Seems like yesterday but has been nearly 10 years since I worked with him on Skype/KFD. I've been out of the pragmatic dharma loop for the most part since then...  

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/26/18 8:54 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Tashi Tharpa:
Chris Marti:
... to disembed from the different links in the chain.

I'm curious about this phrase - can you elaborate? Is it a reference to dependent origination?
Right. As I think of it, based on Kenneth's instruction, 'embedded' would be to reactively scratch an itch with hardly any awareness that this had happened. By contrast, if the person were paying attention closely enough, the person could note 'itching, unpleasant,' sense the mind state of 'wanting to scratch, aversion' in response to the unpleasant vedana, and then  'deciding to scratch, indending to scratch,' and finally the volitional action of 'scratching.' 

Who or what is disembedding, though? emoticon

 


I believe what you're describing is the same reason I use a metronome almost all the time in my music practice. The steady click is a reminder and an opportunity to break any chain that might start forming. Once-per-second noting seems to serve the same function. I wonder what would happen if one tried meditating with a metronome. The danger here is that the rhythm lulls you into a trance, I guess. But, so what? Eventually you notice that you are in a trance, and then those chains start coming apart.

When I was starting with meditation, I never did noting. I just focused on the sensation of breath at the nostrils, and I think it again serves the same purpose. When I find that place where the awareness of the breath is interleaved with the awareness of whatever else is going on, things start breaking up on their own. I'm starting to suspect that there's not really any "right" way to do this, but rather just a bunch of techniques that are all meant to lead you to the same place.

(Reviewing this post, I find it interesting that you use the language of "disembedding from the links in the chain" and I use the language of "chains coming apart." Your language is probably more accurate, since I think the idea is to train that part of you that notices that things happen whether you participate or not.)

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/26/18 9:00 AM as a reply to spatial.
Spatial --

When I was starting with meditation, I never did noting. I just focused on the sensation of breath at the nostrils, and I think it again serves the same purpose. When I find that place where the awareness of the breath is interleaved with the awareness of whatever else is going on, things start breaking up on their own. I'm starting to suspect that there's not really any "right" way to do this, but rather just a bunch of techniques that are all meant to lead you to the same place.

Yes, that's exactly what I did when I started - not noting, just paying attention to the breath at my nostrils. There are, indeed, many roads to the top of this mountain.




RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/26/18 10:03 AM as a reply to spatial.
spatial:
(Reviewing this post, I find it interesting that you use the language of "disembedding from the links in the chain" and I use the language of "chains coming apart." Your language is probably more accurate, since I think the idea is to train that part of you that notices that things happen whether you participate or not.)
The term 'disembed' is really Kenneth's. The line was something like, "You must disembed from the objects of awareness. If 'I' am over here noticing something over there, then whatever is over there is, by definition, not me."

I see this as a very practical approach to ending suffering in the moment, especially for beginners who have never investigated how dependent origination works. Someone doesn't show up for a dinner date. You start worrying that you've been rejected, dismissed, ignored. You note the 'imagining thoughts,' like seeing the person's face as she decides you're no good and that she's not coming to the dinner, and the 'tension, tightness' in the body and the 'butterflies' in the stomach, the 'worrying, worrying,' etc. 'Remembering' a past rejection. You come back to the body and note pleasant sensations there. You tune into the sensations of the breath, maybe noting 'rising, rising, falling, falling.' You're back in the body and in the moment. Rumination nixed. Maybe your friend walks through the door apologizing about getting stuck behind a traffic accident! 

It's pretty effective, but is what Daniel has taken to calling 'the kazoo.'

Since we're talking about metronomes, etc., you'll probably appreciate the analogy. (I apologize if you already know it.) In the analogy, Daniel asks you to imagine an audience for a symphony orchestra. Every member of the audience has the mistaken idea that they can't really hear, listen to or enjoy the symphony unless a kazoo soloist plays the melody along with the symphony. 

The verbal notes are clunky and awkward, like a kazoo. Daniel makes the point that you can listen to the symphony (all bare sensate phenomena) directly. You don't need a kazoo soloist at all. Sayadaw U Tejaniya will clap his hands very robustly--"clap!"--and say "Now, note that." (Well, it's already gone.) 

If you 'listen' to bare sensate phenomena of any kind with mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration and equanimity, I think you start climbing the mountain. 

People get stuck when, say, there's tons of tranquility but no mindfulness--no actual knowing of what's going on, like the beginning, pause and ending of the breath, or the unpleasantness of a sensation and the way it's triggering a desiire to shift the body. Or maybe there's so much investigation that it's all kazoo and is out of balance, with bare sensate phenomena fading amid a slew of verbal labels and, especially, no awareness of the bare sensate phenomena associated with investigation itself. 

I feel like I've practiced at both ends of the spectrum, from an open-eyed, do-nothing approach where 100 percent of the focus was on the visual field and 'merging' with the foreground (no attention paid to how the mind works), to 'kazoo' training that was mechanical to the point of literally noting out loud once per second.

The latter approach is painful, effortful and forces you to confront and note resistances of all kinds. The once-per-second noting has a feedback effect--when you hear that the kazoo has stopped playing, it makes you aware that you've drifted off and so you return to the practice quickly and keep building concentration. 
 
I found that I would eventually get to a place where very bright and fast strobing of the visual field would start, and the body would be pulsing, swaying, rocking; things would be flowing amid a lot of equanimity, and it would get harder and harder to use the kazoo because of the speed of everything. However, I don't think I went far enough or deep enough with respect to listening to the symphony! :-D 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/27/18 8:06 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.

Fri., Oct. 26

About 30 minutes in afternoon. Frequent disruptions. 
 
Sat., Oct. 27
30 min. TMI practice, starting with preliminaries, four-stage transition. 
30 min. noting
On the noting, started with verbal notes. Noted stuff like seeing, pixels, blackness; pressure, warmth, pleasant; coolness of air on skin, pleasant; imagining thought, reporting thought (a lot of reporting thoughts), remembering imagining thought; tensions (in face), intending to relax, relaxing; tightness (jeans); warmth, pressure, pleasant (palms pressing on legs); forehead pressure, third-eye pressure; warmth, softness (hair on head); rising, rising, pause, pause, falling, falling; tension, expansion, contraction (abdomen); warmth, softness, pleasant (shirt on body); aching, unpleasant (in shoulder); hearing, hearing (rushing-roaring sound, bird chirping, clock on the wall, HVAC unit going on and off); touching, touching, etc., etc.
 
The idea here was to set up a contrast: Listen to the kazoo for a bit, then drop it and pay attention to the difference. So next I dropped the verbal noting and worked on tuning into bare sensate phenomena directly, without any verbal labels. 
 
Silent knowing is harder to recollect and journal, it seems to me. 
 
Stepping back a bit, what I recall is feeling presented with the question of volition: What to do with the sense of doing and directing? You can listen to a symphony all at once, kind of globally and nondiscriminately, or you can zoom in on the sounds of individual instruments. You can let attention roam at its own pace and according to its own “will” or you can direct it with a sense of control and agency. 
 
I get the sense that, for me right now, the first approach, letting attention roam at its own will, is what is called for. 
I’m reminded of something Joseph Goldstein said, transcribed imperfectly here…
 
In one sutta, the Buddha makes an interesting distinction between the establishment of mindfulness, which is the simple awareness of arising objects, and what he calls 'the development of the establishment of mindfulness.' He is talking about two different things here.
 
It’s in the development of the four mindful abidings—not merely the establishment of them, but the development of them—that the contemplation of both the arising and passing away becomes the predominant emphasis.
 
So we go from the awareness of the content of what’s arising to the level of the process. 
 
We start, of course, with ‘Okay, what it is this and this and this?’ At a certain point, the momentum of our noticing become strong enough that it’s the process of change in itself which is the primary contemplation. What it is that is arising becomes less and less important.
 
In the Michael Taft podcast, Daniel talks about yogis feeling that they could only “know” an object if they were able to verbally note it. So maybe what’s going on is, people start with a practice designed to, as Goldstein puts it, establish mindfulness, but then they stick with this approach for too long, because the “development of the establishment of mindfulness”--in other words the deepening of mindfulness--is really about silent knowing of the process of anicca. It’s faster and more flowing than verbal noting generally allows.
 
The Mahasi tradition seems to recognize all of this. Yogis are told from the beginning to focus most of their attention on the actual sensations, not necessarily the notes, and I believe at a certain point it’s cool to drop the kazoo even in the Mahasi instructions so long as you’re noticing (silently knowing). But I could be wrong there. 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/27/18 10:43 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
The Mahasi tradition seems to recognize all of this. Yogis are told from the beginning to focus most of their attention on the actual sensations, not necessarily the notes, and I believe at a certain point it’s cool to drop the kazoo even in the Mahasi instructions so long as you’re noticing (silently knowing). But I could be wrong there. 

I agree with you. The verbal noting practice becomes tedious. One must see much more deeply into the subject/object distinction and how it's created by the mind. Verbal noting isn't very supportive of that.

RE: Beginning again
Answer
10/30/18 8:11 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Sun., Oct. 28
30 min TMI/30 noting
 
Mon., Oct. 29
About 30 minutes in afternoon. 
 
Tues., Oct. 30
30 min TMI/30 noting 
 
Mixing the practices seems to have had a bit of a deleterious effect on the TMI side of things. Less motivation and more diffuse practice overall, or at least that's how it seemed this morning--more straying from the object and spacing out. There’s a lot of spaciousness and pleasantness but it feels a little loose. For example, this morning I don’t think I remembered and put into practice very many of the TMI instructions at all. No use of microintentions like ‘vivid,’ ‘clear,’ ‘detailed’; no savoring those moments of coming back. Did do some checking in. At one point I checked in, noticed that sleepiness was happening, paid attention to the sensations of sleepiness and seemed to locate them kind of in the lower back of the head near the upper part of the neck. The sleepiness seemed to have boundaries there; it kind of dissolved and gave way to clarity and energy. 
 
The four-stage transition went well. Truthfully, it’s not all that different from a noting practice. When I started by tuning into everything connected to the ‘external’ environment—sounds, coolness of the air on the skin, etc.—the silence and spaciousness of the morning was very clear. It seemed to “pour in.” There was a temptation to just make this the object and a sense that this was what was called for. I think I tried for a bit but can’t remember what happened. Attention probably moved on to a thought or something else. 
 
The noting practice was a mix of open, flowing states and contracted ones. One of my terrors in life is the prospect of more catastrophic things happening to the house (we had a huge water leak a few years ago that ended up costing tens of thousands of dollars and months of torturous work inside the house by these strangers who stole all of my dad’s tools out of the garage when the work was over and then came back and scammed me). There was a sound coming from one of the AC registers that could have been a drop of water, or could have just been the expanding and contracting of the metal ductwork. I knew these possibilities as soon as I heard it, but the contracted mind went into imagining thoughts, tension/tightness in the chest, worrying, worrying, as it thought about the worst-case scenario involving some kind of new water leak. ‘There’s no water on this side of the house. The main waterline is to the right. There’s no bathroom on this side. It can’t be water.’ 
 
In this contracted state, a jump to a less identified one made it possible to see the unpleasantness of the whole complex of reactivity and to see how it solidified the sense of a centerpoint behind the eyes with a chest, limbs and a trunk. 'It takes a worried man, to sing a worried song.'
 
Did a little bit of verbal noting in response to mind-wandering: seeing, seeing, hearing, hearing, touching, etc. There was some swaying of the body and some pulsing toward the end of the 60 minutes. At the very end of the sit, a strong sense that the centerpoint behind the eyes amounted to a painful contraction and that it could and should be relocated down into the center of the body; there was a thought that, all in all, the centerpoint is up so high, so 'above the neck,' as a defense against embodiedness. This is probably just something I picked up from hearing Reggie Ray or Ken Wilbur. I also recalled a time when, on a weekend retreat, the locus seemed to drop right to the heart center. “OMG, this is what it has always been about,” I remember thinking at the time. “My practice has always been wrong!” 
 
This whole cluster of thinking was going on when the bell rang. That snapped me out of it and I sat for five or ten more minutes just kind of watching and silently noting.
 
I get the critique of verbal noting and will continue to work on silent noting. However, for me right now as I work on silent noting, it’s hard not to be aware of what you miss when you don’t have the verbal label. There’s something good about the way the verbal labels carve out space and kind of powerfully create a sense of distance from the heretofore-identified-with object. However, I guess the danger is in the way that this reinforces the sense of subject-object—as Daniel would put it, the sense that ‘these sensations over here are observing those sensations over there.’ 
 
When you let all of the sensations just be as they are, there’s nothing for you to do. How different is this approach, really, from shikantaza? 

RE: Beginning again
Answer
11/4/18 6:12 AM as a reply to Tashi Tharpa.
Wed., Oct. 31 -- 60 min. 

Thurs., Nov. 1 -- skipped
 
Fri., Nov. 2 -- 60 min. 

Sat., Nov. 3
Sat a 9-to-5 retreat with an insight meditation teacher. Retreats can be pretty weird depending on the conditions. Interesting to watch the different triggers during this very mainstream retreat with a mix of new and experienced practitioners. 

At this point in my life, I am not on an exciting spiritual journey. My days of feeling excited about the Dalai Lama or Nepal or the prospect of a glorious future of religious adventures, vajrayana empowerments, Joseph Campbell-like mythic heroism, etc., etc., are long gone. Wearing shawls, bowing with hands in gassho, chanting 'sadhu, sadhu, sadhu'--none of this kind of stuff holds much juice for me now. The silver haired, affluent folks all around me seem so delighted, but I'm just going through the motions. 

Not sure whether that's a good thing or a bad thing. 

Sitting from 9 to 5 today as well and will watch how the mind reacts to this and other stuff. What's going on and the mind's reaction to it is just more raw sensory data. Withholding, self-consciousness, judgment--more sensory data.

I do feel pretty good about the way I've handled the retreat thus far. I've been sitting and paying attention through parts of it that clearly were triggering massive restlessless, unease, boredom, etc., in the other participants. From about 3:50 to 5 p.m. yesterday, the teacher was clearly stalling or just trying to get the day over with. The teacher read--very, very slowly--a long article by the teacher on a fairly dry subject. You could just feel the waves of reactivity in the room. It wasn't gong over well. 

I sat up straight and practiced with it. 

I'm feeling confused about the difference between shikantaza and a noting practice in which you cease 'going out' toward sensations to identify and label them.

If a subtler noting practice is really just being--just watching--then is it any different than shikantaza? 

An initial noting practice involves looking for and labeling what you've been told to look for and label--body sensations, vedana, mind states, thoughts, etc. If you get good at it, you start seeing that looking/investigating is itself an object. But so is noticing that looking/investigating is an object. Paralysis. Infinite regress. 

So you could 'just stop' right then and there.

Or you could keep on noting and just know that the noting mind was doing its thing. I feel like this is the instruction in the Mahasi tradition. You almost never stop actively noticing phenomena, one after the other, in this approach, right?

So it seems like right now I could take the practice in the direction of (1) just relaxing more and more and ceasing with all of this investigative activity.

Or I could (2) continue looking for and feeling more and more 'objects,' but just without using all of the labels, paying particular attention to the subtler end of things: What are the bare sensate phenomena when confusion over doing or not doing arises? Or when attention realizes it has wandered and returns to the abdomen or something?

I will say that in experimenting with the first of the two approaches above, what's being seen is dukkha. A lot of unpleasant pressure in the head, constricty stuff in the chest, sad feelings and so forth. So stick with No. 1, or maybe it's really a blend of 1 and 2?

I guess another direction I really feel drawn to right now is getting back in the body/heart center. I feel like the centerpoint has been relentlessly above the neck, a 'brain on a stick,' my whole life as a defense mechanism against having to feel what I was feeling about my mom's threatening and inconsistent attention/behavior, my lack of physical prowess and on and on.