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Is it all-or-nothing? Any Benefits of "gentle practice"?

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Hello,

Many posts of this forum, the MCTB book and Daniel’s talks– are clear, direct, strong and often inspiring in their message - “go all out” and “get something” and "You can do it" , etc. Great motivators for serious seekers, for sure. 

But here’s my reality and  some questions that are burning me up. I would really appreciate advice from anyone who’s been in this boat!

I have been sitting (Vipassana ) for many years. I   do one retreat per year (10 days) but cannot go to longer ones (balancing family, job, etc). I have not experienced A&P. Not sure where in the path before A&P I am, but somewhere in  3-characteristics estage most likely (If nothing else, back pain, neck pain, etc. are matching the symptoms described in the MCTB book - lol  ).

 Overall I think I am doing "OK" - have a fairly normal/good work/family life, relationships,  and balance. I do my annual retreats  . I am inspired by Dhamma ,  try to sit 2 hours a day and during sittings try to work as sincerely/ correctly as I understand . Years of reading, practicing, talking to teachers, fine tuning  and trying to understand the nuances through self-learning over dozens of 10 day retreats,– and I think (hope) I can say I do get the basis at least– everything in the MCTB book certainly resonated with what I do.    But relative to what I am reading there and on the forums, my meditatin life seems , at best, pretty uneventful emoticon  

After reading the MCTB book and the maps, I now almost wish I don’t cross the A&P for a few years at least. I don’t think I am ready at a stage in my life, given certain personal situations, kids / parents to take care of, etc. It almost seems irresponsible to rush into it at this stage in my life knowing the possible perils/risks, and  I am unsure that I can face the dark night and all the other stuff that cycles after until my kids grow up and other things sort out. 

So, the burning questions are: 

1)      Should I slow down/pause - even stop while I can – instead of risking hitting the A&P and all that potential chaos that might follow? And pick things up again later in life when things open up? Until I read the MCTB book I had no idea there were so many dark and  even dire implications to progress beyond A&P and until one gets fruitions. I was living in a  fool’s paradise that if I keep plodding along I am just going down a long slow road that just gets a little better and simpler with time - . . The MCTB book was certainly a shocker and wake up call for me in this regard ( I do thank Daniel for laying things out so clearly).

2)      Given I don’t want to go to A&P and beyond right now-  am I just wasting my time – , with so much daily practice   ? Wonderign if I should trim my 2 hours of time (which is quite hard to squeeze out every day) and better spend on other things – exercise, family time, recreation, social service and the like? at least until I am ready to "get serious" . Am I just kidding myself that  there some cumulative / incremental benefits to daily practice? Which I can cash in on later , when I am ready to really push forward for A&P, stream entry  and beyond?

I have tried searching MCTB and other posts on this forum for answers , and so far, am finding it hard to come up with any evidence that there is much benefit (incremental /cumulative or otherwise) in gentle, regular daily Vipassana practice without pushing the limits constantly and  moving down the difficult path of insights. . Most of the material seems to suggest it’s mostly an all or nothing game. Either gun for it and really push till you get to some significant (fuuition)   or... (??)

I am pretty sure I may be missing something. Insights from anyone who cares to reply will be much appreciated

RE: Is it all-or-nothing? Any Benefits of "gentle practice"?
Answer
6/22/18 10:43 PM as a reply to Mantri Sanyasi Raj.
Hi Mantri,

I don't think you are wasting your time. There has been lots of research on the health benefits of meditation, so just from that standpoint alone it should be worthwhile. There is, as you note, a chance that you'll go through an A&P, but if you don't really push (or alternatively use psychedelics, some folks go through the A&P on them), then whether or not you do hit the A&P is mainly a matter of chance (or karma if you prefer). You can make your self more or less likely to hit it through the intensity of practice, but yours sounds slow and gentle. With responsibilities toward family and the world, that sounds like about right for you.The kind of practice you do is exactly the kind that many Zen students have (my wife for example) and is recommeded in the Suzuki Roshi tradition.

Hope that helps.

             

RE: Is it all-or-nothing? Any Benefits of "gentle practice"?
Answer
6/22/18 11:01 PM as a reply to Mantri Sanyasi Raj.
[quote=
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1)      Should I slow down/pause - even stop while I can – instead of risking hitting the A&P and all that potential chaos that might follow? And pick things up again later in life when things open up? Until I read the MCTB book I had no idea there were so many dark and  even dire implications to progress beyond A&P and until one gets fruitions. I was living in a  fool’s paradise that if I keep plodding along I am just going down a long slow road that just gets a little better and simpler with time - . . The MCTB book was certainly a shocker and wake up call for me in this regard ( I do thank Daniel for laying things out so clearly).


Hey there! I'm sure more experienced folks will answer as well, but from personal experience I'll say:

1) Don't be afraid of A&P / Dark Night. As Daniel states in the book, MCTB gives the extreme worst case scenario of the Dark Night (it had me scared too). My experience was passing through it in a month with one to two hour per day practice after the A&P and it was no big deal. I found the pre-A&P stuff to be much more of a challenge. That being said, the Dark Night can be more of an ass-kicker for some. I would recommend checking out The Mind Illuminated by Culadasa. He claims that through practicing his method one can virtually bypass the Dark Night. 

Perhaps if you feel that you aren't making progress, find a teacher! 

Best wishes! 

RE: Is it all-or-nothing? Any Benefits of "gentle practice"?
Answer
6/23/18 9:02 AM as a reply to Mantri Sanyasi Raj.
Are you entirely sure that you didn't cross the A&P at some point already? Going on all those retreats, reading MCTB, hanging out on the DhO, practicing a lot, and seriously engaging with these questions are all things that people who have crossed the A&P are vastly more likely to do.

Ever had anything energetic, tingly, see a bright light, have bliss show up, see anything vibratory, travel out of body, have any kundalini anything, or any of that stuff? Might have been very short or not very strong, as the A&P isn't always all fireworks and the like, can be subtle on occasion. One of my A&P events was just a buzzing thing down the back of my head and spine that lasted about a second and that was the whole thing. You sure you have never gotten into that territory?

RE: Is it all-or-nothing? Any Benefits of "gentle practice"?
Answer
6/23/18 10:52 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Thanks to everyone for taking time to reply to the post.

Daniel - I don’t think I have crossed A&P. The closest I have come is in my first course I felt my hands dissolving for a few hours towards the end of the 10-day retreat. But I also remember when this was happening – gross sensations, pain and blind spots in other arts of the body (back/hips, etc.). Another time, in a later retreat, after pushing all day on the cushion I remember lying down at night and having a buzzing sensation all over the body. Only on the surface of the skin though - not deeper. Found it hard to sleep most the night – almost wanted to “turn it off” because it felt intense and I wanted to sleep. Later spoke to the teacher and he said this wasn't uncommon as people's awarness of sensations deepens and he did not think this was anything close ot dissolution/A&P.

Other than that – most of he retreats have been just a lot of pain, blind spots, dullness, boredom and the like. No major highs or lows. But despite this, I always seem to come out of the retreats with a nice after glow, feeling good about life, and this  lasts for some time and fades.

Pretty much the same story with daily practice.

Until recently , when I read your book, my hypothesis was I am doing “OK”. One of many - Walking the path and let Dhamma take its course. Maybe longer retreats will help get to to later stages on the map,  but after reading about all the darker stuff down the path I am hesitant to go there right now for a few years. 

Which is what brought me to my questions – am I just sort of wasting my time and kidding myself? The best placement I can give for myself is that I have been stuck in pre-A&P – probably 3 characteristics stage for a Long time. I think I am not the only one. Talkign to a few buddies and Fellow meditators and friends also seem to be in a similar boat. I remember reading on your web site even(the article Eleventh army of Mara) that only a handful of people will cross A&P and beyond.  So, what happens to the rest of the folks who don’t get to those more intense stages to A&P and beyond,  and just stay stuck for long times?

Do you think there are still some short term and/or long-term benefits of going to retreats and regular daily practice for such folks? If so, what, in your view might those be?

And do you think “paramis” and/or ‘Karma” have anything to do with progress? Another hypothesis of mine is that a lot of folks on DhO incl you have abundant paramis and good karma and are just way ahead of the pack due to innate tendencies (or having earned parmis in past lives). The rest have to just keep working on it pateintly - perhaps for a  long time - Does this sound like a reasonable hypothesis? 

RE: Is it all-or-nothing? Any Benefits of "gentle practice"?
Answer
6/25/18 3:42 AM as a reply to Mantri Sanyasi Raj.
Some general points:

If you do not already do so, consider implementing concentration practice in your daily schedule. Sharpening the concentration skills brings a plethora of benefits both in daily life and in practice, and having access to the jhanic absorptions helps with eventual dark night territory. Also: mind is wind, so if you take some time to learn and practice some basic hathayogic tech, you can gain a control of the body and the winds that is very helpful if experiencing turbulent A&P and/or darknight crashes. Knowing the locks (bhandas) and breathing patterns that calm or excite the neuronal and muscular systems helps in managing, soothing, or even accelerating currents of experience so as to burn though things instead of streching it out over long periods of time. I cannot praise these tools enough vis a vis my own practice.

As a family man myself, with three small kids, I also find dream & sleep yoga to be of outmost importance, as a good chunk of life is routinely spent with with awareness blanked out in stupor. Dream & Sleep Yoga frees up several hours each night to practice, while your body gets its needed rest & recovery. The main obstacle here is to gain and maintain awareness, but if worked on persistently, it will eventually pay off. There are many tricks and methods, but this is the one that worked for me: maintaing a kernel of vivid awareness as the body and mind naturally and gradually goes to sleep. First, deep relaxation, really deep. Let go of everything. This is a mental as well as a bodily letting go of. Breathing like I already am at deep sleep. Then, maintaining a kernel of awareness as the body gets unmoveable and the mind slips off into the hypnagogic state. Some like to anchor this kernel by visualising or feeling it as a sphere or symbol somewhere in the body, like at the throat. The trick here is to balance total relaxation and a total letting go of with a clear kernel of awareness that does not in any way counters the relaxation and the letting go, and then maintaining that awareness as the body and mind shifts through the different phases of sleeping and dreaming. Once you gain some experience, you will know the bodily cues and patterns it goes through when falling asleep, and you can simply let it happen while you observe the process and maintain awareness directly from the waking to the dream and sleep states. You will find that both shamatha and insight practices can be practiced very efficiently when the awareness is freed from the usual chains that binds the mind and body during the waking state.

RE: Is it all-or-nothing? Any Benefits of "gentle practice"?
Answer
6/25/18 6:29 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:
Are you entirely sure that you didn't cross the A&P at some point already? 
I'm terrible at the maps, so take this with a grain of salt, but I think it's very unlikely that you haven't crossed A&P given the amount of practice you have described.

Just a word of advice drawn from my own experience: Be careful about the tendency, after reading about and listening to others' experiences, to create an image out of those accounts and to then try to compare your own set of experiences to that image.

It's analogous to reading novels or watching movies and trying to make your life experience match the romance and drama that you've imagined when encountering these works of fiction. Somebody else's experience is somebody else's experience. Your experience is your own.   

I'm not saying this is definitely what's going on here, but it's possible that your expectations (of fireworks, etc.) are hindering your ability to see what's actually happening in your own practice. 

Lastly, people (like myself) who have been meditating for a long time tend to forget that sometimes we're reading the practice accounts of yogis who are very, very young. They have just started meditating and are absolutely on fire for it. When my most intense peak experiences occurred, I had no access to the DhO because the Internet didn't exist. God knows what I would've written about my experience back then. I'm guessing that my youthful enthusiasm and the newness of it all--the shock that this shit is actually real--would probably have translated into me writing a very, very dramatic account of my experience.

What you want instead is that dispassionate, straightforward type of investigation and reporting that you see in the Mahasi tradition--no emotional interpretation, but just a straight phenomenological report.