Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

beta wave, modified 13 Years ago at 4/27/09 11:43 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/27/09 11:43 PM

Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

Posts: 5 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Forum: Practical Dharma

I’ve had the opportunity to spend several hours a day meditating at home for the past ~week. One thing that surprised me it has become progressively harder to sit and stay with my meditation object (sensations of breath and vibrations if they occur). After feeling close to great insight after the first few days, I pretty much feel like a beginner right now. I’ve had to ratchet my sits back to a half hour, just so I can commit to doing them throughout the day.

I’m doing all of this sitting because I’ll be on retreat for a couple of weeks in mid-May, and I want to make the most of it. So all this sitting has been preparation work.

One thing that keeps coming up is a question around the right level of effort. In a sense, being on retreat is easier because you just follow the schedule. Doing somewhat intensive practice off-retreat presents interesting questions about cost - benefit of practice:

Is it always better to sit for more hours than less?
Does the quality of the meditation play into that analysis?
Is there a critical mass to more intensive practice?
Is there a threshold in amount of time spent per day?
Duration of individual sits?
Duration of time actually spent on the meditation object?

During hard times when I can’t seem to stay on the meditation object, I’ve found that if I go back to counting breaths, I can drudge through a sitting. My tendency otherwise is to space out and start following my thoughts to a point where I feel like I’m on a car drive and kinda lost in my head. It also seems like that increasing the level of effort actually spins me out to thoughts "about" practice rather than actual practice.

Is there a good way to deal with this mindset?

I’m really surprised at how I really feel I have no idea what I’m doing with my practice.
beta wave, modified 13 Years ago at 4/27/09 11:44 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/27/09 11:44 PM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

Posts: 5 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Any thoughts or advice on establishing a more intensive at home practice? And how to find the right level of effort on retreat?
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 6:14 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 6:14 AM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

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Author: garyrh

Relax; you have no control over the outcome except to make choices. Be interested in your pain and your doubt and in working out what is best for you. Enjoy the jourmey there is no race.
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Vishal Lama, modified 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 6:32 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 6:32 AM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

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I was just gonna ask, "Have you been also focusing on training in morality or virtue?" From my own (limited) experience, practice in morality has a direct as well as a subtle influence on one's concentration practice. This is something that many suttas stress on, very much.

Pardon me if I am repeating stuff that you may have already known!

Best,
Vishal
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Antonio Ramírez, modified 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 7:16 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 7:16 AM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

Posts: 55 Join Date: 9/9/09 Recent Posts
If I remember correctly, you're in dark night, right? Regularly getting all the way to Equanimity maybe?

In that territory, I found Kenneth's advice to use a kasina very useful. *However,* I didn't find it useful until he elaborated a bit. I had the misconception that "concentration on a kasina" meant "stare at it. stare. stare. stare!", but actually you can put the object in front of you, be aware of its presence, and really look at the space around it (while still allowing the object to take center stage somehow). At the very least, this technique made pushing up to Equanimity into a lot less of a struggle each time. Don't expect jhanas to feel like they once did, since everything is probably very 4th-jhana flavored by now. Once in Equanimity, actually I found that I naturally felt more "progress" if I did more active investigation, but you can play it by ear. Also, once in Equanimity, it's more and more natural to just sit for long times without too much antsiness.

As far as duration of sits etc. If you're working up to a retreat, it might be best to make your pre-retreat practice similar to your upcoming on-retreat practice. My retreat (like most?) consisted of alternating periods of sitting and walking meditaton (with the understanding that you're supposed to be mindful no matter what you're doing: e.g., eating). This was a beginners-oriented retreat (not exactly the best match for me in retrospect, but I couldn't take more time off), and the sitting periods were about 30min each (I'm not sure of this: I lost track of time and also lost the retreat schedule sheet, so I can't confirm). Walking meditation is a bit cheesy at first but it's a great opportunity to rest your butt/knees while the practice is still happening, plus it's great for noting "space" as it flows around you when you move.

[Sorry if I'm off the mark]
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Vincent Horn, modified 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 8:40 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 8:40 AM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

Posts: 211 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Hey Beta,

Sounds like you're smack dab in the middle of the dark night. I wouldn't obsess too much about duration, object, etc. but rather focus your attention, the best you can, on the direct perception of the three characteristics. It sounds like there is no lack of suffering in your current experience. Investigate suffering. Is there aversion in the mind? Doubt? Confusion? Worry? Anxiety? Restlessness? Where are these things located in the body? How do they arise? What does it feel like when they end? A gentle, yet persistent, investigation of suffering, impermanence, and selflessness--no matter the duration of sits--is the way I would approach things.

Another approach is to focus on shamatha, as Kenneth suggests, though I've always found that noting + focus on the three characteristics (which itself generates plenty of concentration) is a good way to learn the lessons of the dark night. I think that either approach will work, given sufficient intention and willingness. :-D

Best of luck,

-Vince
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tarin greco, modified 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 11:27 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 11:27 AM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

Posts: 658 Join Date: 5/14/09 Recent Posts
^ what he said there.

have you tried mixing up the sitting with walking? highly recommended, like postreptilian said. dont expect it to be like sitting, it's its own thing. it's rewarding and balances out some of the excesses of sitting without having to jettison effort.

as you're discovering, things can get screwy when you push real hard. its like different parts of your mind are bouncing to different rhythms, or like they're playing different parts of the same tune overlapping each other. my experience has shown me that they'll re-align on their own. also, note that i said 'real hard' rather than 'too hard'! you probably know im all for intense effort.. i wouldnt worry about 'too much effort' unless you are actually physically wigging out in some way. keep pushing hard (without screwing up your life), and when windows of opportunity arise, fine tune. stick with the three characteristics unless you want to do your own thing, whatever that is, in which case i say hell yes and godspeed.
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tarin greco, modified 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 12:23 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 12:23 PM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

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pay attention to the points at which you're actually starting to space out. can you feel the peripheral vibrations 'pulling' your attention outwards into a dilated, trance-like forgetfulness? wake up to the siren song! this can be some pretty interesting territory, but fine tune, catch it happening and sail through.
beta wave, modified 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 2:40 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 2:40 PM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

Posts: 5 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Just a quick note (besides saying thanks to everyone that replied)... I was doing intensive practice, but still well within my limits. I can tell that some of the replies were a little concerned.

I've got to crash now, but I plan on asking some follow-up questions when can I reply properly.

Thanks again and thanks in advance to anyone else that would like to add to this thread!
Trent S H, modified 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 3:43 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/28/09 3:43 PM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hey Beta,

I may add more later, but here's something that helped me immensely. Letting go and acceptance is a big part of the entire path, and an especially critical point of the 3rd and 4th vipassana jhanas. One way to handle a huge piece of this area is to always rest your attention in the background of your awareness. At all times possible throughout the day (and it is possible to do this while doing just about anything, with minimal effort), just let your attention sit on top of whatever is going on with your mind. If hell is breaking loose, just sit with it. If attention has become dilated, wide and diffuse, just sit with that. Neither encourage nor discourage, but let yourself mindfully rest on what is going on.

Keeping this basic mindfulness throughout the day helps in so many ways. Some benefits are stage specific and sometimes it just helps you feel some stability in the madness. It does not take much energy, so it can be done during the whole day. Because of that, even if you are not in a state/stage that doing this will progress practice, it will at least act like a bookmark for practice and keep you from slipping backwards. It helps concentration, as it is itself a formless object. All of that, and more, with a simple "technique" you can do all day, and it's especially useful because you don't have to be meditating to take care of a territory which can otherwise be boring or tedious. It's sort of like teaching yourself to auto-pilot your way through big chunks of the cycles.

Trent
beta wave, modified 13 Years ago at 4/30/09 12:55 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/30/09 12:55 AM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

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Thanks everyone. I can tell I'm going to get a lot more clear about practice with this thread.

@garyrh: True words, thanks. I think you captured the point of this thread -- working out the journey, the choices I can make.

@Vishal: I think that virture/morality only had a little to play in what was going on. It really seemed like the rough patches were pretty "clean", in other words there wasn't a lot of emotionality to it, unlike dark nights in the past. I tried to figure out a way to connect that to improvements in morality, but I've haven't radically changed my moral self. If anything, I attribute the clean-ness to being more familiar with the nature of thoughts/mind and being less entranced by my sense of self. Does that make sense? What I'm trying to say is that it is almost the other way around: that insight practice has changed my morality, specifically my personal sense of importance. But I never was a really bad guy to start off, I had a puritanical streak if anything.
beta wave, modified 13 Years ago at 4/30/09 1:19 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/30/09 1:19 AM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

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@vince, postrepilian, trent, and prisonergreco

Isn't it very interesting how all your replies are different? One says drop the object and investigate the sensations of dark night, others say take up concentration, another says hang back and accept everything as it arises, and another says catch the siren song (ie. stay very immediate). Well, I can say that these ideas are pretty similar to what was appearing in "my second-guessing mind" during the sits!

Could we explore a little more? I wonder if there is a right answer or not, maybe not -- but that would be an answer, too.

In retrospect, this round of sitting was my experiment to try never losing the object of (insight) meditation. I wanted to see what would happen. I suspect that I'm a lazy meditator, so I wanted to try more discipline.

What did happen is I got established on breath sensations fairly quickly. Vibrations started occuring and I could hold both vibrations and breath sensations as two melodies. Lots of raptures, spotty lights, and sheets of lights. Obviously, fairly tranquil. From "within" that state, I tried to hold my mind on breathing sensations.

Then awareness was opening up and the low percent of breathing sensations really stood out. It became kinda koan-like to ask: what makes any sensation more important/worthy than any other? But for the sake of practice, I tried to select out the breath sensation melody as the song to listen to. From there this interesting dark night (I agree vince) situation was created: I could track the breath fairly immediately but it was a very minimal part of all the sensations arising. Most of the other sensations were thoughts (which I could easily deconstruct into their existance/sensations/"location" elements) which I was fairly actively ignoring.
beta wave, modified 13 Years ago at 4/30/09 1:32 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/30/09 1:32 AM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

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Here's what I'm distilling my question to: does the >original< object of meditation (eg the breath) need to be followed throughout the whole insight cycle, or does one just need to pay attention to immediate sensations?

I think that key question shines a light on a lot of my other questions about balancing effort.
Trent S H, modified 13 Years ago at 4/30/09 2:07 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/30/09 2:07 AM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

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Yo.

They're all right in their own context, and could all be used in a single day. Get a few of these approaches in your mind, then as you try each one while you sit, see what your intuition tells you is working. My suggestion is really only for open eye, whereas most of the others are pretty restricted to closed eye. Doing all of these does not sound like a bad idea to me.

The object is not necessarily important. You'll likely have a natural propensity toward certain types of objects & through certain sense doors. Some are just more natural to you. That said, you could investigate all sorts of phenomenon and just stick with what seems to react the most when viewed. Curious investigation with a lot of heart will do well, the other suggestions are just different approaches that helped each of us in this area. It's hard to tell what approach you will need, which is why you'll need to find that for yourself!

Trent
beta wave, modified 13 Years ago at 4/30/09 11:23 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 4/30/09 11:23 PM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

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Sounds good.

I think ultimately I'm trying to game the system by relying on technique too much. (A different form of laziness?) So that's a cool discovery.

I can also see a little knot of problemness that's caused by desire for deliverance, lack of faith, and feeling like there wasn't enough time during my pseudo-retreat to do it right. Take away any of those premises and the problem goes away.

It's hard to explain it, but getting this reality check was very helpful. I think the retreat will be more alive as a result. Thanks everyone.
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 5/1/09 12:13 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 5/1/09 12:13 AM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: Ant_808

I've found lately in meditation it's helpful to "follow your heart" especially during dark night. When your not sure if this or that technique is right or not.

Just bring your attention into the area of your heart with a gentle sense of acceptance, compassion and self forgiveness. With the heart and mind connected in this way one can observe rising and passing, 3cs or whatever in relaxed way. Your heart/ intuition will guide the process.

I ran into a intense week or so of dark night a lately, insomnia, irritability, anxiety, panic attacks both during meditation and not. quite full on and scary. this method and metta helped me through the worst of it. On retreat i think having high concentration would help this process pass quicker.

all the best for your retreat, may you gain the fruits of your effort
beta wave, modified 13 Years ago at 6/7/09 1:07 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/7/09 1:07 AM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

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Thanks Ant, wonderful post! Interestingly, on retreat I had huge heart openings, associated with both metta and insight practice.

Here's a bit of a debrief in the context of this thread. But first, thanks again to everyone that replied.

I want to go back to something to vishallama said about morality. My reply was that morality wasn't a problem. I still think that answer is mostly true, but there was one aspect of morality -- and associated with the puritianism streak I'm claiming -- that I overlooked: pride. Which is a tough one, because it's always mixed in with any ambition until it isn't! In this case, it was pride that I could force insight through a technique. Ultimately following the breath is a gateway, but not in itself truth. I was clinging pretty tightly to the technique. Behind that pride is fear of failure, lack of self worth, etc.

This became obvious when I was on retreat. My practice was solid, but I was very invested in the outcome. I had what I'm guessing is a pretty major A&P, after many other light and bliss raptures. When it became more likely to think it wasn't Path, I became very depressed, angry, and fearful of what the dark night would have in store for me. (I was assuming that I would go through all the stages with the same intensity as the recent A&P.) But scaling back the intesity, all the drama bled out and these are back to being thoughts about practice.

cont...
beta wave, modified 13 Years ago at 6/7/09 1:14 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/7/09 1:14 AM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

Posts: 5 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Now in the aftermath, so to speak, I'm slowly getting clear on why I'm practicing. What I can do with a pure heart, little regret. Figuring out how to lend myself to a lay practice that has a shot at awakening, yet not be so obsessed - just obsessed enough. (And yes, I'm still looking for ideas!)

One big realization for me is that I'd like a teacher/friend for checking in my home practice and I'd like to go into my next retreat -- which will probably be a while off given my commitments -- lead by some teacher I already knew (so we could have succinct conversations during personal interviews) or in a very practical "talk about the path and the goal" environment where I wouldn't feel like I had to gauge my words. That sensoring/hesitation felt aweful when magnified by the intensity of retreat.

Anyway, hopefully this is useful to someone.
beta wave, modified 13 Years ago at 6/7/09 1:21 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 6/7/09 1:21 AM

RE: Right Effort? - at home and on retreat

Posts: 5 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Ah! And one last observation, even though the major event was an A&P... I have a hard time reconciling all the other events in my practice without saying that I've hit later stages, too. Maybe I'm totally deluded. (Believe me, these two thoughts really cycled in my head during the retreat!)

Whether or not I was working with equanimity or three characteristics. One thing I noticed in my noting was a bias toward impermanance and no-self, but kinda an overlooking of suffering. This meant things could come and go and I didn't care. When I added more observations of physical pain, it both deepened the attention and also seemed to ground the meditation. Less speedy and more deep. This seemed to help break the equanimity-like domain I was in.

Hope that helps, too.

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