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Posts Tagged ‘concentration’

Emotional state today: Not down

Last night I had a subconscious breakthrough. I was dreaming that I was throwing a big, expensive party (apparently I lived in a mansion) and had invited lots of women I’d only met once (in addition to all of my regular friends). About 30 minutes into the party, I found myself worrying that I was forgetting their names, so I went up to my room to try to compile a list. In doing this, I encountered several obstacles (computer wouldn’t start up, etc.) and I was starting to panic because I realized that I was missing the whole party. So I said to myself, what’s important here is that I enjoy the party. If I forget a few names, that’s okay. People will understand, but even if they don’t, that’s okay too.

Now this may not seem like a huge breakthrough, but it is. I have dreams like this all of the time. I jokingly call them my “impotence dreams” because they involve me trying to accomplish some goal and getting perpetually frustrated in my attempts. The big difference here, and something that has never happened in one of these dreams, is that I stopped struggling. I found my power—my power of choice. I was no longer impotent.

It’s one thing for change to happen at the conscious level. But this dream seems to indicate to me that something is also shifting at a deeper level.

I also had an insight during my sit this morning. There seems to be two types of “mind wandering” that happens when I get distracted from my breath:

  1. A thought (or stream of thoughts) comes in that pulls my attention away from my breath. Eventually I become aware that my focus has shifted and I refocus on my breath.
  2. I unconsciously abandon my intention to focus on the breath, so my mind begins to wander. Eventually I become aware that my focus has shifted and I reaffirm my intention to focus on my breath.

Up until today, I was unaware of the difference, thinking that all mind-wandering was the first kind. But what I noticed today is that if I’ve abandoned the intention and I just try to refocus on my breath, I lose concentration again almost immediately. It’s only when I reaffirm my intention that I can maintain any kind of continuous staying. My concentration practice must also include an awareness of my degree of intention.

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Emotional state today: Up

I slept over my friends’ house last night and got on the road this morning, so I did not sit for meditation until I got home this afternoon. It was beautiful weather so I decided to do my sit outside. I found it very challenging to concentrate with all of the sensory stimulation around me. And it’s not that I was focusing on the sounds and sights, but those things were enough to dislodge my attention from my breath so that my mind could start chattering away again.

This was a great contrast to sitting on my cushion in the morning. It helped me see just how important that simple environment is in building a strong practice of concentration. This makes me think I want to give 6 AM sits another try.

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Emotional state today: Mostly neutral, with periods of down

Two victories today and an observation:

First, I meditated for 35 minutes first thing this morning. My attitude was very positive, and my concentration was good.

Second, I exercised after several days off. This past weekend was full with a trip to visit family and 11 hours in a seminar. I realized that I could have fit in some pushups. That’s going to be my intention from now on; any day I can’t do a full workout, I will do a set of pushups. The routine I did today was Workout B. I completed 88 burpees in 12 30-second sets, a 5% increase from last time.

Finally, the observation: Today was the first day off of the 21-day cleanse, and for breakfast I had two eggs and a little bit of salmon. Later in the day I noticed that I was mildly congested. So I’m getting some good feedback from my body about the effects of certain foods. Looks like eggs are on the way out!

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Duration of today’s sit: 60 minutes

Things got very challenging for me early last week. My notion of self became acutely painful. And I “gave up” on my morning sits, even going so far as to hide that fact from my accountability partner. When I get in that sad and hopeless mindset, it’s extremely hard to see the value in sitting. That mindset is a place of despair where no action seems meaningful.

The main motivator for sitting today was the completion of the 100 days. The idea of not sitting on Day 100 was more painful than the thought of sitting.

My plan is to review these notes from the 100 Days over the next week and summarize what I’ve learned, and also choose how I want to continue this practice. I am clear that the practice of sitting is valuable and meaningful to me. This past week showed me that I don’t get anything valuable or meaningful out of not sitting.

One insight I had during today’s sit: There seem to be three dimensions of life experience. There’s the sensory dimension (what I experience through my five senses), the representational dimension (how I represent life to myself in words, images, and other symbols), and the observational dimension (how aware I am of these three dimensions). At any given moment, one of these dimensions will be a person’s primary focus.

For me, it tends to be the representational dimension. And the habits there tend to be self-critical. I see sitting meditation as an opportunity to focus more intentionally on the other two dimensions.

Finally, here’s the graph showing my progress over the course of the 100 days (for a total of 42 hours, 3 minutes of sitting meditation):

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Duration of today’s sit: 27 minutes

I bailed out of my hour-long sit early. I started off with a bad attitude. I woke up from a nightmare an hour before my alarm. I tried to sleep but my mind kept creating all kinds of imagined grievances with people. When it came time to sit, that was the last thing I wanted to do. I was ready to quit 18 minutes in, but I recognized that what I was experiencing was okay. It simply was what it was. So I sat with it, observing, getting grabbed by it, unhooking, observing some more, etc. Then I talked myself into stopping.

The attitude I bring to the cushion is a part of my practice. From now on, if I’m not eager to sit, I will read from my retreat notes or some other source of inspiration to cultivate a higher degree of intention.

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Duration of today’s sit: 60 minutes

I’m noticing how much of my thinking is about little details, either things coming up that I want to get “right” or things in the past that went “wrong.” My feeling is that this kind of thinking is about control. And the desire for control comes from fear. Some people might say, “Curtis, it’s just that you have high standards.” That would be true, I think, if there was a joy and deep satisfaction in focusing on the details. Imagine a skilled craftsman who loves his work and gets absorbed by the details. That’s not how I relate to details. So this is insight for me: When I’m thinking a lot about details, I’m sourcing from fear.

I’ve written in previous posts about how it is enough that I sit, and it doesn’t matter what happens during the sit. This is true in the context of releasing judgment. However, my concentration practice is not helped by mindless sitting. It is helped by bringing intelligence and intention to the sit. I want to make my sits more consistent with the standard of deliberate practice.

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Duration of today’s sit: 0 minutes

In celebration of the annual Firebird Festival, I went to several parties, drank lots of booze, and stayed up very late. I spent the entire day recovering, which basically consisted of sleeping. This is another reminder that my meditation practice is a holistic practice. It’s not just about the choice I make to sit or not, it’s all of the choices I make.

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