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Posts Tagged ‘continuous staying’

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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Duration of today’s sit: 60 minutes

Today I really embraced the metaphor of the elephant path. When my mind would wander, I would say, “Come on, elephant, back to the path.” I used the rope of mindfulness and the prod of intelligence, as if I was maneuvering a big, dumb animal. It removed all judgment from the process and filled me with compassion and grace.

At about the three-quarter mark (I’m guessing), I started to become slightly frustrated with the elephant. I was not frustrated with myself, my sense of self. So I could see how I was making the “elephant’s” actions personal, and that was unnecessary. An elephant is an elephant. It does what elephants do. “My” job is simply to train it, not judge it.

Shortly after that, there was a period of deep concentration, continuous and complete staying. I settled in on the 7-point object, understanding it experientially in a way I’ve never felt before. Then I really got down into the subtle experience of breath as a continuous wave.

In one sense this experience of deep concentration felt like the world disappeared. But it was the concept of the world that disappeared because in another sense, it felt like the world revealing itself to me as simple awareness. It was the experience of “there’s only what is now.” The distinction between “me” and “the world” dissolved. I could still hear a voice in my head trying to take credit for “achieving” some kind of enlightenment or worrying that the experience would end, but the voice was not entirely wrapped up in a sense of “me.”

Soon “I” merged again with the voice, partly due to excessive desire to detail the experience in today’s blog post. It’s one of the consequences of recording these sits; sort of an anticipatory reflection: “This is what I want to write later about what is happening now.” But it’s a small price to pay. I believe recording these experiences is valuable to me at this stage.

Earlier in the sit, the main distraction for the elephant were all kinds of creative business ideas. I’ve known this about me (and seen it in others, too). The last resort of the mind to distract me from the present (when fear stops being effective) is to get extremely creative, to have ideas so amazing I need to stop what I’m presently doing and act on them right away. Sly, isn’t it? I treated them like any other distraction and simply refocused on the breath.

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Duration of today’s sit: 60 minutes

Before sitting this morning, I reviewed my notes from the retreat and realized that I can frame the judgment issue I’ve been describing the past couple of days as attachment and aversion. When I judge myself as “meditating well” my ego is creating attachment to certain kinds of experiences. When I judge myself as “meditating poorly” my ego is creating aversion to certain kinds of experiences.

So that was my focus today. Whenever I noticed that my mind was wandering I would remind myself, “Nothing bad happened, it’s just a wandering mind.” And when my mind was concentrated on my breath I would remind myself, “Don’t get attached, just stay concentrated.” So my sit became a dance between the concentrated moments and the wandering moments.

I can tell this had an effect because I felt a general sense of peace. There was no inertial resistance to sitting. In other words, it was not difficult to sit still for the full hour.

My mind was quite agitated and my staying was probably 20% continuous. Most of my focus was on the judgment, not the breath. I feel like this is a necessary step on my path.

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Duration of today’s sit: 40 minutes

It was challenging to get up this morning and meditate at 6:30. I considered doing a shorter meditation, but chose to go for it. The idea of 40 minutes seemed more than I could handle, but once I sat down and started it was fine. It continually surprises me how much easier it is to do something than to think about doing something.

I used the 1-minute interval bells again. I’m seeing a general pattern over the course of the 40 minutes: Lots of mental agitation, mind settles down, partial and continuous staying, periods of almost complete staying, impatience for the sit to end, intentional appreciation and presence.

I also explored emptiness of the self. I would like to explore emptiness of time in my next sit.

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Duration of today’s sit: 10 minutes

My staying was almost entirely continuous, yet partial. I’m becoming very aware of the subtle thinking that goes on even while I’m focused on the breath.

I also noticed that the locus of my source of awareness can move, sometimes up in my head, sometimes down in my body. When it’s up in my head, it’s a flighty awareness characterized by anxiety and judgment. When it’s down in my body, it’s a grounded awareness characterized by peace and acceptance.

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Duration of today’s sit: 40 minutes

Again, the 1-minute interval bells were a great help keeping me focused on my breath. I’m realizing that my staying is continuous, for the most part, but partial. There are times when I drift away from the breath completely, but typically it’s a partial drifting. There’s an element of attitude at play, a little bit of “This is hard” and “I don’t wanna.” I think that’s what’s been revealed by the interval bells: The reality that I like when my mind wanders, I like that zone out feeling. Yes, my mind goes to stressful thoughts, but I’m used to that. And because it’s comfortable, I prefer it to the intensity of concentration.

Of course, as I write this in the full light of consciousness, I know that there’s also a part of me who prefers the concentration to the stressful mind activity. I wouldn’t be committed to this practice of sitting if there wasn’t. So this all falls under the heading of greater awareness.

I would say that there were a handful of 1-minute intervals (out of 40) where my staying was relatively complete. The other victory is that I noticed the habit of resetting is getting stronger. Even mid-interval, I would recognize my mind was drifting and refocus, without the reminder of the chime.

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Duration of today’s sit: 40 minutes

The interval bells I set on Insight Timer worked like a charm. They were a great reminder to refocus, and they set up a nice structure of manageable chunks of time for me to evaluate how continuous my staying was. I think tomorrow I’m going to set shorter intervals, maybe 2 or 3 minutes.

I “achieved” one of the phenomena I experienced on my meditation retreat: I lost color in my perception. Everything had a sepia tone look to it. I could break this easily by moving my eyes around the room, but as long as I was focused on one spot, color differences melted away. Although I get a kick out of this kind of thing, I recognize that it’s not a goal of meditation, just an enjoyable consequence.

After I’d reached a certain degree of concentration, I explored the ocean and waves perspective, especially with sounds, thoughts, shapes, and the rhythm of breath. I also took the mind perspective for a short while, but it was challenging to maintain.

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