I've decided to compile my meditation journal entries here (originally posted on Dharma Overground and reddit/streamentry). They are in reverse chronological order and I will update this entry regularly.
*** October 2017***
Listened to Culadasa’s Patreon chat and tried his suggestions regarding piti. I am now in the middle of another wave of almost continuous shaking around the core, up and down the spine during meditation, with periodic jolts if there is no shaking. Culadasa said to try bringing attention to these areas and if there is some kind of blockage of energy, “energy follows attention” so there might be a release / clearing.
My observations of the process:
- bringing attention to the area where the movement seems to originate from, makes the movement stop most of the time, however breath rate increases and eye close tightly
- I felt that shaking was in the lower back at first, then mid back, than moved to right at the level of the heart, then neck, then head. It seems to follow a pattern. When I put attention to the “close to heart” area, I burst into tears for a few minutes.
A month or so ago, instead of shaking I felt that these movements turned to vibrations - my head was vibrating, for example. That made me think that maybe all of this time I’ve been experiencing vibrations except that I feel them coarsely.
All this energy stuff is like a whole new universe to me and lately, I’ve been really drawn to learning more about different forms of energy therapies.
*** 6 Months Update (July 2017)***
I am celebrating a small anniversary this week - six months of daily one hour sits with no missed days! Very often I do a second shorter sit in the evenings. I’ve never had such a level of commitment to any voluntary activity. However, I can’t take the credit for this as it feels like it is happening on its own. ☺
I am following TMI and would place myself at stage five. I would definitely say that there has been a change in my personality but it also feels like that is just the beginning and there is much more to come.
Every meditation has been different. Lately, I've been allowing involuntary movements to run their course and they are very entertaining in their variety. ☺
One fun meditation related fact – I haven’t had a cold this year. Usually, I would have had about three by this time.
Things that are currently on my mind: a strong feeling that I need to find a teacher and a question of what to do with extra energy that I’ve been getting lately off-cushion that feels in the body like I’ve had too many energy drinks (do jumping jacks? an intense workout? channel it into something somehow? calm it down? how to fall asleep with it? do nothing?)
In closing, I want to share a quote about practice that I really love from Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck:
Intelligent practice always deals with just one thing: the fear at the base of human existence, the fear that I am not. And of course I am not, but the last thing I want to know is that. I am impermanence itself in a rapidly changing human form that appears solid. I fear to see what I am: an ever-changing energy field. I don't want to be that. So good practice is about fear. Fear takes the form of constantly thinking, speculating, analyzing, fantasizing. With all that activity we create a cloud to keep ourselves safe in make-believe practice. True practice is not safe; it's anything but safe. But we don't like that, so we obsess with our feverish efforts to achieve our version of the personal dream. Such obsessive practice is itself just another cloud between ourselves and reality. The only thing that matters is seeing with an impersonal spotlight: seeing things as they really are. When the personal barrier drops away, why do we have to call it anything? We just live our lives. And when we die, we just die. No problem anywhere.
***Week 12 of daily 60 minutes+ sits following the guidelines in TMI***
- Finished TMI. Stage 10 chapter is so short! To be continued? But also, time to reread the whole book, for sure.
- “sense of expansion of the visual field” - now I know what people mean when they say this; got that when experimenting with “the witness”.
- Went to a Korean Zen center. My first experience with a real Zen school. Such nice people but I realized that switching techniques will lead to confusion. My wish is to find a group that is right for me and no luck so far. I will continue to be a lone wolf meditator, for now.
- I’ve been meaning to record this in detail for some time, but briefly, there are all sorts of side effects of meditation when it comes to sleep. Like the body and mind are confused whether “we” are going to bed or meditating. One example, sometimes I wake up and feel like I was meditating in my sleep – not dreaming about meditating, but actually meditating. Weird.
- Noticed that things start happening as I am doing short Metta for preliminaries. Considered that a hint and continued doing Metta during one sit and things got “curiouser and curiouser". Concentration develops very fast and unusual states take over sometimes. When googling the subject, lots of resources come up and right as I am very interested in this, more and more posts are appearing on reddit regarding Metta meditation. I don’t want this to overtake my TMI practice however, so from now on will only experiment with this during “extra” meditation sits.
- In my Metta research, discovered Bhante Vimalaramsi’s meditation techniques. I’ve been watching his videos. Conflicted about him a bit - he teaches Metta meditation and at the same time has a video on why it is OK to eat meat. Also, on his site there is a prominent link to some strange doctor. I guess we can agree to disagree.
- Watched Culadasa's "batgap" interview. Very interesting! He mentioned that he would not be comfortable with doing clinical research. I wonder why? Hope that it is out of compassion towards animals that we force experiments on.
- Sometimes I am ready to give up on body scanning.
Friday, March 31, 2017 (Morning Meditation) / Things to Note
I was doing Metta during the preliminaries* - usually do a short version with loving-kindness to self and all beings. Felt the vagus nerve expand the heart muscle nicely. Breath rate went up and I found that interesting and unusual, so stayed with the wish of “May all being be happy” a bit longer. Heavy fast breathing culminated with tears. Made a note to self to spend an entire session one day working with Metta – seems to be very powerful for me at this time.
Concentration on the breath was strong today – within the first five minutes breathing had acquired appearance (pulsation, rather than in and out breaths). Since that was the case, I switched to body scanning early in the sit. Usually, I tend to delay the scan until much later. Also, felt like starting with legs today, rather than hands like I normally do. Took a while to do both legs. Used “the needle poke” advice I saw on reddit – it worked great for hard to feel areas. I was loosing concentration from time to time and in those cases went back to close following of sensations at the nose but also found that even going back to breath sensations at the abdomen seemed to bring concentration back.
Switched to left hand and right away I noticed heat radiating from the palm. Recalling instructions regarding pleasure Jhanas, I concentrated on this heat sensation and within a minute got immersed in a state that is not very easy to describe. Flow and unification are the adjectives that come to mind. Breathing was there but all the way in the background of what was happening. I believe there was some dotted pattern in the visual field for a few seconds. This lasted for a few minutes. I am really curious as to what it was as it did not have strong or even mild piti associated with it. It was pleasant but in an equanimous way.
Another observation from today – almost no involuntary movements or eyelid clenching happened. It is nice to be able to work on concentration rather than getting distracted by those things.
And, for this week’s inspiration, Meditation on Afflictions was very timely for me.
* I really like preliminaries suggested in Leigh Brasington’s “Right Concentration”. They supplement the one suggested in TMI nicely.
***Mar 25, 2017 (Week 10)***
***Week 10 of daily 60 minutes(+) sits following the guidelines in TMI***
I recall that earlier during the week, I had a sit with electric-shock like jumps, similar to what it looks like when bodies jump when touched with defibrillator. It went like this – breathe in, shock (instead of breathe out), breathe in, shock, breathe in, shock, and on and on. But, things have been much calmer lately. For example, less pronounced “pushing up of hairballs”, if any, happened.
BTW, I had a chance to read my early entries and (1) was thoroughly entertained at what my concerns were in the beginning, (2) can clearly see progress, and (3) am amazed that every week has been different.
This week, I’ve been experimenting a lot with “resting of awareness on the breath like a butterfly rests on the flower” during the sits to see where that would take me but also did not want to stray too much from my TMI-guided practice where I am at the body scanning stage.
The one involuntary movement that has been recurring this week is tight clenching of eyelids. As a reminder – I set an intention to not allow involuntary movements and it works for all the body twisting that used to happen, but the clenching thing seems to happen all of the sudden and with great force. For example, I did an extra sit the other day. Was just following the breath when, suddenly, I got completely immersed in total blackness. Few minutes later it happened again and then a third time. Since it happened a few times, I was able to pay attention to what was actually happening when this blackness “filter” was applied – the eyelids were clenching. So, during today’s sit I tried to not do the clenching. It started happening right away as I was doing the first preliminary, gratitude. Later I tried to relax the face at the first sign of tension building and it helped a lot.
Also, this from Thanissaro Bhikkhu’ talk made a great impression on me:
“The Buddha once talked about having the monks develop mindfulness of death as a useful form of meditation. The different monks talked about how they developed it. One said, “I think every day, ‘May I live at least one more day so I can practice in the Buddha’s teachings; I’ll be able to get a lot out of it.’” Another monk said, “I think every half day, ‘May live another half-day,’” and so on down the line, until it came to two monks. One said, “I think, ‘May I live to breathe in and out once more.’” Another monk said, “’While I’m eating, may I live the amount of time it takes to eat a mouthful of food, so in that amount of time, I’ll try to do as much skillful practice as I can, and I’ll get good results that way.” And the Buddha said, “Only these last two monks really count as being heedful.” (http://www.dhammatalks.org/Archive/Writings/CrossIndexed/Published/Meditations7/071128RightAction.pdf )
Under the influence of above, during one of the sits I had an insight that made me giddy and full of joy – “OMG, every moment can be practice, every breath; it does not have to be on the cushion only; imagine, how many opportunities there are to practice – countless! How grateful I am that I get to have another moment to practice.”
***Mar 18, 2017 (Week 9)***
Yesterday, I was skimming through my recent notes of inspirational quotations and saw this one from “Joy on Demand” by Chade-Meng Tan: “Imagine your mind resting on the breath the same way a butterfly rests gently on the flower”. Or, as I simplify it: “rest your awareness on the breath like a butterfly rests on the flower”. That is such a powerful quote and idea for me – the moment I try this, my breath and state of mind become so pleasant. Following the breath feels like the most wonderful activity. So, I tried to practice this throughout the evening, even with a weird headache that was developing (my new office has a horrible hot dry air that has been messing up my sinuses and health).
This morning, I set an intention to continue with that practice during meditation, but first let me tell you how meditations went this week in general. I would describe them as “pushing up a hairballs”.
I still do not allow any minor or moderate strength involuntary movements to happen – just setting an intention usually works for that. So, typically, in meditation, breath sensations at the nose shift to breath sensations at the abdomen and then abdominal contractions start and it feels like some sort of tension somewhere around the spine and then that tension jumps somewhere higher, then when it reaches chest and/or head, the breath becomes fast and forceful and then my eyelids start clenching with force. One hopes for some kind of resolution of this “pushing up”. But usually, it ends with some minor sensations on the head and things settle down for a bit until the same cycle repeats. “Pushing up hairballs” is not pleasant. I don’t know much about chakras but it is interesting how this process seems to follow chakra locations that I vaguely recall.
So, today I went the pleasant route instead. I did not concentrate on a specific spot at the nose, but just “rode” the breath as a butterfly would ride the flower no matter what happens. This felt so pleasant and even as the breath went through a plethora of transformations, no matter what it went through, it just felt like I could find that pleasant feeling. There were some minor subtle distractions, but I was able to bring my attention back to following the pleasantness of the breath. “Pushing of the hairball” did happen several times but everything was much smoother and less dramatic and almost 100% enjoyable. By the way, I noticed that if my toes start twitching slightly, that means that the “wave” is about to go through the body. There were two instances when things were very quiet and settled in the body and mind. There was an instance of things happening in the head with some visual effects (shifts from one shade of black to another shade of black or gray) and some kind of different sense of perception in the head afterwards for few minutes. Is that Jhana or piti? Don’t know…
As I was aware of “riding” the breath wave, I also kept reminding myself that this was the present moment. The wave kept changing dramatically – rocky, still, roller coaster but I was able to note – present moment, present moment, present moment, without phrasing it as such, but just being aware of it.
After the meditation I felt such a deep sense of relaxation. Maybe I will continue with this “resting on the breath” technique regularly and see how it goes and I should definitely do it throughout the day too. In general, it reminds me of the instructions from little condensed booklet by Ajahn Brahm I picked up years ago at Chuang Yen Monastery. I remember that I was inspired to try out the steps in that booklet and at that point in time I mediated for 20 minutes max and very sporadically. I remember that I had such amazing meditation even if short and now, looking back with more knowledge, I think I must have reached the first TMI Jhana with it (I described how that felt in one of my earlier posts).
And I’ve mentioned Chade-Meng Tan’s “Joy on Demand” above. I am reading it now and it is very good. Don’t be put off by the title. I think it is great that he breaks down all these concepts so that anyone can practice, but even experienced meditators can use a dose of simplicity sometimes. And we all know about the importance of joy in meditation.
***Mar 11, 2017***
Interesting meditation this morning, but some explanations beforehand.
Involuntary movements are back this week with persistence. One of the sits the body was twisting around 75% of the time, which made me wonder whether this counts as meditation at all.
Few days ago happened to stumble onto this quote from Jack Kornfield and made a mental note of the part in bold:
"...These spontaneous bodily releases are neither enlightening nor harmful. They are simply what happens when the energy being generated in our practice encounters blocks and tightness where it cannot flow... When these spontaneous movements appear, we can begin to respect how deep our physical patterns of holding can be. For many students, physical releases and openings take place over months and years of their spiritual practice. It is best to meet these movements by softening, especially relaxing the back and the area at the base of the spine. If the release is only moderately strong, it is often best to try to relax and yet hold the body still in the face of it and allow the energy to push open new channels in the body, rather than be released in movement. For stronger release this is impossible, though there are ways to temper and soften the buildup and flow of energy. As we become concentrated, the energy of our body system will follow a natural process of opening and balancing itself. We will feel how the heat, pulsations, and vibrations spontaneously move through our spine to open blocked energy channels and then radiate out to every nerve and cell of our body. We can discover that some of the deepest healing and body work can take place as we sit still and meditate. Remember that this can be a long process, so be patient with your body."( http://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/300662#_19_message_295285 )
Decided to experiment with this suggestion. (This idea is something new to me. All of the advice I’ve seen before was to just let it play out and that’s what I’ve been doing until this week.) Tried it once but did not write the journal that morning. Tried it again this morning and this is what happened:
Saturday morning meditation (1 hour sit)
Within the first minute during the preliminaries, body starts moving / twitching. During setting of intentions, I set an additional one – to not allow these movements to happen / progress. Interestingly, that seems to be all what it takes.
Right away, it starts feeling like the head is some kind of pressure cooker – sensations happen, eyes keep closing tightly, some twitching around lips. Set another intention – do not allow these types of movements either. Pressure cooker feeling continues, rate of breathing speeds up a lot for about a minute. Feeling of skin tightening around both temples. But at the same time, there is a lovely sense of stillness in the rest of the body. Nothing moves, nothing gets disturbed. This is kind of nice and not what I am used to (with involuntary movement predominating in the last several sits especially). Then, abdominal muscles start to contract as if trying to push the breath up from the abdomen. That lasts for a minute or so.
Feel like breath sensations moved to the abdomen. Feel slightly nauseous for a minute or so. Feel the subtle switch to access concentration. Feel like breathing happens at both the abdomen and the nose in tandem. Then, feel like breathing is happening in the body in general. Is that the illusive “full body breathing” that I’ve been trying to get to through body scanning before? I think it might be. If it is, why don’t I do the steps that I can recall from TMI related to it. Just observing it, being with it, seeing how it feels like.
Then, another very subtle switch and there is a feeling of “flow” to this full body breathing. Could it be the 1st Jhana in the TMI? I think it might be. There is no sense of overwhelming pleasure, just a sense of flow and ease of full body breathing. That lasts for about 5 minutes.
Still with full body breathing, I play around with trying to see how breath sensations feel in distinct areas of the body. I also go back to breath sensations at the nose to check out what that feels like now. Staring to feel tension develop where top of the leg is bent. Find that I am curious about investigating this pressure feeling. Go there and observe it – it dissipates. More of this until the timer goes off. Sit for few minutes more to see if there is an urge to stay, but since more instances of tension show up, decide to end this sit soon after the timer.
After I post this, I will go reread the sections in the TMI about the first Jhana and see if that is indeed what I’ve experienced.
In other meditation related news. I don’t know why it did not occur to me until today to use a meditation timer instead of the alarm on the phone. Sometimes, you are right in the middle of the most interesting part of meditation and alarm goes off and having to turn it off ruins it. Also, I usually meditate in pitch black (at 5 am during weekdays) and having the bright light of the phone screen is also not pleasant. This was my big insight for this week.
And, I want to try attending a meditation at a Korean Zen center. This place was recommended to me before when I was looking for teachers or sangha that would be openly vegan. Just saw another mention of it on reddit/streamentry and took it as a sign that I should go try it already. But I wonder how to approach any contradictions between TMI style meditation and Zen style (or would there be any?). Another plus is that this center is only one subway stop away. In general, I am strongly attracted to Zen Buddhism and I have a limited edition book by a Korean monk Beop Jeong and I love it. By the way, have you guys seen Buddhist nun Jeong Kwan being featured on Netflix’ Chef’s Table? Check it out! Very inspiring. However, I can not bring myself to watch the other episodes of the new season, even though I love the show. As a vegan sometimes it is not easy to watch. Hence, I was extremely happy that Jeong Kwan was profiled.
***Mar 8, 2017***
Today marked the beginning of week eight of daily one hour meditations (with guidance from TMI). Here is a sample journal from week seven – yesterday’s meditation:
5am sit for one hour consisted of these:
- Attention on breath sensations at the nose for about 20 minutes until I felt like I was close to access concentration.
- Body scanning afterwards with trying to distinguish breath sensations from other sensations. It went this way: abdomen, right hand, lower arm, upper arm, back to abdomen, chest, and head. Tried to connect sensations in all these. There seemed to be something there.
- Returned to the nose to note that sensations feel more subtle there after the partial body scan.
- Body scanning again starting with left hand. As I was there, involuntary movements started - very smooth and flowing twists of head and torso. Tried to stick with focusing on sensations on left hand as this was happening. All of the sudden, body filled up with a wave of sensations (do not know how to describe it even) and blackness in the visual field behind closed eyes turned a different shade of black/gray and a patter of small dots appeared and moved around for about two seconds. Wave did not seem unpleasant and I would not describe it as a wave of pleasure either.
- Once that dissolved, continued with the body scan of left arm. More involuntary movements happened, but different kind this time – shaking at the core and all toes moving (which I find amusing). Found reassuring myself that I should not be afraid and would not get hurt due to intensity of shaking.
- More body scanning afterwards and involuntary movement again – similar to the first kind mentioned above.
- Alarm went off. Turned it off and wanted to do the closing steps (dedicating merit, intentions to be mindful), but the movement continued and turned into the kind where it feels like certain areas are getting very good stretching (e.x., chin went all the way up and stayed there for a minute, then that got released). When there seemed to be a pause between movements, ended this meditation.
Went on a one-day Goenka retreat this weekend (I’ve attended a 10-day retreat past April). It was interesting to compare that style of meditation to what I’ve been doing for the last seven weeks.
- The one-day retreat audio has lots of chanting and instructions by Goenka. Found it kind of distracting. I know some people attend these short retreats regularly and I wonder if they ever mind listening to the same record all the time.
- There were some good pearls of wisdom in the instructions. I particularly liked “You are the master of the present moment”. That is a good motto for me, especially when dealing with procrastination.
- My first two hours were easy. Following that, body inclined towards pain and discomfort, but if I switched to TMI style practice, physical pliancy seemed to develop quickly and I was able to power through till the end. Also, I was concerned that involuntary movements would be out of control, but thankfully, while they were there, they were just in the form of slight jerky movements.
- Goenka meditators are such nice people. I wish I can find a meditation group that is more in line with what I am doing. Support from people online has been great and I consider them my community for now.
***Mar 1, 2017***
Today's sit is a good representative of week six. I'v been working on body scanning (feeling the breath in various parts of the body per TMI). Here is how today went:
I could feel the breath settling into "meditation mode" during preliminaries. After preliminaries, it felt like I could get to access concentration very soon. Something that's been happening lately as soon as meditation begins - my spine positioning seems to get adjusted as if it is attached to the string and the string is being periodically pulled up more and more at slight increments. Another common occurrence is the feeling of tightness around the temples and top of the head - as if a tight hat got put on.
Focusing on the breath today felt like I was on the verge of access concentration but I don't think I got to it 100%. Some dullness intervened from time to time. When I felt like I got the most out of breath focusing for this sit (could not distinguish between in or out breaths, pulsating at the point of focus), I switched to body scanning. First focused on the breath at the abdomen. Very often I feel it most around the diaphragm. Switched to left hand afterwards. Not much there. Kept trying. Some dullness creeps in. Trying some more. Eventually felt like something is there but very subtle (like very slight tingling). Tried to move focus towards lower part of the arm while keeping this slight sensation alive. But this new area seems to only have sensation at pressure points - just a sensation of touch. Moved to upper arm - there, I usually feel the breath but only because my body is moving slightly with in and out breath and the arm actually gets pushed by this movement. Eventually, tried to connect these three areas and, maybe I was just imagining, but I felt like something was there - some kind of common sensation. Did the same with right hand and arm. Looked for breath sensations in the chest - this one is easy. On to the head - head usually is full of sensations - tingling, electric like currents. Today it was more like tingling. Tried to connect all the mentioned areas - there was some kind of connection, but very slight and possibly imaginary. Alarm went off. During the sit, few instances of involuntary movements happened, as per usual.
So, I was listening to a talk by Culadasa recently where he says that body scanning requires a lot of mental energy, that it is very challenging but it does get better. I hope that is the case - for now, it is pretty challenging for me. The reward, per same talk, is that your mind will get pushed to a high level of mindfulness. Increasing mindfulness in daily life is my immediate goal so I should press on, even thought it is very tempting to start experimenting with pleasure sensations instead - much more happened with that when I tried it a bit.
What is interesting is that when I have short breaks at work, I try to look for breath sensations in my hand and more often than not I feel much stronger sensations there than during the actual meditation.
Yesterday, at work, all of the sudden felt that my breathing feels amazing and just being feels amazing and it felt like that is all one needs - being / breathing. Stuff like this happens regularly now - feelings of bliss.
Working with Metta periodically. Fun to do on NYC subway. Also like to pick random people and send them joy / metta. I find that to get good feeling of Metta going I don't like to start with myself, but instead think of the animals at the shelter, then people on the subway, then all beings, then myself.
Definitely noticed a change in my reactivity. Hubby tries to drag me into silly arguments, like what is the best way to store lettuce and I am now able to stand on the side rather than get very involved and argumentative, like I used to be. If reactivity happens, things calm down much faster also.
Going on a one day reatreat on Saturday. Excited to be surrounded by nature and like-minded people.
***Feb 22, 2017***
Five weeks of meditation, wow! I am getting to access concentration almost daily, however, I've been slow in making any progress with full body breathing (and body scanning). From now on, I will concentrate on that. Got some great tips on TMI reddit and used them this morning. I feel like there is some progress already. Can't wait to practice tomorrow morning!
Besides a strong urge to meditate, I also have an urge to do yoga. Tried this video to help with tight hips. Even though I do not get much discomfort when meditating at this point, would be nice to be even more comfortable in the meditation posture.
***Feb 18, 2017***
Today's session was special, so want to write it down before I forget. Special, because I've reached access concentration within 15 minutes. Several factors might have attributed to this:
(1) got Leigh Brasington book at the library yesterday and started reading it. Whenever I read something that inspires me or provides new tips, I am eager to meditate and meditation jumps levels (same happened on the first day of meditating with TMI). Tried Leigh's list of things to do before meditation - generate gratitude, motivation, determination, some metta, Thich Nhat Hanh's "Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile." These things definitely gladden the mind which seems to help with concentration so much so as soon as I started focusing on the breath it was very subtle and I was on the verge of barely breathing.
(2) working on being mindful throughout the day. Every day is different but my overall baseline is definitely shifting. Some days I am "high" - amazed by things I have never noticed before, like few days ago I noticed the beautiful pattern on the skin of the cantaloupe. Then, another day I thought I was working on mindfulness but managed to walk past the entrance to my office building. Another day, I was rushing to an event where I would be new and not know anyone, so I was so clumsy and stressed on the way there. Such small thing pushed me in the opposite direction from mindfulness.
(3) Listened to Leigh Brasington's and Ayya Khema's talks online in addition to Culadasa's. Browsed forums here. I have to thank you guys for all the advice, input and tips that you provide. I found some of these teachers due them being mentioned here.
(4) Found this: http://www.buddhanet.net/ayyatalk.htm . So good!
(5) Weekend day today - no rush, no major commitments in the morning and was meditating at 8:30am rather than at 5am.
(6) The urge to meditate was not based on desire to reach some state, but just plain old watching of the breath seems like the most interesting thing out there.
So, today, did some new and old preliminaries, started following the breath which got subtle almost right away. Within 15 mintues I was in access concentration, for sure. No "switch" this time - I should just stop trying to expect it to happen, instead there was a gentle sliding into it. Whenver I get close to access concentration or am in it, I get a bit of gentle body swaying - back and forth. I wonder if somehow that is my way of "full body breathing"? Cause, when I intentionally do the body scanning and attempt full body breathing, I get some swaying but that is about it - none of that "prana" moving throughout the body.
Once in access concentration I tried Leigh Brasington's method of concentrating on pleasnt sensation. First tried it with my hand - all I felt there was a temperature difference between skin and air which was pleasant. While I was at it, started getting tingling on top of my head so I moved there and stayed with it for a while. Then involuntary movements started - but not like the ones I usually get. This was more of a very strong shaking at the core (as if around the spine) and facial muscles twitching and lots of tensing of muscles around eyes (as if I was closing the eyelids shut as hard as I can). That lasted for about two minutes and was pretty intense. Right after, instead of tingling on top of the head there was one area where there was definitely a very pleasant sensation. There was also a feeling of very mellow joy - nothing too crazy. And a feeling that there is "nothing" inside my head, pleasant emptiness. So, I kept observing the sensations in the same area until the end of the sit. Sometimes they expanded a bit (to half of the head maybe). Also got an electric current type of sensation on my face. Observed that while it lasted. Some involuntary movements started again including my chin going all the way up - that one always feels intense but when it gets released, it feels so good. Alarm went off - sat for about 70 mintues but i did not feel like it at all.
Also, want to mention an important development. Had a situation yesterday, that in the past would have left me upset and angry, but this time I took it easy! I knew that it happened because the other person was under extreme stress. I was able to realize that and not make a big deal out it. A little later we calmly discussed what happened and the person apologized and thanked me for taking it the way I did. I told him to thank five weeks of meditation.
***Feb 15, 2017***
From reading more about it, I do believe that the state I've described earlier in week four (last Wednesday) was access concentration. Following days there was striving to do it again and it felt like I was getting very close to it but the "switch" did not happen. I do know that the striving itself is the problem and trying to work on equanimity and joy instead. On Sunday, I think I've reached it again - all the same signs, except, there was not obvious "switch". Just prior to it, I was so focused on the breath, the point where I felt it was like the razor's edge. Focus was so sharp on it. I think I reached the concentration state after about 40 minutes. Stayed with it for a while and and while in it, tried to experiment with whole body breathing until the alarm went off.
Want to talk about the drive to meditate. I can definitely describe it as "the force is strong with this one". When I try to analyze as to why that is, I can see that it is a combination of building good habits (taught myself to get up at 5am last year by doing a 30 day challenge), training the will power (as in the same 30-day challenge), some strong new year's resolutions (staying away from social media, news and general online procrastination and hence finding that I actually have time to do useful things) and getting The Mind Illuminated (that is giving me inspiration, structure, pathway, and guidance). Besides one hour sit in the morning, I now often have an urge to meditate after work and I feel like if there is a strong urge like that, it is wise to follow it. Quickly learned that meditating with contacts on does not work for me anymore - eyes start tearing and burning from those tears. Best to temporarily take the contacts out. I am also doing Metta meditation for about five minutes after the sit. I remember that at the Goenka retreat it was described as "the lubricant" . Also, read the description of walking meditation in TMI. Currently, just try to pay attention to movements when walking somewhere outside. Do not do intentional slow walking.TMI talks about involuntary movement and electric currents, that I've experienced, as a common occurrence for certain advanced stages but mentions that some of it can happen at any stage. That was helpful to me, especially in relation to the week of very strong involuntary movements that I've experienced.
My first "baby" insight was about being mindful of how thoughts, emotions and urges feel in the body. My second "baby" insight (or more of a confirmation based on direct experience) is regarding the fact that everything you experience stays with you forever and it is wise to avoid things that you do not want stored in you - violent images, movies, etc., news, mindless junk. I find that I am now super selective about what I want to spend my time on - the quality and subject of what I am about to view, read or hear.
One of my resolutions for 2017 was mindful eating. Something that I've been struggling with for a long time because the habit of eating while reading / browsing the web / watching TV has been ingrained in me since childhood and is associated with "comfort". I can definitely say that there has been progress with this one. I might not be mindful of every bite, but if I eat, I just eat without combining it with other activities like I used to.
***Feb 8, 2017***
Had an interesting meditation experience so want to note it here. I recently read about "access concentration" in TMI, but did not pay much attention to it because I did not believe I am at the stage where that concept would be pertinent. Then, last night while reading threads here I stumbled on a mention of this post. I felt like the steps described in that blog are something I can do. So, I tried them this morning (but, for some reason I recalled 3 cycles of 10 breaths, not 10) and afterwards, just continued watching the sensations. Mixed in there were the resolve to enjoy and relax and the resolve to be equanimous with whatever happens (or does not happen).
Breath sensations eventually trickled down to something like a signal that goes on and off (kind of like morse code in the area of the focus). Then a "switch" happened (and I recall experiencing that in the pre-Goenka retreat past, but only on one or two occasions). It felt like warmth spreading inside my head (or like warm liquid filling it). After the switch, breath sensations became that "wonderful" breath I keep reminiscing about: no breath sensations present, breathing happens but is completely effortless and seamless. Thoughts could not get a grip as described in the post on "Down To Earth Dharma".
I wasn't sure what to do next and was a bit perplexed. Tried to experiment with whole body breathing described in TMI, but did not have good enough instructions for that in my memory. Tried to just sit with it also and just enjoy. It lasted until involuntary movements strated towards the end of the hour (head rotations, lowering of the torso, "shaking off" of the lower back and mid back).
It was very cool to experience this state again and I will see if it continues to happen. Not sure what it is or what stage of TMI it corresponds to. Could it be access concentration?
A bit hesitantly, but I think I should next attempt body scanning as described in TMI as it seems to be essential for further progress. I've done a lot of that at the Goenka retreat and found that I have large zones of zero to very gross sensations. TMI instructions seem to be slightly different and I am curious about finding out how breath feels throughout the body. I am hesitant because this sounds like a lot of work! And I am lazy.
***Feb 7, 2017***
Marked the beginning of fourth straight week of meditation today! Amazing that I've been able to stick to it. This is very unlike me - usually I give up / lose interest in things easily.
Here is a snapshot based on today, Tuesday: 5am hour long meditation concentrating on the breath. Went to bed half an hour late last night and was paying the price during meditation this morning. Had to fight drowsiness for most of the hour - was getting dreamlike images and thoughts but at least I was aware that that was happening. One scary image popped up again for two seconds. Some "posture correction"-type involuntary movements happened towards the end of the meditation but nothing like major twists, turns and shakes of last week. Breath becomes subtle within the first five minutes of meditation. As during few previous days it sometimes switches to this easy pleasant type of breathing. I think it is very similar to the "wonderful" breath I've described in earlier posts, but it is kind of like a stage before "wonderulf" breath, because I am still aware of the area where I feel breath sensations and although the breath feels easy it is not amazingly effortless like during "wonderful" breath. So I got subtle breath, followed by "easy" breath. Body and head start to sway slightly back and fourth with "easy" breath - as if reacting to a gentle wave.
Overall impressions from last week:
- felt very mindful and "high" one morning right after meditation. Example: was pouring water in the bottle and there was one drop at the end that made a distinct sound that I thought was so beautiful!
- was investigating my "realization" that all thoughts / emotions / feelings / urges can be reduced to physical sensations. One day set an intention to observe that.
- started reading about more "advanced" stages in TMI. During meditation, tried paying attention to the breath at the abdomen. That tends to make breaths deeper and usually results in "easy" breath described in the snapshot above. Tried to see how full body breathing feels like. There is something there but I don't think I am ready yet. Don't want to skip ahead and overlook important steps.
- read on one of the threads here about a practice of paying attention to the flow of movements when walking. I really like that and when I do get myself to do that, it feels pretty cool - movements become smooth.
- working on trying to meditate with joy rather than just strain; keep telling myself: "relax and enjoy".
- had an upsetting event on Sunday. It was interesting to see how it influenced me - thoughts were on the upset for 80% of the time (basically, unless I was direclty focused on something else). When meditating, same thoughts kept rushing in but I was able to settle the mind within 15 minutes or so. The big upset turned out to be a big misunderstanding - I created a whole scenario in my head, I suffered for a day and a half, I made the other person suffer and all because of something I made up and becuase I did not clarify the situation. Embarrasing and what a perfect case for mindfullness review. And also reminds me of the value of the statements from The Four Agreements - Don't Make Assumptions and Don't Take Anything Personally. I failed with both. And also displayed my ego in all its glory.
***Feb 1, 2017***
Sunday. 7am hour long meditation concentrating on the breath. Good job getting up early on the weekends to meditate! Involuntary movements started as soon as I sat down. Once again, they "worked out" head / neck / shoulders area and following that went for mid and lower back. Eventually they subsided and I was able to work on concentrating attention on the breath. Movements came in and out throughout the hour. I am getting used to them more and pretty much disregard the minor ones and just work with the breath. By the way, in general I haven't had pain sensations that used to happen towards the end of meditation ever since the movements started happening.
Monday. 5am hour long meditation concentrating on the breath. First thought on waking up - "you know, if you ever feel too tired, you do not have to do this morning meditation thing - you can do it in the evening". I must resist this type of thinking as it will only lead to skipping practice. Went through series of involuntary movements concentrating on the same areas as yesterday - repeated variations throughout the hour. Doubt made an appearance today. Had more subtle drowsiness also. Tried to pull myself out by setting intentions before each in and out breaths. At one point, during a subtle drowsiness moment a very scary image popped into my head. Whoa! Where is that coming from? Might be a stage described in TMI. I did not expect it to be so graphic! I am glad I read beforehand about the possibility of that happening. Post meditation: felt a bit tired all day, so not as mindful, but still more mindful then normal. Must make sure to get enough sleep. Even 20 minutes less makes a difference for me. Tomorrow will be 15th day of not skipping meditation!
Tuesday: 5am hour long meditation concentrating on the breath. Went through similar involuntary movements as during previous days. They started right away and happened throughout. Doubt visited in the form of "this is getting boring" thought also few pieces of music that I recently heard (and liked) tried to "play", but I resisted both by increasing attention on the breath. For about five minutes, felt like density in my head has increased. I had something similar happen during one meditation couple of months ago where I thought that my body turned into stone. Daytime: More mindful overall, but not as I was during some days last week. First hour at work was getting current-like sensation on my head and temples.
Wednesday: Woke up with a muscle knot above the right shoulder blade. Tried to stretch it out by massaging it a bit and doing head and shoulder rotations. Sat down to meditate and surprise! - no major series of involuntary movements today. Only very minor ones kept happening that I don't even pay much attention to anymore. So, an entire hour was spent watching the breath. Towards the end of the sit got that "wonderful breath" sensation I've described earlier. Enjoyed it while it lasted. Daytime: The knot does not seem to go away. Will try doing yoga tonight.
I think I got the meditation routine down. This is week three and I am still going strong. I will try to do weekly updates with any new observations, to avoid being repetitive, even though every sit seems to be different from the other sit. There is one question I have (that I might ask on TMI boards also) regarding "checking in". When I check in, there seems to be nothing there, not much happening with my mind. There might be some slight physical sensation, but that is about it. Maybe everything can just be reduced to physical sensations. This evening, I tried watching my "urges" to do something and what I found was just a feeling in my body - tension/tightness here or there.
***Jan 28, 2017***
Met the author of The Mind Illuminated on Wednesday - went to his lecture and stayed for book signing. He wrote a nice message for me but what he told me verbally was particularly inspiring. He made me believe that I can do this "path" thing.
Thursday: am meditation. Some involunary movements happened but were not as "comprehensive" as amazing twising and turning yesterday (and were shorter in durtation too), so did not feel as relaxed in the same areas of tension. Concentrated on the breath. Lots of thoughts coming up but was able to catch them. Breath got subtle, then smooth towards the end of the sit.
Friday: am meditation. A bit of spontaneous involuntary head movements in the beginning. Breath becoming subtle then smooth. Thoughts came but majority got caught before foregetting the meditation object. Another series of spontaneous movements towards the end of meditation. ***Afterwards: felt mindful and "high" thoughout the day. Noticed few instances when I was labeling thinking automatically post meditation. If I pay attention to the breath, it becomes smooth and sublte almost instantly and stays that way for a while (as after the Goenka retreat). High level of focus at work - not getting bored and did not have an urge to constantly get snacks. As a matter of fact, wasn't feeling hungry when I normally do (as during the Goenka retreat).
Saturday: Set an alarm for 7am so I can meditate before my dog needs to go for a walk and the whirlwind of the day begins. Right away went through series of spontaneous involuntary movements concentrating on the neck, upper back, shoulders area. Must have lasted for about 20 minutes. Tried to pay attention to the breath during that but sometimes I felt too amazed by what was happening to get to the breath. Once the movements settled down a bit, I was able to concentrate better. Then, the movements started again - this time working out lower and middle back. That has never happened before - amazing. Whatever is doing this, is intelligent - I still can't believe it is happening to me. An hour went by quickly. After the meditation, again felt a strong urge to do yoga, so did a few sun salutations. Throughout the day felt like stretching this or that part of of the body. Promised myself that I will go to a yoga class tomorrow.
***Jan 25, 2017***
Monday - 7th straight day of one hour meditation. That is a huge achievement for me! Hopefully, this will become a habit soon. Meditated at 5 am. Within few minutes of sitting down head started moving to the side - sometimes very slightly, sometimes more pronounced. This kept happening throughout the hour and at one point was happening continuously and at a speed I would not be able to repeat at will. I have never experienced that before. This is how posesed person must look like. Otherwise, was surprised at mind wondering throughout this meditation - usually, I am able to catch my thoughts at the root but not today. Lots of planning type thoughts. Started doing a new technique from TMI of checking in. Did not find much when checking in - not much was happening at these particular moments, but recall that at one point felt a very distinct urge to get up and start the day. Much shorter period of painful sensations today. Was "high" again yesterday during the day - felt joy and compassion but that went away as soon as I met with my friend. Mindfullness went out the window, I guess, once there was a need to converse and listen. In general, more mindfullness is present, especially in the mornings. Glad that this is happening as it is my goal. On the other hand - got irritated at work and as a result was mean to someone who totally does not deserve it. Good case for Mindfulness Review from The Mind Illuminated.
Tuesday. Overslept a bit so meditated for 50 min instead of an hour. Head movements throughout, but today with some variations, for example, at some point felt like I was drawing number eight with the nose. Found that if I say "gentle" to a particularly active wave of movements, that tends to settle them down. Was getting some drowsy towards the end of the sit - kept catching myself at dreamlike thoughts / scenarios. Just read about that in TMI last night, so was able to try the techniques to prevent drowsiness - setting intentions before each in and out breaths seemed to work for me. No pain sensations today. Maybe because of shorter meditation. Tuesday evening: had a strong urge to meditate. Did not track time or set the timer. Sat for about 15 minutes, I think. Head movements started almost instantly. At one point head stayed at a weird angle. Had to force it back into place eventually as it felt so weird.
Wednesday: Last night, as described earlier, the head twist freaked me out a bit and I made the correction. During this am's meditation, head went right back to that position right away. I've decided to let it do whatever it wants to do and if I have to stay with this weird head tilt for an hour and get some kind of tension headache afterwards, so be it. However, the most unusual thing happened instead, kind of amazing actually! With the head twisted at a weird angle, eventually, the torsto strated leaning forward and twisting also. It seem to be happening slowly but very deliberately. The "twists" that I ended up in felt like they were stretching out certain areas around the neck and shoulders (where I always have knots when getting a massage) and the area where neck meets the torso (felt warmth around the spine). This was happening for about half an hour and ended with head swinging very easily (as in shaking it out) and torso being lifted to normal position (I did not make it go up, for sure - it idid it on its own). I ended up in a meditation posture with a perfect spine alignment. Shoulders, back of the neck and top of the back felt like I just got a deep tissue massage. Afterwards, I was able to proceed with meditation on the breath (I was also trying to do that throughtout). Post meditation, I felt like I have a ballerina posture. This was an amazing experience! One thing I got out of it is that I should do yoga regularly - to release all these areas of tension.
In related news, going to a talk with Culadasa tonight!
***Jan 23, 2017***
Managed to meditate over the weekend - both days for an hour. Usually, it is very challenging to stick to the routine on days off so very glad I was able to do it.
Saturday mediated after 9:30pm - after pizza and few episodes of Louis. Thankfully, did not feel sleepy or drowsy. Last few days I've be reading about stages one and two from The Mind Illuminated and tried following the techiques from those chapters.
Today, Sunday, meditated in the morning. Before, read a bit about stage three and could not wait to get to the cushion. I have a feeling I technically average to that stage in terms of skills, just never tried some of the specific techniques recommended in the chapter. A bit confused about one thing - am I to meditated on one spot, as taught in stage one or to follow the breath (and sensations of the breath wherever they appear in the nose)? When breathing gets very subtle these two seem to combine anyway - sensations tend to concentrate in a specific location and also get very subtle.
Both days got to work with physical discomfort. My estimate that it starts in the last 10 minutes of the sit. For me, three areas start to tense up and then experience various degrees of pain waves - lower to middle back and both legs from the pelvis area down. The three sometimes play in concert, sometimes one is sronger than the other. In a way it is fun to watch these but also very challenging. When observing pain, noticing how it peaks, mellows and sometimes dissapears, but usually comes back again. Fun. My question is, why do I have sits sometimes, when discomfort does not arise at all - everything else is the same: same body, same meditation posture, same duration. Is pain completely made up by my mind?
The description of stage three in TMI mentioned what I was curious about in my first post (rough, irregular quality of the breath and shifiting of the point where breath sensations happen): "When the breath changes due to unconsious precesses (even though it suits your consious processes), "you" did not do it, so don't intrefere. Just notice that it has changed and keep observing everything passively and objectively, letting the breath continues as is. The sensations may also grow weaker or even dissappear from one nostril, or alternate between the nostrils. This, too is completely normal, and you don't need to do anything but notice it."
Also, really like the tip to "relax and look for joy, observe, let it come, let it be, and let it go". I was able to use this today during the sit, however, the "relax and look for joy" become very challenging when pain comes. I can certainly obsere and watch the waves of pain - which is good. Before the retreat and more serious practice, I would have definitely given up at that point.
And, I think I want to change my goal. From "become a better person", to just "being present". I think that is my ultimate goal.
***January 21, 2017***
Hello, fellow meditators!
My meditation background: In April of last year I went on my first Vipassana retreat and one of the things I took away from it was the importance of daily practice. Before the retreat, I would sporadically and infrequently meditate for about 20 minutes or so and would often find myself in physical discomfort towards the end of meditation sessions – my legs would fall asleep, etc.
On the retreat, there was about 10 hours of meditation every day! It forced me to find meditation postures that I could tolerate better, forced me to notice how my ability to meditate varies throughout the day, how other people sit, etc. I also practiced sitting through physical discomfort. At one point, I remember that I was able to meditate for about three hour straight! An hour of meditation became something totally doable. When I returned home, I was determined to do what was recommended to us on the retreat – one hour of meditation in the morning and one in the evening. However, I quickly found that it is not so easy with my schedule. So, I reduced it to one hour. Then, day by day life got in a way and I’ve succumbed to old habits of procrastination and laziness and returned to my sporadic meditation schedule of the past and come to think of it, I don’t believe I meditated more than 10 times since June.
With new year, I am hoping to instill new habits and meditation is one of them. Last week I started doing it regularly – 45 minute sits every day.
Then, this week I got The Mind Illuminated. I started working with it – doing an hour sit and following the techniques. I hope to stick with this - will practice using the book and we’ll see where it gets me.
And where do I want to get? What is my goal? This is one of the questions raised in the book – to be honest with oneself. Is it enlightenment? Very high aspiration indeed but also quite scary because it is a big unknown. I will worry about enlightenment once I am further on the path (if ever). I would say my goal is to become a better human being by training myself to be more aware.
So, here is my meditation journal for this week so far.
Tuesday: Started reading the book – so inspired! Meditated after work for an hour concentrating on the spot where breath sensations felt strongest. Found that “the spot” is not the same throughout meditation – at first I felt it inside my nose in the left nostril only. Then, as breathing got more subtle, most sensations were at the base of the nostril – close to where we were concentrating during the Vipassana retreat. I was able to keep my attention on the spot for most of the time and settled into this state pretty quickly! When the breath was very subtle, breath related sensations felt like tiny bleeps. Also, sensations that I like to call “electric currents” appeared in various areas of the head and face – I am familiar with those from Vipassana retreat. Some minor involuntary body movements were present towards the last part of the sit. Alarm went off and I wasn’t even in any physical discomfort by the end of the hour.
Two things to note, in the past, while meditating at home I’ve reached this very pleasant state that I call “wonderful breath” state, where the breath feels smooth like butter, like there is no friction or effort at all when breathing – breath is like a gentle wave. On one occasion, this feeling stayed with me an entire day and I was also filled with joy. During Tuesday’s meditation, I haven’t reached that state exactly but got very close to it and post meditation, for about 30 minutes I noticed that my breathing remained very peaceful and pleasant.
On the other hand, when I first sit down to meditate, I often find my breathing becomes more jumpy and with weird patters (e.x., long inhale, jumpy short exhale) – like putting attention to it makes it behave abnormal. What’s up with that? And, as I recall, sometimes this weird breathing would instantly switch to “wonderful breath” described above.
Next morning I was reading brief descriptions of various stages described in The Mind Illuminated. Based on last night’s experience I figured that I am at level five, most likely. But read on...
Wednesday: Still strong determination to meditate. Another hour sit after work. Based on this sit, I placed myself back to level one. Much easier distracted, breathing does not become subtle, physical discomfort – back tense, legs getting areas of tension – had to readjust couple of times, even opened my eyes. Husband came home and did not know I was meditating – so more interruption. Level one, indeed. “Annica!”, as Goenka says. Did not even sit till alarm – felt like there is no way I could sit anymore. When I looked at the clock, two minutes remained.
Also, came to a conclusion that meditating after work does not leave me with much time for anything else. I’ve decided to move my meditation practice to early morning. Thankfully, I am already used to getting up at 5 on weekdays to write “The Morning Pages”.
Thursday: 5 am meditation for an hour. Was slightly concerned that I would be drowsy, but did not have any issues with that. No regular daytime noises present, while other noises are so loud – computer fan, heating unit fan. Does not bother me, though.
Also, on Thursday I started reading a thread on these boards of someone who went to Vipassana retreat and is now dealing with all sort of weird altered states - good and bad. That gave me doubts - do I want that? Will my meditation practice cause that? Last week I was reading Everyday Zen by Charlotte J. Beck and one morning it put me in this high state but very peaceful and loving and compassionate. That is what I want. Decided to continue reading it again tomorrow.
Friday: 5am meditation for an hour. Ok, my breath sensations spots are moving around again. Now they are in the right nostril! As I got more concentrated, the spot shifted toward the base of the left nostril. Was able to “catch” most thoughts and not chase after them. Breath got subtle but not the level of the first day.
During the day, reading Everyday Zen tends to make me very relaxed and calm and present; my breathing changes to being smooth and relaxed. Amazing! Was able to get the same quality breath when being mindful about it.
Weekend is ahead. Important not to mess up and keep the practice going.