Author Topic: My journey with meditation so far and some questions  (Read 2153 times)

oxleyroad

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My journey with meditation so far and some questions
« on: November 17, 2014, 07:13:31 AM »
Hi Guys

I've been meditating every day for 8 months now, I started as I was struggling (well, have all my life) with my diagnosed Generalised Anxiety Disorder.

Just like to give my experience, and get opinions of maybe more experienced meditators, and ask some questions (as some background, I think my GAD is caused by an inward focus, a judgement of myself, worry about negative outcomes with new things, assurance seeking, and absence of concentration, equanimity, wisdom, and forbearance). I can find work / new situations / dealing with people very stressful, and this can lapse into depression after a while.

This is a long process, so please don't worry I will blindly follow what you say - I just want some opinions to consider! (particuarly as I live in a very remote place in Australia with no access to teachers).

For a few months, I was doing a Russ Harris guided meditation (don't know if anyone knows him), which is basically mindfulness, including of the thoughts. So when I read about vipassana, I thought it sounded similar (the foundation of it all), and I'd do that. I was able to go to a couple sessions in the city which involved a metta meditation, walking meditation, and being mindful of sensations, and have been doing that since. Thing is, when I changed, I sort of went backwards in how I was feeling. I've heard that's common cos it's important not to change practice at all? Definitely now though, I am noticing my negative thought patterns a lot more and they seem a bit removed from me which is good...

One thing I've found is, I never seem to be able to notice thoughts when they're happening, only once they've finished, often when I've moved on to another thought (although noticing thoughts is a lot better than before I was meditating). If I do become aware of a thought while it's happening, it just stops and I can't really fully experience it (though I generally know where the thought will go, as most of my thoughts are recurring). So, the effect at the moment doesn't seem to be mindful - just seems a very similar thing to 'getting rid of the thoughts' without appreciating them. (Of course, maybe I should just accept this without letting them have more power!) Will my ability to 'notice' become more with practice? And should I label the thoughts, or just let them play out til I lose attention on them by watching them?

Is meditation such as vipassana a good practice for my circumstances, or would a concentration meditation be better? Or can I combine the two (like notice thoughts and bring attention back to breath if I notice I'm running away with them) or is that combining methods which I shouldn't do? Is there another method more suitable for people with things like GAD?

The other thing which I would like to get some insight into is how to be aware that I am not thinking, without thinking 'I am not thinking, this is great!' because that is a thought in itself, no? What is no thinking?

Replies are much appreciated.

Adam

PS. Haha, the Google chrome spellcheck suggests instead of 'vipassana, 'assassinate'!!

betty

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Re: My journey with meditation so far and some questions
« Reply #1 on: November 17, 2014, 07:23:28 AM »
I'm sure the others will share lots of ideas so I'm just going to share something that has worked for me in case it helps you. 

I found the meditating on the breath and thoughts didn't really help me with the anxiety at all (which doesn't mean others haven't found it helpful, I think it's a case of us all being different and having to find what works for each of us individually).  For me the difference came when I discovered Shinzen Young's method of teaching vipassana.  I got his audio program on working with difficult emotions from Sounds True and it was a huge breakthrough for me, as he teaches you to break down the components of the anxiety into physical sensations of different qualities and in different locations, images in the mind and narrative in the mind.  He calls it "Divide and Conquer" and it really works for me - when I can let my awareness roam throughout all the different aspects and just note it, it's much easier to not feel overwhelmed, because each component is a lot smaller than the entire generalised mess of anxiety that I used to have no detailed awareness of at all.  I have bad anxiety when I wake up after a nightmare and I never used to be able to work with it, now I can break it down and flood one component at a time with awareness and my experience of it is really changing.

I just thought I'd throw it out there in case it resonates and you want to investigate it.  It's made a world of difference for me after 20 years of unwittingly using my breath to further dissociate from what is going on in my body!  Once you find what works for you, there's no going back. :0)

Dharmic Tui

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Re: My journey with meditation so far and some questions
« Reply #2 on: November 17, 2014, 08:42:50 AM »
Hi oxleyroad,

There's possibly no one size fits all answer so I will add to the smorgasbord of ideas and advice which you will encounter. I've lived with anxiety disorder most of my adult life. It started around the age of 17 and has come and gone with various levels of strength and intensity, often with no defined catalyst - I've had moments of environmental hell where my mind has been fine, and moments with no stress where I've wanted to crawl into a ball and die.

Vipassana has made a profound difference for me personally in regards to my anxiety, in that for the most part it does not affect me anymore. In the past, I've have a thought, or a somatic physical feeling, or both, and knot myself up into a ball, trying to think my way out of my fearfulness, or will it to go away, only to spiral deeper when my emotional wellbeing or feeling didn't improve. I've since learned you can't think yourself happy, and that objects may mask, but they will never cure.

So what does practice aid with?

Over time, you will identify the distinction between experiencing only what is with you in the present, and the reality you create out of your memories of the past and your fears or wants of the future. You've mentioned not being able to pick up on this, which is only natural. You have been creating your subjective interpretation of reality for decades, this is not something that disappears overnight. It is a very gradual process, I myself have been at this for a reasonable amount of time now, and it is still very easy for me to slip into my old mental algorithm, trying to remind myself of things I need to do, telling myself all the "coulda shoulda wouldas" of my past, etc etc. Sometimes I can pick up on this before it even happens, othertimes I realise I've been thinking myself in circles for minutes without noticing. This is partially where the breath comes in, not just as a concentration object, but as an involuntary constant you can always come back to. Through concentration on the breath, and just observing your mind and the emotional reactions, over time you should separate yourself from the ego that gets so very caught up in thinking and emoting.

You will come to know the practice of not thinking, because you will see the present, and only the present. There won't be any self evaluation, expectation, needs, wants, recollection, or any other brain farts that accompany most of our waking moments. But it requires time and patience.

As a general piece of advice, a lot of this is about abandoning expectations. Don't expect Nirvana. Don't expect the perfect sitting, the perfect position, the perfect attention on the perfect piece of breath. Don't expect to be happy, to be fixed, to reach some sort of defined point where you've "made it". We are all just instances in a potentially infinite reality. Life sucks, and it is beautiful, and it's traumatic and it's ice cream and sometimes its a shit sandwich. Good things come from bad, and vice versa, in the scheme of things all will pass. You can't really control most of it, so stop worrying about driving the bus and instead enjoy being a passenger.

So there you go, some tips for sitting and some amateur philosophy. I hope it may be of some use to you. If you are interested I can point you to some audio resources if you want, for my first couple of years especially I would listen to 30-60 mins of Dharma talks every morning on walks. Some of them have no benefit, some of them were the source of profound insight.

oxleyroad

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Re: My journey with meditation so far and some questions
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2014, 03:16:15 PM »
Thanks for those comments guys. The bit about releasing expectations definitely resonates - ironic that have the same expectations/planning/regrets/worry etc about meditating sometimes as in other things in life!
Re Shenzhen Young, it is amazing how many sensations there are to notice when sitting when you break them down - sometimes it's almost too overwhelming. But his stuff could be useful to notice more (which is a developing skill) I'm guessing?
One other thing I would like your opinion on, cos it is something I have only started to understand recently - in accepting thoughts, I should accept fully all of them, including those are 'faulty' or 'negative', without using those labels, so that my perception of them changes, right? I'm starting to understand I should but it's just something that's hard to get the head around!

Dharmic Tui

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Re: My journey with meditation so far and some questions
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2014, 05:15:20 PM »
With your question about thought, yes you can accept them. But also understand that a thought isn't necessarily real. For instance I used to shock myself while talking to someone by thinking "what if I just punched that person in the face". This would spin me out, I'd be mortified from having the thought, I'd think I was going nuts and the emotional despair I'd feel would wig me out for hours or days afterwards. I took the physical/emotional reaction I felt to be a legitimisation of the thought, and I didn't want it to be true and I just wanted to run from it, further wigging me out. Then I'd dig myself I'm further by stress testing myself by intentionally bringing up such thoughts, wigging put some more, and getting deeper and deeper into ill feelings and thoughts.

Contrast that to today, it's possible I can have such thoughts still, but I understand my mind is a machine that can think about any old thing. Generating a concept doesn't necessarily make it so, and this realisation along with calming the mind over time should diminish tendencies of creating emotional graves with thought.

You are not your thoughts.

Matthew

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Re: My journey with meditation so far and some questions
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2014, 07:13:14 PM »
Hi oxleyroad,

Not going to add much as DT and Betty have given solid advice and you probably have enough to work with. Just a couple of points:

Quote
I've heard that's common cos it's important not to change practice at all?

If the practice you are doing is founded on misunderstanding it is absolutely essential to change practice. The above idea is generally promoted by Guru-types who want you tied to their teachings. So basically it's their ego clinging that leads to this false premise. Ignore it.

Quote
Is meditation such as vipassana a good practice for my circumstances, or would a concentration meditation be better? Or can I combine the two (like notice thoughts and bring attention back to breath if I notice I'm running away with them) or is that combining methods which I shouldn't do?

Here you demonstrate a really common misunderstanding which is not at all your problem but a problem of how Buddhist teachings have travelled to the western world:

There is no such thing as vipassana (insight) meditation, Samadhi (concentration) meditation or Shamatha (calm-abiding) meditation as separate practices. These are modern inventions which narrow the reality of meditation into single-outcome goal oriented falsity.

There is mindfulness meditation which leads to development of the fruits (Phala) of insight/vipassana, concentration/Samadhi and calm-abiding(relaxed awareness)/Shamatha.

All these outcomes will develop from well-grounded mindfulness meditation - in somewhat different ways for each person and each circumstance - however, they cannot be separated:

You cannot establish insight without calm and concentration (it will be nervously charged and verging on mania).
You cannot develop calm without concentration and insight (it will be slothfulness).
You cannot develop concentration without calm and insight (it will be forceful suppression).

These are all sides of one fundamental truth: taming the mind means relaxed, awake, concentrated and insightful development of your state of mind, moment to moment, both on and off the cushion.

Keep at it,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

betty

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Re: My journey with meditation so far and some questions
« Reply #6 on: November 17, 2014, 07:59:23 PM »
Re Shenzhen Young, it is amazing how many sensations there are to notice when sitting when you break them down - sometimes it's almost too overwhelming. But his stuff could be useful to notice more (which is a developing skill) I'm guessing?

For me the sensations were overwhelming until I learnt to let awareness float around them all and note them.  There is something in Shinzen's teachings that really helped me to get what equanimity is, something I hadn't got before.  I really get now that it's non-interference with what is unfolding, and the noting practice Shinzen teaches helped me to make that more than just a concept, and take it into something I can actually practice, and the shift for me was surprisingly quick (not to say I don't go back to resistance, it's a journey, not a switch!).  But I think it's always down to what each of us resonates with, there is no one teaching that helps everyone.

oxleyroad

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Re: My journey with meditation so far and some questions
« Reply #7 on: November 29, 2014, 05:19:41 PM »
Thanks for those comments.
Matthew, that is good to hear and what I was thinking as well - being too prescriptive can be detrimental, although I find it good to know other's experience just as some background to what I am doing anyway.
That equanimity is one thing I struggle with, and I've listed to a couple of Shinzen Young talks where he discusses it. I think it's slowly developing though - I've realised recently that I've been more aware of my thoughts and accepting them fully, but still labelling them as good or bad. When I wasn't noticing them, I didn't even know they were there to label. But I will just remain conscious of not judging them when sitting I suppose? It just takes a bit of getting used to that unpleasant thoughts/thoughts which have bad content, are not bad, I suppose?

betty

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Re: My journey with meditation so far and some questions
« Reply #8 on: November 29, 2014, 06:04:11 PM »
That equanimity is one thing I struggle with, and I've listed to a couple of Shinzen Young talks where he discusses it. I think it's slowly developing though - I've realised recently that I've been more aware of my thoughts and accepting them fully, but still labelling them as good or bad. When I wasn't noticing them, I didn't even know they were there to label. But I will just remain conscious of not judging them when sitting I suppose? It just takes a bit of getting used to that unpleasant thoughts/thoughts which have bad content, are not bad, I suppose?

The thoughts that judge the other thoughts and feelings as good as bad are just thoughts!  If you can just be aware of them all without reacting life becomes a lot easier.   :)  And yes I know it's easier said than done.  I got to the stage where I was aware of the thought, then the thought that judged the thought, then the thought that judged the thought that was judging the thought... and that's when I realised it was a silly merry-go-round to stay on and I learnt to just watch them all.  That doesn't mean I don't still get caught up on the merry-go-round at times, but I'm more likely to see it now.  Remember: you are not your thoughts and you are not generating them.  Try seeing them as being like sounds that come into your awareness and pass away.

 

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