Struggling for years

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.
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Miles Drake
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by Miles Drake »

Johnny Dangerous wrote: Wed Jul 20, 2022 7:58 am (...)

I can say with at least a little confidence that teachers I’ve known and other students also would guess that part of the issue is dullness/blankness. Simply not thinking - especially if you are actively suppressing thoughts - is not meditation, and if you are approaching it that way (again not sure, limited data here) that might be the issue.

In my experience such practice leads to at best a somewhat relaxed body, but a dull(rather than wakeful, clear, relaxed) mind, with an undercurrent of tension - maybe related to an underlying view that thoughts in meditation must be eliminated or suppressed. If that is anything like the problem, I am not surprised that you are disappointed.
Hi
Excellent observation. This holds very true. Difficult to directly stop thinking until one can directly stop thinking. Takes time and practice for sure. Here are some strategies that folks have found success with.

Crush mind with mind: Use a mantra. Crush thinking with an overwhelming thought. Mantras work really well for this. Good choices for mantras are mantras that we will not attach too. Simple mantras like repeating Buddho, wake up, let go, just this, all can work. The benefit of a two syllable mantra is that it can be timed with the in and out breath. As an example. Say in the mind.. "just" on the in breath and say in the mind, "this" on the out breath. Rinse and repeat. With practice, mantras can be maintained just about all the time, even while not sitting.

Choose to think less: One of the things we are trying to realize is that most thinking is useless. We spend a massive amount of our time thinking thoughts that just don't need to be thought. To correct this, we want to examine the actual value of our thoughts. What thoughts are actually worth the time that it will take to think them. Up the quality of what we think about. Raise the bar and simply stop giving brain time to thoughts and ideas that simply do not deserve our brain time. Become a connoisseur of fine thought. Don't settle for low brow thinking. Only let the mind think about and investigate the Dharma/dharma of this very moment. Get into the habit of not bringing in any thinking that simply does not belong in the moment.

Go where thinking is not: Go look for that spot in the mind before thinking begins. What is before thought? Go look in the mind and see what one will find when one flies past thinking. If thought was a mountain and we could fly... what is on the other side of thinking? Go look. Spend time here.

Investigate the nature of thought and thinking: What is thinking? Where does it come from? What does the thinking? What benefits from all this useless thinking? What is the harm of heedless thinking? What are the benefits of wise directed thought? Which is preferred? If the mind will not quiet down... investigate why. Why are we attached to our thinking in the first place? Why are we so in love with our thinking? Simply put, we cannot put down our thinking because we are in love with our thinking. We want to put our thinking down, but we like it too much. Investigate this.

While this may seem obvious... it is not. We really have got to want to quiet our minds. We have really got to want this. We need to be willing to put in great effort over time. We do need to cultivate vigor and zeal for the practice. We cannot just want this a little. We have really got to have a burning desire to end suffering, find the way out of samsara, and then help point the way for all beings. Without having this level of commitment we (sadly) do not get the promised results and we give up. (Just remember to never attach to outcomes.)

Peace

Wisdom first in all things.
Last edited by Ayu on Wed Jul 20, 2022 2:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Fixed quote.
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Tukaram
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by Tukaram »

Back in the early 80s the very first lesson I read about meditating was to sit up straight, eyes closed, and just watch your breathing. Try not to take control of it, just monitor it (yeah, that is the hard part). But in any case, to give your mind something to do - count your breaths. If you lose count, try to see what your mind did, and where it went. Gently bring it back to your breath, and start counting at one again. No force, no stress, just keep bringing the mind back, to train it.

Now I still use that same exercise to get into a session.

I find it really helps me calm my mind. I am also a big fan of mantra meditation. I try to chant 'om mani padme hum' about 1,000 times a day (10 rounds on a 108 string of japa beads).
shinnen
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by shinnen »

Hi Johnny,
I'm not afraid of value judgements. If I haven't been doing what's necessary, I would hope you'd tell me that.
" You’re not sure what you want out of this (are you a committed Buddhist practitioner btw, or are you more doing it simply for the daily life benefits?) Whatever reason is fine, but so far it seems pretty undefined." I've never really thought about that. I try to follow the teachings that I feel are worth pursuing, and let them take me where they will, without deciding where that might be. Meditation is my one exception to that approach. I have been practicing it, solely on the recommendation of the many who strongly recommend it. Doing things on faith is not my normal modus operendi.
You make many good points though. I have been seeking a teacher/temple for quite a while now, so perhaps it's time to ramp up my efforts in that regard.
Thank you again for your help.
shinnen
shinnen
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by shinnen »

Hi birthdaycakespirit,
The one distraction I have heard of meditating on is random noise in the environment. That would seem like a pretty simple approach, and one which is not subject to misinterpretation, since there's really no nothing to think about, unless one becomes fixated on identifying them.
Thanks again for your suggestions.
shinnen
shinnen
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by shinnen »

Hi Ayu,
Thanks. That is definitely a problem for me, having to constantly return over and over and over.
shinnen.
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Johnny Dangerous
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

Miles Drake wrote: Wed Jul 20, 2022 1:42 pm
Johnny Dangerous wrote: Wed Jul 20, 2022 7:58 am (...)

I can say with at least a little confidence that teachers I’ve known and other students also would guess that part of the issue is dullness/blankness. Simply not thinking - especially if you are actively suppressing thoughts - is not meditation, and if you are approaching it that way (again not sure, limited data here) that might be the issue.

In my experience such practice leads to at best a somewhat relaxed body, but a dull(rather than wakeful, clear, relaxed) mind, with an undercurrent of tension - maybe related to an underlying view that thoughts in meditation must be eliminated or suppressed. If that is anything like the problem, I am not surprised that you are disappointed.
Hi
Excellent observation. This holds very true. Difficult to directly stop thinking until one can directly stop thinking. Takes time and practice for sure. Here are some strategies that folks have found success with.

Crush mind with mind: Use a mantra. Crush thinking with an overwhelming thought. Mantras work really well for this. Good choices for mantras are mantras that we will not attach too. Simple mantras like repeating Buddho, wake up, let go, just this, all can work. The benefit of a two syllable mantra is that it can be timed with the in and out breath. As an example. Say in the mind.. "just" on the in breath and say in the mind, "this" on the out breath. Rinse and repeat. With practice, mantras can be maintained just about all the time, even while not sitting.

Choose to think less: One of the things we are trying to realize is that most thinking is useless. We spend a massive amount of our time thinking thoughts that just don't need to be thought. To correct this, we want to examine the actual value of our thoughts. What thoughts are actually worth the time that it will take to think them. Up the quality of what we think about. Raise the bar and simply stop giving brain time to thoughts and ideas that simply do not deserve our brain time. Become a connoisseur of fine thought. Don't settle for low brow thinking. Only let the mind think about and investigate the Dharma/dharma of this very moment. Get into the habit of not bringing in any thinking that simply does not belong in the moment.

Go where thinking is not: Go look for that spot in the mind before thinking begins. What is before thought? Go look in the mind and see what one will find when one flies past thinking. If thought was a mountain and we could fly... what is on the other side of thinking? Go look. Spend time here.

Investigate the nature of thought and thinking: What is thinking? Where does it come from? What does the thinking? What benefits from all this useless thinking? What is the harm of heedless thinking? What are the benefits of wise directed thought? Which is preferred? If the mind will not quiet down... investigate why. Why are we attached to our thinking in the first place? Why are we so in love with our thinking? Simply put, we cannot put down our thinking because we are in love with our thinking. We want to put our thinking down, but we like it too much. Investigate this.

While this may seem obvious... it is not. We really have got to want to quiet our minds. We have really got to want this. We need to be willing to put in great effort over time. We do need to cultivate vigor and zeal for the practice. We cannot just want this a little. We have really got to have a burning desire to end suffering, find the way out of samsara, and then help point the way for all beings. Without having this level of commitment we (sadly) do not get the promised results and we give up. (Just remember to never attach to outcomes.)

Peace

Wisdom first in all things.
My understanding is to allow thoughts to liberate themselves, not to make them go away, or control them somehow.
Don’t you see what’s wrong with the world today? Oh Everybody wants somebody to be their own piece of clay.

-Marvin Gaye
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birthdaycakespirit
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by birthdaycakespirit »

shinnen wrote: Wed Jul 20, 2022 3:35 pm Hi birthdaycakespirit,
The one distraction I have heard of meditating on is random noise in the environment. That would seem like a pretty simple approach, and one which is not subject to misinterpretation, since there's really no nothing to think about, unless one becomes fixated on identifying them.
Thanks again for your suggestions.
shinnen
(I also wanted to +1 Johnny -- one should not have as a goal to force or use methods to directly inhibit thoughts - thoughts are most excellent)

Yes. That would be an example of focusing your awareness on hearing sense. You would simply rest your awareness with sound and bring awareness back to sound each time you are distracted by another sense (thought, smell, tactile, etc). It is OK to get distracted; noticing you were distracted is most excellent. You could do this with all senses (or only ones you prefer). Once your experience with this resting practice (shamantha with object) is solid (less distractions and catching distractions quickly) you could ask for instructions from a qualified teacher on how to enhance this experience of awareness with resting awareness without object and analytical meditation (vipassana).

A by-product of well understood shamantha is a more quiet mind (though it will become much louder at first as you recognize things you did not before).
Last edited by birthdaycakespirit on Wed Jul 20, 2022 3:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
shinnen
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by shinnen »

Hi narhwal,
Yes. Thanks for the reminder. I was an analytical chemist my entire career. Thinking was, and probably still is, my strength and weakness. It's very hard to let go of when you've done it your entire life. I think that's why I was initially attracted to Theravadin Buddhism, which, to the beginner, is very analytical and logical.
shinnen
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by Johnny Dangerous »

shinnen wrote: Wed Jul 20, 2022 3:57 pm Hi narhwal,
Yes. Thanks for the reminder. I was an analytical chemist my entire career. Thinking was, and probably still is, my strength and weakness. It's very hard to let go of when you've done it your entire life. I think that's why I was initially attracted to Theravadin Buddhism, which, to the beginner, is very analytical and logical.
shinnen
No need to let go of thinking, thinking itself is a normal, useful activity. The trouble is grasping/fixating on thought. Analysis is useful at a certain level too - it is definitely a part of Dharma practice, it becomes destructive when it is undirected or becomes habitual.

Anyway, an observation with meditation: It is very easy to fall into the trap of thought suppression in meditation, especially if a person is prone to overthinking and proliferation. A person might sit down thinking “finally a relief from my thoughts, ok there’s a thought, I’ll just focus on my breath and it will block the thought”, eventually someone can become conditioned to using meditation as a way to suppress rather than liberate their experiences. The thoughts are fine and will go on their journey by themselves if left alone. An attitude of acceptance of ones experience is more helpful than expectations are.

Again, no idea if this describes your situation but it is a common enough meditation pitfall.

This is why I mentioned earlier approaching with an attitude of curiosity, as if you’d never tried this before and just want to set a time aside to explore your mind and experiences.

There are also discursive meditation on loving kindness, compassion, impermanence, etc. these practices are quite important, but involve directed thinking. So do devotional practices for that matter, which lead to very beneficial results for plenty of people.
Don’t you see what’s wrong with the world today? Oh Everybody wants somebody to be their own piece of clay.

-Marvin Gaye
shinnen
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by shinnen »

Hi,
Thank you all for your excellent suggestions and help. You have give me much to consider.
shinnnen
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by master of puppets »

As far as ı see just the first gear is manuel; and the rest is automatic..in buddhism or zen in general.

means first when understand the practice or meditation mind, rest should be automatic which involves and becomes a life style .

many call this zen style here whether aware or not..
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Jokingfish
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by Jokingfish »

How much one should think? Im a beginner and i noticed that suppressing thoughts (or more like relaxing yourself psychologically) and watching breath is same as deepening your meditation. F.e. Better meditation is when you're still and not moving, same goes with thinking, no thinking - more stillness, and since we always breathe, you watch that as putting your attention to inside of yourself and you get more understanding of yourself. I noticed this being called pitfall, so then i ask, how much should one think? What about if you don't want to think and just want to calm down and be still?
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PadmaVonSamba
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by PadmaVonSamba »

Jokingfish wrote: Mon Sep 05, 2022 1:34 pm How much one should think? Im a beginner and i noticed that suppressing thoughts (or more like relaxing yourself psychologically) and watching breath is same as deepening your meditation. F.e. Better meditation is when you're still and not moving, same goes with thinking, no thinking - more stillness, and since we always breathe, you watch that as putting your attention to inside of yourself and you get more understanding of yourself. I noticed this being called pitfall, so then i ask, how much should one think? What about if you don't want to think and just want to calm down and be still?
Sometimes think, and sometimes don’t think.
Sometimes your mind is busy and sometimes it is calm. So, just look at it, like looking at waves on a beach. Sometimes they are crashing and sometimes they are gently lapping the shore. ‘My mind seems very busy today’ and just watch that.

An alternative to suppressing thoughts is to try to look at the mind before a thought emerges. Sort of jump in front of the thought. This takes practice but is not too difficult once you do it a few times. This is where a mantra can be useful, because it can completely absorb your attention.

When I was a little kid, before I even knew anything about Buddhism or meditation or anything, I would sometimes practice doing this with the word ‘the’ and I would be walking around the house blurting out “THE!” over and over again, trying to see what was there before a thought appeared, and my mom would say, “the what?’ She must have thought I was disturbed.
EMPTIFUL.
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by rozoksmaslom »

shinnen wrote: Sun Jul 17, 2022 4:55 pm Hi,
Thank you all for your advice.
I only ever sit for half an hour. I have a tendency to fall asleep if I go longer.
Have you read the Buddha's instructions on meditation? You shouldn't be sustained by (cling to) any particular state/feeling of the body and mind. Every emotion/sensation/perception (good, neutral or bad) is empty of Self.
Yeshei
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Re: Struggling for years

Post by Yeshei »

shinnen wrote: Sun Jul 17, 2022 3:50 am Hi,
I have been meditating off and on for over 30 years, but am not really getting it. I have tried many techniques but have never experienced anything that even vaguely resembles the quiet and peace of mind reported by others. Stopping my thoughts 'seems' easy, and usually leads to .... 'nothing', a kind of blank emptiness, after which I feel no different then when I started. I can concentrate on objects, but lose my focus after a time. Perhaps meditation is not my thing?
Any suggestions are appreciated.
Shinnen
I hope it is not too late to reopen the thread or comment on it.. but the subject is interesting indeed.

===============

"Meditation" as taught by Buddha had two phases: Shamata & Vipasyana.

If you followed any object to its origin, aka done Shamata with support (of an object of observing), it being kasina, breath, mantra, any other of the sense objects as described in Surangama Sutra by the Bodhisatvas discussing the best objects for meditation... then you DID reach where you find yourself now.

Everyone suggested talking to your teacher to help you, as dullness is now a common trap.
Your own teacher will continue instructing in the tradition/school of your choice.

Different "skillful means" will be employed to raise you above dullness.

Vipasyana, that one should do at this stage, is actually what helps the most (as prescribed).
Once the object of the Shamata meditation has been stilled i.e. it reached its point of origin and the subject (the viewer) and the object (the perceived) are now non dual aka at the same point, one would be now actually watching your own awareness itself back.

If the object and subject are one and you are watching your naked awareness, the feedback loop is, or should be, 20x in waking you up.
If not so, one does tender Vipasyana to move a little bit aside or up down and to recognize this very basis of the mind, by searching without words, within your mindscape, to find that -

which is none other then here and now, the singularity of perceiving and recognizing.

Searching (gently!) one recognizes *this* to be the essence, your true nature or face even before you were born.
Philosophically, as this moment of present "now" is a singularity in time (it is an ever-present moment that does not go away), and represents the root of consciousness, has no time dimension or span - you discovered the underlying Buddha Nature. As it has no time dimension, never moving from the spot of "now", it is also timeless aka cannot get old - has no time limit - therefore, it is ... forever :)

Watching your presence of awareness as the object of Shamata, and moving a bit around with Vispasyana to delineate aka determine its validity, you have discovered the source of wakefulness (Buddha - Sanskrt: Awake!) .. and if your meditation can pinpoint the wakefulness of it, you cannot be sleepy. Not even in your sleep :) You will be SHOCKED first few times on this recognition, but Buddha advised to let this rapture just reverberate and go away through your body system. We search NOT for thrill of pleasure or bliss, we search to establish the root of consciousness and existence (of all).

Shamata should have led to the wakeful state of Dark Samadhi that corresponds to deep dreamless sleep BUT with full awareness and no contents :)
Careful Vipasyana (gentle, not to jolt you out) leads to White Samadhi where you recognize your nature and "see" the Clear Light (even before the end of the tunnel :P)

Now, abide. Be sure that you have ascertained it. Have no doubts. Awake. No need for content choosing, this is *it*
Stay at it all times, later even after sessions. Integrate the movement and all the effects into it.

You have turned around in the deepest seat of your consciousness.

*beep*
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