Meditation techniques/uncertainty

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Meditation techniques/uncertainty

Postby powerhawk22 » Wed May 16, 2012 1:59 pm

Hello,

I've been meditating for about 7 months now. I have read a lot of books on meditation, but have not gone to any retreats. I am usually enjoy meditating, but I have recently found myself unsure exactly which of the techniques I should be doing. I originally meditated by simply following my breath in my abdomen. Then, for a couple months, I focused on a more open awareness. Then, I went to some concentration practice. Then, for a short period, I did primarily metta. Now, I find myself unsure which technique I should be practicing. Sometimes, because of this indecisiveness, I find myself switching from one technique to another multiple times in a single session. After meditating, I often feel a sense of anxiousness and this makes me wonder if my meditation practice did not go well, and if I should have stuck to a different technique. I am not sure this feeling would fade even if I did choose a single technique, but at least I would feel certain I did not just waste my time by not doing the right thing.

Advice much appreciated!
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Re: Meditation techniques/uncertainty

Postby santa100 » Wed May 16, 2012 3:21 pm

Instead of following your breath through the abdomen, have you tried focusing on the nostrils? It works for some practitioners here..

viewtopic.php?f=17&t=12448#p188378
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Re: Meditation techniques/uncertainty

Postby powerhawk22 » Wed May 16, 2012 3:25 pm

When I did concentration practice that's what I did
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Re: Meditation techniques/uncertainty

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Wed May 16, 2012 4:24 pm

I would really recommend sticking with one technique only for a certain period of time. If you've got experience in following the breath at the abdomen, then I would recommend trying out the Mahasi method. But switching between methods during the same sit is a bad idea I think.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: Meditation techniques/uncertainty

Postby Travis » Wed May 16, 2012 4:44 pm

It is not unusual to find yourself exploring different approaches when you combine enthusiasm with the vast amount of information available. The best approach is to simply be consistent, so pick one and stick to it. Faith and confidence are essential to being consistent, but difficult when you are drowning in information and ideas of "techniques." That being said I enjoy reading about different approaches to meditation, but rarely change or even cycle my approach. If you want to explore/experiment then occasionally add an extra session to your day to do so, but keep with your main approach.

In a more general sense it may be beneficial to either associate yourself with a tradition (go on retreat for example), join a meditation group, or seek out a teacher. If you are isolated (or in the meantime) pick the approach that you have some sort of inclination for, or if you can be objective, consider the one you should be doing instead of the one you are inclined towards. For example an analytical mind might be inclined towards insight, but could benefit greatly from serenity/concentration or metta for "balance." I occasionally shift approaches if there is a very good reason to do so. For instance I generally practice samatha with breath as object and the rim of nostrils as point, but if I find myself to be unusually angry or depressed I practice metta first, or if I am being assaulted by ants or mosquitoes then I practice elements (in regards to the body) or corpse contemplation, then get on with my regular practice.

Don't worry if your meditation "goes well" or not. Often it is the difficult times that seem to be most beneficial in the long term. Anyway it is what it is, so just stick to your practice and let whatever happens happen. Just do your best concentrating, contemplating, noting or whatever it is you decide to do. You've got 7 months under your belt :clap: so don't burn yourself out or let yourself get discouraged!
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Re: Meditation techniques/uncertainty

Postby Goofaholix » Wed May 16, 2012 7:58 pm

It's good to learn several techniques but if you haven't practised it consistantly for a week or two on intensive retreat yet then you haven't learnt it properly yet.

It doesn't matter which technique you practise, it matters that the mind can stick with it and be present both when it's difficult and when it's easy.

I would definately avoid changing techniques during a sitting unless that's what you've decided to do beforehand, for example some recommend doing a concentration practise in the first half and a more spacious practise in the second half.

It's good to have lots of tools in your toolbox and it's important to learn how to use each properly but at the end of the day it's the work you can do with those tools that's important and that work is on the mind.
"Whenever we feel that we are definitely right, so much so that we refuse to open up to anything or anybody else, right there we are wrong. It becomes wrong view. When suffering arises, where does it arise from? The cause is wrong view, the fruit of that being suffering. If it was right view it wouldn't cause suffering." - Ajahn Chah
"Remember you dont meditate to get anything, but to get rid of things. We do it, not with desire, but with letting go. If you want anything, you wont find it." - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Meditation techniques/uncertainty

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Wed May 16, 2012 8:05 pm

Whenever you feel indecisive, contemplate the doubt.
Its all included in the practice of mindfulness.

I practice the Mahasi method, but when I am writing or reading on forums, its often more effective to watch the touch of the breath.

If the mind is getting agitated for some reason, then loving-kindness (metta) never hurt anyone. (~_~). When the mind is calm again, revert to noting the air element (pressure or motion) at the abdomen.

The primary object is always there to revert to, but when secondary object interrupt, they must all be contemplated until they disappear — hearing, thinking, restless, painful, etc.
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Re: Meditation techniques/uncertainty

Postby reflection » Wed May 16, 2012 8:39 pm

Hi!

Being able to apply different meditation techniques is like having a filled toolbox. You use a hammer to put a nail in the wall, you use a saw to shorten a piece of wood. But you can't learn how to use all tools at the same time. You'll end up trying to cut wood with a screwdriver.

So learn one technique at a time. Later on you'll find that they all combine and all have their place in 'tinkering' the mind. You'll be able to use the right tool the mind needs at that moment. But first you need to learn what each tool does and learn to work with it. I can tell you a screwdriver is used to put in a screw, and metta is used to reply to ill will, but if you haven't done it yourself, you won't be able to do it.

So, it's great to have multiple techniques, but in the beginning do just one at a time. You can use one to assist the other a bit (for example, metta doesn't really take off without a calm mind, getting a calm mind doesn't really work without metta), but I wouldn't switch around when you don't know why. When halfway in the process of driving in a screw with a screwdriver, you decide to switch to a hammer, you'll never see the result of using the screwdriver.

See that I do not suggest to focus on just one technique. I personally have had very good results applying multiple tools when I started meditating. But I think it is wise, when starting a session, to decide on which one you'll be doing and keep that the main practice.

With metta,
Reflection
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Re: Meditation techniques/uncertainty

Postby manas » Wed May 16, 2012 9:21 pm

Hi powerwawk,

I am finding that the more I study the original suttas, comparing what I read in one with what I read in another, learning about the deeper meanings of key pali terms, and applying what I understand from this study to my practice, that things are gradually clearing up for me. So studying the Buddha's actual words (as they have been passed down to us) and finding out the meanings for yourself is another thing that might help. I was inspired in this approach by this Thai monk:



:anjali:
Primum non nocere: "first, do no harm."
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Re: Meditation techniques/uncertainty

Postby powerhawk22 » Thu May 17, 2012 3:26 pm

Thanks everyone for the advice. I will start sticking to a single technique for each session... most likely I will just do the Mahasi style technique every time.
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Re: Meditation techniques/uncertainty

Postby powerhawk22 » Mon May 28, 2012 9:28 pm

I am once again experiencing a bit of doubt. My formal practice has been to concentrate on the feelings of breathing in my abdomen, and to pay attention to any strong sensations that may come up in conjunction with the breath. I usually tend to emphasize mindfulness over concentration, that is I don't force my attention too strongly back to my abdomen. In the past few sessions, I have had a lot of thoughts and intense restlessness coming up, in spite of my repeated efforts to bring my focus back to the breath. This has happened to me in the past, and I have read that the best thing to do is just continue the practice as normal. In addition, since I started to sit for longer periods about 6 months ago, sitting has not been "enjoyable" to me, but rather something I do because I believe it to be beneficial. I don't look forward to doing it in the morning.

These thoughts have lead me to doubt of the technique for me at my current stage, as when I practice strong concentration on the breath at the nostrils, I feel great (piti) during the practice. Since I don't have a teacher, I don't feel particularly invested in any single technique, and, various sources I find credible seem to say different things. I can't decide whether it is in my best interest to suck it up and continue with this practice as is, or to switch to concentration practice.
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Re: Meditation techniques/uncertainty

Postby dhamma_newb » Mon May 28, 2012 10:22 pm

Hi powerhawk22,

I've only been practicing for a couple of months and I think what you're going through is very common for beginners because your descriptions sound like what I've been experiencing with meditation so far. My suggestion is to relax and know you're not alone in this.

I saw from your posts that you enjoyed focusing on the breath at the nostrils. Have you thought of using the breath at the nostrils as your primary object instead of the abdomen and continuing with the Mahasi style noting / labeling method?

Also, I'm not sure if you're familiar with the 5 hindrances but when you experience a hindrance (e.g. restlessness, doubt, etc.) you could note / label it and then try to investigate / experience what the hindrance is as best as you can before returning to the primary object. I would also suggest studying the hindrances - there's a lot of talks and writings on what they are and how to deal with them.

Take care and I hope this helps.
The watched mind brings happiness.
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I am larger and better than I thought. I did not know I held so much goodness.
Walt Whitman
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