Making progress in meditation.

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    Kamlo Chen-Duffy

    Hello Skeptic’s Path family!

    So one thing that’s coming up for me is feeling like my meditation practice should be progressing faster. The best analogy I can give is climbing a mountain: sometimes I’ll find I’m on smooth plateaus and I can make long and easy strides. Other times I feel like I’m crawling up a sheer cliff and it takes all my energy just to hang on. I understand that meditation practice takes work, but sometimes I get the sense that I’m back at square one and I’m actually not getting anywhere at all. Has anyone else encountered a problem like this?

    alessia bulgari

    Hello dear Kamlo and hello dear all!

    I am Alessia, not so much a skeptic, in fact a bit of a blind-faithted ignorant in need of some proper challenging and use of logic and scientific approach…

    THANK YOU!!!

    Much love.

    alessia bulgari

    Hello dear all. Dear Kamlo, I rejoice in your experience of smooth plateaus!
    I feel I make no progress at all in meditation, what a disaster!
    And the more I see this, the less I actually sit and put the effort.
    I do the practices, as these come easier to me: I follow a texts, recite prayers, chant mantras and all that… it is like being guided, and maybe it does help the aspect of concentration… but it is quite rare that I have enough concentration during these to actually feel a real connection ( to the Three Jewels, the Guru, or the Deity of the specific practice); sometimes I am more like a parrot, and when I see this I get angry and end up procrastinating…
    Of course, as in mountain climbing, some days are better than others, but generally these days I am experiencing a decrease of both effort and, obviously, concentration. So this progress is, at this time, reversed… argh…
    I wonder, how can I say I have faith and still not put enough effort!? Am I , after all, more a skeptic than I thought? Or is it just laziness?
    Much love to you all!

    Stephen Butler

    Hello Kamlo,

    You bring up some great points about practice. The twists and turns of learning to play a musical instrument or climb a mountain have times filled with clear signs of progress and times that feel like we are treading water without making progress. The more time I spend with practice I sometimes feel like I am sliding back down to kindergarten and then to pre-K and below! But I am slowly taking this feeling to be a good thing for me!

    There are two bits of advice that help me to cope with feelings of lack of progress during study, practice or meditation.

    The first is to be steady even if only in small amounts. Even if I have little time for practice my own teachers have emphasized that being steady is very important. The steadiness allows the chance to bond with the practice again and again. Focusing on being steady, even if we can only afford five minutes on some days, is helpful as it gives us the confidence (and hopefully joy) of sticking with it. It also reminds us to not be so focused on achieving a feeling or experience through practice.

    The second thing that helps me is to simply be with the feeling of “not meditating well.” Like thoughts and other emotions, that feeling can be a focus of practice and practicing being with the feeling allows me the space to reorient my view in relation to that feeling. That gives me some confidence to re-engage with it in an open way and bring it on the path.

    On the traditional side, there is a quote from a Kadampa geshe, Geshe Dolpa:

    “Steps of the path, steps of the path!
    They all come down to three short words:
    look far ahead,
    think very big,
    keep a pace.”

    Love connecting and sharing about these journeys we are all on. That is a huge support too!



    Kamlo Chen-Duffy

    Hi Alessia,

    I totally relate to what your saying. Don’t give up! I often find connecting to my practice very hard. As I mentioned in class, a practical decision I have made is to practice every morning, even if it is an extremely brief session. Sometimes I feel like I am flying through the meditation, parroting the words, as you say. I feel like I was completely distracted during the entire session, and that it was a complete waste of time. The thing that convinces me that it wasn’t a waste of time is because I develop the habit, and it creates the cause for me to come try again the next morning. I have stopped trying to expect major results from my meditation, and ironically that seems to help them come faster.

    Another thing that I find helpful is to not think of meditation so rigidly. It’s not just the time we’re sat formally on the cushion. It could be reading a text and contemplating it. Or walking in the park and reflecting on the ideas. And bringing in mindfulness/awareness/concentration means you can turn anything into meditation, like washing the dishes!

    What do you think?

    alessia bulgari

    Dear Kamlo,
    and dear all!

    Yes, thank you so much, I see and appreciate what both you and Steven are saying about the importance of being steady and finding the right pace, which may also change of course…

    So, what I am trying to do is to keep any kind of activity that I call Dharma practice – like putting some effort in being vigilant, or remembering the buddhas and the teachers, the reality of them – right there, as much as possible on the surface of awareness; most of the time these are below, under the traffic, under the whirling thoughts and the automatism of words and responses; the actual formal activity of meditation I like to think of as the infrastructure that supports and contains all that; and when I feel I am doing it with less concentration – and so less connection – the structure becomes less stable, less flexible, less reliable, less useful in what is for me – at this stage/moment of my mind – it’s basic function: of protecting my mind from these automatism, from this lack of vigilance.

    Really Dharma practice is for me a light on what is happening and how can I be in that moment, what is the best I can be in that moment; and formal meditation is the power station. As I see the preciousness of this amazing tool I tend to panic when I see I cannot control it… and maybe this is the problem, trying to use it as one would use a hammer or such tool!

    Thank you for for your thoughts!

    Katrin Veicht

    Dear ALL,
    thank you for sharing all your experiences and thoughts!
    That helps a lot to get clearer.
    @Kamlo – I like that – meditation is not only on the cushion – Lama Yeshe once said: you can even do it in the bathroom…. I feel meditation
    and awareness or being aware are very close.

    Thanks to that programme I started my practice again – believing in even a tiny drop of water fills a glass in the end….
    I try to sit down and don’t expect anything – just be and let go.
    Which is not easy at all, sometimes – sometimes it is easy.

    Then I have a question:
    Does anyone of you had that experience – when sitting for a while and the mind gets clear and the thoughts settle down
    there are pictures coming up, very clear ones, like a slight show. The first time I had this, the pictures were
    not clear at all. But I could see, there a children playing at a playground. Lately they are clearer and they go very quickly. It is not like
    visualizing, it’s like they are shown in front my inner eye, eyes closed…? I have no idea what that means???

    Thank you – all best!

    alessia bulgari

    Dear Katrin,

    I have been thinking about the experience that you talk about, how interesting!

    I have no answers but some questions, if I may: are these “scenes” always the same, these children playing? Are they familiar, do you think they could be memories? How do you feel when you experience them, is there a particular emotion associated to them? Do you enjoy them or do they disturb you?

    The only thing that comes to my mind is maybe you should not think too much of them, not expect them, not look for them, not wait for them to arise, nor worry if they do… the mind is such a mystery ( to me…), some part of it could even be create distracting images – just when you are actually trying to concentrate on some other thing…

    These here are just thoughts, so please take with a pinch ( or a bucket) of salt.

    All the best to you and to all!

    Katrin Veicht

    Dear Alessia,
    thank you for replying to my posting. I try to explain: no, they are always different pictures or scenes. I was never scared or anything like that or existed. I just watched. They are only short clips, only a few seconds. The nicest one was a doll in a window – dressed in 40th/50th dress, very nice. I still have it in mind. I did think the same as you – I don’t expect anything to come up or wait for it. Guess that would ruin (?) it. I thought for myself – if I stay calm – this might be like when we are dying – apparently there are also pictures etc coming up – it is maybe phenomenas – so we should not care – just watch…what do you feel about this? Personally I feel like that is probably the best…???? I am just curious where they come from – a part of the subtle mind???
    All best to you to – thanks again!

    alessia bulgari

    Hello again Katrin.

    In regards to your “visions”, I am afraid that all I can think of is that we know so little of the mind… so, because we want to learn, we should do our best to not create obstacles to the process.

    Yesterday Geshe Namdak quoted Sarawa, more or less like this: “We are already confused, why should we be more confused?”.

    So my only thought is, unless these experiences are particularly disturbing your meditation, maybe you should do just as you said above: just watch them come and go.

    This is just my very ignorant opinion… always keep that bucket of salt at hand!

    All the best to you,
    and to all,

    Katrin Veicht

    Hello Alessia,
    thank you for giving it another thought. Yes, I guess this is the best way to “deal” with it.
    Thanks for the quote –
    I shall see if there will be more? Otherwise I am sure letting go is always the best way.
    All best to you and see you again.
    Warm wishes to all, good night.

    Stephen Butler

    Hello Katrin and Alessia,

    Sharawa’s instruction is really applicable to this situation. Letting them come and go really helps us to cultivate stability in meditation. The ability to be with thoughts and emotions in a gentle way can be hard especially when many myriad emotions and thoughts come and go.

    Thich Nhat Hanh uses the word “stopping” as the operative quality of what can be called shamatha or calm-abiding. So what are we “stopping?” We try to stop our long-held habit of being carried away by our thoughts and physical and mental sensations. We do this in a gentle way again and again. We often have strong habits to jump on thoughts, to analyze and adjudicate our thoughts and subsequent reactions to those them.

    This really helps me!


    alessia bulgari

    Dear Stephen,

    Thank you! Yes this really helps. The key word for me here is “gentle”; I tend to become impatient and forget that there is no better practice ( at my level) than that of noticing I’ve gone astray and then to bring the attention back, again and again, as you say.

    Any expectations of some “special experience”, or of fast improvement in the level of attention, are very confusing elements, in fact maybe the greatest distraction; I’ll try and remember this before I sit, instead of after I’ve lost my patience…

    These thoughts seem simple, but they are so precious, as is all the support that comes from being able to share, here.

    Much gratitude to you all!

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