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Am I on the right track with my personal practice? I feel lost.

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  • Am I on the right track with my personal practice? I feel lost.

    Dear Venerables,

    I apologise in advance for my long post and question. I've been a buddhist since my early 20s (I'm 32 now) and during that time I've had times where I practiced and times where I've let it slip. Recently I've been seriously considering if ordaining is right for me and I've decided to deepen my practice as a result. I would appreciate some guidance as I'm overcome by doubt. Doubt not in the buddha, dhamma and sangha but doubt in myself and if I'm practicing correctly. So I will briefly describe my private daily practice and how I meditate and any feedback, tips and advice would be greatly appreciated!

    Daily - After I wake up and do 30mins of walking meditation followed by 30mins of metta or breath meditation (All methods used are from Ajahn Brahms book 'Happiness though Meditation'). After that I do chanting in pali (Recollections of the Buddha/Dhamma/Sangha, followed by the 3 refuges and 5 precepts).

    After that I like to spend some time reading a sutta from the Majjihima Nikaya. Then I usually have breakfast and following breakfast I do household chores (my way of being generous to those I live with as I don't live near a sangha). In the evening, if I'm feeling in the mood I might listen to a dhamma talk on a particular sutta I'm reading at the moment or a problem I'm having with my meditation. When i'm not practicing directly, I mostly just try and stay mindful of the 5 precepts as I'm going about my day. I'm hoping to move towards keeping the 8 precepts daily but I'm still working letting go of entertainments.

    As for my meditation practice I spend some time relaxing the body (I ask each body part if they are feeling happy and comfortable) then once I'm relaxed I try to gently switch my attention to the present moment and I use my inner speech to narrate what is happening around me (eg. "A car is driving past. My chest is rising and falling. That was a short breath, that was a long one" etc.). Once I'm in the present moment I either switch to Metta Meditation or continue with the breath by moving towards silent present moment awareness.

    If a hindrance comes up, I first note it then gently move my attention back to my object. If it comes up again I then try and notice which one it is and go back to my meditation object. If it comes up a third time I then try, in order, the 5 methods from the Vitakkasanthana Sutta (MN 20). If it is still there I abandon my meditation for later.

    That is my daily practice. Please let me know if I'm on the right track! I feel so lost. Any feedback, positive or negative is more than welcome. Please don't hold back.

    Thank you again venerables!
    Last edited by Jack Williams; 19th-April-2020, 11:41 AM.

  • #2
    Dear Jack,

    Yes, it is quite reasonable to feel lost at times... But actually, it is just another emotion!

    I will read your email carefully and reply in the next few days with any ideas I may have. What you are doing seems excellent - but quite honestly, it is difficult to know what is right or wrong for you from a post on the forum. If it is possible, it would be good to find a real-live teacher you can speak to personally or over Skype to allay your doubts.

    I too find myself feeling lost - and do exactly what you are doing when I am stuck! The actual process of breaking down what and writing down what is happening in one's meditation is an excellent exercise. When reporting at interviews at Panditarama in Myanmar, we were asked to use the following format which I find incredibly useful when trying to 'unpack' my practice.

    Report on your
    1. Sitting Meditation
    2. Walking Meditation
    3. Daily life practice

    in the following way:
    1. What did I experience
    2. How did I observe it / do with it
    3. What happened next

    I write this down at the end of the day. It is easier to analyse my practice as I write it down. And also relate it back to the Buddha's teaching to Mahapajapati Gotami in AN8-53, 'Does it lead to dispassion...'

    Hope this little bit of information is good for now, I will write again in a few days after I have read your post more carefully.

    With metta,
    Ven Upekkha

    Comment


    • #3
      Dear Venerable Upekkha,

      I've decided to write down what happened today in the way you suggested at the end of your reply. This is done in the hope that it helps you provide feedback when you're ready to do so.

      1. Sitting Meditation:

      Overview: (Time of day - Morning, Duration - 26 mins - My goal for the next week is deepen my foundation by focusing on letting go of past and future thoughts.)

      What I experienced: I started by sitting comfortably on my meditation cushion and felt my body relax. I closed my eyes and asked each body part if they are happy and healthy, immediately and without effort I felt feelings of metta arise. If they were uncomfortable I would adjust them until they were relaxed and at peace.

      Once relaxed I moved my attention to the general present moment, just letting go of past and future. As I deepened my presence into the present moment I felt a raw desire to start thinking about the future but it passed quickly. From then on it was very peaceful and calm but towards the end of the meditation a thought about the future arose, about a particular sense object. Then a feeling of ill-will arose immediately after.

      2. How did I observe it / do with it: When the thought about the future arose my mindfulness immediately noticed it and recognised it as desire for a future object. I didn't interact with it, I just observed it by staying in the present moment. Following that initial thought, I noticed ill-will towards my meditation object arise. Then, continuing to observe in the present moment, I noticed a desire to stop meditating arise. I decided to trace the causal chain back to its source and looked again at that initial thought of the future.

      I noticed that the after the desire for the future sense object arose, I felt ill-will at the meditation object because my desire wasn't being fulfilled. I then saw that because this desire wasn't being fulfilled ill-will about the present moment arose and the ill-will at the present moment arose because of the raw craving I had. The raw craving arose because my mind made contact with the thought of item in particular and my mind decided that it was good.

      That investigation happened without any effort on my part, it was really very strange and its the first time that has happened.

      3. What happened next: The sense desire for the future reduced in intensity and I was able to continue my meditation. I don't know why it reduced in intensity though.

      ----------

      2. Walking Meditation:

      Overview: (Time of day - Morning, Duration - 25mins)

      What I experienced: I didn't experience anything very big, however I have noticed a raw craving/desire to think about the future rather than having actual thoughts of the future themselves. It feels like a general sense of unease about letting go of the past and future. Its quite weird. Again, this wasn't thinking directly about the future/past i was catching it more at the formation of the thoughts.

      2. How did I observe it / do with it: I just watched it to see where it would go. It was in the present moment so I felt like it was an okay object to watch. I made mental notes on how the craving felt in my body.

      3. What happened next: The craving subsided pretty quickly once I started watching it. I don't know why.

      --------

      3. Daily life practice:

      I wake up and immediately do my walking meditation then follow it by sitting meditation. I felt very calm and peaceful after my meditations were done, I had a very subtle sense of happiness and contentment too. I then chant in pali for 10-15 minutes after sitting meditation. I chant offerings for the buddha, then recollections of buddha, dhamma and sangha, finishing with the 3 refuges and 5 precepts. I always feel full of joy and faith when I'm chanting and after I chant. Its my favourite part of the morning.

      As I'm going about my day I try and stay mindful and in the present moment. If I'm eating, I try to just eat, not look around etc. If I'm walking, I try to just walk and not think about where I'm heading. Finally I like to read a sutta once a day, I usually feel joy or inspiration from reading them so I rarely need to force myself to read them. If I don't understand something I look up a dhamma talk about it.

      -------

      This is my full report. I hope it helps you understand my practice and if I'm on the right track. Thank you again venerable for taking the time out of your practice to help me.

      With metta,

      Jack

      Comment


      • #4
        Dear Jack,

        My first reaction on reading your more detailed report (and yes, it was far more informative) was 'Anumodana!' What a joy to meet a dedicated yogi!

        A few things that come to mind when reading what you wrote -

        - Your faith is inspiring. It is an 'indriya' and it's power supports your practice. It means you joyfully have a regular routine and stay on the right track, by making sure you keep in line with the Buddha's teachings.

        - When thoughts of the future arose, you didn't buy into the story-line, instead, your mindfulness was powerful enough that the craving disappeared quickly.

        - Your entire day is one of practice - not just a few hours here and there.

        - There is some service in your day (doing chores for your housemates). I like to think of my practice also as a gift to the world.

        From the limitation of being at the other end of a computer screen, it seems that you are on the right track - doing well, in fact. Keep going!

        I hope that the exercise of writing down your experience in this more detailed way helped you to uncover your strengths and possible weaknesses. In this absence of someone to talk to, I find it a useful tool to 'unpack' my practice.

        Finally, it is a great advantage to live in a spiritual community. If you have the opportunity, it would be good to spend an extended period of time in a monastery - it is an entirely different experience living with others!

        My very best wishes and that you keep walking the path ~

        Ven Upekkha

        Comment


        • #5
          Dear Venerable Upekka,

          It has been a month since we last communicated and I wanted to check back in with you now that it has been a month since my post. I wanted to share with you how my practice has been going the last month and ask your advice if I'm still heading in the right direction. Your previous responses helped tremendously and my practice has deepened as a result. Rather than start a new thread, I thought I'd just ask again here as my question is the same as before, "am I on the right track?"

          I apologise for the large amount text but I want to thank you for your advice in advance. Metta!

          1. Daily life practice:

          I've decided that I will start the path towards ordination and see how it goes. I've set out all the steps to ordain at Bodhinyana and started working on them. The biggest so far is paying off all my debts, which I have started to do slowly. I also need to fix a few teeth so I'm nice and healthy. As these cost money I'll need a new job which I'm working towards. In the mean time I'm working towards keeping the 8 precepts one day a week (I'm currently able to maintain 7 precepts but I'm working on letting go of entertainments). Paying off my debts will take a few years so in the meantime I plan on deepening my practice, doing some 9 day retreats and maybe visiting Bodhinyana for an extended stay once the caronavirus is over.

          My daily routine is roughly the same as last I reported, although I now meditate for longer and more often during the day. I usually meditate for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. I've started to study the suttas more carefully, specifically in line with the eight fold path and right view of karma, rebirth, that there are wise people who have seen these things for themselves, non-self, and the four noble truths. Additionally I'm almost halfway through reading the Majjhima Nikaya which I've found very helpful. All in all I meditate twice a day, read the suttas once or twice a day, listen to a dhamma talk on a sutta I'm reading once a day (usually while I'm taking a bath I put on a bswa podcast or video on the sutta I'm reading).

          During the day I've been able to keep up my service by cleaning the house, I've also started to help out my family with their debts (provided I can afford it without causing myself harm or stress). When i'm eating I try to not drift off into the future or past, but maintain noble silence and experience the food. I've been putting a lot more effort into Right Speech and Right Action lately as I've read in the suttas that it not only is for our benefit in future lives but it is conducive towards right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and ultimately, right samadhi. This has been tough but I'm happy to be working on it.

          ---------------

          2. Sitting Meditation:

          Overview: (Mornings - 40mins to 1 hour) I've been practicing Ajahn Brahm's 7 stages leading to Jhana style meditation practice, mixed in with Metta Meditation and Walking Meditation. I start by making myself comfortable, then I instruct my gatekeeper to pay attention to the present moment and not to drift off into the past/future. I then let my mind do its work and I get out of the way. I use mala beads to give my hands something to do and I find this really helps me with getting into the present moment easily. Once I'm firmly and silently aware of the present moment I put the beads down and instruct my mind to pay attention to the breath. I can regularly reach the stage where I can watch the breath silently, however I'm still working on developing this third stage. I don't want to rush it. It might take months or years but that is okay.

          After 30 or so minutes I find my mind wants to stop meditating so I've started to switch my meditation object towards metta when this happens. I've found that doing metta after watching the breath allows me to very easily create very strong feelings of metta. I've considered that once the metta is strong I could go back to watching the breath but I've not tried this out yet as it is usually 1 hour sitting by now and my body starts to get sore and this is usually when I stop.

          What I experienced: Once my attention is on the breath I've noticed that it feels very rough and violent compared to being aware of the present moment. The rise of the chest and noise of breathing in then the sudden loud out breath and fall of the chest is so rough sometimes! I get uncomfortable with the roughness of it and after a while my mind starts looking for something else to do. I've noticed that this usually arises as inner speech starting up again.

          2. How did I observe it / do with it: If my mind becomes too active and searching for other things to do and it becomes too difficult to watch the breath I go back to either present moment awareness or silent present moment awareness until the mind has calmed back down. If it calms down I then move my attention back to the breath. If this cycle happens two or three times I move towards metta meditation.

          3. What happened next: Sometimes my mind calms back down and I'm able to go back to watching the breath. However it isn't long before my mind starts being uncomfortable with the roughness of the breath and the cycle starts up again. If I switch to Metta I usually have amazing experiences, my mind really inclines towards metta very easily. I can generate so much love and kindness and warmth in my heart it feels like I'm standing in the sunlight. I would like to know how I can develop this further, is it possible to watch the feelings of metta just as one would watch the breath? If so, is there any instructions on this?

          ---------------

          This is my daily practice, I still do walking meditation but nothing significant has happened to merit reporting about it. Thank you again for reading this and giving me advice.

          With metta,

          Jack

          Comment


          • #6
            Dear Jack,

            As usual, I have not been checking the forum site all that regularly. Forgive the delayed response.

            Once again, let me read your message more carefully and I will get back to you with the best advice I have!

            With metta,
            Ven Upekkha

            Comment

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