[Update] this intent has been put on hold. Check this comment for details. This note was put at the top, because whenever I see a post about "I'm going to do XYZ" my most burning question is always, "Well did they?"

I think since about last winter I've been convinced that there is something really interesting that comes from going deep down the path of meditation. Things like happiness is a chore, the little dragon is dead, Kensho, "My attempt to explain Looking", and Scott's review of Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha all were things that lead me to that conclusion.

I've had bouts of meditation practices in the past, the longest streak was perhaps a month, and I never got anywhere past, "Yeah, I do feel calmer throughout the day after having meditated, and sometimes I feel incredibly peaceful in the midst of meditation."

I am "trying to get enlightened", but as people have pointed out, it doesn't seem like that's a great frame of mind to be in throughout a practice. That's why I'm documenting my current goals and assumptions in this post, and then I'm going to forget about it for a while and look back in a few months and if things have changed.

Here's the plan:

  • 30 min time for meditation each morning, everyday.
  • Using The Mind Illuminated as a guide, going through the various stages.
  • Finishing reading the book over the next week.
  • Each week when I do my weekly review, check if I can foresee days where it will be hard to do morning meditation, and make alternate plans.
  • I will document any days I miss in the comments of this post.
  • I will document any changes in attitudes towards this whole endeavor in the comments

Things I Want

  • Fewer moments of feeling like consciousness is a burden.
  • I've got a ton of strong curiosity about how minds actually work and what's really going on in my head, and I want to have a deeper felt/experiential map of my own mind and existance.
  • I want to suffer less.
  • I want to get in touch with lower levels of my experience, and more basic parts of my mind.
    • Both for epistemic clarity, and because I expect it will make me happier.
  • It sounds sorta like super powers and I've always wanted super powers.
  • I want to be kinder.
  • I want to be less terrified of dying.
  • I want to be less scared of being hurt by people.
  • I'm crazy excited by the idea of seeing the "clock ticks of experinece" (I interpreted an excerpt from MCTB to be saying the dude was able to percieve the actual sequential play by play of his experience)
  • Increased noticing skills

Assumptions / Predictions

  • There are real mental states / ways of being / skills that correspond to "enlightenment".
  • Though it might not be particularly quick or easy, I can can make progress towards achieving that through non-mysterious means.
  • If I do end up experiencing something like "The Dark Night of the Soul" I will be able to proceed through it (not getting stuck for more than a few months (made up time scale))

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18 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:48 PM

Excited for your new intention. I'd encourage you to seek out contact with a teacher, too. I was initially hesitant to do this myself and avoided it for a year, but joining a sangha and having a teacher has proven immensely valuable to me. I also don't know much about how you will handle the changes that can come with meditating, and having a teacher to help you navigate those things is helpful to avoid deluding yourself or getting caught in traps (local minima/maxima). Not knowing where you live there may not be much nearby you, but you can find teachers who are willing to work with folks remotely (I don't know how to find them though since I didn't have to).

And if you happen to be in or visit Berkeley, feel free to drop by the REACH on Tuesday nights at 2030: we hold a weekly meditation meetup there with time for both a sitting period and discussion.

Could you explain what happens during such a meetup? Do people just meet and meditate to have a fixed time to do it? At my university there was a Zen-Buddhist group, but its meetings usually took place when I had other obligations, and then one time I went there out of curiosity, I did not find it very convincing. Basically the same things that I also found weird in the Suzuki book "Zen Mind, Beginners Mind": Posture is everything, so sit correctly and everything will follow.

At our meetup people are free to meditate how they like so long as it's silent and otherwise not distracting to others: it's simply a space for people who want to practice meditation to do so together. Many people find it hard to keep up their practice on their own, which is why sangha is valuable. We don't totally provide all that sangha can, but we do provide at least some like-minded folks you can be with while meditating and talk to about meditating. So yes, it's a regularly scheduled time when people can commit to meditating and the social component helps it stick.

We don't normally give instruction, but if people ask I just give the most rudimentary of guidance: sit comfortably so you are at ease but not totally relaxed and attentive but not on edge, then draw your attention to your breath without trying to control either your attention or your breath so you just observe what's happening. If you get distracted that's fine, just notice and return to the breath; you can't really meditate wrong because you are discovering a skill for yourself, and it's better to err on the side of saying "oh great, I noticed I was distracted; I noticed something!" than "shit, I got distracted; guess I suck at meditating".

I practice zen so I'm familiar with the kind of instruction you received. There's more to it than posture but the form is the only thing we really have anything to talk about, because the goal is to just sit (this is the literal translation of shikantaza, the primary form of meditation in soto zen; another would be "simply getting on with sitting"), and learning how to do that is something we don't believe can be effectively taught but is something you can discover for yourself through experiencing stillness, and that starts with stilling your body by sitting in a particular form that encourages that.

Incidentally I think this is why zen, despite its seemingly large position in the marketplace of ideas relative to other forms of Buddhism to the point that "zen" just means something like "calm" to many people, is not a very popular practice; it's just not the sort of thing that resonates with lots of people. I think this is why vipassana has become so popular: it's a style that better meets most (Western) people where they're at. But personally I don't mesh with vipassana or many other styles well, so I stick to shikantaza because it's what works with me. Humans have enough variation that it makes sense to me that different styles, even if they seem only subtly different, will work with different people differently, so if you don't like one way of meditating you may like another.

Thanks for your reply. I have read Dan Harris' 10% book, and found it quite entertaining, though in fact the parts that really tell you about meditation are a small share. I also read half of Suzuki's book. To be honest, it seemed to me like the kind of text where people start to believe they are into something but mostly because things seem so deep. I respect the insight that some things cannot be taught by theory, but then I expect that the example of those who practice Zen for a while must be something that can be useful for demonstrating what a valuable practice Zen is?

Good luck! If you run into trouble or have questions which aren't answered by the book, /r/TheMindIlluminated/ is a helpful community.

Did you do a review of TMI somewhere? While I liked the book the author seems overconfident (>>> my comfort level) about "you will have this kind of experience at this stage", largely backed by personal experience.

I've been intending on writing an extended review but haven't gotten around it.

Which kinds of experiences are you referring to? My recollection is that he did mention individual variability a bunch of times.

I should reread the book, but creation of the precise stages with precise description of experiences seemed unrealistic to me. Would love to hear your take

The stage descriptions seem to match my experience pretty well. I can usually specify which stage I was at during a sit, give or take one stage. Applying the specific instructions for each stage has also been helpful: more than once, I've been struggling with a specific stage for an extended time, then gone back to re-read the methods prescribed for that stage, and then finding almost instant improvement after applying the instructions and thinking that I should have re-read them much earlier.

Friends who are also practicing with the TMI system also seem to think that it's pretty easy to match their experience to the stage descriptions in the book.

Days missed, changes in direction, and other things will be documented in comments to this comment. So feel free to comment on this post, but don't comment on this comment.

It's been 112 days on this habit.

5 days have been missed, none happened consecutively. "Don't skip twice" has been a good star to follow.

For the past month and a half I've felt a good deal more mind-wandering than in the first month and a half. This seemed to be related to not giving as much attention to why I am doing this, forgetting the exciting motivation, and treating it as, "routine". This past week has been a slight uptick in attention. We'll see what happens.

I'm going to put meditation on pause, but still keep my protected 30 min morning time. I'm going to swap in "Thinking, introspecting, and dwelling on how I relate to other people."

The decisions comes from a few things:

  • How I relate to people is one of the most frequent subjects of mind-wandering during meditation.
  • I'm currently in a relationship that has made me a lot more aware of various habits of behavior and thinking that I have.
  • I feel well poised to make a lot of progress on that front.
  • When I mind notice I'm mind wandering, I try to follow, "Why did my attention go from the my breathe to this topic?" I frequently find that I pretty deeply feel that spending time on relations would benefit me more than the meditation (ala this comment).

I'm going to give this a one-month trial period. Expect an update March 31, 2019

I've missed seven days of journaling in the last month plus (non consecutive though).

Thoughts: I've gotten some good insight from this time. Towards the end, it became more, "What are the important things that happened recently?" journaling.

I've put much less ritual-intent into this habit than with meditation. In the past week I changed my sleep schedule (I now sleep in till whenever instead of getting up with an alarm at 7am) which makes it slightly harder to ensure the sanctity of morning journaling, but I'm currently okay with that because sleeping more and getting up at my own pace has had a wonderful positive affect this past week (keeping a keen eye on if that trend continues).

It feels vaguely important to not go into this journaling with an agenda. I get more rewarding journaling when I wait until the thing that catches my interest most works its way to the top of my mind.

That's another type of meditation. Throw in some "notice how this goes" and "monkey mind meditation" and you're still meditating

When I was doing 6 months of TAPs one of the big things I noticed was that when I disengaged from a TAP (or the TAP was bubbling up to the top layer of conscious awareness, but was dismissed before getting to the top, but still while there was some awareness on it) there was a feeling of, "Oh, I'm not actually convinced of the purpose and mission of this TAP right now". Once or twice I gained insight from exploring that lack of conviction, and found a hole in the logic of my TAP.

I notice a similar experience in meditation. On the mornings when I feel the most disengaged, and returning to the breath is the most "chore like", I notice that there's some way in which I'm no longer convinced that returning to the breath is "the best use of my time".

12-13-18 Update:

Have kept a continuous streak. On a handful of days, something happened in the morning and I mediated in the evening, which was a good bit harder.

I started to use Seinfeld calendar streak idea (replacing "X"s with green arrows) and it's been surprisingly pleasant. I get way more joy than anticipated from being able to put a green arrow on the wall every day, and to see a long chain of green arrows on said wall. One day over thanksgiving, morning meditation didn't work out, and I was going to drop it that day (it felt okay on a principled level, since thanksgiving was when I was originally intending to re-calibrate my intentions) but as soon as I imagined my calendar not having those green arrows I felt a huge emotional shift. Also interesting, it didn't feel like a guilt trip, it felt more like, "I can't allow this to happen because then I don't get my amazingly beautiful green arrows and there will be an ugly whole on the calendar, and that's just not how the world is going to be if I have anything to say about it".

Only update on meditation "progress" is that I feel little to no resistance to spending time meditating. There's no ugg field around "having" to do it when I wake up, when I sit down I'm mostly excited, and when it's getting to the end of the 30 minutes I'm rarely restless/"just waiting for it to be over". Mind wandering vs breath focus time doesn't seem to have changed much.

I still haven't read all the way through the mind illuminated. That might happen over winter break, but it's not a super high priority.

I think my new intention is continue meditating daily into the foreseeable future. The shape of my time is regular enough that I don't expect this to be a huge challenge, and since I've gotten more comfortable with spending time meditating I'd be very surprised at some internal jumping-ship.

If things ever get more chaotic, on Malcolm Ocean's recommendation I think I'm going to try the don't skip twice approach (raemon also mentions it in sunset at noon which is still a great post a year later)

Was thinking about Getting Got in terms of goals, and realized that my target was implicitly, "Meditate every day forever", which makes anything less (even if it's a Good Idea) Giving Up (which feels Bad). So my new intention is that until Thanksgiving, daily meditation is a "The world must explode before I give up" target, at which point I'll reconsider what my intention is.