Vipassana Meditation Open Thread

by [anonymous]1 min read18th Oct 201031 comments

4

Personal Blog

Related to: Understanding vipassana meditation, Vipassana Meditation: Developing Meta-Feeling Skills

This is a place to discuss experiences and problems related to practicing vipassana meditation. This space can also be used to organize meditation events or retreats.

30 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 4:57 PM
New Comment

Here are my experiences so far; comments and suggestions invited.

I've tried vipassana three times so far, twice for 25 minutes and once for 30 minutes (in all cases minus the time it took to go settle on my bed and turn off the nearest light after setting the timer). Roughly following the instructions in MPE, I settled in a comfortable position and closed my eyes. I tried to summon up a feeling of mettā, which is hard to do without someone in particular in front of me to direct it towards. I thought of feeling it towards several specific people, some easier and some harder for me to express loving-kindness to, and then tried to focus on the feeling itself and project that generally. I notice that when I'm succeeding, I feel very content and in control. I then took three deep breaths and began the actual breath focus, letting my breathing fall back into a natural rhythm. In all cases (sooner in the later sittings than in the earlier) I had the physical sensation of being heavy, solid, and unmoving, but not hard or dead. Like a tree stump, not like a rock. It's quite comfortable, and I expect it's related to being relaxed and still and minimizing sensory input.

The first two times, I was focusing on the rims of my nostrils, as suggested in MPE. The first time I was able to stay mostly focused on that feeling for a few minutes, and then only for a few seconds at a time before getting distracted by other thoughts reeling around in my head (both verbal and visual). I tried some of the counting exercises in MPE, which worked a little bit as long as I was still doing it, but I'd lose focus again immediately after stopping. I was pretty frustrated by my distraction, although I figured it was probably normal for a first attempt. I was less frustrated the second time; I'm not sure I had much more success in focusing, but I was more able to accept that sometimes my mind will wander and to patiently redirect my attention. Again, I tried the counting exercises, but that seemed to just keep me thinking about counting, which wasn't very satisfying.

The third time was right after I read the Developing Meta-Feeling Skills post, and I focused on the area between my nose and mouth as it suggests. I found this much easier, and I spent much more time actually paying attention to the feeling of my breath, even while other thoughts and feelings were going on. I still got distracted, but the corrective effect of pulling my attention back to the anchor lasted longer. I got the solid-feeling very quickly this time, and felt especially comfortable in it--like I was in my very own cocoon. At the same time as the physical heaviness, I felt a little bit floaty and detached, which was fun. (I imagined the light part of myself starting to drift away from the heavy part, but not far--they didn't separate from one another.) I didn't feel at all anxious, impatient, or distressed at being stuck in my own head; on the contrary, it was like being in a safe place where I had full control and all the time in the world to do what I pleased without interruption. I reflected on my day, which had been quite pleasant, and thought about why the parts that had felt good and bad had felt that way (trying not to value the pleasant more than the unpleasant, but just to understand them). I found myself half wishing I had heavier things on my mind, while I was in a good headspace for dealing with them. It was a cold, damp night out, and I would sometimes "watch" myself shiver, thinking about the sensation without actually feeling uncomfortably cold. (The ability to do that is not unique to meditation for me; I noticed a while ago that if I pay direct attention to e.g. pain I can't simultaneously be distressed by it.) At some point I noticed that it was silent out, really silent, which is very rare here even at midnight (which it was). I enjoyed that thoroughly, and was delighted by how long it lasted.

One question I have: I was expecting to become uncomfortable in the position I was sitting in after half an hour, but I didn't. Someone mentioned deliberately choosing a position that would be slightly uncomfortable. Is there a reason to do that if I'm not feeling uncomfortable anyway? Or am I only not because my sittings are still fairly short?

ETA: Fourth sitting, just now, 35 minutes. I was kind of grouchy and was hoping it would help, but it didn't. I found myself wanting to stop early. I did okay on keeping focus, but the time seemed to go quickly and I felt unpleasantly groggy afterwards, which makes me wonder if I briefly fell asleep. I felt the heaviness but not as soon or consistently as previously. I noticed at some point that I was drifting into a slight hunch, another reason to think I was half-asleep. One interesting experience was knowing my hands, resting loosely in my lap, were touching, but being unable to tell how--I wasn't getting sensory data from my fingers. I guessed that they were interlaced. Later, when I noticed I was feeling them again, it was obvious that one hand was folded around the other. This wasn't a circulation issue, there was no tingling or constriction or pain--my brain just had not been listening to what my fingers were telling it. I think this is probably how we deal with most sensory input most of the time; the odd thing was experiencing it when I was trying to feel what my fingers were doing.

[-][anonymous]11y 5

Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

It seems to me that you're practicing skillfully. A few comments:

I tried to summon up a feeling of mettā, which is hard to do without someone in particular in front of me to direct it towards.

While I'm not sure about this, I think mettā might be a form of P.J. Eby's Mmm Test, which aims specifically at reinforcing positive patterns of feeling about other people.

I reflected on my day, which had been quite pleasant, and thought about why the parts that had felt good and bad had felt that way (trying not to value the pleasant more than the unpleasant, but just to understand them).

So were these thoughts in the background as you kept centered on your breath?

(The ability to do that is not unique to meditation for me; I noticed a while ago that if I pay direct attention to e.g. pain I can't simultaneously be distressed by it.)

Interesting. This is more evidence for LWers having abnormally powerful reflection abilities, and possibly experiencing faster progress in meditation as a result. (See my comment here)

One question I have: I was expecting to become uncomfortable in the position I was sitting in after half an hour, but I didn't. Someone mentioned deliberately choosing a position that would be slightly uncomfortable. Is there a reason to do that if I'm not feeling uncomfortable anyway? Or am I only not because my sittings are still fairly short?

I don't think it's so important to do now. Later on you might experiment with longer sittings and see what observing pain can teach you.

While I'm not sure about this, I think mettā might be a form of P.J. Eby's Mmm Test, which aims specifically at reinforcing positive patterns of feeling about other people.

Yeah, I agree. It's sort of priming yourself to feel positively about people. That gives me a good idea: on days when I don't find time for a full vipassana session, I think I will try to still spend a few minutes on mettā just to reinforce those neural pathways.

Also, I just started cleaning my desk. XD I'd been meaning to do that for a while ...

[-][anonymous]11y 3

After seeing that mettā and P.J. Eby's Mmm Test could be connected, I crafted my own little practice that kind of melds aspects of both of them. After meditating for an hour in the morning I spend 2-4 minutes imagining an awesome far future, and then imagine doing awesome things to realize it.

For the far future I imagine a fun-theoretic posthuman civilization, with all sorts of exotic amazingness. I then imagine myself taking near future actions toward reducing existential risk.

I don't know how much this affects my behavior (if at all). The level of abstraction (even in the case of near future actions) might well be too great for this kind of thing to work. In any case, I get a kick out of trying to imagine new kinds of posthuman fun.

Thanks for the link to pjeby's video--I don't have time to check it out right now, but I will when I can. I forgot to mention that in my fourth sitting, I found that part easier (calling up mettā deliberately). I enjoy that part.

So were these thoughts in the background as you kept centered on your breath?

Sometimes. I would anchor on the breath and try to keep it there while thinking about other things. When I noticed that I was only thinking about the other things and had lost the breath, I would re-anchor, etc.

From your comment quoting Oshaberi:

I realized I could like any previously hated food just by trying.

Ha, I've almost done this. I remember trying a new kind of cheese some time in elementary school (I remember where I was physically), and noticing that it had a strong and different flavor. I recall thinking consciously, "I could either like this or hate this--may as well like it!" and liked it. But that's the only time I've been able to do it, and I think it's because I was on the cusp. I haven't been able to choose to like other foods on purpose when I didn't before. (I also seem to be a fairly strong taster, though, which gives me strong preferences against certain kinds of taste.)

I don't think it's so important to do now. Later on you might experiment with longer sittings and see what observing pain can teach you.

Sounds good. That was more or less my default plan: Keep doing the simple stuff while it's challenging, then try something harder when the simple stuff gets less challenging. There are a couple of regular group sittings in my area, and I think my short-term goal is to get comfy enough to try joining one of them, so I can get more feedback/discussion.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

One interesting experience was knowing my hands, resting loosely in my lap, were touching, but being unable to tell how--I wasn't getting sensory data from my fingers.

Interesting. In the past I've had experiences in meditation where my brain seems to get confused about which hand is which; it feels like my left hand is where my right hand is, and vice versa.

Heh, weird. I had the same experience with the hands again today, down to making the same mistake--I was sure I had my fingers interlaced this time, but still didn't. If I remember, I might try sitting down to meditate some time with my fingers deliberately intertwined, to see if I get the same effect.

I've also been demonstrating to myself that trying to meditate when I'm very tired is almost useless. After the last session I wrote about, I did another one at the end of the night right before I went to bed, and I went long periods not even remembering I was supposed to be focusing, never mind actually focusing. But of course this afternoon, well-rested and just out of a shower, I did fine. That sitting was also a bit shorter than what I've tried before--back to 25 minutes instead of 35. I'm still tweaking that.

Oh, I almost forgot. I've noticed some effects in my everyday life which could be related, but I'm also very aware that I could just be looking for a connection which hasn't really formed yet. Just thinking about the goal of not being a slave to my reactions may well be having an effect. At any rate, I've been finding it a litttle easier to observe things that would otherwise make me uncomfortable and let them go, as well as to avoid comparing myself to other people (as recommended in MPE). These abilities aren't instinctive, as MPE suggests they eventually can be--I consciously think "hey, you're comparing yourself. that makes no sense. just observe the difference." But actually following that direction from myself has been easier.

When you're getting started with meditation, is it helpful to listen to guided meditations? I found some guided meditation mp3's available for download at the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, and a longer guided vipassana meditation by Joseph Goldstein.

[-][anonymous]11y 2

It might be helpful if your mind is so wild that you never return to your breath in your entire sitting, and need someone outside to remind you to. In other situations I think it may distract you from your self-observation.

I'd also like to know the answer to this. It hadn't occurred to me to seek something like that out. I'm pretty satisfied with my progress so far without a guide, but if it's highly recommended I'd try it.

I've been meditating for about two weeks now, and been progressing surprisingly quickly. Concentration came easy, and I started having interesting experiences pretty much straight away. I'd like to share my latest sitting and hopefully get some input.

I sat cross-legged on my couch and started concentrating on my breath as usual. Soon there was a discontinuity: my concentration lapsed, it felt as if my attention was fully in a nonsensical, dreamlike thought for just a second and suddenly I was in a clearer, lighter, easier state. It's happened similarly several times before, but I haven't been this fully aware of it earlier.

I continued meditating normally for a while; the clear state tends to be pretty stable once I enter it. Then I tried to let go of my awareness/concentration (never tried that before) and things got interesting. I was still aware, possibly still centered on my breath, but everything started to change. It felt as if my body was shifting, twisting, turning. I knew I hadn't moved but my body position seemed contorted, even impossible, as if different body parts were turning different ways, almost as if I was swirling. There was a sense of facing in two directions, alternating rapidly, maybe 30 degrees apart.

The rest is harder to describe. I was aware, but there was a sense that the awareness would've been unusually hard to locate. I'm not sure if I tried, though. After a while it seemed attenuated, somehow. There was a sense of not wanting to let go, not sure of what exactly. Possibly myself, or awareness of what was happening. Overall there was a sense of... something. If "something" is even a right word for it. Over or in-between everything else that was going on.

After a while things started settling down a bit and I felt tired, so I ended the session. It had lasted about 20 minutes.

Thoughts?

Let's say I start meditating with my eyes open and then spontaneously close them. Should I keep them close? Let's say I spontaneously start rocking. Should I keep rocking? Let's say I become thirsty. Should I get a drink, meditate on my thirst exclusively, make my thirst another thing I'm allowed to meditate on, or continue attempting to meditate on whatever I was originally meditating on?

[-][anonymous]10y 1

Good questions. Clarifying the aim of meditation might help answer them.

Roughly, I think the purpose of meditation is to increase internal reflectivity by promoting better communication between certain mental subsystems/processes, thus (hopefully) resulting in a more preferred outcome. The use of a neutral anchor (like the breath) may serve to prevent any one process from monopolizing resources to propagate itself. From this perspective it doesn't seem wise to allow your attention to completely shift from one thing to another. I'd suggest remaining centered on an anchor while allowing yourself to have thoughts (that you "see through") about things that are happening (like thirst arising or body rocking). See footnote 5 of this post for an elaboration on what "seeing through" means.

A friend of mine posted this, and I thought you guys might get a kick out of it: http://nanoraptor.tumblr.com/post/592048599

Thought I might report my experiences now that I've tried a few times.

I've been meditating for 20-30 minutes each session, and so far haven't gotten much out of it. I've found that when I'm depressed it's much easier to meditate, presumably because my mind is already somewhat slow and blank. When I'm not depressed I usually find myself getting impatient around the 15-20 minute mark. I've found it somewhat instructive to observe how allowing certain negative thoughts to rise causes an affective response in me, which I can then completely halt by returning attention to my breath. Other than that, no jhanas, no sense of disassociation, nothing except the awareness of sitting around concentrating on my breath. Since I have quite a lot of free time at the moment I'll be continuing the experiment anyway.

I feel like this thread is just me babbling at Luke_Grecki right now, but I wanted to toss another interesting experience into the pot. Fairly early on in my sitting today, it occurred to me that everyone who has ever succeeded at this wants me to as well. This was followed by a strong tangible feeling of being loved and supported--I pictured it as a big warm ball in the center of me. The feeling went away quite suddenly after a minute or two but I didn't feel disappointed, or like there was a whole there--it was more like being back to being just me, and that was fine.

ETA: "hole," that is. There was a whole there. :)

Any thoughts about meditating while sick? Obviously breathing through the nose may not work. Would you focus on breath across tongue/lips, or something else? It's looking like I'm going to have this problem for a few days. :|

[-][anonymous]11y 0

In the dhamma.org courses you move from focusing on your breath (in the area I mentioned), to focusing on sensations in that area, to systematically focusing on sensations in your whole body. If you can feel sensations in that area (like slight throbbing, temperature gradients, itchingness, etc.) you could focus on those (at least temporarily). These sensations might be too subtle to work with at this point though.

Hmm. I guess I'll see. Thanks. Today I think I can still breathe through my nose, we'll see how it goes tomorrow. The sad thing is that I was going to go by a group meditation for the first time tomorrow evening, but that seems like a bad idea for hygenic reasons at the moment.

Problem(?): I do not observe any effect different to just sitting still for a long period of time. Makes me think I am not doing it correctly.

Well, what effect do you observe when you just sit still for a long period of time?

[-][anonymous]11y 0

Who is interested in a Less Wrong Meditation Day? Will_Newsome originally proposed this possibility:

I was thinking about scheduling a Less Wrong Meditation Day, in a week or two after people get a chance to read up, where we choose a Saturday and everyone meditates for 6 hours, all starting at roughly the same time. You put social pressure on yourself by committing to report back with your experiences, and this way you can try out extended meditation without having to go through with the scary 10 day retreat. Lots of people won't be able to find time in their schedule, but I think a few people might, and if there are enough people then it could be good. I'm really interested in seeing the variance of experiences.

I'm curious about how fast Less Wrongers can progress in comparison to the general population. People can also use this opportunity to identify problems with their practice, which we can work together to solve.

I'll put my money down. If LWers try the six hour meditation, they will turn out to progress about as fast as the general population, allowing for backgrounds in martial arts or any other meditationish practice.

I don't have any strong opinions about whether anyone will try it. I'm dubious about the value of starting with such a long session, but this is just based on an impression that meditation practice is normally started more gradually.

Wondering how one is doing compared to other people is an added challenge which probably isn't going to help.

I would be part of this experiment.

I would be interested in participating in one of these but not that soon--I'm up to half an hour right now and am not sure I'm prepared to commit to a six hour sitting. But I'd be up for one that was scheduled for a bit further out, after I've had time to get into a routine and practice longer sittings.

[-][anonymous]11y 0

I'm up to half an hour right now and am not sure I'm prepared to commit to a six hour sitting.

I'm not sure if Will_Newsome meant this, but I imagined it would be six hours for the whole day and not a six hour sitting. The six hours could be broken up in one or two hour blocks. Sittings any longer than that might well be physically harmful.

Ah! I was also reading it as 6 hours at once. I think I would be interested in this.

For myself, have been trying to meditate every day since Monday. No progress so far except that while meditating I find it much easier to notice the effect specific thoughts are having on my emotions and finding it relatively easy to stop thinking about them by focussing on breath every time I notice an emotional reaction.

Good point. I still don't think I'm there yet, but certainly sooner. :)

[-][anonymous]11y 0

See Will_Newsome's post and the comments for a description of some of his experiences (as well as mine).