Recent Progress in Meditation

As far as I can tell, I can consistently get up to 3rd jhana.

I have also been able to enter 1st jhana through Vipassana - this happened about a week ago while going to sleep. I was totally not expecting it, but luckily Lydia happens to be reading the MCTB, and confirmed that Ingram says it’s possible. I’ve repeated this in formal practice.

At night I usually watch some shows, and while watching them I’ve been able to enter into first jhana and extend it for the duration of the show. A few days ago I did this for two 45 minute sessions. 

I’m beginning to understand why meditation teachers warn against this - jhanic bliss is incredibly addicting, especially knowing you can get into it in informal moments through vipassana.

BUT, it could tie in to being very useful for relaxing at the end of the day. Before starting the project I was looking into hobbies and things that could get me to de-stress - I talk about this a little bit here. Some meditation guy theorized “wouldn’t if people, instead of going out for a drink or whatnot to relax, came home and blissed out in jhana for an hour?” Well…that’s completely within the scope of my skill at this point.


In the last few weeks I’ve dredged up old ideas on this blog that have connected anew with what I’m doing now, and this is another example. At the very beginning of this project I started a habit I called “dynamic meditation” - where I used specific techniques to counter any instance of negativity I felt during the day. Here’s a post where I discuss this - I say that it “feels like cheating.”

That’s not quite detailed enough - it felt good -really really good. There was this feeling of immense freedom and I was grinning all the time with a pleasurable sensation in my heart. It actually felt really similar to 1st jhana accessed through vipassana, and in fact I think it was very close to it - which is pretty cool!

My old protocol was very close to what I’m doing now. My theory then was that moods were static - if depression welled up, I’d have to counter it. Buddhist meditation theory, however, suggests that simply not feeding the emotion will allow it to pass if it’s treated skillfully, as all mental phenomenon do. And this is something I now understand in my own head as I do vipassana these days.

The other thing I’ve been working on is trying to penetrate the mindstream. I’m trying to accurately and specifically note physical, mental imagery, and emotions. I’m attempting to go further to pinpoint when a thought begins and when it ends. And I’ve also found a different category of phenomenon - thoughts before they fully coalesce. Back when I was doing “dynamic meditation” I got good at observing negative emotions before they crystalized and got good at nipping them before they manifested (also noted in the previous link).

This is really good, and I’ve read about this in some of the advanced Buddhist books I’ve been scouring lately.

The problem I feel right now is that I don’t know the progressions for Vipassana - everyone basically says to keep noting more and more rigorously, and that will result in Stream Entry. Samatha Jhanas (single pointed jhanas) are clearer in term of progression right now. Keep concentrating, and you’ll hit these jhanic stopping points. The problem there is that I can’t seem to progress past 3rd Jhana. 

But I’m in a good position - meditation is a regular habit, which I’ll continue as I search for the answers.

A Few MORE Thoughts on Regimentation

If we were to define Regimentation it seems as though it consists of a few aspects:

1) Focusing on the task at hand to the exclusion of other tasks
2) Not clinging to tasks after their appointed time
3) Rest and Relaxation (which ties into number 2)

To accomplish this I need to, for 1) have a list of tasks that are completely broken up to their most basic composite actions. That helps me start and forget with ease because I don’t have a hesitation when I start a task - it has already been decided beforehand. The progression and movement forward has already been decided upon. I often worry about what comes next, and that frequently happens in my free time.

But the tasks need to be broken up correctly.

For example one task I have is formatting a blog post correctly to my new website. That’s not an accurate assessment and the structure of that to-do list results in immense frustration and (not to mention willpower leaking all over the place) It’s built into the structure because I’ve planned it improperly.

A better to-do list involves what I really had to do. I had to find a movie clip for the overview of the post. I had to figure out how to stabilize the video, how to select and move clips, how to do a good transition. I’ll then have to figure out why the original video didn’t work in the post preview. Proper planning and breaking up tasks results in a mental feeling of winning. Something I don’t have now even if I’ve worked for hours on something.

That’s the beginning of a task and its execution - for the ending I need to, as I said in a previous post, have a set time - I can’t just keep working and working - that causes a blurring between “work time” and “off time” - and that usually results in me banging my head on the table feeling I’ve failed at life. This also results cheat meals and exhaustion throughout the week, destroying other habits.

The next part of regimentation involves forgetting. How do you forget? Dynamic meditation can be used to stay in the present moment after my habit sequence is completed. My tendancy is to replay and worry and go on tangents about work in my head throughout the rest of the day. This is difficult but might be an unusual case where my habits can actually back each other up, especially if I increase the number of times I do the dynamic meditation habit.

A second strategy is to find some hobbies, which I have severe problems coming up with on the spot because I almost always want to fully master them and put them through the habit formation process. The hobbies have to be casual - HERE’s a site for finding a hobby, and it’s something I’m going to have to think more about.

Another aspect of regimentation is to delve into viewing it as a capacity, like Endurance, Willpower, or Grit.

I’m sure a simple Likert scale could be constructed with questions regarding the ability to stop thinking about tasks outside their appointed times, absorption of other tasks during their structured time, the strictness of work time versus free time, having hobbies, absorption and relaxation index of hobbies, etc.

Why is this important? Because it solidifies it as a skill that can be learned, like habituation or grit - and it formalizes it as such.

Thoughts on Dynamic Meditation (so far)

Today’s 20 minutes got me really sensitive to the subtleties of this. I could feel a sliding crystallization of tension in my mind and in my shoulders. I used a specific technique to counter it - relaxation through anchoring. A thought I had day before yesterday was that I should get really technical about it - I should know tension and anxiety like eskimos know snow. Not only will the delineation of different categories of it help me focus, but it acts as Vipassana noting - separating my mind from being entangled in the feeling.

This type of dynamic meditation is very interesting in comparison to Vipassana and other schools of Buddhism. Vipassana is all about the controlled observation of the mindstream in order to gain visceral knowledge (jñanas) that change its (the mind’s) quality. In Vajrayana, visualization and ritual are used for the same purpose, and for some versions of Tibetan Buddhism mucking about with the Bardo - transitory states of consciousness like before death or dreaming - changes the state of the mindstream.

What I’m doing is purifying the mindstream through habit in order to prevent the arising of negative emotions. The more I think about it, the more I think I’ve stumbled on another school of Buddhism…if it works. I’ll have to come up with a name for it…

Either way, that purifying action is an important metaphor to keep in mind while proceeding.

Dynamic Meditation Revisited Party IV - Last Notes

I just did a 20 minute session while doing some work. It was pretty easy to track some of these things. Here’s what it looked like:

biting lip - anxiety - R
x3 minor anxiety arising - R
minor anxiety arising - x4 shoulders - R
x4 fingers - picking, flicking
x2 lip picking R
x2 caught minor anxiety
X5 laughing

As you can see a lot of these things happen in groupings. And a lot of these things have very clear physical markers - lip picking, picking at my fingers, shoulders tensing up.

The “R” was just my short form for Regular - as in I didn’t use any sort of specific technique - I just stopped it - these were all minor tensions in the mind stream.

“X2 caught minor anxiety” referred to catching it as it formed in the mind. And “X5 laughing” referenced that feeling of cheating at life, that true happiness that seemed to arise as I felt how easy it was to change this.

That feeling is really what I’m after - and it IS easy, but like the rest of this project, extending even the simplest things out across months (or in this case over the course of a full day over time) is very very difficult.

Buddhism and Dynamic Meditation

I’ve been reading a lot on Buddhism lately, and it seems as though some people view Nirvana as getting into this state of equanimity - of completely uprooting the possibility to have these negative emotional arisings at all.

In Vipassana, this uprooting occurs through visceral knowledge of the state of the world through repeated meditative practice. Through just observing the mindstream, you’ll gradually come to realizations - like realizing that we are not angry - anger has just visited us momentarily. This eventually (as far as I understand) will get us to this uprooting. 

There are other ways there - in Rinzai Zen you break the bonds of logic to attain sudden illumination, in Vajrayana you use visualization and ritual to get there (again, I’m still researching this stuff so please excuse my lack of understanding - and feel free to correct it). 

My method of dynamic meditaiton through habit formation is the “quit smoking” version of equanimity - that if you counter the urge enough times, the urge ceases to arise at all. The urge has to be countered minutely from second to second in the mindstream, but as far as I understand it, this might just be another avenue to Nirvana. Which is kind’ve cool.

Now all of this is theoretical - I’m very curious to see how (or if!) it will work - especially next to these thousand-year traditions.

Dynamic Meditation Revisited Part III- Implementation Intention & Mental Contrasting

The first step is Implementation Intention. This is kind’ve weird because it’s not a discrete task - rather it’s one that needs to be performed in life. But hey, why not apply it to something I’m really nervous with? Is that good or bad? I don’t know, but let’s try it

Implementation Intention:
I will perform 20 minutes of dynamic meditation at the beginning of the day when I do my first real task - my work habit on weekdays, and my writing on weekdays. I will start by putting up a word file to record things on the side of my computer screen to list out when the emotions arise and what I do to counter them. I will record this on my blog as well.

Mental Contrasting:
1. What positive changes can occur in my life if the habit is fully a part of my daily routine?

If dynamic meditation is a part of my daily routine I will be able to not be ripping myself up to accomplish my goals like I have been recently, and do so constantly in my life. So much energy gets wasted on just trying to maintain, and doing so has me barely able to do anything during a day. To be able to recover that would be amazing.

I want to be someone like Ari from Entourage, who is never ever really broken, like Vince, where every day, positive or negative is all good. I want to be like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who always looked forward despite overwhelming odds. For him, being weird was a positive - not being at the cool kids table wasn’t something to feel beaten up over - it meant he got to create his own damn table.

I want this so that I can accomplish all my wildest dreams without feeling ripped a part in thinking that I’m not accomplishing anything at all. I want this so I can accomplish all my goals, this project, and beyond. I want to be a force to be reckoned with, unshakeable, to uproot all this negativity from out of myself. I live a life that is fantastic, that people would kill for, and there’s no point in living it without enjoying it fully.

2. What could go wrong in forming this habit?

I could not do other habits - writing or work - that could cause me to therefore not do my 20 minutes of dynamic meditation. I could feel lazy and not want to get started on it. I could get bogged down on what the correct perfect formation of this habit is instead of just STARTING. I could forget to not write down my list of arising emotion in that 20 minutes - I got lazy about it last time around and it resulted in fewer and fewer results. I could not have access to my computer and not have a pen and pad to jot all this down - or just be too busy and forget to bring it with me, like when I’m traveling. I could abandon the habit in my breaking points or in the quarter mark period, where sustaining the habit becomes difficult to endure.

Dynamic Meditation Revisited Part II

So basically, I can skip certain portions because for me, fixed meditation is a superhabit. I believe that I can also skip the part where I JUST observe my emotional states starting at 20 minutes. Way back in Brazil I did this and executed techniques in Step 10 - The Arising and Quelling of Negative Emotion.

My problem was that it wasn’t sustainable. I did Step 11 - Expansion - I did all at once, monitoring, quelling and executing techniques, recording, and doing it all day. That was exhausting, and though I felt amazing, I couldn’t continue doing it.

With that in mind I’m going to form a habit of 20 minutes of happiness. I’m going to record it and time it. I’m sure I’ll experience bleed over. 

It’s confusing because before I set the habit as “immediately counteracting arising negative emotion” which screwed with the SRHI. I had a false rise because I was doing the action so many times during a day. It would not be as drastic because I’ll only be starting with 20 minutes.

It’s a dicey thing. I can think of it as a daily 20 minute practice, and expand, or I can view it as a series of individual practices. I think I’m going to do the former, simply because I tried the latter before and my other habits - writing, exercising, etc, have habitualized and expanded well so far.

I did a little bit of it today - what I forgot was that for many things a formal technique isn’t really necessary. It’s almost like it’s the observation and the redirection of the flow of my mind that is necessary. I have no doubt that the individual techniques I practiced in fixed meditation will be necessary - but it’s as though they give me a basic grounding to flex a muscle I never knew I had - the muscle of choosing the course of negativity or the course of satisfied happiness. Doing it today I felt the same wild hilarity - the feeling of cheating at the test of life and laughing - that I felt long ago in Brazil when I first attempted it.

It’s flexing that muscle and observing negativity as it arises that’s key. And it was shocking how minute and integral things like pessimism and tension/worry for no reason are to my moment to moment experience.

Dynamic Meditation Revisited

I’ve been feeling really down the last few days.

I feel the usual sensation - like I’m running in mud, like I’m drowning in too many tasks, like I’ve got 50 things I had to do yesterday, like I’m in a forest without a map. It’s “usual” because I feel this way every single time I get to these breaking points in this project.

Negativity seems to attract negativity - I find myself having negative thoughts about particular events that seem to multiply and expand to all parts of my life, such that it’s so difficult to do any work.

I’ve thought for a long time that I need to nail my mood because it affects everything. It’s a formative skill, and I think I’m ready to start it. Again.

So I’m going to start my dynamic meditation habit again. I think if I do a Tiny Habit I can begin it along with my malformed work habit. 

So what’s a TinyHabit for dynamic meditation? In my book on meditation that I wrote for my mother  I detail the steps for this:

Step 7: Implementation Intention and Mental Contrasting for Dynamic Meditation
Perform both Implementation Intention and Mental Contrasting exercises for Dynamic Meditation. This should fix exactly when you’ll perform it - ideally right after your daily fixed meditation or other reliable daily habit.
It should also prepare you for what you need. For me, jotting down a list of mental states for Dynamic Meditation is easy because I’m sitting in front of the computer all day for work anyway. But if you have a more active lifestyle, you’ll need to get a notebook and pen that you use regularly.
Step 8a: Adding the Second Habit
At the halfway point, when your fixed meditation SRHI is in the 60’s, it should be ok to add the second habit - dynamic meditation. You’ll now be taking the SRHI twice per day.
We’ll be progressing slowly with this, like the previous habit.
Start with the simplest act of dynamic meditation: Noting your mental states.
As an anxious person, you probably have very intense anxieties that would not arise in the normal person. But for you it’s a way of life, and you will be unaware of it - remember the progression of mastery of a task - you are trying to get from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence. You need to know when you are doing something wrong (worrying) so that you can recognize how it arises within you.
So, a first exercise is to take 20 minutes in your regular day and note down negative emotions. I want a brief note on what you are feeling, and a brief description of it.
As a worrier, you will probably find  yourself stressing about absolutely nothing. Really be aware of the moment to moment fluctuations in your mind.
-Tension in shoulders - naturally just got nervous/tense for no reason
-Tension in shoulders
-Tension in shoulders
- (X4)Worrying about a work problem
-(X2) Regret - remembering the past and wishing that things could have gone differently
- (X3) Sadness - about opportunities not taken.
Just do this for 20 minutes. As a worrier you will have plenty to write down. But you must be aware of yourself and realize when negativity arises. You’ll be tempted to justify your worry. This exercise is not about justification. Just write it down. The point is to get you monitoring yourself from a distance - don’t punish yourself, don’t add any additional commentary, just recognize the emotions from a distance, and note it down as though it was a non-emotional scientific note about a distant phenomenon.
Start with 20 minutes. If you choose do note for longer, then by all means do so. But don’t force it. The creator of TinyHabits has a saying:
“A well planted seed will grow on its own accord”
You’ve planted the seed, now let it grow.
Step 8b: Adding additional exercises to fixed meditation
At this point you should be ready to rotate exercises in fixed meditation. So far you might have been only doing one exercise. Try others.
If, for example, you have until now only been working on the Anchoring progression, do the Anchoring progression one day and the Tantra progression another day. If at any time you feel too stressed, or have to much to do during the day (or if you just feel too exhausted) it’s ok. Fall back to your basic exercise and do that.
Step 9: Superhabit Status and Expansion
At some point your fixed meditation habit will achieve Superhabit status and will be solidly ingrained as a part of your daily routine. This is an excellent time to start pushing the envelope - if you’ve only been doing a few mental exercises, push the envelope. You’ve done a great job forming a habit, but this doesn’t mean you will not fall into a plateau, where actual progress stops. If your habit hasn’t been naturally expanding, expand it by practicing additional exercises.
You should have the additional endurance and willpower to push dynamic meditation. Expand from 20 minutes, to 30 minutes to a full hour of self moderation and note taking.
Step 10: Arising and Quelling of Negative Emotion
This half step is an important progression to the full usage of individual techniques in your real life. The key here is to practice as close to real world situations as possible. In Fixed Meditation begin by selecting negative memories to bring about negative states like anxiety and worry. You can do this either by just summoning a memory or by writing it down to act as a guide.
Once you’ve summoned up the actual negative state, then practice the various techniques to control and transform the emotion to positivity.
Step 11 Expanding Dynamic Meditation
The last phase of the entire process is continued expansion of dynamic meditation. After slowly expanding your self monitoring note taking you will begin to use the arsenal of techniques that you’ve practiced in fixed meditation in real life.
Now when you feel the arising of anxiety or worry, practice the fixed meditation techniques to quell the emotion. This is very difficult to do in real world conditions so, again, start slow. Start with 20 minutes or an hour depending on how you feel, then slowly expand.
You will very quickly find yourself catching and neutralizing negative thoughts as they crystalize, and then before they even form.
Step 12: Continued Expansion & Dynamic Meditation Superhabit
By this time your dynamic meditation - no matter how small it is - should have reached superhabit status. At this point simply continue the practice of expanding and using techniques as though it’s a game in your life.
There is a quote from a book I read (The Lightbringer - Find Quote) about how warriors spend hundreds of hours of practice so that the first moment of conflict the natural biologically set response of flight is changed so that in those first few seconds you go towards the conflict and fight.
This is exactly what we are training - the automatic response to execute a meditative technique immediately in response to negative emotion.
Step 13: Uprooting
At some point in the expanding of your practice, after the execution of a meditative technique following worry is automatic, the negative emotions become less and less frequent. What would have bothered you immensely before just don’t phase you. You become more and more unshakeable. And as you continue it becomes easier and easier. And at some point, the feelings cease to arise at all.
This is the fulfillment of the buddhist concept of uprooting. To tear out worry and anxiety from the roots.

Thoughts on Training Mindfulness/Dynamic Meditation/Equanimity

As I have mentioned before, I am not convinced of the efficiency of carryover in meditation. Most books on meditation discuss practicing it one time during the day, and letting carryover continue - your individual practice carries over to regular life.

I believe that training as close to “war time” conditions as possible is the best training you can get. A continual habit, like posture, is something that bridges the gap. And in my research, I’ve found Buddhist literature talking about it in this way - you first get into a state, THEN you focus on maintaining it.

Posture exercises may well work eventually, but it seems as though posture is something you have to continually practice throughout the day to get to your goal - being someone who has good posture. Similarly, there is a huge leap between someone who practices equanimity training for an hour a day and someone who is an unshakably equanimous individual.

I’m still researching and asking people for advice on how to best do this. After all, there are other continual habits I’ll want to induct in  my regiment later on. I’ve had limited success with one - noting every time I feel negative emotions (they tend to fall into common groupings) and using mental gymnastics that work to get beyond them.

This worked very well for a short amount of time, but the number of variables got to be too much for me to continue. And things slipped through. I could feel happy, I could bust pass pessimistic emotions, yet fear would fall through - I would continue to procrastinate like I always do. So:

1. The willpower required to do them all was too much because I was also doing fixed meditation as well. Fixed meditation is well on its way to habit formation, so I should try it again now.

2. The willpower required to counter all negative emotions is too much, so I need to focus on one at a time. Preferably a lynch pin, like tension/relaxation. Can you be angry or depressed if you are truly relaxed? Can you even be fearful?

3. I should use a timer approach and use spot checks throughout the day. 5 times a day, I do a spot check and relieve my symptoms and move on, increasing until it becomes second nature.

4. Another method is going from the gross to the subtle. Record, do all of the me negative emotion meditation throughout the day and later, once the method is established as a habit, push it for things that have slipped. After all, habits do not equal mastery. At some point you have to push past plateaus in a learning curve.

I’m guessing that for all of this, the SRHI has to be modified, omitting frequency questions. Presumably the further along the habit goes, the LESS you’ll have to do it.