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[ Sitting Practice ]

Don't Chase Progress

A hint for sit-down meditators

There comes a time when one makes a little break-through. It may be experienced as a rush of emotion; a powerful feeling of love for someone or real compassion for everyone, or pity, or empathy, or joy or indifference; a huge degree more powerful than anything previously experienced. Or it may come in the form of an "insight". Or one may see a vision: for example, "The Skeleton" with the understanding "Ah! This is really what this body is all about!", or one may see how some person has arrived at a certain state, or will arrive at a certain state, as though seeing a real-life animation (progressive stages in time in one swift picture). Or one may get the feeling that one's body is lifting off the ground and about to fly (or the body may lift off the ground and start to fly). Or there may just be a feeling as though one were letting off a huge burden, a great sigh of relief. Or one may just get the feeling of a momentary rush of "wind" passing through one. Or any of a number of variations on this theme.

At this point it is very likely that this event will cause an interruption in the meditation and one will continue on thereafter for awhile at least recollecting this experience and trying to duplicate what one has done with the idea of recreating the experience.

So here's the trick: while in no way saying that similar experiences will not recur in the future, it is a mistake to try and recreate one that has been experienced. What has happened is not that one has "attained" an insight, etc., one has dropped a chunk of blindness. What one is pursuing, pursuing the experience, is pursuing the blindness.[1] Thankfully, that cannot be retrieved.

Unhappily, time spent in the pursuit is wasted. So just let it go. Let your sit down practice mimic the idea of Nibbana. It is not a doing. It is taking a position that can be maintained (a "posture" symbolically representing the condition of not being downbound to anything at all in the world) and not-doing.

This is not said to discourage "review":

Do look back on what lead up to a break-through and evaluate it for helpful techniques.

Make the distinction along the lines of what you might call "universals":
"This breakthrough occured on an occasion when I let go of a certain desire to do something; letting go was the key factor."
not along the lines of:
"This breakthrough occurred on an occasion when I let go of my desire to eat such and such a food, not eating such and such a food is the key to breakthroughs."

This is where the Dhamma is helpful for one with faith: look for the principle in back of what lead up to a breakthrough through the eyes of your understanding of Dhamma. Where it lines up you can at least accept it as a place to start.

In the above example, the first evaluation rests on a fundamental general principle of the Dhamma in that it is in alignment with the idea of Upekkha or detachment, the latter involves a subtle change of focus from the general principle of letting go[2] to the idea that by not doing a certain specific thing progress will be made. This shift can result in a very long detour. The number of specific things to which one may become attached is unlimited!


[1] This is the case whatever system one is studying, whatever the teacher may say: Knowledge is acquired; insight is experienced when blindness is dropped.

[2] As long as it does not have a specific object, letting go cannot be co-opted by desire — letting go, as a principle, can always apply to itself, so even if one did make letting go the object of desire, the end result would be letting go of that desire.

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