My introspection practice

Lately, I’ve had a handful of people ask me about my meditation and introspection practices. This has served as a nice jumping off point to think back on my progress and results, as well.

The core of my efforts has been meditation — starting with concentration/samadhi practices and now mostly focusing on insight/vipassana practices. I started messing around with it about 7 years ago as a 10-minute daily practice following a New Year’s Resolution (wow, sometimes they do work!). It was a sufficiently low hurdle that I was able to keep that up very consistently but about 2 years ago I reflected and noticed not much was changing — this made me curious. I started digging into the literature — everything from esoteric Buddhist texts introducing annapanna to Ingram introducing noting — which led me to the conclusion that 1) I would need to put in more effort if I wanted to see more interesting results and 2) sitting around with my eyes closed and my mind wandering half the time doesn’t do much good. I started ramping up to 30 minutes a day and then eventually 60 minutes a day, and gradually things began to feel very different. I would experience weird stuff. I started noticing changes in my day-to-day experience of reality as I walked around and did things.

Eventually, through the recommendation of a friend who was quite a bit more experienced than me, I explored further in technique-space. Shinzen Young’s See Hear Feel had better “handles” for me to grab onto than Ingram’s noting practice and this led to some nice immediate progress. I was also tipped off to Culadasa’s book before it was released and dove into it immediately. This was the best text I have encountered in terms of step-by-step help to go from 0 to enlightenment, without fluff or esotericism or the overwhelming intensity of Ingram. I also did a 10 day Goenka retreat which, while giving off a bit of a culty vibe, was an overall awesome experience and led to huge progress in my practice — I also went from practically no knowledge to being quite proficient in his body scanning practice.

I’ve continued a daily practice which is currently at around 30–90 minutes a day in a single morning sit and occasionally has peaked around 2 hours a day. Since the Goenka retreat I’ve also put a lot more emphasis into trying to maintain mindfulness constantly while going through my day — mostly doing See Hear Feel. Currently, I rotate through a mix of Culadasa breathing, Young’s See Hear Feel, Goenka body scanning, and then I usually finish my sits with compassion Metta and/or Tonglen.

After meditating, I will spend 5–10 minutes journaling. This practice has changed a lot over time, including anything from writing a summary of my previous day to answering various sets of journaling questions/prompts. Over time, this began to feel aversive and “like work”, so recently I have switched to something more unstructured: focusing on strong feelings that bubble up in the moment or upon reflecting on the last and upcoming day, looking for what feels alive/exciting and what feels dead/aversive. I’ve also started spending about 10–20 minutes right after journaling to practice using Gendlin’s Focusing technique (get the audio book, it’s 60 minutes and all you need!) to decompose some problem or anxiety that I am able to identify and thereby gain incremental insight. I’ve been using some variation of Focusing sporadically for years, but starting to deliberately practice it daily has gotten me to naturally turn to it far more often throughout the day.

In terms of actual changes to my experience from all this stuff, well, it’s kind of hard to explain. I think the meditation has had large phenomenological effects. The world feels brighter, my body is constantly buzzing with energy, I can quickly and precisely identify feelings, emotions, moods and dissect them into parts. I can experience a lot of pain without it really bothering me all that much. My feelings and emotions are objects that arise, that I can interact with and use if I want them to, and that disappear when I don’t need them anymore (for the most part). This is starting to happen more consistently with my thoughts, as well. When navigating through the world, I’m able to see in finer grain detail the frame-by-frame patterns of stimulus and response that I’m carrying out, and more and more I am able to intervene and change patterns in precise spots. I am certainly not perfect, as you know, although these powers are growing over time and feel a bit magical.

My introspection practice has also gone a long way in helping me transition from Robert Kegan’s adult development framework stage 4 to being most of the way to stage 5. Starting/running a business and managing people was huge for this, as well as studying morality and ethics in the abstract as well as for concrete issues, but I don’t think it would have happened very easily without the concentration and clarity that have developed for me from meditation, or the personal gaps/oversights that journaling and general introspection practices can identify. I feel like my identity has mostly dissolved and this has left me feeling airy, fast, and powerful. I see the potential for growth everywhere. I see the tremendous value that comes from adopting many ways of seeing and can flit between them more fluidly.

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