Interconnected

10 days of meditation practice now. I'm getting quite a pattern going: I don't want to sit when I get up, but do anyway. A minute or so in, my mind quietens down some. 8-10 minutes in, it starts feeling a bit different, a little less like I'm just sitting. Beyond that I just sit and do whatever I'm doing that day, and some time around 18 minutes I feel like I'm waking up a little bit.

My sense of time has improved enormously. I can say pretty exactly how long I've been sitting--or at least, I think I can, because I can't see a clock. Yesterday, my sudden waking-up feeling happened just a few seconds before the 20 minute chime. It's reassuring to know how long I've been sitting, but it also makes it difficult to ignore the time passing. 43 Folders has a post (and comments) on low-key meditation timers which, I don't know, feels like the sort of thing I want to avoid. Giving me something to be background-aware of is just another thing to try to be unaware of later.

So, what happens in those 20 minutes? It's getting harder to say. I move through a number of different feelings, and they seem to come in pretty much the same order each day. There are one or two I remember, but mostly I don't. A couple of days ago, while sitting, I realised that I recognised the feeling I was having from the day before, and I meant to remember it (both times). I couldn't tell you what it is now, though.

One day, I couldn't count my breaths. I kept on thinking: 1, 1, 1. That was odd, and also a great day (last Thursday or Friday I think).

I've also hit some kind of limit, for the time being. It's as if I think on 3 levels. First there's the busy-busy thinking that doesn't really go anywhere, the sort that clutters me up when I first sit down. That goes after a few minutes. Second there's me thinking as if I'm speaking. It's the thinking that I do when I'm trying to figure stuff out. It's thinking about stuff. That's difficult to make still, and happens very rarely, maybe for a minute a day. I have to notice myself doing it, and let it go.

Third, there's the level which is the me-that-does-the-noticing. It's hard to explain this. I can't see it right this second, for example, because I'm thinking with level 2 over the top of it. And it doesn't even make sense to say "I see it" because I am it. It's the level that performs the noticing of drifting thoughts. When it drifts itself - which it does, continuously, because it's not controlled - there's nothing remaining to say "hey, stop that." I can distract it for a little by letting it attach to certain perceptions, and that works for maybe only seconds at a time. I think about my tongue touching the top of my mouth, my thumbs on my fingers, on keeping a good posture (this is a really good one, as it happens), and the faint, high-pitched sound my ears make. Once I, or equally, my level 3, focuses on those, I'm not really aware of anything else--but when I stop focusing, there's no other level to let "me" know. Some days I don't even get this far.

Although it feels like this level 3 (call it my "me" or my awareness, or my consciousness) is pretty much all over the place, I guess it does have some tendencies. Each moment, it does something indicated to it the moment before, or it does something random. I guess this is where my habits come in too, which is why it's good to practice sitting quietly.

This morning was the first morning I've broken off before my time was complete. I stopped at 10 minutes in frustration and discomfort. I've been sitting in a different place - in a different house - for the last couple of days. I thought the lack of traffic noise and countryside out of the window would help, yesterday, but it made things more difficult. This morning there were more distractions: I'd already had a cup of tea, I was hungry, I was cross and upset (I don't know why, I woke up like that), and - most importantly - I thought somebody might walk in at any moment.

Around the 10 minute mark, which is where I usually feel that second transition, I dropped out completely, and my mind wouldn't stop spinning. I broke sitting, looked at my watch, and lay down. As it happens, somebody did walk in a minute or so later, and I turned out to be feeling more absent than I first realised, so I should have persisted.

Learning from this, a little practical advice for myself: It's important to have no chance of distraction, from myself or from others, at least until I'm more practised. The 20 minutes is like a shield. Also, pick a regular spot with nothing interesting to look at.

I'm going to carry on, if I can (today was disheartening), and maybe extend the time to 25 minutes. I'll also try not to so weird and hand-wavy when I next report. I really wish I could remember what the sensations that I move through are like, but their memory only exists when I'm sitting.

A couple of links:

Phil Gyford is learning to act. Recently he posted on Not being me. Learning to act must be such an introverted activity. You have to be someone else as hard as possible, but preserve your actual self to monitor and refine. It's a familiar problem. We talked in email, and he pointed me at his notes on An Actor Prepares by Constantin Stanislavski. This is advice given by somebody who's walked the path, of acting in this case. It's curious how words with experience behind them are always so literal, and how it takes so long to discover just how literal they are.

Also, Rob Annable wrote up our email conversation. It includes the advice he sent me which I found enormously valuable in starting this whole exercise.