I restarted meditation practice in early Aug 2023. I have written a full post about what led me to restart my practice, after I completely let it go in 2016 when I completed my first 10 day Goenka retreat.
It started off small with just 5 min Aana Paana, once a day. Then a week after, that became 10 minutes. Another week later, 15 minutes. By the end of Aug 2023, I was sitting for 30 minutes of Aana Paana or concentration practice.
From the first week of Sep 2023, I started with 30 minutes of Vipassana (body scan meditation). Then a week later, it was 45 minutes. By the end of September I was sitting for a full hour each day.
I attended a one-day Vipassana workshop in the first weekend of October, after which I started sitting down for 1-hour in the morning soon after waking up, and then 1-hour in the night just before going to bed. It has been almost two months since I started meditating two hours each day.
I am closing in on 100 hours of meditation. The practice now feels natural and has blended well with my daily routine.
One challenge I faced when I started off with 1-hour sitting was keeping track of time. I figured that I couldn’t trust my sense of time while meditating, so I would need a timer to let me know when I was done. Initially, I would keep a timer for 1 hour on my phone and sit. But that turned out to be ineffective, because I would get an alarm going off after a full hour, leaving me with no sense of progress in between.
I then started using guided meditation tapes from Geonkaji, available with Dhamma.org app. Soon, I found the guidance on the tape coming in the way of my actual practice.
I then downloaded a gong-sound from the Internet and used Audacity to put-together a 1 hour MP3 which had the gong going off after 5 min, then every 12.5 min for four times there after and then finally after a full hour.
Stages in a one-hour sitting
My current preset in Timefully is as follows:
A gong goes off in the beginning and at the end of each block. This gives me a sense of where I am in a one-hour sitting.
- Warm-up: This is when I get into the sitting posture, iron out any obvious discomfort so that I can sit down for the next hour without much disturbance. It is also the stage where I evoke a strong intention for the meditation sitting. The intention could be something like
- Watch endings of sensations closely, — OR —
- Investigate the three characteristics (impermanence, suffering and no-self) of every sensation, — OR —
- Note physical and mental sensations distinctly, — OR —
- Identify four elements (earth, water, air, fire) in each sensation, — OR —
- Surrender / Do Nothing
- Aana Paana: Concentration practice, by focussing on the breath. During this phase, I rigorously focus on the incoming and outgoing breath, shunning literally anything else that calls my attention.
- Vipassana: Body Scan practice from head to toe and back. During this phase, in addition to watching sensations on the body, I also watch mental sensations (talk, images etc). Most importantly, I work on the intention set out in the warm-up stage.
- Metta: Loving kindness practice. During this phase, I visualise, to the best of my ability, the ways in which my practice may create happiness for everybody.
- Cool down: I stretch my legs and review observations and insights discovered during the sitting.
I sampled a few sitting postures, including one on the chair. While it may seem, in theory, that on the chair is more comfortable than on the ground with folded legs; in reality it is not so. When I was grappling with posture issues, I found this video from Sam Roff very helpful.
With this posture, I can sit for long without much hindrance. Some amount of pain is going to be there doesn’t matter what posture we assume, but then that pain is best used for investigation in the meditation sitting. If the pain doesn’t subside even after sufficient investigation, then it’s okay to shift postures for a bit to relax, and then resume with the standard posture a minute or so later.
I used to feel like shifting postures a lot before, but increasingly I am able to sit for the whole hour without moving. At best once during the entire sitting, I adjust posture to relax my knees and then get back to sitting posture.
With two sessions a day of this, I can see that I am making good progress. Many ups and downs, hits and misses, happy and sad days; but overall I can see that I am making good progress. I intend to stabilise this practice for a full year (until Aug 2024) and then sign up for my second 10-day Goenka Retreat to go deeper.