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More on the looking & coming back

Hey, Lookers, sorry for another absence. For myself I needed to focus on doing the work instead of on crafting what I wanted to say. But now it's time to rebalance by coming back.

I've had ups/down with the practice, of course, I have"“periods where I managed to do SDA twice daily, my chosen option, and periods of being unable to stick with it for more than a few minutes, the whole range of ways to do it wrong (I know, John, in the final analysis there's no doing it wrong, there's only doing it and letting whatever happens happen (and being amazed and healed by the insights that come).

Out of all this, two things stand out to me in their importance and even if I'm repeating myself from another post, I don't think should be underestimated; if I'd been aware of those two factors, I probably wouldn't have suffered for some 40 years, never progressing with the meditation practices I tried. But better late than never.

1 Looking breaks our identification with the body-mind matrix. Whether we stay consciously aware of it and never deviate from it or as seems to be more usual, we "get it" and then (seem to) lose it, take the look and regardless of your struggles or how long it takes, the job's done and the promise is being fulfilled, even if under the conscious mind's radar.

2 Coming back when the mind wanders from counting is fundamental. Otherwise, what changes? Absolutely nothing; if we don't gain control of our attention, we're still victims of our "thought soldiers," of every thought that blows through our wee minds, continuing and strengthening the same damaging habits that messed us up in the first place. I noticed it one morning. I'd done my SDA after waking up, went about my usual exercise practices (yes, I do qigong since my health has deteriorated markedly the last few years, but SDA comes first). Chatting with my husband, I saw myself getting upset as my mind latched onto trivial aspects of things that had happened or might happen"“see what I mean? Thanks to SDA, even badly done, I realized what I was doing to myself and came back to the breath. Just think of all the decades that I spent trying to meditate, having thought(s) arise, but instead of coming back, just panicking and following them, imagining anything and everything and compounding that by feeling bad about following these dead-end roads. I can't overstate how important coming back is.

I guess that's it. For now 😆. Wishing you all the best, which means that my greatest wish for you is that you stick with it even when it seems like you're not sticking with it. Because you are. Love, Carladownunder

Thanks for the update Carla. Glad to hear of the progress you're making! All the very best, Lex

I've had ups/down with the practice, of course, I have"“periods where I managed to do SDA twice daily, my chosen option, and periods of being unable to stick with it for more than a few minutes, the whole range of ways to do it wrong (I know, John, in the final analysis there's no doing it wrong, there's only doing it and letting whatever happens happen (and being amazed and healed by the insights that come).

Hi Carla! I'm glad to hear about your progress too...good for you!

I just wanted to say something about what I quoted above. I could be wrong, but the way I understood it, John said we can't get the looking wrong, but there is one way (and there may be more) we can kind of mess up the SDA...that's letting ourselves go on "auto-pilot," where we think we're paying attention to our breath, but there's actually a whole little drama running through our minds in the background! I know I've done that more than once. smily

I'm also finding that the SDA is making me much more alert and aware of what I'm thinking, how I'm reacting, etc., during my day. I feel as if I'm gradually waking up. Hugs to you, Amy

Another thing to add to what JR is saying. Being a seeker, you probably already are aware of this Carla, but just sitting and letting the thoughts come up without returning to counting is a type of meditation called 'Shikantaza', or simply, "just sitting'. This was made popular in the USA by a man named John Daido Loori, who has written many books on it. I can definitely be helpful, but, imo, not nearly as helpful as practicing the SDA exercise. Best, Lex

Thanks, Lex. Good to hear from you. I appreciate your support. Hope all is well with you, too.

Hi, Amy, thanks for adding your point about the danger of sliding into autopilot. You're so right! That's one I hadn't remembered when I wrote but is definitely a potential pitfall, another way I spun my wheels all those years. And for sure is something that I'm doing way less since finally understanding the importance of and practicing coming back to the breath. Too much time's passed for me to be sure now but my sense of it is that I was so stressed back then that going on autopilot was about my only relief; I didn't do it consciously but because I didn't understand that coming back is important or why, when my thoughts weren't upsetting me I'd get some short term peace by drifting and thought that was enough, so I was still stuck only I didn't see that I was. Getting stronger about coming back has made so much difference, like I've learned to be less of one of those old-timey wind-up toys that runs ok till it hits a wall and keeps bashing it over and over until it exhausts its power and goes quiet, but never actually gets anywhere; it wasn't anything close to the peace I get as I learn to come back to the breath. That peace pervades the rest of my life, where the other never did.

This may also tie in to what Lex says so I'll go to that next.

Thanks so much for adding an important comment! Love, Carladownunder.

Wow, Lex, having moved to Oz almost 30 years ago I hadn't heard about Shikantaza, or that it's become a thing in the States, but I suppose all I can say (and be nice) is that imho it might work for some people, because we're all different at the human level, but for me it sounds like just the same total dead end that Jazzr brought up, because I feel like I've been there, done that and wasted decades. Maybe you have to already be tremendously aware and clued in to benefit from it, and it might have caught on because it probably brings some relief to extremely stressed-out people because they stop the exhausting fight with their thoughts for a while, but imho I agree with you that it's nothing like SDA and I can't see it doing that much good in the long run unless they learn the come back part.

Thanks for raising it because it's a great reminder of the difference and why JOL/SDA is worth doing and sticking with. Best back atcha, but it sounds like you've really got it. Carladownunder

Hey Carla, yeah Shikantaza can be beneficial but only to a certain extent. If you are planning to commit suicide, or take that next hit of smack (or whatever your drug of choice is), it's probably not going to effect those behaviors. It can kind of be like going to a psychoanalyst where you become aware of behaviors that have caused you troubles in your life, although that not might mean you can change them. I was part of a healing group for several years which had a big focus on establishing focused attention. And I saw many people healed of suicidal intentions, as well as drug addictions. And, many times, these healings were validated by medicial professionals such as psychiatrists. The reason I mention this is because I consider the SDA exercise, and John and Carla's philosophy behind it, to be an evolution of the teachings I'm speaking about. And you can also read some testimonials in these forums from people who stopped habits that were causing them suffering. I believe, if one has the discipline to stick with the SDA long enough, these types of benefits are definitely obtainable.

I definitely don't have 'it' yet..but I feel like I'm the closest I've ever been to getting there! If I can make it long enough in this lifetime to arrive at a place where I feel huge practical benefits, I'll consider myself to have done pretty darn good. We shall see! All the very best, Lex

To me, the difference between JOL/SDA and ALL other practices is that the looking is the ONLY one that destroys the fear of life, and SDA is the ONLY one that trains us to take control of our minds.

I'm glad you found my post helpful, Carla!

I want to chime in and say that I think some really good points are made here. It is also my experience that getting back to the breath with a sense of resolve is what does the work - that is the push-up. It was not so obvious to me when I started working with attention. This comparison with physical exercise I think is is rather good because physical training has the two parts of strength and technique which go hand in hand. I find the SDA practice to be similar - as my focus gets stronger I also start to see more fine details in how I can use and work with attention, like an intelligence around it begins to take shape. By paying attention to paying attention you could say.

Even though I practice it formally I still struggle to "be in control" in daily life as much as I want to, because life for me has become kind of smooth, so to intentionally use attention mostly occurs to me when I'm challenged, or when the soldiers of fear start to upset me. Another way to put it is that I'm well aware that many patterns that were born in fear are still around and get time behind the wheel. But because it doesn't bother me so much right now I just let them have a go, which is unnecessary and something I want to keep working on.

And then there is something I'd like to say with regards to just sitting practice, and this goes for the following too; the Tibetan yogas and mind purification techniques, visualizations, tantric practice, buddhist mindfulness meditation, buddhist insight meditation, energy work relating to chakras and nadi channels, insight into emptiness and selfless nature, mantra recitation, mudras, philosophical work and understandings, tuning in to master's grace, different mind vibrations and frequencies, different mental states generally, postures with the body, the practice of prayer, taking refuge, shamanic mysticism, Christian mysticism, literature study of holy texts and instructions, meditative retreat and asceticism -- I have engaged with all of these, with much force and analytic intent - It was my stupid curiosity and stubbornness that made me go at it, I was fascinated, spellbound almost. What happened though was they cost me an enormous amount of energy to learn and to practice, which I did on and off over a long period of time, and they are hardly basic. I kept at it even though I knew all along they were a false trail which eventually would come to an end. But I just HAD to see for myself. I still think that I found, at least in part, what is called "the authentic path" as it has been taught in the traditions for millennia. Now the trail has come to an end for me, and it is plain for me to say none of it made me a better person in any respect whatsoever, nor did they give me any kind of essential insight, nor any notable satisfaction. I would get high, and that's all it gave me. The most significant effect they had was that they slowly dragged me away from my life by skewing my attitude into more antagonistic and skeptical one, even of completely normal stuff. If anything I became a more neurotic person and the more energy I put in the worse I felt. I believe it is in their nature to negate the plain truth of simple human being, and I don't think there is any point in comparing any sort of practice from that world with SDA. Out of everything that I have seen it is only the practice of SDA that remains valuable for me, and of course the looking, but that was accomplished long ago now. You may of course make what you want from my story, and I'm around if I can clarify something...

As always, I wish you all the best!

-Roed

"...as my focus gets stronger I also start to see more fine details in how I can use and work with attention, like an intelligence around it begins to take shape."

This is exactly my experience, too, roed. Thanks for wording it so well!

"If anything I became a more neurotic person and the more energy I put in the worse I felt. I believe it is in their nature to negate the plain truth of simple human being, and I don't think there is any point in comparing any sort of practice from that world with SDA."

I've had the same experience with spiritual/religious practices. Once again, you've expressed this so clearly. I think I actually exhausted and made myself ill by trying so hard to make them work, make myself "better" at it, and so on. I was too blind to see how those teachings were not the truth at all...they were essentially denying the truth of who I was, who we all are. And so no, there is no way any of these can compare with JOL/SDA. Thanks, roed.

Excellent! Very well said.

I so agree with you, Mate. I've felt that for some time but didn't now how to articulate it without appearing to undermine my interpretation of John's conviction that this isn't meditation, but as always (duh) "honesty is the best policy," and you nailed it. I tried various meditation forms for so many decades, and read about them, too, and as I've so often banged on about, never got anywhere. Then I came back to John & Carla and though SDA employs the breath-counting technique that is used in other traditions, the two standout differences are definitely doing the looking and practicing taking control of our minds until we can do it.

In fact, despite my recent post, yesterday I still got clobbered with a particularly problematic situation for me (but uncovering these stumbling blocks is part of the process I'm learning to accept). I was about to go down in psychological flames when I remembered to count a few breaths and a fear that has plagued me my whole life dissipated. I spent a lovely day free of "black/white thinking, futurizing and catastrophizing" and began to see it for what it was: just another thought "not a present reality" and was much better at not fighting it but letting it go and coming back. I even noticed that though this thought pattern had upset me, not another single person around me or on telly was concerned; that small step outside my own head for the first time I can remember sure gave me perspective.

And as John said to me on one of his online meetings, "You did it to yourself, didn't you?" And (again. Sigh) I had. I've mentioned it before, but I think John's comment, almost just a quip at the time, is really important: so much of the suffering we go through is what we've done to ourselves; somewhere along the line, regardless of what actual bad things we've suffered in our lives, we're the ones who gave up control of our thoughts, and spent time, years even, building up this mindset we thought would be a fortress to protect us until we ended up imprisoned by it, and no psychological, emotional or spiritual light or air could get in.

Not sure I've added to the topic, but thank you so much for "telling it like it is." Carladownunder

Great, Roeg. You explain it so well and more succinctly than I have in my comment to jazzrascal today! Definitely a case of doing the SDA "push-up" until we get strong. It's not always easy but it's always worth it. I'm learning not to be demoralized by those times I still get sucked in, but regard them as still-infected areas that needed to be found and cleaned out... by continuing to practice. No dramas, just steady practice while letting go of the need to make a big hairy deal about them. Thank you so much for adding that to the discussion! Carladownunder

Exhausted is a good word for it... *sigh*

Precisely - it's apples and oranges! (fresh apples and spoiled oranges in my opinion)

-happy to be here, jr smily

I couldn't agree more! smily

Hey Carla, sure you could say we 'gave up' control but, really, it isn't our fault because we are products of our conditioning. There's a good article/clip by John where he talks about no one being at fault. I definitely think this is true - as far as people go. It is no PERSON'S fault. But, actually, there is fault. It lies in whatever, sentient or not, set up this whole situation in the first place where we have this idea of being separate 'human-beings'. From a nondual perspective, it could be said that it is 'our' fault being 'we' are all that is. But that has nothing to do with the human beings we currently take ourselves to be. We are all doing the best we can with what we know based on our condition - imo anyway.

It's great to hear you are having these successful experiences with SDA!smily

Really well said roed! You and Carla have excellent ways of explaining this. My situation is similar and I also feel like I still want to be much more 'in control' with my daily behaviors. To that end, at the end of last week I have decided to carry out an experiment to see if I can accelerate things. I feel I am in a position right now where I really need to have more control over certain behaviors, just for my physical life. I have been doing the SDA 5x a day for over a week now, spread out throughout the day/night. Fortunately, I have a job where I can usually slip away for 10 minutes at a time and most friends I work with are well aware of my 'crazy eccentricities';-) So I'm going to continue this practice as long as I feel motivated as I am feeling accelerated results from doing it this much. More peace, less thoughts of suffering relative to where I was..And I feel the beginning of possibly having some control over my actual behaviors that I would like to change.

It really is getting back to the breath that is the 'push-up' as you say. I can really observe myself 'working out' when I do this. I enjoy doing powerlifting a couple of times a week, heavy squats, flipping truck tires, lifting stones, and all that. I used to think that was the most intense thing I ever have done but, NO! Really, it's the SDA!!

WOW! I had to make sure I didn't have too much Johnny Walker Blue and write that myself one night..haha!;-) Really roed, this was pretty much my exact experience until maybe 7 years ago. I finally realized that anything that wasn't strongly grounded in love, had this exact effect on me. Whether it was labelled 'spiritual', 'psychological', 'metaphysical', or whatever. It's when I started directing my focus on becoming a more loving person..raising my love consciousness was when I started being led to more helpful practices. And it was a natural evolution for me. The healing group I was in for several years was focused on love and focused attention - like J+C, it was totally non-profit and the only motivation was to help people. Then, I was led to John's book and JOL and it was just a natural evolution for me for what was missing with that teaching.

Depending on how this teaching winds up effecting me in my practical life, I can see myself doing just what J+C are doing, in my own way, as far as spreading the teaching. And I have a lot of experience in this area from my years involved in alternative healing. So we'll see what happens. I have already shared JOL with a number of people and continue to do so. In my profession as a jazz musician, I do find a number of people are especially interested. When you are playing jazz, the idea is to try to get 'in the zone' and having a lot of fear-based thoughts is especially counterproductive to that. And, then, of course all the people I know in the alternative healing world are usually quite interested as well.

With the SDA I am getting some 'glimpses' of what the few great healers that I really respect were talking about but that had to speak using belief paradigms of their time which I think clouded their message. For me, it's a 'do or die' situation as far as I'm concerned. Like roed, I've tried EVERYTHING else!! ;-)

When I wrote my posts below this had not yet been published - and this is EXACTLY what I tried to say! Couldn't agree with you more Amy.

Actually I want to back up a little bit on that metaphor of apples and oranges from my comment above. It has kind of haunted me since I wrote it, and I think I now have the reason why that might be, In part it's thanks to your comments Lex, about love as an important ground for practice and the healings you talk about, and in part thanks to the blog post "Misidentification", which I recommend anyone to read by the way, I think it is excellent.

So here's why I don't think it's like comparing apples with oranges. It is because attention is the one and only power we can have. It's that simple. Everything we experience, whatever it is, love, or healing, beams of light shooting out of the fingertips- whatever, happens only in the mind. Because everything happens in the mind and because controlling where to put attention is all we can do for ourselves to shape the mind, SDA stands out from all else, it really does not relate to anything - full stop. Now that may not seem so significant, but here's the thing, all those things other than being in control over attention are experiences, and being such, it is much more real to work with the context in which all of that exists rather than with experience itself. I'm sticking my chin out somewhat here, please help me if I'm off on this.

I think one of my buttons may have been pushed to comment on it because of a particular transmission I received about... you guessed it: Love. It was very powerful when I put it to practice and the experience got me feeling very high (and mighty...) at that time. It was an instance that held me glued to the colorful circus extra tightly. You see, I call it all a spectacle now, but know that I wouldn't have kept at it for so long if it didn't feel and seem like I was doing something good for myself and the world. At times this was very intense, but in hindsight for me it was a false trail nonetheless.

Because everything happens in the mind and because controlling where to put attention is all we can do for ourselves to shape the mind, SDA stands out from all else, it really does not relate to anything - full stop. Now that may not seem so significant, but here's the thing, all those things other than being in control over attention are experiences, and being such, it is much more real to work with the context in which all of that exists rather than with experience itself. I'm sticking my chin out somewhat here, please help me if I'm off on this.

My question is if it would be possible for me to have a very strong control over my attention no matter what arises. I saw it demonstrated many times by the most prolific healer that has lived that I am aware of, Bruno Groening. He always emphasized the importance of focused attention and talked in terms of this and having absolutely no fear no matter what happens - that we couldn't afford 1 second of any fear-based thought. But he didn't have the powerful method, and explanation, of the SDA exercise. At least I knew that this was possible though and it's one of the things that has encouraged me to practice the SDA for this long. As I've written in other posts, I am starting to see positive results in the fact that the thoughts that cause me a lot of suffering are arising less. But my practical behaviors are not effected yet. Since I started the SDA last April, I definitely am more adept at it, but I still have a long way to go in building the strength of my attention. John compares the SDA exercise to lifting weights. I think this is a very a propros metaphor.

  • I think one of my buttons may have been pushed to comment on it because of a particular transmission I received about... you guessed it: Love. It was very powerful when I put it to practice and the experience got me feeling very high (and mighty...) at that time. It was an instance that held me glued to the colorful circus extra tightly. You see, I call it all a spectacle now, but know that I wouldn't have kept at it for so long if it didn't feel and seem like I was doing something good for myself and the world. At times this was very intense, but in hindsight for me it was a false trail nonetheless.

Oh yes! I think this is SO important to mention because I see people fall into this 'trap' a lot. Especially in these area of seeking we are talking about. I really feel the most important thing in evaluating anything like this as effective or not is the practical results you get in your own life. So many people, including myself in the past, fool themselves because they feel and it seems to them that what they're doing is working. But, if there are no practical results in one's life, I think whatever teaching one may be following will prove to be a 'false trail' for them. This is also one of the reasons I am so critical of JOL/SDA. Until I see real practical results in my life, JOL remains for me something I'm working with to see if it's effective. Granted, I do have evidence of a small amount of other people who's lives have been changed by these teachings, or who have espoused strong focused attention and emphasized it in one way or another. But definitely not many people - and this is because my experience is that it is tremendously difficult to develop strong focused attention and overcome a lifetime (or lifetimes) of conditioning. I think a lot of 'seeker types' are kind of forced into following a teaching like this, since there is a chance it may alleviate very intense suffering - and no one wants to suffer intensely if they can help it! So I feel many of us here are very motivated to undertake the type of discipline of SDA.

Great thread! As I read the posts, especially Roed's list of spiritual practices, I am so thankful to shut the door on all that. It makes such a difference when SDA is not an end to itself, or working to some greater payoff. We don't need to hang our hats or identities on whether it is working or not. We can simply enjoy the rewards of tuning our attention. There is an irony here for me. I started out the whole spiritual thing obsessed with Zen in my 20s, counting my breaths to 10. I then "progressed" to Shikantaza meditation. I have gone full circle and am back to counting my breaths and then moving into what I call 'drift' basically maintaining metacognitive awareness of my thoughts and feelings. Looking at them and choosing to either focus on them or return to the breath. This is basically Shikantaza, as I remember it. BUT, we have to remember that this technique is done post looking, fearlessly, without the distortative affects of fear, or at least with lessened distortions as we clear the conditioning! I am not seeking salvation (I've already been born again) but refining experience with my mind.

Drift is an accounting of my current life. Some thoughts have meaning, from deeper insights to "remember to water the plants and pay the bills". Some are simply nonsense, a song fragment, or a worry that has no immediate agency. These I can cut loose, like slow moving dirigibles they float away. I believe intelligence speaks to us at these times of heightened awareness and quiet in a way not possible as our minds are filled with work or the internet stream. I usually finish a SDA/drift session with a short to do list, a couple of nudges or recognitions of a greater pattern movement, and a heightened sense of appreciation/gratitude for this wonderful life.

 

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