Avoiding Pitfalls

You have to process emotional pain before it either dissipates or can be acted on, and this is done by mindfulness meditation. The next post will give instructions.

This post will warn you about the pitfalls that will, with certainty, keep you from doing mindfulness meditation right if you do not know about them.

The largest pitfall, is that most people can not sit still to meditate for long enough to work through all of their emotions. Which is what you are going to have to do if you want to eliminate internal disagreements and stress and not feel emotional pain anymore. For me personally, I got to this point with around 300 hours of mindfulness meditation in just under a year. I was cripplingly depressed when I started, though I suspect this is about how long most people will take. Don’t be worried if it takes you more.

A caveat to this, is that you need to do your initial several hundred hours of meditation in a relatively short period of time. (Edit: probably you don’t need this much if you learn the skills from Parts II and III, but I don’t have any data points on how much less yet. Definitely still read Part I first). Preferably a year or less, which means that you’ll need to do at least an hour a day. You can do it as quickly as you like. The reason for this is that, you’ll acquire emotions that you need to process as you go through life, on top of your past emotions that also need to be processed. To make progress, you’ll need to work through incoming emotions faster than they come in.

When I originally wrote this post, I said,

You’ll also need to keep meditating a little bit even once you’ve worked through all your past emotions and achieved all the benefits I’ve promised from meditation. This is to keep up with incoming emotions. The amount you have to do this will decrease drastically once you learn the skills from Part II, though, and you can start learning the skills from Part II anytime.

That is not quite true. You only form emotional trauma, e.g. emotions that need to be processed via meditation, when you act against your own desires/values. Part II is about learning not to do this, so you’ll be able to stop meditating (probably ten minutes a day will be plenty) once you’ve mastered Part II. The reason I was wrong about the above, is that I hadn’t yet mastered Part II when I wrote this. Anyways.

If all this sounds like a lot, or like it’s too intense, you’re not alone, and there’s a solution. Most people can’t meditate an hour a day for a year without some sort of guidance. If you’re comfortable doing it on your own that’s great, but if not, I’d recommend a very specific meditation retreat, which happens to be free and take ten days. The ones hosted by Dhamma.org are very good, minus the buddhist propaganda they throw at you, and it’s my experience that you can skip two but not three lectures before they throw you out. Just read the post on DRM first, and take a nap during the morning meditation if you need more sleep, and you’ll be fine.

The dhamma.org retreats will teach you both normal mindfulness meditation (anapana) and body scan-type mindfulness (vipassana). Which should you do more of? It’s easier to process emotions while doing anapana. Vipassana isn’t optimized for emotional processing, even though it can be used that way. So, ignore the instructors’ suggestions that you do body scans for most of the retreat. Do normal mindfulness meditation about 90% of the time, and do just enough body scan meditation to learn what you can get from it.

So, do the retreat pretty much as planned, except ignore the content of the lectures and do as much anapana as feels right for you. Retreats prevent you from stopping meditation (and thus, stopping emotional processing) before you’ve done enough to be self-sustaining. Even if I’m wrong about the reasons, people who do the dhamma.org retreats do tend to make lots of progress, whereas similarly determined beginners tend to fail if working by themselves.

Lastly: don’t worry that the pain in facing the full extent of your emotions as you are just beginning to sort through them, is coming from your true self. Pain is from both unprocessed emotions, or from being confused about what your true self wants, typically because you believe socially acceptable things about yourself. Your true self is a solid block of willpower, so long as you do what it wants.

Next post: Mindfulness Meditation

6 thoughts on “Avoiding Pitfalls”

  1. I’m basically convinced. I got the retreat scheduled but it’s only in 1 month. Why wait I figured? Mindfulness meditation blocks are not working for me but seeing my emotional state decay and then focusing on emotion-sensation is. Feels like I’m experiencing samskara (https://www.shinzen.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/art_ickysticky.pdf) all the time and it sucks and it’s agony and then it’s gone and it’s fine. Thanks for writing all this

    1. Nice, it sounds like you’re doing everything right based on what you’ve written here. Good luck on the retreat, and let me know if you start running into issues or roadblocks that I haven’t mentioned.

      I can’t parse what your third sentence means? Focusing on emotion-sensations for long enough is basically the mental motion I’m trying to lead people to, though, so that’s good.

  2. Hmm there’s a finite (written-down) number of painful memories. Areas with willpower problems exist in the sense of procrastination existing, but no obvious use of the will to self-force to do things that are causing damage. More like a strong not knowing feeling going on. Scaffolds were taken off an now there’s ???? in many directions

    1. For the written-down painful memories, are they things that want you to do something in the real world? E.g. I get lonely, and just acknowledging the loneliness isn’t enough, I actually have to go out and socialize. Also, did you read part II (starting here: https://mentalengineering.info/doing-what-you-want/)? Some good suggestions on this are there, too.

      If you’ve read that and tried all the stuff mentioned there, tell me more about the shape of the pain, when it comes up and what you’ve tried, and I might have suggestions specific to you.

      For procrastination: right, don’t self-force. Do you know why you procrastinate? For me and probably most people, procrastination seems to be, “my brain wants something and isn’t getting it, and is thus in pain, and just sitting with the pain won’t work because the pain is caused by lack of action rather than lack of processing”. Often it’s unclear what the thing it wants is, and something like talking out loud to the part of you that is procrastinating (as if it’s another totally different person trapped in your brain with you), can be helpful in figuring that out.

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