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Comparing the subjective experience of meditation

Hi, I am interested in comparing the subjective experience meditation across different traditions. For example I've been practicing Zen meditation (Zazen) for 25 years and I'm curious about how other traditions experience their time on the cushion. Here are three basic questions that might start an interesting conversation.

  1. Does it feel different when you sit alone versus sitting with other people? If so, are the effects local or non-local? (Does distance or intent make a difference?)
  2. Do you experience extreme pain while sitting with others only to have that pain disappear or reduce significantly when a sitting period has finished? (Particularly interested in a theravadan take on this)
  3. How do other traditions understand the function/different benefits/merit of group versus solitary meditation?

Comments

    1. I always sit alone even when with other people. B)
    2. Pain? Que? The last time I experienced pain was during a theravadan sit. I insisted on sitting in full lotus, after half an hour I moved to half lotus and felt a complete failure. That was a long time ago.
    3. That is interesting. I feel you are asking about Buddhist traditions but I have practiced Christian, Islamic, yogic, occult and moving meditation traditions.
    • In the dervish tradition a straight back is not required. I remember sitting on bean cushions and zen type stools in group sessions.
    • Christians, Gnostics and occultists tend to sit on chairs. Occultists tend to be concentration orientated. Gnostics tend to be more contemplative.

    Those are very rough approximations.

    https://www.contemplativemind.org/practices/retreat

    Be interested in others experiences.

  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited January 10

    Welcome Mahamattie

    Soto zen cheater notes

    (1) While any experience of clinging, rejecting or ignoring in life continues to be our carry on luggage, and the dream that the buddha exhorted his disciples to awaken from remains, meditation will typically be different when sitting alone versus sitting with other people. Within any practice where the walls between self and other fall away, practicing by yourself or in a group will be more similar than different.
    In Shikantaza, these differences are allowed to freely arise, unfold and depart, unmolested by any deliberate intent to manipulate their passage.

    (2) Yes & no. Within various stages of practice, with some transcendence of self and other, anyone's state of suffering can be experienced as your own. Part of having a competent teacher (whether it is someone senior in practice to you or just your own meditation) is learning or being taught how to allow that experience to be addressed like any other phenomena passing through your sense gates.
    In shikantaza, we formally meditate to learn how to carry the meditation into anything that we do. Big differences between formally meditating and not formally meditating are normally alarm bells sounding of what next needs to be addressed in the practice.

    All meditative traditions have their own checks and balances to have their members persevere far enough to have that tradition remain intact today. Meditation for solitary and group traditions also have their own checks and balances.
    In Zen, the most common limitation is allowing the ardor of the practice to be associated with self practice which can then become just another limiting sense of identity.
    In more faith based practices, being carried along by a like minded throng can allow responsibilities that are personally ours to take, to atrophy and become just as limiting.
    It seems that self effort is helped by some group effort just as group effort is helped by some self effort. The most profound mistakes in either seem to arise from just cherry picking what we want without considering how unbalanced such a selective diet can be.

    lobster
  • @Mahamattie said:?)
    2. Do you experience extreme pain while sitting with others only to have that pain disappear or reduce significantly when a sitting period has finished? (Particularly interested in a theravadan take on this)

    Depends on the coffee ... and how long you have been drinking it ...

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    @lobster said:

    @Mahamattie said:?)
    2. Do you experience extreme pain while sitting with others only to have that pain disappear or reduce significantly when a sitting period has finished? (Particularly interested in a theravadan take on this)

    Depends on the coffee ... and how long you have been drinking it ...

    Ajahn Sudanto was one of my teachers for many years. I miss visiting him.

    lobster
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    The video of Ajahn Sudanto reminded me of three experiences of retreats from another lifetime involving him: one, two, three.

    As for the OP's question:

    1. One difference for me is that I tend to feel more motivated in a group to sit, to deal with the pain, etc. than when I'm alone. It's easy for me to find excuses to slack off and day dream or cut things short when I'm alone. When I'm actually meditating, however, I don't notice much difference subjectively, although my best or most fruitful meditation sessions were often in a group setting, possibly I because the presence of others helps to strengthen my intent and resolve.

    2. I haven't sat in quite some time, but when I did meditate more regularly (usually in the half lotus position), I often experienced pain in my legs and my feet fell asleep constantly and I found it extremely difficult to sit still. The older I got, the worse it got. It would take some time for my feet to regain enough feeling to stand and for the pain to subside. After a while, it would be normal again, but I always experienced a lot of pain when sitting, and only felt relief once physically moving my legs.

    3. I'm not sure how specific groups view group meditation, but the traditions I've practiced in (monasticed Thai Theravada, lay led Vipassana, Sakya, and Trappist), all tend to see both group and solitary meditation as beneficial. Group sits are usually structured and daily and set the stage/habit, while individual sessions help to deepen ones experience and allow for more exploration and innovation.

    I'd like to eventually start sitting again, as well as do more group sits when COVID is finally under control. But I'm currently more focused on getting settled into my new job. But I really hope I can cultivate the motivation to get back into the habit.

    lobster
  • KeromeKerome Certainty is the enemy of wonder The Continent Veteran

    Hmm I don’t have a lot of experience of long sits, but pain is usually a signal from the body that you are doing something that is not good. I wouldn’t ignore pain, I’d prefer to adjust my position.

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    @Kerome said:
    Hmm I don’t have a lot of experience of long sits, but pain is usually a signal from the body that you are doing something that is not good. I wouldn’t ignore pain, I’d prefer to adjust my position.

    Some teachers encourage mindfulness and investigation of the pain. This is common in Thai Theravada traditions, especially in a monastic setting. Lay teachers are a little more relaxed about it, but they usually say that if you're sitting properly, there's no real danger of actual injury and it can be beneficial to work with the pain as opposed to simply moving to relieve it, which is our default strategy with dukkha in general.

    lobster
  • howhow Veteran Veteran

    Kerome said it more gently but...

    If physical pain is the reason why a practice is not done, and one ignores the many different valid position options that can offer an alleviation of that pain then what we are really talking about is simply an attachment to the idea of how a practice is done and the excuse one has developed to not face that.

    lobster
  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    @how said:
    Kerome said it more gently but...

    If physical pain is the reason why a practice is not done, and one ignores the many different valid position options that can offer an alleviation of that pain then what we are really talking about is simply an attachment to the idea of how a practice is done and the excuse one has developed to not face that.

    Sure. But at the same time, wouldn't you also agree that being mindful of and investigating pain (how it feels,how it changes, how different ways of breathing affect it, etc.) instead of simply seeking to alleviate it can also be a beneficial form of practice? Or is simply being comfortable the goal?

  • JasonJason God Emperor Arrakis Moderator

    @Jason said:

    @Kerome said:
    Hmm I don’t have a lot of experience of long sits, but pain is usually a signal from the body that you are doing something that is not good. I wouldn’t ignore pain, I’d prefer to adjust my position.

    Some teachers encourage mindfulness and investigation of the pain. This is common in Thai Theravada traditions, especially in a monastic setting. Lay teachers are a little more relaxed about it, but they usually say that if you're sitting properly, there's no real danger of actual injury and it can be beneficial to work with the pain as opposed to simply moving to relieve it, which is our default strategy with dukkha in general.

    Here's one example of what I was referring to: https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/WithEachAndEveryBreath/Section0005.html#sigil_toc_id_25

    lobster
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