Sometimes, while writing for this blog, I get imposter syndrome. I don’t know if I should be sharing my experience of practice, when I’m such a far cry from maintaining a solid one. I’ve gone through phases of consistently sitting in which I maintained a clarity that can’t be articulated, but have also gone through phases of consistently not sitting in which I maintained, by default, a fogginess that put my awareness on the short leash of a few recurring cravings and aversions. I’ve been thinking, a lot, about why I get so off track and, more precisely, why I get off track with such predictability. I could set my calendar by the pendulum’s swings—from clear to foggy, from devotion to abandon. And I don’t mean abandon, here, in the wild and artistic sense. I mean it in the sense of giving up on the lifeline of sitting, while giving in to a condition of stagnancy or stuck-ness.
I’m in no need of convincing when it comes to the value of a sitting practice. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the answer, regardless of the question.
Except, maybe, this one: Why do I get stuck?
Or, this one: How do I prevent myself from getting stuck?
“Stuck” is meant here as the state of being at the mercy of any self-sabotaging compulsions.
I’ve been analyzing these questions for weeks, in part because my periodic nosedives blatantly undermine the life I hope to lead. (There is an aversion to the unhealthy downward spirals and a craving for more consistent practice, here. But, I’d say that’s an example of the ego serving the egoless, and it’s what seems to drive practically everyone’s spiritual practice on a certain level.) My analysis brought me, like it or not, to the new-agey-self-help notion of “limiting beliefs”. We rarely talk about this kind of thing in Vipassana circles, but if a handful of persistent beliefs are preventing me from maintaining a practice, maybe I should talk about it. Sitting helps me release my story (about who I am) entirely, helps me disidentify with the monster. But transforming the beliefs that warp that story may better prepare me to handle the inevitable moments in which my shadow issues furtively upend the practice altogether.
On the one hand, this approach has helped me become more aware of what thoughts lead up to my nosedives, and I’ve actually been keeping a record of them that is fairly frightening to read. On the other hand, I’ve realized that tracing the origin of these beliefs, identifying the cause of the wounds, dissecting the traumas and neuroses and compulsions is a vast waste of time and, in a sense, only serves to harden the story anyway. That’s the stuff I want to let go of, after all. In the same way that we sit and observe sensations without identifying with or judging them, I’ve begun to just sit back and watch the limiting beliefs as they arise without trying to analyze them… “Oh, I keep telling myself that so-and-so is mad at me for doing such-and-such…Interesting.”
I’m reminded of the physical pain experienced during multiple-hour-long sits and how, through simple observation, it ceased to be pain, and was certainly not my pain, just a series of sensations coming and going. And I’m recognizing how our stories, like that pain, can be softened through the sustained act of simply noticing, gradually freeing us from the short leash compulsion.