Am I making progress? What kind of progress? In what ways am I progressing; in what ways ought I progress?
These are a few of the questions on my mind as of late, along with a host of others. I've been experimenting a little with meditating continuously (once or twice daily) versus taking breaks from mediation all together. What are the differences? How is the practice affected? What changes or does't change in the mind?
When I was practicing heavily, meaning two to three times a day up to nearly two hours a day, I had begun to easily notice the still point within and to maintain that still point with ease. When I take a "break" from meditation the still point can be found again upon return to the cushion but it is much less stable, tuning in and out like a cellphone signal. After a few days back on the cushion for 45 minute sits, the still point begins to settle in a little more and a little more each time I sit.
Although some say that there are different paths one can take in terms of progression, I'm finding solace (and patience and perseverence!) in the knowledge that buddhism and meditation is a gradual path. Insight, calm, and clarity come gradually. For some, and with certain techniques, these things can come suddenly and quickly. I've experienced this as well, but I have a lot less control over the sudden paths because it has only ever come to me spontaneously. The path of gradual progression gives me faith and hope, it keeps me going and reassures me when I begin to doubt myself or my progress.
It's important not to take the gradual path as reason to sit back on our laurels and wait for enlightenment, peace, and wisdom to come to us. There is still so much work to be done. But for a while, I find, I can give up the striving nature of the mind and relax into the meditation itself, watching the breath, watching the thoughts bounce around, watching the stillness come in and stay awhile, then watch it depart down the stream of thoughts.
I believe it's important to continually check in with ourselves to see how we're doing. Am I trying too hard? Am I too lax? How have I grown? In what ways can I grow?
I've found lately that I've been growing temendously in equanimity. There is a great deal of spaciousness within me when difficulties arise around me, or when a situation comes about in which I would have ordinarily become emotionally swept into. It's liberating to have that spaciousness and the opportunity to decide how I want to respond.
At the same time, there are still struggles between these two great polarities of the hindrances: restlessness and sloth and torpor. In meditation I can see the restlessness as a basic tightening, or tension, inside of me that either wants something I don't have or doesn't want what I've got. For right now, I'm working on meeting this tension with the active feeling of openning to it and and then warming it with love. Soon I will ask myself, is this technique effective? If not, what else might I try?
This is the way of the gradual path.