Warm greetings to you all,
I have been practicing the Dhamma in relative isolation for about two years now. My life is fairly quiet for a lay practitioner. But in that time I’ve experienced periods of progress and periods of regress. In many ways, I’ve come to distrust the feelings and thoughts that arise out of both periods. It is especially difficult for me to judge the quality and efficacy of my practice because of this.
In times when my practice appears to be progressing, abiding by the precepts seems natural, and meditation appears to lead to deeper states of tranquility… well, it seems in a sense easier—though maybe this isn’t the right word. In those times of regress, which I am experiencing right now, everything seems to fall apart. What gains I’ve apparently made seem lost. It seems a struggle to be mindful. Where the precepts seemed front and center to my mind just a week ago, I now have to remove the mental detritus that seems to accumulate. I feel exhausted and meditation seems punishing. Bad habits and old thought patterns are struggling to resurface. And in spite of my best efforts, I find myself pining for the pleasant. The old bind of the mind training—itself—the mind that needs to be trained.
But I persist. Though there is plenty of grumbling from the committee that is my mind—especially from the Statler and Waldorf faction.
I have to think that the very fact that I’m experiencing this regression might imply that I’m not making the progress that I believe. The whole experience is humbling, painful, and discombobulating. I feel at times like I’m barely keeping my head above the crests and troughs.
I’ve shadowed this group for a long time. And I must admit that I’ve been too intimidated to comment or post because you all seem so experienced and I don’t know what I could possibly offer. But I’m currently reading the Majjhima Nikaya and the following passage in the Mahagopalaka Sutta resonated with me:
“How does a bhikkhu not know the ford? Here a bhikkhu does not go from time to time to those bhikkhus who have learned much, who are well versed in the tradition, who maintain the Dhamma, the Discipline, and the Codes, and he does not enquire and ask questions of them thus: ‘How is this, venerable sir? What is the meaning of this?’ These venerable ones do not reveal to him what has not been revealed, do not clarify what is not clear, or remove his doubts about the numerous things that give rise to doubt. That is how a bhikkhu does not know the ford.” (MN 33:9)
I know that what I’m experiencing is not an unusual experience. That it’s to be expected. This actually gives me hope. My question, submitted with reverence to both the Venerable and lay practitioners of this group, is what is a fruitful and skillful way to confront these moments of regression? What has been most helpful to you when experiencing spiritual dryness?
Thank you all so much for your time.