I recently started meditating, using the method in "Mindfulness in Plain English". So far, I've been able to meditate for between 1 to 3 hours at a time, every day. I do feel quite a bit of calm afterwards and during the deep parts of the meditation, and have also experienced some occasional hallucinations (like a feeling of intense bliss, like my arms are floating, like my chest is a hundred feet from my head) when I am deep in meditation. Also, I've found that when I need to do some chore in my daily life, if I start focusing on my breath, it helps me to not feel so bored or resentful.
I am looking forward to hopefully being able to enter deep states of calm more readily and spontaneously as my meditation practice deepens. However, the effects I describe above are somehow not enough for me. I am a seeker, and naturally curious. I want to find out what (if anything) lies beyond our ordinary perception of the world. Is what we normally take to be the "real world" (or "objective reality", "external reality", etc) actually an illusion like Buddhism and Hinduism claim? If so, can the techniques of Buddhist or Hindu meditation really reveal the "true reality" beyond the illusion of the ordinary world? I would like to find out.
Today, I found an interesting article, which argues that the kind of meditation taught in "Mindfulness in Plain English" (which is the kind most people today think of when they think of the word "meditation"), while "it has obvious benefits [such as health and calm]... does not lead to liberation from suffering". This is because, the author argues, this type of meditation practice tries to avoid painful experiences (by focusing back on the breath), and therefore leads to "the attachment to aversion to suffering".
The type of meditation the author advocates is quite different. I encourage you to read the article for details, but essentially it seems to consist in observing whatever happens in your mind without trying to control it, without trying to avoid it, curiously and observantly following wherever it leads.
This method of meditating sounds interesting, and I look forward to trying it in the future.
I am also interested in finding and trying other methods of meditation. I know there are lots of them, from focusing on the breath, to focusing between the eyebrows (the so-called "third eye"), to focusing on various external objects such as candle flames, mandalas, or even corpses. Some forms of meditations utilize mantras or other techniques for maintaining focus.
One other type of meditation that I did try briefly was kinhin, or walking meditation, which is described in some detail in "The Three Pillars of Zen" (a book I highly recommend, though with a grain of salt, as it seems to have a bit of a bias towards a particular tradition of Zen). It was quite interesting, and may be a good way to start and end a sitting or zazen form of meditation.
 - The author uses the term "suffering", probably referring to the Buddhist concept of dukkha, which is often translated as "suffering" (and is the first of the so-called Four Noble Truths, as in "life is suffering"), but may be better translated as "dissatisfaction" or the "problematic" aspects of life.
It's not that what is in Mindfulness in Plain English keeps you avoiding painful experiences. It's that, that is the level of your practice right now. That's the distinction that Daniel Ingram made between concentration exercises and insight meditation. In the latter, you start by gaining access concentration to your object (breathing, or whatever), and then deliberately seek out one of the Three Fundemental Characteristics: things come and go (impermanence), they don't satisfy (suffering), and it isn't you (no self).
So for example, once you reach access concentration on breathing, you can see hone in on the specific physical sensations and try to find any part of it that is actually "permanent". You're looking for the transience of not only the inhale and the exhale, but also the transience of what appears to be solid neural signals are actually high-frequency sensations. Go deeper, and you start observing how these sensations trigger other, in kind of a cascade effect -- exactly what was mentioned in Chuang-Tzu on the wind blowing through the openings of the world.
I point this out because it's not that the teachings lead you to the practice, but rather, the teachings come from the practice. You are essentially "reverse engineering" the teaching with your personal practice. When I look around, I see how teachings from around the world derive from the insights realized (experienced) in practice. And since the practice is "experience reality, all of reality", then of course there is a commonality.
Heh, having said that, some teachings are easier to absorb than others, depending on where you think you are and who you think you are. I guess I want to leave open the possibility, to not to have strong attachment to the specific teachings themselves when you practice.
Thats something that bothered me regarding mindfulness vs. concentration. Mindfulness presupposes that the "Three Fundamental Characteristics" exist, and have the form described by Buddhist metaphysics. It tells you to take this on faith and go looking for them.
As a secular meditator I would prefer not to make the assumption that Buddhist metaphysics is correct.
I would like to see the creation of a kind of mindfulness meditation informed by secular western developments such as the phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger for example.
I think that while the experiences of meditators and shamans of different traditions are genuine, in order to describe and systematize these experiences, they have to rely on the cognitive, social and philosophical resources of their time and place.
The experience might be eternal, but the material of understanding and explication is historical and tied to all kinds of hoary assumptions which often pass without examination.
The critical tools of modern philosophy and continental philosophy in particular can be extremely helpful for the meditator.
You don't have to presuppose that they exist. You can simply observe their comings and goings. It will take a lot longer but it is still possible. You become the observational instrument to see if those characteristics do, in fact, exist.
The critical tools of modern philosophy has been disconnected from direct experiences for this, so it's not as useful as you think it is. At least, not until you have direct realizations.
Where I've found them useful is when (1) you experience said insights, (2) you're off the cushion and trying to integrate them into your daily life and habits. I've also found that " they have to rely on the cognitive, social and philosophical resources of their time and place." is not as big of an influence as you think it is. (And the reverse is true: you experience how modern critical tools have their own built-in biases). But if you have not had experienced for yourself, then I'm not going to be able to persuade you to that view.
I would love to hear philosophers frame these experiences having first experienced these themselves. Otherwise, there's no point. I am, in fact, going to engage a philosophy friend in a discussion after he participates in a few shamanic ceremonies. That will be interesting.
Thanks for your reply. Going on a vipassana retreat and participating in a shamanic ceremony are definitely things I'd like to do at some point. All of my investigations have been solitary, for the most part, so I am ignorant of the collective side of things. (as a nerd, I am generally ignorant of the collective aspects of life anyway!)
I think if meditators were to study continental philosophy in particular, they would find many fruitful parallels to concepts in Eastern thought. Phenomenology involves examination of arising phenomena in a similar fashion to mindfulness, though I don't think it is ever as clearly explained. There is within it an attempt to overcome the subject-object distinction, and to re-frame the relationship between scientific objectivity and the lived experience of the human life-world. Unfortunately it is also some of the most impenetrable stuff ever written!
>>I've also found that " they have to rely on the cognitive, social and philosophical resources of their time and place." is not as big of an influence as you think it is.
I will take you up on that, but it might take me a few years. :)
Oh yeah! Though my knowledge of Western philosophy is shallow, I know there are not only parallels, there are outright convergences. The key is in the experience.
I see this in all the wisdom traditions, so that includes a reading of Jewish, Christian, and Islam.
Check out Terrance McKenna some time if you haven't. There is in which he does a trialogue with Rupert Sheldrake and Ralph Abraham. While I don't precisely agree with some of McKenna's comments on religions, his works are excellent sources of questions. :-D
I think it is awesome you want to create a mindfulness practice informed by secular western developments. If you have a chance to participate in a (genuine) shamanic ceremony, your philosophical training will bring a lot to the experience. (There is a mind-to-mind phenomena you can observe in vipassana retreats or in shamanic ceremonies; the content of your mind doesn't just inform your experience, it also affects the collective. So when you bring your Western secular experience into the mix, it brings a, in my opinion, vital perspective into the experience).
I suggest that there is a allergy/aversion to religious traditions that should be investigated by a meditator at some point. Likewise, there are aversions to secular methods as well that needs to be investigated.
One paragraph into your response, I thought "hey, that's good, he's finding a way to reduce his suffering with meditation. That's a great start."
Then I got to your second paragraph. Yes. You're on the right track. Buddhism and Hinduism are "designed" not only to demonstrate the "true reality" beyond appearances, but to show that the end of suffering lies in that direction.
It is true that mindfulness as it is commonly understood may not lead to what you seek. The primary obstacle you'll face is that mindfulness is typically dualistic -- there's a _you_ observing a _that_. If the true nature of existence does not distinguish subject and object -- that is, if it is nondual -- then this will always be a stumbling block.
I eagerly recommend to you two similar paths. One is Advaita Vedanta. Examples of sages and teachers would be Ramana Maharshi, Nisargadatta Maharaj, and more recently, Greg Goode and Rupert Spira. Check out Goode's "Standing as Awareness" for the most clearheaded investigation I've found.
The other path is the pinnacle of Tibetan Buddhism: Mahamudra or Dzogchen. You can find a Mahamudra manual online at chagchen.com. It was authorized by one of the great living masters of the tradition, so it's legit.
In both cases, having a teacher to keep you from wandering off into nonsense may be critical. Check out "the Advaita trap" on YouTube for a somewhat humorous example of that.
As you investigate Buddhism more deeply, never forget that the different schools have more philosophical differences than commonalities, despite the kumbaya face they present. The mystical traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism are far more similar to each other than to their parent traditions, and folks from neither school will openly admit this. And if you continue to follow the Theravada tradition, make sure you understand the difference between being an arhat, bodhisattva, or Buddha. If you're into "seeing through the illusion," this will be important.
>>>>> I want to find out what (if anything) lies beyond our ordinary perception of the world. Is what we normally take to be the "real world" (or "objective reality", "external reality", etc) actually an illusion like Buddhism and Hinduism claim? If so, can the techniques of Buddhist or Hindu meditation really reveal the "true reality" beyond the illusion of the ordinary world? I would like to find out.
I've studied Native American religion and Shamanism for about 10 years now (I have a degree in it) and I think you might be referring to ASC or altered states of consciousness. It's hard to describe to people what shamanic meditation and journeying are since most are dismissive of things they do not understand. Trust me though, it is fascinating and is eye opening once you've experienced it.
I would start here: (this was the first book recommended to me by my freshman professor when I first became curious about ASC and Shamanism)
Altered states of consciousnes and shamanism are fascinating subjects.
I have studied and have experience with a wide variety of altered states and methods for inducing them, from psychedelics to meditation, drumming, strobe lights, flotation tanks, sweat lodges.
Of these, I found psychedelics to be by far the most powerful. Nothing else I've ever tried has come remotely close to being even a thousandth as powerful. Unfortunately, because of their legal status, I haven't done them for a very long time. I do think they have a lot of potential for constructive use, if done by a person educated in their effects and use, in a safe, supportive setting, with a knowledgeable, trusted guide, with honesty, respect, and a concrete, positive intention. In fact, here is an interesting article about using psychedelics as an aid to Buddhist meditation.
As for shamanism, I've read The Way of the Shaman back in a university course I took on shamanism and witchcraft. Right now I'm making my way through Shamanic Voices by Joan Halifax (which I strongly recommend) and Singing to the Plants by Stephan V. Beyer, about ayahuasca shamanism in the Amazon.
Listening to 4 to 7 Hz drumming (per Harner's recommendation) has been a bit of a disappointment to me, although I haven't done all that much of it. Three or four sessions (at about an hour or two at a time) have resulted in either me falling asleep or some feelings of intense pleasure (much like I experienced in some deep states of meditation) -- but certainly no visions, much less "shamanic journeys". Overall, I think I'm more impressed by the effects of meditation so far. However, I intend to experiment more with drumming.
My one experience in a sweat lodge was literally torture. I'm not nearly masochistic enough to travel this path of inducing altered states of consciousness. There have got to be better ways.
My one flotation tank experience was interesting, and I would continue experimenting with it if it wasn't so expensive (about $40 a session). I'd liken the experience to something between meditation and dreaming or hypnagogic visions. Unfortunately, my consciousness was already slightly altered when I tried it, so I can't comment on how a "pure" flotation tank experience would be.
If I was ever fortunate enough to have another psychedelic experience, I would definitely like to try drumming, playing simple musical instruments, or singing -- as is done in many shamanic contexts. From what I've read, these may be effective ways of navigating the realms one is transported to.
Having the aid of an honest, experienced and knowledgeable shaman would also be very valuable. Unfortunately, I've heard that they are hard to come by these days, when Ayahuasca tourism and monetary considerations have enticed many less scrupulous individuals to pretend to be something they're not.
The possible purpose or benefit could be another "outside" view of the world. I know that after I used magic mushrooms with some close friends, some perceptions changed for me, I also learned to appreciate different kinds of music. I guess meditation might achieve the same effects.
"Did you find any practical purpose to the "altered" states of consciousness?"
Yes. I found them very useful for understanding myself. They confronted me with many unpleasant (and pleasant) but important parts of my life and feelings that I was in denial of or just couldn't experience in ordinary consciousness. They helped me gain a lot of insight in to myself and in to the world.
Another benefit was shaking my certainties about what the world was really like. Up to my first psychedelic experience, I felt pretty comfortable in the world (not that I had a pleasant childhood or life or anything, but I did feel I knew what the world was like, and how to get around in it). Psychedelics radically changed that. Even though I'd read a lot about them before I tried them, and was intellectually prepared for what I experienced, actually experiencing it was a different matter entirely. It's like reading about sex vs actually having sex. Reading about being in love vs actually being in love. There's no comparison.
Likewise, on psychedelics, suddenly I was not in Kansas anymore (metaphorically speaking). I learned that reality could be very different from what I take it to be in ordinary consciousness. And, while in an altered state of consciousness, what I experience could feel "even more real than real". This made me interested in finding out what reality was really like (if that's possible), and led me to become interested in and study philosophy, psychology, and religion.
My psychedelic experiences made me much more laid back, less dogmatic, and more accepting of other people and other views of the world. It also helped a lot with empathy. During a psychedelic experience, I became much more sensitive to my own body, my own feelings, the feelings of people around me, even the feelings of animals and even inanimate objects, which could become animate or even a part of me. I experienced the feeling of being one with everything.
After coming back to ordinary consciousness, those feelings subsided or disappeared entirely. Objects certainly became inanimate again. Still, the thought of the possibility that they were actually animate, and especially the possibility that things like trees might have feelings -- or at the least that I should respect them more than I do, or that they may "know" or "understand" more than I usually give them credit for, or be able to act in ways that I'm not normally aware of remained. And I think I am generally more sensitive towards the feelings of other people now, especially if they are in some sort of distress.
I came to be open to the possibility that there is a god or gods, or at least some sort of sacred reality beyond the one I had access to in ordinary consciousness. I did have experiences where I communicated with various entities and gods. Whether this was real or imaginary I can't say. But I am now more open to the possibility that something like that could be real, and I am more understanding of those people who have had profound mystical experiences or experiences of meeting or talking to God/gods.
Now, I can't give exclusive credit to psychedelics to changing my views on all of these things. Transitioning to my present views on these subjects took a long time, and my psychedelic experiences took place a very long time ago. But they opened the door and showed me the way on many of these things. How "practical" these insights and attitudinal changes have been would depend on what you mean by "practical". They certainly have been profound and important to me. But I can't say I came up with a new invention (as some people have) on psychedelics. Nor did I solve a math problem using them. They didn't make me a better coder. But they were very valuable.
Some studies have actually been done on using psychedelics to enhance creativity. If you are interested, I recommend reading James Fadiman's "The Psychedelic Explorer's Guide", and Oscar Janiger's "LSD, Spirituality, and the Creative Process".
On a humbler note, meditation has helped me to achieve calm (at least while I'm meditating and for some hours afterwards). I view that as a very practical effect.
"I would also like to suggest substituting the word "altered" with "disturbed". Would you mind telling me your thoughts on this (whether in connection with the above question, or not)?"
I don't like using the word "disturbed" for these states. Certainly, sometimes when in these states one can be confronted with visions or feelings that one finds disturbing. Aldous Huxley titled a book of his about psychedelics "Heaven and Hell", and that is sometimes quite an appropriate description of some of the more extreme experiences that one can have on psychedelics or in other non-ordinary states of consciousness. However, they are not always hellish, nor always heavenly. They can be quite unpredictable (especially when used in a haphazard, uninformed, or destructive way). I would agree that those states are non-ordinary -- in that they differ from the ordinary state of consciousness most of us inhabit during our waking lives. But to paint them all indiscriminately with the pejorative term "disturbed" is to misunderstand their nature.
It's also a bit arrogant to put ordinary consciousness up on a pedestal as if it was the ultimate and best form of consciousness and the rest were lacking, wrong, or immoral in some way. Many Buddhists and Hindus would certainly disagree with anyone who tried to claim that the enlightened state of consciousness was "disturbed". From their perspective, it is the ordinary state of consciousness which is "disturbed", and the enlightened state of consciousness that is healthy. Who are we to insist otherwise?
"the notion that inanimate objects and even trees have feelings is fundamentally unsound"
It may seem unsound from the perspective of ordinary waking consciousness, and certain materialistic, physicalist, or naturalistic philosophies.
But it seems quite sound from the perspective of many non-ordinary states of consciousness, animism, panpsychism, pantheism, panentheism, various types of shamanism and religions which hold animistic, pantheistic, or panentheistic beliefs.
Now, you may argue that there isn't any or enough evidence to support animistic beliefs. But then the question becomes one of what evidence do you accept. Do you accept the evidence of your own senses while in a non-ordinary state of consciousness? If not, why not? Do you accept as evidence the communication you or others may have had with what you or they consider spirits of other worlds? Do you accept the evidence of sacred writings? Etc..
Perhaps you don't. But is there an empirical reason for not counting this as evidence? It's not like you can "scientifically measure" which criteria are "better". Even if you could, there's the question of whether something that's "scientific" should be chosen over something that isn't. And whatever you chose, others would be free to disagree with you.
So, "sound" or "unsound"? It all depends on your point of view.
Anyway, I'm not saying I'm convinced in ordinary waking consciousness that trees or inanimate objects have feelings. I'm just open to the possibility. Anything is possible, and I'm ok with that. I didn't use to be. I used to be quite dogmatic in clinging to what I considered to be a "scientific" and materialistic world view.
Having psychedelic experiences and learning more about philosophy helped me to question these strongly held beliefs. I don't know if I've found any answers, but I am more open to the possibility that reality is not necessarily the way it appears or the way I think it to be. It could be some other way. I could be wrong. What I think "sound" could be "unsound", and what I think "unsound" may in fact be "sound". Or maybe there's no way it is at all. Who knows? Who is to say? I'm certainly no authority.
> But it seems quite sound from the perspective of many non-ordinary states of consciousness, animism, panpsychism, pantheism, panentheism, various types of shamanism and religions which hold animistic, pantheistic, or panentheistic beliefs.
Excellent, doctrines do tend to be self-contained. IF X, THEN Y. In the mean time, I bring up an important fact: we have always depended decisively on how well we coordinated our ideas with reality, for the purpose of achieving technological efficacy. In this light, the doctrines you enumerated are undesirable. Judging by the rate of success, the former, scientific doctrines you enumerated are more workable and, as such, preferable for the purpose of adjustment to the conditions of empirical life.
> Do you accept the evidence of your own senses while in a non-ordinary state of consciousness? If not, why not?
We accept evidence that is reproducible. I will stop here and not answer the other questions that you followed with, out of politeness.
> So, "sound" or "unsound"? It all depends on your point of view.
> I'm just open to the possibility. Anything is possible, and I'm ok with that. I didn't use to be. I used to be quite dogmatic in clinging to what I considered to be a "scientific" and materialistic world view. [...] Who knows? Who is to say? I'm certainly no authority.
Take much care to ensure that you are not merely being open, like a scientist is to new evidence and a better "map" for the "territory"; but rather that you are doubting everything. And as someone once eloquently put it, there are two ways to glide easily through life: to believe everything, and to doubt everything – both ways save us from thinking. (There's also another less polite quote about being open minded)
That aside, I think you have gathered an extraordinary amount of very interesting knowledge in your pursuits, and I think that in itself was as incredibly useful affair.
> Take much care to ensure that you are not merely being open, like a scientist is to new evidence and a better "map" for the "territory"; but rather that you are doubting everything. And as someone once eloquently put it, there are two ways to glide easily through life:
Take much care to ensure that you are not doubting everything, instead of being merely open, like a scientist is to new evidence and a better "map" for the "territory". As someone once eloquently put it, there are two ways to glide easily through life:
> But to paint them all indiscriminately with the pejorative term "disturbed" is to misunderstand their nature.
I meant the following definition for "disturbed":
interfere with the normal arrangement or functioning of
Sorry, I suppose I should have made it clear. I can see now why I need to be careful using this word. So to return, I connected to the fact that drugs are an intoxicant, perturbing the natural functioning of the nervous system. Using them to achieve a desirable result is... well, let us be polite: it won't become an acceptable form of "treatment". Their unpredictable nature that you mentioned is essentially the strongest argument in this debate.
> It's also a bit arrogant to put ordinary consciousness up on a pedestal as if it was the ultimate and best form of consciousness and the rest were lacking, wrong, or immoral in some way.
No, it's just logically self-contradictory to expect that by perturbing a system you may improve its behaviour. Any argument you may formulate in those terms should and will be discarded. As for other possible arguments in favour of drug use... well we only have what we have so far.
> From their perspective, it is the ordinary state of consciousness which is "disturbed", and the enlightened state of consciousness that is healthy. Who are we to insist otherwise?
> One other type of meditation that I did try briefly was kinhin, or walking meditation
I absolutely love walking meditation! First because it's incredibly relaxing and makes my head wonderfully clear. Second, as you already said, it's a great exercise to do before a sitting meditation. The latter, I've found is (there may be other factors, but this one I particularly noticed) because when you just sit down, two things need to happen: your mind needs to calm down, and you need to find a comfortable posture. The first happens automatically, but until you're there it hampers the second (that would probably lessen with practice--but is also highly dependent on mood etc). And sometimes by the time you're there (calm and comfortable), you're already sort of stiff and slightly cramped because you've been sitting for some time. If I do the walking meditation first, I don't get stiff cause I'm walking, and by the time I sit down, my mind's all calmed down and I can almost immediately find a comfortable posture (no twitches, no involuntarily tensed muscles you need to relax first) and can enjoy the sitting part of my meditation so much better (and sooner).
I should really discuss with my meditation-group to do such a type of warm-up more often, actually :)
I'll try to post more o. The following when I am not posting from my phone:
When I started martial arts (Bujinkan) when I was 15, I got really into meditation and looking for what higher level of consciousness I could attain. I was really into energy work - and it was something that I sought diligently at the time.
There is a state we refer to as "The Mode" where one is in touch with their energetic being and all sorts of things happen.
I'll post more on The Mode later...
At this time I was meditating every day fora out two hours per day, as I went to bed.
I had injured myself in a workout where I had pulled some muscles in my abdomen, and I had to hunch over, could not stand fully erect, and had to move very slowly.
So I lay down and was determined to heal myself.
I meditated and focused on my breathing bringing the needed energy to my damaged stomach muscles.
I focused on the phrase "I am healing now" in my head and let that idea waft over me.
As I lay there, my body suddenly, involuntarily took a sharp deep death in and my back arched up. My stomach had a strong tingling sensation. Like that of when your muscles fall asleep but the reverse - meaning it was not of nerves being numb, but of nerves being filled with energy.
I let the breath out and I could tell my stomach muscles were spontaneously and completely healed.
I got up and checked myself and I was in perfect condition.
This was the only time this has ever happened to me, though I have tried to repeat it at times.
It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
I think, before adopting a regimen, we ought to ask ourselves: is there evidence that the advocates of it arrived at it by a reasonable process? Or, if they didn't, are the benefits (compared to alternatives) compelling enough to override the risk of your spending time making an assessment and making an error in the direction of credulity? (see http://lesswrong.com/lw/19m/privileging_the_hypothesis/ )
I definitely had trouble sitting for long periods in the lotus or half-lotus position. Due to a year's worth of stretching, I'm easily able to get in to these positions, but my knees and back start to hurt after a while -- and this makes it difficult to concentrate on just the breath.
So, I've been experimenting with meditating while lying down. This is far more comfortable, but then I have to really fight falling asleep. Sometimes I've succeeded, other times I have fallen asleep. Eating a big meal right before doing any kind of meditation is not recommended if you want to stay awake!
Another tip is to make sure your cell phone is off and you have a "do not disturb" sign on your door. There's nothing more frustrating than finally achieving a deep meditative state and then being interrupted by some triviality.
In the last few days I've tried sitting in full lotus again, and have noticed that it's starting to get less painful -- though one of my legs does has gone totally numb after a while. I've been able to do about one hour of meditation in full lotus so far. The two and three hour meditations have all been while I was lying down.
I don't think I have any definative answers for you on how to work your way up to meditating for this long. I'm just a beginner myself. I think playing chess all my life has helped with my ability to conentrate. On the other hand, in my ordinary life I'm very prone to becoming bored and do a lot of task-switching (especially on the computer, where I spend way too much time), which has hurt my ability to concentrate.
I did find the technique of focusing just on my breath to be very useful. As described in "Mindfulness in Plain English", I try to focus on the feeling of my breath as it enters and leaves the tip of my nose. If other thoughts or feelings come up, I don't fight them, but try to return my attention to the feeling of my breath entering and leaving the tip of my nose.
I've found that this type of concentration is easier on some days than others. On some days I have a lot of thoughts racing through my mind. If I've seen an exciting movie, for instance, I might have a lot of images from that movie flashing through my mind, or I may be thinking of events that happened in that movie while I'm trying to meditate. That's frustrating, and those days tend to be less productive. On other days, however, I might not have a lot on my mind. Those are the days when I can focus on my breath for a long time.
I used to meditate for an hour to two hours a day - but I've recently began finding out that I can compress my meditations into 10-15 minute sessions. This might come from being able to slide into trance more easily than I used to.
I've found that I actually feel better from 15 minute meditations per day than 1 hour meditations as long as I remain focused an in trance - if I'm having difficulty staying "in the zone" then I'll extend the meditation accordingly based on feel.
I'm not gnosis, but I've occasionally done 1 to 3 hours in a single sitting. The "difficulty" is exactly the aversion to suffering. Well, unless you only do samadhi and enter into the bliss states. At which point, you really don't want to leave so you sit there until you fall over. (I sometimes think, meditators should participate in the 12-step program for Bliss Junkies Anonymous, except that it is exactly what vipassana is supposed to addressed).
I just wanted to say thanks for this book recommendation - "Mindfulness in Plain English". Learning and starting some basic meditation was one of my New Years Resolutions, but I didn't really know where to get started (even though I've been exposed to meditation before). I bought this book and it is a great practical guide.