This section will lay out some strategies for practitioners as they get deeper into the practice.
Recycle the Reaction.
It is a common occurrence for meditators to experience reactions to the practice. Typical reactions include pain in the body (beyond just the normal pain in the ass from sitting a long time), the emergence of powerful emotions, unusual mental states, and so on. Reactions to the meditation practice are best handled by subjecting them to concentration, clarity, and equanimity. In other words, you simply feed them back into the technique that caused them to arise in the first place. Just more grist for the mill.
Divide and Conquer.
Remember that one of the sub-components of clarity is resolution. Resolution is the ability to separate any sensory experience into its component parts. Dividing a challenging sensory experience into its component parts can help to keep the experience from overwhelming you. In this case to "conquer" means to stay focused on and equanimous with a challenging experience, NOT to make it go away. Remember that equanimity is contentment with your experience as it is right now. It is easy to fall into the trap of using meditation to try and make unpleasant experiences go away. But you will get much better mileage if instead you learn to not need unpleasant experience to go away. I know it sounds crazy, but trust me.
Subtle is Significant.
As the sensitivity sub-component of clarity gets stronger, you will probably begin to detect more subtle aspects of self and world. The subtlety of such experiences belie their importance. Indeed, the very subtlety of certain kinds of experiences is what makes them crucial to an understanding of how our experience of self and world unfolds. Very subtle, but omnipresent, emotional body sensations, for example, can color our entire existence without us ever knowing it - until we develop sufficient sensory clarity. So do not disregard the subtle.
If you can't be disciplined, be clever.
If you rely on "talking yourself into" meditating everyday or attending a retreat, there is a good chance you will talk yourself out of it half the time. There are some measures you can take to counter that potential lack of discipline.
When it comes to your daily practice, if you live with another person, tell them that you plan to meditate daily, at a certain time in a certain place. Make a big deal out of it and solicit their cooperation. They will probably help you and perhaps more importantly you will feel like a fool if you make a big deal about it and then don't do it.
Similarly, schedule meditation retreats far in advance. Put it on your calendar in ink, notify all concerned about your plan, put in a request for vacation time or leave from work if needed, and register for the retreat as soon as registration opens. Once again, if you chicken out, people will shame you with clucking noises and sad head shaking.
Don't deviate from a chosen technique without clear intention.
Sometimes, there is a tendency to fall into a pattern of shifting randomly from one meditation method to another and then another during a single sit. Generally, you should sit down with a particular technique in mind and stick with it for the entire duration of that practice session. However, there are some instances where changing techniques is appropriate.
Sometimes you simply cannot follow the original plan. For example, you may begin to experience pain that distracts you from your original choice of focus. Under that circumstance you may have no choice but to change your plan and work directly with the discomfort, being unable to ignore it.
Sometimes an experience will arise that invites you to explore it. The most common example is the arising of "flow" in one or more sensory streams. That is often a fruitful avenue to explore and merits a change in technique.
But we never want to change technique due to craving a pleasant state, avoiding an unpleasant state, or unconsciously. If you avoid craving, aversion, and unconsciousness in managing your practice, you will be fine.
There are a myriad of meditation techniques in the world but you only need one.
The system I teach includes MANY (too many?) techniques. But don't let that cause you any concern because you only need one. Any technique in Shinzen's system can give you all the benefits of the practice. Find one that works for you and stick with it. Or sample the whole tool box.
The technique that is right for you is the one that works for you.
There is no single right technique for everyone. If you find a technique that works for you, then that is the right technique. See the FAQ for advice on how to know if your practice is working.
What is trackable is tractable.
Challenging experience, physical and/or emotional, can overwhelm equanimity and cast the meditator into unbearable suffering. Being able to separate and track all the sensory components of the challenging experience (another way of saying sensory clarity) can help the meditator to maintain equanimity. The overwhelming nature of challenging experiences is usually due to several intense sensory streams combining into a single tidal wave of intense discomfort. Being able to separate and track those components can make the experience more tractable.
As much can be learned from easing up as from bearing down.
Sometimes there is a tendency to approach the practice with a relentless determination. This is often a good thing - but not always. It is important to remember that easing up can be fruitful as well. For example, one might be pushing through physical discomfort only to find equanimity starting to wane. That is often a good time to ease up, change posture, change technique, etc. And if this letting up on intensity is done with full concentration, clarity, and equanimity, so that the changes that come with easing up are experienced mindfully, it can be just as productive as pushing harder.
Learn to begin your practice techniques on a dime.
Over time, we all accumulate reactive emotional scar tissue from various traumas, large and small. This "pool of poison and pain", when triggered, tends to unconsciously drive us to unskillful action. The skills learned in mindfulness practice can help prevent that from happening. But if we don't deploy mindfulness the moment a challenge arises, it is often too late and the terrorists are already in the cockpit. So we want to practice being able to start a meditation technique "on a dime" so we are ready when the inevitable challenges of life manifest. Also very worth noting is the fact that mindfulness practice, over time, drains the swamp of emotionally reactive scar tissue so that our responses to challenging occurrences in life become ever more appropriate.
Time is your ally.
When a particular practice session becomes challenging, physically, emotionally, or both, as often happens particularly in extended retreat circumstances, when you find yourself wishing the bell would ring, it is helpful to remember that the longer you maintain concentration, clarity, and equanimity during that challenging experience, the deeper the purification. So time in the mindful state IS your ally.
Don't chase states.
As your practice matures, you may experience states of consciousness that are blissful, interesting, tranquil, fun, and so on. It is easy to develop the habit of "chasing" these states, assuming that they are what you are "supposed" to be experiencing, or just because they are pleasant. But this is a trap that you want to avoid. Our goal is not to have fun, interesting, or pleasant experiences while meditating. Sorry about that. Our goal is to transform consciousness at the deepest levels, and change the way we process experience on and off the cushion. And there is no correlation between the tranquility or pleasure felt during meditation practice and the transformation of consciousness. There is just as likely to be deep work being done when the meditation session is uncomfortable as when it is pleasant. In the worst case, people can spend years avoiding doing deeper work because every time they practice they intentionally seek out some pleasant state. This has been called "getting stuck in a good place". Don't do it. As much as possible, let go of any preference for a pleasant versus an unpleasant meditation experience. Sounds crazy, right? Trust me. And remember that the measure of the success of your practice is not what happens ON the cushion, but how your life is transformed OFF the cushion.