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I have been practising insight meditation daily in the tradition of Mahasi Sayadaw for approximately 6 or 7 years. I have also attended some retreats. From everything I have learnt and read I understand that the purpose of insight meditation is to gain some understanding into the true nature of reality ie anicca, dukha and anatta.
I initially begun practising because I felt so unhappy and dissatisfied with life and so I thought it would help but I can honestly say I don’t think it has helped much at all. If anything it’s made life feel even more pointless. I feel like there really is no point of striving for anything even relationships. I have become much less tolerant of people and spend a lot of time alone now. I don’t feel compassionate towards people at all. I just feel irritated by them. I go through the motions of daily life but feel no joy at all. I do feel a sense of calm sometimes which is a relief from the anxiety of encroaching old age and the financial worries that may bring but mostly I kind of feel like if I died tomorrow I don’t really care that much.
I have been told that I’m depressed and so I did the rounds of psychologists and anti depressants but none of it made any difference. If anything anti depressants made me feel worse because of the awful side effects. I tried at least 5 different ones.
I feel confused because I suppose I believed that at some point I might have some kind of profound insight or awakening which might help me snap out of this dullness and malaise. Buddhist monks are shown in the media as the happiest people on earth so I was drawn to this thinking that I’d be happier but I’m really not.
On retreat I have had reached some very blissful states but they were short lived and I was told to not place any meaning in them because they can become just another attachment and a hindrance.
Maybe I’m on the wrong tack or something. Even metta practice just feels completely pointless. I don’t genuinely feel the loving kindness it is apparently supposed to evoke. I’m not sure where from here. I just continue sitting everyday and although everything is constantly in flux it feels as though nothing much changes. I sit, I breathe, I notice a thought, a sound, a sensation, a feeling then I breathe. What I want is a deep and profound change of outlook.
I feel compassion for your situation and would normally recommend MBCT to most people who are depressed. Mindfulness is about our relationship to ourselves and others, us and them, me and you. To feel right with in ourselves, we must feel right with others. Depression is not an individual thing, it is a social thing too.
Who else do you have in your life? Do you own a dog or a cat? Do you have a big heart? The secret to happiness is putting concern for others before one's own self. Meditation practice starts out as a self centered exercise in self improvement, but it's purpose and end goal is concern for others. It helps us to function better emotionally and socially, the two are intimately linked in humans.
You might want to step outside the tradition a bit here for a solution. You will not find what you seek solely with in yourself, but in concern for others, even a Cat or a Dog. We are deeply social beings, nature built us that way to survive as a group and for most of our evolutionary history as clan, or tribal people, it was impossible for humans to survive outside of a social group. Humans band together to solve problems, for mutual support and defense. That is what you and I are doing right here, banding together to solve a problem and to provide mutual support. That is why you joined a sanga and why you are here, your human nature is trying to tell you something.
Humans had to survive in a harsh and unforgiving environment for hundreds of thousands of years and it was not just our individual intelligence that that caused us to dominate the planet, but our emotional/social genetic inheritance. Human societies run on love, we were able to survive because we love and care for each other on a deep unconscious level. This is revealed by training to having the clarity of mind to see and feel this love between us. The prefrontal regions of the brain are the most recently evolved, the most plastic and are built out during training. The reason these brain regions respond to training and can change rapidly is because of their immense importance to our survival as social beings.
You must form caring relationships to be happy, even monks live in communities. You need to be able to step outside your self concern and be more concerned for others than yourself. Nature's reward for this is happiness and a joyful heart, we evolved that way to survive.
If you find this dialog of any value I can continue along these lines, we evolved as families, clans and tribes, agrarian civilization for many of our ancestors is only a few thousand years old. There are still people who live tribally today. Your source of happiness is to be found in concern for others, not in others, or even in concern for yourself. Concern for others (compassion) is what you get in the end when you walk the path. Your problem is of the heart, not of the mind (metaphorically speaking). Compassion really means maximum socio emotional cooperative mode, the reward is joy and happiness. Make a difference for someone, most people live for others, not themselves, because nature built us that way. Call it Buddha nature if ya want, your practice reveals it in all it's joyful glory.
I'm here to help, compassion comes first
Your friend (mate!)
Here is something I just ran across while doing some research and it appears to mesh with my own ideas and those of other Buddhist geeks, or nerds (as we like to call ourselves).
I hope you are feeling better about yourself and more empathy for others. What you are experiencing might be a normal part of the path for some people and you should discuss this with your teacher. If you don't have a teacher who is qualified to answer your issues, you might find this fellow and his online community helpful, they follow the insight (Vipassana) path too.
I hope this helps and you should find your answers with this group, Daniel's day job is as an emergency room physician and if your having practice related issues he might be able to help on several different fronts. This is hard core Dharma stuff for serious practitioners and seekers of liberation who follow our school of vipassana practice and a good place to seek help. I believe he is liberated and the most qualified to address your concerns
Here is a video and a couple of links, there are more of his videos on Youtube including 2 more interviews with Robert Wright:
The path to enlightenment | Robert Wright & Daniel Ingram [The Wright Show] (full conversation)
His website and online community, seek contact and help here.
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