I've been practicing solo now for about a month. The issue is that I don't have a true teacher per se, but a collection of resources which offer diverging guidance. Considering what I've done so far, my background, and my goals, I was hoping for some advice on which path to follow.
I began doing 10-minute sessions using the Headspace app (www.headspace.com). After graduating their 10-day program, I stumbled on a podcast put together by B. Alan Wallace (http://media.sbinstitute.com/courses/fall-2014/). It is a retreat detailing a number of, from what I gather, more advanced practices, covering Wallace's translation of Padmasambava's work. I have worked through the lectures covering settling the body, speech, and mind in their natural state and mindfulness of breathing. I have been doing these practices for about 20 days to what I feel are good effects.
To supplement my practice, I then came across two other resources by Wallace: an academic article he wrote called The Buddhist Tradition of Samatha, which covers a method similar to that in the podcast, but diverging in some ways; I also found his translation of Dudjom Lingpa's work, Stilling the Mind . This offers a path catered more toward Western beginners.
Lastly, I came across another text from Wallace which is geared directly at beginners, called The Attention Revolution.
A little bit of detail on these different methods is in order. The podcast informs my practice for the most part. The main focus, after relaxing and breathing naturally, is to focus the mind on itself, while peripherally noting the duration of in and out breaths.
The beginner's practice in Stilling the Mind begins with "merging the mind with space" (focusing on the space between oneself and external objects), then focusing on a concrete, external object (like a pebble), and culminates with "awareness" (being introspectively mindful of any thoughts that arise). Wallace notes that over time, this practice can lead to the perception of thoughts which are normally too fleeting or subtle otherwise.
The beginner's practice in the Attention Revolution skips anything like "merging the mind with space" and using a pebble, and goes straight for the Burmese method of focusing on the tactice sensations of the abdomen while breathing.
So I'm not sure if I should back track to one of the beginner's practices at this point or not. And if I should back track, which one would be a better option? The podcast practice feels comfortable now, though I am often lost in excitation or laxity. My goal (as of now) is not to become a monk, but to deepen my focus through samatha practice and try to be a more compassionate person. Wallace's argument that strong attention is the foundation of other practices convinces me. So as a lay person, I imagine that having access to subtle thoughts as per the path in Stilling the Mind might be a useful side effect of samatha practice. Then again, the preliminary practices of merging the mind with space and staring at a stone seem a far cry from the podcast practice I've been doing. The Burmese method seems good too.
This is a very long post and I'm not sure if I've included the relevant details for getting the sort of response I want. Please let me know what other information you need. The basic question is this: Should I switch gears to another, less advanced samatha practice now, or stay on my current path? Alternatively, I could test out the other methods for a bit. But which one?