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I am wondering if alertness is best sustained in terms of:

  1. Attempting to sustain alertness in meditation, not meditating when too lethargic. In other words, always exerting oneself and keeping sharpness when in meditation, and stopping when the mind becomes unclear.
  2. Or, engaging with meditation even when lethargic, continuing one's meditation despite the mind being unclear and hazy. In other words, waiting for the mind to clear up.

Which is more accurate?

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Your meditation method cannot to be too comfortable, nor too uncomfortable, that is why people mostly choose to sit in half or full lotus with straight back so they don't slouch and sloth. Be careful not to slouch, keep back upright, work on posture and correct it.

Question 1:

Attempting to sustain alertness in meditation, not meditating when too lethargic. In other words, always exerting oneself and keeping sharpness when in meditation, and stopping when the mind becomes unclear.

Sustain, but gentle mindfulness or awareness, I wouldn't say alertness as it implies stress as in fight or flight type of thing. Note that you are feeling lethargic. Do not stop, note that mind becomes unclear. Eventually correct your posture, straighten the back and continue. It is generally to be mindful of it just to the extent of eating, or waking up (both in meditation and daily life)

Again, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu is one who acts in full awareness when going forward and returning; who acts in full awareness when looking ahead and looking away; who acts in full awareness when flexing and extending his limbs; who acts in full awareness when wearing his robes and carrying his outer robe and bowl; who acts in full awareness when eating, drinking, consuming food, and tasting; who acts in full awareness when defecating and urinating; who acts in full awareness when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, talking, and keeping silent. 9. “In this way he abides contemplating the body as a body internally, externally, and both internally and externally … And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world. That too is how a bhikkhu abides contemplating the body as a body

Question 2:

Or, engaging with meditation even when lethargic, continuing one's meditation despite the mind being unclear and hazy. In other words, waiting for the mind to clear up.

Engage, yet gently noting haziness and confusion, lack of clarity. Eventually correct your posture, straighten the back and continue.

On mental hindrances, such as:

  1. Sensual Desire
  2. Ill-will
  3. Sloth and Torpor
  4. Restlessness and Remorse
  5. Doubt

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel026.html

Bonus: "Is there such a thing as bad meditation?":

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questioner has asked regarding sustenance of alertness------you are sitting in a coffee shop aside road, lot of traffic noises are running, you are engrossed in reading your whatsapp/msgs on your cell and suddenly you hear a blonde laughing similar to ringing of small bells. You focus your attention/awareness on it to listen still clearly and minutely. Now what does this indicate? .This implies that you see,listen,smell,touch,think as driven by desire. So here master is not you who is practising awareness on any object(kasinas), but the deep rooted kileshas,desires,asavas. So all deliberate efforts to maintain/sustain awareness goes in vain. so these roots are to be uprooted. humble suggestion to refer "Pure Dhamma " site on net and read how to remove asavas.

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