Is there a 'dead zone' in meditation and the effort applied? So to explain

  1. Going from no meditation at all to meditating even a bit (10 mins every few days) - benefits felt quickly

  2. Going up to intense meditation in a retreat situation (meditating many hours a day for several days to several weeks) - benefits felt and quite long lasting

  3. Meditating for an intermediate amount -(meditating 30 mins a day 5-7 days a week over months / years) - meditator plateaus and feels stuck. Little benefit felt

This is just my experience but I'm wondering is it a thing - has this been pointed out in any texts or by established teachers. Or is it just me?

Many Thanks

  • 2
    Don’t be afraid to experiment … perhaps longer periods, perhaps a new technique, perhaps new life experiences. Intelligent effort can’t hurt. The path is not straight as an arrow, sometimes what looks like lack of progress maybe the foundation for a great leap.
    – Buddho
    Sep 23, 2018 at 17:40

4 Answers 4


The benefit that you felt initially was akin to an out of shape person who decides to go for a walk every day for a week. The act makes them feel immensely better, but it isn't enough to effect any lasting change. The same goes for your period of intense practice. Just imagine the same out of shape person suddenly doing a month of CrossFit! Sure, they may drop a few pounds, but that month isn't enough to develop any lasting habits. That weight is also going to come back after a few weeks.

What you really want to be aiming for in practice is something resembling meditative periodization. You want to be doing a consistent daily practice that you "peak" out every once in a while on a retreat. That's actually the protocol that monks have been following since the time of the Buddha. Monks would sit everyday and would go into a period of intense practice during the rains retreat. Zen does something similar - alternating between a regular sitting periods and the more intense practice periods known as sesshin.

I think the answer to your conundrum here is actually pretty simple. Assuming that you are going on regular retreats, I just don't think you are sitting long enough day to day. You've got the peaking part down, but you aren't putting enough into the grunt and grind of daily practice. It really takes at least a half and hour for the mind to begin to settle. When you only sit for thirty minutes, you are getting up right when the mind is beginning to quiet. It's during the periods after the mental chatter subsides and the mind is focused that meditation starts to do it's magic.

My advice here is that you start by bumping your practice up to at least an hour a day. See what that does. Personally, I think no sit should be shorter than 90 minutes! There's something about those last ten minutes of a lengthy sit that's utterly purifying. Maybe you try to work up to that over time. If you put this into practice, I also think you'll find that your retreats are even more fulfilling. After all, who does better at a marathon - the guy who has been running eight miles every day or the dude who just got off the couch?


Yes, it has been pointed out in texts:

During the K'ai Yuan era (713-741) an ascetic Mazu was dwelling in the Ch'uan Fa Temple. All day he sat meditating. Zen Master Huairang knew that he was a fitting vessel of teaching, and went to question him:

“Great Worthy, what are you aiming at by sitting in meditation?”

Mazu replied, "to become a Buddha."

So Huairang leaned over and picked up two tiles off the floor and started rubbing them against each other.

Mazu asked, "What are you doing?"

Huairang replied, "Trying to make a mirror."

Mazu asked, "How can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?"

Huairang said, "How can you become a Buddha by sitting in meditation?"

Mazu asked, "Then what shall I do?"

Huairang asked, "When an ox-carriage stops moving, do you hit the carriage or the ox?" Mazu had no reply. Huairang continued, "Are you practicing to sit in meditation, or practicing to sit like a Buddha? As to sitting in meditation, meditation is neither sitting nor lying. As to sitting like a Buddha, the Buddha has no fixed form. In the non-abiding Dharma, one should neither grasp nor reject. If you try to sit like a Buddha, you are just killing the Buddha. If you attach to the form of sitting, you will never realize the principle."

Upon hearing this Mazu felt as if he had tasted ghee. He bowed and asked, "How should one's mind be so that it will accord with the formless samādhi?"

Huairang said, "Your study of the teaching of the mind-ground is like planting a seed. My teaching of the essentials of the Dharma is like heaven bestowing rain. Because you have natural affinity, you will perceive the Way."

Mazu also asked, "The Way is without form, how can it be perceived?"

Huairang said, "The Dharma-eye of the mind-ground can perceive the Way. It is the same with the formless samādhi."

Mazu asked, "Is that still subject to becoming and decay?"

Huairang said, "If you see the Way through such concepts as becoming and decay, meeting and parting, then you do not truly see the Way. Listen to my verse:

The mind ground contains various seeds,

Which with rain will come to sprout.

The flower of samādhi is formless,

How can it decay or become?"

Mazu was awakened and his mind became detached. He stayed to serve Huairang for ten years, gradually deepening his understanding of the profound mystery.

Buddhist Enlightenment is not something that can be achieved through mechanical repetition or by waiting, like one would wait for a kettle to boil or for a train to arrive. Buddhist Enlightenment involves shedding layers of bullshit and meeting reality. This is a process that requires courage to go forward into the unknown without a map. Only then one's practice can become alive and one can meet the real dragon face to face.

This includes meditation, that has to get less and less scripted and more and more an authentic presence and discovery with no preset agenda.


The stream flowing to Nibbana is entered by letting go (vossagga), as written at the end of MN 118 and in SN 48.9 and SN 48.10.

Most meditation taught (Visuddhimagga, Mahasi, Goenka, etc) are not based in letting go. Instead, they are "yogic techniques" based in mental manipulation.

Because these yogic methods use thought, the mind remains coarse or gross. Bodily formations only calm to a certain degree without the mind calming enough to bring more refined progress. Thus meditation "plateaus" or progress becomes "dead".


If you do something steadily for a long period of time you will personally see the "gains" in a rather slow manner. If, however, you stop doing something for quite some time and practise that thing again, the skill comea back quickly again. Once learned (in the brain), never able to unlearn. Unlearn is the key here. Neurons that aren't used become dormant. If a smoker hasn't smoked for a couple of years and starts again, the habit will be back quite quickly because the pathways were only dormant. If you want to become better at something you have to increase both quality and quantity

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