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I like to go to the gym and lift weights. If you do that you are recommended to take deload weeks where periodically you lift lighter weights or less frequently or both. It's meant to be very beneficial.

Could the same be said for meditation practice? Has any teacher / book recommended something similar? Could periodically taking it easy (less frequently or shorter sits) benefit the practice generally? The advice I've seen seems to be the opposite i.e. the answer to poor meditation is more meditation. That kind of thing hasn't worked for me in the past and has actually caused me to go from poor meditation to no meditation.

I do appreciate lifting weights and meditation are different though.

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Tibetan lineage teachers usually say, meditation should be like spending time with a best friend. You meet joyfully, you spend time effortlessly, and you separate easily, knowing you can't lose each other and will meet again soon.

Don't try to squeeze too much value out of that meeting, because you don't want to burden your friendship and turn it into a job.

When you turn meditation into a job your mind will secretly hate it. Instead, turn it into a vacation from all neuroses.

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If meditation is causing you stress, then you aren't doing it right. Meditation is taking it easy.

Joshu asked Nansen, "What is the Way?"

"Ordinary mind is the Way," Nansen replied.

"Shall I try to seek after it?" Joshu asked.

"If you try for it, you will become separated from it," responded Nansen.

How can I know the Way unless I try for it?" persisted Joshu.

Nansen said, "The Way is not a matter of knowing or not knowing. Knowing is delusion; not knowing is confusion. When you have really reached the true Way beyond doubt, you will find it as vast and boundless as space. How can it be talked about on the level of right and wrong?"

That you're asking about "deloading" indicates to me that you are somehow loading your practice. Meditation isn't like lifting weights. You aren't doing something. Meditation is not doing. You aren't striving towards something. Instead, you are acquainting yourself with what is. The mind that sits down on the cushion should be the same as the mind that sits down to have a cup of tea. You aren't trying to have the best "sit down and have some tea" that's possible for a human to have. You are just drinking tea. If it's a good cup of tea, great. If not, whatever. There will be other cups of tea.

If it helps you at all, stop meditating. Instead, just sit down on the couch. Don't watch your breath. Don't recite any mantras or work with any koans. Sometimes it's easier to learn how to "just sit" by just sitting. When we sit down on the cushion, too often we can begin to expect the extraordinary. That will destroy your practice. Once you found the the gate between striving and non striving, return to the cushion. Start again with the same lack of resolve you had on the couch. You can then add your breath, but don't watch it - wait for it like you would wait for a bus at the station.

You can't burn out on this type of sitting. And like Mumon says to end this koan, when you find the ordinary way...

春有百花秋有月 The spring flowers, the autumn moon;
夏有涼風冬有雪 Summer breezes, winter snow.
若無閑事挂心頭 If useless things do not clutter your mind,
更是人間好時節 You have the best days of your life.

Get rid of the useless parts of your practice. The more burdens (like expectation and resolve) you carry to the cushion, the heavier your meditation will feel. Lighten your load and sit weightlessly.

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  • "Meditation is not doing" - and yet if you read books by authors such as Daniel Ingram or Rob Burbea then the meditation practices outline there are very prescriptive. I appreciate that this is from a Zen perspective so makes sense viewed from there – Crab Bucket Mar 4 '20 at 0:21
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    Zen is exactly the same as Theravada jhana practice. The only difference is that zen doesn’t get bogged down in all of that perscriptiveness. What works for one works for the other. – user17214 Mar 4 '20 at 1:28

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