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I've been meditating (somewhat regularly) about one or two years back. Mainly shamata, and vipassana lately. Today I feel that my willpower is considerably lower than before.

I mean, I used to be very interested in a variety things (such as music theory, matial arts, computer programming paradigms, algorithms, and so on). And lately I'm not feeling interested in them so much as I did before. Some years ago I used to think about them, study them and practice them.

Lately I'm not engaged in any of these activities, besides what relates to my job. Sometimes I think about getting involved with one or another of them, but soon I feel unwilling to get exposed to unsatisfying activities, I feel there is no sense to make effort on impermanent matters.

When I started meditating I thought I wouldn't lose "my interests", and now I feel somewhat lost by this lack of enthusiasm. It doesn't feel bad at all, I'm just a bit unsure about letting my secular skills and interest fade away. I'm not sure it is ok if this unwillingness deepens.

Do you think it is OK? Is it expected in the Buddhist path? Do you think I should let it happen?

Or do you think there is something missing in my practice? Do you think something must be done about it?

I'm asking for an advice, so I'll allow myself to be partial to choose an answer.

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I can relate to your question. I too come from a software background and have had a similar set of experiences.

Even though we have had similar experiences, the underlying cause could be different. I'll share with you why I think I have had these experiences; perhaps some of my thoughts/insights might be useful to you.

You mention being interested in a variety of things: music, martial arts, software, etc. According to me all of these things -- even when they are interesting -- take a slice of your mental space. They take up space in the memory as well as the mind's computing cycles.

Software development, among all these activities is a bit different, in that it is the most stressful. Most programmers start of with a lot of passion and try to keep track of several things in their field. This is a very commendable attitude, but the rate at which stuff changes has become absolutely insane in the last few years. So IMO, regardless of passion, you are developing stress under the surface, just by having to keep up with so much. I think many of us have a silent inner fear of becoming out of touch with current knowledge. This stress works on the brain silently, till a point where something's got to break. This is not just my opinion - I have read several blog posts by developers who feel the same way.

A reason why sometimes we try to do a variety of things is because we have an achievement oriented mindset. Such a mindset unfortunately always comes with an underlying stress of not having achieved enough, and it pushes a person to achieve more, to do more. Maybe such a person cannot feel comfortable until they have spent themselves totally in trying to do things. If that is true, then fatigue and stress is bound to accumulate in the mind - and show it's impact at some point.

Now let's come to your spiritual practice. A very nice (but sometimes undesirable from a worldly perspective) effect of meditation is, that it makes you start calling out those things that are stressing you without adding any value to your life. Sure, meditation brings authentic joy, but the path to authentic joy for some/many people is through the process of calling out those things that are sapping on the spirit.

Once you start calling out things that have become part of your daily routing, suddenly everything might feel meaningless. There sets in a form of exhaustion and detachment from everything.

I am not saying this is a healthy state, but it may be part of the landscape. Even though joy and energy are some of the factors of enlightenment, not everyone experiences them right away. Very often growth happens through a tunnel of hopelessness.

This moment is perfect the way it is - just breathe -- A Zen Saying

Does this saying feel liberating to you? If it does and if you feel that you have an achievement mindset, then tempering it with a certain calm acceptance of the present might help.

Try doing fewer things and don't feel compelled to fill your day with something or the other. See if that helps. Give yourself the luxury of feeling happy even when you are not doing tasks that are in some way adding to your knowledge, etc.

I would like to respectfully disagree with the fact that joy, energy and calmness are factors which develop once someone starts meditating. Sure, they will and should develop, but nobody can say when. Different people come to meditation at different points in their life and with different backgrounds. They are certainly going to have different experiences.

IMO and with a disclaimer that it comes purely from my subjective experiences, I don't think there is anything wrong in the way you feel. Examine why you are feeling listless. Could it be that you have been over extending yourself from several years. Are you feeling tired from having to do so many things? It's possible that this is a phase, or it's possible it might be a time to introspect and find out if you are leading the kind of life that is authentic to you.

There are many mediators whose journey involves dark and difficult periods. I think it's important to be honest with yourself and also maintain a sense of humor.

I'll say, honor your journey and examine your reactions. I am sure your own self examination will show you the right way.

Great question - and an important one. Thanks for asking.

  • 1
    "... are (you) feeling tired to having to do so many things?" No, nowadays I do much less things than I used to do two or three years ago. Maybe I'm concerned with losing my secular skills in the sense that I'm becoming less productive. I think I will post another question about productivity, but you can improve your answer in this point if you wish. – eric Mar 17 '15 at 20:15
  • Oh, I didn't mean to fix te spelling, but instead, to replace your open question with something related to my comment above. Well, you decide. – eric Mar 18 '15 at 18:14
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    Just a word on the very specific "keeping up with things" angle in software development, which applies to me as well. I came to peace with it by "standing ready". I don't try to keep up with things that are not directly related to my work. Instead I keep my mind trained and open, and am able to relax in the knowledge that I will be able to catch up with whatever a changing work environment might demand in short time, building on the general experience gathered over time. Not sure how this would relate to Buddhism specifically, but it allowed me to "let go" of that particular worry. – DevSolar Apr 20 '15 at 11:46
  • @DevSolar "letting go" of the particular worry is an important point. For me the constant internal pressure of feeling that I have to keep up with all that's happening resulted in a lot of stress and eventual disillusionment with software development in general. It was a lot like what happens when the hard disk thrashes :) I like your idea of standing ready and making peace. Do you follow any disciplined/deliberate way of 'being ready' or is it random reading/experimenting with things that catch your eye? – Parag Apr 20 '15 at 13:11
  • @Parag: Nothing formalized. I refuse to settle for "good enough" (and becoming close-minded and falling behind). I always do a bit more than just what's required, learning new ways and new things wherever I get the opportunity as my work touches on a subject. "Keep learning", but focussed on what I can or could apply to my current work. Trying to "be good" at what I am currently doing and at learning, instead of learning trying to be good at everything. Ready to start over with something else entirely if necessary. I'm 42 with 15 years in the business, and it has worked well so far. – DevSolar Apr 20 '15 at 13:25
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You lose interest because your MINDFUL. Mindfulness acts like a barrier or a filter. It creates distance. Your not as engaged to the five senses and it's objects as you use to be, therefore your not lost or absorbed in it.When we are mindlessly absorbed in something we are at the mercy of our greed, hate and delusions .In other words your no longer acting subconsciously. So when your conscious you kind of realise you don't have to engage in certain activities.

For example I use to like watching tv. But ever since I have been practicing being mindful through out the day I find it almost "senseless" to sit in front of a box. Especially when you are mindful through out the show.?? It's almost like mindfulness filters our activities to what's useful and what's not. Kind of how Arahants live.

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The 7 enlightenment factors:

  • Mindfulness (sati)
  • Investigation (dhamma vicaya)
  • Energy (viriya)
  • Joy or rapture (pīti)
  • Relaxation or tranquility (passaddhi)
  • Concentration (samādhi)
  • Equanimity (upekkha)

There is a reason the teachings list things to develop and be aware of (eightfold path, enlightenment factors, jhana factors, five hindrances, etc). Any one of them underdeveloped may lead us astray.

One thing is to lose interest towards random things. Other is to lose interest, enthusiasm and energy in general. The first is not a problem in itself. The second is a problem, which can probably develop into depression.

A person who loses interests in "mundande" things, but has strong interest and enthusiasm in buddhism often finds himself/herself considering the monastic life.

A person who, in general, is not enthusiastic, is not interested, has no willpower, might find trouble when trying to do anything at all.

I'm just a bit unsure about letting my secular skills and interest fade away. I'm not sure it is ok if this unwillingness deepens.

While some interests become very uninteresting to keep around, others are good to develop, like anything (from projects to careers) related to helping people.

Skills are tricky though, if that's what pays rent and food. It might be wise to keep those able to perform, at least, while they are needed to keep you alive.

  • Some people experiencing Nondual Awareness feel this way for a while. Then they "lose interest in" the path entirely, and immerse in daily life! Often their memory is somewhat impaired, as they don't care about usual things to remember. Also have trouble deciding on dinner, etc, because life is just So Beautiful! So, it could be worse. Have to be interested in something. – user2341 Jun 27 '15 at 13:45
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This answer from Ven. Yuttadhammo answers your question well.

It's a very long answer. Let me quote a part of it. Quote:


I felt as if my ego wasn't quite ready to deal with the complexities of modern life, and rather than help my daily existence, this new state of mind became a hindrance.

This as well is a judgement, probably indicative of aversion. Even though a state may be objectively "bad", disliking just aggravates the condition. This should understood as it is ("disliking, disliking").

Talking to my clients on the phone, fielding their complicated questions, suddenly became a daunting task. And the part of my brain that allowed me to program websites (which is what I do for a living) was struggling to focus.

Sometimes struggling to focus on worldly things simply means you are unable to care about what has no intrinsic benefit; you may have to in that case force yourself to stop practicing in order to carry out the worldly duties as you see fit. In this case, though, it sounds like you probably have too much concentration and not enough effort. If the mind is unwieldy, inflexible, it will have trouble keeping up with reality and thus interacting with daily life. Insight meditation that focuses on mundane reality should help. If you truly are distracted (in the sense of the mind flitting to many different objects at once), then it probably has less to do with the meditation practice and more to do with your reactions to it that have led to anxiety, etc.

  • Do you have a Tibetan, Sanskrit, Chinese or a proper name for "Insight meditation"? – eric Mar 11 '15 at 15:00
  • Vipassana – ruben2020 Mar 11 '15 at 15:06
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OK literally off the top of my head.

Zen sickness is a thing. Hakuin is said to have experienced it. It's meant to be brought about by intense meditation that is in some sense gone about incorrectly - though really all errors are just something to learn from, so I wouldn't think about it in those terms. You could perhaps work through (these) problems by discussing it with a teacher, or even an actual psychologist.

So, the "symptoms" (I use this both in the buddhist and psychological sense) of zen sickness include IIRC: excessive pain and uninterest in life.

FWIW I kinda experience stuff like that ^^ but it's not really "zen sickness" because I don't regularly practice, just think and read.

Hope that you find your spark, anyway.

  • Some traditions use the analogy of "not fully cooked yet." – user2341 Jun 27 '15 at 13:31
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I have the same problem, loss of interest in work, friends, activities.. I think we need Metta meditation.

And it is mentioned frequent in the Suttas, beside insight and tranquility meditation.

I tend to overlook it but I think it is just what I need to balance out this aversion with ordinary things.

Ayya Khema has some nice recordings with instructions on metta meditation and jhanas also.

May we overcome this and advance joyously on the path.

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No worldly activity is entirely satisfying or entirely pleasurable. You seam to be realising that and directing your energy and prioritizing what matters like earnings your livelihood. I.e. you are loosing the will to chase after pleasure and thrills as you have realized that this is not entirely satisfactory.

This is very normal I would think.

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