On work days (5 days a week), I'm normally able to get in around 4-4.5 hours of meditation a day, normally walking and sitting for 45 minutes each and then some Anapana meditation usually at the start and end of each day. On the weekends, I usually am able to do the same sort of practice but around 8-10 hours worth. Curiously though, on the weekends, it seems like my practice takes something of a slump, if it is even that. Towards the end of the day on weekends the pain that normally arises in my leg and I am normally able to be mindful of becomes exceptionally more intense, to the point that I'm sometimes only able to sit for 30 minutes. I know the length you sit isn't so much important as how mindful you're able to be; I guess what I'm trying to ask is, how should I reflect on this, and also how should I judge the "progress" of my personal practice in general? Thank you
Because of the longer sits you are likely graduating to the higher Visuddhiñanas, such as Visuddhiñana #3: sammasana-ñana
Seeing how each object, even while being noticed, comes to destruction and disappearance, the meditator comprehends it as impermanent in the sense of undergoing destruction. He further comprehends it as suffering (painful) in the sense of breaking up after each arising. Having seen how various painful feelings arise in continuous succession — how if one painful feeling ceases, another arises, and when that has ceased, again another arises — having seen that, he comprehends the respective objects as just a conglomeration of suffering. Further, he comprehends the object as consisting of mere impersonal phenomena without a master, in the sense of not arising of (or by) themselves, but arising subject to conditions and then breaking up.
This comprehension of an object noticed, as being impermanent, painful, and without a self (impersonal), through knowing its nature of impermanency, etc., by means of simply noticing, without reflecting and reasoning, is called "knowledge by comprehension through direct experience."
The solution is to intensify the observation of the sensations, and break down the pain into smaller component parts. Notice that even the most solidified pain has impermanence - it occurs in pulses and waves - the pain is not uniform from moment to moment.
When you see the pain as not a solid mass but also born of the cycle of birth and death the pain should dissipate. Don't decommission your knee or joints by overdoing it, be gentle on your body and mindfully change positions if you can't bear it. Buddhism needn't be masochism :)
The next ñana (knowledge) Arising and Passing away is important. Good luck, your dedication is admirable.
Actually, the length of your sitting sessions is important. It's kind of like running. If you are bailing when things start to get unbearable, you aren't going to make any further progress. It's only when we are confronted by obstacles and overcome them that we move forward.
My advice would be to start using a meditation timer if you aren't already doing so. Try to make it to the end of those painful sits without giving up. I'm not going to sugar coat it. This will be difficult at first. The best thing you can do to help alleviate your suffering is to follow your breath as closely as you can. Try to let your attention ride your exhalation all the way to the end. Keep it applied during the space between breaths and try to not lose it when you inhale. As your concentration develops, the pain in your legs will be less of an immediate concern. In fact, it usually vanishes entirely and can even be replaced by joy.
You and your pain are not different. It's only when you see pain as something "interfering" with your meditation and blissful concentration that it becomes problematic. Accept it as it arises. The more you sit with your discomfort, the more it will bring you into immediacy and loosen your heart.