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MGZ Practice Log 1
Answer
11/15/18 2:20 AM

Have been reading on the site for a while. Ready to add some data points from my samatha + vipassana practice. Writing here will hopefully also help in extracting further insights from my practice and provide a chance to learn from other dho folks. I am about to start into the MTCB so hopefully will be able to better relate my experiences to those following that material soon. I'd like to get a baseline out there for my practice before being too influenced by that material so that I can  use it to confirm or challenge my current practice.


Goals for this log:
  1. If possible, further increase jhana quality under less favorable conditions (Late evening sessions, short sits, noisy or bright environments, etc).
  2. Explore Arupa jhanas
  3. Refine vipassana practices
  4. Shift dominant mental factors in baseline state from piti and sukkha towards equanimity
  5. Record and examine insights that arise in the course of practice

Self assessment:

Would consider myself a mid level practitioner. Rupa jhannas are reliably stable and accessable under reasonably favorable conditions in soft, hard, and momentary varieties. Piti is very noticeable in the background off cushion throughout the day as little blips and spikes. Sukkha also present, although usually requires more focused concentration to pick apart from beneath the piti. With application of noting vipassana, equanimity can also surface for some time under good conditions.


Sources:
Textual Pali Canon and commentaries, Leigh Brasington, Ajahn Brahm, others

First session:

Session was in late evening, which has been a relatively challenging time to practice. Access concentration is second nature now, so discursive thought is silenced quickly. First nimittas to appear are the  "Headlight" type, one for each eye. After turning attention from the breath to these, the nimitta shifts to a familiar single ring / event horizon at the center of vision. This appears as an afterimage like from a camera flash. It alternates between a bright ring surrounded by a dark background and a dark ring surrounded by a light background. I try a short exercise of trying to move the nimitta around my field of vision but this quickly begins to cause eyestrain and headache as the nimitta dissolves and reforms a couple of times, so I stop.I should note here that I am not especially good at using visual nimittas as a concentration object. I was first able to achieve jhanna using the Leigh Brasington method of "Feeling" for momentary piti. I did not notice nimittas while doing this, but later read about them and wondered if jhanna would be any different using them. After working on the visual nimitta method, I was able to achieve jhanna using it, but still found it more difficult than just feeling for momentary manifestations of jhanna factors. After I worked with the visual nimitta method, nimittas and momentary piti tended to arise simultaneously, so my working assumption is that they are two representations of the same thing and using either as a transitional meditation object is valid.


Moving into 1st jhana:

piti/kundalini which is present throughout the day has settled down as it normally does by this time of the evening. It's noticeably centered in the lower spine and back and takes some extra coaxing to extend to the whole body. Eventually it happens, but still noticeably pacified relative to daytime practice.


Moving into 2nd jhana:

a good bit of concentration was required to reach the tipping point where the piti/sukkha feedback loop becomes self sufficient. Now I relax into it. I have set the intention at the beginning of this session to drop briefly into noting vipassana to deal with hindrances as necessary. I label "Tired" a few times and move my focus back into the jhana state. Piti and sukkha suffuse the body, but it is a gentle rocking sea of bliss rather than the heavy, crashing breakers that are typical in daytime practice. Still, there is some raggedness of breath and mild shaking, which does not distract. Unlike during the day, heavy absorption doesn't typically ripen in 2nd unless I spend quite a bit of time here. At this point I would consider the state to be "Neighborhood" or light jhana rather than a full absorption (Ajahn Brahm would not consider this a "Real" jhana, although my own reading of the canon material seems to contradict the idea that only super heavy jhana counts). I opt to continue to the next jhana.


Moving into 3rd jhana:

as usual, sukkha seems to be layered beneath piti. I focus attention on letting go of piti. Sukkha becomes the predominant factor, but it too is subdued relative to daytime practice. I am left with a lukewarm afterglow, like sitting on the beach as the sun starts to set and the air begins to cool. Sukkha seems especially hard to hold onto as a meditation object and this state requires more focus to maintain and proceed through. Focus can momentarily dissipate or sidetrack or stall here if I get lax. This jhana is also the first in which what I would call as yet unrealized/potential thoughts become perceptable. This is an interesting phenomenon where it seems to be possible to be aware of the seeds of thoughts rising up out of seemingly nowhere and passing beneath consciousness. If focus remains tight on the meditation object, they mostly just pass by without being "Realized" into what we would conventionally call consciousness. Yet it is possible to sense the gist of the content without it being fully realized into consciousness. My theory is that in practicing non-jhana vipassana noting we make ourselves sensitive to the gist of some of these thoughts that previously went uncontrolled into consciousness in time to prevent them from being realized and causing further cascades of realized "thought seeds." A hypothesis is that this is very close to the idea of the "mindstream" in Vajrayana doctrines, though this has yet to be confirmed. If that is so, observing carefully should provide some very interesting insights into the topics of no self, dependent origination, and possibly even rebirth.


Moving into 4th jhana:

sukkha is surrendered. The first thing noticed is a sense of a level shift, "Dropping down" a level of excitement/stimulation accompanied by some very neutral mental vibration and soft light. There is a momentary resistance at the 3rd-4th transition where the ability to observe the thought seeds seems to peak, and then that is broken through. Up to this point, hearing is the least attenuated sense. Then there is a noticeable downshift in the signal relative to noise. This causes a very noticeable rise in "White noise" relative to sounds perceived by the ear. I have noticed that the deeper the absorption in 4th, the more this is the case. I take a moment to stabilize and go deeper here. Unlike 1st and 2nd jhanas, the ability to absorb in 4th does not seem to decline much with the time of day. Relaxing into the jhana, I feel the remaining, distant sense doors greatly attenuate. What was the center of the body feels as though it no longer exists. Sense contacts that remain are all on the outside of the body. I read in a previous post (David?) that perception becomes "doughnut shaped" and I think that is an apt description. If you were to draw a ring (Like the ring nimitta) around the body, the perceived intensity of sense contacts in space would be strong along the ring and weak to non existant inside it. Coming back to the nimitta is interesting because the lights often go into crazy firework mode in deep absorption in this stage, although tonight they do not. Looking to the breath it seems incredibly, impossibly shallow or even undetectable. Looking at the self, there is a collection of sense contacts and the aggregates that have formed around them: comparisons with past and (imagined?) future states, aversions, and attachments, which are themselves aggregates. Looking for the thought seeds, they are there but there is no suppression because none of them are passing into consciousness. They seem beneath concern in this jhana. More than the preceding jhanas this one feels extremely sturdy and stable. There is noticeable resistance to coming out of this state and it seems sort of metastable, requiring a serious push to leave in any direction. Even one-pointed thought experiences some drag to stay in 4th. It locks on tightly and effortlessly to equanimity.


Moving into 5th jhana (Bonus):

at the beginning of the meditation I set an intention to stretch myself to work with the boundless space arupa jhana. I have tried to work with this jhana in the past by focusing on expanding equanimity into infinity. This time the focus was on equanimity and then on to the "Doughnut" of remaining sense contacts and associated aggregates. I began trying to push the doughnut out, with the sense contacts remaining on the outside. There was resistance, which was overcome by a few attempts at doughnut expansion, then a sense of the ring becoming more distant. This exposed a subtle clinging to self-identity as there was a moment of vertigo, slight sense of panic, and then a sort of inversion in perspective where instead of perceiving the ring expanding outward, a core of subtle self identity revealed itself and was perceived as shrinking to insignificance and then nothingness in the center of the ring. This is interesting as I do not believe the jhanas beyond the 4th are supposed to be important for awakening, yet this seems like an important insight. Clearly more work is to be done and I will need to continue to work with and understand this jhana, or else address the underlying problem in some other way. Unless what just happened was enough. Next trip into the 5th jhana will tell.


RE: MGZ Practice Log 1
Answer
11/16/18 2:02 AM as a reply to Milo.

I had a more detailed narration that was unfortunately lost while trying to submit, so will just put down the highlights. Proceeded as before to 5th jhana. Pushing the residual sensory doughnut outward led to the same unpleasant feelings/aversion, but less intense this time. The kernel of self identity appeared in the center of the doughnut as before when it was expanded. Focusing on the kernel led to a near instantaneous expansion of an all pervading, unchanging neutral luminosity. On close examination those remaining peripheral sense aggregates seemed to have become very much more insubstatial than before although I was not able to identify exactly what had been lost. Possibly the central kernel are the mental aggregates and by focusing on them I was touching on the 6th jhana / infinite consciousness? Given how slippery the jhanas are I'm not willing to draw that conclusion based on a single experience. I'm also wondering whether it is expected to have this sort of ghostlike remnant of peripheral sense aggregates remaining this far into the jhanas or whether I am not doing a complete enough job of establishing the jhanas. Will need to read more to see.


RE: MGZ Practice Log 1
Answer
11/16/18 10:08 PM as a reply to Milo.

As an independent practitioner, I have made a point of avoiding reading any detailed descriptions of the jhanas (Beyond the name) until I think I might have entered them. This is my best attempt to avoid deluding myself into a "constructed" jhana. It's also because I was trained to be a skeptic and I want to have some kind of confidence that the whole thing is not just an exercise in clever suggestion. So I run an experiment. My method has been to wait until I have attempted to let go of the current object of meditation, either directly or by shifting focus to some phenomenon that seems important, go where that takes me, record what happened, and only when I am reasonably certain a fundamental shift has occured begin to read the description of the next jhana.

After last night I decided to read the MCTB description of the 6th, the first time I have done this. And wow, I couldn't have asked for a description much more spot on to my experience, especially the strange all pervading neutral luminosity so different from the nimittas or other things I have experienced in the jhanas. So I have to admit, my skepticism has taken another body blow here.


RE: MGZ Practice Log 1
Answer
11/20/18 2:37 AM as a reply to Milo.
Updates from last couple days:
  • Practiced vipassana during the day focused on the dissatifactory aspects of 1st and 2nd jhana
  • Piti was calmed considerably during the day, which was good, because it was becoming exhausting and distracting
  • During this time it was easier to proceed quickly through 1st and 2nd jhana and go for depth in 3rd and 4th
  • In 4th jhana, I attended on the remaining sensory halo and focused on fading the remaining sense contacts into the strata of the jhana. This caused the touch contacts to fade considerably, but sharp sounds were still detectable. Still looking for a way to better fade out the stubborn sense of hearing, which has never gone completely for me. Nonetheless I have read that it is possible to do so, so I hold out hope.

RE: MGZ Practice Log 1
Answer
11/26/18 12:34 AM as a reply to Milo.
I have been focusing on deeping absorption exclusively in the first few levels of Jhana in relatively short sits recently. I am assessing that on the spectrum of soft-hard jhana I am touching well on the hard side, but sharp noises are still present:
  • 1st jhana: sharp noise (Or other sensory data) can cause the absorption to drop away momentarily to access concentration then back to 1st. This ends up feeling like intermittent "Waves" of bliss if not examined closely
  • 2nd jhana: bliss can displace practically all sensory data, even sound.
  • 3rd jhana: more difficult to maintain focus relative to 1 and 2. Risk of sharp sound dropping concentration all the way back to access.
  • 4th jhana: usually a vague, dreamlike peripheral awareness of some sounds, like observing clouds in the sky from the bottom of a pool. Even pretty sharp sounds do not appear to otherwise threaten stability of the jhana. Sound that is noticed has an extremely distant, attenuated, and dreamlike quality, but I never entirely eliminated all notice of sound here, contrary to what I hear espoused by Ajahn Brahm and other "Super hard" jhana advocates.
Thoughts:
  • In a retreat environment or similar, it might be possible to hit the other jhanas to a similar level of hardness as the 2nd described here.
  • If it is sufficient for insight, further hardness may just not be that important in the big picture.
  • It may not be that sound can actually be heard in hard jhanas 3-4 but that there are actually moments of dropping out of jhana and then back into it as in 1st.
  • It might just take years of practice and/or really subtle vipassana tweaks, or just a level of renunciation that is not practical for a lay person to improve hardness much further.
  • Completely hard jhana may just be an ideal state that is almost never actually realized except by those with extraordinary aptitude (Hopefully not but can't be discounted).
  • To hit the other jhanas that hard, longer sits and more devoted time may be required, particularly more time deliberately spent in access concentration aiming for a very still mind and more thorough rooting out of any subtle hindrances (i.e. more of the hard work of weeding the garden of the mind before switching focus to jhanic factors, nimittas, etc and going into absorption).
  • Bottom line: continue practicing, don't neglect insight.

Not that important for Mahasi style insight, I know, but if anyone has experience with the presence of sounds in harder jhana and working with that, I would be interested to hear your perspective.

RE: MGZ Practice Log 1
Answer
12/10/18 2:56 AM as a reply to Milo.
I took some time to back off the heavy concentration a little and roll with meditation tilted much more toward vipassana. There seemed to be a backlog of "unprocessed" insights from previous jhanic experiences rolling in during ordinary life, so it seemed an opportune time to try and amplify that by favoring a more vipassana flavored style of practice. In the last few days I dipped back into concentration to see if I could grab another wave to surf for further insights.

I also got a chance to read through a big chunk of the MCTB. Interesting stuff. Some of it I can map to my own experiences and can also map to the jhanas, but extreme emotional highs and lows going on for long periods has not been a part of my experience. The closest I can come is to remember some of my early experience working with light 3rd jhana and getting suddenly a little panicked/fearful as my mind seemed to recognize that this was related to the process of death as parts of my "Self" were falling away. Acceptance came pretty quickly however, and after this experience I actually felt a lot more at peace with death and dying, like some people have reported with NDEs. Hopefully the fact that things have not been so incredibly dramatic for me on the emotional front is due to a leg up from my concentration practice rather than indicating my practice is not progressing in a valid fashion.

I did try a few things from the MCTB vipassana practices along with some I came up with myself, and some mixed concentration/vipassana. Here is what I tried and the results, along with some other insights that popped up outside of formal practice:
  • Focusing attention on one or two fingers and noting all the sensate content: This felt like rapid oscillation of contacts between an infinite number of points in space around the finger(s), followed by mental impressions of the same, followed by mental impressions of the impressions, interactions and interference patterns of those mental impressions with other impressions, and so on. A few times I tried this the sensations became unexpectedly unpleasant and painful. Later insights made me realize the space upon which these contacts were spaced was also a mental object.
  • Noting while eating sweets: pleasant feelings of taste and texture are constantly pulsing in and out the total sphere of sensate experience. Noting this makes clear some of the unsatisfactory aspects of this experience and why it leads to further craving - eating more sweets to try and solidify a mental object of an experience that inherently cannot be solidified. This can be extended to all kinds of pleasant experiences, including jhanic ones.
  • On the flip side of the above, this realization can cause aversive experiences to lose their hold. Noting painful experiences while in sitting meditation and purposefully not going into jhana. Just labelling the pain and recognizing it as a mental object dependent on impressions of a momentary constellation of sensate contacts and other mental objects caused the mind to lose interest in it, which in turn caused that mental object to lose the illusion of substantiallity.
  • The above indeed appears to experientially support the idea that phenomena are devoid of inherent self.
  • Applied the same approach to noise and other sense contacts when going into jhanic states and had unexpectedly good results. I had some intermittent periods in 4th jhanic state where even subtle consciousness of sounds or other physical sense objects faded out completely. I'm not sure exactly how long these stretches lasted as it is impossible to pay attention to time when this happens, but I was aware when I dropped out of the state. It was an on-off-on-off kind of affair
  • Based on the above, I believe that this strobing in and out of deeper absorption is happening pretty frequently in what I perceive to be lighter jhana states. It is not necessarily a bad thing as it allows for practicing vipassana from "within" jhana by rapidly dropping in and out of the absorption. 
  • More difficult to explain, after observing mental objects propagating mental objects and experiencing more subtle forms of "awareness/conciousness" in jhana, the idea of memetically propagating "selves" is beginning to make experiential sense to me.
  • All of the above probably sounds a bit woo to people who have not had these experiences. It is now making experiental sense to me why the path is taught rather than the realizations of the path.

That's it for the moment. Happy meditating to all and best wishes for your progress on the path.

RE: MGZ Practice Log 1
Answer
12/20/18 11:08 PM as a reply to Milo.
Well, things officially got weird last night.

I've noticed recently that I've been far less attached to jhanas 1-3 and so have tended to quickly move through these and pause and deepen at 4th, then either remain there or attempt to go to 5-6. I'd felt recently like I was stalling out here without gaining much new insight, so this time I just decided to shoot for the moon and go as far as I could manage.

I took my best shot at jhanas 7-8, resolving to let go of a sense of expansive mind, then let go of even the possibility of nothingness or somethingness.

There was an experience I'm not really sure how to describe - just sort of beingness?

Anyway things got weird after that. I can remember coming out of meditation and hearing some noise, then next thing I remember I am laying on the bed doing the exercise of focusing on the sensations in the hand. Usually I can just track a quick progression of attention on contacts distributed in space, but this time I was getting a new (to me) sense of a fine matrix of oscillating and overlapping patterns of experience. Suddenly I get the sense that my hand has blinked out of existance for a moment or two, and this is strange because I am not in any kind of state.

Next thing I remember I look up and am surprised to see my dog in the room, which is very strange. I had at the beginning of the session locked the dog out of the room to prevent any disturbance to my focus. Naturally I think someone else must have opened the door during my session and let the dog in and somehow I didn't notice, but after asking the other two people in the house both deny this and one even claims I myself opened the door and let the dog in. This is very disconcerting. I think back hard and absolutely cannot recall doing this, or anything at all between the points I mentioned above. So did I just have a cessation, meditational 'sleepwalking,' some weird self hypnosis, or what? It seems like my short term memory just turned off for a few minutes and I got very disoriented.

RE: MGZ Practice Log 1
Answer
12/22/18 11:49 AM as a reply to Milo.
Hmm was hoping the voice(s) of experience might weigh in about what happened here. Was this a cessation or something else? MCTB2 tends to describe them as a "blip"

RE: MGZ Practice Log 1
Answer
12/22/18 12:24 PM as a reply to Milo.
Milo, that doesn't sound like any cessation I've ever had. Is it possible you fell asleep? I've experienced many, many occasions of falling asleep during a meditation session. It can bring on other types of experiences - time dilation, disappearing segments of time, visual hallucinations (dreams?), auditory hallucinations, and so on.

That said, what do you think happened? You're at ground zero, so to speak.

RE: MGZ Practice Log 1
Answer
12/22/18 1:23 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris,

Thanks for the reply. My concentration is more developed than my vipassana IMO, so I'm catching up on my understanding and ability on the vipassana side, using the usual noting techniques. I don't yet feel I can authoritatively identify a cessation, if I have even experienced one, and I am wary of leading myself to misidentify it since it seems an important event in vipassana.

I've been researching a bit on the site and it seems there is some conflicting opinion about what is likely to be a cessation. I believe you yourself have been involved in some of these threads? Any way, some seem to consider a cessation of dukkha to be sufficient (Something I would identify with the subjectless/objectless awarness at the very highest traditional jhana territory - in which case I think I've experienced that). Others say a complete stoppage of all consciousness (Blackout) is the correct criteria.

Ok so onto this experience. I got up off the cushion and did a couple innocuous things, apparently, which I have no memory of doing. This is very odd for me. I have no history of sleepwalking, I take no substances, and have no mental health complications. I have never blacked out drunk even in my now long ago college days, but this experience felt like how people describe that - for a brief space there was either no conscious process of "me" doing these things, or else my short term memory was rendered briefly non functional.

Then there was that moment following all this where I was able to see with clarity for a moment through the illusion of my hand quite literally in front of my face. That's the part that made me think that this could have been a significant event. It just seemed more immediate and realized than anything like that I had experienced before, and it was outside of a state.

Then again, MCTB2 suggests cessation is typically a "blip" and this was an extended period of time.

So to sum it up: there is a temptation to say this was a cessation, though perhaps an unusual one, due to the insight that followed, but I am resisting that because I'm still unfamiliar with the territory. It didn't feel like sleep that I'm used to since I got up and did a few things (I've never sleepwalked). Maybe the best thing would be to see if it is repeatable?

RE: MGZ Practice Log 1
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12/22/18 1:46 PM as a reply to Milo.
I'm also a bit ethically concerned over the implications of potentially purposefully putting myself into this zombie-like state again, especially without supervision. A couple minutes is long enough to do something dangerous.

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12/22/18 5:25 PM as a reply to Milo.
Milo:
this time I was getting a new (to me) sense of a fine matrix of oscillating and overlapping patterns of experience. Suddenly I get the sense that my hand has blinked out of existance for a moment or two


That has happened to me too, but it was both my hands and for more than moments, and then it spread to my thighs. Like this:
Buzzes —> oscillations —> flowing energy —> gone.
And they were not numb.

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12/22/18 5:31 PM as a reply to Milo.
Milo:
I'm also a bit ethically concerned over the implications of potentially purposefully putting myself into this zombie-like state again, especially without supervision. A couple minutes is long enough to do something dangerous.



Sounds like responsible thinking. It’s a good thing, though, that the only thing you did as a ”zombie” was taking care of your dog and going to bed.

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12/22/18 6:39 PM as a reply to Milo.
Milo, my experience is this:

- Cessation is the complete and utter cessation of experience. There is nothing "there". Literally nothing. at. all.
- Jhana states require consciousness, a subject-object duality - they are not cessation.
- There are many, many meditation-related states that can cause hallucinations, altered types of consciousness, illusions, etc.... but they're all states.

If someone put a gun to my head and forced me to diagnose what happened to you I'd say it was a variety of the third kind of thing I listed just now. I think you should try to repeat it.

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12/22/18 6:37 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Ok I will keep that in mind. Thanks for the advice, Chris. I will remain skeptical and see if I can (Safely) repeat the experience. 

One question: when you come out of cessation, does it seem like no time passed? Because what happened to me was a total gap of experience. It was not like a jhana state where there is always some kind of awareness. This was out cold, no record of what happened at all (Except those two points I mentioned). By inference, time definitely passed though.

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12/22/18 6:40 PM as a reply to Milo.
Milo, I think the best thing for you to do is to try to repeat what happened to you. That will no doubt help reveal the nature of the experience.

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12/22/18 6:50 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Yep that sounds about right. This is common for me in jhana. Off cushion I can see it to some extent when I am looking for it, but it's not that obvious and direct if that makes sense.

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12/22/18 6:51 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Yes you are probably right about that. I will report back if I can replicate it.

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12/22/18 6:55 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
But total gaps of experience can happen at a variety of stages along the way, can’t they? I have had them, with sudden reappearence and a white light and sort of a widening. I thought they weren’t that big of a deal.

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12/22/18 6:54 PM as a reply to Milo.
Milo:
Yep that sounds about right. This is common for me in jhana. Off cushion I can see it to some extent when I am looking for it, but it's not that obvious and direct if that makes sense.


Yes, it does.

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12/23/18 6:39 AM as a reply to Milo.
Good to see you keeping a practice log, Milo.

I'll second Chris that the third category of weird hallucinatory states is extremely broad and stuff like that occurs very commonly, at least for me. Unless things repeat or cause serious problems, these days it barely even registers for me beyond a sort of "hrm that was interesting," if that. If your practice gets deep enough for long enough, what you consider to be "normal" gets radically altered and even the really impressively wonderful stops impressing you and the really freaky stuff stops really freaking you out. The ups and downs and just plain weird just aren't a big deal anymore. Much more peaceful! 

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12/23/18 8:51 AM as a reply to Andromeda.
So basically it might be that it’s neither good nor bad? It is what it is, no big deal?

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12/23/18 9:32 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
So basically it might be that it’s neither good nor bad? It is what it is, no big deal?

That's it in a nutshell, yep. Which isn't to say we shouldn't be curious about our experience--quite the opposite--but the ups and downs and weird stuff doesn't make us special or bad and it's not really anything to get worked up over. If it's impairing our functioning in daily life, it's something to troubleshoot and get help for but otherwise... no big deal.

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12/23/18 11:59 AM as a reply to Andromeda.
I suppose that is pretty much what equanimity is about. Curious but not worked up and not craving.

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12/23/18 12:06 PM as a reply to Milo.
I look forward to seeing more posts from you here, Milo. It is very helpful for me to see how somebody else goes about to deconstruct jhanas. So thank you for sharing!

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12/23/18 12:45 PM as a reply to Milo.
No repeat last night. Thanks for the guidance everyone.

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12/24/18 11:33 PM as a reply to Milo.
It occured to me that I probably inadvertantly developed some concentration ability due to the large amount of intense physical conditioning I underwent for many years earlier in life. Something like single point concentration was a refuge when pushing past mental resistance as an athlete. An experiment then came to mind, and I combined exercise with some other elements to see if I could improve my vipassana and/or replicate that blackout event with more extreme conditions, including total darkness while meditating and a long preparatory period dwelling with the breath.

Tonight's Practice:
-20 minute session of intense cardio exercise
-immediately followed by sitting vipassana, concentrating on all the sensations in my big toes for the space of 100 breaths (Dry only, no jhana)
-progression through the jhanas

Interestingly, I was able to perceive the sensations with much more clarity. I was able to perceive with just enough resolution that estimating frequencies of sensate experience seemed just possible (Not available for me in dry practice most days). This would likely require a bit more development to refine, but I understand I should learn to be more technical about this. I also was aware of a 'ping-pong' effect of the mind's attention when trying to hold the sensory content of both toes in attention at once. This sped up and slowed down depending on intensity of sensations associated with each. An interesting experiment would be to purposefully rev the ping ponging up to the maximum or drop it to the minimum and observe the result. The intensity of the sensations themselves formed a sort of feedback loop that determined their relative intensity. I could see that the input to this system was sense contact, the output was a mental object, and that mental object together with associations simplified down to aversion/attachment were fed back into the input of the system to complete the feedback loop. So what I associate with 'big toe' is really a complex sensory feedback loop - a dynamic system in flux with no fixed central particle or locus. More to the point, it's an abstract, nonsubstantial process that the mind conventionally fools itself into accepting as a solid, unchanging object. That's inline with dependent origination and impermanence and no self. Ok that seems productive, but how to actualize this more fully so I can see it clearly whenver I want? I suppose the answer is more practice and doing the hard work of exercising new mental habits repeatedly and often, just like with concentration.

After the vipassana I worked my way up through the jhanas. These felt a bit flatter than usual. Nonetheless, at the end as I came out of the high jhanas, I sensed a shakyness building in my conscious experience, like it had become a bit of a shock for my system to withdraw from sensory experiences and then have them flood back in so suddenly. This time I was ready for it though. As soon as it started I latched my attention on to the sensory stuff and held on tight. I counted 3-4 moments where the continuity of consciouness skipped a beat, all very rapid in the space of just a second or two. Then all systems were go again. So that seems manageable. It seems to happen when I really ramp things up (Long time spent observing breath pre-absorption, wear out the body with exercise, sit in darkness) and go all the way to high jhana states. I'm guessing those rapid pulses of discontinuity were what disoriented me before and, not expecting them, I fell into them for a longer period. Anyway, I think I can live with it at this level. If it gets too much I can always back off the practice intensity level a bit.

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12/25/18 2:48 AM as a reply to Milo.
This was an interesting read. That kind of precision is something I wish to cultivate as well.

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12/25/18 9:59 AM as a reply to Milo.
Lots of interesting stuff in there. My concentration has also benefited from intense athletic training.

There can be a sort of inertia effect when switching between samatha and vipassana and vice versa. Spend a lot of time noticing that things flicker can make it harder to stabilize the jhanas and doing a lot of jhana practice can make it harder to notice things flicker. So if you want to get really good at noticing things flicker, one way to do that would be to just do a lot of it and lay off the samatha for awhile. Not just in formal practice, but all through the day--every spare moment you get, tuning into the flickering even if it's just for a few seconds. If you can't pick it up that fast, you will still be training your attention in a beneficial way just by trying, like any muscle gains strength when doing reps of an exercise (even if it's just an isometric contraction).

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12/25/18 3:56 PM as a reply to Andromeda.
Interesting. I had generally thought of shamatha and vipassana as being complementary and providing positive feedback loops for each other. In your practice, have you gained a sense of what length of a buffer you need between the two types of meditation to avoid the inertia?

I think I will try what you are suggesting and train vipassana on its own for a while. It would be advantageous to be able to perceive the 3Cs more reliably and directly in normal experience.

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12/25/18 4:21 PM as a reply to Milo.
JMHO, Milo, but in my experience, they are complementary, not conflicting, practices. For many years I've done both vipassana and jhana practices every day. I do 30 minutes of vipassana in the morning and 30 minutes of jhana practice in the evening. As far as I can recall I've never had one technique interfere with the other. I've even done both in one longer sit and as long as I take care to separate the two in a distinct way I seem to get the same result. Maybe this is a practitioner dependent phenomenon but I think my practice benefited greatly from doing both every day. 

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12/25/18 4:30 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Following this discussion with great interest.

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12/25/18 4:37 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Thanks for another data point, Chris. It sounds like I will need to play with this more to understand how it works for me specifically.

Either way, I don't intend to abandon concentration entirely. I think there is still more to learn and master there and it has certainly helped me come to terms with the aspects of the path that are the most challenging to accept for a materialistic westerner. 

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12/25/18 4:44 PM as a reply to Milo.
Keep in mind that you will need to use certain specific techniques more often, and they will be of greater benefit, at various stages of insight throughout your practice. So knowing them, having them in your toolbox, is a good idea. I also think concentration/jhana practice is a good way to keep vipassana practice from becoming too "dry". That's what led me to use the two together.

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12/26/18 5:20 AM as a reply to Milo.
Sorry, I should have been more clear--they're totally complementery and totally "dry" vipassana can be pretty brutal. But nonetheless, it can be extremely instructive to do just that for short amounts of time just for learning purposes. I suggested that just because it sounds like you've been doing mostly samatha and finding vipassana a challenge.

As for inertia, I guess as Chris says it must be practitioner dependent, but I've spoken to others with a similar experience and it seems to depend on time/depth of practice. It's worse (for me) trying to go from vipassana to samatha. A few years ago I did a totally dry insight retreat with zero samatha and didn't quite realize up until then how frequently I was stabilizing jhanic factors throughout the day even just briefly, sort of as a self-regulatory thing. It was at first quite challenging to not do that. And then after a couple of weeks, trying to go back to samatha was actually quite tough at first, like trying to turn a heavy vehicle.

All fun experiments to do, anyway.

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12/26/18 8:59 AM as a reply to Andromeda.
Yes, long periods of time without practicing jhanas will make jhanas harder to access afterward. For me, this is yet another reason not to stop practicing jhanas.

emoticon

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12/26/18 9:23 AM as a reply to Andromeda.
Andromeda:
how frequently I was stabilizing jhanic factors throughout the day even just briefly, sort of as a self-regulatory thing. It was at first quite challenging to not do that.

This has a very familiar ring to it. I think I have been doing that for many years without knowing what it was. In a way I have been cheating. Self-medicating.

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12/26/18 9:50 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
I don't think it's a bad thing at all to do--if you're going to self-medicate that's a pretty healthy way to do it, right? And there's so much to be learned from it. I just wanted to challenge myself with totally dry insight on that retreat as a learning experience. And so that was one of the big things that I learned--I had a lot of compassion when I realized that it was just normal for me to tap into that stuff on the fly while most people can't do that. And forcing myself to practice 18 hours a day without jhana when I could have soaked my painful body in pleasure--that was tough. But an extremely valuable retreat.

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12/26/18 10:00 AM as a reply to Andromeda.
Andromeda:
I don't think it's a bad thing at all to do--if you're going to self-medicate that's a pretty healthy way to do it, right? And there's so much to be learned from it. I just wanted to challenge myself with totally dry insight on that retreat as a learning experience. And so that was one of the big things that I learned--I had a lot of compassion when I realized that it was just normal for me to tap into that stuff on the fly while most people can't do that. And forcing myself to practice 18 hours a day without jhana when I could have soaked my painful body in pleasure--that was tough. But an extremely valuable retreat.


Yeah, I guess. And yeah, that seems to have been a very humbling experience.

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12/26/18 12:05 PM as a reply to Andromeda.
The compassion aspect is a good point. Nearly all of the practitioners I know locally rely on vipassana almost exclusively. If concentration is even mentioned it is often seen as an unobtainable, esoteric thing for monastics. At some point I should probably make an attempt to understand vipassana only if only to try and build a better bridge with my local sangha. However, this would likely be a short term exercise for me until I can understand how it would affect my ability to do concentration.

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12/26/18 12:22 PM as a reply to Milo.
If concentration is even mentioned it is often seen as an unobtainable, esoteric thing for monastics. At some point I should probably make an attempt to understand vipassana only if only to try and build a better bridge with my local sangha.

Milo, (here I go again), in my experience the jhanas are almost literally unavoidable at a certain juncture in our practice. They just show up, and sometimes with a vengeance. I can recall walking around at work while being tempted by involuntary jhana. I could control it to a respectable degree by not giving in to the urge to "go there" but the inclination was ever present. I think the "no jhana" philosophy may come from Zen, where it is discouraged unless you're working with an open-minded, non-dogmatic Zen teacher.

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12/26/18 1:17 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
I did give into it at work once when I had been really sad, and scared the sh*t out of everyone by having something that looked like a seizure. I wouldn’t recommend it, and I wo’nt do it again. It helped, though. I felt soooooo much better afterwards.

It was during the end of what I interpret as my dark night. There was a period then when I would be overwhelmed like this, just like during the A&P, without even meditating.

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12/26/18 1:32 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
... scared the sh*t out of everyone by having something that looked like a seizure. 


???

My experience is that jhanas are not seizure-inducing.

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12/26/18 1:53 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
If concentration is even mentioned it is often seen as an unobtainable, esoteric thing for monastics. At some point I should probably make an attempt to understand vipassana only if only to try and build a better bridge with my local sangha.

Milo, (here I go again), in my experience the jhanas are almost literally unavoidable at a certain juncture in our practice. They just show up, and sometimes with a vengeance. I can recall walking around at work while being tempted by involuntary jhana. I could control it to a respectable degree by not giving in to the urge to "go there" but the inclination was ever present. I think the "no jhana" philosophy may come from Zen, where it is discouraged unless you're working with an open-minded, non-dogmatic Zen teacher.

Yeah, there were a few years where the jhanas would just randomly hit me very hard, sometimes at inconvenient times like while sitting in class. It sounds like that would be awesome, but actually it was rather awkward. Ah, spiritual puberty...

On the bright side, that's how I first found Daniel's book almost 10 years ago. Had no idea what they were, but Google understood my search term babble well enough. 

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12/26/18 3:35 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Chris Marti:
... scared the sh*t out of everyone by having something that looked like a seizure. 


???

My experience is that jhanas are not seizure-inducing.


Well, my face twitched and my eyelids flickered. It looked pretty weird. At that time there was a fine line between jhanic experiences and dissociation for me, due to unstableness, so it could turn into convulsions as well. At that point of course it was no longer jhana. Sorry for being unclear.

I’m wired in a weird way.

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12/26/18 4:18 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
I'm happy we are comparing notes here.

My first formal attempts at concentration were characterized by jarring piti that felt like an electric shock through the mind. It was too intense to be pleasant and enough to drop me out of concentration after one or two waves. I can also recall that happening to me spontaneously on a couple occasions when I was a kid. Typically it would be spontaneously triggered when I was in a dark, quiet, unfamiliar place (e.g. withdrawn from the senses). At the time it wouldn't have occured to me that this was anything other than a weird thing that happened occasionally. I thought everyone must experience it.

So I could see very intense piti looking seizure-like. Once I formally practiced for a while though, I couldn't induce that kind of piti if I tried (Piti was always pleasant/euphoric), and I'm fairly certain they are the same phenomenon. Seemed to only happen only when it had been very bottled up. I wouldn't want to induce the over the top intense piti either because it was too intense to be pleasant or easy to work with.

All that being said, it's of course not possible to look into another person's mind. If you think there are possible medical issues tied up with your experience, that will need to approached accordingly.

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12/26/18 4:20 PM as a reply to Milo.
Good discussion, everyone. There's a lot to unpack here and I will have to wait until after work to give proper replies.

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12/26/18 4:43 PM as a reply to Milo.
It was pretty much like that. Thanks for understanding! And no, it’s not like that anymore. I wasn’t worried about it once I had found the sukkha to my piti, because I could recognize the piti for what it was even when it was rough and overwhelming. I got into this through a rather forecful kundalini awakening thingie before I had even heard of such a thing or done any practice except for a few visualization exercises a couple of decades earlier. So yeah, I guess there was a lot bottled up. It felt purifying. I was a bit dissociative during my dark night, or what I believe to be my dark night, but not in a way that was troublesome, except for the procrastination that it entailed. I found ways to deal with it, to get grounded and present.

As I understand it, both piti and sukkha are required for it to be a jhana. Piti without sukkha is rather ruthless. And yes, it is the same thing. I recognize it.

I appreciate us comparing notes as well. It’s good not to be alone.

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12/27/18 1:58 AM as a reply to Andromeda.
Andromeda,

I see where you are coming from.

I have been practicing both concentration and vipassana. Concentration has advanced pretty rapidly while vipassana has been lagging those advancements a bit. I'm a believer in the idea of what MCTB2 calls 'vipassana-jhana' and the idea that vipassana and concentration are not binary states but poles on a spectrum of possible mediation states. The most fruitful meditations IMO are a skillful combination of both. So in my case I think it would be beneficial to develop more refined/technical vipassana at this stage as I've been hitting diminishing returns in terms of actual movement towards liberation. So I'm planning to practice more towards the vipassana side with some concentration thrown in when it is helpful, for the next few days.

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12/27/18 2:21 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Yes, this is the case in my personal experience as well. I had the same experience with jhana factors coming up unbidden at work to the point of distraction during periods of heavy practice. I just don't think that this is the norm for most people before they explicitly take up concentration, and since most people are introduced to the path through vipassana it would be good to be able to connect more clearly on that level as well.

Now that being said I should explain my local sangha. This is a relatively isolated area where teachers are in short supply. We have a grassroots sangha that is really well attended, just a few years old, non-sectarian, and led by lay people. There is a lot of enthusiasm and many keenly interested individuals but not a lot of experience or a supply of qualified teachers in general, not to mention theravadan tradition teachers specifically. So it's not that anyone is actively against concentration meditation per se, it's just that the community is embryonic and there isn't anyone qualified to teach it. Vipassana is better known and at least perceived to be more accessable to most people, so that is what gets presented. Since no one teaches concentration, it comes off as an esoteric thing. I have hinted people in the direction of what I consider appropriate resources when I feel they could benefit, but perhaps that is not enough. I am considering volunteering to lead a short class if no more qualified teacher steps forward soon.

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12/27/18 3:18 AM as a reply to Milo.
And now back to the log entries as I've gotten a little behind:

Most recent practice session involved more investigation of touch sensations. I attempted to get more technical. Extending from the last session, I closed my eyes and worked with the two fingers again, this time starting with them touching each other. Components of the resulting sense object(s) were: a sense of location of each finger in space, warmth, pressure. Looking more closely, there was again the ping-ponging of attention between the two fingers. The mind lingered slightly more on the finger of the dominant hand, during which time the finger of that hand was perceived as part of 'self' and the finger of the other hand was perceived as an object. Deliberately speeding the ping-ponging of attention up led all other sensation in two fingers except their perceived location in space to diminish and the arising of a clearly fictitious warmth/pressure 'ball' sense object located between where the two fingers were perceived to be located in the mental space map. The mind made space for this ball between where the two fingers had been. I would estimate that the ball had an apparent diameter of about two inches. Slowing the ping ponging back down or introducing visual data caused the ball to dissapear and the fingers to reappear as there was now more relative scan time for the other contacts (Besides the touching point) associated with those fingers, upon which their perceived 'reality' depended. Now I had an idea for an experiment and tried to see if the sense data was actually fixed to touch or was generic and could be transmuted to another sense. I sat for a long time with it and it still seemed tied to touch, At this point I decided I would test whether this held up in jhana. In 1-3rd jhana it held up. In 4th jhana, this broke down and the ball seemed to become a generic sense object. I tried to purposefully transmute it into a manufactured visual object, but wasn't able to make this happen either in the 4th jhana or when dropping out of it, but there were hints that this might be possible with practice.

Conclusions: Self identity as seen by the mind is constantly fluctuating. 'Reality' is constructed by the mind rapidly scanning through sensory contacts and associations at a fast enough rate so that they appear to be happening simultaneously. The mind favors some contacts over others with more scan time and this leads to a more solid presence in subjective reality (Scan rate of a sense object, or maybe more classically called a formation, corresponds to its solidity in subjective reality), The mind can create fictitious constructs out of sense objects and manufactures details to fill the gaps, including their relative location in space. These objects are probably actually generic in terms of which sense they correspond to but somehow acquire an associational flavor with enough association data. Slowing down the scanning rate for a sense object will cause it to dissapear from subjective reality and will free up scan time for other objects to manifest. This is clearly related to the mechanisms of concentration meditation. Being aware of and able to manipulate these processes is likely an important factor in reducing suffering.

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1/19/19 6:38 AM as a reply to Milo.
Milo:
Yes, this is the case in my personal experience as well. I had the same experience with jhana factors coming up unbidden at work to the point of distraction during periods of heavy practice. I just don't think that this is the norm for most people before they explicitly take up concentration, and since most people are introduced to the path through vipassana it would be good to be able to connect more clearly on that level as well.

Now that being said I should explain my local sangha. This is a relatively isolated area where teachers are in short supply. We have a grassroots sangha that is really well attended, just a few years old, non-sectarian, and led by lay people. There is a lot of enthusiasm and many keenly interested individuals but not a lot of experience or a supply of qualified teachers in general, not to mention theravadan tradition teachers specifically. So it's not that anyone is actively against concentration meditation per se, it's just that the community is embryonic and there isn't anyone qualified to teach it. Vipassana is better known and at least perceived to be more accessable to most people, so that is what gets presented. Since no one teaches concentration, it comes off as an esoteric thing. I have hinted people in the direction of what I consider appropriate resources when I feel they could benefit, but perhaps that is not enough. I am considering volunteering to lead a short class if no more qualified teacher steps forward soon.

Yeah, qualified teachers are definitely in short supply out there. Just my thoughts and personal opinion on teaching on this particular morning (it will probably change by this afternoon)...

In recent years, I've increasingly been pushed/pulled/shamed into teaching and that seems inevitable if you have skills and don't go totally hermit. I'll always be happy to talk to rabidly gung-ho practitioners of any faith/non-faith, but I've decided to say no to anything else in order to focus on my own practice and projects. There's a heck of a lot of complexity that goes on with teaching that most people are unprepared for. Transference/countertransference is a big thing to watch out for--I think it was Kenneth Folk who said students tend to imprint on teachers like baby ducks. And to use a computer analogy, insight is basically upgrading a person's software while the operating system is still running so all sorts of issues can spring up like mania, psychosis, depression, etc. If people are actually making progress in insight some degree of this is expected and must be differentiated from truly problematic mental illness. People with narcissistic tendencies can really turn into a hot mess. 

And that's just if people are actually successful in learning the practices. In my admittedly limited experience, local grass roots sanghas often don't seem to get very far and it turns into more of a social support thing rather than a skill development thing and this is also what others have told me. Most people just don't seem to have the interest in deep practice, much less the aptitude. They're happy wading around in the shallow end of the pool (I am not).  I think a lot of people get wrapped up in their teaching identity and it really stalls out their own practice, which is a shame both for them and their students. The Theravada Mahasi system requires teachers to be at least 2nd path which is a pretty rare thing, but it probably prevents a lot of problems. One of the reasons this forum exists is that there just aren't a lot of serious practitioners out there.

Hopefully, your sangha will be different, so please don't take this as prophecy. Just some things to consider and watch out for. It would be a generous thing for you to do a class introducing them to what you know and how you learned it and where to go for more information. But if you don't want to continually be put in a teacher role you'll probably want to make that very clear from the outset. And really clarify your own practice goals first so you can protect your own path.

Just my thoughts. emoticon

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12/27/18 6:52 AM as a reply to Milo.
Milo:
Components of the resulting sense object(s) were: a sense of location of each finger in space, warmth, pressure. Looking more closely, there was again the ping-ponging of attention between the two fingers. The mind lingered slightly more on the finger of the dominant hand, during which time the finger of that hand was perceived as part of 'self' and the finger of the other hand was perceived as an object. Deliberately speeding the ping-ponging of attention up led all other sensation in two fingers except their perceived location in space to diminish and the arising of a clearly fictitious warmth/pressure 'ball' sense object located between where the two fingers were perceived to be located in the mental space map. The mind made space for this ball between where the two fingers had been. I would estimate that the ball had an apparent diameter of about two inches. Slowing the ping ponging back down or introducing visual data caused the ball to dissapear and the fingers to reappear as there was now more relative scan time for the other contacts (Besides the touching point) associated with those fingers, upon which their perceived 'reality' depended. Now I had an idea for an experiment and tried to see if the sense data was actually fixed to touch or was generic and could be transmuted to another sense. I sat for a long time with it and it still seemed tied to touch, At this point I decided I would test whether this held up in jhana.

[...]

Conclusions: Self identity as seen by the mind is constantly fluctuating. 'Reality' is constructed by the mind rapidly scanning through sensory contacts and associations at a fast enough rate so that they appear to be happening simultaneously. The mind favors some contacts over others with more scan time and this leads to a more solid presence in subjective reality (Scan rate of a sense object, or maybe more classically called a formation, corresponds to its solidity in subjective reality), The mind can create fictitious constructs out of sense objects and manufactures details to fill the gaps, including their relative location in space.


Interesting. I did feel ping-ponging, but I also tended to be fooled to perceive a movement inbetween. I did have the perception of one finger at a time being part of the self, subject, wheras the other one was the object, except for when I was too tired to distinguish between subject and object. At one moment I did have the perception of a ball-formed fictitious object between my fingers as the location of warmth and pressure, but I was so startled by this that I started thinking instead of sensing and observing. Thus I couldn’t investigate it. There is no way that I could hold on to an observation while moving through jhanas like that. I probably need to build up my insight from scratch. I have had peak experiences that have faded away.

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12/27/18 12:42 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda, my apologies for being a bit of a spoiler. I hadn't realized until after my last session we were working with the same meditation object. Wow though, I can see why that exercise is recommended in the MCTB2. It is really instructive.

I wouldn't be hard on yourself about tracking the object through the jhanas. Keep in mind I started practicing them long before joining the forum. I think you are advancing pretty quickly and will be able to do that soon if you keep going at the rate you are going.

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12/27/18 12:19 PM as a reply to Andromeda.
Yes, I've been avoiding that situation for all the reasons you mentioned. I wanted to be able to talk to people about just bare insight but that's probably a dodge around the need for myself, or someone, to step up with some information about concentration. As Chris said, it may come up inevitably in some form for anyone who gets serious enough about their practice.

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12/27/18 1:17 PM as a reply to Milo.
Milo:
Linda, my apologies for being a bit of a spoiler. I hadn't realized until after my last session we were working with the same meditation object. Wow though, I can see why that exercise is recommended in the MCTB2. It is really instructive.

I wouldn't be hard on yourself about tracking the object through the jhanas. Keep in mind I started practicing them long before joining the forum. I think you are advancing pretty quickly and will be able to do that soon if you keep going at the rate you are going.



No problem, Milo. I probably needed that reality check. And now you are being too kind, but I guess realizing one’s limitations is some kind of progress, too. I won’t let pride keep me from practicing. I can see a direction, and there is work to do.

I appreciated receiving an explanation to that fictituous object that I perceived. I’m not actually sure whether it was a ball for me, but it may have been. I didn’t get that far. I was afraid I was doing something wrong, because it appeared solid and stable and I thought I must be on the wrong track. It didn’t occur to me that just slowing down would solve the problem.

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12/29/18 2:38 AM as a reply to Milo.
Tried a similar exercise as last time, this time with just one finger pressing on a solid surface. I tried to sense any more details about oscillations in sensory data and whether or not they sped up or slowed down when the sensation intensified. I could again sense attention scanning the meditation object at a more or less identifiable rate. The speeding up or slowing down of this rate again seemed to be there corresponding to the intensity of the sensation. I tried to pick out a quantifiable frequency. I would say 10-20 Hz for a light touch, then going up from there as pressure increased. At the time I was somewhat tired so my guess is this would be faster at a time I was more alert. No further noteworthy details revealed themselves. 

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12/29/18 5:07 AM as a reply to Milo.
How du you measure that?

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12/29/18 11:58 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Concentrating really tightly on just the absolute most minimum touch point and then the briefest note I can pull off: da-da-da-da-da or similar, as silly as that sounds putting it down here. It still feels a little speculative at this point. With the two fingers I felt relatively confident I was picking up on attention bouncing back and forth, and the rising and passing of the illusory 'ball' made it easier to investigate. With one finger it was much more difficult to tell if what I was picking up on was actually some vibration in the experience of the contact or just some very light physical movement in my finger.

Also, except for the one time I had a blackout coming out of jhana it doesn't seem like I'm currently capable of picking up on whole patterns of multiple interacting oscillations. It's hard to see how that should be possible under the framework of my current understanding either, unless the interaction occurs between the resulting mental objects rather that the actual contacts themselves? Like I said before it seems to me that there is a rapid scanning of the sense contacts going on and the mind builds mental formations to fill in the gaps, just like with the ball between the two fingers. I'm still trying to process this though so take what I'm saying with some skepticism.

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12/29/18 12:11 PM as a reply to Milo.
I found it useful to focus on "where" the sensations were and if they had components. Are the sensation just in the fingers? Are they unitary sensations or can they be broken down into parts and pieces? In what way would those parts and pieces appear?

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12/29/18 12:27 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Thanks for the hint, Chris. I will give that a try.

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12/30/18 1:52 AM as a reply to Milo.
Repeated the same meditation again: one finger touching a solid surface. This time I tried to look beyond (Or within) the attentional scanning. I may have made some progress making out some of the details of the landscape. There appear to be a complex mix of sensations making up the contact point. All of these are vibrating at a much more rapid frequency than attention itself. When attention is on the contact point, it seems all of these get sampled (The high level scanning frequency I looked at before), associated, and integrated into the final gross mental object that is experienced as touch in focused conscious awareness. That mental object is imprecise in the sense that I can feel the perceived location of the touch contact dithering around different locations in space according to variations in the finer components. The top level experience comes out as sort of an average of these locations. I can also perceive pleasant and unpleasant associations at the level of the finer sensation units. One thing is for sure: no touch sensation is ever purified from all dukkha, even if it might seem that way in unexamined experience. It's possible to fool oneself with novelty for a time, but the more we become even peripherally aware of the dukkha components the more we seek an ever more refined experience. Surely this extends in analagous ways to the rest of our experience. Now I have to admit this is starting to look like a truly formidable mess of delusions within delusions within delusions. Each layer consists of a sampling of the lower layers being integrated and aggregated together, one layer on top of the other, right on up to the sense of self. It's formidable alright but an inherent shakiness is also coming into view: breaking down the lower supports could conceivably cause the layers above to collapse. Buddha claimed you could cut the whole samsaric cycle at the level of craving. Maybe this will make some cracks.

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12/30/18 8:08 AM as a reply to Milo.
This is interesting. I once had the perception that the entire wooden floor in my yoga studio was oscillating. At the time I was lying on the floor, so large areas of my body was in touch with the floor. Still, I was only touching parts of the floor, so I wonder how I could have a perception including the whole floor. My eyes were closed and I’m not very visual in my thinking. What do you think, was it just in my imagination? Did I hallucinate?

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12/30/18 8:59 AM as a reply to Milo.
Surely this extends in analagous ways to the rest of our experience. Now I have to admit this is starting to look like a truly formidable mess of delusions within delusions within delusions. Each layer consists of a sampling of the lower layers being integrated and aggregated together, one layer on top of the other, right on up to the sense of self. It's formidable alright but an inherent shakiness is also coming into view: breaking down the lower supports could conceivably cause the layers above to collapse. Buddha claimed you could cut the whole samsaric cycle at the level of craving. Maybe this will make some cracks.

Milo, this is very, very insightful!

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12/30/18 10:19 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
This is interesting. I once had the perception that the entire wooden floor in my yoga studio was oscillating. At the time I was lying on the floor, so large areas of my body was in touch with the floor. Still, I was only touching parts of the floor, so I wonder how I could have a perception including the whole floor. My eyes were closed and I’m not very visual in my thinking. What do you think, was it just in my imagination? Did I hallucinate?



I guess you already answered that... There are so many layers of delusion in our perception that it doesn’t really matter. There is no ”real” perception.

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12/30/18 3:50 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Your sensory clarity is impressive, Milo. There is a precision to your observations where I can only speculate. With a lot of hard work I hope to be able to sense what you sense while deconstructing it, without getting absorbed by it.

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1/2/19 10:53 PM as a reply to Milo.
After the last few sessions of vipassana it became clear a short break would be necessary before continuing on. A lot was absorbed and settling time was needed. I feel as though a step change in spiritual maturity has happened, although it was not exactly what I was expecting. No big fireworks or anything like that, but having experienced some things directly that I only previously was able to approach intellectually, my mind does seem more easily persuaded of the transient and unsatisfactory elements of desires, impulses, and their possible resolutions. As a consequence, the mental energy that makes these things up can be scrutinized for the 3Cs and the mind ceases to be so fascinated by them (Really ceases rather than just evading). This generally causes that energy to significantly weaken to a very manageable level or dissipate altogether. This does not come without effort but does seem to be an improvement. I think I can safely say something has shifted and a few cracks have formed. Even if that is as far as I ever get, I think it will have been worth it to come to this point.

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1/3/19 3:28 AM as a reply to Milo.
Sounds like progress to me. :-)

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1/6/19 11:35 PM as a reply to Milo.
Now that I have spent some time working with the sense base of touch, I've been thinking for a while about what direction to aim next for in my practice. The logical thing is to now look at the other sense bases, applying some of the same techniques.

Tonight's session started with concentration. I counted 50 breaths before going into jhana. This helps to avoid rushing into weaker concentration states before the body and mind are fully relaxed. Breath got very shallow. 1st-3rd jhanas were less sticky and over the top intense than they once were, but that feels like maturity rather than weakening. Proceeded to 4th jhana. In contrast, 4th jhana and the arupa jhanas seem more compelling and open to examination. I'm interpreting all of this as the mind having dropped some clinging to the jhanic factors in 1-3. My guess is that at some point I should apply the same kind of deconstruction that was applied to physical sensation to mental factors if I want to push this further in vipassana. At any rate, I paused in 4th jhana and waited for whatever sense base appeared most strongly, Unsuprisingly to me, it was sound. I let up on the samatha aspect a bit and shifted toward vipassana, retaining just enough to stay in the jhana. Applied the same technique to sound as I did with the fingers touching exercise. I was able to observe attention alternating between the sound and the meditation focus. Within the sound itself, I attempted to see smaller vibrations and the 3Cs as before. I also tried to expand the space in between contacts with the sound. There was some small but perceptible attenuation in the sound. After this, I shifted focus back towards samatha and went the rest of the way through. After coming out of the jhanas I did some pure vipassana with sound again taken as the meditation object. I think I will stick with sound for a while, maybe investigate a few more of the physical sense bases, and eventually move to investigating the mental base.

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1/7/19 2:39 AM as a reply to Milo.
That precision... wow. Very cool.

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1/10/19 10:36 PM as a reply to Milo.
 I've  settled into a regular routine that seems optimal for me: sits start with intention to investigate a particular meditation object followed by samatha up to at least 4th jhana then shifting into vipassana jhana where the object is examined. After that, jhana is exited and the session shifts to pure vipassana.

Recently I've been working to deconstruct the contacts at the sense door of hearing and associated formations. Things had gotten pretty static, so last night I decided to mix up the routine and stare into a candle for a bit, which I have never tried before. I got a nice afterimage which was interesting as I'm not that visual in meditation typically. Investigation of sound immediately after manifested itself in a visual way - something like an internal oscilloscope on the visual screen, which is new. Lots of vibrations on multiple levels, as expected. Like touch, it was possible to manipulate the mind's perception by focusing on and speeding up or slowing down some of these waves. I had much more luck with the candle than with previous things I have tried to investigate sound. A neighbor's dog barking began to sound like it was echoing down a long tunnel. Interesting content but the takeaway is the same as for touch: 3Cs etc. Eventually I will need to deconstruct the mental base and I am not yet sure how to do this effectively. As for daily life, feeling stable and able to apply lessons learned with some skill so I can identify some quantifiable decrease in suffering, the goal.

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1/16/19 12:32 PM as a reply to Milo.
After some rereading of MCTB2 I decided to try opening up my jhana practice a bit to try and vipassinize the jhana states themselves more clearly. It worked just fine and ended up producing much more visual effects than I am used to. In particular, an image of shimmering, multicolored, rapidly shifting "pixels" much like the static "snow" you would see on "dead air" channels in the days of analog television. This was different than previous visuals I've experienced in that it persistantly, vividly, and fully filled the visial field. I wonder if this is the "moire patterns" referred to in MCTB2 or perhaps the mind's visual rendition through phosphenes of the interacting waves of experience construed purely through touch in the two fingers exercise and other vipassana exercises. In general, pushing the limits of my concentration practice has assisted in making it much more supple and accessible as well as sharpening vipassana.

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1/22/19 12:30 AM as a reply to Milo.
The boundary between 3rd and 4th jhanas has been an area of interest for a while now and I've decided to take some time to explore it. I've figured out how to stabilize it somewhat and it is a great vantage point to observe the impermanence and non self of much mental and emotional content. On this boundary between states, more than anywhere else, these 'sub thoughts/emotions (Thoughtlets? Seeds of thoughts/emotions?) can be observed clearly sparking up out of nowhere and dying off just as quickly when not attended to by consciousness. Fuel is needed for the sparks to become a fire. Barring that they are just potentials, constantly rising, flickering waiting for a mind to grab hold, and quickly passing away when one does not.

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1/22/19 4:29 AM as a reply to Milo.
Milo:
The boundary between 3rd and 4th jhanas has been an area of interest for a while now and I've decided to take some time to explore it. I've figured out how to stabilize it somewhat and it is a great vantage point to observe the impermanence and non self of much mental and emotional content. On this boundary between states, more than anywhere else, these 'sub thoughts/emotions (Thoughtlets? Seeds of thoughts/emotions?) can be observed clearly sparking up out of nowhere and dying off just as quickly when not attended to by consciousness. Fuel is needed for the sparks to become a fire. Barring that they are just potentials, constantly rising, flickering waiting for a mind to grab hold, and quickly passing away when one does not.



I saw something like that for a very brief period a couple of months ago. I had just started a daily practice at that time, so it probably wasn’t jhana in my case. I love the word thoughtlets. For me they were like brownish/greyish foggy blobs approaching me horizontally. I was practicing dropping all intentions at the time, so I was kind of rejecting them (maybe I did it wrong, because that sure does sound intentional) and they would simply back off before unpacking their content. I saw them back off and vanish. Was it anything like that for you?

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1/22/19 12:19 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Yes that sounds similar, although I hadn't picked up on the visual interpretation. I don't think I was making an effort to avoid them really - the mind just wasn't interested in them anymore. To use some poetic language, it was like sailing a boat, looking down and seeing vague outlines of sea life gliding below, but too far away for it to resolve into anything very recognizable. Only the gist/outline was there. If there was any effort it was very minimal, like keeping a fingertip on the tiller to keep the boat from drifting away from the original intention of the meditation.

I'm not really conveying this so well because it sounds like there was a strong sense of self going on but it was all very depersonalized. That's as close as I can get though.

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1/22/19 12:27 PM as a reply to Milo.
That does sound more effortless.

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1/31/19 12:50 PM as a reply to Milo.
Have been lazy about my logging as of late and to be fully honest, work emergencies limited the mental energies I had for formal meditation to bare maintenance, so not much changed over that time. Things have calmed down at work so last night I decided to put on a guided meditation. Found myself going off the track of the meditation but just went with it. Located the (Apparent) sense of self in gentle, subtle direction of meditation (Spatially located at the crown of the head). Breath was extremely subtle to the point where in/out were not easily distinguished. When attention was focused on the breath, sense of self relocated there. Began playing with lication of sense of self. Tried to locate it in various places spatially and mentally, even outside the body (Only worked momentarily). Then heard the sound of a door closing. Observed contact propagate a mental object of the sound, those objects propagating new mental objects of the sound with associated accretions of other mental/emotional/sense associations. Focused closer. Observed extremely rapid arising and passing of these formations. Applied this same analysis to the sense of self. Watched very very fast arising and passing, faster than I have observed before. Expanded to the whole sensory field. Stable periods of what seem to be non dual experience but there are still a few subtle dual elements on close inspection post fact. Next time observed arising and passing of very subtle mental elements such as sense of time and finally direction of the meditation state itself. Let these dissipate, always ending with direction of the meditation state. Continued refinement of 'non dual' experience. What is perceived as 'non dual' continues to become more rarefied. Some moments that feel like bonefied emptiness, but I'm always wary of ever more subtle contaminants.

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1/31/19 1:29 PM as a reply to Milo.
Interesting.

I have always had trouble connecting myself with my body in the first place, spatially. I’m working on building an image of where ”I” am that matches the body, because I’m tired of bumbing into people and things (even though the self is empty, it’s stuck with this body so it might as well take care of it and prevent it from hurting others). Am I doing something that is counterproductive with regard to awakening, or are these aspects of being in the body separate from each other?

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1/31/19 2:54 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
IMHO it's not counterproductive if you are approaching it mindfully. There are physical and non physical parts of self, and we do have to live with them even though they are ultimately not fixed in their current state and are fully dependent on other phenomena for their existence.

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1/31/19 3:13 PM as a reply to Milo.
Right.

I can’t tell whether there is any physical space within my body that I view as the center. I can move the point of identification between differents sets of mental processes rather easily, but spatially... My throat, maybe. If I’m scared, that’s what I’m inclined to protect. How do you do it, exactly, when you imagine your self being somewhere? I have a hard time understanding how a mental construction can have a spatial location within the perceived reality that is in itself a mental construction.

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1/31/19 11:01 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Hmm I would say it's a process of elimination. I was purposefully observing arising and passing away of various physical and mental phenomena. As things got more and more paired down the mind felt completely single pointed on the meditation object, but observing very closely, attention was actually flickering at a very low percentage to a spatial location as well. Switching attention to the location, it felt like a center of experience, or like all the rest of mental experience had collapsed into that single point. At first observation it seemed like an actual kernel of atomic self, but observing closely it to was also arising and passing very rapidly. I've used this 'kernel' before to enter what I believe is the base of infinite consciouness (aka 6th jhana). If you develop the base of infinite space (5th jhana) and look closely there will be this kernel (In my experience). If you focus on it and allow it to expand, there is sort of an experience of pervading luminance. I believe that is 6th jhana. Anyway I think that in 4th jhana and the refined forms of 4th jhana (5th and up) you can observe this. In 4th jhana IMO there's enough awareness left to locate a point on the body but not beyond that.

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2/1/19 1:16 AM as a reply to Milo.
Interesting. Thanks for clarifying!

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2/10/19 1:16 PM as a reply to Milo.
There seemed to be little more to be done in meditation and I went without meditating for a week. Had a few wild dreams and a few nightmares even, which is very unusual for me as I usually have zero remembered dreams. Meditated with the intention of identifying and rooting out the underlying anxieties and the dreams went away the same night and haven't returned. My sleep quality immediately increased, with corresponding benefits during the day. Interesting, but clearly I am not "done" with sitting meditation.

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2/10/19 2:05 PM as a reply to Milo.
I'm curious about why you thought you were done with meditation. Can you share?

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2/10/19 2:42 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
I probably should rephrase. I have thought a couple times that *maybe* I am done, in the sense that there's little further (Conducive to awakening) to be accomplished in formal sitting and the real work going forward would be happening in the space of normal waking life. The test has been to stop meditating for a bit and see what happens, which has unfailingly resulted in the negative : ) Maybe that just means my sits are masking insight cycling? And if so, could that be an impediment? I normally cannot seperate that from run of the mill "moods," so am not good at using it as any kind of benchmark. Either way, it seems I still need sits for maintenance, or a slow continued chipping away, even if it does not seem like there is a lot else to be done there.

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2/10/19 2:47 PM as a reply to Milo.
Or it could just be I've just run out of creative ways to probe in these sits and don't recognize the remaining territory to approach.

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2/10/19 3:05 PM as a reply to Milo.
Another possibility is that I have too low of a bar for this project. At this point I can see through and put an end to a lot of suffering when I am able to consciously address it, but clearly if I'm not able to approach it consciously, suffering still happens. That's a bit of a conundrum.

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2/10/19 3:10 PM as a reply to Milo.
Anyway, I'm just trying to make sense of the current territory and how to proceed, and trying to be honest and accountable about my processing along the way.

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2/10/19 3:08 PM as a reply to Milo.
Milo, there were a number of junctures in my practice within which I'd think, "Now what?" The longest was probably during the vast desert of second path. I say it that way because it went an and on in sameness and repetition. This was frustrating, boring and unexpected. Until it changed sort of on its own. One thing that helped me understand what was happening was to listen to this:

https://soundcloud.com/daneilmingram/sets/hurricane-ranch-discussions 

Of course, I have no idea where you are on the path, so pardon me if I've misread your situation.

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2/10/19 3:13 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Thanks Chris, I will take a look. Insight mapping is not my strength so I will not hazard a guess where I would fall on that either. Just putting one foot in front of the other has served me well though : )

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2/10/19 11:04 PM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Interesting. I will need to listen to this a few times to make sure I have absorbed everything being discussed, but at first listen I would say I have fully covered the "vertical" territory of the various strata of mind as it is referred to in the discussion. If I am understanding correctly, the theory is that one could go on ad infinitum exploring horizontal territory of these strata and continuing to master them in that way, but is that really the sum of the work to be done from 2nd path on?

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2/11/19 10:06 AM as a reply to Milo.
I've gone back to my regular meditation schedule. These excursions continue to be pleasant but paradoxically they also just are what they are. Maybe I have dislodged some subtle grasping at jhana and need to learn to hold it gently as well - holding but not grasping, neither this nor that.

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2/12/19 9:49 AM as a reply to Milo.
Meditation laying in bed just before sleep last night. Attempting to see more deeply "horizontally" into jhanic states so held onto 1-4 each for quite a while longer than usual. Observed more vibrations.

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2/12/19 6:59 PM as a reply to Milo.
After some thought, I've decided to once again review insight mapping. My hope is that gaining better proficiency here will be of some benefit. Time to go back to basics.

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2/13/19 3:29 AM as a reply to Milo.
Alright, for the sake of getting some forward momentum again I am going to do what I said I would not and try and put a pin on my current location in the insight maps. Hopefully I'm not wildly off.

Reviewing my practice log, I would guess I have had at minimum the first change of path. Best guess is that now I'm either in a very early (Pre A&P) insight stage or just listing through a low grade DN bumping up against re-obs repeatedly and I need to up my game. If that's correct, some of the strategies that worked on the last path aren't quite up to it for this one, perhaps. Pretty speculative but either way I guess the way forward is basically the same: just keep working at it.

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2/13/19 4:33 AM as a reply to Milo.
I was guessing that this was at least your second round.

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2/14/19 3:21 AM as a reply to Milo.
Realized I need to be following the observer, and especially investigating the background, which seems like an obvious step to take in hindsight. To quote Homer Simpson: "Doh!"

Pursued this in tonight's meditation session. It was productive, but harder to put into words than investigations of sensory phenomena. This is where I will be directing attention now.

I'm also coming around to recognizing those pesky nanas more clearly I think, and can purposefully push through these states using very light concentration in daily life (Rather than full blown jhanas), though they often do not seem so clear cut and more like a mix and match of the states as described.

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2/15/19 1:38 AM as a reply to Milo.
Examining the whole field instead of just single sensations. It's hard to balance this with concentration. In particular, I'm trying to repeated ly go between 3rd/4th jhana and watch the whole field / background collapse and reform, collapse and reform... I get a sense of these complex interference patterns I have only picked up on rarely. With the clouds of proto-thought drifting by, if I look closely I can see extremely fast DO happening as the initial contacts streak out and branch like lightning, forming initial causal chains too fast to deal with at my current level of development. Seeing it must be a start though.

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2/18/19 1:32 AM as a reply to Milo.
~30 minutes reclining meditation today going all up and down the jhanas. The focus was on the whole field/background and particularly on the lengthening of the whole field DO chain of becoming as the jhanas were 'travelled' in reverse. Lots of balancing on the border between different jhana states then going back and forth between them over and over in an attempt to familiarize myself intimately with the whole field DO chain lengthening and contracting in all its subtleties. I feel this will be a key factor in the path for me going forward and I got a taste of where this could go as some physical discomfort became pretty tolerable when looked at directly rather than clamping down more tightly on another meditation object to deal with it. I feel this has potential but it's not easy work. I will likely work with this for some time.

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2/27/19 2:47 AM as a reply to Milo.
Have been focusing on the background of meditative states as a meditation objects in and of themselves. This has been illuminating as hoped and has given me a much more refined grasp of 'subtle sense of self' and 'watching the watcher.' Bottom line is this: what I previously took to be the limits in terms of pairing back DO chains that lead to suffering were not hard limits after all. It is possible for even the bubbling-out-of-nowhere non-verbal pre-thoughts and very subtle pre-intentions to extinguish, leading to states that are fundamentally the same as before, but subtlely more clarified. Even the background that these ephemeral things bubble up out of is subject to the 3Cs and can be experienced as such. More importantly, these possibilities opened up, it seems, upon a genuine level shift that has resulted in a different day to day baseline.

From here on out I plan to update this log only when something significant occurs, but I feel confident in saying a major milestone in progress was achieved and some of what I set out to do has now been done.

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2/27/19 5:35 AM as a reply to Milo.
Good stuff Milo!

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2/27/19 6:24 AM as a reply to Milo.
Reading your log is always interesting.

What is DO?

RE: MGZ Practice Log 1
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2/27/19 10:32 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda, I have learned a lot from you as well : ) DO is Dependent origination.

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2/27/19 10:35 AM as a reply to shargrol.
Thank you, Shargol. The existence of this site and prodding by experienced members has been extremely helpful.

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2/27/19 11:54 AM as a reply to Milo.
Milo:
Linda, I have learned a lot from you as well : ) DO is Dependent origination.



I’m glad, honored, and somewhat surprised.

Dependent origination - of cource! I figured it had to do with karmic causalities but didn’t think of that wording, for some reason. Right. I’m trying to do that as well and I see reoccurring patterns, but I lack your precision and mastery of the jhanas. It’s helpful for me to get an idea of the work that lies behind it. Balancing on the thresholds between the different jhanas and exploring all those subtle differences in the DO chains - yes, I can see how that does the trick.