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Dexter’s Practice Log

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Dexter’s Practice Log
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3/5/19 9:56 AM
Hello All,


I am making this practice log to detail experiences and progress in my practice. I do not have a formal teacher so my objective in joining the DHO and keeping this log is to compare experiences with other practitioners and hopefully receive some feedback on the progress of my practice. I am currently a 24 year old chorus teacher. Over the last decade I have explored various practices and hobbies which have eventually led me to this community.

I have been practicing asana and pranayama yoga on and off for the better part of the last 10 years. My formal sitting practice started about three years ago and has been very sporadic up until the past few months. For that time I was mostly practicing pranayama yogic breathing. About 3 months ago one of my fellow dharma adventurers and childhood friend introduced me to "The Mind Illuminated." Since getting this book I started sitting for 30 minutes a day and have worked my way up to 60-80 minutes a day without missing a day for the past three months. I also practice noting in every moment that I remember to do so off cushion. I have also spent thousands of hours practicing piano throughout my life which I attribute to some part of my concentration abilities.


My dharma sources have included “The Mind Illuminated” by Culadassa, MCTB, “Right Concentration” by Leigh Brasington, “Practical Insight Meditation” by Mahasi Sayadaw, “Zen Mind, Beginner Mind” by Shunryu Suzuki, the TMI and stream entry subreddits, the “Deconstructing Yourself” Podcast, and the post by other practitioners on this site.


Since beginning my practice with TMI I moved quickly through the first 5 stages. I am regularly sitting around stages 6/7 on a good day. I have had a lot of success applying my insights with this practice in my daily life and relationships with others. I have also cut out most of my vices. I no long smoke weed or drink alcohol and I have not in about two months. I however feel like I have fallen into a sinkhole of flailing in practice lately. I spend most of my practice working with subtle distractions or staying in access concentration and practicing dropping effort. I have been moving around between Brahma Vihara, TMI practice, Jhana practice, rapid noting, and choiceless attention. I feel that it would be more benefitial more me to choose some practices to work on more dilligently in order to make more significant progress in a certain area. I want to detail some experiences I have had because I am unsure how to label or reproduce them and I am hoping, that with some time and experience, their significance (or lack thereof) will become more apparent. The following are in chronological order.

1. I was working on experiencing the full body breath sensation Jhana practice described in TMI. I believe that I had experienced it before for no more than 15 minutes. At some point I believe I fell into this state during this particular practice. The breath sensations throughout my body were accompanied with intense pleasure, at some point I noticed a shift in the state where all of these sensations became diffuse and I felt like all of space was gone. It was an intimate silence that felt like being zipped into a cozy sleeping bag. This lasted for a couple minutes, I returned to the previous state for the remaining 30 minutes of the sit. Since this time, I believe I can label the first state as first Jhana but I am unsure about the shift. The lack of spaciousness and dissolved quality of the breath remind me of descriptions of the third Jhana but I don’t want to script or make assumptions. 

However, more significantly, after leaving this state I lost (what I now know as) the sense of agency for the remainder of the night. At the time it was very interesting. I did not feel as though there were a doer, seer, etc. All of my actions seemed brand new and exciting and all of my sensations were perfectly vivid and intense. I have not experienced such a profound state since this time.

2. I had read “Right Concentration” and I practiced the pleasure Jhana described. I was able to successfully enter this state a few times. The last time I entered this state I played with turning down the physical joy and turning attention to the mental joy in order to practice J2. I feel like I was able to do this successfully. However, the next time I tried entering the Jhana the piti became extremely intense and left me tense and stressed out. Since this time (about 3 weeks ago) I have not been able to renter this state although I also have not practiced it as diligently. Also, most of the strong physical piti in my practice has gone away. 

3. While sitting I was experiencing a lot of pain, anxiety, and restlessness. I had been experiencing a lot of these feelings the week leading up to this practice. However, this sit I worked up the courage to sit through the discomfort. I started having visions of my intestines and other vile stuff. I was kind of doing half concentration half noting. After about 10 minutes of this and a lot of discomfort I had a bliss wave wash over me. Pain and pleasure felt equivalent. I continued to note that state and eventually my attention became very diffuse and I was aware of all of the things on the periphery of my attention. I kept noting it and at some point it seemed like nothing was really in my attention except mental bliss. I moved my attention to the still point and tried to notice the space around it. Until everything kind of dissolved. Pain and pleasure were equal blips of stuff happening. It was very powerful and probably the first time I really embraced pain and discomfort in that way.

4. I have also been doing a little fire kasina and practicing focusing on the visual noise behind my eyelids when I lay in bed at night to sleep. This session I decided to meditate on the color white. After a while of focusing on it I was able to fill my attention with a noisy white (like a tv screen) eventually this turned to solid white. It then shifted into a 3D orb of white and all of my sensations (thoughts included) dissolved into the white canvas. As I examined it closer I noticed it was still noisy and not pure white so I kind of zoomed in until it was white again. Then it turned noisy again. This cycle happened a few times but eventually it turned into a tunnel of white. When it was very stable, self reflective thoughts started coming up and dissolving into the white but every time this happened, some new self reflective thought would appear. At some point I had the image of my selves coming out of my head like a Russian doll that wouldn’t end and the final self wouldn’t dissolve. At some point it all dissolved and I had the sensation of my body being stretched into particles across the universe and dissolving into a vast white space. This further developed to the point that I felt all of this happening back on earth in my brain and it felt like my head was being ripped apart into empty space. Upon leaving this state I noticed with my attention at my breath for a while until the end of the session and felt some Jhanic type qualities but I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with this. I was able to completely dissolve my body and breath into vibrations. So a lot of questions come to mind with this experience. What happened? Was this a visual Jhana or was I scripting a vivid visual imagination? I’m concerned about scripting but I also know that anything that I have experienced is some kind of real experience and denying that would be doubt. I just don’t know what to call these things, if they’re useful, and if so, how to reproduce them.

A big reason I am making this practice log is because I feel like I’m flailing a bit. I have had these experiences but I don’t know how to reproduce them or their significance. I’ve been cycling through practicing the Brahma Viharas every day but I also don’t know what to do with these. I seem to be able to create very strong feelings at the end of this practice but I’m not sure if I should develop this, expand it, or go back to my breath. In TMI I am working on letting go in stage 7 but I am having a hard time deciding what to do once I am able to let go of effort. I like practicing choiceless attention but I also want to develop my ability to move through jhanas.

I am very grateful that I have developed a strong concentration in a short amount of time and for these experiences I have had. However, it is important to me that I develop reproducible skills in order to access the jhanas and use that as a basis for practicing insight. Lately there has been a strong feeling of urgency that the self needs to be deconstructed. All of the anxiety around that idea has vanished but I haven’t figured out what else there is to be taken apart. If that is even the right idea.

I appreciate the dedication of anyone reading through my lengthy introductory log. I welcome any feedback and I hope that this log may end up being of use to the community.

RE: Dexter’s Practice Log
Answer
3/5/19 2:48 AM as a reply to Dexter Chamberlin.
Welcome Dexter! Nice introduction!

What you describe in your question 4 sounds like it could be third Vipassana Jhana, at least the more violent parts of it. I have had similar experiences. I’m no expert, though.

RE: Dexter’s Practice Log
Answer
3/5/19 11:13 AM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Thank you for welcoming me and I appreciate the feedback. What sort of practice were you doing that led you to that place? I feel like I kind of randomly ended up there because I was interested in trying to meditate on the color white.

RE: Dexter’s Practice Log
Answer
3/5/19 11:35 AM as a reply to Dexter Chamberlin.
March 5th: I am not feeling very sharp today but I sat for an hour this morning. After my introductory post and read many other posts around the site I decided that my intention going forward will be to develop a stronger anapanasati access concentration, to try to get a handle on Leigh Brasington's method for pleasure Jhanas, to stop changing my practice every day. It seems like many people have had a lot of sucess with these jhanas and I would like to use them as a basis for insight practice.

After settling into this session I had a clear focus on breath sensations at the tip of the nose. There were some subtle background thoughts but after about 15 minutes these became very infrequent. Once these thoughts started to dissappear, I started noticing the more vibratory aspects of the breath sensations. At this point my body awareness started to stretch out and I had the sensation of being incredibly large with huge arms. Sometimes this grabbed my attention and everytime I brought attention back to the breath my body seemed to stretch out more. After about 10 minutes of this being stable I decided it was time to try using pleasure sensations in my hands for jhana. The attention wanted to keep going back to the breath and the sensations in my hands became unconfortable. After about 10 minutes of trying to hold my attention there, it started to wander. I went back to the breath sensations at the nose but for the final 20 minutes of the sit, attention was very unstable and was wandering to daydreaming or pain in my shoulders. This has been a common theme in my sits lately. I am very clear and focused for the first 30 minutes and dull/ wandering for the last 30 minutes.

RE: Dexter’s Practice Log
Answer
3/5/19 11:53 AM as a reply to Dexter Chamberlin.
Dexter Chamberlin:
Thank you for welcoming me and I appreciate the feedback. What sort of practice were you doing that led you to that place? I feel like I kind of randomly ended up there because I was interested in trying to meditate on the color white.



Whatever Vipassana practice I do brings me there if I’m concentrated enough but not enough laid back to get to fourth Vipassana Jhana. I have had all my senses turned inside out and felt like I was fiercely being drawn out through my senses and then sort of experienced myself from the other side while still remaining on this side, if that makes any sense. Me senses were sharpened for a while after that, or less hampered by preconceptions of the mind. Too bad it didn’t last. Last night it was my heart that was squeezed and grabbed as if some force was trying to take it. I thought ”Yes, take it!” because I think it’s about my own resistence to letting go of the idea of a separate and integrated self. You are probably fighting yourself, just like me.

RE: Dexter’s Practice Log
Answer
3/5/19 12:54 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Good to know! I haven't done a lot of strict vipassna "on the cushion." I try to practice noting throughout the day. However, when I think back on it, I was really tearing the experience apart more than I usually do during this particular session instead of strickly doing samatha.

RE: Dexter’s Practice Log
Answer
3/5/19 6:22 PM as a reply to Dexter Chamberlin.
Ah. Yeah, I think I read somewhere in MCTB2 that doing that (turning the Shamatha into Vipassana while still in the (lower?) Jhanas) can be a rough ride. It seems like it’s possible to get there from either direction. Makes sense.

RE: Dexter’s Practice Log
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3/13/19 7:47 PM as a reply to Dexter Chamberlin.
I didn't intend for so much time to go by before posting here again but life has been quite interesting lately.

As far as practice goes, in January and the first half of February I was very engaged in practice. On and off cushion. I had some very interesting experiences (noted in my original post) and my concentration was very high. I was working with stages 7 and 8 in TMI. My noting became very rapid and almost automatic towards the end of this time. I was getting many insights into no-self.

Towards the end of February my concentration started to decline. Lately when I sit my mind is either all over the place or I can’t stay awake. I’m still pushing through 30-45 minutes a day but I can’t seem to manage much more without my brain wanting to completely shut down and sleep. I’ve been getting more sleep than I was but feeling more tired throughout the day and my noting practice has not been very diligent. I am still able to see emotions and sensations arise and pass away but I am having a harder time not getting caught up in them. I am at peace with the fact that my concentration is significantly diminished but this was not the case for the first few days. At first, it was a little frustrating  to feel like all the progress I had made was lost.

Yesterday, about 20 minutes into my practice, I felt a very deep and relaxing peace for just a couple minutes and then continued have very low concentration again for the last 15 or so minutes.

RE: Dexter’s Practice Log
Answer
3/17/19 9:21 AM as a reply to Dexter Chamberlin.
March 14th and 15th: I had two similar sits. I sat for 30 minutes. It took about 10 minutes to settle in. I'm trying to be compassionate towards myself regarding my concentration, instead of getting frustrated, since just a few weeks ago I would be deeply concentrated after 10 breaths. Once I was settle in I noticed breath sensations without distraction and with great clarity for about 5-10 minutes. This concentration diminished into a strong dullness and I spent the remaining 15 minutes working on refreshing the intention to stay with the breath every time I caught the mind wandering. I have been trying to apply techniques to combat dullness but it seems like once the mind is done concentrating it will keep trying to get away doing what I’ve sat down to do. I’ve been experimenting with various amounts of force/ letting go but both seem to lead to the same place of mind wandering or drowsiness.

Lately I'm still feeling generally pretty tired lately no matter how long I sleep.

March 16th: Sat for an hour in the morning. This sit started off like the last few: 10 minutes to settle in, 10 minutes of focus. However, once my attention started to fade I became acutely aware of the different intentions of the sub minds. Instead of just mind wandering, I was aware of the restless submind that wanted to get up and stretch, I was aware of the bored submind that wanted to think about something more exciting, and I was also very aware of the meditator that was fighting against the other subminds to put my attention back on the breath. Distractions, restlessness, and boredom all came up and took my attention but I was consistently aware of the intention to go back to the breath. Sometimes it wasn’t strong enough to redirect attention and its pull against the distractions felt almost physical. I also became very aware that there wasn’t anyone behind the controls and the mind will do what it wants. However there was still a presence of a watcher that was observing these subminds struggle to agree. The presence of this watcher caused some agitation. There isn’t anyone to observe the watcher and there isn’t anyone to do the watching. 

Lately there has been the feeling that this meat bag just does what it wants. I sometimes notice surprise at actions that are occuring. Occurances of noticing “The observer” have been causing some minor agitation lately.

RE: Dexter’s Practice Log
Answer
3/24/19 9:22 AM as a reply to Dexter Chamberlin.
My sits have continued to follow the same progression. Taking a few minutes to settle in, decently concentrated for 5-10 minutes, then either working with strong dullness or mind wandering. Awareness of the meditation object is not leaving for the duration of the sit but the seemingly random activity of the mind is the most clear area of attention. Yesterday the period of exclusive attention to the meditation object lasted much longer and with less distraction (about 20 minutes) but it still dissolved towards the end of the sit.

Also, the arising and passing away of emotional sensations have been very clear. This had been happening on the cushion for quite a while but it has become very apparent throughout life now as well. My job is generally very stressful, I work in an inner city school teaching chorus to kids with some challenging backgrounds. These kids are very good at finding triggers and I need to be able to work with them in a way that models skillful behavior. I am finding it much easier to navigate my own emotional reactions much more skillfully because emotions are much less sticky and cause less pain.

I went to the dharma dinner Daniel planned in NY and thoroughly enjoyed everyone’s company. I also gained some insight into what has gone on with me in the last few months. I was probably in the A&P territory during January and most of February when my concentration was very high and having all the the experiences I described in my initial post. I was beginning to suspect that dissolution and the dark night might be to blame for the dramatic shift in my concentration and this was confirmed last night. It seems that the lack of addressing this is a flaw with TMI. Looking back, I was putting too much attention into the interesting experiences I was having but it was a cool taste of what can be achieved.

RE: Dexter’s Practice Log
Answer
3/26/19 7:28 PM as a reply to Dexter Chamberlin.
I have been focusing more on noticing the movement and width of attention instead of trying to narrow attention to just my breath. This has helped significantly with my concentration and dullness. Sensations are more clear, the mind is wandering less, and dullness is much less strong. I have been able to sit/ walk for 45 minutes without the extreme sleepiness or restlessness that I was experiencing before.

I have also been trying to make time to do 20 minutes of fire kasina a day. I am very interesting in the practice and would like to do more but I am finding that after 10 minutes I stop seeing the image after I close my eyes no matter how long I look at the flame. I still spend the last 10 minutes observing the murk when I close my eyes but I can’t seem to go the after image return. I have tried this practice before and it usually creates very interesting visual effects that last for several hours if not days afterwards such as noticing the vibratory nature of the visual field.

I’m noticing that mindfulness is nearly constant throughout the day. I am remembering to note for most of the day and I am having fun noticing the way “negative” sensations move and change. “Positive” sensations don’t really seem to be very apparent or very pleasurable. I am noticing negative sensations more vividly than positive sensations but they don’t really seem to have any weight to them and if they do I try to inhabit to negative space or feeling that they create until it dissolves. 

EDIT: My friend said I probably have the candle too close to my face and I'm probably tiring out my eyes too quickly.

RE: Dexter’s Practice Log
Answer
3/26/19 8:10 PM as a reply to Dexter Chamberlin.
Maybe check out the first 10 minutes of Part 1 of the FAQ from the Fire Kasina website. They discuss some of the logistics such as types of light sources, how far from the eyes the light source should be placed, how long to refresh the after-image for, etc. 

The discussion becomes more practice focussed after that, but is filled with quite a bit of gold.

Good luck! 

RE: Dexter’s Practice Log
Answer
3/31/19 8:55 AM as a reply to Dexter Chamberlin.
Over the last week I have decided to switch my main practice to Fire Kasina due to the advice I have gotten from Hibiscus Kid, Daniel Ingram, and listening to the Deconstructing Yourself podcast interview with Daniel. I also need to explore the Fire Kasina site some more.I got a set of dinner table taper candle and it has made a huge difference for the practice. The first 3 days I did this practice I was able to get a clear afterimage and then the red dot would show up. I concentrated on the movements of the red dot, how it appeared, disappeared, moved around, etc. After a while I was able to make out the edges more clearly. I see a bit of green around the edges with the red oscillating in a circular motion. I am also trying to pay attention to the background. When i notice the background I am seeing clouds of static blowing around like wind, swirling around and as I get deeper it gets more tunnel like. 

Yesterday I had time to do an hour and a half sit with fire kasina. It began similarly to the day before. As I got deeper this time I started to see more images. The dot morphed into a maggot and a person but these went away pretty quickly the more I worked on noticing the three characteristics in these images. The red dot turned into the murk and became greenish and oval. There was a sort of pixely overlay to the whole image that covered the dot and the background. When I was refreshing the image the candle appeared very pixely and jerky. When I would focus on the murky dot I would get pulled into a long tunnel. At some point I could see a forest but not very clearly. I worked on noticing the three characteristics and not worrying about the specific images. I also experienced a few minutes with first jhanic factors but I am not trying to cultivate them. My goal with this practice is for insight.

I am noticing that it is significantly easier to concentrate in this practice. It almost feels like cheating but people report significant insight and even stream entry with this practice. Off cushion I am noticing that, if I am mindful, emotions seem to happen very quickly and vanish as soon as I notice them. Negative emotions don’t really seem to hold any weight anymore. I can easily just not act on them and the physical sensations attributed to these emotions just seem to dissolve as soon as I notice them.