Realizing I'm an animal

thumbnail
Chris Gilbreth, modified 11 Years ago.

Realizing I'm an animal

Posts: 118 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hi folks,

I've had one type of experience that's occurred a number of times over the years which seems important to me, and was wondering if anyone would be interested in commenting on it. It came up recently, and repeatedly, and has served to further confuse me about how I should be practicing.

I was describing it via email to someone recently, so I'll just copy & paste my descriptions:

"I had a few "eye-opening" moments where I saw that life is not what I usually think it is -- that I (and probably most people) are so, so, so, so, so deluded. That I really am an animal. That as I, say, walk down the street, my mind is continually 'self-ing': "self self self self self self self ..." moment after moment, covering up the nature of reality. It's the kind of experience that may only last for less than a second, but can be remembered for years. It's happened to me a few times before, even as early as high school, so that I didn't freak out, but this is the first time I think it's been triggered by meditation (although indirectly, since it didn't happen during any formal practice). In fact it recurs a little even as I write this."

"I haven't noticed much in the way of sensations -- it's more of an understanding. It's like waking up, suddenly realizing I'm alive; like opening my eyes for the first time. As if the conceptual groundwork my entire world rests on just dropped out from beneath me. Snap -- oh my god. Self-realization seems to describe it the best. It only lasts for an instant, and tends to arise a bit randomly (the first time recently was after reading a long article about the new Mac OS X), but it's been coming back now once or twice a day (though not that powerfully). I used to feel that if I were to live completely in that frame of mind, I would probably spend all my time sitting on park benches just freaked out about being alive."


This is from about a week ago. For a few days I worked to develop that frame of mind, but for various reasons stopped, and am now finding it pretty difficult to re-create, so I'm wondering where to go. I can work toward inclining the mind toward this fundamental way of looking at things; or go back to the practice I was doing at the time; or try really doing vipassana; etc. The practice that led to this was probably body contemplation and mindfulness of the mind.

Thanks for any assistance,
Chris
J Adam G, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Realizing I'm an animal

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
Hello, Chris!

I haven't had the exact experience you're talking about, and I strongly doubt I've ever even crossed the A&P event. So, to mix metaphors, I have no ground to speak on, so I'm pulling this out of thin air. That said, it might be valuable to you or someone else, so I'll share it on the hope that it will be.

What you're talking about sounds like an important realization to me! It kind of reminds me of an experience I had about a week ago. I got high with a few friends (yeah, I know that goes against the precepts, but I personally think the practice benefits of that precept would be much more important on a retreat or during some other time when trying to have really strong and focused practice). Whatever she had was intense. Like, really intense. I didn't expect that level of intensity. But, this happens sometimes. To get on with the story, I went to the local gay club, Dick & Janes. I had never gone before. Wow, why did I do that? That place was TRIPPY. I should have gone tipsy, not high! There was this laser light show thing going the whole time, and it was pulsing like a strobe light in time with the bass line. Anyone who has ever gotten high after having learned about vipassana knows what's coming up: The first three insight knowledges. Ouch. Two hours of my entire visual field pulsing (synchronized with the strobe/bass when I was on the floor, but still flashing in a more normal I'm-doing-vipassana-and-reality-is-strobing-in-and-out way even when I was away from the lights and music)! The three characteristics (well, really just dukkha and anicca) forced themselves onto me! I know it sounds really crazy, but I was seriously dancing on the floor with my friends, seeing how unsatisfactory reality is because of the impermanence. If they played a good song, I couldn't get into it because it didn't have any substance. It was just made of a stream of reality pulses that arose, stayed, and passed away every half second or so. There was a sense of utter powerlessness to stop the mass of suffering, almost all of which was very mild, but was still suffering. I seriously think if I had started directly perceiving anatta the way I was perceiving dukkha and anicca, and if all of my senses had been strobing instead of just vision and audition, I would have hit A&P. Thank god I didn't, because the gay club is not the place for the A&P!

I'm glad I had the experience because any opportunity to have even the faintest direct experience of any of the three characteristcs is probably useful, but I really wish that it hadn't happened on my first trip to the club here. I thought I was going to have a fun night of dancing with my friends, and instead I got a brainfull of dukkha! (Clearly, I'm still stuck in the content of the experience. I'm okay with that, because I don't know that I really want to get into the dark night quite yet. It's kind of scary, knowing that some unknown depressive thing is going to happen and not knowing how well I'll handle it, if I'll mess up my grades or friendships, and not even knowing how long it'll last. But that's off topic.) I guess that's how it goes...

But to talk more about your story, I think you're so right. We ~are~ animals. When you study cognitive psychology and neuropsychology, you find out that we aren't Homo economicus at all. We aren't always operating on rationality. Oftentimes, it's emotions, or other stuff we don't have any conscious access to, that drives our decisions. Sometimes, it seems like the thought process is just an afterthought, a process of coming up with a good reason to do what we already decided to do.

What possibilities are you considering in terms of what this experience could be in the stages of insight knowledge? Or have you not been giving much thought to that?

One last thing: the not being able to recreate a mindset, I'm totally with you on how that part sucks. All though this week I still haven't been able to directly perceive any of the characteristics the way I did that night, or the other times I've gotten high and hit cause and effect and the three characteristics. It kind of sucks, being stuck with an intellectual understanding and knowing that what's useful is the direct perception. You already know that the answer for that is just keep practicing. Some practice sessions are good, and some are not. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, except replace the "swimming" with "practicing." If you get discouraged and/or frustrated by what feels like under-powered meditation after a powerful experience like that, just imagine Dora (as voiced by Ellen DeGeneres) saying "Just keep noting, noting, noting, Oh YEEES, I LOVE TO NOOOOOOOOOTE..." like from Finding Nemo. The part in all caps is supposed to be fake sung in a pseudo-operatic voice. Ridiculous? Yes. Effective? Definitely. Do I look like a complete goon by this point? I don't even want to think about that. But it's way fun. (Plus, it keeps frowny-faced argumentative people away, because they hate shit like this. As far as I'm concerned, they can go practice the brahma-viharas until they aren't bothered by it.)
thumbnail
Mitch "The Dark Knight" Jacinto, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Realizing I'm an animal

Posts: 138 Join Date: 8/25/09 Recent Posts
h there! wow thats something, i used to get that when i was a kid. and always up to now sometimes. the first time i still remember i think i was only 6

and i think sometimes, 'does everyone get that?' doesnt everyone get that?

just the shock and surprise of knowing you're alive and 'what is this??'
people throw away this and get on with their lives. but so lucky of me to have found dharma, and you too.

i do still think that people up to now everywhere still feel this but they react to it differently. or react to it too fast. but that window to seeing is always there, in the most deluded, in all humans, in all animals. do u think other ppl feel that realization as well? have u ever gotten that as a kid?
thumbnail
Chris Gilbreth, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Realizing I'm an animal

Posts: 118 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Hey,

@J Adam G: Thanks for the story! That does sound like a pretty crazy way to start experiencing the Dharma.

But to talk more about your story, I think you're so right. We ~are~ animals. When you study cognitive psychology and neuropsychology, you find out that we aren't Homo economicus at all. We aren't always operating on rationality. Oftentimes, it's emotions, or other stuff we don't have any conscious access to, that drives our decisions. Sometimes, it seems like the thought process is just an afterthought, a process of coming up with a good reason to do what we already decided to do.


Yeah, I see that all the time in myself. We have some capability to be "rational," but most of the time it's just automatic pilot. And how much room (or time) is there for rationality to squeeze in among all these desires and inclinations and aversions anyway?

However, while I can understand this intellectually at the moment, seeing it directly is something else entirely. But even if I can't see it now, I can at least now perceive how boxed in my mind is during it's usual mode of operation. I just hope I don't get used to it again.

@Mitch:

just the shock and surprise of knowing you're alive and 'what is this??'


Yep, sounds like the same thing. Nice to have some companionship emoticon

i do still think that people up to now everywhere still feel this but they react to it differently. or react to it too fast. but that window to seeing is always there, in the most deluded, in all humans, in all animals. do u think other ppl feel that realization as well? have u ever gotten that as a kid?


I didn't get it much as a kid, at least that I recall. Actually, I can easily imagine people going through their entire lives without chancing upon that particular experience, and most people I've talked to about this don't seem to have encountered it. I wonder if it even gets less likely for this to come up for the first time as one gets older, since our minds become less flexible. Though on the other hand, the increased perspective age & maturity (hopefully) bring could also help.

Anyway, I think I'm going to just practice noting at this point. But gah, it feels like I'm trying to dig through a concrete wall with a teaspoon at times.

Chris
J Adam G, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Realizing I'm an animal

Posts: 286 Join Date: 9/15/09 Recent Posts
You don't have to despair about the difficulty of directly perceiving things that you have an intellectual understanding of. Especially considering that it seems that you've already had some instances where you DID directly perceive some insight. Somewhere in the Pali, it was written that to perceive even a single moment of consciousness arising and passing away has benefits for three lifetimes. Whether or not you believe in the traditional Buddhist conception of reincarnation, and whether or not the insight you had was the watching of a single moment of consciousness, none of that is really the point. The point, at least as I see it, is this: to experience some insight even briefly is of huge value. Besides, that's how any journey works. You see the briefest glimpse of the place you're traveling to. Then, it might be gone. That doesn't mean that you're failing. The path of insight is known to be bumpy, with many ups and downs. Perhaps you can see your goal when you're at the top of a hill, and then as you continue going forward, you go down into a valley where you can't see any part of your goal.

Plus, there does seem to be somewhat of a false duality between intellectual/book knowledge and direct experience of reality that leads to knowledge. This is not to say that neither extreme exists. Quite the contrary -- it's to say that "extremes" are exactly what they are. Points defining the ends of a spectrum. My experience of this is that when you have an intellectual knowledge, direct experience enhances your understanding. The enhancement of your understanding stays even when your perception drops back down to normal levels. Is it still as profound? No. But it's still there. Perhaps later on, when someone's in third path or something advanced like that, there won't be benefits for EVERY time reality is directly seen. But in the beginning, it sure seems like every little droplet of understanding adds a noticeable amount to your "bucket" of wisdom. As long as you're adding drops faster than your knowledge is evaporating due to forgetfulness, you're in the clear.


On a theoretical note (hell, just treat everything I say as either theoretical or hearsay, because I'll mention when it's otherwise), using Bhikkhu Buddadasa's interpretation of "reincarnation" and "lifetimes" has some very interesting implications for the phrase about benefits for three lifetimes. If I understand it correctly, he interprets rebirth as a process that constantly occurs as long as you are alive. If it is true that the mind constantly arises and passes away, then each passing could be considered a death and each arising could be considered rebirth. (Doesn't it refer to something like this in MCTB too?) If you perceive a single moment of consciousness arising and passing away, then it effects the next three "lives" of consciousness. In other words, it could be interpreted as, "If your perception becomes so acute that you fully experience consciousness arising and passing away for a moment, in Conformity with the truth, then you will experience the benefit that your next three moments will be Lineage, Path, and Fruition." Is this what BB meant? Kinda doubtful. Nevertheless, it could be useful.
thumbnail
Yadid Bee, modified 11 Years ago.

RE: Realizing I'm an animal

Posts: 258 Join Date: 9/11/09 Recent Posts
Well I've had a similiar experience:

During my third 10 day retreat, I sat and resolved to sit for as long as I can, which ended up being about 2 hours, when I opened my eyes, I could see the humans around me in a way I've never seen before (like animals), and also had strong rapture, faith, motivation, etc.
I believe it was A&P. Since then I've crossed it several more times.

Since then I still see humans in this way, though I've gotten used to it by now.