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Confused by Pace
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5/28/19 8:27 PM
I am very confused about my progress. The problem, I think, is that I am relatively new to meditation, and having no one around me further along the insight path than I am, it is very hard to tell what the magnitude of various experiences are. I mean this in the sense that I have no idea whether an experience is strong or subtle since I have no idea what the ceiling is. So while my experiences seem strong to me, they also seem to be happening way too fast,  and since timeline is the only objective measure I have access to I have tried to use it to gauge my progress, and it seems to point to the idea that I am grossly overestimating my progress.

In order for you to perhaps be able to help me I will simply describe my experience so far as succinctly, but clearly, as I can. This became quite a long thing, but I wanted to make sure that most of the events that have seemed relevant to me are included. Despite the length, I have still left a lot of important details out, so if there is anything else you need to know in order to help me work out where I am with my practice, please don't hesitate to ask for clarifications.

I have, like most people, wanted to develop a meditation practice for most of my 34 years of life, but never managed to create any sort of stability of practice. Around July last year this finally changed when I managed to establish both a stable asana practice (about 1.5 hours of bikram 6 days a week initially, now somewhat more than that, and mainly Asthanga yoga), and a stable meditation practice. I started out by just sitting and focusing on my breath, without any particular method, for 15 minutes each morning. When I had been keeping this up for some time I added an evening sit of 10-20 minutes of app-guided meditation.

After a few months I started noticing the positive effects that meditation had on my mood and general life experience, but felt like I was stagnating in terms of learning things about inner space. Since I have always been interested in meditation for what it can reveal about the nature of experience, rather than the "benefits" that it provides, this motivated me to start looking around for sources that could help put me back on the track of learning. This was when MCTB entered into my life.

I read the first part of the book (stopped after that as I had gotten something important out of it, and didn't think the rest of the book was for beginner meditators like me), and realized that I had been conflating insight practice and concentration practice to the detriment of both. So I started trying out some insight practice, which was initially really exhilirating, but quickly grew kind of hard and frustrating. Through this time I maintained my schedule of 15 minutes  of meditation in the morning, 10-20 minutes of meditation in the evening (edit: Progressively more and more rarely using meditation app, since it started seeming to hinder more than help. Somewhere in here I stopped using an app altogether) plus almost daily yoga (asana and pranayama) practice.

When I started feeling as though I wasn't getting anywhere with the insight practice I went back and read the rest of MCTB, and I decided that it might be worth working on my concentration again (despite having previously thought that I was getting all the concentration practice I needed from yoga class). So I decided to spend both morning and evening sits focusing on my breath as a solidified object, and even visualizing it, until I felt like I had developed some sort of more solid concentration skills.

After a few weeks of this something happened. During an evening sit I started feeling a kind of neausea, which clearly hung together with the focus on the breath somehow, and I got a strong impulse to let the focus go. However, I had resolved to focus on my breath for the whole 15 minutes of the sit, so I stuck with it. The neausea grew and grew until it suddenly resolved itself into a scalp tingling sense of pleasure or bliss. I could keep the bliss going through some sort of effort, but after a while I noticed that the effort was a bit frustrating at which point I had the though "The experience of concentration could just be enjoyed instead of being clung to" at which point it was as if my eyes opened (as in: the visual field seemed to open up, though the physical eyes remained closed) and I sunk down into a state where the meditation felt automatic, and completely effortless. This happened almost exactly a month ago now, and I still have immediate access to the scalp-tingly pleasure whenever I focus on something, it's as if it is waiting, just below the surface to be activated. In addition, during concentration practice I can often find my way down into the next level, the level of automatic meditation, as well.

Once I had had this experiences meditation changed completely for me. A 15 minute sit now felt (and still feels) ridiculously short, and I extended both morning and evening sits to 30 minutes minimum. In the evenings, when I don't have anywhere to be, I often end up sitting for between 45 minutes and an hour, despite having intended to just sit for 30 minutes.

As soon as I had realized that things were very different I picked insight practice back up, now with noting. I now practiced by starting out establishing myself either in the scalp tingly state, or the next state down, and then starting noting from there. At first the noting was mostly frustrating, but in short order I started gaining small snippets of insight. I started seeing directly how the experience I have had my entire life of every thought happening twice (first once at a level where I can barely see them, and then a second time, very clearly) is simply an effect of how thoughts occur just the same way as any other experience, namely that they both occur, and are perceived.

After that I started noticing how everything arises due to prior causes, without discontinuities, and then that it is not the case that I am terrible at paying attnetion to things, it is just that things end as quickly as they begin, and that the sense that they should be clearer or more, or better, or less, or something, is just part of the experiences themselves, somehow.

Various questions I had been puzzled by also started resolving themselves. For example, I had been frustrated by not being able to understand what aversion is, like why certain experiences comes bundled with the desire for them to end. This question suddenly seemed wrong, and instead it seems as though every single experience comes bundled with a sense that they should be different than they are, and that aversion isn't special at all.

All of these little insights seemed to me to be interesting and clarifying, and I started thinking that perhaps I have started making some progress. Given the short amount of time I had been meditating, and the small amount of meditating I had been doing, though, I just assumed that at most I would be in the first stage, Mind & Body.

During all of this I was experiencing back and neck pains, which makes sense given my somewhat intense yoga practice, and my tendency to push things somewhat harder than is strictly speaking good for you. But the pain kept moving around, and as soon as one (say on the right side of the spine by the shoulder blade) healed, another (say, in the left side of the neck) took its place. This made me think that perhaps it was all manifestations as described in the MCTB, but it seemed super unlikely that I would have gotten to stages where this kind of thing would happen already, given that the back pain stuff started in the earliest attempts at insight practice, way before I had even developed what I think of as access concentration (but which I am open to also being deluded about) properly. I just mention the aches and pains in the interest of completeness, my own assumption is that they are unrelated.

For the last week and a half or so I have been feeling as if something is about to happen, but without knowing why I felt that way, or what was about to happen. Simultaneously I also felt as if I needed help to make whatever was about to happen happen. For the first time I really started feeling desperate for a teacher, and I started (unsuccesfully) looking for one.

On Friday night I sat down for a Fire Kasina (which I have been doing intermittently in place of evening sits, but it feels sort of indulgent so I do it rarely), and something did happen. After the first time through from red dot into the murk and playing around with colours I opened my eyes to reset. I could clearly tell that I was in an altered state of mind due to how the world looked, and I had some minor insight about how looking at the same thing for an extended period of time results in a stream of new impressions (rather than a stream of the same impression over and over). Trivial, I know, but felt profound at the time. While I was focusing on the candle flame I noticed how everything in the background was outlined in white, as if every single object, angle and shadow edge, had been filled in with a white marker. As I kept focusing on the candle the white outlines developed into white bright light, as if there was a spotlight illuminating every object from the back with a brilliant white light with rainbow tones in it. The light grew in intensity (I noticed that it actually illuminated the room, and I remember being dimly fascinated by the fact that my brain was rendering things this way), and with the growing light, a sense of intense bliss grew in me, until I eventually couldn't quite stand it anymore and closed my eyes. Somewhere around here everything shifted into a body sensation, and the light became abstract, inside my mind rather than coming through as vision, somehow. I got an incredibly intense sense of tingling all over my body, and my breath became shallow, but strong and extremely rythmic (according to my partner who was sitting with me). While all of this was going on the nimmita from the kasina, as well as other thoughts, occured, but seemed utterly unimportant, and somehow it felt as if I knew exactly what I should be doing, and was doing it. This, including the strange breathing, went on for something like half an hour before a sense of fear occured about what was actually happening to my body, and the intention to calm the breath took hold, leading to rediscovering how to actually control the breath (which felt completely unfamiliar), leading to belly breathing, which eventually calmed down the insense feeling of bliss (and made me realize that my diaphragm was cramping), and eventually started letting outside noises in, which had apparently been completely absent for most of the experience.

I realized immediately that this experience had some of the hallmarks of an A&P event, but simultaneously realized that the small amount of meditation I have done, coupled with the low levels of insight I have attained through that meditation makes it very, very unlikely that it would be that. So I proceeded under the assumption that perhaps it was just a freak occurence, or maybe, and this also feels like a stretch, it would signify that I have reached the A&P stage but not the A&P event. In particular, I found it unlikely that it would be the A&P event because it didn't leave much of a residual feeling. After the experience was over I was extremely energized, but the sense of profundity passed with the experience itself.

Another reason I find it hard to think that this was the A&P event is that I thought I would get to spend some time in the A&P stage before the event occured? However, most of the time I don't see the beginning of experiences at all, and I really don't feel as though my noting is anywhere near what is described as "fast and precise" in MCTB. Yes, I do make between 1-10 verbal notes a second (silently) for most of the sits, but their precision feels truly abyssmal. I definitely fail to verbalize more experiences than I do verbalize, and it often seems as if I am guessing more than stating facts with the experiences I do verbalize. To me this sounds like someone in the first stages of insight, not someone on the threshold of the Dukkha Nanas.

Sitting has, however, been different since this experience. Getting my body sorted out to sit seems much easier somehow. Little imperfections in posture and little pains in ankles or knees don't seem as important as they did just a week ago. However, during sits time feels much slower. For the last month I have become used to rarely thinking about the amount of time I am sitting, at least not from the persepctive of wanting it to be over, but suddenly I find the thought "why hasn't the timer rang yet?" occuring many times per session.

Also, my latest batch of back/neck issues went away, and have yet to come back. Probably a complete coincidence, as they have been constantly coming and going for a while, but I felt it was still worth mentioning.

And that brings us up to date.

So, if you have made it this far, thank you so much for taking the time to read all of that. Any input on how I should interpret my experiences, where I might be at in terms of the progress of insight, or even how I could alter my practice in order to get more out of it would be greatly appreciated.

But most of all, thank you!