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Affective stages of light?
Answer
5/28/19 3:13 PM
Hi friends, 

I've lurked here a bit - both interested in and a bit wary of such frank discussions emoticon - but this is my first post. It's a long one...

I have seen a lot of discussion of light, but I have some particular questions. Some of this is well covered territory, but at the end I write about stages/purification of light, which I haven't seen mentioned elsewhere. 

My intentions in writing this are manyfold. One, to reduce (or at least internally explore) some of the weariness(stigma?possessiveness?wise protection and caution?) I feel about talking about this stuff. Two, to understand better the DhO map, and how it correlates to my own experience. And three, to ask about the light progressing through jhanic factors in states that lack absorption, and are therefore clearly not jhana. My fear is that, by writing like this, I will over-intellectualize something that has profound personal meaning. But we'll see...

To be clear, whenever I write about light here - while there are some variations - it is a solid, very clearly visible light. Behind the eyelids, but not seemingly connected to sensory input. It is golden/white, and seems to be a circle and also everywhere/everything. I generally experience the light with very strong feelings (joy, bliss) and those affective qualities seem directly connected to (emanating from) the light. My first many years of experience, I understood that the light was a vision of all of experience/humanity/the universe. Read on for more nuance.

2005-2006: My first experience of the white/golden light was during a powerful mushroom trip, age 14. I thought I'd lost my mind - totally terrifying - but at some point stop worrying and just let go.

Suddenly there was no physical body, no thoughts, no awareness of myself or I. All that existed was a brilliant white light. Although there were no thoughts to think such a thing, it was clear that this was everything in the universe. Afterward, description of the ocean of bliss, that kind of thing made sense - it was absolutely incredible. Hitherto that moment I had no idea such joy was possible. 

In the next year, I experienced this a number of times, usually on LSD. Sometimes a bad trip or struggle was necessary before letting go (which I understood as needing to settle some internal conflicts), other times I could just let go. Again, the light was incredible - everything, bliss, all that.

Over time I began to feel the light's prescence during the day. Not dissolving into it, more like being guided by it. At first I understood this as a way of knowing the right path versus the wrong path, feeling in alignment with the light, but eventually I started to worry that the light was a kind of consciousness that might have a will of its own, which led me to questioning whether or not I should trust it. Long story short, this led me to some deep philosophical struggles and some personal demons. I stayed sober for 6 years to give these questions time, to tend to what was stirred up in me.

During this period of sobriety (2007,etc), I got heavy into meditation. I sat 1-2 retreats week long retreats a year from age 14 - 21, and starting at age 17 practiced daily, in the insight tradition. I was on a definite spiritual quest during this time, and went through a lot of stages, reading many books, had a period of time keeping dream journals, and many other practices I explored. 

2007: Around age 17, I think, I started to experience the light again during ecstatic dance. (Think whirling around like a Sufi, although it was less formal.) The light would appear, again totally brillant and amazing, but I was not dissolving into it. I can't remember all of the experiences - too many to count - but in general I had at least peripheral awareness of body, sounds, etc., whereas in the psychedelic states there was none of that. The light could appear during the dance,but there was a more peaceful feeling state that only can through stillness - I would stop dancing and the music would continue to deepen the experience. Perhaps you could say i was "absorbed" into the music - I let go into the flow of sound. These stages of feeling (which could come with or without light, are fairly similar to the progression described below, at the 2.5 month retreat)

2009: Age 18 I sat a 6-week retreat out in Massachusetts. Insight. It was very difficult but profound. But not much in the way of light, except when I lay down after a meal and watched myself fall asleep. Then woke myself up at the excite of seeing myself sleep emoticon The next sit was the light, felt like it was sucking me in but I was worried I would not return from it, did not want to let go.

2011: At age 20, my daily practice intensifed, I was sitting and doing a lot of walking meditation, very moved by and connected to the dharma. I sat a 10-day meditation retreat. I was struggling with a lot of intense emotions at that time, and my teacher instructed me to begin the first 4 days just grounding in my body. I was sitting in a chair for this retreat and my aim and sustain was awareness of hands, awareness of feet. On the 4th day I had an experience of total bliss - this ecstastic energy moving up through my body, felt like I was plugged into an electrical socket of joy. Totally amazing, my mind was filled with many thoughts about how amazing this is!

After that, I saw the light again. It was exactly like tripping on acid. It was so joyful. But then over the remaining days of the retreat, nearly every time I sat down the light was there. My body was there too - it wasn't a state of absorption. And then something remarkable happened. The light settled from its total electric bliss into a much deeper state of peace. I had always thought the light was as high as you could go! But here was something more profound. And as it deepened, my mind and thoughts quieted very much so. The light seemed very healing - as if my mind, heart and body were being purified. In fact, during retreat after sits with the light (it was there during nearly every sit) the back of my knees started to release this tension I was never even aware of having. And while I'd been sitting in a chair for the previous year due to knee pain, after that I was able to sit on the cushion again.

2012: After that retreat, my practice continued with a lot of depth and intensity. The next year I sat a week (two weeks? can't remember) metta retreat, so concentration. The light returned but it had no affective quality. It was like it was glazed over with cellophone. It was terrible - seeing the light and not feeling its joy! This continued on my next retreat, a few weeks later, which was a month long. It was deeply painful.

This was in general a difficult period in my life, and in conversation with my main teacher the next year (2013), during which I was on another retreat with the profound feeling of cellophone, bleakness, etc. I decided to stop sitting for sometime. The pain was too much to bear. It felt like a very visceral and yet very dull direct experience of the meaninglessness of life.

2013-2017: Over the next 5 years, long story short, therapy, a lot of learning, etc, and I slowly got back into sitting. In retrospect I feel that the cellophane was pointing to a very deep depression within in me, and I needed a lot of time to integrate it, walk around it, take time and care before I could go in directly.

2018: eventually felt ready to get practice back in fullswing. Sometimes gentle, sometimes testing my limits. During this time my main teacher began teaching more students jhana, and I sat a 2 week jhana course. Ayya Khema style, you could say. So this was my first formal training in jhana. During this retreat, I came to understand the process of absorption more. Often, I was not seeing the light. But it became clear to me that many of my previous experiences of light were *not* absorption. I came to understand more the jhanic factors, and to assess sits for these factors. 

It was remarkable to sit this retreat - and to formally read about jhana before and after - because it was like finding a language and territory for what I had organically experienced over the years. But at the same time, I am very grateful for all my time not knowing any maps, because it allowed my to explore on my own, to come to my own conclusions, learn my own lessons, etc.

After the 2 week jhana retreat I sat 2.5 months. Over the course of the retreat I mixed various traditional vipassana with a more laidback style (think Sayadaw U Tejaniya) and would bring in breath concentration for sits or a few days. Basically, I was alternatively with what seemed appropriate for various cycles of attention, concentration, practice, etc. 

During this long retreat,still relatively fresh from the jhana retreat, I had some initial sits that were absorption-laden. Some light, both generally around and the specific orb, but not absorbing into a nimitta or anything like that. I would say 1st jhana in Ayya Khema's definitions, maybe some 2nd, possibly a few 3rd but I haven't spent enough time in 2 or 3 to really say. Plus, I wasn't really that interested in categorizing it all - my philosophy seems to be, after it happens 100 times you'll know what it is. There was also what I can only describe as absorption into the breath itself - which felt like an amazing rollercoaster ride. And breath would be very intense, almost like panting.

Throughout the course of the retreat, this time I did have more light that was subtly connected to sensory input. Flickering light through the eyelids, etc. But as the retreat progressed, there were definite sits where I could see the nonsensory light. And at times when I would catch myself thinking, I would see the thoughts dissolve back into the light. 

By now, I was beginning to see the light as just another phenomena - a series of experiences that are amazing, but still exisiting within the realm of conditioned experience. I was definitely interested in tracking it, but I lost some of the old convinction that this light was the end-all-be-all, the holy grail of practice and experience, etc. It was still conditioned, and I was curious to see what might beyond the realm of conditioned experience!

But to stay focused on the light for now. I had many sits with the light. Again, not talking about absorbing into the light, just sitting with it. I would have good momentary concentration- the light is easy to focus on,it's the most interesting thing going on! - but was not in deep onepointed anything. And now, knowing about jhanic factors, it seemed that the light could progress through these factors. Seems like a natural progression, as well as purification. Each stage is more subtle, deeper, and more profound, moving from a really buoyant joy to deep pepeace. First stage, there is a lot of thinking possible, the energy is very electric, it is almost too much. Then another stage where the thinking is much more muted, the quality of happiness is calmer. And another stage where it is much more peaceful. Still pleasant, but peace and quiet are better words to describe. Only once did I hit the truly neutral equanimity. That one, after the fact - and sensing it around the corner, too - freaked me out. A little too neutral for my tastes emoticon

So. Here are my questions. If your reply is only theoretically-based (not from a lot of direct experience), that is fine, but please specify that emoticon 

1. Do I understand right that you all would call that first profound experience of light, during the mushroom trip, the A&P Event?

2.  and while we're at it - does one cycle through multiple A&P Events? or there's just one?  And exactly do you mean by Arising and Passing? (It seems arising and passing, as a experience or stage, has different meaning at DhO then what I understand as the knowledge of arising and passing in Sayadaw Mahasi's meaning. I've read the relevant pages in MCTB but they are necessarily so broad that I have difficulty knowing what applies to my own practice)

2. And are there any maps that include a progression through the jhanic factors in relation to light (or nimitta) but are NOT jhana because there is no absorption? 

3. In terms of nimitta (and if you answer this, please let me know what tradition/lineage/school of thought you are responding from, including just your own intrepretation) is it understood as inherently amazing, like the center of the universe, totally blissful, etc? Or is nimitta affectively neutral...? (I don't (conceptually) understand kasinas... are they relevant here?)

5. And where does the stage/knowledge of dissolution fit into any of this, if at all? And do you map that before, after, during the Dark Night? (From what I understand, I would place dissolution at that great bleak meaninglessness that led me to quit sitting, in 2013).

6. and what's meant by cycling anyway? does that apply here? one cycles through the various, or particular, stages over and over...? (That fits my understanding, but I don't know what y'all mean by it.)

Okay friends. (enemies? No you couldn't be if you actually read this!) Thanks for taking the time. I look forward to your responses.

RE: Affective stages of light?
Answer
5/28/19 2:11 AM as a reply to Derek.
At first I thought "jhana", but you claim it's not jhana, so my bet is on AP or brahma viharas? The progression you are describing sounds like going deeper into the jhanas, though, so I'd reasses as to why you deny these states the jhana status.
Your terminology reminds me of "zen master rama" -- check him out, he's a controversial figure, but I found his stuff to be interesting.

RE: Affective stages of light?
Answer
5/29/19 11:59 PM as a reply to Fiber.
Fiber:
At first I thought "jhana", but you claim it's not jhana, so my bet is on AP or brahma viharas? The progression you are describing sounds like going deeper into the jhanas, though, so I'd reasses as to why you deny these states the jhana status.
Your terminology reminds me of "zen master rama" -- check him out, he's a controversial figure, but I found his stuff to be interesting.

It's not jhana because, as I understand it, jhana requires absorption, and depending on who you ask, there is also a muting or total disappearance of sound. (Most of) this isn't that.

I wouldn't call it brahma viharas either... as to AP, I don't really understand what y'all mean with that term...

Haven't checked out Zen Master Rama but will look him up, thanks emoticon

RE: Affective stages of light?
Answer
5/30/19 7:01 AM as a reply to Derek.
It's not jhana because, as I understand it, jhana requires absorption, and depending on who you ask, there is also a muting or total disappearance of sound. (Most of) this isn't that. 

You can have light versions of jhana. Full absorption is not necessary. I have these a lot, even during the day not meditating. I suspect a lot of advanced meditators here would tell you this  - if you put a gun to my head and asked me what you are experiencing, I'd say "light jhana."

RE: Affective stages of light?
Answer
6/13/19 12:14 AM as a reply to Chris Marti.
Hm, I wouldn't label non-meditation experiences as "light jhana" - but YMMV!

Would anyone care to chime in on the other questions? I'd be interested to hear wider perspectives.

RE: Affective stages of light?
Answer
6/13/19 2:21 AM as a reply to Derek.
Derek: 1. Do I understand right that you all would call that first profound experience of light, during the mushroom trip, the A&P Event? 

Daniel: Yes, that, and numerous others above, are clearly in the range of territory described by the terms "A&P" and "A&P Event", and there are clearly other experiences described also that might, for the sake of some functional purpose, be classified differently.

Derek: 2.  and while we're at it - does one cycle through multiple A&P Events? or there's just one?  And exactly do you mean by Arising and Passing? (It seems arising and passing, as a experience or stage, has different meaning at DhO then what I understand as the knowledge of arising and passing in Sayadaw Mahasi's meaning. I've read the relevant pages in MCTB but they are necessarily so broad that I have difficulty knowing what applies to my own practice)

Daniel: Yes, that is the Standard Pattern, to cross the A&P, get interested in meditation, hit the Dark Night, perhaps get to Equanimity mildly or strongly, often fall back rather than getting Stream Entry, cross the A&P again, etc.


Derek: 2. And are there any maps that include a progression through the jhanic factors in relation to light (or nimitta) but are NOT jhana because there is no absorption?

Daniel: There are endless Term Wars between the traditions about what the word "jhana" means, like petty, childish academics arguing to control some sacred term from the sanctified past. It is so much useless noise. Feel invited to step out of that harsh, concrete-thinking world of strict yet arbitrarily defined dichotomy to a wide-open world of nuance, dimension, and pragmatism.

Instead of thinking, "This experience was jhana because so and so said it was and this other experience wasn't jhana because so and so said it wasn't," learn to consider the degree to which various jhanic factors are present, and learn to think like an adult in shades of grey. This mode of thinking helps a ton, and frees people from the harsh judgements of dichotomous thinking and opens the world of cultivating skillful factors to various degrees in various combinations and appreciating what has arisen for its own sake. This also alows one to tune practice to one's tastes without having to bow to the whims of some contemporary Term Warrior who wishes to fight to force everything into their proprietary definition of what jhana is.

To get used to this, simply describe experiences, which factors were present and how strongly, what the shape of attention was, what the quality of attension was, what the phase of attention was, what other experiences were going on, how attention was tuned, how the body was experienced, how the mind was experienced, how emotions were experienced, and whatever other effects and experiences were going on, and leave it at that. Eventually, freed from some Term Warrior's trumped up cage, you will realize that this is a vastly better way, the way of the craftsman, the way of the true phenomenologist, the way of the explorer, the way of the adult thinker.

Derek: 3. In terms of nimitta (and if you answer this, please let me know what tradition/lineage/school of thought you are responding from, including just your own intrepretation) is it understood as inherently amazing, like the center of the universe, totally blissful, etc? Or is nimitta affectively neutral...? (I don't (conceptually) understand kasinas... are they relevant here?)

Daniel: Ah, yes, the N-word...

From the Sanctified Past, we have relatively little printed information on what the Holy Ancients meant by nimitta. There are some descriptions in the commentaries that are strangely unhelpful. I have read them countless times, and it never made things better, but clearly they describe a range of different experiences, which shows that they were more nimble in their thinking than many are today.

Like "jhana", which seems to mean so many different things to various authors from back in the day, the word "nimitta" becomes a focus of Term Wars by various schools.

I seriously advocate that you adopt the same dimensional open-mindedness to experience for issues around the concept of "nimitta" that I advocate for the wide world of states that involve jhanic factors.

Otherwise, you just become one more concrete-thinking person with a very fixed, arbitrary view crashing around bumping into others just like you who will just as likely vehemently disagree with you about what the word means as agree with you. How is this helpful? Why do we all seem so hell-bent on taking information from the past that clearly was meant to be helpful and instead using it to fracture Buddhism into hundreds of little term-obsessed sects all thinking everyone else is an idiot, a heretic, a fool, or a scoundrel for not defining something in a way that they all know was an arbitrary call made by someone in their lineage who lived more than a thousand years after the last of those books were written?

It would be as if back in the early days of science if those who were trying to come up with terms for chemistry forced themselves to stick with the limited range of terms from Alchemy and couldn't think outside of that box. We would have no words for ethanol, methanol, isopropyl alcohol, and instead it would all just be people yelling at each other about what the True Alcohol was referred to by the medievalists. Wouldn't that seem insane? Yet, today we find the same foolishness by people who theoretically are smart, educated people who pride themselves on their terminological sophistication.

The world of meditative experiences is so wide that we simply need vastly more terms and qualifiers to describe it, vastly more than four or eight jhanas, vastly more than the single word "nimitta", or even a few types of "nimitta".

It would be as if in contemporary medicine I was forced to describe most of what I was seeing in terms of the Four Humors of yellow bile, black bile, blood and phlegm, as that was what was used in Ancient Greek medicine 2,500 years ago and for about 2,300 years thereafter, so we have to fit everything into those four words. Would you go see a doctor who was still practicing that way? No, you would think they were out of their flippin' minds, and that's exactly what I think of those who try to force everyone to use a very few terms from the Sanctified Past to describe the vast range of meditative experiences. We seriously need to do much better than this.

Also, way more interesting than the question of "Would some old book or some very specific contemporary teacher call something 'jhana' or 'nimitta'" is the question of what to do with those experiences, how to relate to them wisely, how to learn something important from them, how to leverage them to greater depths of peace, wisdom, happiness, and how to help others do the same.

Cuirously enough, none of your six questions are about how to do those, just how someone from some tradition might label things. Why this focus? How does that help? Where does the rubber meet the road for you? What are you trying to do, exactly? Have you gotten side-tracked by the sticky petty squabbles of medieval-minded Term Warriors, or are you willing to step out beyond that and do something useful with all of this?

This post seems very fixated on the past, and little on the future, much less the practical present. That typically doesn't work out well.

Derek: 5. And where does the stage/knowledge of dissolution fit into any of this, if at all? And do you map that before, after, during the Dark Night? (From what I understand, I would place dissolution at that great bleak meaninglessness that led me to quit sitting, in 2013).

Daniel: That is clearly a very Dark Night sort of phase you describe, of which Dissolution is just the beginning, and typically not that bad in comparison to the others, and sometimes even pleasant.

Derek: 6. and what's meant by cycling anyway? does that apply here? one cycles through the various, or particular, stages over and over...? (That fits my understanding, but I don't know what y'all mean by it.)

Daniel: Yes, cycling is what happens. People cycle all the time, up and down, back and forth, stages and states over and over again, and such is the nature of the path. 

Derek: Okay friends. (enemies? No you couldn't be if you actually read this!) Thanks for taking the time. I look forward to your responses.

Daniel: The bottom line is until we in the meditation world all get together like the scientists and doctors did back in the day and sort this out (don't hold your breath), you are much safer both internally and externally describing experiences with a lot of terms and a lot of straightforward qualifiers rather than trying to fit them into words like "jhana" and "nimitta".

Vastly more interesting is the question of how all these discussions help you to accomplish something. What do you wish to accomplish? What are you looking for? How do you feel that a bunch of people on a forum labeling things their own way will help that goal? Disagreement about what is "jhana" and what is "nimitta" is guaranteed, and you presumably know that well from your post. How will this help you personally? What is the utility here?

Best wishes!

Daniel

RE: Affective stages of light?
Answer
6/24/19 1:06 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
[quote=
]Hi Daniel,

Thanks for taking the time to reply - much appreciated. There is a lot of good and interesting stuff in what you write.

You're right to ask what I hope to accomplish with my questions...: 

I want to understand more the language here, so I can speak (and read) with folks more fluently. From your answers, for instance, I have a better sense of what the A&P Experience is, and now I can read stuff about the A&P and it doesn't look so much like a foreign language!

I am also looking to expand my dharma community, and I figured sharing some of my dharma experience here, and seeing how folks responded, could be a good way to connect 'round these parts. 

I certainly see what you're saying - that the meditative terrain is much vaster than what's explicitly in the suttas. I'll have to spend some time mulling that... 

Like you point out, there is some sense of, well... "what's next?" I'm not really sure where this terrain leads me in day-to-day (non-retreat) life. I'm trying to figure out what edges of practice are accesible, and spending some time with maps (which I haven't done much of) to see if that opens up anything...