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Is someone willing to diagnose my practice?

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Hi guys,

I’m a TMI practitioner curious whether my practice can be “diagnosed” with insight stage criteria. I have some basic knowledge about Progress of Insight, but not in depth. I was wandering whether some experienced MCTB practitioner could estimate whether there’s any nanas involved in my practice. I hope someone will have patience for me here emoticon

Current practice: Daily 45 minutes of modified TMI practice. Basically: I count my breaths, for example, saying “1” after the in-breath, as an “evidence” that the in-breath has been in my experience. I perceive the breath as a monolith sensation, without trying to investigate the details. When attention stabilizes, I start with noting thoughts every few breaths, a.k.a “checking in”(as soon as I start doing that, unvoluntary body shaking occurs very often). When I encounter issues (distractions, dullness, restlessness etc.), I apply some antidote or slightly modify the technique with the aim of making appropriate balance within the 7 factors of awakening. Lately, in my good days, I am aware of the breath 95% of the time and feel peaceful. On bad days, I focus on applying the antidotes. I’m around TMI stage 4.

Practice pattern: (What I am about to describe is an outline of my background history, things are a bit better now, crises are not so strong and I have a greater awareness of what factor disbalances happen in meditation. Although periodic “crisis” period still occurs.)

Started meditating 3 years ago with Headspace, soon switched to TMI. My meditation journey has not been easy. The basic pattern in my practice used to be this: meditation going well and then, periodically (let’s say every 7-15 days or so) there’s a “crisis” where my meditation becomes very unpleasant (strong aversion to the practice, tension, disappointment etc.). I overthink trying to find the “solution” and, when I “discover” it and modify my practice, things start going great. And then, after some time (5, 15, 30 days, whatever) the “solution” stops working and the cycle continues. “Good days” of practice go together with feeling positive and strong in daily life, while in bad days I feel irritable and vulnerable both in meditation and off-cushion, and consequences are overthinking and procrastination (things like morning anxiety and obsessive thinking about meaning of life, but all this is not extreme, I am socially functional, but it does makes you think that “life sucks”. It used to be much worse.).  I am sure I had periods like this before meditation (I had difficult childhood), but my memory is blurry. (Oh, and to mention, meditation has helped me immensely to become more mature and remove all kinds of problems.)

There have been no “fireworks”, no “mystical-experience-that-changed-my-life” events (and no drugs), just some occasional weak piti or feeling that body became very light or subtly tranquil. There has been much kriyas (unvoluntary shakings) in last months. Few years ago, after doing Kundalini yoga (Sat kriya) I felt some sexual-like energy (piti?) going up my legs in meditation, I and sometimes feel unpleasant tension (like stuck energy) in my legs ever since. But my practice hasn’t changed since then, that I can remember.

So, I guess we can make 3 theories about what I described, in regard to nanas:

1. NO NANAS. This is my default way of thinking. Looking through TMI glasses, I see all of this as psychological stuff that is better to be purified before any insight stages start. I must admit that I am often skeptical about diagnosing nanas, because it sometimes looks like “recognizing” shapes in clouds. Isn’t it logical to assume that my bad “days” are caused by psychological issues, and not by insight? There’s this paradigm that “seekers” (that is, people obsessed with Dharma and spirituality, and I certainly am one) are dark-nighters. But again, it may be possible that there is a great portion of people that are not indeed in a dark night, but they would rather identify with “a dark night yogi who suffers because of insights into fundamental reality (crossed A&P but doesn’t remember it or it was some small energy current)” than “just depressed”. I wouldn’t like to get in that trap, that’s why I am cautious about self-diagnosing and ask for help here.

2. MIND AND BODY - THREE CHARACTERISTICS. “Good days” are Mind and body (the description matches, although it can be interpreted broadly) and “bad days” are Three characteristic. The aversion and stuff that arise during Three characteristics are too strong, so I mindlessly procrastinate in daily life until I “fall out” of PoI, and the cycle continues.

Skeptical notes: I don’t remember any “robotic” qualities of Case and effect (but maybe I just don’t know how to recognize them). Then, my bad days are more about feeling of aversion/resistance/restlessness than about some recognition of impermanence or noself (glimpses of noself are always pleasant for me). Also, body shakings happen during both good and bad periods.

2. A&P – DARK NIGHT. “Good days” are A&P (attention very stable) and “bad days” are Dark night.

Skeptical notes: The peak of my good periods is like this: concentration is pretty good, life is pretty great, I can respond skillfully to almost any difficulty with mindfulness and positivity, I enjoy practicing mindfulness during the day, I feel “normal” and strong etc. BUT there are no “mystical experiences” or special events like “body exploding” or OBE. Meditations are just very pleasant and peaceful, after them I feel like my brained has been “cleaned”, and reality feels “more real” and tranquil.

Also, I usually imagined Dark night as something more extreme, similar to clinical depression. I know this doesn’t have to be the case, but for some reason I have a feeling that DN for me is going to be terrible. On the other hand, maybe I just got accustomed to these difficult periods (with psychological techniques that I use). But, again, I don’t see why I would say “it’s DN” and not “it’s just psychological stuff that also happens to many non-meditators”.

I had some sleep apnea with lucid dreaming as a child, and some “numinous” feeling while philosophizing as a teenager, but again, I don’t think it’s A&P, I don’t remember my attention being especially sharper after that.

Please ask any questions for clarifications, I promise I am going to be more concise next time emoticon

RE: Is someone willing to diagnose my practice?
Answer
6/10/19 8:51 AM as a reply to Griffin.
For what it's worth, the stages are really easy to apply when on a retreat and this is the context in which this map was developed. Imagine lots of young monk sitting on their first rains retreats (~3 months, not necessarily all spent meditating). It would be a fairly difficult thing for a young adult to go through, fairly intense, and likely to bring out a lot of psychological stuff. So the nanas are a way of mapping that particular experience... 

Does it work for other situations? Mostly yes, but also no. We have to rely on self reporting, generally speaking. So if the meditator doesn't "see" these stages, it might be hard to diagnose. Also if the meditator isn't really meditating a lot, then it could be that they stay in Mind Body/Cause and Effect/3 Characteristics and really that's all that can be said. Even a classic dark night yogi, post A&P, that isn't practicing will tend to drop back down to MB/CE/3C althought there is a natural tendency for a dark night yogi to touch on the dukka nanas periodically.

Honestly, dark night yogi is so classic for anyone hanging on this board that it's almost a 80% chance that it is the case. Yes, it's completely also consistent with depression, post-trauma, bipolar, mania, etc etc and so it makes no sense to completely attribute it to some meditation thing ---- but then again meditation has also been around a lot longer than psychological diagnoses, so it's also interesting to ponder how much of "sprituality" is a ancient form of post trauma healing and a framework for cognitive development... 

It's interesting to notice how much of manic/depression cycles are similar to dark night cycles. It's interesting to watch the mind go through this while on retreat where you can really observe how the mind creates problems that are not there, as a dysfunctional form of coping with uncertainty... it's a wild thing to observe happing in your own mind, while sitting in a beautiful mediation room, on nice soft cushions, being served vegetarian food three times a day, wow -- where does all this drama and suffering come from? All I can say is that there is a certain kind of logic the mind has, even when it is completely dysfunctional, but it takes a lot of sitting and observing to tease it out and notice: oh, the mind/ego is just trying to protect itself from fear and shame and "others"....

I don't have a diagnosis for you, but you are thinking about this in the right way. Lots of possible diagnoses, which one is right? These things become obvious over time, especially if someone becomes a dedicated meditator, someone who sets aside an hour or two everyday, and who continues off-cushion to observe the way the mind makes the future into hope and fear and makes the past into pride and shame. Not everyone will do this, but it's what folks on this board have found to be make a big difference in their life and development.

Don't worry too much about dark night stages. They really don't have to be awful and if you approach practice with the right intention and attitude, it's more like going through psychological therapy. Lots shit comes up, memories and feelings, but it's more of a "digesting" of those past experiences and an "acceptance" of our future fears. Having mediation friends and teachers helps alot to normalize this stuff. Otherwise it can be very strange and somewhat scary to do this on our own. It's easy to convince ourself, "I'm broken" "this is damaging me" "I should have never started practicing" but that's all the scary feelings that come with growing beyond our normal habits and limitations. It does feel at times like the old sense of self is dying and that we're becoming nothing... but you would never even notice an advanced meditator if you passed them on the street. They're basically as normal as anyone else, except they have left their a lot of their psychological garbage behind...

The big difference between meditation and therapy is that sitting in meditation has a way of bringing forward/into consciouness the material that somehow needs to be seen. Therapy, with all of it's different models, works really well when someone has a specific problem... but it can be hit or miss when someone just feels like they are being dragged down somehow or not quite reaching their maximum potential sanity. So meditation is interesting because it become like the mind healing the mind (and through this you really learn to see the natural intelligence of the mind and can learn to trust it.) With a good therapist, of course many things are possible and a good therapist leading the healing is also very effective.. With a good therapist AND a meditation practice, people make very very fast progress...

So, just an encouragement to keep going with practice and explore lots of different mapping systems. Definitely make sure you remain somewhat cynical and doubtful --- that makes for better practice than blind belief in dogma.

Best wishes!

RE: Is someone willing to diagnose my practice?
Answer
6/15/19 7:45 AM as a reply to shargrol.
Dear Shargrol,

Thank you very much for your answer!

Having mediation friends and teachers helps alot to normalize this stuff. Otherwise it can be very strange and somewhat scary to do this on our own. It's easy to convince ourself, "I'm broken" "this is damaging me" "I should have never started practicing" but that's all the scary feelings that come with growing beyond our normal habits and limitations.

This “normalization” is really useful. Just reading that sentence makes me feel better.

I decided to find a therapist, it can’t hurt. These negative periods really suck. For example, feeling of anxiety in the morning (pressure in the chest region), or subtle feeling of aversion without any apparent cause (aversive thoughts about external circumstances come after the feeling has already started). When you feel peaceful and at ease, there is some background subtle muscular relaxation happening through the body, but you cannot identify one specific place where it happens – you just feel generally nice, life feels good. Well, this aversion is exactly the opposite – there is some subtle but painful “tightness”, like some resistant energy spreading through me and angrily saying “NO” to something. When I let my attention be mindlessly absorbed (surfing the internet, talking with someone) I stop noticing this aversion, it seems like it disappears.

RE: Is someone willing to diagnose my practice?
Answer
6/15/19 7:55 AM as a reply to Griffin.
The kind of observations that you describe here is hopefully useful for progression through the nanas. Best wishes for your practice!

RE: Is someone willing to diagnose my practice?
Answer
6/15/19 8:34 AM as a reply to Griffin.
Griffin:
I decided to find a therapist, it can’t hurt. These negative periods really suck. For example, feeling of anxiety in the morning (pressure in the chest region), or subtle feeling of aversion without any apparent cause (aversive thoughts about external circumstances come after the feeling has already started). When you feel peaceful and at ease, there is some background subtle muscular relaxation happening through the body, but you cannot identify one specific place where it happens – you just feel generally nice, life feels good. Well, this aversion is exactly the opposite – there is some subtle but painful “tightness”, like some resistant energy spreading through me and angrily saying “NO” to something. When I let my attention be mindlessly absorbed (surfing the internet, talking with someone) I stop noticing this aversion, it seems like it disappears.

That's great your looking for a therapist and totally makes sense. You have a pretty clear hunch about what is happing and you are developing an awareness of how it happens in your body/mind. A therapist will help you keep exploring and uncovering how it works and why it happens...  It takes a little work, but when your'e motivated it is more like adventure, and when you come out the otherside it's like a burden (a burden that was a lot bigger than you appreciated) has been lifted. Best wishes!!

RE: Is someone willing to diagnose my practice?
Answer
6/15/19 4:01 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Thank you Linda!

When I think about it, the difference between my “good phases” and “bad phases” is really apparent, also when it comes to practice in daily life (of course, most of the days are “in the middle”). On “good days” I have much motivation to keep mindfulness in daily life – it feels pleasant to curiously focus on objects and to be aware, there is even this subtle feeling that reality and ability to be aware are kind of magical, life itself feels rich and interesting. (Meditations are pleasant, but there are no mind-blowing explosion events).

On “bad days”, the situation is quite the opposite – any attempt to willingly and mindfully direct attention feels subtly painful. The breath becomes hardly recognizable and seems “small”, elusive and shallow. This may be related to some notions about the ability to focus in Dark night (?). I don’t notice that peripheral awareness becomes especially clear either, but the ability to focus tightly is hampered – focusing on small spots feels bad and doesn’t have the calming effect.

If anyone has any additional questions about these experiences, so we can clarify whether any of this is related to nanas, please feel free to ask.

RE: Is someone willing to diagnose my practice?
Answer
6/16/19 4:24 AM as a reply to Griffin.
Yes, the conditions vary greatly and that’s beyond our control. What we can do is continuing to stay present to our experience as it is. If it’s too much to bear and that is threatening to our balance and/or makes us behave badly, it’s important to rest and to be compassionate towards ourselves so that we can be compassionate towards others (and if we can’t feel compassionate towards ourselves, we can try to be accepting of that).

Diagnosing others is risky business and I really don’t know whether it is dukkha nanas or the three characteristics or something else. I find that it is helpful to get to know some personal landmarks that are reoccurring. I have had landmarks that I couldn’t place on any map but that were significant for me, and later I learned more about what they might have been. Find your own landmarks based on your own experience and get to know the quirks of your own journey and your own mind (I’m using a duality language here in lack of better words). Be specific and precise in your descriptions if you are into mapping. Then, sooner ot later, you will find a way to translate your phenomenology to the maps.

As for clarity, sometimes hindrances in the form of dullness prevent me from seeing where there is clarity. Other hindrances can likely do the same. I often have difficulties finding any clarity in dissolution as that phase tends to give me brain fog and apathy. There have been moments, though, when the periphery has stood out brilliantly in dissolution. Those experiences were amazing because they challenged my perception in ways that A&P doesn’t, and very much thanks to the centerlessness and the dissolving of phenomena. I suppose that different hindrances are more prominent in different phases. Try to identify the hindrances and challenges of every phase and every moment. That’s a way to learn.