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Experiences so far - thoughts?
Answer
6/26/19 6:49 AM
Hi all!

I’ve had some experiences etc. during my last years of practice that I’m curious to hear your opinion about. First of all, it’s very cool that a platform like this exists – and thank you in advance for engaging!

I started meditating infrequently, and reading about Buddhism and meditation, when I was around 17 (I'm 36 today). Whatever practice I’ve engaged with in group settings has been in zen (groups and retreats) and there has not been a lot of focus on the understanding of experiences, shifts etc. on the path. But I’ve been interested in the work of the pragmatic dharma movement for a fairly long time as well and curious about what has been going on and how to interpret it in contexts like MCTB. This curiousity was further triggered by a recent experience that I will describe near the end. I’m interested in maps not as gospel truths and I am aware of the risk of conforming experience to maps, but I also do see value in comparing notes and identifying generalizable experiences.

A few years later, I was sitting by myself one evening, and suddenly, everything around me appeared utterly strange and mysterious. Nothing visual as such, but the idea that these objects etc. were just self-evident and ‘normal’ was completely gone, and I couldn’t stop laughing for half an hour. A very memorable experience that I felt gave me a new perspective on reality and life as fundamentally ‘non-normal’ and mysterious, and that thought back to many times since.

Around 5 years ago, I went on several 5 day retreats in the Chinese Zen (Chan) tradition, sitting about 6 hours per day. The following experiences occurred across these retreats (I don’t know the order of these precisely, but I’ve ordered them as best as I can). For context about how I interpreted all of this at the time, Zen teachers had taught me that strange experiences can happen during meditation and that I should just accept them and not make too much of it (now I’m more curious):

  • After a long time simply sitting with thoughts disappearing to the background, with a lot of focus and silence, but with a very ‘normal’ sense of myself as the source of attention. After a time, however, this focused sense of self started to fall apart and become ambient, as if the sense of self was everywhere in the room. Still with a lot of quietness to it. At the end of the sitting period, this sense disappeared and my normal, more located awareness came back.
  • While doing walking meditation between sessions of sitting, the boundaries of my own experience and that of the rest of my environment seemed to melt away - in a kind ‘spectacular’ and psychedelic ‘wow’ way, very dynamic, as in, the environment and my own body seemed very fluid (very different from the quiet sense of ambient consciousness described above). It was very strange to walk around like that (it was a silent retreat but my then girlfriend who was with me asked me later what the hell happened because I was just sitting there at the dinner table with this extremely wide-eyed, shocked look in my face which must have been very funny to see emoticon ). This experience faded after about an hour. 
  • Another moment during walking meditation between sitting sessions, I felt all my fear fall away. I had this utter sense of trusting the world and everything, being stripped of levels of fear that I never even knew were there. I remember looking at the ground around me and just utterly trusting it. Something that lasted for about half an hour.
  • Another moment during meditation, the sense came to me that I was made of little microscopic flakes of energy, and that if these would shift a little, everything would open up. I shifted them into a slightly different angle, and I had this massive explosion of joyous sensation throughout my body, almost too much to handle.
After these retreat experiences, and while getting back into an intense work rhythm, I had a rather frightening experience of dissociation – I was on skype with a colleague designing a rather complicated project, and I suddenly felt like I was not doing any of this – I was still talking, making plans, making jokes, but I felt entirely disconnected from the process and like I was observing myself, not in the ‘weaker’ sense of being aware that these actions are not fundamentally what I’m about, but in the stronger sense of being fully dissociated from them. I experienced this as very stressful at the time.

After this, I went through about 1.5 years of challenging life stuff, dealing with a lot of work and ending a long-term relationship (which ended harmoniously because we realized that though there was a lot of love there, we were too different as people in terms of needs, energy levels and such). Keeping practice going was hard around this time, but at the same time my interest in practice grew more and more and other interests paled in comparison. During this time I had profound existential insecurities, hard to untangle to what degree they were the result or cause of life conditions - most likely, both. I did suspect that I had somehow fucked up my existential security through meditation, though.

After the end of my long-term relationship, as happens so often, I got back seriously into practice, and sat with groups more often.

Then, recently, I met a friend of a friend who had had a very intense awakening experience of some sort (mapping on to A&P and probably subsequent stages over time), which seemed to linger profoundly in her every day experience – which she described as giving her relatively easy and frequent access to what could be described  as a ‘non-dual’ perspective or state. While she was describing all of this to me in a way that was very clear, engaging, and came across as very much still embodied, this seemed to trigger to me a return to the state(s) I had experienced during retreats a few years ago. I really felt like I was ‘back’ in a perspective that I had not been in since then. I would describe it as a great sense of peace, a sudden absence of the importance of narratives about self, a self-perception which saw ‘me’ as a process and simply part of everything rather than the anchor for my existence, a sense of connection with everything and everyone around me. The difference with previous experiences, however, was that the next day, I was still fully in this state or perspective – and it lasted for about 1.5 weeks, which were filled with profound calmness, clarity and energy.

After these 1.5 weeks, I noticed that fears, worries etc. started slipping back in and gaining energy, and over about a day, I slipped out of the perspective again. Since this happened, however, I have had moments in and after meditation, when I turn awareness to the experience of the ‘me’, where this sense of me starts falling apart or dissolving, and I’m back in the other state for an hour or so. In general, the switch between perspectives seems to waver between the two, like a door which opens a little now and then, pretty far at other times, et cetera. My new friend and I have discussed this quite a bit. Fascinating stuff to be going through. I’d love to hear any thoughts on this, whether there is anything I should watch out for, etc. - right now I’m just continuing to sit; and to play around and experimenting with my awareness and experience of reality as it goes. But there is a strong sense of having been permanently snapped out of something. It's hard to untangle because I have also been dealing with breakup heartache more generally, and the processing of that can also jump around and perhaps suddenly resolve at certain times. But it definitely seems to be more than that.

Final bit of context – I’m a researcher and teacher in the field of sustainability (particularly the construction of futures and how it impacts action on the present) and I’m interested in the link between contemplative practice and that kind of work as well. I have a bit of background in neuroscience as a biologist (though that’s rusty and outdated) so there’s some of that interest too. So the interest in this stuff goes a bit beyond the personal experience only, keen to see what can be learned about mind and the world etc. in a broader sense and how this relates to dealing with the problems of our time.

Thanks all!
Joost

RE: Experiences so far - thoughts?
Answer
6/26/19 7:39 AM as a reply to Joost.
Joost, welcome! I’ll dive in even though there are far more experienced and worthy ones here to get advice from. The 4th of your bullet points, about microscopic points of energy and then an explosion of joy, is textbook A&P event. Then the dark and difficult stuff and big life changes afterwards is classic Dark Night following the A&P. Good news is this is all completely normal for a yogi who works well and gains ground in the practice. Not so good news is it means DN is going to be around for a while, at least until you can push the practice beyond it.

All the best with your ongoing efforts!

RE: Experiences so far - thoughts?
Answer
6/26/19 9:39 AM as a reply to Paul.
Thanks a lot, Paul! Really appreciate you taking the time to read my notes.

What do you think of this most recent event/shift/however you want to call it? The week and a half or so of state change that seems to have broken off what you say sounds like DN territory? Equanimity maybe? This was a few weeks ago - maybe too early to say?

It might be useful to give a bit more detail about this recent experience of a few weeks ago (apologies as I continue to edit this a bit to provide more remembered details): as the conversation with my new friend about her awakening experience progressed, and I listened intently, there was a defined moment where I felt a suddent shift or switch and a kind of 'oh! wait a minute' experience and I was quite suddenly pretty fully in this different perspective. Later that evening we discussed my recent troubles (breakup and tough work challenges) and I saw them very differently as well, still as tragic but no longer as something to be identified with or defined by. Everything seemed extremely calm and profoundly ok, even if it was not on some initial level.

As this state persisted for the next week and a half, I felt better and more at peace than I had felt in years. Like a big weight had been lifted. The whole time, I had this profoundly mentally quiet but at the same time very energetic, bouncy, jokey vibe. I had a hangover from a beer-filled evening but it didn't seem to affect my mood at all as it normally might have done. During this 1.5 weeks I also felt quite different about interacting with people. I seemed to see their behaviors much more clearly, felt like was better able to read what was up with them emotionally, something like that. Music seemed much clearer and more vivid, because a lot of mental noise or storytelling had resolved to create a lot of space for the experience of listening.

One thing I noticed is that I suddenly lost all urgency around needing to sit (though I still did it).

Since then, though this extreme clarity, calmness and expansion beyond normal Joosting mental activities seems to have disappeared to some degree, and identification with narratives associated with sadness has re-appeared here and there, it does appear like the other perspective just around the corner and might be accessed pretty easily - and it occasionally re-appears in full.

RE: Experiences so far - thoughts?
Answer
7/2/19 11:43 AM as a reply to Joost.
Just a quick bump - curious about any other thoughts! emoticon

RE: Experiences so far - thoughts?
Answer
7/2/19 2:14 PM as a reply to Joost.
Every one of those bullet points is textbook A&P. You have some very good descriptions of A&P, Dark Night, and Equanimity - the feeling of coming up from under water, everything being ok, and no longer wanting to practice are all good signs of Equanimity nana.

Try to sit at least couple hours a day. Can you go on any retreats soon? Even self-retreats? Even just for a few days?

I find the best thing to do in Equanimity is to ask to be shown things: "show me my suffering. Show me the difference between effort and surrender. Show me the true nature of who I am." Then just let it develop.

RE: Experiences so far - thoughts?
Answer
7/2/19 7:57 PM as a reply to Joost.
Joost:
Hi all!


I started meditating infrequently, and reading about Buddhism and meditation, when I was around 17 (I'm 36 today). 
Thanks all!



Joosta


happy birthday...

RE: Experiences so far - thoughts?
Answer
7/3/19 6:00 AM as a reply to Joost.
@JC Thanks a lot! I've got a six day retreat with many hours of sitting per day coming up in about 1.5 months time; and will probably organize something at my home (where we sit together every week with a little group of people) in the meantime. Your questions are also really helpful suggestions, will work with those. I appreciate you thinking about this.

@Terry - thanks ;)