Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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Eran G, modified 10 Years ago.

Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

Posts: 182 Join Date: 1/5/10 Recent Posts
Recently spent 20 days on retreat in Bodhgaya. Following is a bit of a report. I’d love to hear opinions of my analysis of my progress and advice on what to do next.

My practice was a balance of the following approaches:
1. Anapanasati as taught by ajhan Budhadassa: starting with the breath to a reasonable level of samadhi then turning to look at impermanence and not-self then slowly letting go and watching the result of that.
2. Noting practice with a strong focus on the breath up to what I believe is Knowledge of Equanimity when the focus tends to open up on its own. Following on the advice of U Jotika in “Map to the Journey” focus on seeing only one of the 3 characteristics in just one of the aggregates.

Additionally I found that doing some Metta practice was helpful in being open to whatever comes up and having more capacity to trust and let go.

A typical sit (doing either of the methods described above) would progress through the stages with the early stages becoming clearer and clearer with time but most of the dark night being remaining a big jumble of unpleasantness. At some point in DN there is usually a respite, feeling like the unpleasantness is done only to get thrown back into it. After this the switch to Equanimity is more gradual, slowly opening up the focus, noticing that sensations are no longer unpleasant, noticing the space, noticing the body fading away and then starting to see not-self in every sensation and the gradual letting go that comes with that. At this point I would try different approaches:

Focusing on impermanence in the breath and in the body or focusing on not-self in the body (at some point tried the same with thoughts as well) usually leads to a feeling like the mind is slowly letting go of all of this (the conditioned) and is starting to grab onto something else (not sure what). The grip on the mundane experience of the world is slowly slipping, the sense of the body is becoming weaker and weaker almost as if all I can see of this world is what I can catch out of the corner of my eye. This would last for a few seconds or a few moments. Eventually though I tend to get distracted either by excitement, grasping at what may come next or impatience. I got better at seeing those sensation arising and noting them but would eventually miss too much and get caught up.

Once or twice, tried to focus on Dukkha by seeing all sensations as Dukkha. Going through some deeply uncomfortable stuff but eventually a feeling of letting go, white lights and then a sensation that I can only describe as being beamed out of my body. Eventually this stopped and I was back to a general sense of samadhi.

Another approach I tried many times was letting go of whatever comes up or whatever I could think of. Usually start with letting go of the body, then of different parts of the mind (narrating thoughts, the witness, craving to experience nibbana, perception, etc.). Initially things would only stay dropped for a few seconds but later it seems that I could let go of some things and let them be for longer periods of time (maybe a couple of minutes). This would sometimes results in a sense of disconnected awareness floating in sensations. Other times feeling like the body slowly drops away and the mind is starting to slowly shut down feeling like falling asleep but still very awake and clearly aware. Ending up in a state that I think is similar to 7th jhana except with thoughts still arising.

Really unsure what to do next. I’m mostly resolved to just keep doing the same, working on letting go of the desire to be done with all this stuff and just sitting with whatever is but I would really love to have a clearer idea of what’s going on and what to do with it.

Thanks for reading!
Eran.
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tarin greco, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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in the later parts of equanimity stage, the integration of physical and mental phenomena (as causal occurrences happening on their own) near completion, the sense of which is of being lost in a very quiet daydream or of slowly falling asleep.. the quality of fabricating (via exertion) is completely absent. if you've ever been the last one to leave an empty office where, having stayed late into the evening to finish, you now find yourself in the quiet of closing up and shutting off the lights, appreciating the serenity and stillness of the once-familiar environs, you will know what i mean.. leaving the building is a matter of due course, and so there is no push, no hurry, to do so, as the drift through the motions carries a sense of the ordinary, with no extraneous awareness of its extraordinary nature (as there is, from that perspective, neither anything extraordinary nor any awareness extraneous).

high equanimity is a diy sort of territory, and so advice here is of limited value. that said, having a subtle or background awareness of any of the three characteristics may be helpful. and don't forget that awareness, just like anything else, can also be noted ('let go of').

tarin
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Eran G, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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Thank you for your reply, Tarin.

Your description and some of my experiences bring up a question. How does one know if one is progressing towards cessation or into the formless realms? Of course it might be possible to reach the first while going through the later but I get the feeling that this is not the common route.

Eran.
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tarin greco, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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Eran G:
Thank you for your reply, Tarin.

you're welcome.


Eran G:

Your description and some of my experiences bring up a question. How does one know if one is progressing towards cessation or into the formless realms?

chiefly, by the method of one's practice. for example: if one attends to the general characteristics[1] of sensation(s) here and now, then one is progressing towards cessation ... whereas if one attends to the characteristics of formless sensations and the sensations of form fall away, one moves into the formless realms.

the two can occur simultaneously, of course (via attending to the general characteristics of formless sensations).


Eran G:

Of course it might be possible to reach the first while going through the later (...)

stream-entry is brought about by the conformity knowledge (anuloma-nana) brought about by experiencing a formation with sufficient clarity and insight (as brings about conformity knowledge). whether or not the formation leading to conformity is dominated by formlessness (which is simply a circumstantial matter), it will at least likely comprise some formless sensations, as they (formless sensations) are both abundant and most evident in equanimity knowledge.

thus, it is not only possible to reach stream-entry by going through the formless realms, and is in fact most probable that if the former occurs, the latter will also have.


Eran G:

(...) but I get the feeling that this is not the common route.

why do you get this feeling?

tarin

[1] the three characteristics.
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Jackson Wilshire, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

Posts: 97 Join Date: 5/6/09 Recent Posts
tarin greco:
in the later parts of equanimity stage, the integration of physical and mental phenomena (as causal occurrences happening on their own) near completion, the sense of which is of being lost in a very quiet daydream or of slowly falling asleep.. the quality of fabricating (via exertion) is completely absent. if you've ever been the last one to leave an empty office where, having stayed late into the evening to finish, you now find yourself in the quiet of closing up and shutting off the lights, appreciating the serenity and stillness of the once-familiar environs, you will know what i mean.. leaving the building is a matter of due course, and so there is no push, no hurry, to do so, as the drift through the motions carries a sense of the ordinary, with no extraneous awareness of its extraordinary nature (as there is, from that perspective, neither anything extraordinary nor any awareness extraneous).

high equanimity is a diy sort of territory, and so advice here is of limited value. that said, having a subtle or background awareness of any of the three characteristics may be helpful. and don't forget that awareness, just like anything else, can also be noted ('let go of').


Tarin, this is all quite beautifully put.

This arriving at a place of non-fashioning can be described in different ways. One of the ways that it unfolds for me is that the fixation with thoughts and the thinking process ("fabricating via exertion" as you said) seems to drop. What's left, albeit temporarily, is the perception of being the container of experience. Thoughts, including the usual sense of "I", appear within this perceived space of knowing. Thinking becomes disorganized, as without the intention to be directed they just sort of sputter about. From here, just paying attention to the perception of my being some kind of container of experience is enough for it to either dissolve or pop. Recognizing it as a perception, and not as some fundamental reality, is key.

In terms of the five khandas, high equanimity is the culmination of having shed attachments to form, feeling, mental formations, and the perceptions of any of those things being I, Me, or Mine. What can remain (for me, anyway) is the perception that consciousness is I, Me, or Mine. When one comprehends that this too is merely a perception, the clinging mechanism* ceases to function. The resulting experience of the way things are as such is ineffable.

I don't know for sure if any of that relates to what you were saying, but I think it does.

Jackson

*I realize using a term like "mechanism" can seem like a bad match for phenomenological descriptions, as it sounds a bit Newtonian. I hope the message is received as intended, in spite of my use of a term that is so blatantly anachronistic.
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tarin greco, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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Jackson Wilshire:
tarin greco:
in the later parts of equanimity stage, the integration of physical and mental phenomena (as causal occurrences happening on their own) near completion, the sense of which is of being lost in a very quiet daydream or of slowly falling asleep.. the quality of fabricating (via exertion) is completely absent. if you've ever been the last one to leave an empty office where, having stayed late into the evening to finish, you now find yourself in the quiet of closing up and shutting off the lights, appreciating the serenity and stillness of the once-familiar environs, you will know what i mean.. leaving the building is a matter of due course, and so there is no push, no hurry, to do so, as the drift through the motions carries a sense of the ordinary, with no extraneous awareness of its extraordinary nature (as there is, from that perspective, neither anything extraordinary nor any awareness extraneous).

high equanimity is a diy sort of territory, and so advice here is of limited value. that said, having a subtle or background awareness of any of the three characteristics may be helpful. and don't forget that awareness, just like anything else, can also be noted ('let go of').


Tarin, this is all quite beautifully put.

This arriving at a place of non-fashioning can be described in different ways. One of the ways that it unfolds for me is that the fixation with thoughts and the thinking process ("fabricating via exertion" as you said) seems to drop. What's left, albeit temporarily, is the perception of being the container of experience. Thoughts, including the usual sense of "I", appear within this perceived space of knowing. Thinking becomes disorganized, as without the intention to be directed they just sort of sputter about. From here, just paying attention to the perception of my being some kind of container of experience is enough for it to either dissolve or pop. Recognizing it as a perception, and not as some fundamental reality, is key.

In terms of the five khandas, high equanimity is the culmination of having shed attachments to form, feeling, mental formations, and the perceptions of any of those things being I, Me, or Mine. What can remain (for me, anyway) is the perception that consciousness is I, Me, or Mine. When one comprehends that this too is merely a perception, the clinging mechanism* ceases to function. The resulting experience of the way things are as such is ineffable.

I don't know for sure if any of that relates to what you were saying, but I think it does.

long time no see, jackson ... and yes, it does.


Jackson Wilshire:

*I realize using a term like "mechanism" can seem like a bad match for phenomenological descriptions, as it sounds a bit Newtonian. I hope the message is received as intended, in spite of my use of a term that is so blatantly anachronistic.

'mechanism' functions fine for me here (though anachronism, in general, may be best saved for later paths).

tarin
Sean Lindsay, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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tarin greco:
'mechanism' functions fine for me here (though anachronism, in general, may be best saved for later paths).


lollol
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Eran G, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

Posts: 182 Join Date: 1/5/10 Recent Posts
Hey guys,

Thanks for the help so far, it has been a good way to guide my practice. 

I'm on another retreat now, 10 more days to go or something like that. Would love some answers to a few questions:

In equanimity, experience drops away to mostly spacious emptiness and awareness. Then the large spacious field of awareness dwindles down to a space large enough to contain the breath most sensations after that appear in that space. Initially the breath with some thoughts, feelings, etc later lights flickering and vibrations. There is still the sense of someone knowing this experience. I try to get the mind to mostly just be in that space, noting sensations that might be distracting like fear, tension or craving but trying not to add anything or push away anything. Does that seem like the right thing to do? Experience does seem to become increasingly subtle as I do this so it seems to match tarin's "last one leaving the building" metaphor. 

When noting "knowing" or "awareness" the whole field starts to float, like the camera is loose. Soon after it stabilizes again. Does that sound like actually letting go of the knowing? Even temporarily?

Am I waiting for all of experience to fall away, becoming almost absorbed in that small field of annica? 

Thanks for your help!
Eran
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tarin greco, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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Eran G:
Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

if you're looking to get to conformity knowledge, keep noticing the three characteristics...


Eran G:

When noting "knowing" or "awareness" the whole field starts to float, like the camera is loose. Soon after it stabilizes again. Does that sound like actually letting go of the knowing? Even temporarily?

what that sounds like is a deep (dys)synchrony in the field of experience.

see mctb, the progess of insight, equanimity (emphasis added):

MCTB:

When the fourth vipassana jhana is first attained, subtle mental sensations might again “split off” from “this side,” much as in the way of the Knowledge of Mind and Body, but with the Three Characteristics of phenomena and the space they are a part of being breathtakingly clear. Until mental and physical sensations fully synchronize on “that side,” there can be a bit of a “tri-ality,” in which there is the sense of the observer “on this side,” and nearly the whole of body and mind as two fluxing entities “over there.” As mental phenomena and physical phenomena gradually integrate with the sense of luminous space, this experientially begs the question, “What is observing formations?” at a level that is way beyond just talking about it. (...)

Formations are so inclusive that they viscerally demonstrate what is pointed to by the concept of “no-self” in a way that no other mode of experiencing reality can. As formations become predominant, we are faced first with the question of which side of the dualistic split we are on and then with the question of what is watching what earlier appeared to be both sides. Just keep investigating in a natural and matter-of-fact way. Let this profound dance unfold. If you have gotten to this point, you are extraordinarily close and need to do very little but relax and be gently curious about your experience.



Eran G:

Am I waiting for all of experience to fall away, becoming almost absorbed in that small field of annica? 

waiting, waiting...

almost, almost...

(keep going..)
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Eran G, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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That appears to be working!

I stayed in that space, aware of body and mind and slowly letting go of both. The flickering light grew until it encompasses the whole body. Mind objects are seen almost immediately and let go, mindfulness can be very fast at this point. I noticed pain in the heart center and feelings of sadness and loneliness. deciding that those are caused by the separation of self and other, I focused on them for a while, contemplating that. Then mostly back to noticing what's on this side and what's on the other with the pain fluctuating all the time. Last thing to go was some sensations of tension around the face and then it seemed like everything was, like you said, other. Nothing I could sense was held on to as self, the pain was mostly gone and greatly diminished when not present. I could not point to any clear moment of cessation or strong joy or a sense of closure so I kept trying to get to a moment of conformity, mostly by focusing on impermanence in the breath. I don't thing that ever happened but my experience right now is definitely different. The attachment to the observer is greatly diminished. I can sense someone looking through my eyes but the feeling is much weaker and the mind tends to wander away from that sensation within a few seconds. Generally feeling joyful and less attached. 

Please note that at my previous retreat I've had a similar experience of "no clinging mind" that lasted for a couple of hours. 

Looking at my current experience again, it seems the mind jumps back and forth from experience to the sense of self every couple of seconds. When shifting to the self, the same pain and contraction arise. This definitely matches Daniel's description in MCTB. 

What comes next? I thought seeing through the observer may be enough but it seems like more is needed?
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tarin greco, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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Eran G:

I stayed in that space, aware of body and mind and slowly letting go of both. The flickering light grew until it encompasses the whole body.

'let go of' (notice) the flickering light..


Eran G:

Mind objects are seen almost immediately and let go, mindfulness can be very fast at this point. I noticed pain in the heart center and feelings of sadness and loneliness. deciding that those are caused by the separation of self and other, I focused on them for a while, contemplating that. Then mostly back to noticing what's on this side and what's on the other with the pain fluctuating all the time. Last thing to go was some sensations of tension around the face and then it seemed like everything was, like you said, other. Nothing I could sense was held on to as self, the pain was mostly gone and greatly diminished when not present. I could not point to any clear moment of cessation or strong joy or a sense of closure so I kept trying to get to a moment of conformity, mostly by focusing on impermanence in the breath.

'let go of' (notice) the effort..


Eran G:

Looking at my current experience again, it seems the mind jumps back and forth from experience to the sense of self every couple of seconds. When shifting to the self, the same pain and contraction arise. This definitely matches Daniel's description in MCTB.

as a quick aside, would you point me to the description in MCTB you're referring to (then set it aside afterwards)?


Eran G:

What comes next? I thought seeing through the observer may be enough but it seems like more is needed?

'let go of' (notice) the seeing through..

keep 'letting go of' (noticing) everything/anything until there's nothing more to 'let go of' (notice)... then 'let go of' (forget) that too
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Eran G, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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The MCTB section I was referring to is the description of formations with the mind blanking out for a moment and referring to the self. This experience felt like a slow version of that. I think I may have just had a real time experience of that while walking. 

Current experience: definitely cycling. Noticing the stages during walking meditation (which is very rare for me). Progressing through the stages with eyes closed while just noticing the breath. Noting sessions start at a&p and the mind is exceedingly clear. Still experiencing reduced sense of self. No clear fruitions yet: the mind appears to be building up towards a fruition (energy rising and vibrations increasing in equanimity/4j) often getting to be quite unbearable. I've had a few moments of "was that it?" (small discontinuity experience but not clear) and several times going into this seizure-like thing where the eyes roll back and tension builds up around the eyes for a few seconds until it's released. I've been experiencing these for a few months now, since right before what I consider an a&p moment (experiencing breathtaking unity of all experience followed by big emotional sense of relief). Not sure what to make of this. 
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tarin greco, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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1) i was cycling between a&p and equanimity for half a year before i hit conformity (and thus stream-entry).

2) after it happened, i had no doubt that what had just occurred had been entirely unprecedented in my experience, and yet i was not sure that that was 'it' for days.

do you want practice advice, or would you prefer to watch things unfold however they do?
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Eran G, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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I would like more than anything a sense of closure on the thing. Which means more practice and more advice (please). 

Sat earlier today with your previous advice in mind. As I understand it, note everything until it's all other and then let it just be. 

For the most part I'm able to note the desire to let go of it all or to experience a specific state as it arises. Sometime I do find it has been trailing in my mind for a bit and then let go of it. 

As for effort, I rarely notice it to be able to note it. searching for effort (or anything else) would just be noted as well so, I don't think that's the way to go. It may be more palpable in later stages when I feel I'm straining to keep still sometimes. 

I notice bits of the body sometimes claimed as self, let go and later they show up again. I notice awareness, spaciousness, sense of time, distance, direction, location of "self", most are too vague for me to tell if they're self or other. Thoughts, craving, pain, feelings are easier to note. 

The sense of a knower is sometimes on this side, sometimes the other. I can't say if noting actually has much of an effect on it. When on this side I note it, watch it dissipate and the rise again in less then a second.

The focus through a lot of this is actually pretty wide making it feel like there's too much to keep track of. Sometimes it narrows, sometimes it starts to fade as it narrows (sensations are harder to notice, some gone) I note blurry at this point. After a while things fade back in. 

Does it matter how wide/narrow my focus is?

Am I missing something obvious? 

Any other advice is appreciated. I want to be sure this is done. 
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tarin greco, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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how has practice the past week been?
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Eran G, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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The last week of retreat was mostly marked with craving and overcoming craving (for a clear fruition, that is), with clear seeing into the emptiness of the body (at times it feels actually hollow, other times seen clearly as not me and not mine), an open heart, ease and calm.

My sittings would either follow the emptiness of the body, arriving at refined moments of very little experience, some lights, some awariness, body sensations fading out and then back in,trying to note just whatever presents itself but often getting trippednup by craving, impatience, excitement.

The other path follows the breath and the changing visual field into a similar experience with mostly the arising and passing of the breath, some light fluxing around, awareness and often the sense of the watcher is here as well, possibly related to the tension that this path often creates in the body (especially the face). Doing this With "just sitting" instead of noting the breath was longer and more painful (during dark night, that is) yielded clearer seeing but was also draining as it took about 2hrs to go through.

I've had a couple more possible fruitions, all while lying in bed in the dark so it's hard to tell if there really was a discontinuity but all were marked with a clear sense of what-was-that? Followed by a sense of relief or joy washing over the body.

It would be nice to be able to call this clearly one way or another but the need to know has disappeared and so I'm just fine either way. There still is now (2 days out of retreat) a reduction in suffering, reduction in sense of self and a real sense of calm and acceptance.
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Nikolai *, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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Congrats! emoticon
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Eran G, modified 9 Years ago.

RE: Retreat report: Hovering in Equanimity. What next?

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After a long sit looking at impermanence and wondering about that weird drop at the end of breath sensation I finally gave up and asked for an insight into the impermanence of self. The following vision arose:

A pulsing going in and out of my chest, specifically the heart center. Whenever the pulse goes into the heart, a feeling of clinging and unpleasantness. When it goes out, the clinging is let go and a sense of relief. Looking closer, I could see that this is the process of clinging to the idea of a self and letting go of that. I tried looking closer at one of the clinging sensations and ended up holding on to it, experiencing the pain and suffering that comes with clinging to the self. Noting suffering, suffering and trying to relax the mind and just be with the sensation. After a while, a shift, all that went away then 3 distinct drop outs in the blackness (feeling 1s apart or a bit less) then a longer pause. During that pause one of those seizure-like moments that I described above started. I relaxed the mind and got back to blackness. A little more and then a flash of bright white that turned into less bright white with some random snow effect. Last, a feeling of (to borrow Florian's term) sobriety. That's all.

No repeats since, the mind feels tired, trying different ways to yield a fruition did not work yet. I'm feeling more optimistic about this one. Definitely unprecedented in my experience and reminds me of Daniel's doors (the chapter which i reread last night, btw). I'm worried about the almost drop out in the middle (noting clinging, clinging) but time and more practice will tell.

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