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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Where am I, and where should I go?

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Where am I, and where should I go?
Answer
10/22/19 5:10 PM
Disclaimer: near-total newbie here. please don't mind me if it turns out i truly have no idea what i'm doing (that's why i'm here).

I was introduced by a friend to dharma concepts a few weeks ago and have spent the intermediate time furiously reading up on everything I can, understanding (as much as possible) how little I know, and getting started with my own daily practice. She explained to me that her own journey started when she accidentally stumbled upon an A&P event (via 5-meo-dmt) and found herself in the dark night -- and thankfully, had someone to tell her what happened and show her the way.

As I've read through various resources (MCTB, TMI, and so on).... I've started to become a bit concerned that I may have been in the dark night myself for an unknown amount of time. In particular, this quote made me feel extremely called out:

If you are reading this book, then it is likely to have happened for you, as reading a book like this and getting this far into it is the sort of thing that people above the A&P are much more prone to do. ( MCTB )

After all, it's probably not very normal for someone to step back from their as much of their life as possible for literally months, having seemingly dropped all their supposed "ambitions", to try to figure themselves out. And reading through these resources has been very validating -- in part because I can see that some of the insights I've gained (on my own) fit into various concepts along the early stages of the path! In other words, this isn't "i read a bunch of dharma stuff and I now question my life", but rather "I've been questioning my life down to the very nature of my conscious existence for a few months, and the dharma stuff sure makes a lot of it make more sense!"

Some examples of insights I came to on my own include... (note: insights! not knowledge. as in, "this was something that became inituitively obvious to me, and as a result, straightforwardly became a core belief of mine, for better.... or worse"):
  • achieving things is not what makes me happy, that's just not how it works. happiness is in my own head
  • almost all external manifestations of negativity (e.g. hatred, etc) can be traced back to negative ways in which i treat my own thoughts, memories, etc.
  • much of what i dislike about my immediate world is in entirely an artifact of my view of it
  • a distinct awareness of the forces within my head that often seem to work against each other (rather than just a superficial view of the result)
  • a dramatically reduced confidence in the concept of "my self" as a thing that exists
  • etc
I can even pinpoint some possible trigger points (possibly a psychedelic or MDMA trip), but since it's not entirely clear where things started, a better question would probably be: "where am I, and where should I go from here?"

Here are some things I've experienced so far in meditation:

1. Kasina meditation with a flame seems to be much easier to focus on than breath meditation. Within a few minutes I usually am able to enter a state in which the flame doubles-up and my vision focuses instead on the gap between the flames as most of my field of view slowly begins to fade out. I am fully aware that I haven't managed to consistently clear my thoughts in such meditations, though. Either way, I am resolving to do at least one sitting session each day with either kasina or breath meditation, to the best of my ability.

2. Walking meditation (focusing on the sensations of each step) seems surprisingly effective. I recently got into a state where my vision started to slowly swirl with waves of color. Additionally, the ground started to look more "patterned", in a similar way as on LSD ("pattern recognition enhancement"). Maintaining focus seemed easiest of all while walking, perhaps because of the greater stimulation -- I know that I have a chronic problem of being unable to focus on anything that is insufficiently stimulating and I hope that repeating exercises like this on a daily basis can train me towards having more useful concentration for other meditation tasks.

3. I've been trying to use noting as best I can, but there is an odd behavior that I'm not sure what to do with. Under the TMI model (if I understand it correctly), thoughts originate in the subconscious and are brought to conscious awareness, and at that point, we note that the thought has occurred, and in doing so, train the subconscious. But as I note, it starts to feel like my subconscious begins to conjure up thoughts for the express purpose of noting them. Soon it feels as if my thoughts are prefixed with the note itself! For example, I look past a streetlamp outside, and the thought that comes to mind is "Aha! You were thinking about that streetlamp." But I wasn't thinking about the streetlamp until that thought. It feels like some part of my mind is trying to trick me here! Or is it more subtle than that?

tl;dr: i worry i may have stumbled into the the trap of "oops i'm in the dark night with barely any meditation skills whatsoever", much like my friend I mentioned at the start. where do I go from here? how do i find a path that works? is there any particular guidance out there for people who have ended up at this stage with near zero knowledge?

RE: Where am I, and where should I go?
Answer
10/22/19 8:13 PM as a reply to Fiona G.
Fiona G:

3. I've been trying to use noting as best I can, but there is an odd behavior that I'm not sure what to do with. Under the TMI model (if I understand it correctly), thoughts originate in the subconscious and are brought to conscious awareness, and at that point, we note that the thought has occurred, and in doing so, train the subconscious. But as I note, it starts to feel like my subconscious begins to conjure up thoughts for the express purpose of noting them. Soon it feels as if my thoughts are prefixed with the note itself! For example, I look past a streetlamp outside, and the thought that comes to mind is "Aha! You were thinking about that streetlamp." But I wasn't thinking about the streetlamp until that thought. It feels like some part of my mind is trying to trick me here! Or is it more subtle than that?


That kind of behavior can be really frustrating!

You're hoping that you can somehow just freeze time, lay all your current thoughts on the table, and label them one after the other, right? I'm not sure that's possible.

It also seems likely to me that your mind is indeed conjuring up thoughts for the express purpose of noting them. I know my mind has done that many times. This is the kind of thing that minds do, and I don't see it as being a problem. I have found it useful to just try to go with the flow. You might find it useful to try including your physical senses in your noting.

RE: Where am I, and where should I go?
Answer
10/23/19 12:18 AM as a reply to Fiona G.
Hi Fiona,

I once heard a teacher describe an interesting technique they used when a student brought them a similar complaint. The teacher began... to answer... in an... odd... cadence. "Notice how those gaps caught your attention?" The teacher said. "Do that same thing with your thoughts. Focus on the gap between the thoughts. Try to expand the space of those gaps."

Might be an interesting exercise to try emoticon

RE: Where am I, and where should I go?
Answer
10/23/19 8:33 AM as a reply to Fiona G.
Fiona G:

3. I've been trying to use noting as best I can, but there is an odd behavior that I'm not sure what to do with. Under the TMI model (if I understand it correctly), thoughts originate in the subconscious and are brought to conscious awareness, and at that point, we note that the thought has occurred, and in doing so, train the subconscious. But as I note, it starts to feel like my subconscious begins to conjure up thoughts for the express purpose of noting them. Soon it feels as if my thoughts are prefixed with the note itself! For example, I look past a streetlamp outside, and the thought that comes to mind is "Aha! You were thinking about that streetlamp." But I wasn't thinking about the streetlamp until that thought. It feels like some part of my mind is trying to trick me here! Or is it more subtle than that?


You'll likely find it uncomfortable placing too much emphasis on each and every thought. My method was largely around thoughts that took me away from the sensate physical world and into an internal makebelieve world carefully noting when I had returned from that place like so "thoughts". As time went on I learned to see thoughts that were impregnated with sankharic energy - the prior movements of karma. I think what I'm saying is perhaps try to become familiar with thoughts that cause you to feel contracted, tense, overly seperate from others, wanting or pushing away as these are the very thoughts that shape our world. They contain the very same energy that we receive (cause and effect) and becoming aware of these we slowly begin to neutralize their influence over us. This is, as you nicely phrased it "training the subconscious". Many of our thoughts are there for practical purposes and as I currently understand from the field, the restless mind is the very last thing to fall away so build a nice relationship with thoughts but not so nice that they 'run the entire show' for want of a better term. You observe this restlessness yourself as you say, "it starts to feel like my subconscious begins to conjure up thoughts for the express purpose of noting them". This is the restless mind. You could perhaps zoom out a little and see mind from a larger perspective and note so, "restless mind". 

To answer your question about where you are and where you should go: it seems you're intuiting this for yourself. I'm not all that big on stages and maps but as you practice your sense of direction should become more pronounced however, there are many sticky areas for which these places - including Daniels book - are extremely helpful. 

RE: Where am I, and where should I go?
Answer
10/23/19 8:32 AM as a reply to Bardo.
Bardo Cruiser:
...as I currently understand from the field, the restless mind is the very last thing to fall away...


I've still got a ways to go, but I'm sure you're right about this. Beginners think that the restless mind is the first thing that needs to go, but that's nuts.

RE: Where am I, and where should I go?
Answer
10/23/19 9:38 AM as a reply to spatial.
Being human is sort of analogous to being addicted to a substance but in this case, the substance is an active mind. In order to "fix" the problem we have to see it, then we have recognize that's the root cause, and only then can we start the long process of addressing it.