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Ben's Practice Log
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11/19/19 2:19 PM
Recently made a long post speculating about where I am on the maps and detailing a portion of my practice.  (https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/16860231)  

Many meditators on this forum have been through this territory before but declined to comment, which I'm choosing to take as a teaching that explicitly mapping as pre or post SE isn't very important.  Fair enough!  

I'm quite motivated to put in practice hours at home, and don't think long retreats fit well for me at this time.  I'd like to test the idea of a practice log; it's a nice way to provide some structure to an independent practice.  I hope that some of the writing is helpful to other practioners.  

Did a 90min formal sit this morning, I set a 90 min timer for the whole sit.  Fairly typical rundown of a morning sit for me is 5-10min of metta to begin with.  It feels good and centering to start with kind thoughts towards others.  I then lie down comfortably and do an untimed concentration practice.  It lasts from 10min to 60min or so but often lasts 20min-35min, when I'm done I do vipassana until the timer goes off.  I use the breath as an object and move through access concentration to the 4th shamatha jhana.  After inhabiting the 4th jhana for awhile I mess around with taking more formless aspects as object; for example the oval space and contents of the visual field when eyes are closed.  I haven't been taking this too seriously lately and sort of explore formless stuff playfully but with energy.  I feel like I have the words to describe the phenomenology of the 4th jhana but not what comes after: in 4th the breath becomes almost silent and there's a feeling of space, the high tones in the ears kind of predominate, and there's a bunch of equanimity.  I find that getting into this state just prior to doing insight practice is often helpful.  Sometimes when there is a lot of equanimity naturally or insight practice is particularly attractive I just jump straight to insight; but this was not one of those days.

I probably spent 35-45min doing metta/concentration before doing insight, mostly because there were harsh vibrations clearly felt vibrating underneath the concentration practice.  Insight wise, I speculate I'm somewhere in the dark night, don't know exactly which nana but probably DfD or reobservation.  Starting insight practice from a place of increased tranquility and equanimity seemed like a nice idea; I guess because it seems to make investigation of harsh stuff easier and clearer.  Ignorance/turning away from sensations can be a problem when the dark night is really kicking and starting with some baseline equanimity/tranquility from concentration practice seems helpful.  

Next 45-55min I did a sitting/reclining practice doing insight.  Instead of verbally noting, mostly what I'm doing is follow attention as it encounters sensation.  Sensations are constantly arising/passing away in all parts of the sense field (i.e., all 6 doors), but only some of them are touched by attention and produce mental impressions.  The mental impressions also arise and pass away; often they're known to be a certain thing, i.e., pain, but I don't mentally note pain.  It's clear there's this vibrating universe of sensations and some get picked out by attention and get known and that there's a process doing this which is related to thinking because reflecting and paying close attention to sensation is impossible.  The whole sense field into attention into mental impression into knowing into passing away process feels automatic and it just does its thing without a sense of effort.  I think this is still Mahasi noting technique functionally speaking because attention is the note.  

Throughout this process there are various patterns of sensations that are seen to be emotions or moods or energetic differences.  Concentration waxes and wains at certain times and sometimes there are reflections or thoughts about whatever.  Reflections about whatever are seen to be causally related to vibrations happening in the sense field and not be that important.  I don't really try to suppress reflections but I do try to apply mindfullness to them when they spiral off into ignorance and threaten to replace the sense field; in these cases I might note 'reflecting,' 'reflecting,' verbally.  Sometimes there's attraction to what's being experienced and sometimes there's aversion and these are felt in the body.  Aversion seems to vibrate in the chest and guts in a hot painful way and attraction seems to be bright and energetic and pull the spine upwards and tingle.  Today and for the last few sessions, there's more aversion than usual and harsh vibrations in the heart and belly-- this also happens throughout the day off the cushion.  

Off the cushion I try to keep a few intentions in mind when in territory that seems very dark night-y, (1) be kind to people, (2) this harsh stuff is teaching important lessons, (3) if practice is right it won't last forever.  

Not sure on updating frequency for this log.  The shadow side of keeping a practice log is that sensations on the cushion get reflected on too much in order to build some kind of narrative, distracting from practice.  

Ben

RE: Ben's Practice Log
Answer
11/19/19 2:30 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Should also say I'm not married to the idea that the concentration practices I'm doing are Xth jhana.  Trying to use terminology in roughly the way it appears in books but I'm likely to mess up.  Functionally speaking it's empowering for me to spend time in these pleasant states that produce tranquility and equanimity, both because it feels good and because it provides a good base for doing insight. 

RE: Ben's Practice Log
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11/20/19 10:43 AM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Ok, less phenomenology more memes,

n10 is like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnjAeOea0Ig

n
11.n1 is like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ux0CZJ9FbHw


RE: Ben's Practice Log
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11/20/19 10:50 AM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Has anything in particular led you to the conclusion that memes are preferable to phenomenology?

RE: Ben's Practice Log
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11/20/19 12:37 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Both seem like they have their moments.  Phenomenology on average being more clearly understandable and memes on average being more fun.

I certainly agree phenomenology is vastly preferable to memes/allusions insofar as if in some bizarre counterfactual I had to choose to communicate about meditation practice in one or the other.

RE: Ben's Practice Log
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11/20/19 3:22 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
I'm glad, because I look forward to reading more of your phenomenology. 

RE: Ben's Practice Log
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11/25/19 1:10 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Weekly ish update:

Did some stuff, (1) went to a Toronto based meditation group, https://satipanna.com/.  Had a solid reading list, they meet Tuesdays and do 70 min sit plus a short Dharma talk.  I went on a previous occasion and there was a subsitute speaker who spoke in a sonorous voice, and talked about lots of pretty things but almost not at all about doing insight.  However I resolved to go again when one of the two founders was speaking, I believe on this occasion it was Randall Baker.  Anyways, he talked quite a lot about doing insight and got very intense when talking about the 3Cs, which seemed like a good sign.  I will probably continue to do this and see what develops.

(2) Signed up for two retreats at IMS, one 5day ish one in late February that I am 8th or so on the waitlist for and one in late summer 2020 which is a Mahasi retreat where I'm 36th on the waitlist.  People really love IMS and plan things way in advance which is not my strong suit.  

These both seem like obviously constructive steps that will at some point in the future lead to finding a skilled teacher and in the nearer term will reduce the probability of me going totally off the rails.

Practice wise, did between 90 mins and 4 hours of sitting per day, prob average of like 140mins or something I donno.  

The most obvious development is that the dark night nanas kind of dissipated and it's looking more like low equanimity nanas for now.  I've had a tendency to go back and forth between n9-n10 and n11.n1/n2.  Phenomenally, there's usually a bit of automatic noting of the primary object (tip of nose) happening in the beginning.  I'm not holding attention on the primary object, and the result is it examines all kinds of different physical and mental sensations and roves around.  This is kind of cool and kind of annoying.  In particular there are a lot of random reflections and mental sensations because of the way I'm wired and these happen and are noticed.  I've been going real low effort and try to slowly settle into a diffuse mode of perception that's gradually more centerless.  There's sort of a feeling of attention/thought/reflection being the star attraction and then the swirl going on at the other 5 sense doors being not as important.  This feels wrong.  So I try to kinda investgate the various kinds of dukka that happen in the sense field when attention/thought/reflection predominate versus when they don't.  Over time as I relax into it a bit more things get more swirly and mental stuff forgets it's the star of the show which is nice.  There's still dukka and whatnot but it's more the moment to moment sort not mediated by mental images and stories etc.  Shargrol wrote a very nice post somwhere saying something like "cut the effort in half, then cut in half, then cut it in half," and this feels like powerful practice at the moment.  Sensations are clearer with less effort, but I often can't stop trying enough.  So then I investigate why not etc and around we go.  I think is basically a good place to be though and good things will happen with time and high doses of practice.  Sometimes there are moments and sequences of moments that are very calm and there isn't a clear center and there are waves and pulses swirling around the 6 sense doors and the noting part is lost in the swirl; this seems like something to keep fumbling towards.

RE: Ben's Practice Log
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11/27/19 2:24 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Mini update,

Went to meditation group again, different speaker.  Was very mushroomy and I did not like, little insight talk to be found.  A lot of self help-y talk wrapped in Buddhist dogma which I thought was likely to harm people.  There was mansplaining.  Almost certainly all fairly well intentioned!

Practice wise, it is very pleasing when the maps work dead on perfectly and it's easy to see where we probably are.  Right now it's very obviously n11.n5, or n11.j3.j1.  I like the nana/subjhana/subsubjhana in this case (n11.j3.j1) because in English it translates to equanimity.dark night.dissolution or something like that right?  That is what it feels like. 

Anyways, back in previous path around this stage I got an oscillating of high energy pulling up with low energy head drop-y states, alternating maybe every 5 or 10 minutes, obviously it's next to impossible to keep track of time sometimes while meditating.  I found this hard to map because I hadn't been through the territory before and also because I was still trying to force n11 to some degree which created lots of problems.  On this go around I am all about cutting the effort which has let me settle into some more mindful states and observe the subnanas with more clarity.  So, I'll sit, and over time things will calm down and sensations will unroll and do their thing and then at some point a head drop will happen; but it isn't like I've fallen asleep or was checked out -- it's a different thing.  After the head drop there's a pop when the energy rises again and I can see why this would seem like a fruition to people but it feels way different than the territory I've talked about ad nauseum that I think might have been fruitions.  

RE: Ben's Practice Log
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11/27/19 9:12 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
but it isn't like I've fallen asleep or was checked out -- it's a different thing.  After the head drop there's a pop when the energy rises again


What do you think this is?

RE: Ben's Practice Log
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11/28/19 9:24 AM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Do you think it could be a short visit to something formless? That seems to happen to me.

RE: Ben's Practice Log
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12/3/19 1:54 PM as a reply to Michial N.
Michial N:
but it isn't like I've fallen asleep or was checked out -- it's a different thing.  After the head drop there's a pop when the energy rises again


What do you think this is?

Here's the description of the stage I've picked out from MCTB2: "In the early part of Equanimity, reality may appear a bit “chunky” for a while, like some half-way point between the irritation of the late part of the Dark Night and the flowing, open phase that happens as Equanimity more fully develops. Practice in this early phase may seem quite possible but may seem to require steady but sustainable work. If we are tired, we may begin having dropouts and head-drops that are like what occurred in Dissolution but more extreme, sort of like when we start to have our head nod while driving when extremely tired (something I have done way too many times and strongly advise against). [ñ11.ñ5 in ñana.subñana notation, or could be ñ11.j3.j1 in ñana.subjhana.subsubjhana terminology.] These head drops are among the things that people can mistake for Fruitions (described later), but Fruitions almost never involve the head dropping as these Equanimity head-drops do.In this third subjhana phase of Equanimity (ñ11.j3), the broad, out-of-phase phase, it may be hard to read and pay attention, hard to hear people and listen, hard to notice where we are and what we are doing. It can have some resemblance to Dissolution but is less slothful and more diffuse and spacious and makes people more prone to “spacing out”. The arising of fear of madness and death is not uncommon in this phase of Equanimity, but usually does not cause too much trouble and may even seem comical or welcome. [ñ11.ñ6–ñ11.ñ10 in ñana.subñana notation.] For others, this mini Dark Night of Equanimity can make things complicated, and in the face of that seeming complexity some will either try to power the thing (unlikely to work well in Equanimity), or try to solidify the pleasantness they may have experienced right before it and turn something open, flowing, and accepting into a more stable and safe-feeling fourth shamatha jhana, which is equanimous but still more frozen and static than works well for reaching stream entry. In this way, people can stagnate in Equanimity."

The head drop thing is an interesting piece of phenomenology because of the way it manifests physically.  Something like kriyas are similar.  There's a temptation to think these "physical" pieces of phenomenology are somehow more reliable for mapping but I can see various shadow sides to that assumption.  I just thought it was cool because n11.1 and n11.2 seemed to occur in order and then n11.n3 appeared with this clear physical manifestation; I had a lot more confusion mapping equanimity subnanas in the past.  Entirely possible I'm way off here as well.  As for why the head drops?  Analysis (as opposed to direct experience) says it's probably some form of ignorance manifesting.  I could have also just been tired for whatever reason a couple of days in a row but I didn't seem to be.  I think just continuing to practice as usual is a fine strategy.  

RE: Ben's Practice Log
Answer
12/3/19 2:11 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
Do you think it could be a short visit to something formless? That seems to happen to me.


It doesn't feel like it, feels more like straightforward ignorance.  

Formless stuff does seem to happen in n11, but mostly later on.  I don't think my concentration is good enough for many formless experiences to happen before high equanimity.  


"Speaking of formless realms: they are truly formless, meaning there is no sense of a body during them, no sense of breathing, and instead they show their distinct characteristics in a full, profound, silent way. They are not "intense", but they are impressive, though it is a quiet, subtle profundity." --> Daniel, from http://integrateddaniel.info/overcalling-attainments

I get confused about the phenomenology of "no sense of a body, no sense of breathing," because it seems like when in the state as soon as I look for the body or the breath it's there.  But if I'm simply paying attention to the jhana the body and breath seem very far away, but not entirely gone somehow.  I wish I could phrase this with more precision.  But it seems more like J4.J5-J7 than true formless realms to me.  In J4 or sometimes J3 the breath can feel silent but there's still a sense of breath.  In the more formless parts the breath and body are more subtle than they are in J4, that's for sure.  

I'm quite confused about mapping my shamatha practice but have as of yet neglected to open that can of worms.  I'm quite confident up to J4, but J5-J8 are another story entirely.  I do some shamatha most days for 20-50 minutes and J1-J4 have been very stable and clear for over a year.  After J4, I do some stuff which is either J4.J5-J7, or true J5-J7.  Then there's some stuff that might be J8?  I don't know.  I'm a lot more dedicated to the vipassana progression at the moment, and it seems like having a reliable J4 is sufficient concentration to get to SE or even 2nd.  Will try and map the shamatha states better when it becomes relevant again for vipassana progression and my basic plan is to switch to a fire kasina at some point because the phenomenology is reportedly more clear and it's supposed to result in harder jhanas.  


RE: Ben's Practice Log
Answer
12/3/19 2:24 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Ben Sulsky:
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
Do you think it could be a short visit to something formless? That seems to happen to me.


It doesn't feel like it, feels more like straightforward ignorance.  

Formless stuff does seem to happen in n11, but mostly later on.  I don't think my concentration is good enough for many formless experiences to happen before high equanimity.  


"Speaking of formless realms: they are truly formless, meaning there is no sense of a body during them, no sense of breathing, and instead they show their distinct characteristics in a full, profound, silent way. They are not "intense", but they are impressive, though it is a quiet, subtle profundity." --> Daniel, from http://integrateddaniel.info/overcalling-attainments

I get confused about the phenomenology of "no sense of a body, no sense of breathing," because it seems like when in the state as soon as I look for the body or the breath it's there.  But if I'm simply paying attention to the jhana the body and breath seem very far away, but not entirely gone somehow.  I wish I could phrase this with more precision.  But it seems more like J4.J5-J7 than true formless realms to me.  In J4 or sometimes J3 the breath can feel silent but there's still a sense of breath.  In the more formless parts the breath and body are more subtle than they are in J4, that's for sure.  

I'm quite confused about mapping my shamatha practice but have as of yet neglected to open that can of worms.  I'm quite confident up to J4, but J5-J8 are another story entirely.  I do some shamatha most days for 20-50 minutes and J1-J4 have been very stable and clear for over a year.  After J4, I do some stuff which is either J4.J5-J7, or true J5-J7.  Then there's some stuff that might be J8?  I don't know.  I'm a lot more dedicated to the vipassana progression at the moment, and it seems like having a reliable J4 is sufficient concentration to get to SE or even 2nd.  Will try and map the shamatha states better when it becomes relevant again for vipassana progression and my basic plan is to switch to a fire kasina at some point because the phenomenology is reportedly more clear and it's supposed to result in harder jhanas.  


Can confirm: Fire Kasina beats traditional concentration techniques into the ground. 

RE: Ben's Practice Log
Answer
12/3/19 2:44 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Weekly update:

Probably not going to meditation group today due to bad experience last time.  Would like to find a teacher but haven't carefully thought through the steps required to find someone I like and trust and who is likely to be helpful.  Have a variety of half baked ideas.  I do think having a teacher would be particularly helpful for my practice because I have the discipline and space to put in a lot of daily practice, but prefer not to do extended retreats because of the time required away from family.  Having a feedback loop between my reports of my practice and an experienced practioner seems likely to streamline things and avoid pitfalls.  

As for practice, put in a lot of formal sitting time Tuesday-Wednesday of last week, and then less time and low quality time Thursday-Monday of this week because of US Thanksgiving and the accompanying travel.  Thursday-Monday I did a lot of my practice in difficult conditions-- waiting in airports, on airplanes, tucked away in a bedroom at the family home etc.  I didn't try and practice X hours per day or anything and just kinda embraced family time in a way that seemed non-neurotic, probably averaged 1-2 hours per day.  Practice felt like it slipped back a bit, but that's kind of obviously going to happen given the conditions. 

How did practice feel?  It varied a lot.  In airports and on airplanes there are a variety of issues to deal with-- being in public, being distracted, noise, fatigue etc.  I find I can still access J4 but it takes a lot more effort and is less reliable and less hard.  Vipassana was harder to fully relax into, but lots of sensations were obviously available, many of them unpleasant.  Practice felt unfocused and like more time was spent reflecting or noting sensations conceptually, or reflecting on content rather than being really with the 3Cs.  It's interesting that the maps predict n11.n4.n6-10 at this point so it's entirely possible there was an interplay between content and the progress of insight that made things extra chaotic, but my intuition tells me it was more just tough practice conditions rather than progress.  

As for strategy, continuing with the intention to practice openly, flowingly, and with little effort and to relax into observation of the 3Cs.  I'm interested in following the stages of insight up again and trying to investigate the territory in high equanimity and beyond, particularly P8JP into conformity/change of lineage/3 doors/fruition/review.  I figure it could be 1st path or it could be 2nd path and it basically doesn't matter at all pragmatically.  The model of awakening I'm using anyways is the "however many paths it takes" model, and so numbering stuff is not very important.  If anyone has tips or pieces of advice for first path versus second path equanimity, both in their phenomenology and how to practice during them, I'm interested to hear.  My operating assumption again is just gentle investigation of the 3Cs and see what happens, forcing it seems counterproductive both from the reports of experienced meditators and from personal experience.

Will have a mixture of good and bad practice conditions for the remainder of December and into early January because of Holiday plans.  I have an intention to stay focused on the path when able to.  Equally, I have an intention to embrace the Holiday time and be accepting of slacking on practice and slipping back a bit.  

RE: Ben's Practice Log
Answer
12/3/19 2:52 PM as a reply to David Kyle Spencer.
David Kyle Spencer:
Ben Sulsky:
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
Do you think it could be a short visit to something formless? That seems to happen to me.


It doesn't feel like it, feels more like straightforward ignorance.  

Formless stuff does seem to happen in n11, but mostly later on.  I don't think my concentration is good enough for many formless experiences to happen before high equanimity.  


"Speaking of formless realms: they are truly formless, meaning there is no sense of a body during them, no sense of breathing, and instead they show their distinct characteristics in a full, profound, silent way. They are not "intense", but they are impressive, though it is a quiet, subtle profundity." --> Daniel, from http://integrateddaniel.info/overcalling-attainments

I get confused about the phenomenology of "no sense of a body, no sense of breathing," because it seems like when in the state as soon as I look for the body or the breath it's there.  But if I'm simply paying attention to the jhana the body and breath seem very far away, but not entirely gone somehow.  I wish I could phrase this with more precision.  But it seems more like J4.J5-J7 than true formless realms to me.  In J4 or sometimes J3 the breath can feel silent but there's still a sense of breath.  In the more formless parts the breath and body are more subtle than they are in J4, that's for sure.  

I'm quite confused about mapping my shamatha practice but have as of yet neglected to open that can of worms.  I'm quite confident up to J4, but J5-J8 are another story entirely.  I do some shamatha most days for 20-50 minutes and J1-J4 have been very stable and clear for over a year.  After J4, I do some stuff which is either J4.J5-J7, or true J5-J7.  Then there's some stuff that might be J8?  I don't know.  I'm a lot more dedicated to the vipassana progression at the moment, and it seems like having a reliable J4 is sufficient concentration to get to SE or even 2nd.  Will try and map the shamatha states better when it becomes relevant again for vipassana progression and my basic plan is to switch to a fire kasina at some point because the phenomenology is reportedly more clear and it's supposed to result in harder jhanas.  


Can confirm: Fire Kasina beats traditional concentration techniques into the ground. 

Thanks David emoticon  

Yea seems great but I'm too committed to whatever the current progress of insight is to do anything else until it's over or I'm totally fried.  Last trip through n11 took me 500 hours on the cushion so I'm a bit of a glutton for punishment.  Or maybe all meditators are, I don't know.  It's amazing to me other people actually do this stuff, it's very hard.  It's shocking people do it without the benefit of the maps and without noting, I basically can't imagine making much progress off retreat without these tools.

RE: Ben's Practice Log
Answer
12/9/19 3:18 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Weekly update: 

Got in maybe 3-4 hours of formal sitting Wed-Fri, took Saturday off due to family stuff, maybe 2 hours Sunday and 90 mins so far today.  Will have solid practice conditions until next Saturday.  

Head dropping thing is over.  I've noticed that I have no desire to explore J4.J5-J7 in my shamatha practice and instead I've been moving sort of slowly but deeply through J1-J4 before doing insight.  It feels like the jhanas have deepened a bit in a way that's hard to describe; but I'm also not trying very hard to make them pure shamatha jhanas and 3Cs happen too in various ways.  The nice jhanic qualities are still there though which is nice.  

General plan for insight is to get comfortable for around 60-100 mins at a time and investigate 3Cs.  There's a temptation to label certain periods or subperiods of practice good or bad, but I can see big shadow sides to this framework.  For example, sometimes sensations appear less clearly perceived and there's more or less tension in the body and mind -- is that a bad practice?  I'm not sure.  It's bad insofar as I'm not likely to hit the next insight stage in the immediately following moments supposing I'm in n11 to begin with, but it's not necessarily bad from a broader causal framework where the mind needs to do what it does for progress.  The result is I've mostly just been sitting and seeing what happens, figuring that if there's an intention to investigate the 3Cs then the brain will sort itself out eventually.  The shadow side to this approach is laziness, but I think ~3hrs/day of focused practice is sufficient and I have plans to go on retreat as life permits.  

A couple of experiences that stood out from last week (these stood out both for being cool/interesting and for matching phenomenology that seems on path, or for producing intense and enduring memories or excitement), 

(1) In a "good" practice period, there was some time where the entire touch field strobed in and out of existence at a rate of >3x/second but less than 20x/second.  Concentration was quite high and so time was hard to gauge, both in the freq of vibration and in how long the experience lasted.  Got to investigate with increased clarity the fact that my body just isn't there approximately half the time, and this was cool.  The obvious metaphor here is that it was like seeing a cartoon at a slower framerate such that the frames, the space between the frames, and the brain's construction of continuity are observable.  Does anyone else find that touch is slower (and therefore easier?) than sight/sound/thought?
(2) Either in the same sit or a nearby one, had a period where the 5 sense doors were semi clearly seen to have vibrating fields and these were all arranged into something like one space.  It's a bit hard to explain but we've been talking about the "nada" sound in another thread and this was more like the union of the nada spaces at the 5 doors.  Thought is still tricky though.  I say "semi clearly seen," because attention seemed to not catch all of them at once in a panoramic way or something and something was missing.  The talk about one sense door makes a bit more sense now.
(3) Most interestingly, (again, near these sits) had a series of moments where the perception of the 6 sense doors increased dramatically in breath, clarity, and intensity.  Felt like a train was coming into the station or whatever.  I botched it though-- got super excited and figured this was the few moments preceding conformity knowledge and then got too excited and the state dissipated.  Fuck !  I have an intention to not freak out the next time I chance upon this state though.  I felt like if I had just chilled out and let it happen I'd have had the end of path experiences I've been training for.

RE: Ben's Practice Log
Answer
12/16/19 4:05 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Weekly Update, 

Spent some time messing around with states (1)-(3) that I mentioned last week, particularly (3).  (3) was reproducible but I think a dead end from the perspectice of insight and more of a concentration-y state.  Spent around 3-4 hours of sitting daily earlier in the week and later on made a bit of an intention to chill out and spent more like 90-120mins sitting.  Trying to get back to 3Cs / 6 sense doors in exactly the present moment and care little or not at all about states or stages that have time components greater than a few seconds, or set ups or w/e.  So it's entirely possible that while practicing I'm getting into various formless-ish states or whatever but just have been trying to pay very little attention to them including devoting energy to remembering any details about them or their phenomenology.  Have usually been spending some time in the first four jhanas before doing insight, I find it seems to go well.  I typically do a 95min sit in the morning, and if I sit in the afternoon I'll often just do insight, but I like a bit of jhana in the morning.  This might make it seem like I'm practicing perfectly or something lol, far from it.  Thoughts happen constantly and energy/tranquility/mindfullness fluctuate etc and stuff is constantly happening but that's OK imo.

A couple of things I've found useful, https://vimeo.com/378891278 -- where Daniel talks about diagnosing cessation, and also https://www.integrateddaniel.info/mapobsession-hindrances-in-sheeps-clothing, where Daniel talks about hindrances for smarties.  So, in early October, I managed somehow or other to hit a review cycle that totally knocked my socks off and met some but not all of the criteria for SE.  No further comments really?  I guess as time increases my view is that even though I experienced a path-like thing, it probably wasn't an actual path, and also that whether it was or wasn't isn't terribly important unless say I planned to teach people; which I emphatically don't, at least for many years.  Regarding maps as hindrances, the linked essay resonated with me because I felt that my practice was getting too future oriented, and too progress oriented.  I think this was a predictable result of going through a very intense review cycle and getting excited about the amazing power and speed of the mind at certain times and wanting to just blast through everything.  I really thrived with formal noting technique because I have a lot of wisdom and energy, and was able to dial up the effort and optimize the speed/precision aspect of noting at the primary object and make rapid progress.  The bits that require more finesse and patience are trickier for me, it's a bit hard to explain but I think in some respects I was still too technique/speed/precision oriented to "get somewhere" and this wasn't helping.  I can see echoes of this same reflection in last week's post where I'm expressing doubt about diagnosing certain moments, practice periods, states or stages as good and others as bad, and then proceed to do exactly that. 

Another reflection is that I like the practice log, I think it's useful as a personal record, a time stamped record to share with a teacher at some point, hopefully as a resource for other practioners, and as a motivational tool.  I like a weekly or biweekly update so as not to become too much of a documenter.  Fairly likely no further updates until early January.

My thanks to the DhO community.  I think what I've gotten what I came here for -- a better understanding of the unusual experiences I've had meditating and a set of experienced eyes on the direction of continued practice.  Great! And Thank you!

RE: Ben's Practice Log
Answer
1/6/20 2:18 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Triweekly update, 

I was away for Holiday stuff, for the most part practiced between 30mins and 2 hours a day of formal sits but skipped some days due to illness and if it wasn't convenient for others for me to buzz off and meditate.  

Some (meditation specific goals, not counting training in morality) goals, (a) ~90mins-2hours average of sitting a day for the year, (b) go on one or more retreats, (c) work with a teacher.

re (a) seems to be going fine, (b) looks like I got into the meditation retreat at IMS I signed up for in late February, so that's likely to happen, and (c) I've been mulling this one over for awhile now and I think Kenneth Folk sounds like a good choice.  My thinking is that he's Bill Hamilton / Sayadaw style trained, is frenemies with Daniel Ingram, his students on the DhO seem to reliably say reasonable things, and when I listen to his stuff he seems to say reasonable things, and he seems to accept new students.  I like the iconoclasm. 

Personal practice wise, not much to report, in a good way.  The stuff about map obsession seems to have mostly sunk in, and I've kind of just been sitting and doing stuff, because I like it and it's what I do, and have to some degree given up attachment to exotic/interesting states and thoughts of progress.  That being said, I've retained enough energy and discipline to reliably do the things that are likely to lead to progress.  An example of a sit might involve some minutes of shuffling around getting comfortable, followed by a bunch of thoughts about mental content, followed by more vivid sensations as well as a rise up through the concentration states (I find I can go from 1st-4th jhana or I can kind of have the concentration increase on the Insight side of things, they both happen on their own depending on what the brain is inclined towards), and then after that there are various textures and sensations that do their thing, sometimes are formless, sometimes are very nice, sometimes are painful, and these are felt in the vision/sound/touch/organs/face/inside the head (mental words) etc.  I try to investigate whatever comes up with whatever my degree of skill is at a given time.  

RE: Ben's Practice Log
Answer
1/14/20 1:25 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Weekly update,

Around 2 hours of formal sitting most days.  Similar focuses to last week.  

Biggest change is that I hadn't done metta for awhile and I got back into that, it feels great.  

I also decided to take a crack at j5-j8 (or what I'm calling j5-j8, I have a very high degree of skepticism that the states I'm in are genuinely j5-j8.  Please chime in with an opinion if you have one).  j1-j4 feel pretty automatic for me, but after that I'm not sure what I'm doing.  So anyways, once I'm in j4 for awhile and the breath becomes very quiet and still, I turn the attention to the visual space in front of the eyes.  It's a big oval, with barely perceptible edges and with the eyes closed there's a bunch of dancing stuff in it, just the normal visual space we're all familiar with.  I pay attention to both the space and the content, but mostly pay attention to the feeling of the oval enclosing the content if that makes sense.  This is kind of tricky and takes at least a couple of minutes to stabilize.  After awhile the edges of the oval become less obviously there and there's more of a feeling of boundlessness; the degree of boundlessness varies by how good my concentration is that day and in that moment.  "boundless" might not be the right description, the object is clearly physical insofar as it's just the garden variety visual field, but when concentrated on the spacy-ness of it becomes magnified, if that makes sense.  Sensations from the other sense doors still make appearancs but don't predominate, but there are definitely little blips of more typical sensations.  I don't know what to make of the idea that the body is supposed to be gone if this is j5; not much attention is being paid to the body so its sensations aren't really predominating, but it makes brief appearances and if I want to look for it I can find it immediately.  I don't have the feeling that "I" am somehow gone from the body and it's a force of will to get back there or find its sensations or something.  If anyone has opinions on this let me know, the state (whatever it is) certainly requires a lot more concentration than j4.  

I look for different aspects of the visual field and the mind's relation to it to perform similar operations for what I'll provisionally call j6/j7.  So to go from j5 to j6, instead of paying attention to the ovalness/spaciness of the field I'll concentration on the content -- the many pointilist dots of sensation that make up the field coming and going constantly.  There are some pretty extreme physical affects of doing this one, sometimes my eyes will blink really fast or I'll feel strong sensations in or around the body (doesn't sound very formless, right!).  It's quite intense and quite nice.  It can vary a lot but skews to more body sensations and more intensity despite the fact that the concentration is pretty strongly on the blinking content in the visual field.  For j7, I look at a different aspect of the visual field to start, in this case the fact there's a bunch of space without anything in it.  The edges and emptiness of the space predominate more, and the state is very still, dark and maybe even a little bit stiff feeling, but very cool.  In all these j5+ states, there's a sort of unpleasant feeling of effort to get in and stay in these states.  

Then for j8 I try to turn the object to peace/pure concentration, if that makes sense, and turn the attention to the feeling of attention resting in the visual field.  It's as if by steading the attention very strongly on attention itself there can be a feeling of peace possible from the effort and other stuff too; I don't know it's hard to explain.  I'm mostly just experimenting here, but some cool stuff seems to happen.  I often cycle through these stats j5-j8 twice, and I notice the second cycle is more stable/harder than the first cycle by a lot.  There also seems to be some significant weirdness with how time passes, I'm often off what I think my timer will say when I'm done by a large amount.  

For fear of offending people, I want to make absolutely clear I don't think these states are genuine j5-j8.  I'm describing the results of my experiments trying to get into states that follow j4, and trying to follow the instructions for j5-j8.  "Speaking of formless realms: they are truly formless, meaning there is no sense of a body during them, no sense of breathing, and instead they show their distinct characteristics in a full, profound, silent way. They are not "intense", but they are impressive, though it is a quiet, subtle profundity."  <--Daniel Ingram, from 'overcalling attainments.'  So, it seems pretty obvious that the experiences described don't match to DI's standards.  What do you think they are?  What should I do differently to get into genuine j5?

In any case, the reason I've been getting back into these states is that they're pretty cool and seem to be good at honing concentration.  They don't seem to interfere with doing insight, so the main downside is they take significant time.  I'm puzzled by them but they seem to do something favorable to the brain so I'm probably going to stick with them for a bit.  I've been getting into variations of this territory for around a year and I've been consistently puzzled by it, so I figured I'd write a bit about it and see what people thought.  

And again, I'm mostly interested in doing insight.  I'm giving whatever state/stage I'm in the time it needs to do its thing and will report back when stuff changes.  



RE: Ben's Practice Log
Answer
1/14/20 1:49 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
One other note I forgot to make is that the distinction between sitting and not sitting has gotten less clear.  It used to be the case that after a sit there was a feeling of relief or intensity or some emotion or other that differentiated the sitting period from the normal going about my day time.  Sometimes it would almost be like I needed a rest after sitting because the brain was fried.  These days, the emotions surrounding sitting are quite different.  When I'm done, I just get up and go on about my day with very little intensity surround the transition.  Relatedly, it seems possible to be more mindful and more sit-like during daily activities, even without a lot of effort to be that way; there has been a general reduction in intensity/drama.  That being said, after a 90min-2hour sit I get lots of feelings of restlessness but I attribute this to the fact that sitting around for 2 hours very still is kind of a long time and the body probably wants to move around a bit. 

RE: Ben's Practice Log
Answer
1/21/20 4:58 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Very similar to last week.  Not much happened that I haven't described before.