Finally getting a deep meditation experience - where do I go from here

thumbnail
Lloyd S, modified 10 Years ago.

Finally getting a deep meditation experience - where do I go from here

Posts: 3 Join Date: 4/24/10 Recent Posts
I'm providing a bit of personal background so that maybe it can help the assessment of where I'm currently at. It's also my first post here and it's always nice to share some of this stuff when getting started. Here goes...

For the last 2 years I've studied Buddhism and maintained a somewhat regular meditation practice. It started with a curiosity to understand Zen. Thankfully that curiosity bloomed into a full-blown obsession that allowed me to seek understanding at every opportunity.

I needed it too. Living as an atheist was not good for me. When I look back, it amazes me how much a philosophical paradigm can affect ones actions in life. Regardless, I'm thankful that I've moved forward. It's seems like so much has opened up to me with my new awareness. That's what I'm currently trying to explore and truly understand.

Finally after growing in my meditation practice I had an experience, but I'm not sure where to go with it. I was hoping for an explanation and maybe a bit of guidance.

Here is the recent experience in question:
About 15 minutes into meditation practice my focus became entirely set on the breath. Thoughts would pop up every so often, but I could easily brush them off. I would notice a thought, quickly reset my focus and go back to the breath. There was still an awareness of "I" in the background, still the inner voice - but not as strong.

There was almost no awareness of the body. It was as if the front part of my body was...gone. Although I could still sense a slight abstract bodily awareness. It was like my body was being closed, or receding into the background rather. Yet there was still a piece "hanging in" awareness (the back, felt like a circle trying to close itself).

It almost felt like awareness became the breath. If the sense of "I" had receded entirely, then I imagine the body awareness would have faded as well, but I have no way of knowing as I haven't been there before.

So, that's it. It felt like an important session to me. A place that I was glad to finally reach. I know that there is much further to go and have no illusions about that. I just want some help as to understanding what that is...and what do I do about it?

Thanks in advance
thumbnail
Ian And, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Finally getting a deep meditation experience - where do I go from

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Lloyd S:

For the last 2 years I've studied Buddhism and maintained a somewhat regular meditation practice. It started with a curiosity to understand Zen. Thankfully that curiosity bloomed into a full-blown obsession that allowed me to seek understanding at every opportunity.

I needed it too. Living as an atheist was not good for me. When I look back, it amazes me how much a philosophical paradigm can affect ones actions in life. Regardless, I'm thankful that I've moved forward. It's seems like so much has opened up to me with my new awareness. That's what I'm currently trying to explore and truly understand.

This "new awareness" is what happens when the mind begins to question its previous conditioning. When it is shown a new or different way in which to view a reality which had previously been influenced by a different set of criteria. By reason of the drastically different manner in which Gotama describes the reality of sentient life according to those criteria which he realized were true, it is no wonder that a "new awareness" arises. You are at the beginning or head of the path.

Lloyd S:

Finally after growing in my meditation practice I had an experience, but I'm not sure where to go with it. I was hoping for an explanation and maybe a bit of guidance.

I can only provide one view, which accords with my understanding and realization of what the historic figure Gotama taught. Others here may have their own perspective, based on a variety of sources (ranging from Tibetan Buddhism to Zen to Theravada to the "Actual Freedom" point of view). But if you read the discourses carefully and fully, you should come away from that experience with an impression closer to that of the traditional Theravadin take on this. And that would be good; because it would be in keeping with the classic traditional path of Dhamma realization as it was originally taught and practiced.

Lloyd S:

Here is the recent experience in question:
About 15 minutes into meditation practice my focus became entirely set on the breath. Thoughts would pop up every so often, but I could easily brush them off. I would notice a thought, quickly reset my focus and go back to the breath. There was still an awareness of "I" in the background, still the inner voice - but not as strong.

There was almost no awareness of the body. It was as if the front part of my body was...gone. Although I could still sense a slight abstract bodily awareness. It was like my body was being closed, or receding into the background rather. Yet there was still a piece "hanging in" awareness (the back, felt like a circle trying to close itself).

It almost felt like awareness became the breath. If the sense of "I" had receded entirely, then I imagine the body awareness would have faded as well, but I have no way of knowing as I haven't been there before.

This description, ordinary as it may seem, is exactly where you want to be in order to practice insight. This is the perfect launching point for contemplation of the three characteristics in phenomena, or the five aggregates of personality view, or of dependent arising and how it works, or of any of the satipatthana contemplations on form, feeling, mind states, or mind phenomena.

The standard practice, at this point, which Gotama would recommend to his bhikkus would have been to practice satipattana contemplation as described in Majjhima Nikaya 10. Why is this? Because it is the most direct path to self realization. A very good book on this practice that you may wish to invest some time and study in is Ven. Analayo's Satipatthana, The Direct Path to Realization. This book, along with suggestions for further reading and contemplation, can be found on a page described as Essential Books from Theravadin Resources here on the DhO. If you can follow the pathway being described there, you should experience a classic experience (eventually) in the practice of realization. A realization that "I" am not my body, am not my thoughts, am not any of the conventional "self-concepts" that I have been conditioned to think I am. In fact, the thought of "I" in itself is nothing more than a delusional "self-concept" I have bought into and have continued to view as being real.

All that said, though, there is a conventional reality that we all are a part of in life which is not to be mistakenly separated from this more profound realization as described in the previous paragraph. While realizing that one is not all of those "things" as listed above, one inevitably comes to the conclusion that one must also recognize that the part or role one plays in one's individual life necessarily contains a kind of "self identity" involving all those worldly conventions. The trick is to not "buy into" that role in a way that produces dukkha (suffering or dissatisfaction) of any kind. This is the secret (in plain sight as it were) of which the traditional arahants of ancient times were aware. They were aware of themselves as playing a role in the life they lived, without becoming caught up in that role to the extent that they caused themselves suffering (dukkha). It is a fine distinction admittedly, but a worthy distinction when one eventually fully realizes its importance within the overall structure of practicing the Dhamma. Its realization is what brings on the classic standard description which is found in the suttas, the thought that: "Birth is destroyed, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more coming to any state of being."

For a better description of these profound realizations one would do well to read and contemplate MN 9 Sammaditthi Sutta or The Discourse on Right View from Bhikkhu Nanamoli's translation (as edited by Bhk. Bodhi) in the Wisdom Publication edition of the Majjhima Nikaya. Especially the section conclusions such as paragraph (8) where it is stated:

Majjhima Nikaya 9:
8. "When a noble disciple has thus understood the unwholesome, the root of the unwholesome, the wholesome, and the root of the wholesome, he entirely abandons the underlying tendency to lust, he abolishes the underlying tendency to aversion, he extirpates the underlying tendency to the view and conceit 'I am,' and by abandoning ignorance and arousing true knowledge he here and now makes an end of suffering. In that way too a noble disciple is one of right view, whose view is straight, who has perfect confidence in the Dhamma and has arrived at this true Dhamma."


Lloyd S:

So, that's it. It felt like an important session to me. A place that I was glad to finally reach. I know that there is much further to go and have no illusions about that. I just want some help as to understanding what that is...and what do I do about it?

Having read and contemplated MN 9 above and read MN 10 in conjunction with this, you now have the classic path to realization laid out for you. The rest is up to you whether or not you wish to follow it to its logical conclusion. I wish you well with this endeavor should you choose to take it up.

In peace,
Ian
thumbnail
Lloyd S, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Finally getting a deep meditation experience - where do I go from

Posts: 3 Join Date: 4/24/10 Recent Posts
Ian,
I appreciate the time you took to respond with such a considerate post.

What you described certainly feels accurate to where I consider myself at this point. It's taken me some time to realize that intellectual understanding isn't enough. Even though I'm grateful to be able to logically grasp these philosophical concepts, I know that there is still much to be done; like you said…the head of the path.

Thanks for providing me some interesting material to read. My study has been self-directed so far and I haven't committed myself to structured learning. It would probably be beneficial to stick to a more clearly defined, or traditional path, but I also enjoy taking lessons from a variety of places. I try to look at life and see the markers that are presenting themselves to me.

I have to be honest, I'm surprised that the state I described is sufficient for insight practice. Maybe this is just my inexperience, but I had imagined that I would have to further develop my concentration. I'm not familiar with the satipatthana contemplations, but it sounds similar to "no self, emptiness, and unsatisfactoriness" (which Daniel lays out in MCTB ). That's probably not a good comparison. I'll be sure to read MN 10 which you so kindly linked me to. I've also downloaded the "Paradox of Becoming" from the resource page and look forward to reading that someday.

If you can follow the pathway being described there, you should experience a classic experience (eventually) in the practice of realization. A realization that "I" am not my body, am not my thoughts, am not any of the conventional "self-concepts" that I have been conditioned to think I am. In fact, the thought of "I" in itself is nothing more than a delusional "self-concept" I have bought into and have continued to view as being real.


The concepts you describe, regarding the self and the illusion that we create, it's something that I grasp logically. I understand that the idea that "Lloyd" is a mental construct. Yet, I still haven't overcome it. When I'm aware that I'm getting caught up in the daily drama, I have to take a moment, step-back and smack myself to snap out of it. It's my hope that with constant awareness I'll eventually be able to break down my identification with the ego.

All that said, though, there is a conventional reality that we all are a part of in life which is not to be mistakenly separated from this more profound realization as described in the previous paragraph.


This is the challenge in practice. It's where I'm stuck now. To me, it's such a difficult thing to not identify with the issues I have in my life, and the mental junk that causes certain things to play out. I feel like I used to be much more clear about how to go about overcoming any negative karma, but fell into the trap later on because of getting caught up in my mental stuff. Whereas before I was content to go about my business focused on attaining my next worldly goal, now I feel as if I'm aware of what's at the core of the striving. At the same time, I haven't fully recognized it, so I don't know how to stop it…

Having read and contemplated MN 9 above and read MN 10 in conjunction with this, you now have the classic path to realization laid out for you. The rest is up to you whether or not you wish to follow it to its logical conclusion. I wish you well with this endeavor should you choose to take it up. Having read and contemplated MN 9 above and read MN 10 in conjunction with this, you now have the classic path to realization laid out for you. The rest is up to you whether or not you wish to follow it to its logical conclusion. I wish you well with this endeavor should you choose to take it up.


It's clear that I have my work cut out for me. I'm just glad that I found the path to begin with. I'm trying not to get caught up in thinking about how much effort or time this path will take. Regardless of either, I have a firm belief that it will be worth while. Now it's just a matter of staying focused and not letting go of that core belief...at least until I'm ready to.

Thanks again - it means a lot.
thumbnail
Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Finally getting a deep meditation experience - where do I go from

Posts: 2198 Join Date: 10/27/10 Recent Posts
Lloyd S:
It's my hope that with constant awareness I'll eventually be able to break down my identification with the ego.
aye that is what happens as a result of constant awareness. it might be helpful to adopt a practice that you can do wherever you are, doing whatever activity. there are many hours in the day and in modern life we only have so many we can sit down and dedicate exclusively to meditation. but with enough practice one can meditate constantly throughout the day - and at some point it is no longer 'meditation' but just what you do naturally.. it becomes an on-going non-verbal approach to life
thumbnail
Lloyd S, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Finally getting a deep meditation experience - where do I go from

Posts: 3 Join Date: 4/24/10 Recent Posts
Agreed Beoman. If I have time to meditate, I'll make the most of that time. When I'm at my computer and find myself getting distracted, I'll just close my eyes and focus on the breath. Every moment is an opportunity and I try to take advantage of each and every one.

The modern life has its trappings though. My own personal challenge is overcoming distraction. There is just so much "out there", we have access to a world of information at our finger tips. It can be overstimulating at the same time. Even though I try to practice at the computer, there is no replacement for stepping away and sitting down to a full 30-45 minute meditation.

The more I study though, the more I realize how little I know. I just hope that I'm able to stay focused on the goal and keep progressing on the path. I would love for the meditative state to become a part of my regular daily experience and the natural way of being. Something that amazes me from reaching this point, is that I think I now understand how much wisdom is contained in this concise quote by Thich Nhat Hanh "Smile, breath and go slowly", and I'm trying to take it to heart.
thumbnail
Ian And, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: Finally getting a deep meditation experience - where do I go from

Posts: 785 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Lloyd S:
My study has been self-directed so far and I haven't committed myself to structured learning. It would probably be beneficial to stick to a more clearly defined, or traditional path, but I also enjoy taking lessons from a variety of places. I try to look at life and see the markers that are presenting themselves to me.

My own path took me through the experience of becoming a Western style monk in a contemplative religious order for a seven to nine year period (two years of association with the religious order before actually joining it formally for seven years). When I eventually left the order, I left to strike out on my own to discover the efficacy of meditation in the process of self-realization. Inevitably, I underwent several different styles of meditation, each leaving me invariably shy of the goal I had outlined for myself. It wasn't until I re-discovered Gotama's direct teaching (in the form of the translated Pali Nikayas or discourses) that my meditation practice began to take off in earnest in a more positive direction.

Stream entry was a breeze, because I had already been primed for that realization having practiced according to my previous religious order training. Many of the things that had been taught during that time of my training became more clear as I read the discourses, which built on and then surpassed the meditative training that I had been taught. The revelation of the truth of the noble eightfold path and its focus on mental development and cultivation hit me like a Zen satori moment (or the more conventional "ton of bricks"). It was then that I knew, deep down, what needed to be done, and that I could see that the path laid out by Gotama was the path I needed to adhere to if I was to have any chance of accomplishing the same thing as he had. This is why I am so adamant with other seekers about the importance of reading and contemplating the discourses in order to become aware and learn the original instructions that Gotama taught. Because, if you understand them and follow what they emplore you to do, you will eventually accomplish the goal. Guaranteed!

So, yes, a "structured learning" course of action, in that sense, is a very good attitude and approach to take. I don't know about you, but I didn't have any more time to waste at the time I took this practice up seriously (I had been meditating for 20 years and not getting very much of anywhere with it). And the realization that occurred at the attainment of stream entry was that I wasn't going to let anything stand in my way of accomplishing this goal because now I could see the path VERY CLEARLY. In other words, there was no doubt about where I was headed or how to get there!

I only mention this as an inspiration and encouragement for your own practice.

Lloyd S:
I have to be honest, I'm surprised that the state I described is sufficient for insight practice. Maybe this is just my inexperience, but I had imagined that I would have to further develop my concentration.

Yes. Most people (myself included) may not have been aware of the minimum amount of concentration needed to be able to effectively practice insight. Looking at this from my current perspective, though, it only seems obvious. Yet, I think the reason more people don't realize this sooner is based on the conditioning they receive from other practitioners and meditation teachers who cannot imagine, or have never been encouraged, to begin practicing insight meditation at an earlier stage of progression. When one is able to get the kind of control over the mind that you described above, when it will begin to do what you ask it to do and not fight you at every course, then one should know that they are ready to explore deeper waters.

Lloyd S:
I've also downloaded the "Paradox of Becoming" from the resource page and look forward to reading that someday.

You may find that Thanissaro Bhikkhu is a great source for all kinds of interesting and useful insights into the Dhamma, this book being one of many of them. He has many more book publications (including shorter essays) available online for download (some in PDF format, others not) that would certainly enhance anyone's practice. One place to find his many writings is at accesstoinsight.org. Look under the "Library" caption in the Quick Guide navigation bar on the right and click the "Authors" link to search for either Geoffrey DeGraff or Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Lloyd S:
The concepts you describe, regarding the self and the illusion that we create, it's something that I grasp logically. I understand that the idea that "Lloyd" is a mental construct. Yet, I still haven't overcome it. When I'm aware that I'm getting caught up in the daily drama, I have to take a moment, step-back and smack myself to snap out of it. It's my hope that with constant awareness I'll eventually be able to break down my identification with the ego.

Yes. Constant awareness being defined as "mindfulness." That's the way it is with us all. Easy to grasp intellectually, but difficult to employ on a moment-by-moment basis. You have to be able to internalize these realizations to the point that they replace the conditioned thinking tendencies that are currently established in your psyche. This means rooting out what are called in the discourses "the taints," meaning the underlying unwholesome tendencies of the mind. It can be a gradual process (which, by the way, is how Gotama describes it in the discourses). In some instances, it can be an instantaneous metamorphosis when you have been able to reach the deep recesses of the mind in a moment of profound realization. But for the most part, those types of moments are rare, and it becomes a gradual progression toward internalization.

Lloyd S:
Whereas before I was content to go about my business focused on attaining my next worldly goal, now I feel as if I'm aware of what's at the core of the striving. At the same time, I haven't fully recognized it, so I don't know how to stop it…

While I think I understand what you are saying here, don't be too mislead in your thinking. There's nothing wrong with having worldly goals. There will still be things you will find fulfilling to accomplish after awakening as before awakening. However, you're perspective about these things may change. As the title of Jack Kornfield's book After the Ecstasy, The Laundry implies, there are still the worldly matters that are needing to be attended to. Awakening is not an end in itself, but rather the beginning of being able to live a conscious life free from dukkha. To be content within your own skin, so to speak. To live a life without excessive anxiety.

Lloyd S:
Beoman Claudiu Dragon:
but with enough practice one can meditate constantly throughout the day - and at some point it is no longer 'meditation' but just what you do naturally.. it becomes an on-going non-verbal approach to life

When I'm at my computer and find myself getting distracted, I'll just close my eyes and focus on the breath. . . . I would love for the meditative state to become a part of my regular daily experience and the natural way of being.

At one point in my training I used to think of this in the same way that Beoman describes: as being able to "meditate constantly throughout the day." And I even used the same method that you have discovered: namely, re-focusing on the breath in order to strengthen overall mindfulness in an effort to re-ground myself. Yet, what it actually is, rather than being described as meditation, is being mindful, establishing mindfulness of the body (rupa), feeling (vedana), mind states (sankharas), and mental phenomena (dhammas). These are the very same objects of contemplation that are mentioned in the two Satipatthana suttas (MN 10 and DN 22). That's why I very much appreciated Bhikkhu Bodhi's (and Nanamoli's) translation of satipatthana as being "the establishment of mindfulness" rather than what for years had been translated as "the foundations of mindfulness."

Although, looking back on it, it seems that there may be little difference in which word one chooses, yet using the word "establish" kept the main goal at the forefront of my mind, allowing me to be able to constantly determine whether or not my mind was established in mindfulness of, for example, feeling or mental phenomena. I viewed establishing mindfulness as an active activity rather than the more passive sounding "foundation" of mindfulness. Thinking of it as "establishing mindfulness" kept that active aspect alive and at the forefront of my mental attention regarding what I needed to be doing.

One curious phenomenon to be aware of as mindfulness becomes more constantly established within your way of viewing and being is that it seems to happen of its own accord quite effortlessly, as Beoman has pointed out above. Or that it is relatively easily re-established once lost. And when you begin to experience this effect, you'll wonder how you ever made it through the day without having this useful faculty established at all times. It's kind of like coming out of an hypnotic stupor and being able to see and experience the world and phenomena as it actually is.

Lloyd S:
The modern life has its trappings though. My own personal challenge is overcoming distraction. There is just so much "out there", we have access to a world of information at our finger tips. It can be overstimulating at the same time. Even though I try to practice at the computer, there is no replacement for stepping away and sitting down to a full 30-45 minute meditation.

Overcoming distraction is everyone's challenge. We all have to deal with it. And this is where constant mindfulness comes into play.

I'll give you a hint regarding how to help and cultivate the establishment of mindfulness on a more constant basis. It involves practicing what is known as jhana. The more time spent in jhanic meditation, the more the mind tends to become conditioned by that state. How much time per day am I talking about? That may vary with the individual practitioner. In my own case, it took a minimum of three hours a day for about a year to a year and a half before I was able to cut back to two hours a day, and then later to 1 1/2 hours a day. You may have to experiment with this on your own.

You can check out the General All Purpose Jhana Thread as a sticky at the head of the "Recent Posts" page to find out more about this practice.

I hope that helps and gives you more food for thought, study, and contemplation. If someone had been able to point out these salient aspects of the practice sooner for me, I wouldn't have wasted so much valuable time being distracted from doing what was actually necessary in order to make palpable progress and experience eventual success on the path to awakening. Hopefully, should you choose to follow some of this advice, it will save you some time (and perhaps even some anguish) on the road to completion.

In peace,
Ian

Breadcrumb