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Integrating the A&P

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Integrating the A&P
Answer
12/22/19 1:02 PM
It’s now nearly 5 months since experiencing what could be called an Arising and Passing. You can read my description of the event here:https://www.dharmaoverground.org/discussion/-/message_boards/message/15866392

Aside from my meditation practice (about an hour a day), and trying to be a good person, the primary spiritual work I have been engaged with over the past several months has been making sense of the experience. The work has taken some time, as my A&P apparently has been unusually long. I feel like the last 2 months have been a gradual transition into dissolution. It’s helped to be fully out of it to see more clearly what has transpired.

It’s becoming increasingly clear, the more I discuss and research the topic that it is not enough to have a contemplative experience. I’m learning that the understanding of the experience and how you choose to integrate it into your life is equally important. The cultural context wherein the experience happens can lead people to take all sorts of decisions along the spectrum from recklessly destructive to profoundly skillful. Having been raised in the cultural context of LDS Mormonism, I’ve seen the generally narrow way in which such experiences are integrated within that culture -- most often as justification for the authority of the institution -- but also frequently in beneficial, healing ways as well. I’m certain other religious contexts process contemplative experiences in similar ways, while more materialistic contexts might dismiss the experience altogether. Other more destructive community structures might guide the experiencer to interpret the experience in a way that opens them up to exploitation and abuse.

Having left the faith of my youth, I am left with little context to accomplish this work. My experience of the past few months have been typified by an unusual degree of tranquility and happiness, but also confusion. With some time to process and learn, I think I’ve landed on a few ways of integrating the experience which have been meaningful to me. What follows is a summary of my attempt at skillful integration. 

Most helpful in this process has been the discovery of MCTB and this forum which has helped me to place my A&P experience within a larger framework of the path of enlightenment (although I still like to keep my mind open to the idea that the map is not the territory, and to embrace the particular ways in which my path might diverge from the map). This is the core lesson for me, that the A&P is the celebratory crossing of a threshold to the beginning of a journey. I imagine it like one of those scenes of young soldiers heading out to battle. Lots of fanfare, excitement and last minute make-out moments before heading out on the adventure. All the other learnings and integrations of the A&P stem from that framing.

First, this concept allows me to celebrate the event without clinging to it. Discovering the concept of the “corruptions of insight” was incredibly helpful in this regard. The cool stuff I experienced was not the path, and my job is not to get that stuff back. I can be at peace with moving forward and letting go of the euphoria, tranquility, abundant gratitude and all that other amazing stuff I experienced in the process.

Second, the experience has been a powerful generator of faith in the practice. It has given me direct evidence of the malleability of the mind. If the A&P is one thing that the mind can do, how many more fascinating, fun, liberating and healing things are possible with the same tool? Reading and listening to the vast and varying accounts of contemplative experiences possible via this forum and other sources has further increased this faith. 

It wasn’t just the intensity of the experience alone that has increased my faith but also the specific insights into the dharma I gained through the experience. I saw clearly how I was creating suffering in my life through ignorance, clinging and aversion. I may not currently be feeling super-happy like I was right after the A&P, but I am able to see the hard stuff in an entirely different way, and I am emboldened to face it rather than turning away or covering it up.

Third, during the course of my A&P window, practice came incredibly easy. It allowed me to build a strong meditation habit that persists even as the good vibes fade and as I dip into what are likely the dukkha ñanas. This is big for me, as my practice was incredibly erratic, short and undisciplined before.
I know I am very early in my journey and as Daniel Ingram has described it, crossing the A&P is a bit like getting your driver’s license for the first time, really awesome, but not really that big of a deal. I’m sure at some point -- with perspective and experience -- that is how I’ll likely feel, but for now, this is the most important thing I’ve ever passed through. 

Perhaps as we encourage others on the path it's important to strike a balance of how we contextualize the A&P. Sure, it’s not the end-all-be-all, but it is incredibly important in its own way. For now, it’s the thing that propels me forward, and gives me hope that liberation from suffering in this life is a real possibility.

RE: Integrating the A&P
Answer
12/21/19 8:48 PM as a reply to Brandon Dayton.
Hi Brandon,

While I am not an expert in the MCTB maps and have not really tracked my practice in detail against them, I have experienced some of the states described there and have found them helpful as a high level guide. In particular, some people find that the dukka nanas arise after an A&P. I would therefore advise developing a concentration practice, at least to first jhana. In my experience, concentration practice helps to mitigate the dukka nanas, and others have mentioned this also, though it is a subject of some debate. In retrospect, I had a lot of problems with the dukka nanas in the 90's and early 2000's after a few A&P events, but after another, rather lengthy one in 2015, I had a strong concentration practice (having studied with a teacher who specialized in concentration practice for around 5 years prior) and didn't experience nearly the difficulties of earlier.

Hope that helps.

RE: Integrating the A&P
Answer
12/22/19 2:00 AM as a reply to Brandon Dayton.
Thankyou for an interesting read! It is nice to see someone reflecting so thoroughly on possible pitfalls and describing their joy so humbly and wisely. That kind of approach together with the maps is a great way to start the journey, I'd say. 

RE: Integrating the A&P
Answer
12/22/19 1:00 PM as a reply to svmonk.
svmonk:
Hi Brandon,

While I am not an expert in the MCTB maps and have not really tracked my practice in detail against them, I have experienced some of the states described there and have found them helpful as a high level guide. In particular, some people find that the dukka nanas arise after an A&P. I would therefore advise developing a concentration practice, at least to first jhana. In my experience, concentration practice helps to mitigate the dukka nanas, and others have mentioned this also, though it is a subject of some debate. In retrospect, I had a lot of problems with the dukka nanas in the 90's and early 2000's after a few A&P events, but after another, rather lengthy one in 2015, I had a strong concentration practice (having studied with a teacher who specialized in concentration practice for around 5 years prior) and didn't experience nearly the difficulties of earlier.

Hope that helps.

What does practice look like in that case? Are you getting into a concentration state and then doing vipassana within that? Or is it afterglow practice, where you do your vipassana work after you exit? Are you doing any type of vipassana at all? Interested with how you mix that in with an insight practice.

RE: Integrating the A&P
Answer
12/22/19 7:29 PM as a reply to Brandon Dayton.
It is not possible to do vipassana while in jhana. The mind gets locked onto the meditation object and that's all that's there. Also, there is no space for cognitive activity like noting. In less concentrated states, the mind occasionally drifts away from the meditation object but the intention to pursue a concentration session typically kicks in and brings it back to the meditation object. I've found that having a certain amount of concentration tends to help focus my vipassana so I sometimes do a short concentration period at the beginning of a session, and some folks will even go into jhana then come out and do vipassana when their mind is really concentrated. But from the point of view of mitigating the dukkha nanas, concentration states tend to be extremely pleasurable, even blissful, and that can help to work against the fear, loathing and depression that can arise in the dukkha nanas

RE: Integrating the A&P
Answer
12/22/19 8:54 PM as a reply to Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö:
Thankyou for an interesting read! It is nice to see someone reflecting so thoroughly on possible pitfalls and describing their joy so humbly and wisely. That kind of approach together with the maps is a great way to start the journey, I'd say. 

Thanks for the kind words.

RE: Integrating the A&P
Answer
12/22/19 8:58 PM as a reply to svmonk.
svmonk:
It is not possible to do vipassana while in jhana. The mind gets locked onto the meditation object and that's all that's there. Also, there is no space for cognitive activity like noting. In less concentrated states, the mind occasionally drifts away from the meditation object but the intention to pursue a concentration session typically kicks in and brings it back to the meditation object. I've found that having a certain amount of concentration tends to help focus my vipassana so I sometimes do a short concentration period at the beginning of a session, and some folks will even go into jhana then come out and do vipassana when their mind is really concentrated. But from the point of view of mitigating the dukkha nanas, concentration states tend to be extremely pleasurable, even blissful, and that can help to work against the fear, loathing and depression that can arise in the dukkha nanas
Something I'm very interested in learning. Wasn't sure if this was the right time to start trying it out. Seems like very deep concentration was something that came easier pre-A&P. It's been much harder in the current phase I'm in.