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Intro: My progress so far
Answer
4/26/11 10:18 PM
Hey all,

Before I start this rather long introductory post, I'd just like to express the profound gratitude that feel for having access to such a wonderful resource and community. Thank you so much! I provide a lot of background info that might be useful in diagnosis in the following section, but if you're not interested or don't have the time, feel free to skip down to "My Recent Experience."


My Story So Far:

I began meditating in the style described in "Mindfulness in Plain English" sometime in October of 2010, using the sensation of the breath at the rims of my nostrils as my meditation object. I had never really paid much direct attention to my experience of the world until about 6 months prior to that point when I tried sub-lingual salvia divinorum extract. This showed me just how different and interesting my subjective experience could be and caused me to wake up and start paying attention in my day-to-day life. Visual experience, particulary in bright sunlight, became noticeably more interesting.

I started with 30 minutes a day every morning and soon (after a few weeks) increased it to one hour. The sense of calm that I felt after 15-20 minutes of trying to focus on my breath rather than my thought stream always felt like a reward that was well worth the time investment and tended to make my mood more resilient for several hours afterward.

After a week or two I could get to what I now recognize as access concentration in about 10-20 minutes or so if I kept very still, but became confused by the descriptions of a visual sign from MiPE. I spent a lot of time trying to find resources about the Jhanas and how to get into them but became confused by seemingly contradictory information. At the time, switching between meditation objects without losing my concentration was very difficult, so trying to switch my focus to the pleasurable sensations that arose in my hands and forehead didn't work. Frustrated, I went back to just focusing on the breath and my concentration seemed to strengthen over time without anything particularly exciting happening.

Right from the beginning, I noticed that weed seemed to make meditation noticeably easier. Although it did not improve my ability to concentrate, it seemed to increase the intensity of my sensations, making it much easier to notice their subtler properties. It was while high that I first noticed the sensation of my breath pulsing as I tried to concentrate on it. At the time, having not yet read MCTB or anything that described insight practice in detail, I dismissed this as a cool but unimportant sensory artifact. Meditating while high always felt like I had suddenly "gained a level" and been given the opportunity to see what my meditation practice would be like some time in the future. Sure enough, as the the weeks passed, my experience during normal meditation sessions would become more and more like that of my high meditation sessions from several weeks ago.

Oddly enough, the most dramatic experience I had was not during a meditation session, but while reading a book - "No Boundary," by Ken Wilber, over the course of two days. As is my usual style, I had been reading very slowly - speaking all of the sentences in my head and visualizing the metaphors - and performing all of the suggested exercises as soon as they came up. As I read, it gradually dawned on me that the purpose of many if not most "spiritual" practices seemed to be to cause people to really grok the map-territory distinction for particularly persistent categories such as "self", from their direct experience, rather than just as an intellectual exercise. In particular, the chapter on "the centaur" and the body awareness exercises in it noticeably increased the degree to which I felt "present" and to which my thoughts and emotions seemed just like my other sensations, or at least similar enough to them that I should obviously be able to combine the information that I'm getting from all sources.

As I read on, the map-territory distinction became more and more clear to me and I came to really grok, for the first time, that my experience of the world is merely evidence about how the world is and not direct access to reality. In particular, I came to understand my emotions as anticipations, beliefs about what will happen, combined with the physiological changes that tend to be adaptive for dealing with such situations (just as an example, I'm sure there's more to it than this). All at once, they lost much of their power over me. Before, my only real options for dealing with emotions were to ignore them or obey them. Now I found myself able to treat them as data that could be easily combined with information from explicit reasoning. This was AWESOME. I also felt far more connected to my body, like it was actually a part of me rather than this annoying thing that I had to take care of because it housed my brain. All sensations became permanently more vivid, particualrly touch. I could now get a preposterous amount of pleasure from simply putting the palms of my hands together in a classic "prayer" position. Now that I really understood that my aversions were due to implicit beliefs and not direct access to the way reality is, I could also easily convert the intensity of previously noxious (but not dangerous) temperature sensations into waves of ecstasy. This was also awesome. In short, my experience of the world permanently shifted to what I can best describe as all of the benefits of a mild dose of weed with non of the downsides (short term memory impairment, confusion, sensory overload). Also, I soon realized that the chronic fatigue I had previously suffered from most days was almost entirely gone. All of this happened around the middle of February and has continued to deepen ever since.

This was all so profound that, for a couple days, I seriously entertained the possibility that I had attained enlightenment. I felt like, through the ability to appreciate whatever I was experiencing at any given moment, I had achieved a sense of well-being that was completely unrelated to the particulars of my situation. For the first time, it seemed utterly preposterous that I would be unable to live a happy, meaningful life, regardless of what happened to me. Indeed, this feeling has lasted, although the limits of my abilities became clear over time. It took deliberate effort to remind myself that all information is good and that it is perfectly OK and possible to appreciate everything I experienced. I began to notice more subtle forms of suffering that I couldn't quite put my finger on and had a difficult time eliminating. I also realized that, despite seeing through the "self" concept intelectually, I couldn't reliably shake the feeling that there was something observing some of my sensations and I couldn't figure out how to observe that observer. Even so, my attitude and behavior seem to have stably shifted. I feel far less threatened by things and far more comfortable with profound levels of uncertainty.

It was around this time that I let up a bit in my sitting practice and shifted toward trying to be continually present throughout the day. I did this for a bout a month before I noticed a significant drop in my general sense of well-being and started sitting again. Shortly after doing so, I noticed that my concentration seemed to have improved significantly. I often find myself slipping into something like access concentration almost without any deliberate effort just from sitting still for a few minutes (or even less, depending on the activity). My mind will naturally rest on some object (breath, a strong sensation or my stream of thoughts), a feeling of calm spreads over me and pleasurable sensations arise spontaneously throughout my body, particularly in my forehead. I'm in such a state right now as I type this. In fact, my forehead is pulsing in a very noticeable and pleasant way pretty much continuously unless I become very engaged in some other activity. It feels like I am getting a perpetual massage and is the almost always the easiest sensation for me to investigate. Although quite pleasant, at first I found this to be somewhat annoying because I had no control over it. I would often sit down to get work done, feel the calm and pleasant sensations arise in my body and be overcome by a strong desire to meditate. I've gotten better at dealing with this since, but it was challenging to work on anything besides meditation or some activity that could plausibly contribute to my spiritual development for several weeks.

I discovered MCTB about two weeks ago. Two weeks before finding and reading MCTB, I had begun to notice the pulsing, vibrating aspect of my sensations occasionally in my normal waking state. Reading MCTB was unbelievably valuable. I had had an extremeley difficult time finding clear, reliable information about insight meditation and enlightenment on the internet and had resorted to trying to read the Vishudimagga, which hadn't been going very well. Upon learning exactly what I was suposed to be looking for and why that should work, my desire to practice sky-rocketed and my progress became much more rapid. I've been meditating about 2-3 hours a day for the past week and a half. Usually one 1-hour block after I shower in the morning, many shorter ones throughout the day during any "down time" like showering or waiting for someone and then 30-60 minutes at night before going to sleep. I managed into the 1st Jhana while somewhat high for the first time (I hadn't tried for many months) a few days ago and was able to follow through to the 2nd and possibly the third (see below) without much trouble. Later that night I was able to enter and stay in the 2nd jhana with a fire alarm (false alarm) blaring for about 30 minutes without difficulty.



My Recent Experience:

- Lied down with the lights off and no pillow.
- I concentrated on the feeling of air passing by the top of the rim of my nostrils.
- Almost immediately, the sensation became solid and was very easy to stay with
- A deep, full pleasurable sensation spread across my forehead, pulsing rather prominently.
- I concentrated on the pleasurableness of this sensation and a joyful anticipation arose in my body. I focused on the
pleasurable aspect of that experience as well and spread the joy and happiness throughout my body.
- I concentrated on the mass of pleasure until it became a steadily humming field that covered my entire body. I soon noticed that this state was now self-sustaining.
- After a very short amount of time, I noticed that, despite being very intense and quite stable, this pleasure wasn't very satisfying. In fact, it was downright annoying. Remembering that this was the key feeling for entering the 3rd Jhana, I let go of the rapture and felt it drain away down my body from my head to my toes (despite the fact that I was lying down on my back).
- I was left with a feeling of happiness, which was far less intense but just as stable.
- Even this was still obviously somewhat annoying. I have vague memories of experiencing something like this before, but I didn't know what it meant or what to do about it. Having read MCTB, I interpreted the state as a sign of progress and decided to investigate the sensation of happiness in more detail.
- It broke apart effortlessly into a pulsing, vibrating mass that was even more annoying. I decided to try to clearly conceptualize each of these little blips, buzzes and pulses as being simultaneously impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self. Each of these properties was individually apparent without any "squinting", and keeping them all in mind at the same time while noting them wordlessly was not too challenging, though definitely effortful.
- The vibrating mass of happiness turned into a somewhat-more-solid mass of pure irritation and "unsatisfactoriness."
- I stayed with this feeling for a while, really getting into the groove of noting the three characteristics, both with my eyes open and closed, in every sensation I could find.
- Eventually I got tired of this but, rather than trying to go back, I decided to try to push forward. I tried to break up the sensations even further, particularly the sense of irritation (I think this was critical) and sure enough they gave way. Now the everything was vibrating much faster, defintiely more than 10 times per second, though I'm not sure how much more, and most of the irritation was gone.
- I played an engaging game of whack-a-mole in this state for an unknown amount of time:
- It seemed that the most solid-seeming part of my awareness was where my sense of an observer seemed to be coming from.
- Whenever I noticed that something felt solid I would try to notice more detail in it and break it up, thus pushing the sense of an observer out of that part. Initially, the sensations that made up the front (face) half of my body were vibrating much faster than those of the back that were in contact with my bed and "I" seemed to be in that half (more precisely, the back half of my head).
- I allocated more of my attention to my back and tried to break these sensations up further. In the process, my sense of self moved a bit forward, but couldn't get into the front because I was maintaining my attention there so it moved into the center of my head and chest.
- I broke up the sensations in my chest and and "I" retreated into the center of my head. My breath seemed oddly solid all of a sudden and this combined with the solid feeling in the center of my head to yield the interesting experience of feeling like some of "me" was being breathed in and out through my nose. Eventually, I managed to break up the solid breath feeling as well and this went away.
- Focusing on the "center of my head," I was left with just thoughts as "me." When I realized that they were being observed and so couldn't be me, my sense of self would shift again somewhere else, to whichever place where my awareness was weakest.
- I kept doing this for a while, maybe 20 minutes, maybe forty, it's difficult to say, without making much progress. Satisfied with my progress, I got up and chatted excitedly with a friend of mine for a bit.

Since then, I've been able to note the three characteristics in many of my vibratory experiences throughout the day whenever my attention turns toward them. When I meditate, the experience is much like what I described above, though noticeably more effortful when I start from my baseline (non-high) state. I spend most of my time bouncing between what feel like two levels of vibration, one that is around 5-10 beats per second, more in the foreground and somewhat annoying and one that is at least twice as fast but probably more, that seems to be in the backgorund and throughout my whole body and that is much more pleasant, thrilling even. I haven't quite managed to stabilize at the second, seemingly deeper level yet.

I would really appreciate any guesses as to where I'm at and exactly what to do from here. In particular, I'm wondering whether it would be best to really stick with one meditation object and keep trying to notice as much about it as possible or to chase the sense of an observer around as I did the first time. I have my own hypotheses about where I am, but I'd rather not risk contaminaitng your diagnoses.

RE: Intro: My progress so far
Answer
4/28/11 9:32 AM as a reply to Jasen Murray.
Update: Vibrations are now at much more intense, almost all effort to see them has dropped away and my visual field flashes in synchrony.

RE: Intro: My progress so far
Answer
4/28/11 5:14 PM as a reply to Jasen Murray.
Quick answer = 2nd jhana, Arising & Passing Away, with some great descriptions of moving through the earlier ├▒anas and also this stage. I need to go for the moment but I'll try to reply with something more useful, although I wanted to say that your post and descriptions are top notch.

As for weed, I'm neither pro nor con and believe that you're responsible for your own actions. It's great for getting into concentrated states but can really cloud up your insight practice as it makes it great fun to play around rather than put some effort in.

RE: Intro: My progress so far
Answer
4/28/11 5:37 PM as a reply to Jasen Murray.
Jasen Murray:
Right from the beginning, I noticed that weed seemed to make meditation noticeably easier. Although it did not improve my ability to concentrate, it seemed to increase the intensity of my sensations, making it much easier to notice their subtler properties. It was while high that I first noticed the sensation of my breath pulsing as I tried to concentrate on it. At the time, having not yet read MCTB or anything that described insight practice in detail, I dismissed this as a cool but unimportant sensory artifact. Meditating while high always felt like I had suddenly "gained a level" and been given the opportunity to see what my meditation practice would be like some time in the future. Sure enough, as the the weeks passed, my experience during normal meditation sessions would become more and more like that of my high meditation sessions from several weeks ago.

hey just thought i'd chip in with my experience here (i haven't gotten to read the rest of the post yet but Tommy's comment drew me to this)

i noticed the same - weed seems to up-level the meditation. i thought of it as peeking ahead, and i also noticed that sober meditation would 'catch up' to high-meditation soon enough. also meditating when high was/is a lot more fun, more profound altered states, more visions, more bliss, more investigative power, etc... definitely helped me somewhat (got me to recognize my stream-entry really quick)

what happened, though, was too much getting high and meditating (i'd do it with friends without meditating but after we parted i would sit and meditate cause hey it's fun). the result was a very tensed-up mental state throughout the day and high-powered but not-well-grounded meditation.. which caused lots of negative things to happen for a period (lots of reactivity and suffering during daily life). at first i seemed to be making faster progress, and maybe i did, but then it just became a hindrance and ended up being pretty painful. so use your good judgement.. i don't know how often you do it but if it's often then consider taking a break at some point and seeing what that's like. there's a lot to be said for being relaxed..

RE: Intro: My progress so far
Answer
4/28/11 7:30 PM as a reply to Beoman Claudiu Dragon Emu Fire Golem.
Thank you for your comments!

It's good to get some independent confirmation of the boosting effect from weed. I definitely notice the desire to vape more often since I became confident in the effect and have since made a resolution to never replace any of my sober meditation with high meditation. I still don't have enough data to tell what effect it has on my rate of progress and I don't have much hope of obtaining anything without a controlled study. If training attention works like muscle, I would expect anything that make meditation easier by amplifying sensations (or modifying filters) to slow down my rate of progress, since each session is less of a workout. If training attention is more about recognizing new features and patterns for your attention rest on and forming new habits of mind, I would expect them to increase my rate of progress, as they make it easier to find new "foot holds" for attention (the image in my head is of scaling a vertical rock surface). There's probably a bit of both going on, but most of my experience with attention and substances that alter it in one way or another favors the later model. Either way, there are plenty of other good reasons to only use psychedelics in moderation.

In other news, I decided to combine my morning and evening sessions into a single two-hour block today as an experiment. It was mostly unremarkable except for a very noticeable cycling in the speed and location of the vibrations that went something like this:

Less than 5 bps primarily in my forehead, no effort to notice, somewhat pleasant.
5-10 bps primarily in my forehead, slightly more effort and/or more annoying
10-20 bps concentrated in a very tight part of my forehead or wherever I was focusing, very intense but not unpleasant. A few times this moved to the top of my head, at which point it felt like a tree or a stalk started growing out of my head and out into space.
20+++ throughout my body - crazy bliss wave that caused me to involuntarily arch my back somewhat. I don't think this always followed the previous stage, but I don't quite remember.
Repeat.
Occasionally there would be a really annoying itch that arose somewhere, usually my face. Sometimes it would be easy to dissolve, other times very persistent.

Yesterday's 1-hour meditation session ended with me feeling like I'd been hit by a bus. This morning's 2-hour session left me feeling energized. There are some confounding factors though, such as getting more organized for a project I'm working on, so I'm not sure what to make of this. My forehead has also been pulsing more rapidly than usual all day. I'll continue to report any new developments.

RE: Intro: My progress so far
Answer
4/28/11 10:30 PM as a reply to Jasen Murray.
Hi Jasen,

Welcome to the DhO!

From your descriptions it sounds like you have a pretty strong practice and a lot of dedication. That's great! Keep it up!

I pretty much agree with Tommy, sounds like you're hitting A&P territory although diagnosing someone else's experience online is rarely accurate. Wherever you may be, sounds like you're doing the right thing - looking at the 3Cs. Keeping that practice alive as much as possible through daily life, as you're doing, is also very helpful.

A few suggestions/questions:
- At this point in the practice I think it would be helpful to clearly notice sensations arising and passing and try to keep the self-analysis and self-guidance to a minimum.
- But if you happen to be looking at the sense of the observer anyway, try to see: who is it that's looking?
- You describe many vibrations, here are some other things that would be helpful for you to notice and helpful for others here to know if you want more accurate diagnosis
* What is the quality of attention and how is it changing? For example, narrow, wide, panoramic, stable, quickly shifting, etc.
* What if any is the sense of space? constricted, normal, open, expansive, etc.
* Are you noticing sensations sequentially or are sensations "running over" each other?
* Are you noticing any part of a sensation clearer than others or maybe you're noticing the entire thing from arising to passing very clearly.
* Speaking of arising and passing, are you noticing those? Are they clear? How much effort does it take to notice them?

Hope this helps,
Eran.

RE: Intro: My progress so far
Answer
5/19/11 2:35 AM as a reply to Eran G.
Update:

I've been practicing the jhanas for the first 20-40 minutes of each meditation session for the past week and half or so and generally sitting for 1-1.5 hours each time (usually twice per day). My concentration practice usually goes something like this:

If I stay relatively still and rest my attention on something for even a few seconds, pressure starts to form and pulse around my forehead and crown. I then consciously let go of any tension in my body and note any thoughts that arise and let go of them as well. I let my attention rest on the object (usually the breath or the sensations in my forehead themselves) like I let my head rest on my pillow at night. Soon (typically tens of seconds) after, pleasant tingling sensations will arise in my face, head and hands. I shift my attention to these sensations and allow them to fill it, letting go of everything else. I smile, which results in more pleasant sensations arising which causes my smile to broaden. At this point I still have to work to keep my attention on the pleasant sensations, which feels like consciously letting go of other concerns.

After a minute or two of this, the feeling of effort goes away and some stable state that might be what is called "unification of mind" forms, although it is not total and thoughts still arise (though they are easy to let go of). At this point I can increase the intensity of the pleasant sensations by quite a bit depending on how much of my attention I put into them. I usually hang out in this stage for several minutes until I'm very relaxed and happy and I start to find the body bliss a somewhat annoying distraction. My attention then shifts to the subtler mental/emotional pleasure/joy/contentment factor. Whereas the body bliss felt like it was at the surface my skin, this feels like a distinct pressure in the middle of my chest or around my spine, almost like a rod that I grab on to. The body bliss subsides, my attention shifts very noticeably such that the sides of my head become far more clear than the center and I feel calm and content. Pleasant bodily sensations now feel more like a soft blanket gently brushing my skin than waves of bliss.

It takes a bit longer for this subtler pleasure to get annoying, but when it does my strong desire to make insight progress usually pushes me to abandon it. The next shift feels like the pressure in my chest extending into my head accompanied by attention shifting such that it wraps around my head from either side and merges. Pleasant sensation my arise occasionally, but my mind just notes them off and doesn't cling to them or even seem particularly interested in them. I hang out in this state until it seems stable, which can sometimes take a while, and then shift to vipassana by looking for the three characteristics, usually in the distinct feeling of pressure in my forehead, which has been pulsing on and off the entire time.


Vipassana:

After a few minutes the initial irregular pulsing gives way to swirling tactile vibration vortexes with very narrow, focused attention. My attention focuses to a very fine point on my forehead that feels like a tornado burrowing into my skull (but in a good way) until it seems to dissipate and trickle down my face after which the sensations become indistinct and my attention shifts to the periphery. I know not to fight this shift in attention and just sort of groove with it, noticing the moderate pulsing of sensations around the sides of my face and arms. This is somewhat stable and lasts for a minute or two.

The next shift often begins with itches and painful tension arising, usually in my face, neck, or shoulders. This unpleasantness becomes worse and more solid seeming if I try to narrowly focus my attention on it but breaks up somewhat if I spread my attention wide throughout a large part of my body that includes it. I let go as completely as I can and let my attention be sink into what starts to feel like a sea of uneasiness, which builds until it starts to pulse and eventually my mind seems to sink deep into a very chaotic, swiftly vibrating (and yet somehow subtle) storm of irritating sensations that pervade my entire body and mind. This is very difficult to stay with, but I usually notice thoughts such as "this is a sign of progress! You're almost there!" arising and I try to maintain my relaxed concentration, letting go of any tension or resistance that I notice in my body and mind. I imagine that this experience will never end and that my only hope of peace is to accept it and surrender to it completely.

As I do so, it starts to feel like a weight is being lifted from me and I feel like I'm rising up out the unpleasantness. This is somewhat like seeing a light at the end of a dark tunnel, feeling cool air rush into a hot humid room after a window is opened or the end of a Bikram yoga class. There is a wonderful feeling of relief. My head, neck and shoulders all ache, but this is OK. My attention shifts to become panoramic and I can feel waves (rather than swirls) of fine vibrations moving lightly through my body. My entire visual field flickers noticeably. I can notice fine vibrations within larger pulses seemingly simultaneously. The difference between the physical sensations in my body and my "mental map" of my body becomes astonishingly clear such that moving an entirely mental "intention hand" feels almost as clear and distinct as moving my physical hand. The state feels distinctly reminiscent of the end of a "Metroid" game after you've gotten all of your weapons and suit functionality back and can now go anywhere and conquer anything. I feel awesome.

I made this journey for the first time on Sunday in an epic 100 minute sit that left my head and body aching for the rest of the day, though I felt so happy and peaceful afterward that I didn't care. I did it again on Tuesday in 30 minutes followed by 15 minutes in the final state and again today in 30 minutes followed by 30 minutes in the final state. I can see why people like to practice on retreats now, as making this trek every day seems like it might get tiring. I had the strong impression that my concentration practice was critical for staying at the level of physical sensations throughout all of this, which helped with getting through the unpleasantness, but I wonder if I should ease up on it now that I'm comfortable traversing that territory. Any thoughts?

Also, I'm not sure how to answer questions about the "beginning, middle and end" of sensations...what is an individual "sensation?" The detail with which I can resolve my experience has been increasing but that at any given time the shortest sensation seems atomic. What should I be looking for?

RE: Intro: My progress so far
Answer
5/19/11 8:11 PM as a reply to Jasen Murray.
I tried a 1.25-hour "dry" session this morning without doing the jhanas first. I still had to slog through the same territory and did so far less skillfully (took me longer, more pain, more falling back, more getting lost in thought and not much of a peaceful "afterglow") so I don't think I'll be repeating that experiment any time soon.

Just finished another 1-hour wet session which went far better. I tried keeping my attention on the breath as much as possible instead of switching it to the jhana factors and the progression was similar but without the rod-like chest tension. It was cool and comforting noticing my attention shift on it's own without any deliberate manipulation. I spent about 30 minutes in the final state I described in my last post feeling peaceful and powerful but somewhat unsure about what to do. I tried to just let go of my desire to have something interesting happen and just be aware of as much detail as possible. My attention seemed to want to spread itself throughout large portions of my body at once. If I tried to stay with just the breath I would start to notice sensations in my face and hands starting to vibrate at the same frequency as those of the breath. I just went on silently noting and trying to be aware of as much as possible until my timer went off. I feel really calm, alert and together.

I'm actually becoming somewhat fond of the unpleasant territory. It appears so consistently that it's become a very useful marker of where I am. The progression during each of the past 4 sessions has been almost exactly the same (as described in the above post) in almost exactly 30 minutes each time. I haven't read very many reports with that level of consistency and am a bit worried that I might be fooling myself somehow, though I can't see how as it seems to clearly work best when I'm just letting go and not trying to manipulate anything.