Free-flow nana state during Goenka Vipassana

Goh C, modified 2 Years ago at 2/27/20 10:23 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 2/27/20 7:09 AM

Free-flow nana state during Goenka Vipassana

Posts: 3 Join Date: 2/27/20 Recent Posts

First of all, apologies if this has been posted before. Can't seem to find anything using the search function.

I consider myself a novice meditator with less than 3 years of experience. Did a mix of anapana and isha kriya yoga for not more than 30 minutes daily. More than a year ago I decided to deepen my practice and went for my first Goenka vipassana 10 day retreat.

On the 4th day of the retreat (where they started teaching vipassana proper) I had my first 'nana' experience or whatever it is called. I remember the very first instructions were to switch attention from the triangular area around the nose to the top of the head. As I did so a burst of pleasure erupted from the top of my head, the area was vibrating with a feeling of ecstastic bliss. Then as I switched my attention to other parts othe body, the bliss spread (not diminishing in intensity) like painting my body with a paintbrush; the paint being bliss and the paintbrush being my attention. Then I did the body sweeping rapidly and kept the 'free-flow' of bliss vibration throughout. I remember my eyelids flickering and feeling very ecstatic, almost orgasmic after the experience, which lasted for approx an hour. Sense of body also kind of dissapeared (but not entirely, could still feel the hardness of my spine) and the vibrations seemed to be 'everywhere at once'. I could also, if I focused on the top of my head, generate a 'pulse of energy' much like submarine sonar that enveloped and went up and down my body, generating pleasure as it passed through myself.

I assume that I had achieved stable attention from the first few days of pure anapana, and this somehow led to this experience which I believed Goenka called 'free-flow vipassana nana' / 'bhangha nana'.

I just want to know how this corresponds to the jhana states. TA at the retreat was quite adamant about not labelling or caring about sensations, just note that they are annica. The whole 'dont play the game of sensations' thing.

Since returning to daily life and meditating daily (anapana+vipassana), I don't seem to be making progress both in terms of equanamity or in terms of experiencing these sensations (which is the 'wrong' way to judge progress in Goenka path). I think I just can't reach a stage of stable attention with the distractions and short sits of daily life.

I understand the whole 'don't keep switching paths' thing but I really feel a deep gut feeling that Goenka vipassana just isn't right for me.
I would like to incorporate Mahasi-style noting and just want to know if anyone has any helpful comments.

Thank you in advance.
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Years ago at 2/27/20 7:40 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 2/27/20 7:40 AM

RE: Free-flow nana state during Goenka Vipassana

Posts: 6727 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
Hi and welcome! What you describe sounds like what Daniel calls the Arising and Passing away (A&P). However, bhanga literally means dissolution, which is also a nana (the one that comes after the A&P). I think there are different ways of using the terms. I recommend that you read Daniel's book Mastering the core teachings of the Buddha which is freely available online, especially about the insight stages, to see if you recognize it. Earlier in the book there is also a section about the jhanas (concentration/shamatha). Here is a vimeo where he explains how the nanas and jhanas correlate: I suspect that it makes more sense if you read the relevant passages in the book first. 

If you find yourself struggling with your practice now, that is only to be expected when you have recently crossed the A&P.  There are cycles to the practice, and the A&P is in many respects experienced as a peak. You are most likely in a more advanced stage now but feeling that you have lost your clarity. That is because your mind is learning to widen its focus rather than maintaining a lazer-sharp but narrow one. 

Daniel's whole book is a goldmine. I highly recommend that you read it. It has become the Bible of my practice. 

Best wishes for your wellbeing and practice!
Brandon Dayton, modified 2 Years ago at 2/27/20 11:02 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 2/27/20 11:02 AM

RE: Free-flow nana state during Goenka Vipassana

Posts: 511 Join Date: 9/24/19 Recent Posts
Sounds like A&P to me too. You'll likely get the same diagnosis from most peeps on this forum. If you want to cross the A&P, Goenka seems like a really solid way to do it. I don't have any direct experience with Goenka, but I've read a good deal about its history. Both Goenka and Mahasi are practices that originated from similar roots in Burma. They are both recent innovations in practice in their own particular ways. The Goenka organization has taken the approach of standardization and centralization, which has allowed for explosive growth. But that comes at a cost. What you practice at Goenka is likely identical to what you would have practiced 30 years ago. There are not many mechanisms for innovation or adaptation or individualization. 

The Mahasi method doesn't have a centralised organisation governing its practice. Its the core of practice within the IMS/Spirit Rock tradition, Shinzen Young's method and the general Pragmatic Dharma movement (among many others). You're likely to find much more variety and nuance to the many flavors of Mahasi style noting. It can be confusing, since there are so many approaches, but it can also be more adaptable to your practice as you progress. Consulting a teacher can be really helpful at this point. MCTB would also be a great resource (and this forum, of course).

As you seem to be aware, returning back to the peak experience at Goenka is not the right approach at this point. Your experience is actually very similar to what Joseph Goldstein described after working with Goenka. He said he felt something to the effect of his body feeling full of light and energy during Goenka, but then feeling like it was rigid twisted metal afterwards. The lesson was to learn to accept both states equally. That's the power of noting. Have a good feeling? Note it. Have a bad feeling? Note it. Feel sleepy? Note it.

Not easy at all, as I am aslo currently in this disenchanted post-A&P phase, but the approach makes sense to me. Learning equanimity is a big part of the practice. Its about learning to not be dependent on circumstances for your happiness, whether they are internal states or external situations.
Brandon Dayton, modified 2 Years ago at 2/27/20 11:06 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 2/27/20 11:06 AM

RE: Free-flow nana state during Goenka Vipassana

Posts: 511 Join Date: 9/24/19 Recent Posts
You might want to check out this chapter from MCTB. The end of the chapter discussing Dissolution you might find particularly relevant:
Brandon Dayton, modified 2 Years ago at 2/28/20 1:56 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 2/28/20 1:56 PM

RE: Free-flow nana state during Goenka Vipassana

Posts: 511 Join Date: 9/24/19 Recent Posts
Hibiscus Kid--

To clarify, I'm mostly using "Mahasi Method" as I've heard it used in common parlance. Most of the time, when I have heard people refer to the Mahasi Method, they are referring to the practice as taught by various teachers and institutions, not necessarily associated with any authorized Mahasi lineage (although you can certainly trace the transimssion of the method back to Mahasi directly or through his pupils). Alternatively, in my experience, when people reference Goenka, it is almost always in reference to the network of retreat centers offering a highly correlated, replicated experience with little few mechanisms for innovation or individual adaptation. Body scanning as a technique is also wide-spread, and most modalities that teach it likely have similar roots to the Goenka method (such as MBSR), but I've not yet heard anyone reference a "Goenka" method that was not associated with the retreat centers.

I'm also personally of the opinion that tradition and innnovation are both important parts of any functional system, and should be looked at in balance when trying to judge a practice. So, I don't place a practice being authorized as being more valid as others. Mahasi himself was an innovator and was the direct recipient of innovations recent to his time as well. Ledi Sayadaw poplurized lay meditation, which Mahasi continued and Mahasi almost completely removed traditional concentration practice as a prerequisite for vipassana. Their practices relied on tradtional texts for their development, but they also adapted their interpretations according to their needs.

This is all coming from a guy that likes to read a lot, but admittedly still has much to learn about the meditation landscape (including no direct experience with a Goenka retreat). I'll feel more comfortable expressing a more confident opinion once I have more experience with practices within the Mahasi-style family of noting itself.

Doing a retreat at an authorized Mahasi lineage retreat center would be interesting. Do you have an account of it in your log?