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Mapping the Goenka Experience
Answer
5/14/20 3:56 PM
My hope here is to gain a little perspective on how the vipassana strategy outlined by Goenka during his 10-day retreats can be superimposed on other maps. That way I can better understand what I experienced, and how it is shaping my subsequent practice (which is now more in line with "The Mind Illuminated" instruction). I am also curious about the advanced techniques which are not described in the 10-day retreat.

For those unfamiliar, there is a clear sequence of progression provided by Goenka's instruction which I will breifly summarze in my own words here:
  1. Pay strict attention to the sensations at the tip of the nose. This is conducted for the first three days to stabilize your concentration.
  2. Begin body scanning, the "meat and potatoes" of the Goenka method. Methodically scan the entire body, from top to bottom in small patches, in search of any sensation. Most of the body is "offline" and proffers no perceptible sensation. Keep moving.
  3. As scanning progresses, you begin you observe sensation at every part of the surface of the body. These sensations are fleeting in most areas (if present at all), and dissapear from awareness as you migrate attention to other areas of the body.
  4. Later, sensations no longer dissipiate. The entire body surface can be felt tingling, vibrating, buzzing, humming, etc. Scanning continues sequentially, from top to bottom, and sensations amplify.
  5. When the entire body is filled with persistent and vibrant sensation, the sensations begin to permeate to the subsurface volumes of our body. Continue scanning.
  6. When the whole body, surface and interior, is humming/tingling/vibrating/however you want to describe it, focuse on the spine specifically, until the entire spine is ampilfied/glowing/luminuous/etc.
  7. Goenka provides no further instruction during the 10-day course.
During my retreat, I was on step 5 before I completely ran out of mental energy. In hindsight, I see that I was striving far too much for progress, paradoxically preventing me from getting further (classic!). I didn't progress any further in this sequence on my retreat, nor since.

Nonetheless, I experienced incredible whole-body thrumming/vibration/buzzing, an incredible sensate glory, raw and unbridled by my own narrative. This would occasionally persist even after the formal sit concluded, offering a godly (excuse my dramatization) sense of connection to my physical presence as I walked towards our meal in silence. In hindsight I came to mostly appreciate this as a wicked cool experience, though it did seem like it helped me to understanding the three characteristics more clearly (removing of the "self" from the equation, the evershifting flux of sensate experience, and the relationship between aversion/craving in the generation of these sensations).

I find I can tap into that buzzing/vibratory sensation in my body during my 20-40 minute daily sits. It continues to be very pleasant.

Now for my pointed questions:
  • Does this experience fit into something like the Progress of Insight map?
  • I'm wondreing if the buzzing/vibratory state that I can access is bringing me close to access concentration and the jhanas. What do you think?
  • What vipassana instructions are available beyond step 6? I'm not much for the secrecy/cult-like attitude of the Goenka tradition, but am immensely curious about where this sequence leads.
Thanks for taking the time to read my long post. Happy meditating!

RE: Mapping the Goenka Experience
Answer
5/14/20 4:36 PM as a reply to Matt.
I have never tried the goenka method, though it does seem suited to beginners. I have had success with noting though, and I still do it.

As much as Daniel probably doesn't want to hear it, there is a lot of connection I find with run-of-the-mill mindfulness and his techniques. Lately I have been taking it one step further and watching my horoscope flux. So call me what you like.

RE: Mapping the Goenka Experience
Answer
5/15/20 2:51 PM as a reply to Matt.
On two separate ten-day Goenka retreats, I have passed through the same progression of stages which, in retrospect, does seem to me to have a mapping to... the Maps.

The fireworks start with an experience that involves a lot of joy and rapture, there is a vibration component, but it's not necessarily full-body vibrations. Somewhere around this time also comes a realisation that mental events are just sensations just like bodily sensations. An intrusive thought that disturbs, or attempts to disturb, the continuity of the scanning is just like an intrusive itch somewhere else on the body.

Proposed mapping: Mind and Body

Then comes a mellower stage where suddenly there is a fascination with textures, touch, and the very act of movement. The fact that I have hands and that I can move them at my command strikes me as endlessly amazing. It's very funny and trippy, a bit like the feeling of being on shrooms. These things hit off-cushion, usually right after a sitting. Intentions (to move) become observable as separate objects. Spontaneous laughter can occur during sittings.

Proposed mapping: Causality

Then comes a difficult stage of agitation in which I feel that I'm kind of done here and could really go home already, I start thinking about my life, all the things I would like to do after the retreat. I don't necessarily feel bad, but I want to do everything but meditate and it drives me up the wall.

Proposed mapping: Three Characteristics

Eventually I reach full-body vibrations, with the whole body liquefying and all of reality just consisting in fast vibrations. The most interesting thing I've experienced here was being able to look between the vibrations, at the nothingness there, and realising that I already don't exist half the time. Comes with very strong equanimity, cold and pain can be endured without suffering, and often I sit longer than the allotted periods. This stage also comes with a significantly reduced need for sleep.

Proposed mapping: A&P

At some point, the above state undergoes a sudden flip and the super-intense vibrations quieten down very abruptly. Vibrations remain, but are now much, much subtler. It's vaguely pleasant, but not mind-blowing like the previous state. Perception is oddly out of focus in a wholly new way: as the body-scanning continues, I can no longer attend to a small focused area like I could before. Instead I perceive a larger area around it, and there's almost a blind spot in the middle in the place where I direct my attention.

Proposed mapping: Dissolution

The first time I had these experiences before I had absorbed the Maps, and was struck, upon reading through them afterwards, by how well my experience seemed to match them. The second time, I knew the maps already and was struck by how well my experience this time replicated what I had gone through the first time.