2nd retreat - what the hell happened!? [LONG]

Marc Piano, modified 10 Years ago.

2nd retreat - what the hell happened!? [LONG]

Posts: 6 Join Date: 9/7/10 Recent Posts
Hi all,

Been meditating 'properly' after jumping in the deep end and doing a 10 day vipassana retreat in January last year. The meditation has been...erm...infrequent since. There were periods of full-on motivation and lots of sitting/walking, then periods where life was just too damn hectic or there was no motivation.

Meditation is the Mahasi Sayadaw/Sattipathana method - noting of rising and falling of the abdomen.

The last few weeks I had trouble even staying on the breath for two inhalations and exhalations before major distraction/tiredness. Did 8 days of a 9 day retreat this week - 4am start to 10pm finish with one hour sits, breaking only for breakfast, lunch and an evening dhamma talk. I say 8 days, because it was agreed with one of the course administrators that leaving at 10pm on the Sunday night and going straight to work the next day was probably not the best idea and a day of transition would be beneficial. Sayadaw said it was up to me then as I was about to leave wanted me to stay the evening and leave after lunch the next day instead. But by that stage all the arrangements were in place to leave.

I'll post truncated meditation notes if I may and would be grateful for pointers on where I'm at. The teacher, a Burmese saydaw, responded to pretty much all of these with 'very good, keep practicing, keep noting (where experiences gave rise to action rather than noting and awareness)' and didn't specifically confirm where I'm at but did acknowledge progress and insight. He wants me to do longer retreats. Timings are approximate and I have a nasty habit of opening eyes and checking the time after a certain experiences ceases or restlessness occurs. It does help in gauging duration though.

If anything isn't clear or some of this doesn't make sense please let me know and will clarify - the handwriting is hard to read and some of the notes were pretty long!

Anyway, days 1-4 were intensive effort, inability to stay on the breath for long, tiredness, wondering whether the technique is correct, too much effort being put in etc.

- Day 5: gradual awareness of the noting process becoming automated (and noting of the same). There was also awareness of the mind wandering becoming less and less frequent, and when it did, noting would arise almost immediately and automatically, causing the thought to cease, or a little bit of volitional effort on my part would dispel the thought.

During the final walking session that day there was a sense of 'automation' behind it. There was a sense of observing everything working on its own without any 'me' to control it.

Sitting became easier, with mindfulness settling on the breath almost immediately and staying for longer. There was still lots of trouble with knee pain and sitting, with anxiety arising on sensing the pain and adjusting posture (which of course was fine for a few minutes until new pain arose, and new adjusting, and so on, interrupting concentration).

Walking: Started becoming aware of a split second of an intention to do something immediately before the action itself, though this was infrequent.

- Day 6, early waking and immediate awareness of...erm...awareness, and noting from the moment of getting up. During the morning, awareness of the 'intention' gradually became clearer and more regular. Not only was the technique of meditation automatic, there was awareness of the intention 'flashing' into and out of existence and the body coming into action immediately after this. Conceptual thought was either not arising, or arising and immediately noted and ceasing. I couldn't force thoughts even if I tried.

Walking had the continued experience of intention arising and ceasing and causing action. Thoughts now if they did arise were only about dhamma and practice and analysis of what was going on (all noted as 'thinking' or 'contemplating').

The sitting after that resulted in awareness of unbelievably quick noting of absolutely everything - far too quick to consciously discern, just aware of lots of noting of things going on. The breath was almost imperceptible but there was still clear discernment of the rising, extension, tightening and subsequent contraction and relaxation of the abdomen on rising and falling.

That evening the sitting felt easy, light and with an open mind. Noting was automatic, easy and light. There was awareness of many secondary objects arising and ceasing, like in the middle of a flow of things coming, washing over and passing away - particularly sounds and bodily sensations such as pain, twitching, hearing and feeling of heart beating in head and mouth. There was uninterrupted concentration with no conceptual thought for 23 minutes. The mental state felt cool and still with no discernible feeling of enjoying or disliking the experience. Perception of arising and ceasing but no 'thoughts' or 'contemplation' of the same. Same again the sitting after that but the noting was a bit slower, this time there was minor and spread out but pleasant tingling that was arise and ceasing wildly across different parts of the body at different times. The tingling continued for a day or two, mainly during sitting but also sometimes during walking. Became aware of focusing attention on them instead of noting, so just noted 'tingling, tingling' and back to the abdomen. Sense of deep joy and happiness in the dhamma arose and ceased after several minutes. The final sitting that evening was pretty crap, with lots of desire to go off and do something else that I normally do outside of the retreat. Then there was reflection on doing that stuff in the past and getting bored with it, leading to contemplation of the nature of suffering as a result of clinging to that which is impermanent and inherently satisfactory owing to the delusion of permanence of phenomena.

Day 7 - Mindfulness from the moment of waking. During walking, a flurry of connected contemplations arose along the lines of 'there is just intention, and action'. After reading a little bit of a dhamma book to confirm this wasn't just wild speculation, there was awareness of everything suddenly feeling faded or muted, insight into not-self and a deep sense of relief. This followed with contemplation and very clear seeing/understanding of several links of Dependent Origination (name/form, contact, becoming, desire, clinging) and the 3Cs.

The evening the awareness deepened and there was awareness (rather than 'I' was aware, as identification with sensations and actions was no longer occurring) of intention instantly arising and ceasing, causing action, and awareness of both. There was also discernment between conceptual thought, which does not trigger physical processes but can cause the conditions, and intention, which DOES trigger the physical action. There was also awareness of the fact that there's a single intention, and a single action, then a single intention, a single action, and so on. So even though there may have been the thought 'I will walk from one end of the room to another', there was awareness, after the left foot dropped, to turn the head and check the clock. The intention to move the right foot simply didn't arise. Also awareness of whether or not things were pleasant and unpleasant, and awareness of intention/action either gravitating towards the pleasurable, away from the unpleasant, or neutral. So there's lots of moments of intention, all arising out of the conditions of each immediate moment, and awareness of the same as well as residual capacity for coarse recall of previous intention. All noted as 'contemplating' and didn't interrupt unification of mind with the physical sensations of the rising, moving and dropping feet.

Day 8 - Realisation that because of the fact that there's only conditions arising and ceasing, there's no determinable or knowable future, thus the importance of creating the conditions for only skilful and wholesome intention to arise in order to reduce the opportunity for unwholesome actions to occur. This also meant that there's no need to take pretty much anything in life too seriously, apart from cultivating good moral integrity and conduct. Tingling concentrated in the head area, mind and body felt lighter than before, big smile and a deep sense of happiness, with loving-kindness arising naturally without conscious directed thought on the same (that's significant - normally the LK is rote and dry).

During the walking before lunch there was awareness of constant arising and ceasing of physical and mental sensations beyond intellectual comprehension. No changing of sensations from one to another, or changing of qualities. Just instant arising and ceasing, too fast to perceive as individual moments, just as a 'swirl'. Even what is normally perceived as the 'same' sensation is a new dependently arisen sensation. This gave clear insight into the nature of suffering due to the illusion of permanence. Deep wave of pleasure shuddered through body, felt floating, deep sense of joy and happiness on discovering the dhamma, unshakeable confidence in the same and tears of joy. Grinning like a Cheshire Cat for 15 minutes during lunch. This gave way to a deep sense of peace. Then, on choosing deserts, there was awareness of craving arising for a particular yoghurt, and awareness of 'this is all very nice, but there's still a long way to go as there's still craving. Stop getting wrapped up in being happy and damn well keep practicing!' Desire to drop everything on leaving the retreat, ordain as a monk and practice full-time. Felt like this was past the point of no return.

The sitting after lunch was marked by an exceptional lightness of mind. Rather than previous sittings, where awareness had 'shot out' to note sensations, there was a sense of awareness quickly but lazily going out to 'greet' sensations, which felt like they were coming into awareness rather than being 'out there'. The top half of the body kept slumping back and to the right, so when this eventually happened and was noted, it was straightened. There was an awareness of this but no irritability or discomfort. Leg/knee pain which to this point was constantly the source of restlessness was very easily noted, quick investigation of the 3Cs led to an 'abiding'. A sense of 'there's stretching physical sensations, but that's just how it is right now. Carry on'. Likewise with everything else. There was a sense of ease and fluidity. There was no sense of any sensations being pleasant or unpleasant or feeling happy or send. There was just a sense of 'this is how it is right now' and things were just arising and ceasing. Images of a peaceful garden arose but were instantly dismissed as 'visualising'. Even a car screeching its tyres quite loudly nearby was simply noted as 'hearing, hearing' until it ceased. Contemplation of 'no point avoiding the good or chasing the bad - it's all impermanent and unsatisfactory. This is just how it is right now' arose and was noted. Then the noting stopped. There was awareness of this, but no noting of it. Just pure and simple existing. Then something happened to draw out of this state and open the eyes. Whole state lasted 32 minutes. Then when the eyes were closed again there was a visualisation of constant swirling black and white pulsating in intensity (will add at this point that in previous sittings the beating of the heart corresponded with perception of lightness and darkness).

The next sitting after that had an expectation of immediately reverting to that state, which of course didn't happen, so was marked by frustration and a sense of 'right well might as well finish and go home then since there's not going to be much more progress in the next few hours'. Then this was perceived as another form of craving and attachment, and the mind settled down for a good 20 mins of decent awareness. Noting was noticeably slower.

The routine was interrupted after that by packing and prepping to leave, then a final one hour sitting. In that sitting there were several periods of uninterrupted concentration and some decent noting but nowhere near as quick. Practice felt like it was regressing. [EDIT: At one stage felt like the ringing in ears was becoming deafening and a strange sensation from the toes up the ears. Couldn't feel like I was sitting on a cushion anymore. There was still awareness of sitting, but couldn't discern any contact points. Just felt 'flat'.]

At some stage between going to bed and waking this morning there was an awareness of a 'flash'. Not sure when it happened or whether I was asleep or waking up, but it was definitely discernible. This morning there was a 45 minute sit which felt like 15, with strong mindfulness and noting, then one hour walking with no problems and only one or two conceptual worldly thoughts arising which were instantly dismissed with 'thinking'.

Then there was a gradual sense of worry that all this will pass and I'll be back to normal (inability to establish concentration, losing all these insights etc). Everything felt crap and I wanted to drop everything and go on intensive retreat from now until forever. I discussed this with a dhamma friend who advised this is just what heppens - some insights will stay and some will fade and mindfulness with gradually start to dull as more gross dhammas occupy awareness. The important thing is not to cling to them. This is what the sayadaw said yesterday too.

Right now there's still one-pointedness and no distracted thoughts except when focusing on typing, but there's a sense of the fineness of perceptions disappearing a little. Still perception of automation of actions. There's awareness of subtle desire/craving to maintain this state, or at the very least not lose the insight and the effect on daily life it will have. Then there's also awareness of this being just another thought process with the same 3Cs as everything else. Mood has not fluctuated at all today, even with this subtle sense of craving - there's no happiness with the current state, nor sadness or despair or worry or depression when considering the loss, simply 'it will be unfortunate if this does all fade away, but it must do, so no point worrying about it'. [EDIT: Ok that seems to contradict what I said about feeling crappy. What I mean was, there was a general feeling of crappiness and that all the efforts are going to fade away and being back to normal and that nothing else matters apart from practice, now there's a sense of 'this is how it is, since it's impermanent it will fade away, so no point worrying about it and carry on with daily life and the practice' - almost like an acceptance of it all. Feels a lot lighter].

Whew! So after that long diatribe, where am I and where do I go from here, apart from 'keep practising and noting when you can, both in formal sitting and where you can in daily life'? From reading descriptions of the stages of insight there's a perception of being at at least the A&P but not sure if it has been crossed yet.

Thanks for bearing with!
Just Is, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: 2nd retreat - what the hell happened!? [LONG]

Posts: 6 Join Date: 9/7/10 Recent Posts
And if you want more crap to read:

Walked through an extremely busy town centre to do shopping. Attention constantly on the movement of the feet (noting lifting, forward, dropping etc) without skipping a step. There was awareness of far, far too many secondary sensations (mainly sounds, sensations of heat, wind, cold, odours, seeing, thinking to calculate route etc.) to note, but just a general awareness of lots of stuff going on. No intention to engage in thinking or analysing what any of the sensations were (recognising songs etc). There wasn't even stealing glances at attractive women as happened in the past and thinking 'she's hot', there was just awareness in general of people going past. When actually shopping there was an awareness of walking past sweets normally indulged in, craving arising, noting of the craving and a quick insight into its 3Cs and its ceasing in the space of about one step. Whole process of picking items, inspecting produce, placing in basket etc. was noted, as was walking home.

Then at home an immediate intention to sit was noted with the sensation of being on autopilot and watching stronger than ever before. During the sit there was listing of the body to the left back, full concentration on the rising and falling, a moment where there was a 'pulse' like a lightning flash through the head, thoughts only of dhamma, clear perception into suffering, dependent origination and contemplation of the 4 Noble Truths (all noted as 'contemplating' and not interrupting awareness of rising and fallen of abdomen). Didn't catch intention to open the eyes and it happend twice during the 45 min seat, each at nearly 15 minutes exactly. No longer sitting using a cushion either, there is stretching in the leg which was previously pain but is now simply stretching in the leg. And the random tingling is back having been previously absent, but this time is just tingling arising and ceasing quickly, not pleasant tingling, and no inclination to watch the sensations as primary object. Still sense of no happiness or sadness just, 'is'.
Just Is, modified 10 Years ago.

RE: 2nd retreat - what the hell happened!? [LONG]

Posts: 6 Join Date: 9/7/10 Recent Posts
Me again. Things moving along quickly.

Desire to keep the insight and concentration etc. died down and was noted for what they were - another form of attachment and suffering.

Later I was sat on the PC surfing the net generally when I noted a very slow vibrating/pulsing in my upper arms towards the hands. Immediately went to do a 45 minute sit and the following occurred:

The vibrations/pulses were all over my body, were not synchronised and some would persist for ages, particularly along the outside part of my right arm and right outside part of neck, sometimes but not always there was a distinction between the arms pulsing and the neck pulsing, whereas vibrations/pulses would vibrate a couple of times only in other parts of the body. [EDIT: There was a sense of a residual 'echo' after the 'pulse']

The one-pointed concentration on rising and falling of the abdomen was well and truly gone - awareness was only established for a couple of breaths, and even then there was no discernment of 'stages' of in and out breath as before. There was simply 'rising', and 'falling' [EDIT: To clarify, couldn't discern the beginning of the rising or beginning of the falling, like coming part way through the middle and it ending.] Likewise there was no discernment of the sensation of the abdomen. Just a general feeling of rising and falling. Felt like breathing in and out in 'blocks' rather than the smooth and perceptible process previously. The awareness was far more on the vibrations, which felt like they were 'outside' the circle of awareness when it was on the breath. So eventually I stopped trying to force attention on the breath and let awareness drift around the various vibrations, noting 'vibrating, vibrating'. Noting of anything else was only of loud external sounds such as doors opening and closing (in fairness that pretty much the only gross sounds there were). No subtle discernment of secondary objects as before. There was a very dull sensation of stretching pain in the right leg but it almost negligble.

Eventually this all ceased ceased and for a few moments there was stillness. Couldn't discern rising and falling of abodmen. The ringing in my left ear (fairly constant even when not meditating) then became nearly deafening and filled my entire head.

Then there was a perception of the upper part of the body gently shaking or rocking back and forth. Whether this was physically happening or not I'm not sure, but there was a constant sense of 'back, forth', which was noted accordingly. The perception of rising and falling returned, albeit faintly, and I was aware that when there was 'rising' the shaking seemed to slow, but not stop completely. Then after 'falling' there was rocking again. Then the vibrations started again, this time noticeably quicker in both frequency and occurrences throughout the body. The shaking was far less perceptible to the point where at times I wasn't sure if it was even continuing. After a while of noting the vibrations, they also ceased. Then the shaking came back up. This time it felt rocking in a diagonal direction the North East and was a bit more intense, there was perception of the right leg rocking slightly as well. At one stage there was even perception of awareness 'shaking' in synchronicity with the physical sensation of shaking. During this time, the rising and falling almost completely ceased and there didn't seem to be much of anything else to perceive other than rocking. A couple of times when the non-self was investigated, fear arose in the sense of 'what the hell is going on?' This was noted and investigated (why has this arisen? because of lack of control of what's going on) and passed away. Then the rocking seemed to slow down and the bell went.

Throughout all this there was a slight pressure in the right of centre of the forehead.

After typing that I sat back and was aware of the vibrations still occurring at various parts of the body, but a lot more faintly than the full occupation of awareness they had when sitting. My vision also seems to be shaking ever so subtly.

Just listened to some bass tones on YouTube. The first set of vibrations were slightly more than 5hz and less than 10hz and the second a couple of hz fast than the first set.