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Kind of Newbie Question
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9/28/20 9:02 PM
I just joined this week and would like to ask a newbie question about progress in the stages of insight meditation. I have 20 years of meditation experience but this was mostly guided meditations from 2000 to 2006 with one teacher (new age mostly) and also guided meditations from 2006 to 2016 with another teacher in India (mostly Hindu Kundalini). I'm seventy years old and want to get as far as I can before I croak.

I hadn't heard of the maps until last year when I was floundering in failed attempts to access the jhanas (from 2016 to 2019). Then I found the Mahasi Manual and MCTB. The maps were a revelation. I finally had a template to fit the experiences I'd had in India. I was shoved into the A&P several times courtesy of a guru, which was astonishing but the guru and his guides didn't like it when you ended up in Dark Night stages, so you were on your own there. I didn't have a context for the process but can now fit the maps on what I had experienced. My sense was that they really did not know what to do with the Westerners who dropped into Dark Night stages. Despite this, I learned a lot from them and a fellow student suggested that I might look into Buddhist meditation because during one full day, intense process I ended up in Infinite Space (5th Jhana). I had no idea what this was and was astounded when I read Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism, and there it was - exactly what I had experienced.

I already had adopted the 5 precepts during a retreat at Nyingma (a Tibetan yoga retreat, not meditation). So once I got Kindle copies of the Manual and MCTB in 2019, I started a more systematic practice, increasing my sitting time from 90 minutes a day to three hours a day (some days I would do 6 hours). I was able to recognize Mind and Body, then could recognize Cause and Effect by the strange "lungs-won't-breathe-unless-I-note" phenomenon. Usually Cause and Effect did not last long and I ended up in the Three Characteristics right away. Hard Pain. Migraine every time. Not bad kriyas but massively painful body. And there I would stay, trying to note the breath as best as I could, and to note the areas that were painful and the areas that were not painful but adjacent to the contracted areas. Not very much success with that (despite my intent and resolutions, attention would slide right off the pain and mind would throw up huge distractions). Then after a few days of this it is back to Mind and Body, a brief Cause and Effect, and on to the 3 Cs. I've been there since December 2019. It just keeps looping back.

My question is "Is this normal?" If it is, I will continue with my resolution to note the painful areas (and adjacent areas that are not so painful) and soldier on. The knowledge and dedication of the people on this site is amazing. Have any of you experienced something like this or have some other things I could do to help the process along?

In case this might be a factor: I am in year three of a five-year Tibetan Longchen Nyingthig ngondro practice with a young lama and the daughter of the head lama (I live in Berkeley). I've completed the 100 thousand prostrations and the 100 thousand bodhicitta mantras. We are now on purification, the 100 syllable Vajrasattva mantra.

Thank you so much!

Namaste

Carol Lynn

RE: Kind of Newbie Question
Answer
9/28/20 11:42 PM as a reply to Carol Lynn Stewart.

Usually Cause and Effect did not last long and I ended up in the Three Characteristics right away. Hard Pain. Migraine every time. Not bad kriyas but massively painful body. And there I would stay, trying to note the breath as best as I could, and to note the areas that were painful and the areas that were not painful but adjacent to the contracted areas. Not very much success with that (despite my intent and resolutions, attention would slide right off the pain and mind would throw up huge distractions). Then after a few days of this it is back to Mind and Body, a brief Cause and Effect, and on to the 3 Cs. I've been there since December 2019. It just keeps looping back.


My question is "Is this normal?" If it is, I will continue with my resolution to note the painful areas (and adjacent areas that are not so painful) and soldier on. The knowledge and dedication of the people on this site is amazing. Have any of you experienced something like this or have some other things I could do to help the process along?


Hi Carol, welcome to DhO. 

Yes, the experiences you're reporting are pretty standard progression through the first three stages. It's definitely common to spend a while in these early pre-A&P stages and some people never get past them. Looking back, I spent several months cycling through Mind & Body, Cause & Effect and the 3C's before I hit upon my first meditation-induced A&P. 

You've been going through these stages almost a year, which seems to me on the longer side if you've been practicing a lot every day, especially since you've reported previous experiences of A&P stages and jhanic states. I believe that the minds of practitioners who previously experienced an A&P (whether through meditation, drugs, some life circumstance or something else) are "primed" to slide more quickly into the A&P stage when they start a consistent practice. With your history I'd bet that if you just keep plugging along every day things will keep moving forward as needed. 

Thinking back to when I was first mucking around in these stages, the thing that really got things going was inclining my practice towards noticing the impermanence and speed of the sensations that made up the big, seemingly solid, chunks of pain I was feeling in my body and head. At a certain point I dropped any mental noting/labeling and just tried to notice if what was experienced as a "painful, solid sensation" could be broken up into smaller and faster sensations that were arising and passing away really quickly. Eventually these vibratory sensations got really really fast and voilà, A&P. 

And I think trying to get as far as you can before you croak is a great goal! 

RE: Kind of Newbie Question
Answer
9/29/20 7:43 AM as a reply to Zachary.
Zachary:

Usually Cause and Effect did not last long and I ended up in the Three Characteristics right away. Hard Pain. Migraine every time. Not bad kriyas but massively painful body. And there I would stay, trying to note the breath as best as I could, and to note the areas that were painful and the areas that were not painful but adjacent to the contracted areas. Not very much success with that (despite my intent and resolutions, attention would slide right off the pain and mind would throw up huge distractions). Then after a few days of this it is back to Mind and Body, a brief Cause and Effect, and on to the 3 Cs. I've been there since December 2019. It just keeps looping back.


My question is "Is this normal?" If it is, I will continue with my resolution to note the painful areas (and adjacent areas that are not so painful) and soldier on. The knowledge and dedication of the people on this site is amazing. Have any of you experienced something like this or have some other things I could do to help the process along?


Hi Carol, welcome to DhO. 

Yes, the experiences you're reporting are pretty standard progression through the first three stages. It's definitely common to spend a while in these early pre-A&P stages and some people never get past them. Looking back, I spent several months cycling through Mind & Body, Cause & Effect and the 3C's before I hit upon my first meditation-induced A&P. 

You've been going through these stages almost a year, which seems to me on the longer side if you've been practicing a lot every day, especially since you've reported previous experiences of A&P stages and jhanic states. I believe that the minds of practitioners who previously experienced an A&P (whether through meditation, drugs, some life circumstance or something else) are "primed" to slide more quickly into the A&P stage when they start a consistent practice. With your history I'd bet that if you just keep plugging along every day things will keep moving forward as needed. 

Thinking back to when I was first mucking around in these stages, the thing that really got things going was inclining my practice towards noticing the impermanence and speed of the sensations that made up the big, seemingly solid, chunks of pain I was feeling in my body and head. At a certain point I dropped any mental noting/labeling and just tried to notice if what was experienced as a "painful, solid sensation" could be broken up into smaller and faster sensations that were arising and passing away really quickly. Eventually these vibratory sensations got really really fast and voilà, A&P. 

And I think trying to get as far as you can before you croak is a great goal! 

How do you know you are in the A&p?

RE: Kind of Newbie Question
Answer
9/29/20 8:48 AM as a reply to Carol Lynn Stewart.
This is awesome Carol, best wishes for attaining your meditation goals!

One thing we've seen on this website is that maps are both empowering and distracting. If you spend too much time trying to map where you are, it gets in the way of developing the "momentary concentration" that is the feature of Mahasi Sayadaw style noting practice -- i.e., concentration that is developed by noticing the imperminance of sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts --- rather than through settingly on a single object.

Yes, your experiences are very common. Also, your concerns about "mind throwing up distractions" is very common --- but distraction isn't a concern with noting practice. Instead of just staying on the breath and trying to get away from distraction, noting practice uses all experiences, even experiences of distraction and dukka, as _fuel_ for practice. By simply noting the distraction -- in that moment you are not distracted. By noting "negative" sensations, urges, emotions, and thoughts -- in that moment you are mindful. So even the "worst" sits are fuel for developing attention and mindfulness.

That's what makes the noting practice so powerful. No particular mindstate is required, just momentary attention which leads to momentary concentration... which leads to a gradual uncovering of different aspects of confusion as described by the nanas. 

If you feel stuck in a nana, chances are you are making the sensation, urges, emotions, and thoughts of that nana into a problem. 

I often recommend people who are interested in the maps to at least understand that each nana has an insight that is available because of the challenge of the nana. So the nanas, while sometimes difficult, are our teachers. They give us a basic insight. 

The nanas are also only partial answers, so they have a basic flaw to be seen, too. This is why each nana leads to another...

If you are very geeky, this is a great table to print out and have on the wall: http://static.squarespace.com/static/5037f52d84ae1e87f694cfda/t/5055922624acbaa64592c1c3/1347785254496/

With all of your experiences, I suspect you might be a quick study! Again, best wishes for your practice!! emoticon

RE: Kind of Newbie Question
Answer
9/29/20 9:57 AM as a reply to Carol Lynn Stewart.
Welcome, Carol Lynn, from another older person (66). I'm terribly impressed by your work so far. I too would like to get as much out of practice before I croak emoticon. Been at it with these folks for about 9 years. 

In my case, the earlier stages passed pretty quickly, almost unnoticed, but every mind is different. I was plunged into a dazzling A&P at the age of 19 as a result of a traumatic event and putzed around for years in a long-term Dark Night. The maps affect different people in different ways. Not sure what to say about moving on from your pattern, but if you want to open a practice thread, you can get more specific input. 

RE: Kind of Newbie Question
Answer
10/3/20 10:31 AM as a reply to Carol Lynn Stewart.
Hi Carol,

I too am doing ngondro and have crazy pains throughout my body. Vajrasattva practice is such a strong purification practice. The Khenpo I am working with says I am burning karma. Old patterns. Many people who do Goenka vipassana retreats talk about this too. I think this is absolutely normal and as shargrol says, it's helpful to refrain from solidifying the unpleasant sensations/thoughts/emotions. Let it burn!!

Best wishes to you,

Jarrett