Which stage of insight am I stuck at?

Tommy Toys, modified 8 Months ago.

Which stage of insight am I stuck at?

Posts: 26 Join Date: 11/30/20 Recent Posts
Hey folks! I really enjoyed the forum here. Just finished MTCB2 and fascinated with the progress map + vippasana jhana concept. However, in practice I'm quite confused about where/why I'm stuck, and what to do next: 

Context: 
 - I'm currently on Day 6 of a self-retreat (btw. 5 - 9 hours per day, sit + walk alternating, 1hr each sit). Mahasi style noting (w/ more expanded labels e.g. image or narration), with a focus on breathing.
- Can note body sensations ~1-3 per second; image usually noted immediately. thought noted ~ middle of sentence or end of sentence. (sometimes lost in more emotionally carrying thoughts)
 - Can get to reasonable concentration after 10 - 20 mins -- e.g. sense of body disappear or feels like a cloud "block", arm/leg/body vibrations, , sometimes "rush" of energy (with joy/bliss) from body to head. Few thoughts still pop up, but not frequent.
- In last 3-years did: 10-day retreat (noting/breathing practice) at a Shambala center, 8-day Mahamdura retreat, and a few 5 - 8 days self-retreat + other period of loose practice..

So that's like few hundred hours altogether. Tbh not sure i've had any "breakthrough" or "taste of awakening" yet - apart from some concentrated / blissful states. And only one blissful state extended beyond the sit, lasted 1-2 days. (Q: Is that an a&p event??)

Question:

My mind comprehends 3-characteristics (esp. impermanence & no-self) for each sensation. As for cause-effect,  make sense to me only in a trivial way (e.g. attention influence breathing), not in "macro" sense e.g. karma or birth or any of that.

- A&P:  Dont think not experienced any A&P event (unless that 2-day bliss counts), nor v strong perception able to note clear start/end.
- D/N stuff: Not sure if the D.N. stuff happened. I recently had a low motivation / aversion to practice (or doing anything, really) period lasted about 5 days (which follows the previous 1 wk retreat).  

Does that mean I'm pretty much stuck at the 2nd ñāṇa or 3rd ñāṇa  (given some back/neck pain)?  If that's the case, a bit concerned tbh after those practices. Should I change the practice or just push for more? Is this the right path for me?

Thank you!!  Encouragement appreciated, but I'm looking mostly for technical advices! emoticon)

 
 
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Alan Smithee, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Which stage of insight am I stuck at?

Posts: 310 Join Date: 4/2/10 Recent Posts
[1] At any point in your sits do you get what feel like micro-sensations like pulsations, little sparks, fluttering/flickering? They can be relegated to sections of the body (face, hands, back of skull, around the eyes, etc.)?

[2] Also, at any point in your sits do you get what feel like squeezing sensations around the head? Or the feeling like a wet blanket has been placed over your head? 

[3] At any point do you feel like your attention gets drawn up into the sky (the horizon or "cosmos"), that your back may hurt or feet may be numb but you don't really notice or care that much, and that you get dreamy?
Tommy Toys, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Which stage of insight am I stuck at?

Posts: 26 Join Date: 11/30/20 Recent Posts
Alan Smithee:
[1] At any point in your sits do you get what feel like micro-sensations like pulsations, little sparks, fluttering/flickering? They can be relegated to sections of the body (face, hands, back of skull, around the eyes, etc.)?

[2] Also, at any point in your sits do you get what feel like squeezing sensations around the head? Or the feeling like a wet blanket has been placed over your head? 

[3] At any point do you feel like your attention gets drawn up into the sky (the horizon or "cosmos"), that your back may hurt or feet may be numb but you don't really notice or care that much, and that you get dreamy?
Re: 
1. Yes, a lot of flickering / pulsations around arms, legs, fingers, forehead, and sometimes just popping up at random places in the body. The more concentrated usually the stronger vibrations. 
2. Often feeling strong pressure (from inside towards out) at the 'third-eye' area. Sometimes squeezing too (but usually connected with neck pain which am not certain if effect of long sitting, or stage related).
3. Not sure ... but sometimes sensations of body do disappear mostly, or turn into a big "block" like, where there's strong resistance to move at all - and if do "intent" to move, it seem to strongly "prefer" to move strictly by certain some hidden energy "trail" - eg. turning head horizontally right only.

Interestingly --  last night after posting, I went to sleep but couldn't fall sleep most of the night. Began with strong body vibrations, enhanced perception of breathing (breathing in/out feels like block of air vibrating at 3-4 times per second), then some strong & weird sexual desire arose, followed by excitement of some 'big revelations' (re suffering), etc.   By the morning, all the excitement and fast perception seem to be gone though, and back to yesterday's state.

Thanks a lot for the thoughts and clarifying questions!
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Alan Smithee, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Which stage of insight am I stuck at?

Posts: 310 Join Date: 4/2/10 Recent Posts
You write: "My mind comprehends 3-characteristics (esp. impermanence & no-self) for each sensation. As for cause-effect,  make sense to me only in a trivial way (e.g. attention influence breathing), not in "macro" sense e.g. karma or birth or any of that."

I'll point out that one's understanding of the 3-characteristics is most importantly intuitive and unconscious. You don't need to intellectualize. You don't need to think about "Do I see cause and effect?," etc. The important thing is to cultivate the mindfulness to be aware of the objects at the sense doors (hearing, seeing, feeling, tasting, smelling, and thinking). The understanding is groked at a deep, intuitive level beyond mere conceptualization, philosophication, etc. That is why you can't think yourself into streamentry, but at some point on deep, unconscious level you "get it" and it happens, just like all the stages of insight, which progress naturally when you simply tune into the sensations on a moment-to-moment level. I've heard yogis say they never really saw or comprehended many things (e.g., sensations ending) but they still got path by just watching the sensations. Maybe the nuances become clearer during the review stage.
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Alan Smithee, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Which stage of insight am I stuck at?

Posts: 310 Join Date: 4/2/10 Recent Posts
I'd bet the farm you've crossed the A&P. The "flickering / pulsations around arms, legs, fingers, forehead, and sometimes just popping up at random places in the body" is a sure sign. Plus, the pulsations are either piti or jhana stuff; nonetheless, post-A&P. People who have not crosses the A&P would have no idea what these flickerings/pulsations are as they don't experience them. Same with the head squeezing/third-eye pulsations when even inclining the mind towards concentration or meditation (unless it is a migraine symptom, or something). 

Now, the question is whether you are getting into equanimity territory. 

If you get all those flickerings/pulsations, but shortly thereafter your sits mostly suck the entire time, I'm thinking that's the dukkha nanas. Are you mostly frustrated when sitting? 

If after the flickerings/pulsations they eventually slow down to some degree, you begin to feel pretty chill and contented, your attention wants to not be so narrow (e.g., one part of the body) but wants to include the whole body at the same time, and eventually expands past just the body to want to include the horizon/sky too, maybe you naturally start wanting to stop noting and to just "notice" the sensations as they arise, maybe you get kinda dreamy, you want to "watch" the fluxing/undulating sky, sometimes you get the sense of great depth beyond the sky, these are all some of the traits of equanimity and the 4th vipassana jhana and some of the formless realm vipassana jhanas. 

By the way, in equanimity the contented, focused, purified mind free of the negative mindstates (kilesas) is said by U Pandita to be the mind of the enlightened, so that would for sure be a taste of awakening. The problem is that they don't stick too long once you ceased mindfullness. That's what stream is supposed to begin doing; hardwiring it.  
Tommy Toys, modified 8 Months ago.

RE: Which stage of insight am I stuck at?

Posts: 26 Join Date: 11/30/20 Recent Posts
Alan Smithee:
I'd bet the farm you've crossed the A&P. The "flickering / pulsations around arms, legs, fingers, forehead, and sometimes just popping up at random places in the body" is a sure sign. Plus, the pulsations are either piti or jhana stuff; nonetheless, post-A&P.  ......
If you get all those flickerings/pulsations, but shortly thereafter your sits mostly suck the entire time, I'm thinking that's the dukkha nanas. Are you mostly frustrated when sitting? 

Very informative and encouraging thoughts, Alan!

Re: frustration - most sits before were pleasant since I learned to evoke joy pitis, but then various body pain hits harder during this retreat, so yes.

For the last 2 days, learning to deal more calmy with them (impernence investigation) def reduced suffering  (the intent to end the sit due to pain still arise time to time). So most sits now end in a neutral or sometimes content state.


If after the flickerings/pulsations they eventually slow down to some degree, you begin to feel pretty chill and contented, your attention wants to not be so narrow (e.g., one part of the body) but wants to include the whole body at the same time, and eventually expands past just the body to want to include the horizon/sky too, maybe you naturally start wanting to stop noting and to just "notice" the sensations as they arise, maybe you get kinda dreamy, you want to "watch" the fluxing/undulating sky, sometimes you get the sense of great depth beyond the sky, these are all some of the traits of equanimity and the 4th vipassana jhana and some of the formless realm vipassana jhanas. 

By the way, in equanimity the contented, focused, purified mind free of the negative mindstates (kilesas) is said by U Pandita to be the mind of the enlightened, so that would for sure be a taste of awakening. The problem is that they don't stick too long once you ceased mindfullness. That's what stream is supposed to begin doing; hardwiring it.  

For the last sit, thoughts come in as super fast image flashes w/o too much vocalization, thus verbal noting automatically kinda switched to just 'observing' rising/passing. it does feel a bit dreamy.  Don't think the horizon/"sky" part happened yet though.

Qs: 
1. I suppose that means more like A&P, than Equanimity? Also the increase in sensation noticing didn't seem as profound as Daniel or other ppl were talking about like double digit or triple digit hertz. For me, breathing (or touches) still like 1-3 sensation per sec max (maybe occasionally 5).

2. I suppose I haven't missed the disolution / fear stages, right?  ...   was kinda look fwd to them lol (like horror movies).  Do these stages always occur?

3. I'm confused - PoI map are considered "stages" (that you pass through, usually multi session/ days / weeks), yet Samatha Jhanas are "states" (that you manifest / invoke). So what are Vipsanna jhanas then? State or stages? or both?

4. The "self" ego thing seem still rock solid in everyday life moment as usual (& all the ego related sufferings). I imagine that shift won't happen til stream-entry?
Tommy Toys, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Which stage of insight am I stuck at?

Posts: 26 Join Date: 11/30/20 Recent Posts
Update: Today's 4 sits has been excessively energy charged, to the point a mins after I sit & close eyes, i felt like been forced to breathe in a fixed rythm & flow. Initially it felt fun and great for easy concentration but increasingly uncomfortable now  ... I suppose this is typical a&p? 
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Alan Smithee, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Which stage of insight am I stuck at?

Posts: 310 Join Date: 4/2/10 Recent Posts
Qs: 
1. I suppose that means more like A&P, than Equanimity? Also the increase in sensation noticing didn't seem as profound as Daniel or other ppl were talking about like double digit or triple digit hertz. For me, breathing (or touches) still like 1-3 sensation per sec max (maybe occasionally 5).

2. I suppose I haven't missed the disolution / fear stages, right?  ...   was kinda look fwd to them lol (like horror movies).  Do these stages always occur?

3. I'm confused - PoI map are considered "stages" (that you pass through, usually multi session/ days / weeks), yet Samatha Jhanas are "states" (that you manifest / invoke). So what are Vipsanna jhanas then? State or stages? or both?

4. The "self" ego thing seem still rock solid in everyday life moment as usual (& all the ego related sufferings). I imagine that shift won't happen til stream-entry?

I will respond to the best of my ability, keeping in mind that I am an equanimity-yogi/pre-stream. 

One thing that I've found about myself is that once I've passed a particular stage of insight as my peak baseline, I tend not to remember what having one of the previous ones as a baseline was like. That said, we know you've passed the A&P but what you are describing sounds too frenetic/energy-charged for equanimity. One really sort of knows when they hit equanimity because it feels like landing on a safe shore after nearly drowning. You could also be in dissolution, which has A&P-like qualities but your focus becomes wonkier, you supposedly feel like you're losing your precision, and things pass moreso at the periphery as opposed to where you are directing your attention. 

The dukkha nanas aren't really fun because mostly they just are you thinking that you were once good at meditation and now you aren't, that you were making progress but maybe you just imagined it all. It can be marked by loss of faith in the practice. Uncomfortable sits. Desire for Deliverance is wishing for this shit to end. It is sometimes called a "rolling up the mat" set of stages because many people are tempted to give up on sits before getting through them to equanimity.

I think of vipassana jhanas (concentration) as like supplementing your eyes with a magnifying glass or microscope. When you try to understand your sensations without any concentration, it is very hard to gain insight into the 3-characterstics of imperminence, no-self, and suffering because you can't keep focused and you can't see deeply. The deeper your concentration, the more you can learn (more insight you can gain) if you direct your attention towards the 3-characteritics. The vipassana jhanas create the conditions for insights to occur. The vipassana jhanas have qualities similar to the hard samatha jhanas but with the vipassana jhanas you are able to move your attention/focus around, whereas with the samatha jhanas they are stuck on the object. A crude analogy would be to say that the vipassana jhanas create one of the conditions which make insight possible like a microscope makes knowledge of say biology possible. The microscope isn't itself insight but it is indeed needed. It is also my understanding that the jhanas help purify the mind of the defilements (sloth/torpor, sense desire, etc), which is another essential element in getting insight moments but aren't themselves insight. 

Regarding a rock solid sense of self, is it really? Haven't you internalized the difference between the mind and the body (can you recognize thoughts when they arise, which is a sort of meta awareness?), or cause and effect (for example, that thought sensations can affect the other sense doors and vice versa)? These are just the first two stages of insight and both weaken one's solid sense of self. But I get what you are saying, there is a long way to go. But I think of it as akin to what in dialectics is called quantity turning into quality: the change is slow and incremental and essentially invisible, until a qualitative change occurs (as if out of nowhere). The analogy that U Pandita gives is the chicken sitting on an egg. She sits and sits with seemingly nothing happening, but all the conditions are being created to produce the hatchling, when "suddenly" everything comes together and the chick breaks through. Conversely, if the mother takes too many breaks for stops sitting altogether, the baby dies, lol.
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Tommy McNally, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Which stage of insight am I stuck at?

Posts: 116 Join Date: 12/1/20 Recent Posts
A few suggestions based on your descriptions here:

1. I suppose that means more like A&P, than Equanimity? Also the increase in sensation noticing didn't seem as profound as Daniel or other ppl were talking about like double digit or triple digit hertz. For me, breathing (or touches) still like 1-3 sensation per sec max (maybe occasionally 5).
If you're not explicitly familiar with the cycles involved in the Progress of Insight model, try to avoid identifying the specifics as you practice. All it's going to give you is a pain in the arse, so stick to noting whatever arises in your own experience, at whatever frequency without trying to align it with that of others.

Remember that Daniel and others on here are high-level practitioners with extensive retreat experience, and an extremely high degree of skill in vipassana and samatha. Based on what you've said so far, it's unlikely that you'll be able to perceive the "double digit or triple digit" vibratory stuff right now, but it's not essential to make progress. With stronger concentration and more well-honed attention, much of this stuff will become clear in a very direct way.
2. I suppose I haven't missed the disolution / fear stages, right?  ...   was kinda look fwd to them lol (like horror movies).  Do these stages always occur?
You haven't missed them because you, as far as I can see from your brief desciptions, haven't crossed 4th vipassana jhana. As for whether or not they always occur, it's a complicated subject; for the sake of convenience, we can assume that they do.

Edited to add: I missed the post where you spoke about increased energy, sexual desire, etc. That sounds more like A&P, but again it's not clear and the next few days or so will likely confirm/refute this.
3. I'm confused - PoI map are considered "stages" (that you pass through, usually multi session/ days / weeks), yet Samatha Jhanas are "states" (that you manifest / invoke). So what are Vipsanna jhanas then? State or stages? or both?
You're overthinking this, and it's really not necessary. There are many subtleties to the Progress of Insight model that require experiential insight to really understand, and getting into semantics about states vs. stages is unhelpful. States and stages are equally transient, empty and will lead to more suffering if clung to.

In other words: The map is not the territory it describes. Read the map and the details will become apparent as you traverse the territory.
4. The "self" ego thing seem still rock solid in everyday life moment as usual (& all the ego related sufferings). I imagine that shift won't happen til stream-entry?
It doesn't matter what you imagine, because it's nothing but imagination. The attainment of Path is entirely beyond imagination, fabrication, imputation, etc, etc, so drop the conceptualization because it's already screwing up your focus. Path is a glimpse of non-conceptual realization; deathless; beginningless and endless. Any thoughts you could possibly have about it are inherently false.

Instead, turn the lens of attention back in on itself and observe what appears to be observing. Remember, anything "you" can observe cannot, by definition, be the observer.

The Progress of Insight model is beautiful and incredibly useful, however it also allows people to get caught up in concepts and abstractions rather than, as was intended, simply providing a lens through which to chart ones practice.

All in all, and based on your previous experience, I would suggest focusing purely on the specifics of your own practice, the sensations you're noting and the feelings that arise as you go. Start a practice thread and keep it updated regularly, that way it'll be easier to offer more specific advice based on where you're at along the way.

Pratice well.

T
Tommy Toys, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Which stage of insight am I stuck at?

Posts: 26 Join Date: 11/30/20 Recent Posts
--- Alan ---
I think of vipassana jhanas (concentration) as like supplementing your eyes with a magnifying glass or microscope. When you try to understand your sensations without any concentration, it is very hard to gain insight into the 3-characterstics of imperminence, no-self, and suffering because you can't keep focused and you can't see deeply.
Big thanks for the helpful explanation!

--- Tommy M ---
All in all, and based on your previous experience, I would suggest focusing purely on the specifics of your own practice, the sensations you're noting and the feelings that arise as you go. Start a practice thread and keep it updated regularly, that way it'll be easier to offer more specific advice based on where you're at along the way.
Thank you for the push. I def have a huge tendency to over-intellectualize / philosophlize everything. 

Very related Q on practice - in penetrating the 3-characteristics, I have a particularly hard time in penetrating "dissatisfaction" on thoughts - esp. those analytical / intellectualizing ones. they just seem so "fun" and begging for indulgence.  (impermanence and no-self is easier on those. emotions are also easier to deal with).

How to see thru that? I've tried to investigate the 'craving' that follows those thoughts, not to much success. If I try to apply the idea of 'fundamental suffering' to those analytical thoughts, that seem too analytical by itself too?
---
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Tommy M, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Which stage of insight am I stuck at?

Posts: 116 Join Date: 12/1/20 Recent Posts
Very related Q on practice - in penetrating the 3-characteristics, I have a particularly hard time in penetrating "dissatisfaction" on thoughts - esp. those analytical / intellectualizing ones. they just seem so "fun" and begging for indulgence.  (impermanence and no-self is easier on those. emotions are also easier to deal with).

How to see thru that? I've tried to investigate the 'craving' that follows those thoughts, not to much success. If I try to apply the idea of 'fundamental suffering' to those analytical thoughts, that seem too analytical by itself too?

The Buddha taught dukkha as the first Noble Truth for a reason. It's not simply dissatisfaction, it's the axle on which samsara turns and so it goes far deeper than just "I don't like this" or "I'm not satisfied with x, y or z". Even the most pleasant and fantastic sensations are inherently unsatisfying because they are transient, empty and only create more desire to experience them again.

If you look at the 'craving' you've mentioned, you'll find that it doesn't just happen after a sensation arises and passes away. It's something that occurs simultaneously with every sensation and involves a sense of 'mental pulling' towards whatever arises. To maintain the illusion of the subject/object duality, our habitual mind continually reifies all sensations as existing separate from our subjective experience.

It's not really a matter of 'seeing through' impermanence, emptiness and suffering, it's more about the recognition that all manifestations are subject to these characteristics. There's a certain 'flavour' to suffering that's apparent in all sensations, and it's more like familiarizing yourself with that and then identifying it as your practice progresses. It's not an intellectual understanding, although that's helpful to create a sort of conceptual 'placeholder' which allows you to more easily recognize it experientially.

Think about it this way: You've built an incredible, beautiful sandcastle that towers over all of the other sandcastles on the beach. You put hours and hours of work into it and you're so proud of your accomplishment, but all of a sudden a wave crashes onto the shore and your sandcastle is destroyed. Somewhere in your mind, you believed that you were building something that could last and withstand nature, but in actuality you built something that could only ever be temporary, no matter how much of yourself you put into it.

"I" am like a sandcastle: Temporary, no core or essence to it and, if we cling to our flawed ideas about it, we'll suffer when it's taken away because we've invested so much time and effort into maintaining it.

Tommy Toys, modified 7 Months ago.

RE: Which stage of insight am I stuck at?

Posts: 26 Join Date: 11/30/20 Recent Posts
Thanks Tommy for the wonderful insight above! I saved it in my evernote.

Quick Update: Just had an interesting sit (~1hr). This seem to in my probly first good taste of loss (or at least subdued) of agency.  Don't know what to make sense of it - is this a Jhana experience, a "normal" non-dual experience or sth. on PoI map?

The sit began with a good concentration lvl, a constant drum-like sound (prob frm heartbeat), keep noting. Then inclined twds joy, and a jhanic state arise. not certain which / if is jhana - but seems less energy / joyful than usual ones, but have a cool aspect to it. Then decided to do self-inquiry ... "what is aware?", etc.  Also recalled Mahamudra pointing out instructions ("awareness reflecting upon itself" etc.)

This was all eyes closed. Then it emerged this enormous sense of "spatial freedom", like my body in this invisible space yet absolutefly free (fly, bent, etc.), but it's more than just free to move around, but just untethered, or can be bent. not sure if captured yet. 

then tried eyes open, and I looked around the room, this sense of spatial freedom continues, combined with a loss of usual tethering to my body as the locus. 

---- side notes
// as a context, since the recent a&p night exp mentioned above (2 nights ago), half of my sits are from good to really good - incl. one that gave almost instant note of many mental "intent". The remaining half incl some really bad ones, partly from back pain, but also anger / frustration with noises, and low concentration ability.

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