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Brandon's Practice Log Number 2

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Brandon's Practice Log Number 2
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1/8/21 2:09 PM
Previously on Brandon’s practice log…

Summer of 2019 A&P that blew the bloody doors off
August -- December 2019 Post A&P Honeymoon -- practicing for an hour every morning at 5:30 AM
September of 2019 Discovery of MCTB -- Started noting
January 2020 Practice gets restless, not sure where I am on the maps
February -- March 2020 Two months focusing on concentration with the breath and metta mostly using Leigh Braisington’s Right Concentration as a guide but also using talks by Stephen Snyder and Tina Rasmussen to guide my approach to metta. I still prefer their wording for metta: “may I be safe, may I be healthy, may I be happy, may my mind be at ease, may I be free.” Built some solid skills at developing pleasant mind states with breath and metta.
April 2020 Back to noting. Concentration seems to have given the noting a boost.
March 2020 Hitting some crazy highs. Maybe a 2nd big A&P. Sitting outside, stone cold sober and I feel like I’m on acid. Looking at the clouds above me and overwhelmed by the immense sense of space. This is followed by my first experience that felt unambiguously in the realm of the Dukkha ñanas -- an apocalyptic dream with mushroom clouds and the earth rending apart. I wake up with a sense of vulnerability, nakedness and terror I’ve never felt before. I decide to get a teacher.
June 2020 I start working with a teacher doing a mix of noting and concentration. I eventually transition into doing “Mahayana-style vipassana” a more open version of vipassana that is meant to be a good fit for post-A&P practice. Practice starts with attention on the breath, then the body, then sound, then mind and finally pure awareness.
July - September 2020 I finally get a taste of how dukkha the dukkha ñanas can be. A handful of experiences (all off-cushion) -- typified by panic, claustrophobia and strong somatic unpleasantness. It feels like fingernails on the chalkboard, but all through my body. My first experience with kriyas (or PNES maybe?). Convulsions and contractions of the body. Arms and legs kicking and punching. One particular weekend of multiple bad experiences leaves me a useless puddle on the floor. My wife is a champ in supporting me through all this. On the advice of my teacher I take a 2 week break and do some grounding.
September - October 2020 Back to practice with a grounding meditation for 30 minutes a day, then back to the Mahayana-style vipassana. Started a temporary job. Things feel very peaceful on and off the cushion. I feel like I have entered the EQ to Reobs spin cycle. Practice gets deeper and deeper then I have some sort of wretched collapse into horribleness.
October - December 2020 Heavy sleepiness becomes the norm. Practice becomes a bit less consistent and sits shorter, but the recommendation from my teacher is to sit through the sleepiness rather than trying to fix it or give up. One particular session I have intense drowsiness from beginning to end. I resolve to neither let my head bob, to do any swaying or to give up. I feel intense internal discomfort in the process that causes me to make purgative gagging sounds. Not long after, the sleepiness is gone from practice.
December 2020 Practice starts to get effortless to a degree I haven’t experienced before. The week of Christmas I start to have some nihilistic thoughts and moments of panic and despair. On advice of my teacher, I decide to take some more time off of practice.

It’s now been about two weeks since I’ve taken a break. I’ll probably start back up the beginning of the next week easing back into practice with 20 minute sits.

I wrote a blog post summarizing my experiences with meditation over the past year mostly directed towards the uninitiated:

https://brandondayton.medium.com/a-year-of-dedicated-practice-364801a621f

RE: Brandon's Practice Log Number 2
Answer
1/9/21 11:49 AM as a reply to Brandon Dayton.
Thanks for the summmary. An excellent  body of work

RE: Brandon's Practice Log Number 2
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1/9/21 1:04 PM as a reply to Brandon Dayton.
To think this was coming, yet we had to go through the long version... ! emoticon

RE: Brandon's Practice Log Number 2
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1/9/21 3:12 PM as a reply to Olivier.
Touche! emoticon

RE: Brandon's Practice Log Number 2
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1/9/21 11:26 PM as a reply to Brandon Dayton.
lol, the scenic route is the way to go. Olivier is joking you, Brandeon, because he recently did the same thing, summarized several eons concisely on a fresh thread, and somebody said the exact same thing to him! On the scenic route, I especially appreciate all the little roadside memorial markers where the vehicles of previous selves crashed and burned. Always a poignant moment that can't be fully captured in a re-cap. So looking forward to more wrecks! Uh, and, of course, the salvation of all sentient beings and all.

RE: Brandon's Practice Log Number 2
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1/10/21 10:55 AM as a reply to Tim Farrington.
Yes, I was that guy. Honesty enjoyed both versions.

RE: Brandon's Practice Log Number 2
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1/10/21 11:58 AM as a reply to Brandon Dayton.
Me too

RE: Brandon's Practice Log Number 2
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1/20/21 1:08 PM as a reply to Brandon Dayton.
Been slowly easing into practice after an episode of instability around Christmas. Taking the break felt really good. Read some Cheetah House stuff during that time, and I really appreciated the alternate biological and neurological perspective on meditation and its negative side-effects. Read descriptions of side-effects that I was experiencing that I hadn't read anywhere else along with decent neurological (even if in some places speculative) descriptions of mechanisms that bring them about.

One such model described hyperarousal due to the sensory attenuation which seemed to describe some of my oversensitivity and irritability post practice fairly well. The one I wasn't expecting was the description of cognitive impairment such as stuttering and having a hard time finding words, which is something I have noticed in myself, but hadn't connected to practice. During this last period of instability I was having a hard time finding words and remembering names and was starting to get caught in a narrative that I was in the throes of early-onset dementia. It was leading to some anxiety and panic that got pretty dark over the holidays. The anxiety dissipated and the cognitive abilities seemed to bounce back once I took a break. Still have some weird cognitive glitching going on, but the same anxiety isn't there. 

Started with a 20 minute session on the eleventh and I've been fitting in sessions here and there without any pressure to do too much or to do it with any regularity. There's been a bit of a sense of doubt and uncertainty about how to proceed. A bit of a sense of just wanting to ditch all of this. Maybe this is some of that "rolling up the mat" thing. If so, it has more of a quiet despair to it than I expected.

Had a meeting with Abre yesterday that was helpful and encouraging. We are reading Seeing That Frees together, which I started early last year, but never finished. There is a good feeling with reading Burbea. It seems like the right fit for where my mind is right now, like my mind starts meditating just by reading it. That reading and and an encouraging session with Abre has restored a bit of faith to move forward. It all seems inevitable anyway.

My first go at a full session this morning. Had to cut it a bit short to use the bathroom, but the session went deep. Space opened up at the end and there was a sense of clarity and mindfulness that were startling. I was sensing the same sensations I always sense, but there was something starkly novel about it. Perhaps it's too new and happened too quickly for me to put my finger on what I was picking up, but there was an "Oh, wow!" feeling about it. Maybe I was just hitting another A&P. Towards the end there was a feeling of soft, spacious clarity and illumination that gave me the sense of floating in an expansive ocean of milk. As I allowed myself to be absorbed into the tranquility, surges of pleasure came on that caused my body to shake. Some anxiety as the rocket kept reaching new heights. Everything felt very open and exposed. Had to take a decent amount of time to ground myself afterwards.

RE: Brandon's Practice Log Number 2
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1/21/21 4:28 AM as a reply to Brandon Dayton.
There's been a bit of a sense of doubt and uncertainty about how to proceed. A bit of a sense of just wanting to ditch all of this. Maybe this is some of that "rolling up the mat" thing. If so, it has more of a quiet despair to it than I expected.

You've been in the little mini-loop of dark night easing into equanimity for a substantial period, and in both DN and EQ one of the main things is a deepening sense of emptiness and a seeing-through a lot of the things we tell ourselves about "meaning." You're reading Rob Burbea, so you're studying this territory conceptually and intellectually, but it is on the mat that we really have to come to terms with emptiness, neuronal firing by neuronal firing, breath by breath. There's nothing to grasp, nothing to formulate, nowhere to stabilize; it's painful and distressing, in DN, feels like failure or fuck-up or a horrifying vision of a meaningless cosmos; then the grace of EQ allows us to live with it again without the distress, and sometimes the lack of distress in comparison with the dukkha nanas is the best thing that can be said of EQ. But in both, the reality of "nowhere to go and nothing to do" is plain long before "nowhere" and "nothing", and "not going"/"not doing" reveal their up side. At best, at this point, there is a humility and patience and gentleness accessible--- the "quiet" in the quiet despair. 

That reading and and an encouraging session with Abre has restored a bit of faith to move forward.
It is faith, and never more so than in this territory where the previous formulations don't hold up, where the practice seems like a universal dissolvent that threatens to dissolve everything without a way forward in the nothing it leaves. That's the fire test of faith, moving "forward" when there is nowhere to go. John of the Cross says, "in darkness, and secure." Secure in what? The whats dissolve. 

It all seems inevitable anyway.

Yeah, "inevitable," you're pretty much fucked, and you know it. But you're doing a great job with your pacing, with keeping your shit together in your real life and not letting things get disruptively out of sync. It's very striking to me how often you mention the necessity for a substantial "integration" period after your sits, letting yourself decompress and reorient. Think of deep sea divers pausing in their ascent, to let the nitrogen out of their blood and avoid getting "the bends." You're doing a good job of not letting yourself get the meditation version of the bends. Your instincts are good.

Hang tough, amigo, and thanks for sharing here. 

RE: Brandon's Practice Log Number 2
Answer
1/23/21 11:35 AM as a reply to Tim Farrington.
I always enjoy your thoughtful and loving responses, Tim. Thanks for the encouragmenant, and BTW I'm finally going to release our podcast chat next week! Looking forward to re-visiting it as I log and edit the episode.

RE: Brandon's Practice Log Number 2
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1/23/21 11:45 AM as a reply to Brandon Dayton.
60 minutes 9:15 am

Practice is getting pretty predictable. Mind settles little by little, without any intention really. By 20 minutes to half an hour, I'm on my way. From there I feel like the mind is a playground and there are any number of places I can go. Still mostly following the Mahayana vipassana approach, but it seems like each stage is like a floor of a department store with multiple areas to explore within it. Spent quite a bit of time looking at self at the stage of awareness. Repeated the phrase, “not me, not mine, not I” as sensations of self arose. Interesting to look at how sensations in the body, particularly this thread between my chest and face, and visual impressions mix together. Also becoming aware of the sense of doer that flashes on and off in the head areas. Seeing more of the impermanence of self. Also working with instructions from Abre to drop the sense of separation between myself and sensations. Makes no conceptual sense, but as I make an intention to do so things kind of just happen.

Sit felt very sustainable and effortless if a bit boring at times, but various qualities of well-being arose -- calm, bliss, contentment, happiness, quiet. Not as energetic as a few days before. No shaking or anything. Little anxiety. Still coming down after the session and very sensitive to family life. Fortunately things are very quiet and calm around the house, so the transition feels smooth.

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