High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 7/14/21 4:53 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Kaloyan Stefanov 7/14/21 5:38 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? shargrol 7/14/21 5:49 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö 7/14/21 10:26 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 7/14/21 4:51 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö 7/15/21 11:05 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 7/18/21 2:25 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Kaloyan Stefanov 7/15/21 1:45 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? shargrol 7/15/21 6:43 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Chris M 7/15/21 6:46 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Sigma Tropic 7/15/21 2:17 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 7/28/21 10:26 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? George S 7/28/21 8:58 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 7/28/21 11:55 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 9/3/21 12:25 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? shargrol 9/3/21 9:01 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 9/8/21 1:36 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? shargrol 9/8/21 6:48 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 10/1/21 6:32 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? George S 10/1/21 8:58 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Eudoxos . 10/2/21 3:09 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Kaloyan Stefanov 10/4/21 4:36 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 12/8/21 6:47 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? shargrol 12/9/21 7:08 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? George S 12/13/21 10:17 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 1/10/22 11:29 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? shargrol 1/10/22 5:05 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 4/3/22 5:17 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 4/3/22 5:23 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? George S 4/3/22 10:16 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? shargrol 4/4/22 8:42 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 4/20/22 12:42 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? George S 4/20/22 5:06 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? shargrol 4/20/22 3:35 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 10/18/22 10:19 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Chris M 10/21/22 7:18 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 10/19/22 12:20 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 10/19/22 6:58 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 10/20/22 10:24 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 10/20/22 11:11 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Chris M 10/21/22 7:25 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 10/28/22 11:02 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Chris M 10/28/22 1:49 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 11/2/22 5:46 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Chris M 11/2/22 5:52 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 11/10/22 7:45 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Chris M 11/11/22 6:46 AM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 12/6/22 12:40 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? shargrol 12/6/22 2:47 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Danny S 1/5/23 2:53 PM
RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat? Chris M 1/5/23 4:27 PM
Danny S, modified 2 Years ago at 7/14/21 4:53 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 7/14/21 1:40 AM

High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 67 Join Date: 6/18/21 Recent Posts
Here is what I think happened: I went on a 2-day retreat (my first) in the Mahasi tradition this past weekend and went from Mind & Body all the way to Equanimity, which is WAY more progress than I was planning for. I would be fine if I could have just stayed in early Equanimity (what I imagine is ñ11.j1), but if I pay attention to my experience as it is for even a minute or two, it feels like things are starting to flow together and I get the ominous sense that something big is about to happen (maybe ñ11.j4?). That happened this morning and I had to actively try to be as un-mindful as I could to keep things stable during the first half of the day at work, though I kept spacing out and it was hard to concentrate (I'm guessing ñ11.j3, which annoyingly seems to be the most stable substage of this ñana, though I'll take it over sliding back to Re-Observation any day). Also, just to complicate things, I realized I had probably been in the Dark Night the past 6 months without realizing it, during which I subtly but consistently screwed up at my job and in my relationship with my fiance. I don't think any permanent harm has been done (thank goodness), but I need to clean up the messes I've made, which means I don't really have any time to meditate until this weekend. So, basically I don't know what to do. It seems like it would be kind of sad to get stream entry in the middle of a work week and have no time to enjoy and learn in the afterglow, but at the same time, maybe I should just complete the cycle and get back to my life? But will my regular life still matter after stream entry? Will I still love my fiánce? Will I want to quit my well-paying job?

I realize my claim about being close to SE after two days of retreat seems ridiculous, and I would actually be really happy if someone here can give a different interpretation of my reported experience below because I do NOT feel ready for it! I still am not even sure I've ever experienced vibrations outside of the A&P, I have no idea how someone could note more than 5 times per second, and I've never even been able to focus on my breath more than 5-10 minutes without a thought distracting me for at least a second or two.

Context and Background
I first started meditating about 4 years ago in the context of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which I picked up from a self-help book I was reading during a period of attempting self-improvement after a breakup, following instructions like, "imagine you are an alien scientist experiencing the human body for the first time". I've gone through periods of meditating on and off since then, but even during the most active periods I rarely did formal sitting practice, and almost never sat more than half an hour. It was mostly just trying to be mindful of the present moment for 5-15 min at a time during mundane activities. My ADHD probably has something to do with this, though I've been taking Vyvanse and Adderall since being diagnosed 9 years ago at 18. I also have Aspergers/high-functioning ASD.

I was motivated to practice by the the idea of being equanimous in the face of difficult thoughts and feelings, which I felt could help me achieve more by improving my discipline, and I also liked the sensory clarity and feelings of joy and curiosity that I cultivated. I have also always been curious about how the brain works and am curruntly trying to make a career out of attempts to find out. Two years ago I got curious about Buddhism as the original source of meditation practice (like hey, maybe there's something deeper that's missing in these western distillations of mindfulness practice) and started reading Bikkhu Bodhi's anthology of the Pali Canon. I got curious about these "jhana" things that kept getting mentioned and wondered if I could experience them in my own practice. Even more captivating was this idea of "stream entry". So I spent a lot of time lurking on Buddhism Stack Exchange looking for specific details and was getting tired of people just answering questions by quoting suttas when I saw someone mention this Daniel Ingram guy who claimed (credibly, it seemed) to be fully enlightened. That is how I found MCTB2 around 6 months ago, which had answers to all my questions and more, and I read most of the parts relevant to pre-stream enterers. At one point my neurotic mind wanted more how-to details and picked up TMI. This began a 3-4 week period where I practiced 1-3 hours a day, motivated by my ostensibly fast progress through stages 1-5. But then I got stuck around stage 6, which is where the interesting states are supposed to start coming up (or, more likely, this is where my abilities were to begin with). I also re-read some of Daniel's advice about the pitfalls of getting stuck as a jhana junkie with samatha practice and how vipassana retreats are the most efficient use of time, and I decided it was probably best to wait until a retreat center near me reopened from covid restrictions.

The most intense experience I can remember from this period was feeling tingling "breath-related sensations" all over my body after working up to this point during a 3-hour sit. It wasn't rapturous or profound or anything but I feel like I must have crossed the A&P at that time or around then because afterwards I proceeded to miss the first deadline for my dissertation, have my normally-proud adviser yell at me when his star student procrastinated on replying to reviewers for a major paper, acted like a selfish and inattentive jerk toward my girlfriend (who still believed in me enough to become my fiánce), and left my co-workers at my first job wondering if this lazy bum was the same brilliant intern from two years earlier who would work weekends for fun. 

A&P on Psilocybin
​​​​​​​In case it's relevant, two months ago, my fiance and I decided to try psilocybin mushrooms, which had recently been decriminalized in a city near us. There were a few trips where we both had experiences that in retrospect were pretty clearly A&P crossings (One time I felt like I was getting a full-body orgasm while having sex with the universe, and another time my fiance "basically thought [she] was Jesus" and called several of her family members to ask them to give her all their money to help her save the world). I also had experiences on these trips with abrupt and irritating loss of most sensory clarity after the peak, and some more brief ones where everything got evenly clear and somehow more 3D and I felt like I was suddenly 10-years more emotionally mature. 

Retreat and insight stage experiences
Here is an account of my experiences during the 2-day retreat and how I would classify them. Does any of this sound plausible/typical? (Sorry that my post is so long. Feel free to skim as I'm writing this to have it for me to look back on as much as anything else)

Mind and Body: Did not really notice this stage in a clear way. I felt like there was some kind of novel shift during my first sit of the day, but it was subtle and hard to place.

Cause and Effect: My noting affected my breath, which started jerking around in time with the notes. This experience was kind of on-and-off during the morning of day 1, until the 30 min sit following the Dharma talk before lunch, when I ran into 3Cs and A&P.

Three Characteristics: Pain intensified in my legs, and a bit in my back, but not unbearably so. I did start to have some involuntary swaying. Lasted ~5 min.

A&P: Big strong fast buzzing vibrations all over but mostly in my abdomen and hands. The intensity changed with the phase of the breath. All distractions fell away and the practice seemed automatic. My hands involuntarily turned outwards from being cupped near my abdomen and my fingers spread out and curled a bit into a random position. Lasted ~10 min before the bell rang for lunch. My head was filled with excited thoughts about my experience for 5-10 min after. During lunch and the 1 hr walking meditation following, I am not sure where I was on the maps but I was mostly trying to get back to the clarity of the A&P.

Dissolution: All the breath sensations that had been getting more clear were suddenly 90% gone, but I felt pretty ok and peaceful at first. It was a dull, lazy sort of peacefulness though. This was actually the dominant experience for the rest of that first day, though at some point some of the sharp detail returned to my experience, but in a hard-to-place, vague sort of way.

Fear, Misery, Disgust, DofD: Didn't really notice any of these explicitly, but there were brief moments throughout the day when I would notice some of the associated emotions.

Re-Observation: It's a bit hard to tell when this stage started to predominate vs other Dark Night stages, but I feel confident I was in it for 95% of day 2. I was mostly just feeling subtle annoyance at my apparent lack of progress, and Daniel's description of it seemed so unbearable and horrifying that I assumed I was in Dissolution until the morning of day 2. I woke up at 1:30am after only sleeping 3 hours and couldn't get back to sleep, and everything felt vague when I tried to be mindful. I noted the rising and falling of my abdomen, but it felt like there was a hole in the center and I could only feel vague sensations around the edges of my abdomen. I tried noting "gone", "vanishing", and "vague" for a while and eventually gave up the intention for my noting to make the sensations clearer and just said "well, I have no idea what I'm supposed to be paying attention to, so I'll just note and experience vagueness because what else can I do?". Just a few minutes later, clarity returned, I could feel the center of my abdomen again, and I felt profound relief and peace. I stayed in that state for an hour before the morning bell, and got up feeling good and thinking "great, I'm in equanimity now". So I started feeling the clarity and trying to experience it faster and more precisely, which was a mistake. I slid back into Re-Observation and stayed there, practicing half-heartedly until the last sit of the day. One thing I found I could do well was notice how every discrete sensation vanished before the next one, and also that absolutely nothing was satisfactory, but I had bad practice during most of day 2 and kept skipping walking meditation to go read MCTB2 to try to figure out what I had to do to get out of Re-Observation. During the last 2 hours of the day, I went to the meditation center and realized that what I thought would be the last sit was actually a 2 hr Dharma talk. At this point, I gave up all hope of making more progress and had decided I would just have to deal with the added difficulties the Dark Night was going to add to my already-difficult daily life. I kept changing posture due to intense pain while listening to what I perceived at the time to be a useless and archaic talk on the hindrance of sense-desire. In the last 5 min during chanting after the talk, I thought, "I can't perceive anything clearly, I wasn't able to concentrate with this pain and that guy talking about some monk being reborn as a louse due to craving fancy robes, I have no idea what Daniel means by 10-18 Hz vibrations, and I've lost any hope of perceiving that fast anyway because I've slacked off and lost momentum and I have a few minutes of retreat left. But Daniel said to just be with things as they are, so heck, this crappy state is how things are. I'll humor him and be with it even though I have no chance of progress". And that's what I did.
Equanimity: And then, over the course of a minute or two, the edgy sensations began to slowly vanish and I could suddenly feel the center of my abdomen again. The pain almost entirely vanished, and I felt a warm sense of peacefulness. I could hardly believe what was happening. I threw myself into the chanting and just forgot myself as my voice synchronized with the others. I bowed three times with the most genuine gratitude I've ever felt. I kept checking my abdomen to see if I could still feel the center and I could. I checked my visual field still hardly daring to believe if this was real and lasting, and yes, it was clear in the center and the edges with the beauty of the meditation center showing itself in 3D spaciousness. I sobbed as I walked mindfully to collect things from my room. I recalled how Daniel advised investigating the 3 characteristics of Equanimity to avoid sliding back, I noted "space", "space". I noticed how I could concurrently perceive sensations all throughout my body, and I noted "awareness, awareness". I noticed the pleasant sense of relief and peace and I noted "peace","peace" I noticed how my mind clung to these qualities, wishing for them to remain or intensify. I noticed how it all kind of happened on its own with sensations followed by intentions followed by movement of attention. The entire rest of the day I was so afraid of sliding back I kept noting my rising abdomen every few minutes with heart racing, with relief upon finding the center still there. At some point, I realized I could clearly and broadly feel sensations in both my hands and feet at the same time. I can still feel that right now, which I know for a fact I have never been able to do before, and that is the main indicator to me that I am in Equanimity.
Kaloyan Stefanov, modified 2 Years ago at 7/14/21 5:38 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 7/14/21 5:38 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 83 Join Date: 2/18/21 Recent Posts
Hey Danny, welcome and thanks for sharing your story!

There are people here that are much better than me at diagnozing exact stages of progress. It is generally possible to climb up to equanimity in 2 days, especially if you are not "starting from scratch" but you have had multiple previous A&Ps + potentially marinated in DN for 6 months. This is in no way an attemtp to diagnose you accurately, but confirmation that indeed it is possible.

You seem to have an affinity for the maps, and indeed they can be very useful, but please keep in mind that "where you are on the maps" generally doesn't change too much the approach. See this post and subsequent posts from Shargrol's compilation. He is an old-time member of this forum who has shared some excellent advice on this stuff:

On equanimity specifically - equanimity tends to be super peaceful for people, with some sense of broad perceptual clarity to experience. It is this deep clarity that there is only this moment, this experience, that everything that happens (thoughts, sensations, etc.) are things happening in this experience and there is nowhere else to go. Openly, gently sitting with this, soaking in it, midly curiously investigating it, letting it do its thing, is generally good advice for equanimity. People tend to be drawn to go wide in their attention/ object of meditation at this stage, and is generally a good idea. ​​​​​​​Going for stream entry when you are (potentially) at equanimity is generally solid advice, and making some arrangements in real life to accomodate for the time/space is also generally good.

​​​​​​​Based on what others have shared on this forum and elsewhere, SE generally tends to be quite a subtle perceptual change for most people, and a subtle positive change in how thoughts and emotions are experienced, once it stabilises. And thats that. So your questions re. regular life (fiance, relationships, etc.) are somewhat unfounded. Noone can guaruantee that you will still love your fiance tomorrow, but SE is unlikely to change that in and of itself. So don't worry about it emoticon

You seem to have built up some momentum and are already seeing benefit from your practice, even if it is not always easy for regular life stuff. Keep that momentum going. Can you find e.g. 45 minutes every day to "sit" (posture could be different, up to your prerence), e.g. right before going to bed or immediately when waking up? Or 45 minute walking meditation on your way to work? Do that every day. Slot in larger meditation slots when you have the time (weekends) and when you feel drawn to it. And then also retreats if/when you can of course.
shargrol, modified 2 Years ago at 7/14/21 5:49 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 7/14/21 5:48 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 2379 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Just remember that progress through the stages of insight isn't a linear, ratching-like, stepwise progression. You can go up and down the stages and it's normal to go up and down 500 or 1000 times -- including up and down several times within a single sit --- before mindfulness is balanced enough (strong + relaxed) to synchonize into conformity knowledge. 

It sounds like your recent experience has been very motivational and confidence-inspiring. Remember that consistent daily practice and wise use of retreats is the simple answer for how to land SE. Look closely at greed, aversion, ignoring, resistance, ill will, spiritual ambition, etc. and learn how to soften all these cravings. Equanimity is simply being with the flow of experiences and being mindful of the present moment. High equanimity happens when mindfulness is so well trained that sitting like this seems automatic. Conformity knowledge happens when the conditions are just right. There is nothing we can to intentionally make conformity happen except learning to balance mindfulness with relaxation over time.

Don't worry about when SE will hit. It's great when it does, but until then there is a need to practice the basics of mindfulness of breathing, noticing habits of greed/aversion/ignorance in all of its variations. Remember to return to the present moment and notice what is happening. Sometimes meditation mapping thoughts are as distracting as other more normal samsaric thoughts.

Best wishes for your practice! Keep it simple, keep practicing!
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Years ago at 7/14/21 10:26 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 7/14/21 10:25 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 7134 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
You have already gotten some great advice for your practice, so I won't say much about that. I just thought I'd share something regarding relationships. I did have some issues with one of my loved ones following SE because one of the things that had brought us together was the suffering.

Before my stream entry, this person and I had very similar thought patterns in many respects. That had made it easy to connect, and we felt seen and validated and understood in each other's company in a way that was very intense and quite frankly pretty exhausting. A couple of days at a time was awesome but then I needed to rest either alone or with another loved one who was much less prone to draw me into such mental rides. And yet I wanted it, longed for that intensity when it wasn't there. I was hooked. It was like an addiction. 

After stream entry, the love was still there, but something was different. That hook had suddenly gone away. My mind didn't follow along with all those chains of suffering. The difference was very subtle at first, for me, because I didn't miss anything. Also, the first time following stream entry, nothing really annoyed me. I had the most incredible patience (incredible to me, because it made my life so much easier; it's a relative thing, and my patience before SE had been awful). My loved one, who is very observant, still noticed the difference and was grieving that incredible synch that we had had before. It had meant the world to him, because he had felt utterly alone with his way of thinking (we are both neurodivergent, in different ways). We could still handle it well. 

Then when the lower ñanas of next path took its toll on me (especially the three C ñana), I got into new chains of suffering that weren't very in tune with his patterns. So now we had still lost our synch, and in addition, I didn't have access to that equanimity that had helped in dealing with the loss. This was a tough crisis. Worse for him than for me. I didn't think it was that big of a deal that we weren't in tune with each other in a symbiotic way, and I got defensive in a way that didn't help. I also got annoyed wih his constant thinking that left little space for stillness of the mind, and since I was the first person he had met who could keep up with his gallopping associative thinking, that hurt him. While being equanimous, I had still been able to keep up with it for his sake even though I didn't have the drive for it. Now I needed the stillness more often and got cranky. He had traumas that made him very sensitive to crankiness. I had traumas that made me prone to feeling guilt-tripped. Not the best combination.

The relationship is still ongoing but we aren't quite as close and in tune with each other as we used to be. We were still working on getting more in tune, in new ways, when the covid situation hit us. We live in different towns and none of us has a driver's license, so we haven't been able to meet as much as we would have needed. We have the greatest respect for each other and the love is still there, so we haven't given up on our relationship. 

Do I regret getting out of that synch? No. Hell no. There is no way that pattern could have lasted anyway, because it was too exhausting. It wasn't good for me in the long run, as it was based on the wrong things. Thankfully that was not the only foundation for the relationship. The healthy foundations are still there. And most of my relationships have improved, especially with later practice-related shifts. My temper is so much better nowadays, generally, and I'm more present and less self-absorbed (not done, though, and there are still backlashes).

So to sum it up, in my experience, healthy foundations for a relationship do not go away with stream entry. If there are parts of the relationship that are based on and/or adjusted to the kind of suffering that goes away with stream entry, those parts will most likely change. If the latter happens, it might be a good idea to give space for some grieving without falling into defensiveness. It's also good to remember that lots of reactive patterns still remain. Some of them are very quiet directly after stream entry, but that doesn't mean that they are all gone. New "layers" will show up and mess up the equilibrium once again. Try to see them for what they are and avoid projecting things onto your partner. 

My very best wishes for your practice and wellbeing and relationships. 
Danny S, modified 2 Years ago at 7/14/21 4:51 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 7/14/21 12:12 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 67 Join Date: 6/18/21 Recent Posts
Thank you so much, Kaloyan and Shargrol, for your prompt and helpful replies. I have a few questions:
  1. So stream entry is usually a subtle experience? I've noticed Daniel and some other Dharma teachers describe it as a momentous event that makes the A&P seem like small potatoes. Are these just the odd ones out? Perhaps it is subtle because it happens to most people when they are not looking for or expecting it?
  2. Daniel mentions that, in the afterglow of stream entry, formal resolutions have tremendous power. Should I have a carefully thought-out resolution for what I want the rest of my life to be about? (I actually do have something in mind, but just wondering how true this is).
  3. Daniel mentions that the days following stream entry allow for mastering other meditation skills like concentration states and that this becomes less easy to do afterward. Is this the case for most people? Is it worth taking a day or two off work after I get stream entry to fully take advantage of this?
  4. Are there any other unique opportunities I should make sure I take advantage of during or following stream entry?

And Linda, thank you so much for sharing the story of how stream entry impacted your relationship, as well as how it did not. I notice a lot of similarities between the relationship you describe and my own, so this is very helpful in terms of what to look out for. This gives me so much confidence in my ability to make things work in my relationship with my partner, especially given everything we've been through already. Can I ask you how your partner felt about the idea of your meditation practice? Did he ever have any desire to practice himself? My partner has developed a powerful aversion to anything related to meditation because of how I obsessively researched the topic while neglecting her and what she was going through during my Dark Night. The one thing that really makes me worried is that my partner had an experience on a psilocybin trip that seems highly indicative of the A&P, and has become noticeably more edgy in the 6 weeks or so since. So she may be in the Dark Night and is one of the least likely people on earth to take up meditation at this point, and I feel responsible for it. I've never tried to recommend meditation to her and I know she would have to decide on her own to try it. I just wonder if there is any kind of "official" looking article or research study on the benefits of meditation for maybe something like "post-mystic-experience anxiety". I think she will decide to meditate or not in her own time, but having some kind of credentialed reference for the fact that what I'm going through is a neurobiological reality would at least ease her worry that I've gone down an internet rabbit hole and meditated myself into a corner by listening to spiritual crazy people..
Kaloyan Stefanov, modified 2 Years ago at 7/15/21 1:45 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 7/15/21 1:45 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 83 Join Date: 2/18/21 Recent Posts
Can't provide too much insight on your questions, maybe Shargrol or others will shed more light here. I will share my personal experience, what I have read + direct observation of a small number of people, but please take with a grain of salt.

MCTB has super detailed descriptions of SE moment which, according to people with much more experience on this like Daniel, tends to be subtle. The afterglow can vary a lot apperantly - from subtle positive change to magnificent fireworks, etc. I don't know when my SE happened, I didn't have access to maps at that point, and I can't recollect any fireworky period during the rough period when it might have happened. But it must have happened, I would assume, since my "attainments" match much higher levels beyond SE + have been able to notice later path moments (cessations) once I had access to MCTB. I know 3 other fairly awakened people (difficult to measure others' awaikening but they are all people I have close relationships with) that don't know when they had SE, 2 of them don't even know what SE refers to per se...
Formal resolutions tend to have tremendous power during the awakening path in general, especially during certain moments. I have done my share of them, when I felt super drawn to these, generally in the line of doing things for the benefit of others. My experience was so intense, I felt so drawn to make said resolutions that I couldn't possibly not go for the resolutions that I made. I don't regret it so far. But I didn't plan them much in advance. So if you feel drawn to formal resolutions which would be beneficial for you and others, you can go for it.

On concentration, I personally started doing concentration later when I came across MCTB, at which point I self-diagnosed myself as somewhere in the middle paths. I read through the chapters in MCTB, inclined to attend the jhanas, and the jhanas 1-5 or maybe 6 appeared super easy and naturally within 30 or so minutes. 
shargrol, modified 2 Years ago at 7/15/21 6:43 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 7/15/21 6:33 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 2379 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
 Danny, I think it's important to take a big step back and look at this with a broader perspective. No one can force progress and, to a large extent, we have to go through what we have to go through. Even the buddha himself said that there will be folks that make fast and easy progress, fast and difficult progress, slow and easy progress, slow and difficult progress. So it helps to be cautious about expectations. If you are too spiritually ambitious, then you might be second guessing good practice because things aren't happening fast enough, and that leads to a lot of problems.

I also got very focused on SE after reading MCTB, so I can deeply empathize. But I also burnt myself out on a 16 day retreat (for example) and learned the hard way that pushing for progress, instead of simply balancing investigation and relaxation. 

It might be possible to attain SE in a few days on retreat, but that rarely happens. For context, at the IMS the standard retreat for truly working on SE was the 100 day retreat. Now it looks like they do two 3 week retreats (so about 6 weeks/~50 days). On these retreats maybe 10-25% ??? get SE.  So that's the kind of standard average. 

(Why am I mentioning retreats so much? Mostly because these are really the test of whether we are simply balancing investigation and relaxation. If we are lazy, the whole retreat becomes a slog. If we are too ambitious, the meditator burns out. It really is a test of balance to practice 16 hours a day without entertainment over and over again...)

Now that said, I know several people who have gotten SE without a retreat, so it is definitely possible. I will say that those people were simply focused on the basics. Allowing experience to arise on its own, noting what arised, allowing a direct experience of the things that contribute to dukka/suffering/anquish and investigating those things with a heartfelt intimacy and honest. They neither repressed nor indulged, they didn't "try to skip over" the bad stuff to get to the good stuff. Instead, they "owned" their experience and had faith that bad experiences occurred because something wasn't being seen clearly, and they investigated what caused their bad experiences.

A lot of what occurs in the so-called dark night is psychological work and maturation. None of the stages in the dark night are inherently bad. Dissolution is dissolution, Fear is fear, Misery is misery, Disgust is disgust, Reobs is reobs --- no big deal. And all of this can be the third vipassina jhana (cool, numb, blissy). But people, understanably, want to jump to EQ or 3VJ emoticon  But EQ will be unstable and 3VJ will never happen unless we undergo the psychological growth that comes from facing the deep lessons learned within the dukka nanas. This is where pretty much all of the real progress happens. Only after really mastering these stages will EQ become stable enough to mature into High EQ and Conformity.

As a entertaining story, I started working with a teacher when I had burnt out on retreat and was facing the Fear nana. Sometimes during closed-eyes meditation, it felt like being a small fish in the bottom of a deep ocean.... and a giant fish or shark was going to swim out of the darkness and eat me. Serious fear. In talking with my teacher he said very matter of factly, "don't worry, whatever gets eaten isn't you." emoticon  Hearing that, I was still afraid but also curious. emoticon  It allowed me to really look at my experience and see that resisting the fear was what was making it nearly unbearable. I learned is Fear is fear and repressing it or indugling it just makes it worse, but applying equanimity to fear means it's just fear. Fear doesn't go away it just is fear and that's workable.

So I think it's really important to appreciate the dark night as the teacher it truly is. It's training your clarity and equanimity to experience "meditation problems" without over- or under-reacting. And this is what allows our normal life to be better because we neither over- or under-react to life problems. We learn to simply do what needs to be done.

For most people SE is not the high-energy experience Daniel had. Daniel was pretty cooked up on retreat and really pushing himself. It's one way to do it, of course, but it's a very high-risk-of-failure approach. It didn't work for me, but that didn't mean SE was impossible for me. Instead, I found a way that worked for me, which one that emphasized more intimacy and sense of flow/connection. We all need to discover what works for ourself --- and the dukka nanas are where we really learn it. 

In any case, in answer to your questions:

  1. So stream entry is usually a subtle experience? Yes, normally it's more like a aha or oh! Type experience. Big experiences are almost always A&P. SE drawfs A&P because of its profoundity, not because of its bliss/juiciness. If someone has a big experience, it's 99% another A&P. Remember that these stages (except path moments) get experienced many many many times, not just "one and done."
  2. Daniel mentions that, in the afterglow of stream entry, formal resolutions have tremendous power. Should I have a carefully thought-out resolution for what I want the rest of my life to be about? (I actually do have something in mind, but just wondering how true this is). I think you should make this resolution now if it is heartfelt. emoticon You can make resolutions at any time. But becareful and think it through. Don't do anything that feels heroic or egotistical. If the desire is simple, honest, includes all beings, and doesn't put you up on a pedestal... then it might be a good resolution.  
  3. Daniel mentions that the days following stream entry allow for mastering other meditation skills like concentration states and that this becomes less easy to do afterward. Yes, this is true, so if you have the time, it can be worth dwelling in jhana... but no big deal if you don't. SE is just the first of four paths, so there is still lots of time for practicing jhana. emoticon
  4. Are there any other unique opportunities I should make sure I take advantage of during or following stream entry? Not really, usually post-SE is a chance to look at your life and see what kind of wisdom you can apply to it. SE tends to make our worldview more objective and dispassonate. Often times we can see the ways we make life difficult for ourselves more clearly after SE.
Hope this helps. Remember that progress happens through consistent, daily, low-intensity and high-repetition practices, that are done simply and non-heroically. There isn't any short cut, really. And the work is easier and more enjoyable if you are surrounded by meditation friends, teachers, etc etc. ....and if you're not pressuring yourself to make faster and faster progress. emoticon

Chris M, modified 2 Years ago at 7/15/21 6:46 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 7/15/21 6:46 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 2 Years ago at 7/15/21 11:05 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 7/15/21 11:05 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 7134 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
That particular partner (I have several) tries some meditation on and off but has a hard time finding something that suits him, especially since instructions mainly target people without brain damage. Directly after stream entry (and before as well) I was embarrassingly infatuated with the dharma and had a hard time talking about anything else, and he couldn't relate. That's something to watch out for, even without the brain damage complicating things. There is a huge risk of being quite obnoxious. It sounds like you might have an idea of what I'm talking about already?

Why do you feel responsible for your partner's A&P experience? Wasn't the trip her choice?

I don't know of any such references. Sorry. Also, you may want to back off and let her deal with her own issues, and trust her to be able to do so. Denigrating her judgement with regard to her own life is probably a much bigger risk to your relationship than stream entry could ever be. 

If it's any consolation, the A&P could have occurred anyway. I went through a very drastic one without doing any practice at all and without taking any substances. It strook very hard. If it's due to happen, it happens. I had avoided meditation for two decades because some very simple exercises had had effects that I wasn't prepared for when I was a teenager. Then BAM, the universe got tired of waiting. 
Sigma Tropic, modified 2 Years ago at 7/15/21 2:17 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 7/15/21 2:17 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 368 Join Date: 6/27/17 Recent Posts
This whole mapping business is really tricky business.  Maybe try common sense wellness things and see if you're still worried about your position on a map. 
Danny S, modified 2 Years ago at 7/18/21 2:25 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 7/18/21 2:12 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 67 Join Date: 6/18/21 Recent Posts
Thank you for sharing your experience in your relationship. It is very helpful to know what challenges and pitfalls to look out for in my relationships as I progress along the path. And yes, I think I do have a good idea of what you're talking about. I still cringe when I remember how the first thing I did upon returning from the retreat was to start blabbering to my partner about map theory, despite having read Daniel's advice that nobody cares about what mystical experiences you had. I guess some of these lessons I just have to learn myself, though reading your advice hopefully helps me do so quicker. As I learn more about what those with higher attainments do and don't struggle with, it sounds like empathy and relationship skills fall very much in the realm of morality, so I see that I need to be careful about balancing training in this area with development of insight.

Oh, and I meant I felt responsible for turning her off to meditation through my obnoxiousness. My partner starting using psychedelics years before she met me and introduced me to them.

And thank you for the advice on backing off and trusting her judgment. In the past several days, I've made an effort to listen more, be less defensive during disagreements, and be proactive in attending to her needs, which has made a real difference. I am recognizing more and more how training in morality and wisdom are mutually reinforcing.
Danny S, modified 2 Years ago at 7/28/21 10:26 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 7/28/21 1:05 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 67 Join Date: 6/18/21 Recent Posts
Thank you, everyone, for sharing your experience and advice. I've been practicing for at least 30 min and up to a few hours (on weekends) each day since the retreat, and I've found the feedback incredibly helpful. Also, I am re-reading my first post and am a bit embarrassed at how I managed to come across as both overconfident and melodramatic.

 Shargrol, I've re-read your replies a few times in the past week, as well as a lot of your other advice from the compilation Kaloyan shared, and it sounds like you really have a lot of insight into the challenges faced by meditators of my personality type. In so much of what you wrote, it feels like you are talking right to me. Particularly helpful were the idea of the dukkha nanas being a learning opportunity, the suggestion to let things happen on their own and gently investigate resistance, and your thoughts on how to relate to greed/aversion/ignorance. This all really resonated with me when the confidence faded a few days after the retreat.

Speaking of which, I thought I'd share what I've experienced in the past two weeks. I'm not as obsessed with where I am on the maps now, though I do still care to the extent that it changes the best way to practice (e.g. how much effort to use). I am no longer confident about exactly which experiences I mentioned correspond to which stages, but I am confident that something is different that persists in my daily life and has been affecting it in a positive way, whose characteristics I describe below.

My experiences the past two weeks

July 11-14: I don't do sitting during this period but do walking meditation for 15 min to/from work and also during several minutes of spare time or doing chores. Assuming that this is EQ, I focused on having as wide of attention as I could, asking questions about who is observing all this, and using noting sparingly. The perceptual shift I noticed toward the end of the retreat persists in daily life, and has the following characteristics:

-- Objects seem very clear in a wider-than-usual area of my visual field, and objects within 5 ft or so seem somehow very 3D and clear and pleasant to look at.

-- Sense of touch is also wider and clearer. I get the sense that I can feel sensations on both hands and both feet simultaneously, and smooth or soft sensations especially feel more detailed in a pleasant way.

-- My default emotional state is peaceful, though I can still get anxious or dejected based on my external circumstances.

-- I am more proactive about things and do not avoid boring/difficult/emotionally demanding tasks as much. There is definitely still a lot of avoidance at different times, but what is normally a huge issue for me has become more manageable.

For this period, I found myself constantly checking for the signs of the perceptual shift to make sure they were still there, and they became somewhat an object of craving. I would get disappointed when I would look at something and it wouldn't have the same clarity as before, which I can now see as a hindrance.

July 15: The shift had similar features the first four days, but after my last meeting on Thursday after my retreat, a feeling of being tired suddenly lifted in a noticeable shift, and the calm feeling and wide perceptual clarity intensified. I got a bit excited and began reading the MCTB2 chapter on High EQ on my phone at my desk, sort of staying in a mindful state as I noticed my visual field shift as I read each word and heard its audible manifestation in my head, trying to localize it in space. I got into a bit of a focused-yet-dreamy state and then, upon reading the sentence, "Many will not notice that this is how they are experiencing reality, and that is just fine" there was a sudden shift and feeling of pressure in my right ear, and everything went from being intensely clear and flowy to more ordinary but still crisp and also sort of chill. Coming up for a breath of air after being underwater is a good analogy. I felt more chilled out and so walked home (I still had work to do and figured I'd do it there). I was a bit biased into thinking this was a "near-miss moment" since Daniel describes that on the same page I had been reading, so as I tried to do walking meditation, I was distracted by mapping thoughts. In the next few hours, I found it hard to focus on work, and when trying to be mindful, everything seemed kind of out of phase or out of reach of perception, similar to what I described as ReObs but with less negative emotionality (but still more than usual) and the out-of-phase-ness was more "even". If my supposed ReObs was like a circle with only the left and right edges clear, this was like a sphere with only the outer shell clear. Not sure if that makes sense... Anyway, I sat down to meditate and used what had worked for when things were not clear during the retreat, namely just being with the out-of-phase-ness as it was and being curious about my dissatisfaction with it. After a couple of hours of on-and-off practice interspersed with work and talking with my partner, it was time to call it quits and go to bed. At that point, things became clear again but in a way that felt less wondrous and pleasant and more neutral than before, and I want to bed.

July 16: Things were clear but in a very even and ordinary way, and I didn't notice too much about it. I experimented with trying to locate an observer in my head for 30 min before work that morning. It felt very slippery doing this, kind of like I was playing tag with sensations in my head and face. Then I got absorbed in work and, by the end of the day, I noticed the pleasant shift had gone away and I was back to pre-retreat mode. I was strangely not that scared or sad about it, I was just like "oh well, here we are again". I found I was briefly able to enter something like halfway back into the wide clear mode when before bed I tried to hold all the edgy sensations in attention and accept them, but then it returned the following day.

July 17: I decided to do a psilocybin trip with my partner again (2g), had a challenging trip where I felt like I got smacked in the face with the reality that nothing any being does will matter in 10^80 years in the heat death of the universe and also that it is impossible for me to imagine the suffering currently being experienced by other beings. I felt like I was able to accept this as a valid point and I didn't (totally) freak out, but it was difficult. Interestingly, in the wide/clear/calm mode, I feel less of a desire to use psychedelics (or recreational drugs in general), but in what I'm calling the DN I felt more drawn to it.

July 18: Sunday morning I felt like I was fully back to pre-retreat baseline, but I knew what was possible and so I decided to try to power the meditation with fast-as-possible noting. During a two-hour sit following two hours of mindful walking/eating, I was able to repeat the experience I had on the retreat that I had thought was the A&P. This was preceded by the same odd breathing patterns, which are a bit like my mental notes start to turn my breath kind of into a machine-gun-like series of stops and starts, and that breath pattern then sort of becomes my notes. I wasn't consciously trying to make my breath do that, but if I'm honest I was thinking "oh, this is a good sign!". There was a lot of shaking, a feeling of 5-10 Hz buzzing in my hands and abdomen, and slightly less pain but still a good deal of it, but I didn't detect, any of the 20-40 Hz vibrations I had heard about, though I feel like I'm bad at noticing vibrations in general. I also didn't feel any of the positive emotional effects associated with the A&P after the sit ended. In fact, that evening I felt pretty depressed for no apparent reason. It felt like all my goals and ambitions were hollow and pointless, and that life was just this slog that would only get worse as I got older.

July 19: The next day, I began to wonder if these supposed A&P experiences were just respiratory alkalosis induced by some hyperventilation that I mistook for the odd breathing patterns of Cause and Effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Respiratory_alkalosis). Sweating, shaking, buzzing sensations, and involuntary muscle contractions are all symptoms I experienced. I am actually quite surprised that I have never heard of this as a common mimic of the A&P, because I would think that it would happen quite often in beginners who know the map theory. I feel like this is more likely because I was definitely "trying to make something happen" with my noting rather than just being with experience. I felt really lost and dejected feeling like I had just been making up my experiences through some sort of unconscious self-hypnosis based on the maps.

July 20: I continued basic noting during spare time and activities, but at a more measured pace, kind of resigned to not getting anywhere anytime soon but almost just out of habit. I went on a 2-hour hike with some co-workers and during parts of which I noted my steps "left", "right". Then, upon returning to my desk, I realized the wide, peaceful clarity was back! That night, with my interest in meditation re-kindled, I read a lot of Shargrol's posts on the topic of EQ, taking careful note of the themes of letting go, dialing back effort, and investigating greed/aversion/ignorance.

July 21-23: The rest of that workweek, I continued my regimen of short practice sessions in the morning and evening and during breaks at work, focusing on the tips from Shargrol this time, which I found very effective! Just investigating dissatisfaction for a few minutes would leave me so much more mindful than the forceful effort I had been using!

July 24: Last Saturday I had a good 3-4 hours free for formal sitting practice in my apartment, and after the first sit I quickly found myself in the not-great-but-still-fine out-of-phase mode again. I tried to relax into this experience with my whole body and in my closed-eye visuals and the subtle ringing in my ears. I tried to gently cultivate curiosity into what made this experience seem vague or less clear, why I found it unsatisfactory, and where was this observer finding it unsatisfactory anyway? The out-of-phase-ness persisted until I realized I had to leave in 10 min, at which point I thought, "ok, guess I won't get through this part until later, I'll just sit a few more minutes and be on my way". And then right there some clarity returned! It was again a more ordinary clarity, but this time I took more care to notice its qualities: if I investigated honestly, the clarity seemed at least as strong as before the out-of-phase-ness and perhaps bit wider, but somehow the gentle and pleasant "wow..." factor was greatly reduced and emotionally things seemed more neutral. However, this more neutral-toned clarity seemed more robust as it persisted even when my mind was on other things.

July 25: I was having a lot of mapping thoughts at this point, and thought, "ok, this really seems like High EQ" so I read a lot of Shargrols posts on that topic that morning and then sat for ~1 hour gently investigating the sense of an observer and gently noticing sensations of resistance in my head, neck, face, and abdomen. There were points where I got a bit dreamy and was aware of it, but that tended to also kind of make greed for progress come up because I had read accounts of SE, and otherwise nothing much of note. I decided to try taking a low dose of psilocybin (1g with food) just to see what would happen if I did so in this state. I decided to try taking a low dose of psilocybin (1g with food) just to see what would happen if I did so in this state. Basically, this resulted in a more mild version of a challenging trip, which I was able to get through by sitting down and just noting what occurred, and I eventually returned to my previous state. Sorry for describing the drug experiences. I include them just for completeness but I honestly don't feel like they are very important in my meditation journey. In any case, given my recent experiences, I don't plan on tripping again any time soon.

July 26-27: The even and neutral yet ordinary-feeling clarity has remained as a subtle undertone up until now. I've tried meditating kind of half-heartedly the past two days, trying some different techniques like noting, trying to hold attention as wide as possible, noticing dissatisfaction (which is actually kind of hard to find right now), but it doesn't really seem to make a difference, though not really in a bad way. More like everything is 90% as clear as it could be already whether I focus on it or not. Everything feels just pretty fine. I'm actually in a better place in my daily life than I've been in several months. I finally feel on top of things and even kind of excited at work. My partner recently commented that I've changed so much and that I treat her like I did during the beginning of our relationship. Anyway, regardless of where I am in terms of spiritual progress, my life has really been improving these past two weeks and I feel like meditation played a pretty important role. So yeah, pretty sold on this stuff emoticon

A few more questions

So I'm doing well, but I do have a few questions because I'm kind of confused about where to go next in my practice. One thing I think I should clarify is that I probably did not give myself enough credit earlier in terms of my amount of previous practice. It's true I rarely had the discipline for formal sitting practice, but my daily-life mindfulness really did become a habit since I was introduced to it four and a half years ago, and probably averaged out to around 15-30 min a day. I had always assumed this was basically ineffectual since it did not allow me to build momentum, but maybe I have done a reasonable amount of work developing mindfulness, just not so much in terms of sustained concentration? Anyway, now for the questions:

1. What skills/techniques do you think I ought to focus on in my practice in the near term?

I am trying not to be too worried about the maps, and I realize the most important parts of practice, like investigating the 3Cs of the present moment with acceptance, are the same regardless of where you are, but I notice that advice like "dial back effort" and "ease up on the noting" for when in EQ is basically the opposite of before you cross the A&P. If I am really getting to EQ consistently, I guess it makes sense to notice subtle resistance in space and inquire about the nature of the observer while dropping effort to go for SE (accepting that this might happen in 7 days or 7 years with no way of knowing). On the other hand, I feel like I might be missing some important basics like noticing vibrations and so would want to develop that skill better.

2. How can I develop better momentary concentration? 

I went and re-read the chapter on the five spiritual faculties, and yep, I have definitely been unbalanced toward intellect/wisdom and energy and need to cultivate more faith and concentration. I wonder if I may be one of those people Daniel talks about who gets through the insight stages but has such poor concentration that it's hard to judge how much has actually been accomplished. I went through 6+ months of what I now strongly suspect was the DN while constantly reading about the symptoms and thinking, "gosh, I better not ramp up my practice any time soon because I already have all these issues and so definitely can't afford to be in those stages". And the reason I never considered I could be in the DN is that I still have not been able to perceive the "mental impressions" that apparently follow sensations (and even thoughts?!), which is supposed to be required for even the first stage of insight. I'm able to notice that almost every sensation and every thought is followed by a mental image, but I wonder if this is just a more subtle manifestation of my synaesthesia that is not applicable to others (I am quite a bit neurodivergent, so I have to question whether a lot of experiences are a me-thing). Based on the lack of questions on this point, I feel like this is very much a me-problem. I remember when I was in therapy there were these exercises involving imagining that your thoughts are just ads on the radio in order to objectify them, but this didn't make sense to me since my thoughts are primarily sequences of images that are only sometimes followed/accompanied by words. 

3. What is the best way to meet dharma friends?

I keep hearing that this is important and I can see why. I would be so much less confused if I had more experienced friends I could casually ask for clarification and tips, even if their response is just that I should shut up and practice emoticon. But I guess I am not sure how to go about meeting experienced people on the path aside from going on long retreats, in which case I wouldn't even talk or make eye contact with anybody until the thing is over.

I feel like a good answer to any of these questions might just be "go on a retreat", but I'm interested in any thoughts or advice emoticon
George S, modified 2 Years ago at 7/28/21 8:58 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 7/28/21 8:38 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 2722 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
It's counterproductive to think about the timeline, if you fully commit yourself to practice then anything can happen. The only time to practice is NOW, whether you are on retreat, in your bedroom, walking to work or hiding in the bathroom. Stream entry can only happen when you don’t expect it, so you need to be absolutely ruthless in deconstructing anything related to expectation – strategies, plans, maps, hopes, ambitions, doubts, fears, personal narratives etc. Just notice that everything is conditioned, subject to the 3Cs, and trace every condition back to its source. And yes, shut up and practice is good advice emoticon
Danny S, modified 2 Years ago at 7/28/21 11:55 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 7/28/21 11:55 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 67 Join Date: 6/18/21 Recent Posts
Thank you, haha.

Ok, yeah, I'm looking at what I just wrote and I am clearly still overthinking this. I've been fascinated by theories and models and categorizing and optimizing all my life, and I have an unfortunate tendency to turn models into sort of a Procrustean bed for direct observations (i.e. forcing the latter into the former even when they don't fit). One more type of thought to note, then.

I'm just going to focus on observing present experience with gentle curiosity. If I experience resistance, I'll observe the attraction/aversion/ignorance with gentle curiosity. If I feel lost, get distracted, or otherwise have persistent difficulty, then fall back to noting. Not going to make effort to try to see the 3Cs, as if they are present in reality then they should become apparent on their own. Let's see where this leads.
Danny S, modified 2 Years ago at 9/3/21 12:25 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 9/3/21 12:25 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 67 Join Date: 6/18/21 Recent Posts
It's been two months since I went on my weekend retreat, and I think now is a good time for a review of how my practice has been. I give a pretty detailed account of my experiences each day since then in my practice log, but here is a more high-level take:

Where I think I am

My working hypothesis at this point is that I have gotten 2nd Path plus a few more POI cycles beyond that, and I describe why I think this below. I'm not looking for anyone to confirm or validate my attainments or anything. It's more that this is a big part of how I think about my practice and ways to improve it, so I include this in hopes it is informative about how I'm practicing.

The evidence that makes me suspect I have at least 1st Path is
1) I cycle through the nanas every moment of waking life (unless you don't count the periods between POI cycles). In terms of intensity of new sensations or changes in perception or emotion, the effects are typically about at the level of drinking a cup of coffee or glass of wine: moderately subtle, but still hard to miss.

2) By paying attention for just a few breaths, I have access to levels of mindfulness or concentration that used to take me hours of meditation to get to, though this tends to be less the case when I am not in a Review cycle. By concentrating for 10-30 min, I can access what feel like light jhanas (see descriptions in practice log).

3) I have experienced a significant and sustained decrease in suffering. It's funny though, because when I ask myself if I'm suffering less, I go, "No, not really. Still plenty of suffering. Hmm, well, I guess my life has improved a whole lot, but that's just because I stopping being all neurotic about trivial things, avoiding responsibility in difficult situations, keeping up unhealthy habits I knew would make me feel worse later.... Wow, I really used to be that way?"

The evidence that makes me suspect I have 2nd Path is
1) I have gone through several cycles with a similar pattern:
a) I'm in a stage where my concentration and mindfulness seem greatly attenuated, and I can't notice vibrations, which I get out of by long sits with rapid noting, resulting in pain and shaking following by perception of fast vibrations.
b) This is followed by the now-familiar DN nanas, which have a different character and are much more difficult to get through than the ones I was breezing through in minutes several days earlier. With diligent effort, I am usually able to get the weight to lift and enter EQ, though I will typically fall back at least once.
c) I get to a stable EQ that has qualities that seem new and an equanimity that feels deeper than I've experienced before. This requires less effort, but still consistent gentle attentiveness in order to move forward.
d) At some point, I get sleepy and sit down to meditate. I let go with awareness and my closed-eye visuals feel like they somehow get "closer" to "me", and we swirl together. Then I kind of drift off and there is sometimes a reverie that I get lost in, though I can't always remember one. Next thing I know, I am back in the A&P (tingly all over, fast vibrations) and feeling very good in a tranquil way.
e) For 1-3 days afterward, my ability to concentrate and stay with an object is greatly improved.
f) The stages I just struggled to get through now cycle by automatically with no effort. The difficult ones also bother me much less.
 2) I notice fractal patterns to all nanas, which becomes more apparent with each cycle. I notice aspects of most of the nanas as subnanas in each of the nanas, expect for EQ, where possibly all of the subnanas also have subsub-nanas. I actually stop trying to keep track in EQ, but it just seems like it has way more distinct sub-stages than expected.

How I've been practicing

Honestly, after getting what I think of as 1st path, I've mostly just been trying to stay present during my sits while balancing the 7 factors and noticing the 3Cs, which 90% of the time moves the cycles along. When that's not enough, I use noting.

I've been meditating 2-5 hours every day the past two months, with the higher doses usually occurring on weekends. If you had asked me to devote that much time to practice as few as 3 months ago, I would have said you were crazy, but the weird thing is, this doesn't really feel like heroic effort or anything. It feels more like sneaking in time to play an exciting new video game whenever you get the chance. It's crazy how much time I used to spend just browsing news sites, social media, reading about but not actually doing meditation, or staring at a monitor trying to will myself to work when I was too emotionally exhausted from guilt-tripping myself for procrastinating.

I have spent about 20% of my time experimenting with concentration practice, and have gotten into what feel like they could light formed jhanas, or occasionally light formless aspects of the formed jhanas. This is an area that I am interested in developing further.

I have spent a few days experimenting with methods that I've read are helpful for getting 3rd path, namely trying to localize in space the sensations that seem to be "mine" as advised in MCTB, trying to perceive one of the sense doors panoramically as part of space, and just resting in open awareness. These have been interesting but haven't created any breakthroughs yet.

Also, I recently bought a copy of Wake Up to Your Life by Ken McCleod, and I've read the chapter talking about 6 Realms and 5 Elements. I was extremely skeptical of these concepts at first, just because the practice instructions were far from simple and elegant, I hadn't seen anything resembling them in MCTB, and they sounded very archaic-cosmology-y. However, I think I would probably still be struggling to get SE if I relied on MCTB alone and hadn't followed Shargrol's advice about practice in EQ, and he mentions 6 Realms and 5 Elements way too many times in the context of getting 3rd path for me to ignore.

Where I'm still struggling

There are many areas where I feel I could really use more development:
1) I have trouble seeing reactive thoughts and emotions, as well as intentions, clearly. I feel like this is a major obstacle for me in seeing agency as an illusion.

2) I really struggle with not trying to change experience. I am known to have a tenaciously neurotic personality that definitely shows itself in my practice. Letting go of attachment to "clarity" of perception or pleasure on the cushion is the easy part. The hard part is when it comes to trying to optimize my practice. Often I will notice that something is solid and try to will my mind to speed up and see the vibrations, which usually just leads to me tensing up and getting exhausted. The same is true for when I notice dullness: I ramp up the energy but tense up and burn myself out.

3) When not in a review cycle, I have a lot of trouble with getting lost in thought (I guess this is expected, given that I have ADHD and have been known to literally pause in the middle of walking through a doorway, staring off into space). This is tied in with the problem above because I feel like, if I don't keep applying effort and looking for things to improve, then my mind tunes out and I get lost in thought. Interestingly, it is often a thought about practice that then jumps off to other things.

What to do next

I'm starting to notice decreasing returns in just completing more cycles, and I've consistently read that getting 3rd Path requires something extra. I just began a review cycle and have the next four days pretty much free. I thought this would be a good opportunity to do a self retreat and really nail down some skills that are orthogonal to insight cycles. I can think of a few options:
1) Develop my concentration skills by going back to TMI, which maybe would help with my mind wandering problem? 
Advantages: abundant guidelines on exactly what to do in any specific situation, which is helpful since I can read that myself without a teacher. Disadvantages: abundant guidelines on exactly what to do in any specific situation, which is distracting since I will have to read all that myself without a teacher.

2) Develop my concentration skills by doing fire kasina practice.
Advantages: Supposed to be basically idiot-proof if you just keep at it. I am a highly visual person. Doesn't require too much time spent reading instructions.Disadvantages: Less pleasurable and relaxing? Don't know how formless realms work with kasinas. I don't have a good candle.

3) Focus on 6 Realms, 5 Elements, and other reactive pattern stuff in WUTYL
Advantages: Sounds like it is considered the best thing to do if my goal is 3rd path. Will likely do a lot to improve my functioning in daily life.Disadvantages: Possibly better suited to consistent daily sessions rather than chunked? (but that's an assumption on my part). Seems like it's going to be kind of emotionally exhausting. Makes me nervous even thinking about what reactive patterns I might need to delve into.

Ok, having written that out, I realize it looks like WUTYL is the obvious skillful choice, but I feel like focusing on concentration practice, which is supposed to benefit the most from chunking together, would help set a foundation of tranquility and rapture from which I could better handle the difficult stuff that comes up in WUTYL practice, so I'm probably leaning toward that right now.
shargrol, modified 2 Years ago at 9/3/21 9:01 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 9/3/21 8:02 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 2379 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
 I haven't read/digested your practice log, so no comment on your attainment claims. But I think I do have a suggestion for practice methodology:

My hunch is this would help with developing increased sensitivity to thoughts/emotions/reactivity...

I first learned this approach on a Insight Meditation Society retreat and it was one of those examples of how the right teachings seem to find us at the right time. 

Here's the basic context for this kind of practice: Your immediate experience is a flow of sensations that gets interpreted as fast as the mind. With increased sensitivity, we begin to notice how reactivity happens when we sort of get overwhelmed by the flow of the sensations and we find ourselves having complex emotions and thoughts "about" what is immediately being experienced. Then we focus more on the emotions and thoughts and less about the immediate experience, and then we have another level of having emotions and thoughts about emotions and thoughts, and experience becomes very thick and overlapping and everything is confused with everything else... and this is samsara, the continuous swirling of reactive emotions and thoughts.

How is it possible to get out of this endless swirling?

Obviously all meditation practice methods are part of the answer. This practice method says: the way out is to develop better and better sensitivity to the difference between the sensation and the next step of having a reaction. It requires a good foundation in vipassina, but it is possible to notice that "at the point of contact" when the flavor of sensation "hits" our mind, right there, nearly in the same place, is a initial reaction of greed, aversion, or indifference.

But the point is that these are not the same things, they are distinct, and if you can see the difference, you can weaken the power of samsara.

In other words, sensations might be neutral, negative, or positive and this is simply useful information about our world. But in the next millisecond, there might be an arising of ignoring/indifference to neutralness, aversion/avoiding of negative, or clinging/greed of positiveness. And the goal of this practice is to notice the distinction between the information of sensation and how we make sensations personal by forming a reactive urge to it.

So this practice is very similar to your "sitting and enjoying the video game" approach, but here your goal is to see if you can calm/relax, tune in, and notice the subtle reactive urges that form as a response to 0/-/+ sensations. The neat thing about this is you don't want to stifle your reactivity; if anything, you want your reactively to happen so that you can study it! emoticon  So this is a very low pressure but interesting and exciting practice (if it calls to you). It's more of a tantric approach -- being with the power/energy of mind and learning to work _with_ it -- rather than a renunciate/suppression type approach where you would be working _against_ it. Basically, you learn the seed of reactivity so well by repetative study that it no longer beguiles you.

As you get advanced, you'll also note that, in their own way, emotions and thoughts are like sensations in the sense that there can be 0/-/+ feeling tones of emotions and thoughts and we can develop indifferent/aversive/clinging emotions and thoughts in reaction to them. So we can also begin to see how we form reactive emotions and thoughts to reactive emotions and thoughts --- but if we see it clearly, then the reactive chain gets broken here too.

So this is all about breaking samara early and late in the experiential process. And the point is you "accumulate" experience over time. So it's not about catching every reaction, rather it's like catching one out of a hundred reactions, but continuing to learn with each little catch --- and so after a while you become skilled at how to do it. Just like fishing, you don't need to catch every fish in the river, you just need to go fishing often enough and keep your line in the water often enough that slowly learn what works and what doesn't and that's how you learn to catch fish! emoticon

I think you will enjoy this. Consider giving it a try, but also listen to your own conscience and ignore all of this if it doesn't seem to fit.

(p.s. I've avoided using buddhist terminology above, but in general, this is developing the skill of noticing dependent origination and breaking the link between Vendana and Tanha, in the first case of reacting to sensations, and also breaking the link between Birth and Decay, in the second case of reacting to emotions/thoughts with more emotions/thoughts.)
Danny S, modified 2 Years ago at 9/8/21 1:36 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 9/8/21 1:35 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 67 Join Date: 6/18/21 Recent Posts
Thank you, this practice really does appeal to me. I like how it sort of eats its own hindrances! I also like the idea of how the brain stops doing useless things when it repeatedly sees clearly that they result in suffering. Some of my bad habits have gone away at this point, but a whole lot remain, and it feels like this is the kind of practice that could have the added benefit of helping with that.

Anyway, I've been trying this out for about half my sits in the past several days, and now whenever I find things getting really difficult, I just try to notice whether the +/-/0 feeling tone is as bad as the attraction/aversion/indifference that I'm experiencing. As I try to do this Vedana/Tanha investigation, the first thing I'm noticing is that the vast majority of the aversion I experience during practice is associated with thoughts or judgements about what "should" be happening. The actual physical sensations that condition the judgments (sense of out-of-phaseness, pressure in my face, sense of solidity, etc.) are almost always close to neutral. So I'm finding that 90% of the actual difficult aversion comes up much further down the reaction chain, often as a reaction to thoughts and emotions about my practice.

Something interesting I'm noticing is that pleasantness/unpleasantless/neutrality tends to be associated with the sensations themselves, but with attraction/aversion/indifference seems to involve (or maybe condition) sensations in my head, neck, chest, or abdomen that feel more like "me". Am I on the right track here?

As I tried this slightly more structured practice, as well as some from TMI, these past several days, I've come to see that my (momentary) concentration really needs some work. I guess I will start out getting good at just identifying +/-/0 feeling tone and attraction/aversion/indifference, distinguishing them from each other, and then increasing spatial and temporal precision. At that point, perhaps I will be able to start to see their dependent arising. For now, I'll keep reminding myself of the fishing analogy emoticon

As for the attainments I mentioned, no need to comment on those. After kind of taking a step back, I guess there could be a lot of explanations for the "fractal" cycling I've been experiencing without assuming I've gotten 2nd path (like maybe I keep getting 1st path fruitions and going back to 1st path Review after dipping into the new progress cycle at times, or vice versa, or something else). I do still think that I could credibly be at least 1st path, but given that the risks of an inaccurate diagnosis probably outweigh any benefits of an accurate one at this point in my practice, I'm just going to keep an open mind for the time being.

Oh, and thank you for showing the connection with the Buddhist terminology. I love when teachers provide that terminology side by side with the plain language explanation, as it makes it clear what they mean while also providing a connection to other teachings.
shargrol, modified 2 Years ago at 9/8/21 6:48 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 9/8/21 6:48 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 2379 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Sounds good. 

"As I try to do this Vedana/Tanha investigation, the first thing I'm noticing is that the vast majority of the aversion I experience during practice is associated with thoughts or judgements about what "should" be happening."

Yup, it's interesting how much suffering is suffering we create. That's pretty much the heart of this whole meditation thing, more and more subtle ways of seeing how that happens --- so we stop being seduced by it.
Danny S, modified 2 Years ago at 10/1/21 6:32 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/1/21 6:32 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 67 Join Date: 6/18/21 Recent Posts


The past month has been paradoxical in that the sensations, thoughts, and emotions arising during practice have been quite difficult, and yet the development of my tranquility and equanimity has also accelerated, seemingly just enough to keep me functioning at a constant baseline. 

Overall, though, I'm finding that my practice is increasingly characterized by a mild depression that seems to pervade the background even in now-more-rare moments when "good" sensations predominate. It has a "what's the point" kind of flavor to it and is definitely correlated with practice, but seems independent of stages. Even during the A&P and EQ, there's this sense of "this is nice, but it's just going to fade soon, so what's the point?". During some moments, which have gotten increasingly rare, the door to light jhana will feel open in some smooth-feeling sensation, but I find I have little motivation to go there, thinking "that would be nice, but I'll just start wishing I could go deeper, and most of the time I can't access it if I wanted to, so what's the point?"

I have been noticing some psychophysiological symptoms of depression like decreased appetite and sleeping more than usual, but no social withdrawal or thoughts of self-harm or anything worrisome like that. I'm still fully functional in daily life. I wrote a lot of this post during a low point, but there are ups and downs and plenty of the time I feel pretty good, though that has tended to occur less often during practice recently.

I would really love to go on a longer retreat sometime soon, but the Delta variant seems to have other plans...

My default plan is to just continue investigating the reactive patterns that make up resistance and ill will, in which I'm making some progress. So in that sense maybe I don't really need advice or help, I'm just wondering if the difficulties I'm experiencing are normal or if there's anything I'm neglecting.

Practice methods update

For a week or so since my last post, I spent about 20% of my meditation time doing some kind of choiceless awareness, 20% doing vedana/tanha investigation, and 60% going for exclusive attention on the breath at the nose, as described in TMI. The idea of how unification of mind would sync all the layers of consciousness and allow insights to kind of hit them all at once seemed cool, and I thought, "hey, maybe this way I'll reduce the number of cycles I need to go through since they'll each go deeper due to better concentration". I tried both going for access concentration and jhanas as well as breaking up the breath into fine vibrations, each with limited success. After a while, this concentration-centered practice started to seem pretty fruitless, and if anything it was training an aversion to thoughts and distractions. Maybe it's because I was trying to game my practice with concentration, but in any case it doesn't really call to me. I'm glad I explored the option, though.

After giving up the TMI practice, I figured I'd test the hypothesis that the root cause of my poor concentration (mostly in the form of mind wandering, but some dullness occasionally) was actually ill will that wasn't getting seen. I ramped up my vedana/tanha investigation, focusing 90% on unpleasantness and aversion, which definitely predominates for me. I can't say with confidence that I've "noticed" vedana and tanha as distinct conditioned phenomena with any consistency, at least not consciously. A few times I tried increasing my temporal resolution by making my investigation faster, but this seemed to result in a lot of striving, judgement, and more aversion. Honestly, going for speed for its own sake has never seemed to work for me, except perhaps in getting to the A&P with ultrafast noting/noticing.

I found that just the act of purposefully investigating the sensations of aversion, even just the strong and persistent ones, was surprisingly effective. After some experimentation, I found that the following would work really well for me:
1. Relax and let go into present experience until I notice some resistance or ill will
2. Imagine reaching my hand out to touch the resistance, which helps localize it in space
3. Really investigate and flesh out the perceptual details of the sensations composing the resistance
4. Hold the resistance in awareness along with other sensations
5. Relax into that new, more inclusive present awareness. "Ahhhh". RepeatIt is actually surprising how quickly reactive patterns lose their power when seen through. At my best (probably while in EQ), I can just watch the mind watch itself react to distracting thoughts with aversion, get ready to guilt-trip itself for the aversion, realize that doing so will just perpetuate the cycle, and then settle down.

At one difficult point in a DN stage, I started wondering whether all my difficulty and decreased abilities were occurring because I'm still just a pre-path Dark Night yogi who has slacked off noting practice and is justifying lazy meditation by looking up "letting go"-type advice for advanced meditators in a delusional misestimation of my abilities. I was so confused and was craving certainty. I wanted to just post an attainment claim and demand that people scrutinize my fruition descriptions so I could either be vindicated or wake up to the harsh reality and meet it with renewed heroic effort. And then I realized I needed to just investigate the desire to be certain, and then I realized that I was just spinning lost in thought this whole time. It felt like I couldn't do anything right. Aversion to aversion to confusion about delusion. But I needed to accept it.

Then, I thought of a metaphor: my reactive patterns were like a loyal dog that had grown up with and loved me my whole life but was now old and mostly blind. Her joints ached and she was struggling to stand, but there she was, just trying to protect me like she always had and growling at the vague shapes she perceived as a threat. I imagined stroking her, saying "It's ok. We're ok. Thank you so much. You can rest now." And then I saw how all my pain and reactivity was like this: it was all driven by compassion. Trying to warn me, protect me, keep me safe. Greed, too, was just trying to make sure I was comfortable, to keep me from missing out on anything life had to offer. Indifference was just trying to keep me informed and entertained, diligently on the lookout for bland moments it could fill in with stories and content. It seemed so poignant it brought tears to my eyes. The rest of that day, I extended this understanding to all the ill will I could find, each time resulting in a cathartic release. This way of seeing things was a huge breakthrough that helped me get through the Dark Night of this cycle.


In terms of sitting time, that has gone down to about 1-3 hours a day, mainly because sits have been a lot less juicy and more difficult lately, so there's less of the intrinsic motivation that clocks in 2-5 hours without keeping track. I've been using a timer to ensure I maintain an hour minimum, even if it's spread out over multiple sits.

In terms of the maps, about a month ago I started what felt like a new progress cycle, but this time it was more challenging in multiple ways. First, all of the stages took at least 5x longer to get through. In the 4-5 other cycles I had been through that I had been calling progress cycles, it seemed like I would be able to get from the A&P to Fruition and Review in less than a week, but I realized that would not be the case here when I found myself still in the A&P after several days. Sure enough, the other stages were also much longer. Second, this cycle was really predominated by Dark Night substages, even during the "good" nanas. Basically, negative vedana and aversion predominated 80-90% of the time. The only good (?) thing about this cycle was it did not bleed into daily life as much, so I was mostly only edgy/restless/agitated while meditating. That sure didn't make me feel any better during sits, of course. I was thinking maybe this is the REAL 2nd path cycle since the timeline seems to fit better with what I've heard about. I spent pretty much zero effort trying to speculate about which (sub)stage I was in, and just focused on noticing ill will.

Last Sunday, I found that, for the first time in about a month, the vedana I could detect in my breath sensations was 99% neutral. Same for my other physical sensations.

After going to bed, I woke up around 4am (something fairly common for me, annoyingly). As I was laying there, at some point I had a train of thought along the lines of, "what would I be like if I did not have a sense of self?". Then there was a blip and I was laying back in bed, my train of thought having been cleanly cut off. This is the fourth time I've experience this type of event where there is a definitive blip and my mind stream is clearly cut off where it normally would have continued. The presentation was the most mild this time, which seems to follow a trend. Each of the four cessation-like events has been more mild than the last.

At the time, what immediately came to mind was, "this must be a cessation from 1st path, but I'm getting close to 2nd." There was a subtle sense of completion, but the event and the after effects just didn't feel nearly satisfying enough to be the culmination of the inordinately long and difficult cycle I had been going through the past month. However, several days later, it seems I am indeed now back in Review of whatever that cycle was. I don't know what I was expecting, but right now meditation seems kind of pointless because it's just replaying difficult sensations that I've already had to go through, and it happens on its own in the background anyway. Light jhana states do seem more accessible now, but it's still nothing compared to what I could do following what I think was stream entry.

What was that?

After practicing as usual the three days after the blip, something very interesting happened after I went to bed:

I woke up around 1:30am (an unusual time for me to wake up) and was trying to be calm/mindful to get back to sleep when I suddenly felt like something was about to happen, and then I "fell into" the physical sensations of my body. The best way I can describe it is like it was as though I was relaxing and letting go into present experience as usual, but this time encountering no resistance so that it went "all the way through". Superconducting mindfulness, I guess you could say. There was no blip or unknowing event, and the whole thing felt like a pretty analog process despite occurring over less than a second. It felt very new and exciting, rivaling the most interesting experiences I've had on psychedelics. For the next half hour or so before I fell back asleep (and I'm 95% sure this was not a dream, as I interacted with my partner and got up to use the bathroom), there was this sense that things were mostly happening on their own with significantly less of a center point. I remember "where am I?" getting asked and there being no answer from a specific location. I also remember detecting resistance, but that resistance being experienced very differently in a way that felt no more "personal" than other sensations occurring.

At the time, this shift felt so stable it seemed like it could be permanent, and there was so much excitement and thinking, "Wow, this is amazing! What conditions led me to this? I've got to help other people get here. I can't wait to experience this when I'm fully awake!". It definitely felt like the most significant meditation-related experience I'd had, by far. I soon fell back asleep and had many semi-lucid dreams where this state seemed to persist. Unfortunately, when I finally did wake up, I was out of that state.

Does this sound important in any way? Non-dual experience? Just classic A&P stuff?

Current challenges

1. Pervasive mild depression mentioned in the summary. I guess this isn't really a challenge because it's not creating much avoidance or preventing me from practicing, it just kind of sucks. Any advice on whether this is normal and/or how to relate to it would be appreciated.

2. At the cutting edge of my awareness of ill will, I am alert and relaxed with no sense of applying effort, my thoughts come and go without creating reactions, and I don't identify with emotion-related body sensations. However, there is still a very subtle sense of, "I can do this, I'm going make progress and get to better experiences than this". And when I recognize this, I note "titan realm". I'm in the titan realm 95% of the time, which is not surprising in the least. However, I don't really know what to do past this point. Like, yes, I see that I'm craving progress/achievement and that is causing me to suffer, but now what? And ok, well, clearly there's some craving to have "something to do". Maybe a fear of stagnating or being boring, which I guess would come from an imperative like "must keep trying, can't be lazy". But recognizing that doesn't make me feel any better. I guess you could ask why I think it should make me feel better, and so maybe there's some underlying view like the belief that I ought to be able to change/control my experience if I do the right thing, which I guess is delusional in an ultimate sense. Ok I guess that makes sense. Still feels like a bummer, but I guess I'll have to accept that.

May my practice benefit all beings. May all beings be well, happy, and peaceful.​​​​​​
George S, modified 2 Years ago at 10/1/21 8:58 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/1/21 8:58 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 2722 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
 It sounds like you pretty much know what the problem is - desire for progress/achievement = resistance/aversion to current experience. It's easy to understand that intellectually, but it can take time for the body to adjust to it on a physcial/sensate level. And from what I can see you've progressed pretty fast already, so there can definitely be a "catch-up period" where the body adjusts to the new level of insight (which itself tends to release old stuff from the unconscious).

One thing I would say is that 'depression' is a bit of a catch-all label which can mask a huge range of underlying symptoms, so maybe labelling it that way is itself a form of aversion to invesigating what's actually going on. Is it mostly cognitively based? ('I'm depressed' type thoughts, or spiralling/obsessive thoughts) Are there physical sensations you can detect which are more predominant when you are depressed? Sometimes (often?) depression can be a way of shutting down to avoid "unacceptable" or uncomfortable emotions like anger, guilt/shame or sadness (the 3 primary "negative" emotions). You mentioned in your other thread some cathartic sounding experience of sadness, so perhaps you are already comfortable with that emotion and it's one of the others. No need to answer those questions here, just something to investigate for yourself if it resonates.
Eudoxos , modified 2 Years ago at 10/2/21 3:09 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/2/21 3:09 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 136 Join Date: 4/6/14 Recent Posts
Overall, though, I'm finding that my practice is increasingly characterized by a mild depression that seems to pervade the background even in now-more-rare moments when "good" sensations predominate. It has a "what's the point" kind of flavor to it and is definitely correlated with practice, but seems independent of stages. Even during the A&P and EQ, there's this sense of "this is nice, but it's just going to fade soon, so what's the point?".
In my understanding, this is what the fractal nature of the stages is. The stages cycle, yet at a bigger time-scale, they cycle as well. I've been stuck in misery (ñ8) for years, yet doing retreats, seeing the cycles, with the underlying ñ8 always somewhat present, then again for a long time in underlying disgust (ñ7) and so on. I can only interpret that in hindsight, with the uncertitude of fuzzy memories and changing life situations, but don't find much use for that TBH.
Kaloyan Stefanov, modified 2 Years ago at 10/4/21 4:36 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 10/4/21 4:36 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 83 Join Date: 2/18/21 Recent Posts
Hey, great progress, Danny! Really great to read your description.

Just so support Eudoxos on this - seems like fractal progress with overarching DN-flavor within which smaller A&Ps, DNs, EQ, etc cycle, very typical, nothing to worry about. It can indeed last months or in some cases or years. Very typical for so-called middle paths. Hence why Daniel and many others say that nanas-based maps kinda don't make sense at this stage anymore, and if you try and model or count fractals, it quickly becomes very silly emoticon.

How you relate to it is key though - embracing sensations as they come, even the sensations of unplesantness and resistance, gently paying attention to whatever comes up, etc. 

The description of this major "no-self" peak that you share is also quite typical. Suddenly you reach a major aha, "it all just happens by itself" moment, and then it might fade a bit in the coming days and weeks. So called "I got it, I lost it". It certainly shows that things are progressing as these no-self peaks are a lot more common post SE / during so called middle paths.

George S has given some excellent advice also on the depression and titan-realm tendencies. Embracing sensations is key (much easier said than done) - in some way you may also want to simply embrace/allow titan-realm sensations. I had the same for a certain period - just sat on my ass, resolved that I am just going to sit with whatever comes up and do my best to not try and run, not try and hide, embraced desire for progress, embraced aversion as best as I could.
Danny S, modified 2 Years ago at 12/8/21 6:47 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 12/8/21 6:39 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 67 Join Date: 6/18/21 Recent Posts


So it's been a while since I've posted to this thread (wow, feels longer than 2 months), which has more or less become a place where I put these executive summaries of my practice so that people don't have to wade through my practice log to see how things have been going. I guess I was waiting for some big breakthrough or milestone before another update, but instead it's been a series of small breakthroughs that perhaps have added up. 
I've done really well getting past 80% of the reactive patterns causing me the most trouble in both practice and life. I'm able to do what needs to be done in life without avoidance 80% of the time. I'm able sit and rest with experience without trying to change things 80% of the time. This annoying energy/pressure in my face comes and goes but doesn't bother me 80% of the time. The cycles come and go but I'm able to just let them do their thing 80% of the time. But that remaining 20% of resistance is more subtle and elusive. My motivation to practice has been relatively low, though I've kept up at least 1 hour/day of sitting practice, and 3-5 hours on weekends or when I can spare the time. I try to maintain mindfulness in daily life whenever I'm not fully engaged in a task.

Whereas I mentioned above that I was almost always in the Titan realm, a lot of that ambition has fallen away and I went through a couple difficult months of being mostly in the animal realm. It was a small crisis of feeling lost and unmotivated at work, like I just wanted to retire after less than a year on the job. 5 elements and 6 realms, along with Eugene Gendlin's focusing technique that George S recommended, helped tremendously in getting me through this period, and I have really been re-engaging with my life in the past several weeks. Mostly in the human realm now.

However, sometimes it feels like I've hit a plateau in my practice. It took me a couple weeks to write this post, as I kept saying to myself, "Have I really hit a plateau? Maybe I just need to try ___". Right now, it feels like I may be getting somewhere with some new explorations on "emptiness" I've been doing (described at the end), but in the long-short-term, I'm not sure what the main thing I need to work on is.

Practice methods

Since my last post, the "official" method I've focused on most is 5 elements from WUTYL, with other insight practice techniques mixed in here and there. I tried getting into shamatha practice a few times, but each time I would at best get some light jhanas and that would quickly get boring after several days and it would start to feel like those states were just making me less present in my life.

I've read Ch 5 and 6 of WUTYL twice and have familiarized myself with the 6 realms and, especially, the 5 elements pretty thoroughly. I've memorized the five dakini meditations and do those often, and noticing which elemental reaction chain is operating has become my go-to method when I'm having a hard time on or off the cushion. I mostly think in terms of the 5 elements now, but the 6 realms are helpful too. I've noticed that, at least for me, each element is strongly correlated with one of the 6 realms:

When I am feeling equanimous, detecting blissful jhanic sensations, or feeling like experience is especially clear and I want that state to be more solid and stable out of fear that it may weaken or end --> Earth --> (usually) God realm

When I feel pain in my legs or unpleasant pressure in my face and I want to avoid it or for it to dissolve or disappear out of fear that it will become too much for me to handle --> Water --> (usually) Hell realm

When I feel like attention is out of phase with sensations, the in-breath isn't "satisfying" enough, my vision isn't "clear" enough, the DN isn't irritating enough, or experience is otherwise boring and I want sensations to intensify or for something interesting to happen --> Fire --> (usually) Hungry Ghost realm

When thoughts and distractions constantly jump into my mind, or I keep jumping between different meditation objects, or I keep switching attention from narrow to wide and back, or I keep theorizing and doubting out of an insecurity that I'm not doing it right and am missing out on progress --> Air --> (usually) Titan realm

When I feel dull, tired, sleepy, or confused, and the prospect of taking a more active role or doing anything with more energy seems overwhelming --> Void --> (usually) Animal realm

For reactions involving the first four elements occurring on timescales down to several seconds, I can usually identify the element, recall the imagery of the corresponding dakini meditation, and feel an actual shift as the clinging, avoidance, hungry loneliness/boredom, or anxious busyness releases its energy into awareness. If my eyes are closed, I often see actual light during the release, sort like during A&P. The void element is trickier for me. I am pretty sure I can identify the void reaction by the feeling of confusion or dullness, but it is stickier and does not dissolve in attention quickly like the others. Perhaps related, I think I have an intuitive understanding of the fear and experience of open space related to each of the first four elements, but not with void. I can see the dullness reaction and the feeling of being overwhelmed that underlies it, but I'm not sure about the other components. How is feeling overwhelmed related to a fear of being nothing? Why is the reforming reaction blankness like all the other elemental reactions? If that's just another way of saying "freaking out", then isn't that the opposite of dullness? With all the other elements, the reforming reaction seems basically the same as the initial reaction (rigidity and grasping, fluidity and dispersion, consuming and devouring, busyness and activity), but with void they seem like opposites (dullness and fragmentation).

I've also been able to clearly distinguish aversion from negative feeling tone, at least when I'm well-centered on the cushion, though sometimes I'm not sure because the aversion disappears as soon as I see it arise. I guess that's kind of the point, huh? I'm also getting better at noticing greed arise from positive feeling tones, though I need to be gentle here and distinguish greed from simple enjoyment, and it's harder to remember to stay present in it. It's easy to stay present with aversion because there is this subtle attitude of, "well, I'm already not feeling good, so what do I have to lose?". But allowing greed to arise and pass is less intuitive, since it's more like, "b-b-but, I'm gonna miss out on actually feeling good!" Ignorance has been trickier, because staying present with it kind of seems like an oxymoron.

In the last month, I started reading WUTYL from the beginning to look for more good perspectives in addition to Ch 5 and 6. It's definitely been helpful to be reminded of the basics of _returning_ attention to what is already happening and _resting_ attention on the breath. The meditations on death and impermanence were a difficult wake up call. When I imagined approaching death, the most painful part was realizing I had to decide who I wanted to be with, what I wanted to do, what I wanted to say, what I wanted to feel. In my last moments of life, I would be tormented by my perfectionism, trying to optimize and coming up short. I really hope continuing to practice will help me let this go. Meditating on death does a great job of dismantling my attachment to, well, pretty much everything, including the good stuff in meditation.

Throughout my time following all these different practice guidelines, however, I've found myself returning to a rough practice framework that I kind of felt out for myself through trial and error:
  1. Include in attention any sort of aversion/reactivity/ill will/resistance to experiencing the present moment.
  2. If I can do that well, notice exactly where in space the resistance is and isn't, with as much precision as possible. Everything has a boundary. Nothing is infinite.
  3. If I can do that well, include in attention as many other sensations as possible. (I'm not sure, but this might be equivalent to 2) if spatial location is only inferred by comparison with other sensations)
  4. If I can do that well, notice exactly when the resistance is and is not present with as much temporal precision as possible. When is it actually present in experience vs in reflection or anticipation? Everything changes. Nothing stays the same.
  5. If I can do all of the above well, (or, if I feel I can't do any of them well, and attempting to do them is causing more suffering) just be with what arises

Practice effects

In terms of cycles, I had speculated that I was pre-2nd path because I was struggling with a cycle that seemed so much bigger than what I was used to. In fact, that cycle eventually ended just like the others. No X-tra large insight explosions, just another cycle. I've mostly stopped paying attention to cycling and nanas for over a month now. I can still notice the difference between A&P, DN, and EQ, and (maybe) between progress and review cycles, but the differences are much more in the background. 

In the past two review stages, there have been some very fleeting (~1-3 sec) moments that seemed to match certain aspects of how I've seen luminosity described, like some visual scene really popping out in pristine vividness with no effort or intention to observe it, or the sense that everything happening on its own as I wash my hands, or the center point vanishing from my visual field as the clarity goes way up, or the sense that a windshield has come off and I'm fully present right here right now while looking at my monitor: the kind of thing that, as Ken McCleod puts it, "makes you wonder where you've been all your life". I've experienced each of these "flavors" of luminosity (if that's what they are) more vividly (though still fleetingly) on psilocybin. It would be cool if these experiences happened for longer and more often, but I've been coming to terms with the fact that even instant access to these states and experiences isn't going to do much to solve most of my life problems or my existential anxiety. I also have no idea what, if any, specific practices led to these experiences, so even if I wanted to chase them, I wouldn't know which direction to run!

Also, I had several intense experiences that occurred after waking up 1-2 hours after going to sleep, similar to how the no-self peak I mentioned above happened. Basically, I'll be in this state where everything is tingly and somehow different and then I'll do something like "let go", and there will be this shift and then a feeling of pure, non-specific terror that lasts a second or two and then is over. And that repeats two or three times, each time with lower intensity. It feels like these experiences go into the no-self category somehow, but I'm not sure what to make of them.

One annoying thing that has been going on for at least 3 months are these annoying bubbles of pressure or tension that arise in my face whenever I practice but especially when I place attention on the breath at my nose (which is where the tension tends to arise), or try to do samatha practice. The sensations are so tangible I would think they were something physiological if they weren't obviously correlated with practice and having no physical correlates. From what I've read, it sounds like what people describe as "energy" issues, and there seems to not really be anything to do about it. I allowed it to really block my practice at a couple points, but now it doesn't bother me as much as I see it as a reliable source of aversion to investigate. Of course, if anyone has any insights around this sort of thing, I'm all ears.

In terms of daily life, that has actually been a lot better in terms of not avoiding responsibilities, which is the main thing I struggle with. It's hard to definitely attribute this to practice, but working on reactive patterns definitely hasn't hurt. Another behavioral change I've noticed is that I've been much less motivated to take practice notes or post on DhO. Not sure why this is.

Cutting edge and challenges

As mentioned above, it feels like I haven't made any big breakthroughs in a while. There doesn't seem to be a large difference in off-cushion experience between days I slack off on formal practice and days when I practice for several hours. Two weeks ago, I meditated 4-5 hours each of the four days in my long weekend, but I'd be hard-pressed to name any tangible shifts or insights I got out of it. Of course, those are just expectations that may need to be adjusted.

George S says my practice sounds good, and that I might think about starting to let go of this searching mentality. I see merit in that for sure as I continue to re-engage with my life, and I'm going to keep up a consistent practice regardless, but I'm trying to figure out what needs to worked on in my practice. And I'm pretty sure this is not the classic 3rd path problem Daniel describes where you feel "done" but aren't. I definitely do not feel "done" and still act out and perceive things as a separate self 99.9% of the time. The fleeting glimpses of luminous presence are kind of a dead giveaway that I have a long way to go.

Perhaps there is a deeper understanding of the 5 elements that I'm not getting. Admittedly I didn't follow the WUTYL instructions rigorously, spending weeks on the visualizations and role-playing for each element in order, but I really don't feel like I get much out of those anymore.
Perhaps I should be trying to perceive this (no)thing called "emptiness" that I keep hearing about and which seems to be very important but also ultimately not important, and otherwise paradoxical.

There are times when even using any kind of method can feel like ill will, because it is trying to shoehorn attention into some specific framework, which inevitably involves a periodic checking-in that I'm still following the method. But at the same time, I'm definitely not at the point where I can "just be" without getting inadvertently sucked into reactive patterns.

Next steps?

And all that is definitely not to say I have no fuel for practice or don't know what to do. As long as there's any kind of dissatisfaction with the present moment, that's something that can be investigated. So that will continue to be the basis of my practice.

However, there are two practices I've started doing following my own intuition just in the past week that seem like they might be getting some traction. First, I've started making an effort (and it definitely requires effort right now) to "stand back" from pleasant feelings, like jhanic pleasure in my stomach, when they arise and notice how they occupy the same space as unpleasant and neutral sensations. In doing so, I've noticed that there is this "sucking in" property to the pleasant sensations, like part of me is not content to have the pleasure be there in space but rather wants to dive in and have the pleasure intensify and be everything, and I realize that that is what my mind normally tries to do automatically. It can feel hard to resist sometimes, but then I remind myself that not resist is what normally happens, and that has never resulted in infinite immaculate bliss as far as I can remember.

Second, and maybe more interesting, I've been playing with the idea that the "emptiness" in all things is just the fact that nothing in experience is more than it is. Ok, yes, that sounds like the kind of mystical-flavored tautology I normally get annoyed by, but here's what I mean: the mind seems to have this tendency to extrapolate from present experience and assume that all sensations are, in some way, just the tip of some iceberg. Where there is pain, the mind assumes that continuing or increasing enough whatever caused the pain will cause us to contact some core or essence of that pain that's unimaginably and unbearably worse. Same with boredom. Same with pleasure. If we could just get that thing we want, we would be perfectly happy. If that thing we dread were ever to happen, it would be the end of the world. In terms of raw sensate information, a visual scene or patterns of tactile sensations is taken to represent permanent objects that are 10x clearer and more engaging and complex and significant than the sensations themselves, which is kind of true on some level, and maybe explains why this mechanism evolved. Basically, the mind treats all the transient sensations in experience as having some outsized significance in what the future will be like. So maybe emptiness is basically the gap between the mind's model of the world and the hollow reality of the bare sensations that actually make up experience.

It's hard to describe how I make a practice out of this idea, but I basically try to look for how everything that arises in experience is in some way less than what my mind assumes it to be. Like I'll feel agitated, look for emptiness, and then realize I was implicitly assuming this agitation was somehow a sentence to eternal restlessness unless I react to it. I think the next step in this investigation is to try to connect this with the 5 elements. If emptiness is equivalent to the "open space" in the reaction chains, then that would mean 5 elements are all actually reactions to the absence of something on some level. I've been frustratedly trying to detect what the open space in each reaction feels like, but maybe it's more about what it doesn't feel like...

Also, on an unrelated note, I signed up for a 7-day metta retreat at Spirit Rock on Jan 10. I'm looking forward to it because I got so much out of just a two-day retreat and I feel I now have a much better idea of what practice is about. Any advice for how I can effectively communicate my current level of practice to the teachers? I intend to follow the retreat instructions as best I can, but I imagine it's best if we're on the same page so I'm not just rehearsing beginner stuff.
shargrol, modified 2 Years ago at 12/9/21 7:08 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 12/9/21 7:03 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 2379 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Sounds like practice is going really well. It can be ironic to have 80% of suffering go away and yet feel like the remaining 20% is just as frustrating at times as having the full 100% --- the old, "suffering less but noticing it more" scenario. emoticon  But honestly, this really does sound like good practice. Just some thoughts to play around with...

The 5 elements aren't really tied to a realm, so to explore it further, you could go to each of the realms and "see" how, for example, each of them has a primal urge of wanting experience to be fixed and stable (earth), dynamic and intensifying (water), etc.   This might give you some nuances to the elements that you are not distinquishing or noticing yet. For example, Hell Beings really want "endless war", that's what they hold on to, that's what never changes... until the whole thing buries them in an earthquake. 

In general, I found that "air" and "fire" were the easiest elements to underappreciate. Air is everything down to the subtle restless feeling we get. Fire is the seeking/longing for the subtlest amount of "more" or "different". Fire is really sneaky. (It's also similar to how you described subtle greed -- worried that "unless I do X, I'll miss out on something good.") I don't like KMCL's "void" as much as Aro's (https://arobuddhism.org/articles/embracing-emotions-as-the-path.html) -- basically: feeling overwhelmed is what leads to void's depression/confusion and it is more of a shutting down. I guess the way of reconciling them is that KMCL focuses on the early phase (overwhelmed, all the elements happing in rapid fire succession) and aro focuses on the end result (depression/confusion).

Your 5 steps are great. One thing I'll add: 6. look for the sense of identity, the sense of "I-ness". Often there is a bit of clinging/craving/ignoring located right where our sense of identity is in the moment. (This is also another way to think of the 5 elements, the elements are ways we create a sense of I with 1) having/holding, 2) avoiding/agression, 3)intensifying/indulging, 4)anxiety/busyness, and 5) withdrawl/depression.)

With luminosity, it can help to tune into how awareness does not require effort. Objects and awareness of objects is co-located and co-occuring. Maybe mindfulness isn't the chore it used to be! Maybe the mind is naturally mindful and we never quite noticed that fact! Have fun with allowing objects to "show themselves" rather than "looking at them". This is quite fun part of practice. Yes, it can feel almost (or exactly) like being on a drug. (Just a heads-up: watch out for possible manic episodes. Try to enjoy but not indulge/obsess too much.)

The face thing is probably how part of our sense of identity is wired in our body. We definitely identify with our face. As we loosen sense of self, the sensations of the face are being rewired, it seems. Anyway, yes totally normal, worth of investigation, but ultimately more of a by-product rather than something needing "fixing". Let those odd energies come and go as they want, and investigate them only if and when you want.

A lot of the work being done now is "breaking up the clumps and letting the dust settle". It's going to have a different feeling than the progress of insight. Later stages are much more subtle and very confusing at times. You'll still recognize intense "clean" verions of the nanas (FEAR!, DISGUST!, dissssssoooooooluuuuuuuusiooooon, etc.) but there will be a lot of hard-to-map subtle stuff. But ultimately: no big deal.

Yes, it can be helpful to start looking for the "emptiness" aspect of experience. It can be useful to ponder -- what is mind?  What allows all these experiences to display themselves without delay or resistance? What allows this moment to become the next? Where does experience come from? Where does it stay? Where does it go? You might find yourself naturally dipping into formed and formless jhanas as you go down this rabbit hole of investigation --- cool, try soaking in these states if they arise. (And if they don't arise, don't get greedy, just notice the ill will that is arising.) And yes, the "seduction" of experience seems to be different than the raw sensations of experience. One way to think of it is that this is the essence of human birth: desire. It can be quite daunting when you see it. But desire for awakening is ultimately more powerful than the desire for samsara, even though it takes consistent, non-heroic, daily practice.

"I basically try to look for how everything that arises in experience is in some way less than what my mind assumes it to be." --- perfect! well said!

I'm happy you are getting some retreat time!!!   RE: "Any advice for how I can effectively communicate my current level of practice to the teachers?" Honestly, it's funny how meditation advice is usually independent of your current level of practice --- basically a confusion is a confusion and a blind spot is a blind spot, so in those aspects of practice we're all just beginners! emoticon  It's important to have a specific and practical question for the teacher -- know what you are trying learn more about, don't try to use your short time with a teacher to to seek confirmation of any past experience or path attainment. Only state what needs to be communicated if it is relevant to your practical question. I've always signalled with quick statements and a disclaimer "I was following my breath and my mind seemed to disappear and I was in a vast space, but I'm not looking for confirmation of any of that, I'm just wondering is it better to stay on the raw sensations of breathing or should I follow the mind into the sense of space?" This is a much more practical use of time with a teacher than "I'm now entering the boundless space jhana so that means I'm at least first path, right?" Questions like that are all about stroking the ego and not really about getting better at practice. Hope this helps, it's always a bit tricky to talk with teachers. But ultimately know they don't want to map you, they want to help you. And if they are idiots (rare for Spirit Rock, but I suppose it could happen), then just polietly listen to their BS and go back to using your retreat time productively! No big deal.

​​​​​​​Hope this gives you some ideas to pursue, but you're doing great -- keep doing what you are doing!
George S, modified 2 Years ago at 12/13/21 10:17 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 12/13/21 10:11 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 2722 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Lots of excellent advice from Shargrol, just a couple more thoughts.

This is spot on:

Second, and maybe more interesting, I've been playing with the idea that the "emptiness" in all things is just the fact that nothing in experience is more than it is. Ok, yes, that sounds like the kind of mystical-flavored tautology I normally get annoyed by, but here's what I mean: the mind seems to have this tendency to extrapolate from present experience and assume that all sensations are, in some way, just the tip of some iceberg. Where there is pain, the mind assumes that continuing or increasing enough whatever caused the pain will cause us to contact some core or essence of that pain that's unimaginably and unbearably worse. Same with boredom. Same with pleasure. If we could just get that thing we want, we would be perfectly happy. If that thing we dread were ever to happen, it would be the end of the world. In terms of raw sensate information, a visual scene or patterns of tactile sensations is taken to represent permanent objects that are 10x clearer and more engaging and complex and significant than the sensations themselves, which is kind of true on some level, and maybe explains why this mechanism evolved. Basically, the mind treats all the transient sensations in experience as having some outsized significance in what the future will be like. So maybe emptiness is basically the gap between the mind's model of the world and the hollow reality of the bare sensations that actually make up experience.

‘nothing in experience is more than it is’. It sounds trivial and it’s basic mindfulness, but it becomes liberating as it permeates deeper into our total experience. Sensations in the moment are nothing more nor less than sensations in the moment - in particular emotions in the moment are just emotions in the moment and thoughts in the moment are just thoughts in the moment. And most of our thoughts are unnecessary and tend to keep us disconnected from the rest of our sense experience! Many of us start out with the assmption that thoughts are the most important sense and most of what is going on, and over time we realize they are much less important than everything else that is going on.

‘Basically, the mind treats all the transient sensations in experience as having some outsized significance in what the future will be like.’ This is really important and it relates to the way the mind is constantly fabricating the experience of time (both future and past). Even after you’ve had some deep nondual/no-self experiences, the mind still clings to the idea of a “really existing” chain of experiences which constitutes an identity. It can be shocking when you realize that the past is just rearranging  photos in an album and the future is just shuffling appointments in a calendar! This reification of time is the basis for the reification of objects, selves, mental states, emotions etc.

The experiences that you call glimpses of luminous presence and no-self peaks are interesting. They are like pure experience – nondual, unfiltered, non-conceptual. What is interesting is the way the mind tastes the freedom in them but then kinda recoils in fear from the lack of a conceptual framework of self, objects, time etc. So it plays a trick, it creates a story – ‘I had this special experience which I need to figure out how to have again’ – as a way of forcing the experience into a conceptual framework to prevent it from happening again! But actually it’s a very natural experience. That’s the way we experienced the world as young children and the sense of self, time, objects etc. slowly developed as we grew up. But there are still plenty of moments as adults when frameworks are not present in our experience, it’s just that we tend to ignore them or push them away. And then we discover meditation and enlightenment and go off looking for even more special experiences, again taking us away from this very ordinary and natural way of experiencing the world where there isn’t any immediate problem to be dealt with.

That’s part of what made the 6 realms practice important for me. Before that I had this implicit assumption that nirvana was going to be some super special permanently different state that lay somewhere beyond the eighth jhana. Once I realized that all these special meditation states are basically god realm, and have their own seeds of reactivity (like you say less present in your life), well it brings the whole meditation project into a different perspective. Basically we are all on the wheel of samsara whether we like it or not, cycling through realms, and nirvana is kinda like accepting that fact, giving up the resistance. The fear is that if we give up efforting and resistance then we will fall into the lower realms more often, but it turns out the opposite is true. The more you let go of jhanas, the better they are.

I also found some of the nondual/neo-advaita teachings “helpful” at this point, precisely because they point out that the seeker of enlightenment is in a completely hopeless situation! Basically the seeker of enlightenment is trying to have a different experience of what they are already experiencing, which is impossible, and which prevents them from being satisfied with the experience that they are already having.

I’m not saying you should give up, because that would be just as reactive! But consistent gentle practice works well at this point, and picking apart frameworks – what is the experience of being awake, what could it possibly be other than what you are already experiencing?
Danny S, modified 2 Years ago at 1/10/22 11:29 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 1/10/22 11:28 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 67 Join Date: 6/18/21 Recent Posts

Thank you Shargrol and George!

Knowing I'm on the right track has really helped me keep up a consistent but gentle investigation over the past several weeks.

Shargrol, your advice was extremely helpful. It helped me see all the fascinating directions to explore within what I was already doing. I feel like each of your points deserves a reply on how it has enriched my understanding and my practice, but for now I'll just say: thank you!

George, thank you for giving me that useful perspective. I have definitely picked up on all the hints that awakening is a, "oh, it was right here this whole time!" sort of insight. Of course, it's one thing for me to understand that intellectually and a whole other for me to figure out what subconscious processes are still subtly clinging to the illusions of time, space, self, etc. 

In terms of practice, there's not too much new to report. I've basically kept up what I described above, and the effects and results have mostly deepened in the same direction they were going. The POI has completely fallen apart at this point. Absolutely no clue where in what cycle I am lately, not that I've been paying attention much. 

The no-self and luminosity experiences have also been getting more subtle and harder to notice. Less like, "woah, it all happens on its own!" and more like, "oh, yeah, it all happens on its own". 

I mostly don't need to explicitly visualize anything when working with the five elements anymore. Often just noticing the feeling and the fear is enough, though when it is really difficult, I find that looking for the "open space" in the reaction chain often provides a shift/release.

I've also been practicing noticing the six realms more. It's still mostly human or animal realms, though the others also come up. I've started noticing the hell realm for the first time as well, which is unnerving but probably a good thing. I don't get angry very easily, or maybe I am very poor at recognizing it, but either way, I definitely lack fluency in that emotion, so it is typically the mostly likely to sneak up on me.

I have started to actually remember to be mindful during difficult situations in daily life, like arguments with my partner. I guess it's nice I'm finally able to start applying these skills in real-time situations, but it's also been a humbling experience. In these real-time situations, I only remember to stay present 5-10% of the time! So much for getting rid of 80% of reactivity.

One new direction is that I listened to Ch 7 of WUTYL on the immeasurables, maybe as a preview of some of the stuff I'll be working on during the retreat. I've only spent a few practice sessions on the material, but wow, I think this is stuff that really needs to be worked on. I am able to very clearly see the patterns of indifference and prejudice blocking equanimity, the guilt and shutting down blocking loving kindness, the fear blocking compassion, and the core sense of lack blocking joy. And boy, are these sticky! I can see why he recommends spending so long on each immeasurable, as these patterns do not dissolve easily. I have found equanimity to be particularly difficult. With the other three, I feel like I can catch hints of the immeasurable emotion that is beneath the reactive patterns, but when working on equanimity there's just nothing there. People have commented that I often come across as a very detached or aloof person, so maybe this tendency is a corrupting factor. Anyway, really looking forward to working on these during the retreat.
Speaking of which, I'm headed to Spirit Rock for the 7-day metta retreat this afternoon. I'll post an update with how it goes!
shargrol, modified 2 Years ago at 1/10/22 5:05 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 1/10/22 5:05 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 2379 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Best wishes for your retreat. If you have problems, may they be good problems to have! If you have enjoyment, may it be a good enjoyment to have!
Danny S, modified 2 Years ago at 4/3/22 5:17 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/3/22 5:16 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 67 Join Date: 6/18/21 Recent Posts
I've been meaning to post an update for a while, so this one got a bit long. Reading through it, however, I'm realizing how a lot of it, and probably a lot of my previous reports, kind of ramble on about experiences while failing to be clear and direct about what my main concerns are and, at the same time, leaving out the small details that would paint a clearer picture of what my minute-to-minute practice actually looks like. I guess an unfiltered stream of consciousness account still provides some revealing information, but to keep things digestable, I'll start this report off with a summary following Shargrol's online-question guidelines:

I've had some powerful-yet-fleeting emotional and perceptual openings while alternating metta/karuna practice and ecstatic/emptiness/mahamudra-type practice (i.e. WUTYL Ch 9-10), and I want to know what effort to make (or not make?) to allow more lasting reductions in the suffering caused by subject-object duality.

I had a pretty good 7-day metta retreat at Spirit Rock, the main takeaway of which was that metta cuts through emotional knots like butter! Holding feelings of frustration, disappointment, anxiety, and other forms of resistance in awareness with vipasana would work well enough after some time, but embracing them with metta produced immediate and poignant shifts 95% of the time, often accompanied by sobs and tears as though I was welcoming back a long-estranged part of myself. I guess vipasana is still necessary for noticing and clearly perceiving resistance and ill will in the first place, but it really felt like sending metta to these sensations was the secret sauce I had been missing.

The most important change to my practice post-retreat was a commitment to wake up early and do formal practice from 6am to 8am every single day. I've managed to be surprisingly consistent about this. Previously, when I would say I'm practicing, say, 1-2 hours/day, what that meant was I would sit more or less whenever I feel like it and then get up whenever I feel like it, and estimate what the time added up to. Typical of my ADHD style, but not exactly the best formula for developing discipline and cutting habituated patterns. I typically start with a 30-45 min sit doing my 6-direction metta practice as I did on the retreat (described below) while following the breath to condition my mind before the coffee and ADHD medication kicks in. Then I spend 15 min or so walking and mindfully using the bathroom or eating a light snack to stop my stomach growling. Then, I do my main practice in a longer 60-90 min sit. I use a timer for both sits, with the variability in duration due to it sometimes taking longer to get out of bed.

The first month after the retreat, I focused pretty exclusively on maintaining momentum with the immeasurables by following the guidelines in WUTYL Ch 7. I would practice metta until I could feel it flowing easily in my heart (~80% of sits), then turn to compassion until I could feel that clearly (~30% of sits), and then would work on joy or equanimity. I felt joy to be pretty difficult for me. I've had glimpses of it when I practice sending it to a person I like, but I can't say I've had the kind of big opening where my sense of not being enough goes empty as described in WUTYL. As for equanimity, I always feel kind of lost whenever I've tried to practice it. They didn't cover it at all in practice instructions at the retreat, and I've tried "going into the wall" of indifference as described in WUTYL, but even when I'm at a high level of energy and concentration with metta and compassion flowing easily, the indifference never went empty. 

For the first two weeks or so post-retreat, I felt like I was really maintaining momentum and having big emotional openings and breakthroughs every other day, at least in terms of metta and compassion, just like during the retreat. I was really digging deep into my emotional blocks, with lots of tears and cathartic moments that felt purifying. However, when it came to daily life, I felt like the more metta I practiced, the more of my behavior I realized stemmed from reactivity instead of compassion! And the more emotional stuff I dug up, the more bottomless it all seemed!

Once my concentration settled back down again, I decided to explore the technique of tonglen in Ch 8, and I tried doing this for about two weeks during this time. At first I really liked this technique, but in trying to heed KMcL's advice of not using it to feel better, I found I was turning it into a kind of self-flagellation by taking in things I didn't like and sending away things I did like, but without connecting to the kindness and compassion that is supposed to go with it, as I still had difficulty connecting with these feelings without sufficient concentration. So I went back to working on each of the immeasurables. I was determined to keep working at these practices, and one day I was making progress in dismantling the sense of insufficiency blocking joy when my partner interrupted my sit. I was seething with anger at how my concentration had been broken, probably for at least 20 min before I realized, "wow, I've become so attached to making 'progress' in uncovering these wholesome emotions on the cushion, it's brought about the opposite of what I wanted to cultivate".

At this point, I saw how I had really baked in this mindset of "leveling up" through the immeasurables and how much I was unconsciously putting so much effort into basically getting high on the radiating warmth of metta and the getting a thrill out of the poignancy and tears of compassion. So I decided I need to shift my practice and develop more spiritual maturity. I started reading Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, a lot of which felt very relevant. I started really focusing on reminding myself to drop the effort down, and starting devoting around an hour to concentration and tranquility practice during my sits, though I kept up 10-20 min of metta every day. I started realizing more and more how much lack of tranquility and stable attention had been a bottleneck for me. I was locked in this unconscious pattern of trying to stabilize attention by applying more effort in the face of distraction, and the instability in the effort itself would act as a "noise floor" for attention that I couldn't get past. I feel like I keep forgetting this basic lesson of tranquility, or maybe it just needs to be re-learned on ever more subtle levels.

Three weeks ago, I started reading Ch 9 of WUTYL. I was worried they would be too advanced for me since I hadn't mastered the immeasurables, but I wanted to explore emptiness and luminosity more with the tips Shargrol gave me. I feel like I can connect somewhat with the empty nature of experience whenever I incline my mind that way. I never went into full-blown formless realms, but whenever I remind myself that all of this experience is nothing more than it is, I get this light-but-pervasive sense of spaciousness. In terms of luminosity, yeah, it makes sense that it's hard to see that experience is aware of itself on its own as it is if I'm too busy checking whether experience fits some expectation and modulating my effort and attention accordingly. Unfortunately, my mind seems to be wired that way on so many levels. Anyway, I definitely connected with the ecstatic practices, working to rest in awareness of a given sense door in its entirety. Initially I would feel the expected shift in energy whenever I did this (usually with my body or visual field), but now it's more subtle. I try to do this practice especially during walking meditation, feeling my whole body balance itself and watching objects glide past the edges of my visual field. I also connected with the "what is this (experience)?" practice, which produced some windshield-off moments when I first tried it, though not again after that. I got a bit lost and confused trying to do the "what is mind?" practice, which apparently is kind of the point? So I didn't see anything, but did I see nothing? Hard to say, but the next step of asking "what knows this?" made no sense whatsoever, so stopped there.

So I wasn't clearly seeing emptiness as natural presence regularly, but KMcL did say that you can move to Ch 10 quickly as long as you have had even a glimpse of presence, and I think I definitely have in the past, as mentioned in earlier posts. So I read the first part of that chapter and gave the Mahamudra practice a try. Funny how simple it is. Like, just be aware of experience without trying to change it. Doing this practice definitely felt like some kind of breakthrough, mainly because I started more fully noticing all the wispy pre-verbal mental sensations, which are mostly visual but have some subtle auditory and body components, and which I had been conceptualizing as distractions before. What was really interesting was noticing how sensations labeled as "I" and "me" tend to be a special case of these wispy mental sensations that get bound together with (non-mental?) sensations in my head and face and edges of my visual field. 
Two weeks ago, after doing Mahamudra practice for about a week, I went back to TMC for a second weekend Mahasi noting retreat. I was listening to the Sayadaw say how insight cannot occur without single-pointed concentration and how we must perceive the arising and passing of every phenomenon. I was thinking, "Oh, I'm way beyond that now with my panoramic awareness practice, but I'll humor him and do this practice that is surely easy now". But then I realized how much I'd fallen out of practice with perceiving the 3Cs, especially impermanence. Not only that, I couldn't even keep my mind stable on my breath! I had thought I had no use for the training wheels of noting anymore, but when using the verbal notes, I was surprised at how much I was letting slip by without them. So I was left kind of wondering if I've been trying to move too quickly and need to nail down the basics?

In the week after the retreat, I tested this by trying to power the fast noticing of the impermanence of the rising and falling sensations of my abdomen, but although my concentration improved somewhat with this and I started seeing nanas more clearly, it still felt like going backwards in terms of total bandwidth of awareness compared with mahamudra. Maybe it just needs more time, or maybe I should stick with mahamudra, but whatever method I do, my intuition was that there are things that were not getting seen unless I improved the stability and temporal resolution of my attention. So, I decided to compromise with this and my current practice by rapid noting the five elements, which are supposed to require a lot of noticing speed to see clearly anyway. I tried this for about five days, including for 4-5 hours/day on a weekend. I would just note "urge urge urge" whenever I noticed reactivity, and then "fire fire fire", "void void void", etc. when I recognized which element it was. This worked pretty well at focusing me on how exactly my mind is trying to escape this present moment, and as with any form of noting, I find it cuts through my tendency go into an experience-evaluate-react feedback loop. It kind of stopped being useful after a lot of the courser reactivity fell away, however. It was hard to get my mind to settled on the subtle stuff that remained.

So, one week ago I decided I should balance my factors by really focusing on improving concentration by just resting attention on the rising and falling of the abdomen without noting. Soon after starting to do this, I found the pressure in my face quickly ramp up to an annoying level. However, probably due to my recent time spent noting urges, I was able to tell that, right after the recognition that I was distracted, there would be an intention to return to the breath, an image of my abdomen, and then a sensation of the breath, but this would then be followed by an evaluation of that sensation as too faint/blurry/etc., a slight tightening of the muscles around my nose and upper lip, an intention to "better" perceive the breath, and then arising or intensifying of the face pressure, followed by annoyance. When I noticed this pattern, my first impulse was to try to stop it or avoid it, but what I found most helpful was telling myself, "ok, my mind clearly sees this pattern. It sees how it is causing itself to suffer unnecessarily, so it will eventually stop on its own" and then go back to resting attention on the abdomen. In the past week of doing this 2-3 hours a day, I've found my concentration really start to improve. When a persistent difficult emotion comes up, I switch to metta practice, and when reactivity started to get out of control, I would switch to noting "urge urge urge".

Just in the past 3 days, rather than noticing and noting "urge", I started trying to notice and note "fear", looking for that subtle fear behind the urge. This subtle change made a surprisingly big difference. Whenever I noted like this at first, I would get a similar sense of spaciousness to what happens when thinking, "everything is nothing more than this". Sometimes I could recognize the type of fear associated with a specific element, but I found that just noting "fear" worked fine regardless. Soon, I started really seeing the fear more vividly, and was able to recognize it as the same flavor fear I described in an earlier post that I get when waking up at night sometimes. After 6-7 hrs of this over two days, I started getting this feeling of mild headache and nausea, a lot like motion sickness. And then I got kind of depressed going about my day, feeling like nothing was worth looking forward to, like "what's the point in planning this hike, exercising more, advancing at work?". I started easing up on the fear noting at that point, and rode out the emotions. Now I'm in some sort of EQ phase where noting seems unnecessary and things seem ordinary and mostly fine. Maybe I'll try doing more Mahamudra now.

In terms of maps, still no clue for MCTB. Kind of seems like I go through something POI-ish every time a change the focus of my practice. In terms of concentration, I'm probably somewhere around TMI stage 7 or 8 at my cutting edge. I've definitely had periods where I just "let go" of the breath and let it do its thing, and sometimes it even takes on a luminous quality, but it's rare that mental sensations completely vanish from awareness. I've resolved that I'm not going to "try" to go into jhana, but let it happen if it arises.

So, I guess what I want to ask is, am I still on the right track? You guys said my practice sounded good several months ago, but it feels like I've really diverged from what I was doing back then. If I had to go with my gut, I would keep trying to improve my concentration with single-pointed attention on the breath at the abdomen, as that seems to have the most potential for unlocking more benefits of other techniques. I won't go specifically for jhana, but will emphasize just relaxing and allowing over perceiving fast vibrations. When reactivity gets out of hand, I'll note the fear. When an emotion gets out of hand, I'll send it metta and compassion. My intuition tells me that Mahamudra is the other important piece of the puzzle, as it helps me cultivate mindfulness and equanimity better than anything else. I guess with any other practice, it's easy to get caught by a subtle sense of "I can't concentrate/investigate/visualize/etc. because I'm too ____", but with Mahamudra, I'm just like, "ok, this is what it's like to be _____". I'm not really sure when to schedule in this part of practice, but maybe I'll just use my intuition on this and spend 90% of my sitting and walking time building concentration.
Anyway, I'll stop before my summary gets longer than what it was supposed to summarize!
Danny S, modified 2 Years ago at 4/3/22 5:23 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/3/22 5:17 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 67 Join Date: 6/18/21 Recent Posts
7-day metta retreat at Spirit Rock
It's been three months since I promised an account of my first extended retreat, so here it is:

Day 1: Repeated metta phrases and imagery, but felt pretty awkward not doing vipasana practice. It was good to hear in the group meeting that many others felt the same way. Didn't feel any metta flowing. The teachers said to keep returning to the phrases, imagery, and the warm metta feeling in the heart as a concentration practice, and to turn to our vipasana toolkit only when we felt some persistent emotional block or distraction. Sort of as an aside, they said we could also try saying the metta phrases to the difficult feelings.

Day 2: Felt a little warmth in my heart and upper stomach in the morning. Then, at the 4pm practice talk we learned this radiating technique where we imagine radiating metta from our heart in each of the six directions, farther and farther, until it covers the whole world and beyond. This produced some big opening, and I felt like metta was flowing from my heart effortlessly to all beings and all sensations, which lasted the rest of the day. In retrospect, this was a sort of "A&P" of my metta practice.

Day 3: I could feel the metta flowing, though not as much as the day before. One thing I had been struggling with up to this point was how to keep up the metta practice during walking and meals. The teachers had said just do the same thing you do when sitting, but I felt like I needed some lower gears that didn't require as much concentration. So I tried just noting "happy, safe, healthy" once per second or so, which helped me keep from getting distracted a bit. However, I also wanted something that incorporated elements of the radiating, the metta phrases, and vipasana so that I didn't have to worry about neglecting any one area. What I came up with was to associate a keyword from each metta phrase with each of the six directions.

Forward: "May you be happy"
Backward "May you be safe from harm and enmity"
Left: "May you be healthy and strong"
Right: "May you live with ease"
Downward: "May you be connected with others"
Upward: "May you be cradled with love"

I would repeat each these phrases, or sometimes just the keywords, in order, with one on each out-breath. As I do it, I imagine metta radiating out to all beings in that direction. Doing this practice while hiking in the trails was a magical experience.

Also had my first 1:1 teacher meeting today, where I described how my practice was and what I was doing. He said, "Sounds like you're being creative. Creativity can be a mixed bag, but it sounds like you have something that really works for you". So not much in the way of feedback that changed things.

Day 4: I was flying high. My concentration was strong and the metta was flowing whenever and wherever I wanted, though I wasn't sending it to difficult people at this point.

Day 5: I had one of those inexplicably bad nights of sleep where I'm basically screwed in terms of mental capacity. It's kind of a weird sleep failure mode where I'll have a bunch of uninterrupted sleep and then wake up with brain fog and really low energy. Had my final 1:1 with a younger teacher and mentioned how discouraging it was to have my momentum crushed like this. I then started describing all the ways I was trying to optimize my technique to get the best results, and he said, "Ok, I can see you tensing up even as you describe this, so my advice is going to be: make sure your effort is directed at applying the practice consistently, not at trying to change experience. It probably served you well in life with overachieving, but the emphasis is different in meditation. Try just doing the practice and evaluating less."

It's funny, because I knew all of those instructions intellectually like the back of my hand, and yet I wasn't seeing how much I was failing to apply them! I applied the advice and practiced diligently the rest of the day, despite a complete lack of love energy fireworks.

Day 6: Last full day was a good one, for the most part. Lots of flowing metta and compassion. At the peak, I had a vivid experience of equanimity for the most difficult people I could think of, feeling deeply how they were just trying to be happy and trying not to suffer, albeit through distorted and harmful patterns. That evening, they had a "metta and speech" thing where we were encouraged to mindfully break noble silence and speak for 2 minutes to 2 people around us about some small-talk topic (e.g. "great hiking trails", "how about that hummus yesterday?"). Despite the six days of retreat, I completely fell out of mindfulness the whole 2 minutes I was speaking, and when I reconnected afterward, the first thing I noticed was huge anxiety. And the teacher was like, "A lot of people feel a sense of profound joy upon speaking again". Ha. I guess there really is a stark difference between introverts and extraverts. Then there was an hour period where we could freely talk with others, the intention being to do so as a practice with mindfulness. Unfortunately, I found that pretty difficult and got caught up in reactive patterns of FOMO and social anxiety.

I guess I had tuned out common sense along with other distracting thoughts, because that night I somehow convinced myself that this pretty girl that I had been talking to was trying to ask me out when she had asked what my hobbies were. So, I lay awake for literally 4-5 hours with my mind looping over and over thinking about how I needed to apologize for not telling her earlier that I was engaged, and made up this story that I had accidentally developed a strong connection with her during the retreat. I had also been going through a difficult patch with my partner when I left, and so all that stuff got dragged into this maelstrom as well, making for a pretty miserable and sleepless night. And it wasn't for a few days after leaving the retreat that the whole thing stopped weighing on me. Pretty ridiculous, looking back at it. I guess I now see what teachers mean when they say strong energy and concentration is dangerous if your mind wanders!

Day 7: I was a bit sleep deprived, but had a very nice end to the retreat talking with the fellow retreatants once noble silence was lifted. It was kind of funny how people kept coming up to me and telling me how inspiring it was to see me practice, how I just seemed so incredibly present. My partner often chides me for having a very intense look on my face, getting too absorbed in my food when eating, and standing or sitting "like a stick". I also have a babyish face that makes people think I'm 10+ years younger than I am. I mean, I definitely do take my practice very seriously, but it's funny to think how the above qualities might have made people think, "wow, it's so inspiring to see this young boy so diligent and full of presence" rather than, "how did that weird spacey kid get into this bar?". emoticon

Takeaways: Well, this was definitely a powerful experience. It lived up to my expectations in a lot of ways, though I can't say I came away with any permanent changes in my temperament, at least not that I can consciously identify. Probably the biggest impacts were the motivation to practice more consistently, the clear experiences of the immeasurables that I can now compare against experiences in my home practice, and the addition of metta to my toolkit as a way of embracing difficult emotions. I would definitely recommend that metta retreat and Spirit Rock in general to a novice meditator who wants to level-up their practice and is willing to part with some cash. Even someone who barely meditates would probably still experience it as a nice vacation, as the up-to-8-hr sleep schedule, lack of sits longer than 45 min, 3 meals a day, 3 dharma talks a day, daily 1-hour yoga sessions, every possible type of chair and cushion and chair-cushion imaginable, presence of emergency mental health professionals, and abundance of beautiful hiking trails leave plenty for the mind to do other than be stuck in loops of problematic thoughts. For me, though, this center probably is not the best use of my time and money. I just wish TMC offered a middle option between their 2-day and 2-month retreats...

I also gained insight into how some of my specific reactive patterns have a HUGE amount of energy and just bulldoze through any mindfulness I have when they arise, namely sexual desire/frustration and shame around my level of productivity at work. In the emotionally productively month following the retreat, I was able to go into these raw qualities and really experience them. Both, it turned out, had this violent, merciless anger at their center. It was really terrifying when I saw how, beneath the shame of procrastination, there was a part of me that wanted to beat my head into a pulp with a baseball bat. Or beneath the lust, there was this rage at not having the sexual gratification it felt entitled to, so much that it would fantasize about rape and torture. The idea of cruelly and mercilessly inflicting pain felt good to these patterns, like scratching an itch. Very hell realm. I feel so sad knowing that patterns like this exist in people. Surely, there is no evidence that any animals other than humans experience emotions like this? And yet, anger and guilt are apparently the only two emotions that every known language has a word for... Anyway, I feel like I've been able to mostly work through these specific patterns at this point.

I figured I'd make a list of some of the stuff I've worked all the way through, am currently working on, and hope to work on eventually. However, in writing down the stuff I thought I was "done" with, I definitely wasn't done. So I changed the label to "mostly worked through". But nope, not if I'm honest with myself. So we'll go with "Stuff I've made substantial progress on". Note that these are very very incomplete.

Stuff I've made substantial progress on
-- Practice must feel clear/spacious/pleasant or I need to fix it
-- Can't feel annoying pressure sensations in my body during practice
-- Need to achieve for the sake of impressing others (this might have more to do with entering the workforce at the bottom of the totem pole than attenuation of my ego in practice)
-- Desire to do something, be somebody, be somehow unique or special in my life (at least on an intellectual level)
-- Associating concentration with effort

Stuff I'm currently working on
-- Reflexively changing practice methods in response to experience
-- Need to be right and win arguments
-- Need to always get my way
-- Dismissing my partner's emotions when I think they are irrational
-- Must have physical comfort, can't be uncomfortable or in pain
-- Strong disgust and fear reactions (e.g. to disturbing imagery)
-- Feeling of not being enough
-- Lust
-- Excitement and hope vs disappointment and despair as the barometer of my happiness. The thought of not having something to look forward to is sort of unbearable
-- Procrastination
-- Spacing out when others are talking

Stuff I haven't touched yet
-- Image of myself as a basically sane and good person. I think my intentions are mostly pretty good in terms of morality, but there are times when I am negligent or selfish. I'm not sure I would know how to cope if I ever seriously harmed someone in a socially unacceptable way.
-- Social anxiety (there's a whole bag of neuroses in this one)
    - avoiding eye-contact
    - mumbling/speaking too quietly for people to hear me
    - all the small ways I'm inconsiderate toward others
    - not speaking up in conversations- way more stuff I'm not even aware of

These have mostly stopped bothering me after letting them sit for a while, but this a taste of what sometimes worry about when thinking about my practice.

I'm seeing a pattern where I make some breakthroughs in my practice and get past some reactive patterns that had really been bothering me and then think "wow, I was so naive before, but now I have finally moved past all that striving/over-exertion/ambition/pride/outcome-mindset/etc." when in fact I've only seen the tip of the iceberg. So I'll say, for instance, "from now on, I'm just going to relax on the cushion". And then a month or two later I realize "wow, I've been making myself miserable this whole time by coveting progress/concentration/momentum/etc."

I am very good at intellectualizing things and then making myself sound a lot more experienced than I actually am in a given discipline. Sometimes I feel like I have probably been cheating myself by reporting on here the parts of my practice that I feel conform to what I'm "supposed to" be doing and leaving out stuff that I suspect are bad habits. Though, I guess if I suspect it's a bad habit already, then it isn't really a blind spot, so maybe this isn't the worst thing.

I'm realizing how there is this subtle passive attitude I've had toward my practice, in that most of the time I'm just trying to do what I'm "supposed to" do and experience what I'm "supposed to" experience. It becomes so easy to rationalize sloppy practice with this attitude. Where is the authentic curiosity about how my mind works that got me interested in this stuff in the first place? Then again, I guess relying only on intrinsic motivation is not a recipe for consistency.

Weekend retreat at TMC
I returned to TMC for another weekend retreat. I had gotten what felt like some substantial new insights after trying the Ch 10 WUTYL mahamudra practice. And, sure enough, I have a terrible night of sleep and am at the lowest energy I can remember the first 18 hrs. It felt like I had never meditated before. Bye bye, god realm! So long, titan realm! Midday, I was just sitting with the pain like, "what do I have to look forward to? Dinner? Comfortable bed? Entertainment? Nope nope and nope." So much for the human realm. And then I had this thought: what if that's why the Buddha told monks to only sleep 4 hours, take precepts 6-8, and abide with all the other aspects of monastic life? Short-circuit every one of the six realms!

Second day I had more energy, and toward the end I got to this point where, for several minutes at a time, I could include all the thoughts and intentions and observer sensation patterns along with the vision, hearing, physical body sensations in a panoramic space of experience, with minor stuff bubbling up but just releasing itself as another empty object of awareness. However, there was always a sense of incompleteness to it, most notably that it all required a lot of effort to maintain.

I also got some insight into the etiology of the pressure in my face. I think it is a kind of "energy fuse" that blows as a protective mechanism to obstruct the flow of energy whenever the sense of self is threatened. A lot of times it comes up when "stuff" is bubbling up in low EQ. There was this time on the second day when I was working with the tension, and I noticed that emotional stuff was kind of leaking out at the periphery of the pressure, and I get this monstrous imagery flashing by, like in my closed eye visuals I start to see beaks or tentacles or gaping maws. I kept trying to open more like, "come on, let me have it, I'd rather process it all instead of this slow drip". But then, I remembered a psilocybin experience when the monster was right there with no filter and I was literally screaming in terror and disgust at the felt presence of this thing inches from my face. 

I think the same filters that psilocybin removes are also dropped during deep sleep, and can take a while to come online even after waking up, which explains the strong experiences after waking up early in the night. Just last light, I woke up and was angry at my partner for making me take our puppy out, then thought, "well this is an immature way for me to react, let me go back to mindfulness". As soon as I turned attention inward, WHAM, over a split-second there's a flash of shock and horror as I hear a blood-curdling screams and see a person slashed to pieces by a monster that explodes out of their bedroom floor. Then I couldn't sleep for an hour as I felt agitated and had this sensation of four points of pain in my abdomen, like there was a monster inside of me ready to rip me open with its crab-like claws. Ok, maybe slow drip isn't so bad after all :'D

The last thing I took away from this retreat is how much I've fallen out of practice with the emphases of Mahasi/Theravada/MCTB practice, particularly impermanence.

-- Realized my previously more frequent practice reports on DhO were driven by a kind of neediness for contact and validation. That might explain my big hiatus. Hopefully my decision to post again signifies an appreciation for the value teachers and a community can provide for my practice.

-- I think I'm starting to understand some aspects of the emotional logic of the five elements as reactions to emptiness/open space. I was working on a software bug at work that I didn't know how to fix, and suddenly I saw how most of my ways of procrastinating are ways of avoiding the experience of uncertainty. Most commonly, I try to fill the space by overindulging with sexual fantasies, thinking and writing about cool ideas, or meditating to cultivate pleasant sensations; or staying busy by spinning lost in thought, reading irrelevant work messages, browsing the news, or looking for household chores to do; or just staring blankly at my monitor or getting sleepy and taking a nap. So that's fire, air, and void. I guess earth would be something like stubbornly trying variations at the same solution despite it not working, and maybe water would be trying to pass the problem off to someone else, but those reactions are less common for me with this particular pattern.
George S, modified 2 Years ago at 4/3/22 10:16 PM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/3/22 10:12 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 2722 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
It seems to me like you have all the right ingredients there and just need to be patient and give them time to settle and integrate around the framework of your life. You are investigating your reactive patterns at a pretty deep level and while that is ultimately healing, short term it can be exhausting while you are simultaneously trying to keep your existing work, relationships etc on track. No need to push too hard at this point, it's all gonna work out ok and you can trust in the process to do its thing emoticon
shargrol, modified 2 Years ago at 4/4/22 8:42 AM
Created 2 Years ago at 4/4/22 8:30 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 2379 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
To answer your core question/concern: yes, you are still on track.

I've copied and pasted something I originally wrote on Reddit, but it is so appropriate for where you are now in practice that I added it below. A lot of people struggle with this phase --- if they are not owning their practice and not being naturally creative. But I don't see any lack of interest/creativity on your part!

But the whole challenge of this next phase of practice is really mastering the middle path. If you have a consistent daily practice, then the answer usually isn't to practice noting like your hair is on fire, nor relentlessly concentrate and enter formless realms, nor drop all effort and bask in empty presence... it's really finding a home in the middle of all those extremes.

This will potentially feel uncertain and may lead to doubts like "Am I on the path? Am I doing it correctly?" but that's really just the "egotistical I" losing it's momentum. There isn't as much ego-propping-up in Equanimity, becuase everything just sort of "is" and the sense of "being an observer of what is" doesn't feel very solid. That's actually exactly on track, even though it sort of feels wrong to the "I am a meditator" identity.

Your mind is much smarter than "you". What shows up, needs to shows up. What shows up needs to be experienced. Experiencing what shows up is what leads to progress. Like everything with meditation, the instructions are so darn simple but so darn hard to remember! That's why meditation is so humbling for everyone. It keeps showing us that "I" isn't that clever. emoticon

The main trick for this stage of the practice: is to change your attitude toward your so-called defilements and welcome them as objects worthy of mindfulness. Rather than trying to get rid of reactive patterns, internal voices, urges -- which will only result in frustration -- welcome them and make a study of them -- which will result in fascination! You don't even need to make them go away, just learn to see them as _objects_within_the_mind_. Defilements really are not "the mind" but they are "objects within the mind". Very simple change in view, but extremely extremely powerful and rewarding. "You" are not your defilements. Take a good look and see!

So try to make peace with what shows up. Forcing Metta towards what shows up might even be "too much" effort. Equanimity is what you need as both the path... and the goal. And the heart of equanimity is "letting". LET it show up, LET it display itself, LET it be, LET it stay, LET it go, no need to control it at all just LET it do what it wants -- just pay attention.

How much effort should you put into your attention? The mindfulness "touch" you need is very very light. Almost maddenly light because the "doer" wants to hold, crush, penetrate, etc. etc. because that feeds the sense of "I am a mighty meditator". This works for A&P but for EQ you go in almost the opposite direction. you try getting used to using as little effort as possible. My favorite metaphor (from Kenneth Folk) is that you are standing in the ocean in waist deep water. A peanut is floating in front of you, going up and down in gentle waves. You job is to put a finger on the peanut as it floats up and down, but neither lose contact not push it any deeper into the water. So a very very light touch and very very sensitive awareness. That's what needed. 

Here's the cut and paste I promised:

Housecleaning phase of Progress of Insight

So, you've really, truly, actually established a daily, non-heroic sitting practice... and you do an occasional day-long/weekend-long home retreat during each month or so... and you don't have many opportunities but you've been on a few multi-day retreats and have made a lot of progress during them... but now you're stuck practicing at home and it seems kinda futile to make progress. The stages aren't obvious anymore, sits are unpredictable, there's no sense of much progress any more...

(First, it's important remember how far you have come. Remember when you couldn't sit an hour? Remember when you couldn't maintain a regular practice? Remember when you couldn't do a day-long retreat? Remember when you were scared instead of looking forward to your next retreat? You've come a long way. You've made progress. Progress will continue, just like it has in the past!)

You've probably have experienced all the Progress of Insight nanas in some way. But merely experiencing them is different from the true "knowledge of" the nanas. You sorta know about the dark night nanas of Dissolution, Fear, Misery, Disgust, Desire for Deliverance, and Reobservation... but you still kinda hate them. You know about Equanimity but you have trouble dwelling in EQ. And everytime you spend time in EQ for a while, you seem to get sent back into the dukka nanas again. What's the deal?

Maybe that big experience was actually Stream Entry and now you're cycling? Yeah!!!!! No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Don't believe it. It's very easy to create fantasies of progress to cover-up our feelings of lack of progress. Don't do it. Just be honest and clear: you have made progress but now you're feeling stuck.

You've entered the Housecleaning phase of practice.

It's the refinement phase. You're not learning something new, you're learning things _well_.After a meditator has had an A&P big experience and has suffered through the dukka nanas and has touched on EQ and now has no doubt that there is something to the Progress of Insight map... there is still a lot of work to do. Sorry, but I'm being honest.

The housecleaning phase involves what seems like an eternity of going through dukka nanas, reaching Equanimity, experiencing a new clarity of mind, and then going back through the dukka nanas and seeing something new that was overlooked before. Each trip through the dukka nanas involves less suffering and more acceptance. Each trip through the DN makes us realized even more deeply how our reactive habits create our suffering. Each trip through brings an increased ability to be in the presence of discomfort without overreacting.It's not uncommon to eventually go up and down several times in a single sit.

This isn't post-Stream Entry cycling, this is pre-SE housecleaning.

Here's my best metaphor for this phase: It's like you have a dirty rag and you are going through your house and cleaning all the surfaces, then you get to the sink and trickle of water comes out of the faucet and you can rinse out your rag a little. Then you see how dirty the house still is and so you go through the house with your slightly clearer rag and you wipe down the surfaces again. Maybe you start seeing what is below the dirt a little more... You eventually get to the sink again, and there's a little trickle of water, and wash the rag a little again, and you can see that the house could be a little cleaner so you wipe down the surfaces again...

This is what happens every time we touch on equanimity. Our mind gets a little cleaner, we are a little more sane, we see our reactive patterns a little more clearly. But our reactive patterns are still seductive and confusing, so we need to re-experience all our bullshit again to see it more clearly as the bullshit it is. And the insights don't happen all at once. It takes a lot of _refinement_ over time. And it can even feel like things are getting worse, because we're starting to see our reactive patterns more and more clearly.

Sort of like how the more you clean your house, the dirtier it seems. There's all this dirt you didn't notice before you started cleaning emoticon

Does that help? Keep doing what you are doing! Consistent, daily, non-heroic practice and occasional retreats is the way.

But you don't need to be on retreat to reach SE. Myself and many others have had their first cessation simply doing basic mindfulness practice at home. The hardest thing is just finding the middle path between the mindfulness intention and letting things happen. We need to make a home in EQ -- and you can do that anywhere because equanimity is the accepting of every situation and experience. 
Danny S, modified 1 Year ago at 4/20/22 12:42 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 4/20/22 12:35 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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Ugh, ok, you caught me, Shargrol. Lot's of spiritual bypassing going on there. Like, "I'm going to embrace this resistance into oblivion!" and, "I'm going to love these negative emotions out of existence!"

the answer usually isn't to practice noting like your hair is on fire, nor relentlessly concentrate and enter formless realms, nor drop all effort and bask in empty presence... it's really finding a home in the middle of all those extremes.

When I read this, a lot of disillusioned sadness arose. Despite switching the focus of my practice several times, I had always been in the mindset of "as long as I maximize _____, I'm on the right path". When it's about balancing instead of maximizing, I have to deal with the uncertainty, which is really uncomfortable for my ego, as you said. 

As a side note, I started consistently setting my timer for 1 hour for both my first sit and my second sit after a 15-min break each morning. I also started sitting in quarter lotus instead of the kneeling/seiza I used to do, which results in a bit more pain and falling-asleep in my legs but seems to make my spine more stable. I'm making more of an effort to not adjust my posture before my timer ends, which is usually somewhat painful the last 15 min.

But I think I'm starting to get it now: less doing, more letting. So two weeks ago I started practicing this way: letting experience show itself while using as little effort as possible without slipping into distraction. The first time I tried this there was a lot of pleasant warm bliss for the whole hour. When I came back for the second hour sit after my break, things got really hard. It seemed like, no matter what, I kept reacting to the emotions and DN stuff with effort and resistance.

That became the basic pattern most days: one hour would be either mostly unpleasant or mostly pleasant, and the next hour would be mostly the opposite. Though, on several days it would be more like unpleasant and slightly-less-unpleasant. For the first week at least, it seemed like my heavy-handedness with attention was uncontrollable. I had every intention to relax and let go, let be, etc., but all the sensations and results of over-efforting would still arise. When I got frustrated with this, I thought to myself, "who is making this effort? If it's not under my control, then it obviously isn't me". But it still really feels like me! 

The housecleaning phase involves what seems like an eternity of going through dukka nanas, reaching Equanimity, experiencing a new clarity of mind, and then going back through the dukka nanas and seeing something new that was overlooked before.

Yep. That is exactly what this feels like. A lot of times the dukkha nanas will be subtle, such that it's easy to avoid paying attention to the dukkha if my mindfulness wanes. Anyway, the reflexive efforting on a gross level has died down now, though there is still subtle expectation and leaning toward and away from things. 

For the phases when things feel better and there's little unpleasantness aside from that created by my own subtle striving/expecting, something I've found to work pretty well is to basically have the doer "try to go to sleep". So then when experience, including the effort and expectation, arises, there's a sense of "I'm asleep, so all of this is happening on its own. It isn't me". Often when I do this, and also at other times when I'm relaxed and mindful, prominent sensations seem to kind of "detach" and start "floating" while presenting themselves in greater clarity. It's usually more neutral sensations that get like this, and it hasn't happened to sensations that feel really good or really bad, but maybe that's because it only happens when there's less craving going on.

I've also found that I have less excitement and motivation around my practice. I keep up my 2 hours each morning because that's just what I do, but there's not as much "I really wish I could be on a two-week retreat!"

I think where I'm currently at is working to actually genuinely be ok with bad feelings without even expecting that they will go away. Lately, unpleasant emotions and urges have often been faint, and there will be this pervasive sense of dullness and confusion, which will be frustrating. So I'll ask myself, "what is it about this dullness/haziness/uncertainty that is unbearable?". Or, I'll be feeling anxious, dejected, or ashamed and it will seem unbearable, and I'll say to myself, "this is what shame/anxiety/disappointment feels like. Can I be ok with this? Can I both feel this way and do what needs to be done?".

I'm seeing how, on a subtle level, I'd been practicing with the unquestioned assumption that making progress will feel good, and that feeling good means I'm making progress. I have had a few moments on the cushion where I realize I'm having difficult feelings, which are still unpleasant, but that I'm more ok with them. It feels kind of wrong since I'm like, "it's no big deal if you guys stay, but it would have been nicer if you had left".

​​​​​​​I'll have some time to do a 2-3 day self-retreat this weekend, so that should be a nice way to push this whole "letting" mindset. Most of my sits have been pretty difficult, so it will probably be a challenge, but hopefully instructive as to where I'm making things difficult. It's ironic, because you would think that letting go would feel nice and easy, but I didn't realize it would be so hard!
shargrol, modified 1 Year ago at 4/20/22 3:35 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 4/20/22 3:35 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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Wow, you get things perfectly. Yes, let go of control, but keep enough effort to show up and sit. 

EQ can get dreamy and uncertain, but EQ has equanimity even with that state! Yes, ask the question "is this experience really a problem, or just a problem to the ego" emoticon

Middle path, straight ahead!
George S, modified 1 Year ago at 4/20/22 5:06 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 4/20/22 5:06 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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One way to look at those "bad feelings" - they were there to protect you at a time when that was the only available survival strategy. If a kid is feeling an “unacceptable” emotion, then shame is the natural response to cover it up and continue to have access to food! It’s hard to tell the difference between old emotions and ones related to current conditions, because emotions don’t have a sense of time - they always feel “present”. But there’s only a finite store of these old emotions, and as you continue to experience them with equanimity it gradually dwindles. Before long you are free to have a clean experience of current emotions at the point of contact - the spice of life!
Danny S, modified 1 Year ago at 10/18/22 10:19 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/18/22 10:19 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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​​​​​​​It's been 6 months since my last post, so I feel it’s time for an update.

Since my last post, daily-life-wise, I had a change of employment and landed by what seemed like a huge stroke of luck in my dream job, like my literal, best-out-of-all-jobs-at-all-organizations-in-the-world job. So I’m very happy about that. One downside is that it has a longer commute, so I’ve only had time to practice for a minimum of 1 hour instead of 2 each morning. Oh, and I'm also getting married in a few weeks, which is also cause for more happiness but less time emoticon

Anyway, I had time for 4 weekend self-retreats in the first three or so months since my last update (and a few more since, some more like half-weekend retreats). All of them got really difficult after about 12 hours. During the first one, I had this big crisis where I realized that the only thing that had kept me going for extended length of time in previous retreats was this belief that I could chase after pleasant feeling or escape unpleasant ones if I kept going. Knowing I had to let go of that, there was nothing to look forward to to keep me going, so I went to bed thinking "my practice has been a lie!". After that, though, I settled into things more easily.

For a while I managed to emphasize "letting go" to the point where I turned it into this whole project that I could try really really hard at and somehow not see the irony. So the other 3 self-retreats were not very pleasant because I’d be going "Let go… Darn it, I’m not letting go. Oh no, I’m reacting to my lack of relaxation! I’m making it worse!!! AAAHHHHH". Yes, you can laugh emoticon

Along the way, I made up a lot of different techniques, that would seem to help for a while, but only for a week or so, and then I’d find something else. One "technique" that I have found myself consistently returning to is to imagine my attention just staying with this experience for a long time into the future, and noticing what about that seems unbearable: "I can't keep my attention here, it's too difficult/exhausting/painful/boring because _____." The unbearableness implies a separate, permanent self that is imagined to get "worn out". The (usually-bearable) unpleasantness of the present moment is extrapolated to exist in future moments and "accumulate" in the permanent self to the point of being unbearable, and so the mind reacts to that predicted unbearableness.

I’m not sure what, if anything, else changed in how I was practicing, but I very gradually began making what has felt like steady progress. The progress seems to go in a pattern as follows:

First, often after several days with more time on the cushion, I make some sort of breakthrough and gain a new insight. For example, one cycle ago, the insight was "everything in experience--sensations, emotions, concepts, locations, people--are all created by my brain to help me survive. Everything in my experience, even the unpleasant, is useful information. Any act of avoidance is just avoidance of part of myself!". The one I'm currently on is something like "The three characteristics are all I need. Particularly unsatisfactoriness. Every moment comes and goes on its own and is unsatisfactory in some way. That's all I need to notice. I don't need to 'dig more into' any of it. I don't need to make it more clear or better or different in any way. It's not satisfactory, it never was, never will be. And that's that." At the time, the insight will feel like the key solution to equanimity with all the difficulties I’d struggled with on and off the cushion up until that point. I will feel great for several days, where all I have to do is remember that insight and my problems seem to fade away. I will go through what feel like dukkha nanas that seem to be solved as well, during this period. But, part of me will suspect that things are not as resolved as they appear, probably because I recognize how a main reason everything feels easy is a persistent pleasant undertone to experience with a sense of "things are going well, and are likely to get better". Part of me knows this is an impermanent condition.

Then, at some point, I will go through dukkah nanas in which my fancy new insight seems mostly powerless. The insight will still make sense intellectually: "Why am I trying to escape this experience? How can experience escape from itself?", but the reactivity still dominates. So I find myself returning to the basics like investigating what is unbearable about the present moment, or even just noting, during these periods. This lasts a week or more, and I find I often return to the basics of just investigating the subtle reactivity until eventually I reach some amount of equanimity with things.

Gradually, I'm able to work through the reactivity that remains and, at some point, get to a stage where my mind is free and calm enough to start investigating really subtle self-like processes, and start getting into new levels of concentration. This then seems to create conditions for getting into new territory and getting another big insight, and the cycle repeats. Despite the cycling, it really does feel like progress. I'm more and more acquiring a taste for things like confusion, uncertainty, distraction, and other mind states that used to trigger reactivity. I feel like, at this point, I could really make some breakthroughs if I had the opportunity to go on a real insight retreat. Tathagatha Meditation Center offers a 1 or 2 month retreat each spring, but I'm thinking of asking them if I could join for a 2-week period. That place is the real deal.

My main goal right now is to realize how awareness is intrinsic to the mind and requires no effort. All the insights I get always seem to still require effort to "recognize" in any given moment. I often think about the questions, "What is the difference between distraction and mindfulness? What causes the transition from one to the other? If I'm not using effort when I'm distracted, and if I don't need effort when I'm already mindful, what is the purpose of effort? Where is this effort? Under what conditions does it arise?"

My thinking right now is that I should just keep doing what I'm doing. You guys have given me great advice for over a year now, though it is taking me a while to realize the true value of it. When I get a new insight, I often ask myself, "Have I been practicing wrong this whole time? Could I have gotten here a year ago if I had just let things come an go/embraced confusion/embraced negative emotion/stuck with noting?" It's impossible to say, of course, but I feel like the answer is probably no. In all of those cases, I really did try to "let it come and go" or "embrace uncertainty", but my mind literally just did not know how to do it without generating even more reactivity. It feels like processes that are very deep and automatic are what have changed. When I tried snowboarding for the first time, my more experienced friend kept telling me the key was to lean downhill. I knew intellectually I would not tip over if I did this, and it made perfect sense that leaning downhill would give me more control, but at that point, there was just nothing I could say or do to get my body to overcome its fear and do it. Some skills, like riding a bike, can only be learned through repeated practice due to the ineffable complexity of the motor skills required. Even some skills with low motor complexity, like swallowing a sword, still require repeated practice in order to re-condition reactive reflexes. It seems like, in meditation, there is a lot of both of those types of conditioning required.
Chris M, modified 1 Year ago at 10/21/22 7:18 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/18/22 2:25 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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You seem to be mostly chasing pleasant experiences and thoughts and trying to hold on to them. Is that correct, or do I misread your last comment?
Danny S, modified 1 Year ago at 10/19/22 12:20 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/19/22 12:19 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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My last comment was basically me speculating about why I spent so long struggling and trying to change my experience despite having been told to "let it come and go" (and other simple instructions) over 6 months ago and explicitly trying to do exactly that for an hour or more every single day, and concluding that it probably just required putting in the hours. There were no shortcuts, essentially.

That's not to say I completely get all those simple instructions now, either. I think I am able to watch experience with noticeably more equanimity than before, but yes, I can tell obviously there are layers of myself that are still chasing pleasant experiences, resisting unpleasant ones, and ignoring neutral ones. But is that MOSTLY what I'm doing? Well, yes, I guess "I" am mostly doing that. That's what "I" do, isn't it? emoticon
Jokes aside, what parts of my last comment gave that impression? Is there anything I wrote that tells you I am trying to hold on to pleasant experiences too much? You may very well be right, but I can also have confusing writing sometimes...
Danny S, modified 1 Year ago at 10/19/22 6:58 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/19/22 6:58 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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Ok, so that update was not exactly my best writing. I had decided to consciously avoid nitpicking my writing when writing that update, since otherwise I would never get myself to do it, but it definitely shows...

TL;DR What I want to communicate is, I spent most of the last 6 months keeping as my North Star Shargrol's very very helpful advice: to let all of experience, especially my defilements, happen on its own with a very light yet sensitive attention. For a long time it seemed I wasn't getting anywhere, two months ago I started noticing consistent progress, and one month ago the progress really started accelerating, and this week for the first time I have been able to match Shargrol's advice most of the time in most of my sits. It feels like it has been an exponential curve. By almost any standard (ability to see the 3Cs on and off the cushion, level of equanimity, level of daily life reactivity, ability to keep the breath in attention moment to moment), I am making progress faster and faster each week. And, unlike "progress" from previous ups and downs in practice, a lot of this seems lasting and cumulative.

So, why am I posting if everything is going well? I wanted to re-establish contact with this community to help guide me through what comes next, as I anticipate overconfidence and blind-spots soon becoming my greatest enemy. For now, I know both where to look for an abundance of reactivity and defilements and how to handle (and not handle) them when they arise, but some of this stuff is pretty subtle. Shargrol warned me (10 months ago!) about manic episodes, and I can potentially see why he did if things continue on their current trajectory.

I will try to provide a more detailed description of what my next sit is like, to paint a better picture of where I am, and what challenges remain.
Danny S, modified 1 Year ago at 10/20/22 10:24 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/20/22 10:24 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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I sat for 90 min this morning. Soon after starting, a persistent dull sadness came up, possibly related to a recent difficult interaction with my director. Yesterday I also had a lot of sadness related to the interaction, but it was sharper and more clearly resonated with thoughts and imagery related to the interaction.

​​​​​​​Overall the feeling tone of this sit was unpleasant, and I felt distracted, so I reverted to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen, using verbal labels to warm up. Looking for the 3Cs, impermanence was clear without effort, and unsatisfactoriness became apparent with some gentle effort. When I noticed unsatisfactoriness, I found my mind and body gently relaxed, like, "Oh, not everything needs to be satisfying. Ah, that's a lot less pressure."

No-self was harder to notice for the first 45 min or so, but eventually I began noticing how attention was really rapidly alternating between my breath and these "observer sensations" in my head and face. A bit later, I returned from a short period of mind-wandering and things seemed to open up and the overall feeling tone became more neutral. I remember thinking "huh, another example of how things just happen on their own". Now I was able to see my experience more holistically, as a composition of the breath happening in the abdomen, observing happening in my head, and meanwhile this somewhat-needy, sort of striving searching process trying to find something apparently not seen amidst these other sensations. In some moments, noticing the searching would trigger another searching process that would try to search the searching. But sometimes, the searching would seem like something just happening, and things would relax and open up more.

In the last 15 min or so, the dull sadness became more prominent. Noticing the 3Cs in the sadness did not seem helpful, so I tried just cultivating intimacy and compassion with the emotion, encouraging it to stay and open up. This made the emotion open up in more detail, and I was able to feel parts of it in my head and chest and abdomen and all the places that felt like "me". I had this sense that the emotion was like another being I was sharing my body with. When my timer went off, I at first had this urge to try and "finish off" the emotion, but then I noticed that ill-will and instead said "ok, I'll make space for you. I can still go about my day with you here." And then I got up.

This is a pretty typical sit for me. I went through a period of old emotions bubbling constantly after the metta retreat last Jan, but they have been more rare lately. The dull sadness did not seem to resonate with thoughts about work, and it was longer lived than most current/new emotions, so it seemed to land in the category of stuff bubbling up.
Danny S, modified 1 Year ago at 10/20/22 11:11 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/20/22 11:11 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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Oh. Shit. I think I see it. Yes, Chris, you are correct. Thank you.

Is there anything I can change about my practice to develop more equanimity in this area? I think I should go back to noting bare sensations, as that is what I was doing when it dawned on me.
Chris M, modified 1 Year ago at 10/21/22 7:25 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/21/22 7:25 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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Is there anything I can change about my practice to develop more equanimity in this area?

This comment actually contains the answer to your question. You should not be seeking a state of mind. Just observe. Vipassana meditation is an investigation. Many meditators fall into this conundrum. The mind has spent a lifetime chasing the "good" and running from the "bad." But we don't want our mediation to reinforce that habit because it's only going to reinforce our ignorance. To get wisdom, we need to be courageous and see our experience as just what it is and investigate how it comes to be.
Danny S, modified 1 Year ago at 10/28/22 11:02 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/28/22 11:02 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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Ok, I think I’m starting to get it.

​​​​​​​I’ve been realizing how greed and aversion aren’t just conditioned by intrinsically pleasant or unpleasant sensations and emotions, but by ANY story or interpretation of experience that reinforces or threatens my ego. My mind is constantly piecing together a narrative about how I’m “doing it right” or “doing it wrong”. And then I react to make a course correction, a response which becomes perceived as another problem to fix, and so on. I had been avoiding this cyclic reactivity instead of investigating it, which gave it more power.

And yet there’s still a lot more to see in terms of basic sensations and emotions. Part of me really does feel entitled to feel good and not suffer. Even when I accept suffering right now, part of me is still holding out hope that it will all be worth it if I can just get past this. It’s so obvious now. Everything I had been doing in my practice was essentially propping up or protecting my ego in some way. It’s so pervasive.

Sensations that are irresistible are just as destabilizing as sensations that are unbearable, or probably more so because I’ve been less likely to see them for what they are. I’ve noticed myself reactively trying to avoid pleasant sensations so I don’t get attached, and I try to keep my mind in freak-out mode. I recognized this as unbalanced and started trying to instead just notice how the pleasant sensations are impermanent, focusing on the FOMO aspect of them, noting “gone, gone, gone” when the urge to go bask in them gets too intense. But even this is more reactivity that needs to get seen, and I’m still trying to find a balance and just observe without slipping into attachment. I feel like it would actually be easier if practice was one big never-ending Dark Night, since then I could just realize that life is about suffering and there’s no point trying to resist it. But of course, life is about ups and downs as well as flatness, with change and uncertainty being the only constants.

The biggest giveaway that I’m still holding onto pleasant experiences happens in the transition from practice to daily life. If I was really seeing experience for what it is, mind states would not be obstacles to living my life according to my values, yet so often I have the attitude of, “I can’t focus on this task right now, I need to work through this difficult feeling” or “I can’t stop my sit now, I’m just starting to make progress with this reactive pattern. I can’t miss out on getting this new insight”. I guess this is why formal practice with clear boundaries is important.

And yet so much of this is still ego-driven. I’m still subtly going, ”Look at me, mightily resisting temptation” and, “I am a courageous meditator, valiantly accepting this suffering.” The investigation I think is key here. If I’m not watching experience with genuine curiosity, then it leaves room for this attitude of “just get through it, bear it, tolerate it”, which results in not learning anything. So that is a pretty unpleasant way to get stuck.

So I’ll keep going, just observing, investigating. Everything has to be worked through. But I think I have to accept I’m going to get stuck again at some point, and I’m going to need guidance to see my blind spots.
Chris M, modified 1 Year ago at 10/28/22 1:49 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 10/28/22 1:46 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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Why don't you change the object of your investigations? Thoughts are difficult to work with. How about investigating touch or sound? The goal of vipassana is to see through how objects arise, so observe something that might be easier to investigate, penetrate that or those objects and move on to more difficult objects like emotions and thoughts later. All objects arise from the same process, so you may be able to make progress without your current confusion.
Danny S, modified 1 Year ago at 11/2/22 5:46 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 11/2/22 5:46 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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Ok, that sounds reasonable. I guess that's the main takeaway of MCTB after all. Do you think it is also a good idea to choose a single object for investigation like, say, the sensations of the rising and falling of the abdomen? And also to verbally note these sensations as they occur whenever I'm not concentrated enough to simply observe without distraction? That's what I've been doing the past week, anyway. I was thinking maybe it's best that I just go back to square one and forget whatever I've been doing before and whatever I thought I was attaining with it.

As I've been doing this, practice has been much less eventful in terms of highs and lows and various mental dramas, since I just keep returning to noting rising and falling of the abdomen whenever I notice stuff come up. Whether I'm feeling bad or good, the rising and falling sensations are still just sensations, usually quite faint, that can be investigated. I periodically try to let go of verbal noting and/or effort to see if I can stay with the physical sensations of the breath without them, which I usually cannot for very long. However, I find that are typically more distinct physical sensations arising than I can verbally note at top speed, which is about 4/sec. Often, the physical sensations are covered up by mental images of what they signify, and I'm experimenting with whether trying to also notice those mental impressions, or ignore them, helps me see the bare sensations more clearly. 

My goal is just to increase the information per second perceived about the rising and falling of the abdomen throughout my sit. I assume that by "penetrate" sensations you mean something like, see that they are made up of discrete moments that rapidly arise and pass away on their own, with nothing observing them? Does it sound like I'm doing the right things to get to that point?
Chris M, modified 1 Year ago at 11/2/22 5:52 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 11/2/22 5:52 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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So... what's that about mental images of what you're experiencing? You might want to think about what they are and how and why they arise. Don't dismiss the chain of perception they represent. Do all your sensations work the same way?
Danny S, modified 1 Year ago at 11/10/22 7:45 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 11/10/22 7:45 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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Ok, these mental images are pretty ubiquitous as far as I can tell. Whenever I feel a physical sensation and try to analyze it more closely, I'm left examining a mental image. I could note very fast at one point and the sensations around my abdomen spread out into rapidly (5-10 Hz?) flickering bursts, and even then each burst had its own corresponding mental image. At this level, the images started getting more crisp and detailed but less grounded, like I saw collections of flowers or wood carvings or sparks instead of a blurry picture of my abdomen. I also investigated my other senses, and yes, hearing, smell, taste, and emotion-related sensations all have the "summarizing" mental images, which are usually blurry shapes and pastel colors. I think vision probably does as well, though it is harder to tell because it is the same modality. 

It's hard to tell whether modalities other than vision accompany the mental images, I am also trying to investigate whether the mental impressions also have a component that is the same modality as the physical sensations that conditioned them. I think they probably do because a lot of times I will lose focus a bit and be "feeling" the whole abdomen, but when I pay closer attention the actual physical sensations are more spatially sparse. 

Sometimes it is hard to sort out whether "physical sensations" are actually mental impressions conditioned by an intention/expectation to perceive something in particular. Intentions are pretty slippery for me, but when I try to investigate them, I notice there is a mental image of my action before I perform an action. The mental image occurs right before I know whether I am actually going to perform the action. This includes both physical actions and mental actions, like directing attention. 

It seems like I'm not learning much new from just noting physical sensation at this point ("left, right", etc.), but when I am focused enough to really try to pinpoint where each physical sensation ends and where the mental image begins, it feels like I'm seeing something new. I've been spending 95% of formal practice just doing this with the breath at the abdomen. The first time I tried this after you suggested investigating these, it felt energizing when I investigated the mental images more closely. But then, I started feeling negative emotions when doing the investigation, sometimes a sort of existential sadness or disappointment with a flavor of "What is even the point? There's nothing to look forward to", sometimes a sort of frustration like "Why am I even doing this? My practice is a joke", and sometimes a non-specific cringiness, sort of the way it feels when one of my insecurities is triggered or my ego is threatened. And in the past two days I've been getting to this mode where the investigation doesn't elicit a good or bad reaction, and is just neutral. And now it has just been fluctuating between sad/mad/bad and neutral from sit to sit.

I have mostly relaxed with trying to note as fast as possible, but it seems useful to note once a second or so in most cases, while still intending to perceive things as fast as possible. My most reliable metric of progress is how much information per second I am able to perceive about my primary object, and that seems to be gradually increasing, with more and more identifiable mind moments in a given interval. I can now perceive separately lifting, moving, and placing of my feet even when walking briskly, and sometimes can distinguish the mental images that go along with each. Before it was just one sensation per step. I've also started holding my shirt away from my abdomen so that I am forced to focus on the faint rising and falling pressure sensations instead the contact between skin and clothes.

One thing I am unsure about is how much and when to pay attention to anything that arises and when to develop single-pointed concentration on my abdomen or my feet. Reading Practical Insight Meditation, it sounds like the instruction is to note anything and everything, but go back to the breath when not much is happening. By that standard, I am probably erring too much on the side of single-pointedness, as I usually will note distractions once and then ignore further occurrences of them. I figure I should do this because the one thing I've always been lacking is the ability to maintain attention on a single object. I also don't want to get lost in thoughts and content, so I really try to just stay with physical sensations, but I will note emotions when they get strong enough to be distracting.

I've mostly given up hope that I'm going to make some big breakthrough in daily life. I just want to ensure I set a strong foundation to stay on the right track when I get a chance to go on a retreat. 
Chris M, modified 1 Year ago at 11/11/22 6:46 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 11/11/22 6:44 AM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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You are right on track - keep investigating!

You're seeing the mental images of your perceptions. What does this tell you about how your mind works? What are the deeper implications of what you have been observing?
Danny S, modified 1 Year ago at 12/6/22 12:40 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/6/22 12:40 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 67 Join Date: 6/18/21 Recent Posts
I think the mental images tell me that most of cognition, most of my reality, really operates based on abstracted representations of raw sensory information. It is definitely something to keep looking into, though the distinction is always slippery. I guess that explains why it is so easy to slip into a conceptualized/intellectual mode of operating, because these mental images carry a lot of baggage in terms of past conditioning, and don't allow for acting based on the nuances of the raw sensations of the present moment. But it's not just binary mental or physical. There seem to be many layers of abstraction within and between sensory modalities, so there's probably a lot of unraveling to do...

Anyway, about 2 weeks ago, I went through a full day where everything was cringey and triggering and then settled into the more neutral and peaceful mode, and stayed there for a few days without falling back. Verbal noting definitely felt unnecessary and heavy-handed at this point, and I was thinking I had finally gotten to stable EQ, so I started trying to go more with the flow and use less effort, but I still was diligent about trying to consistently stay with physical sensations. I did try to go wider with physical sensations, seeing how much of the fields of sight, sound, and touch I could experience at once. I did keep trying to notice the difference between physical sensations and mental images, and what I started to notice at this point was that the physical sensations seemed to be interleaved with “observer images” like outlines of my head or face. I was thinking maybe these are the mental images of processes that feel like “my” agency. Investigating that idea, I realized that I would often feel like I was missing something in my field of experience and get frustrated, and had the idea that it actually wasn’t the observations that weren’t getting seen clearly, but rather the observer.

After 3-4 days of this, one Thursday afternoon I was alternating between sort of doing work and some gentle meditation, but I was getting sleepy and eventually decided to lay down and rest. I didn’t want to fall asleep completely and be groggy the rest of the day, so I tried to keep some minimum attention on my breath for a while. Then, I decided to just let go of effort to stay awake and let sleep come if it wished, which felt good. Within a minute or two, I was in this half-awake train of thought that ended with something like “...and people are actually hollow” and a vague image of a hollow outline of my head. And then there was a blip, and I was just lying there, remembering the train of thought I had just been in. It felt like I had seen something that I sort of already knew, yet which still somehow answered something I had been searching for.

For another day or two, I had the feeling that there wasn’t much point in investigation because I wasn’t seeing anything new. It was somewhat disappointing because it felt like I had found the nature of what I had been investigating the past few weeks, but that it wasn’t the bigger answer I was looking for. Kind of like, I had followed a treasure map all the way to the end and seen conclusively that there was no treasure there. Yet again. One thing I did notice, and which I still notice now, is that some small part of the center point is missing, like something that was searching for itself realized there was nothing to search for. It is the part that felt like it had to worry about messing things up in EQ if it used too much effort. There is definitely still a centerpoint in the middle of my face, but it is slightly less “pointed”.

Anyway, I started noting/investigating again soon after it happened, hoping to repeat it, and got into another cycle. It was maybe another week before I got to stable-ish EQ, at which point I really tuned down the effort. I kept trying to balance investigation and tranquility, but was probably erring more on the side of tranquility compared with the previous cycle.

At one point I was sitting and watching the breath at my abdomen and noticed a recurring pattern where I would start to wander off in thought, catch myself, and then realize that my breath and the rest of my experience is clearer and more spacious than before my mind started wandering. I had noticed this many times before in my practice, but figured it was just momentum carrying me through to a new nana or sub-nana while my foot was off the pedal. But now I had the thought, "if my mind is consistently seeing more clearly when I'm wandering in thought than when I'm trying to pay attention, that's probably a clear sign that I'm using too much effort." But it seemed like even the slightest intention to direct attention was too much, causing that “energy cramp” pressure in my face to flare up. So I just stopped trying to do anything, and just watched all the annoying/difficult sensations and the urge to react to them. And I realized that, though I was feeling annoyed and reactive, I also wasn’t struggling against it because I knew that anything I did to change the experience would only make it worse, and there was a certain peace in that. Maybe that is closer to what real equanimity is like.

Anyway, one evening 4-5 days ago after some light walking meditation on the way back from a long day at a conference, I dropped onto the bed in my hotel room and started drifting before a blip happened. It was fainter than the previous one, and I was less certain it had been “it”, but still felt like something was likely finished. I tried deciding to write it off and practiced like nothing had changed, but there was this sinking feeling deep down like that there was no longer any point in looking for what I had been looking for. It was disappointing because I guess I had been hoping there would be a bigger/more noticeable difference, but there you go.

My practice felt a bit sloppy in the days following, like it didn’t matter whether I did noting or broad awareness or any other method.

So I’m wondering, were these really POI cycles and fruitions? I had noticed things like them about a year ago, but hadn’t seen one clearly for a while, possibly because I hadn’t been as diligent with noting. Am I using the maps skillfully? I suppose I am allowing the concepts of the maps to be somewhat prescriptive in that, for instance, I make sure not to try to heroically penetrate everything into vibrations when I think I’m in EQ, which I am sometimes tempted to do when I’m feeling insecure about my practice. But for the most part, I do feel like I’m following my intuition by powering the investigation when it feels right, going into and embracing emotional knots when that feels right, and trying to coast along with steady balance when that feels right. Sometimes, it feels like I’m just getting lost in thought whenever I stop noting, but other times it feels like noting is just this kazoo player interrupting the symphony, to use Daniel’s analogy.

It’s funny, yesterday I was going to end by saying I’m all confused, don’t know where to go next, do I have stream entry or don’t I and what am I missing in either case… Maybe it’s because I felt like I was getting traction trying to note as fast as possible with a lot of effort again, really trying to perceive how this moment becomes the next and never lose focus, but I knew that, by itself, this would be a losing strategy for developing equanimity. Then, today, it seemed like I was able to just sit and observe my mind go, including as it makes unnecessary effort and then relaxes when it realizes it isn’t helping. So now I’m more chill, feeling like whether or not I have stream entry, the thing I need at this stage is balance, and not a static balance where I find a magic ratio of investigation, effort, relaxation that stays constant the whole time, but a dynamic balance where I recognize the signals that I need more of one or less of another and adjust accordingly. I have been waking up earlier the past few days to get 90-120 min of practice in and I think that has been helpful vs. just 1 hour/day, so I’ll try to maintain the momentum.
shargrol, modified 1 Year ago at 12/6/22 2:47 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/6/22 2:47 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

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This is all sounding really good. 

No, probably these aren't POI cycles and fruition... more likely they are POI to EQ and then an unknowing event but not a cessation. It is common to have many near misses before a cessation happens. What you are going through is totally normal and appropriate.

Going to EQ and cessation will feel very similar to what you have gone through but it won't lead to more questions like these last few events. KEEP THE MOMENTUM GOING. 

Everything you are saying is right on. That it requires a dynamic balance of effort, not some fixed strategy. That observing the observer seems like part of the answer. 

Here's a quote from MCTB to help motivate you https://www.mctb.org/mctb2/table-of-contents/part-iv-insight/30-the-progress-of-insight/11-equanimity/

Separating the early stages of Equanimity from its mature stage, there tends to be a “near miss” moment when we get very close to the fruit of the path, which serves to really chill us out, as it were. From this point, awakening is likely to occur quickly as long as the meditator continues to simply practice and very gently fine-tune awareness and precision, paying gentle attention to things like thoughts of progress and satisfaction with equanimity. At some point even this becomes boring, and a certain cool apathy and even forgetfulness arise. Most won’t notice much about this phase.Around this very mature part of Equanimity the feeling that we are not really here can arise, or that somehow we are completely out of phase with reality. Conducting our ordinary business may be difficult in this phase if we are out in the world rather than on the cushion, but it tends to last only tens of minutes at most, though rare reports involve it going on for somewhat longer. The sense that we are practicing or trying to get anywhere just vanishes, and yet this may hardly be noticeable at all. We sort of come back, with clarity again becoming more predominant. Then we get truly lost in something, some strangely clear reverie, vision, object, or flight of fancy. By really buying in, we get set up to check out. When understanding is completely in conformity with the way things are, this is called …
Danny S, modified 1 Year ago at 1/5/23 2:53 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 1/5/23 2:45 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 67 Join Date: 6/18/21 Recent Posts
Here's another long post. I put together things that I wrote at different time points, so you can see how my attitude has been fluctuating.

Ok, that is helpful to know. Kind of a relief in a lot of ways. I am going to redouble my diligence. I know it’s about consistency and not heroics, but I think I have been underestimating how much effort it can take to be consistent. It’s so easy to settle for a less-than-complete understanding of this moment, stopping before my mind starts to resist.

I should be able to keep up a minimum of 90 min formal sitting practice, and another 90 min of semi-formal practice (e.g. walking, practicing during an hour bus ride). I’m also really going to push my comfort zone for daily-life mindfulness during eating, chores, etc., where it is so easy to slip into the attitude of “can’t concentrate as well, no point in trying”.

Yesterday I went through a DN again, seeing the final few stages clearly: “Why am I doing this, my practice is stupid. No, wait, I can get through this with heroic effort! Ugh nothing is working, how is it even possible to be with this unbearableness?? Huh, things are ok now”.
In my sit this morning, I got some new insight into a problem I’ve been dealing with for a long time in my practice. That annoying pressure in my face would come up often when I’m using too much effort, especially with attention on my breath at the nose, and I usually try to decrease effort or shift my attention to another object in response to that feedback. So the causal model is, excessive effort → face pressure → [fear of making it worse] → reduce energy in attention. I bracket the fear because it is so close I usually don’t even acknowledge it. But, I am now beginning to doubt this interpretation. If I am ok pushing through intense pain and guilt and disappointment, why would a little pressure bother me so much? I am beginning to suspect that what it is actually happening is that this deep-seated fear arises whenever I start getting to a certain level of concentration, and that the excessive effort is actually a response to cope with the fear. The face pressure is probably a side effect of the concentration level, or of the fear starting to get purified. I notice the same pressure sensations when I’m going through a purification with some other emotion like anger or sadness, but it is not a problem in those cases because I think of it as a side effect. I’m starting to suspect that my mind has very cleverly kept this fear away from attention by fabricating the story, “Ah, this pressure means I’m trying too hard, so let me change my attention (in response to this very natural, practice-benefiting fear of getting too out of balance)”. 

In fact, now that I think about it, any habit where I’m somehow changing my level or object of attention in response to what arises in attention presents an opportunity for my mind to hide something. It is especially insidious if the habit is actually good practice in most cases

You say these are “near” misses, but I’ll say I have a lot of doubt that I’ll be able to get to cessation soon without big changes to my practice. It feels like I have so much work left to do on my shadow side, but maybe if I redouble my diligence and heroically push into the things I’ve been subtly avoiding for so long, then I might have a chance.

Around Dec 20, I decided to start directly investigating the "doer" part of my sense of self: the part that feels worried it is practicing wrong or screwing up equanimity, feels guilty for using too much effort, is afraid that it will cause the painful face pressure to intensify. At first I had the theory that I needed to see the underlying urge to “do” things, and I saw this urge even in the breath: “I need to breath in, I need to breath out”. There was this urge to control/crush/squeeze the breath. So I tried just not breathing, and watched the urge to intentionally breath until the need to breath became strong enough that breathing happened on its own. This was hard and felt like suffocating, and I think the Buddha even cited breath-holding as an unnecessarily ascetic practice, but eventually it did help me see how breathing is going to happen on its own eventually no matter what, and the painful urge to control the breath is just another sensation that can be observed.

I also started investigating something like thoughts, but more subtle and pervasive. Maybe I’d call them beliefs, narratives, or conceptual frameworks. Like, the underlying model that includes where I am, what I’m doing, and what is likely to happen next. I’ve been experimenting with seeing these things as fabrications and what unquestioned assumptions are based on them. It's crazy how pervasive these narratives are and how much they condition.

A lot of the difficult stuff that has been coming up has seemed more about existential anxiety about life and reality than old feelings of shame and insecurity and defense mechanisms. Maybe that is just because I've been on vacation and there are less triggers for the latter, and more opportunity to think about the big picture.

 On Dec 31, I was feeling really anxious that I was somehow wasting my time off work by not using it to be productive and somehow become a better person for the new year, and all this regret about my shortcomings was coming up. Then, during a workout, I suddenly had this poignant emotional realization along the lines of, “oh, I’ve been trying so hard to fulfill some ideal of personal development, and I’ve felt such shame for not reaching my standards of perfection. But there never was any agent who is falling short, and these ideals of perfection are constantly moving goalposts. My mind will keep doing its best, and learning from its mistakes, and things will turn out the way they turn out.”

The next day I slept in and did not get a chance to do any formal practice (which very rarely happens), but on Jan 2, when I sat down to practice, I realized that a large part of the illusion of a doer was seen through. Wherever I would look at the doer trying to control the breath, I would just see the constituent urges, thoughts, sensations, mental images conditioning each other and subsequent actions. The whole reaction chain was still there, and it was still kind of a problem, but there wasn’t the belief of “oh no, I am causing this reaction, I need to suppress it”, and so I wouldn’t go into the feedback loop of trying to control my urges to control.

This insight has really helped me deal with things like confusion and uncertainty and other hindrances that would make me think, “oh no, I need to fix this or I’m not practicing right”. Interestingly, despite this clarity into the doer illusion, the sense of a separate, continuous, central observer is as strong as ever. 

I watched an interview with Tucker Peck yesterday because I was considering whether I should try to find a teacher I could interact with face-to-face. He was talking about how before stream entry the only thing you can do is “trick” a student into having a no-self experience, how 2nd path is when you realize what tanha is, how he thinks arahants and anagamis practically don’t exist, how meditation is about “going from acting crazy to feeling crazy”, and how meditation is a way of being ok living next to the disgusting swamp of your mind. Some or all of this probably contradicted some of my cherished ideals about practice, because I felt really bummed out after listening to it.

I’ve been having a lot of doubts about my practice in general lately. I don’t think there’s any hope of getting stream entry outside of a retreat for me. I cycle through periods of bliss/pride/confidence, then despair/existential anxiety/disgust/shame, then repeats of those extremes within a newfound space of equanimity. I used to find all kinds of ways of telling myself that my struggles are some form of progress, but that is increasingly hard to believe. It feels really crushing to accept that I’ve worked so hard and haven’t made much progress, but what’s harder is that I can’t even be certain that is the correct conclusion. In reality I’ve probably been doing some combination of wasting my time and doing good and effective work. I guess one encouraging perspective is that I’ve been finding all the things that don’t lead to lasting reductions in suffering, though the onus is on me to actually apply what I’ve learned by not perseverating, for instance, on trying to get into more pleasant/deep/interesting mind states.

Another thought that brings a lot of doubt is recognizing how, whenever I write a practice report, I’m very often choosing what to say based on a fear of rejection and a need for positive feedback. So I’ll be thinking about advice or practice notes I’ve read on here and trying to report aspects of my experience that are similar. I’m probably not fooling anybody, but it has probably made me trust the advice I get less since part of me feels I’m on my own with shortcomings I haven’t admitted to.
As I suspected, there are still a lot of aspects of the doer that continue to drive reactivity, though they are subtle, fleeting, and diffuse. I’ll catch glimpses of it in that moment between some feeling of uncertainty and a subsequent urge to make a decision, come to a conclusion, or otherwise fill in the gap in knowing.

It’s been about a year since I was consistently doing the 5 elements practice, but for some reason I decided to revisit it this sit. I did the dakini visualizations quickly this time, and realized I was being overly neurotic about them before. I was also noticing how, yeah, physical sensations really do seem to be made up of stiffness/solidity, flowing/fluidity, heat/energy, motion/change, and space. I definitely felt some energy releases where reactive urges lessened and vision got a bit more vivid and I got a fuller sense of my body, especially for the fire element. The 5 elements and the reaction chain/pristine awareness pairs have always interested me because they seem so specific and non-obvious that it feels they really must be pointing to some fundamental neurological processes. I just wish I could perceive and understand more of all the qualities they are supposed to have.

My problem before was that it felt like I was trying to shoehorn sensations and reactions into one of the 5 element categories when they didn’t quite fit, but maybe that’s because I hadn’t penetrated beyond conceptual thinking in most ways. Since I’ve been looking a lot at the sense of “I” as doer, maybe I’ll experiment with trying to see if the 5 elements framework is a helpful model when investigating that. I’ve found that thoughts and mental images are often a big part of “me” sensation patterns, but I’m not sure if those have a place in the 5 elements framework.

Something that’s been occurring for a long time now is this feeling of disappointment and sense of nothing to look forward to. I’ve started to realize that this is triggered when I have a thought about the future that would normally get my excited and start fantasizing, like “Yes, I can’t wait to read about this topic/play this videogame/do a great job on this project.” So maybe a more encouraging interpretation of this feeling is that these fantasies are just getting seen for what they are, and I’m just getting used to not getting the hit of dopamine that comes from buying into them.

I think one thing that has been hard for me is that, all my life, reactivity has basically been the only way I get myself to be productive. I guess this is common with ADHD, but my MO is essentially to wait until a deadline is close enough that fear and shame force me to do the work. Of course, the work then becomes associated with fear and shame, which causes me to procrastinate again the next time in an effort to avoid those emotions. It’s been hard to deal with these emotions in meditation because they only arise when I’m trying to focus on a complex task, which sort of precludes paying attention to what my mind is doing. It is definitely worst when there is a lot of uncertainty in how to complete the task: the confusion and uncertainty consume more of attention while simultaneously triggering stronger feelings of shame and powerlessness. It must be frustrating for anyone who manages me: they’ve talked with this kid and know he is smart and knowledgeable and has a lot of potential, but he repeatedly fails to apply himself and disappoints. He clearly articulates how and where he needs to improve, but just doesn’t follow through and change his behavior. And what can you do? Applying more pressure is only going to make things worse.

I guess one thing I can do is try to imagine taking action that brings up the fear and shame during my sits, like in the 5 elements exercises in WUTYL. I’ve heard it can be best to set thoughts about work and stuff to the side during practice, but I’ve probably been using that as an excuse to avoid dealing with reactive patterns associated with work.

Anyway, one of my goals this year is to go on a 2-week vipassana retreat, ideally at Tathagatha Meditation Center. I’m not sure if they will offer one or if they’ll let me join for 2-weeks of their 1-2 month retreats, but we’ll see. I told my wife I wanted to do this, and she wasn’t very happy, though she took it a lot better than when I did the 1 week retreat at Spirit Rock last year, where I think the name of the place, its website, and its price tag gave the impression I was letting new age hippies scam me out of my money by appropriating Asian culture. But still, she was asking things like “What are you searching for? How long will you be searching? Will 2 weeks be enough, or are you going to think you need a month, and then 3 months, and then you’ll stop coming back at all? I’m glad someone on that website told you were mostly seeking experiences, because that’s what it feels like.” And I was trying to explain, saying I don’t know what I’m searching for, but I’m supposed to eventually realize that there is nothing to search for, but I haven’t realized it yet… and then I thought, “Wow, I do kind of sound like a spiritual crazy person. But come on, am I really the type of person to get irrationally obsessive and believe things with extreme confidence that in retrospect are crazy? Huh, yeah, I kind of am, actually. Shit.” And then I thought, “Well ok, but how many insight meditators really end up going off the rails and turning their lives into crazy spiritual quests while avoiding work and family responsibilities? Huh, um, a lot, actually. Shit.” So maybe this is a weird question, but how do I make sure I’m not going crazy? Do most people need 2-3 month retreats to get stream entry or make real progress, or can 2-3 weeks be enough? I guess retreats are the sticking point because a few hours of daily sitting is easy to pass off as a replacement for a hobby, or for TV or video game time, but most people don’t go spend several weeks of vacation to be alone doing their one activity in solitude. I guess ski or backpacking trips can last a week or two, but in those cases you are usually also spending quality time socializing with other people.

Eventually, she said, “I guess this meditation makes sense for you right now because work life is new for you and isn’t living up to the idealistic dreams you’ve had. But at some point you’ll have to accept that there’s nothing better than this in life. You just have to be ok with this emptiness, this sort of openness in everything, and move on with life.” Kind of made me think, maybe serious meditators like me aren’t so much getting more enlightened than everybody else, we just need to put in more work to come to the realizations that most people find naturally.
Chris M, modified 1 Year ago at 1/5/23 4:27 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 1/5/23 4:06 PM

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 5142 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
So maybe this is a weird question, but how do I make sure I’m not going crazy?

Meditation practice should have a baseline objective of basic sanity. The fruits of practice aren't the woo-woo things - those come along but they're not in any way the goal. The goal is rationality, common sense, and empathy for other living beings. Maybe you can set your sights on progressing along a practice vector that includes these things alongside the inevitable woo-woo stuff that pops up. You're not experiencing anything that others haven't. I can recall the feelings you've expressed from when I was in my early '20s. Don't confuse normal human emotion and the expression of commonly held dreams and desires as practice related. That's a box canyon and a trap we can get stuck in. Everything isn't practice related. Stay grounded!

Also, there is definitely a prize to be found by having a mediation practice. It can reveal who and more importantly, what, you truly are. This is not something most people ever discover. All the things you're struggling with, the temptations and doubts, are a form of dissatisfaction, otherwise known as suffering. Your practice can uncover how to recognize these in real-time and learn to see them for what they are - the Buddhist version of ignorance. Ignorance is continuing to allow our old habits and reactivity to govern our lives because we don't see the mind's processing of our experiences clearly. It need not be that way! You can dramatically reduce this kind of suffering, if not eliminate a lot of it. Practice is the key to unlocking the wisdom that defeats the never-ending dissatisfaction, confusion and doubt.