High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Danny Sawyer, modified 4 Months ago.

High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 44 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 4 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 74 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 4 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 1654 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 4 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 5981 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 Sawyer, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 44 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..
Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 5981 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. 
Danny S, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 44 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.
Kaloyan Stefanov, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 74 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 4 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 1654 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 Marti, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 4073 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
SigmaTropic, modified 4 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 146 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 4 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 44 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 4 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 2112 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 4 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 44 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 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 44 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 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 1654 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 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 44 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 Months ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 1654 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 1 Month ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 44 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 1 Month ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 2112 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 1 Month ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 89 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 1 Month ago.

RE: High equanimity after 2-day retreat?

Posts: 74 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.