Confusion about "where" I'm at. I.e. Trying Noting and in Doubt.

Davide Luce, modified 2 Months ago.

Confusion about "where" I'm at. I.e. Trying Noting and in Doubt.

Posts: 5 Join Date: 11/18/21 Recent Posts
Hi Everyone, 

Thanks to whoever will take the time to read this long post and apologies if it's too long.

This is my first message on the forum I couldn't find an introduction section, I'm Davide. 31M and I have been practicing (focusing on the breath) for the past 6 years, past 3 years more thoroughly (following TMI) and the past year+ daily (avg 40 minutes a day).

The start of the thorough TMI practice was kickstarted by an experience with Ayahuasca that some teachers from TheMindIlluminated community diagnosed as A&P. I do not know if the diagnosis is correct, I know it felt like "enligthenment", oneness, totally melting with the universe (merging with everything in one vibration that sounded like the OM), loss of ego, being every small part of everything and the everything itself, that was mostly made of love, yadda yadda.", I have checked the sticky post on this section about the 4th nhana and it sounds like A&P indeed.

Since that day in Feb 2018 I started practicing following Culadasa's TMI up to stage 5 or 6. After a year or so I had another interesting experience that was also "trippy" with lights and very overwhelming, strong feelings 40 minutes into a sit: it was so intense I felt like I couldn't breathe and had to gasp for air and end the sit. Things got "better" on my sits after (could get very very absorbed) for a bit and then started getting worse. Mostly, I believe, because I expected (and still do expect) such things to happen when I'm sitting and I see phenomena like that as a sign of progress. I thought it was a first jhana(?) and since then I have been sitting expecting to enter jhanas, to feel piti etc. and getting confused about what I am experiencing during my sits.

For the past year my sits have been more or less all the same: 
- 15/20 minutes of metta
Notes on that: The last bit where I wish well to all beings, it's very nice and gets me very absorbed in the feeling, and makes me feel like I am one with all beings and we are all doing metta together, it's a very pleasant effortless state of union.
Starting to focus on the breath.
My attention is pretty stable, distractions are very scattered and in the background, they are more like flashbacks that last a split of a second and disappear and don't take the main stage, I'm still anchored to the breath (content could be past, future or imagination).
I then do a body scan mostly because it's what I'm used to since stage 5. I noticed when doing body scan distractions are more prominent and sometimes I even wander a bit.
Then the sit could take several directions: 
1. Sometimes I feel like my whole body is breathing
: inflating and deflating on its own and out of sync with the breath.
2. Sometimes I feel like my mind shifts gears(?) and I am very very present, I am sort of watching all sensations one after the other happen as if they are in a stream, but they are just showing up and passing one super fast in real time, so fast that if the sensation is a thought it's usually just the knowledge that a though it's forming, doesn't have time to become a thought itself.
3. Sometimes I get dull and have visuals and visions that I think are just hypnagogic hallucinations
4. Sometimes nothing happens and I feel like getting up.

I take these 4 different directions at around the 40 minutes mark. That's when I usually end the sit because:
1. My whole body is breathing, ok cool, now what? 
2. Oh now my mind shifted gear and I'm very absorbed, fun for a bit then it ends or I don't know what to do with that, so I just get up
3. Feel like there's no point keep going while half dreaming, so I just get up
4. Oh nothing is happening, I'm just watching the breath and get the occasional distraction, might as well just get up.

The will to get up comes on its own (well like everything, right?) sometimes with a pain in my shoulder that makes it easier to quit.

Given these "annoying" sits where I get up at 40 mins cause I just don't know what to do! I started reading MTCTB and Sayadaw's manual on noting and have practiced for the past few weeks and I have noticed the following: 

On the cushion it feels like it's just Samatha with labelling whatever my attention goes to. On top of that I can't note many times a second + 3 characteristics, I can just keep one characteristic in mind while noting (I'm slow, more than one thing a second). 
Off the cushion noting is more interesting. It brings me present and "mindful" spontaneously more often. Lately I have been spending more and more time off the cushion in this weird very present state (whether I'm noting before or not, this state comes more often now) it feels like coming up on acid, everything slows down, the world is more real and at the same time less real (hard to describe).
This state would come about also after a very good samatha session (usually when they take directions 1 or 2). For the first time though, a few days ago this state had also a happy flavour to it. I was in awe with everything, the world was just so frigging beautiful, I was in a park and could stare at trees forever and just felt overwhelmed by how beautiful everything is. The other day it had a disturbing flavour to it. I kept noting while on a walk with my dog "stepping, stepping, breathing, watching, thinking, stepping" thinking about no-self as a characteristic and realised my body was just doing stuff on its own and I had no agency, cause even things I intended to do, or even the intention to do things itself would arise before me noting them, so who the heck is doing that stuff? I felt like I was watching a robot (me) go about its life.

I added these off the cushion states hoping it helps diagnose where I'm at. I have never had a teacher or experienced people in a community to ask about these things and help me on this path and now I really feel like a traveller who can't read the map. What can I do to avoid feeling like I hav eno idea how to continue my sits past the 40 minutes mark? For someone at this stage what are techniques or practices I should add to samatha or replace samatha with? Should I go ahead and read past stage 6 in TMI and try some of the stage 7/8 techniques? Or just keep noting? I feel a bit lost emoticon
Martin, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Confusion about "where" I'm at. I.e. Trying Noting and in Doubt.

Posts: 325 Join Date: 4/25/20 Recent Posts
I'm not a teacher, so I would rather not take a stab at offering advice in terms of what you should or should not do, but I will say that it sounds like you are doing a lot right. You seem to have a really good practice that you are taking of the cushion in beneficial ways. That's excellent! Not everyone has such good luck with their practice. 

You might want to look at Leigh Brasington's Right Concentration as a complementary source for information on jhanas, if that is where your interest is drawing you. 
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Confusion about "where" I'm at. I.e. Trying Noting and in Doubt.

Posts: 2197 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Hi Davide,

Lots of exciting stuff there! If you've read MCTB/Mahasi, you know the "goal" is to get into equanimity and then fruition right? Currently it looks like you are stuck in the A&P<->DN washer cycle (clinging to the highs, pushing away the lows). Try doing a longer sit and really investigating the resistance that arises at the 40 minute mark. This feeling of "don't know what to do" which is pushing you to get up, where is that in the body? Also check out shargrol's posts which contain lots of pratical tips about how to navigate into equanimity, and more!
Davide Luce, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Confusion about "where" I'm at. I.e. Trying Noting and in Doubt.

Posts: 5 Join Date: 11/18/21 Recent Posts
Hi George and Martin,&nbsp;<br /><br />Thanks a lot for the feedback! It's great to have people helping me out directly, rather than trying to match my experiences with what I can find online.<br /><br />@George by DN you mean Dark Night? I don't really feel depressed or down in any part of the cycle really! I just started reading MTCTB will definitely look into fruition/equanimity and I will also read further TMI stages today and try to use some of the techniques there if my concentration is good enough.<br /><br />I had one more sit yesterday after this post, was pretty ok, as usual when I body scan my mind gets a bit more distracted than when I'm just following the breath and when I'm following the breath I'm not sure my attention/awareness are balanced or I'm focusing too much and too narrowly.<br /> 
George S, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Confusion about "where" I'm at. I.e. Trying Noting and in Doubt.

Posts: 2197 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Yes DN = Dark Night (dukkha nanas). It doesn't have to be particularly heavy, but there is usually some period of transition coming down off the high of A&P and going into the calm of Equanimity. Typical characteristics are things you mention like confusion, doubt, restlessness, distraction, annoying, disturbing. I would investigate the urge to get up, there may be some resistance there to some aspect of your experience which is not being seen clearly yet. You could also investigate judgements like "things getting better" and "things getting worse". Equanimity is basically where you stop thinking of things as being better or worse, and just accept and gently investigate things as they actually are. So if you feel lost ... then investigate what it feels like to be lost! (sensations in the body, associated thoughts. You can only feel lost if you think there is somewhere to get to which is different from where you are ...)
Adi Vader, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Confusion about "where" I'm at. I.e. Trying Noting and in Doubt.

Posts: 70 Join Date: 6/29/20 Recent Posts
In meditation we train perception related mind to develop some observational qualities and then deploy that in investigation (this investigation can happen un-intentionally. We do these perception related exercises to change our mental models and thus tranform our emotional states to be almost permanently calm.

Our emotional states, in the process of the arc of development, can include a tremendous amount of excitement in certain developmental stages of concentration as well as insight practice.

In concentration practice when attention starts to greatly stabilize, with mindfulness and energy very high (something like TMI stage 6 ish) we can experience Access Concentration. Access Concentration is a broad spectrum going from a sudden cliff in effort right upto a synesthetic phenomena called nimitta. In this stage if attention and awareness are out of balance with a lot of power in attention and less power in awareness then we experience kundalini phenomena. Excitement levels go haywire. very harsh priti up and down the spine, visual auditory and tactile hallucinations etc. This is one possibility of where you are. An immature access concentration.

But if access concentration further matures then slowly all physical senses are tranquilized - no experience of any of the 5 senses (or atleast greatly subdued) and then the breath nimitta arises. This is a very very astounding and earth shattering phenomena - the first couple of times it happens. Some people don't get this phenomena visaully at all! the only experience the excitement, the awe, the splendour but the light is missing! This is also the breath nimitta just that its presentation is unusual. This is the second possibility.

In the vicinity of access concentration showing up / attention greatly stabilizing ... now you can track objects - Fully!! You can track them from their very creation to their fluctuation to their death. It may start with something like an itch or a sound of a mosquito buzzing and then if deliberately applied then all phenomena can seem like that. This is the insight into the arising annd passing away. The fourth stage on the PoI map. If the 4 stages are very deep insights, then jointly they are the insight into emptiness. the constructed nature of all phenomena. Some cognitive changes have permanently taken place. A statement like - all of conscious experience is constructed by the mind, all meaning is imputed into it by the mind. Such a statement represents the cognitive transformation and such a statement makes intuitive 'sense'. You arent playing intellectual games, or duping yourself. If it doesnt make sense ... its not the A&P. This lifts a very heavy load off your shoulders at least for some time. Now you know all of the adversity in your life was 'constructed'. This is also very exciting. Generally in concentration practice one gets the A&P any which way. If attention stabilizes then the A&P is kind of inevitable I guess. And none of the first person behavioural accounts are of any use. Everybody does not jump out of the bathtub screaming Eureka, everybody does not want to form a world religion. All of that is very personality dependent.

Use this to diagnose.

Supplement your shamatha practice with an insight practice. Use the rubric of the 6 sense doors. Then use the rubric of the Sati Patthana, then use the rubric of DO, then use the rubric of the 5 aggregates. Learn to pay attention mindfully - start by labeling if required, move on to noting if required then try to move on to simply being mindfully aware - tracking objects fully sense door by sense door. Then move on to intentionally being aware that you are aware of ... 'object' .... now you are doing vi-pashyana
Davide Luce, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Confusion about "where" I'm at. I.e. Trying Noting and in Doubt.

Posts: 5 Join Date: 11/18/21 Recent Posts
Hi Adi Vader, Thanks a lot for the reply it's extremely helpful! A few notes that can maybe help me a bit further
In concentration practice when attention starts to greatly stabilize, with mindfulness and energy very high (something like TMI stage 6 ish) we can experience Access Concentration. Access Concentration is a broad spectrum going from a sudden cliff in effort right upto a synesthetic phenomena called nimitta. In this stage if attention and awareness are out of balance with a lot of power in attention and less power in awareness then we experience kundalini phenomena. Excitement levels go haywire. very harsh priti up and down the spine, visual auditory and tactile hallucinations etc. This is one possibility of where you are. An immature access concentration.
I really do not experience Kundalini / energetic phenomena much, not as overwhelming and strong as people make them online at least. More than my mind shifting gears and becoming very very present or feeling my entire body breathing on its own (out of sync with my breath. I.e. contracting when breathing in and expanding when breathing out) There's not much there. And it is a bit of a hindrance honestly, cause I kind of think I should be able to get into these states and end up craving jhanas or start looking for them, which obviously doesn't help at all emoticon&nbsp;
Supplement your shamatha practice with an insight practice. Use the rubric of the 6 sense doors. Then use the rubric of the Sati Patthana, then use the rubric of DO, then use the rubric of the 5 aggregates. Learn to pay attention mindfully - start by labeling if required, move on to noting if required then try to move on to simply being mindfully aware - tracking objects fully sense door by sense door. Then move on to intentionally being aware that you are aware of ... 'object' .... now you are doing vi-pashyana
Yep I think that's what I'm going to do. Especially because since I started noting that present feeling where the world slows down and I'm fully aware of everything I'm doing millisecond by millisecond arises more spontaneously and sometimes comes with this blissful state where every single thing in this universe is just too beautiful. As I said the last few days when walking around town I felt like I guess a little kid feels when first arriving at Disneyland or sth. Everything was just incredibly beautiful. I remember having a song stuck in my head (unfortunately I think it's part of my undiagnosed ADHD) and just being in awe with music itself and how wonderful it is that it exists, like everything else. Than a leaf fell off a tree and oh my God, I was just filled with joy.<br /><br />It's "good" I know, I just need to find a way to stop craving jhanas and altered states in concentration or learn to access them, cause that's my itch atm.
Adi Vader, modified 2 Months ago.

RE: Confusion about "where" I'm at. I.e. Trying Noting and in Doubt.

Posts: 70 Join Date: 6/29/20 Recent Posts
The craving for attainments is very real. It has to be managed. There are two things that you can do and see which one works for you:

1. Substitution - bamboozle yourself into getting aligned with a different attitude. Decide that I simply wish to cultivate the skills, and I dont really care about the results. My job as a yogi is to get better at the skills and keep applying them in predetermined ways, ways that I intellectually know lead to progress. 

2. Abandoning - softening the affective component of 'wanting' and continue wanting. To want something without being passionate about it. To abandon doesnt mean to turn away - turning away is substitution. It means you reduce the emotional entanglement. Whenever the thought comes up I want to do Jhana it is accompanied by passion I want it Now! Now! Now! Now!, OK fine that is not possible .... I want it tomorrow! tomorrow! tomorrow!. If you find this happening relax, dont turn away your gaze from the wanting ... relax the body relax the mind take deep slow abdominal breaths gently and silently sighing on the outbreath ... put down the load, but not the aspiration

Both substituion and Abandoning align you with the process and not the 'getting' of the jhana. Abandoning is better because it teaches you that wanting something is not the problem - that is not what is meant by trishna, upadana, bhava, jati .... You can want without all the drama.

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