Falling Into Equanimity?

Aaron Schutz Schutz, modified 1 Year ago at 12/15/21 8:17 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/15/21 8:17 PM

Falling Into Equanimity?

Posts: 2 Join Date: 12/12/21 Recent Posts
Sorry if this is a bit long.  I was hoping some of you folks might have some insight into some recent experiences I've had.

I have attended about 100 total days at Goenka retreats, and am pretty conscious of their many limitations (as others have pointed out) including the limited capacity of their assistant teachers to understand anything out of their pretty narrow vision.  I think of it as the "Toyota Tercel" of powerful meditation techniques.  I've stuck with it in part because my issue is anxiety, and I've just felt like working with the "sensations on the body" is a pretty direct way to deal with it. And for a long time I didn't have access to anything more sophisticated.  I was considering taking a "noting" retreat this year (having read MCTB, seen many Ingram videos, read other stuff) but the last 10 day retreat tweaked me out so much that I thought I probably ought to stick with this till it smooths out.

Experience 1:
I was playing around with the idea of "equanimity"--what did it mean to be as equanimous as possible?  I had my eyes partly open (because I'm still learning not to use my eyes to move things around) and I was playing around with Ingram's spacial "mind hack"--keeping the room around me in my awareness.

And suddenly it was like I'd fallen four floors in an elevator.  And I was sitting there totally equanimous.  Had a peripheral overall sense of my body, my thoughts and the intensity of my feelings shut down by about half, and I could just sit there for hours at a time, "being" in the space.  

I spent about a day and a half investigating what had happened, and without craving, watching exactly what my body was doing when I fell into that state, until I could pretty much do it on command--not all the time, but mostly, at least in that intense meditation space.  I can still do it--it's become a core part of my technique at one level or another.

I'm certainly not anywhere near the "equanimity" stage, and it doesn't help unless I actually fall into that state.  Other characteristics are that I basically can't "do" anything in that state.  Any intentionality and I pop out of it.  I can observe, but I can't do the Goenka scanning, for example.  But I can tell I am "meditating" in their sense--the river of shit is still pouring out.

Does anyone know what this is?

Experience 2:
So once I'd stabilized the ability, and discovered I couldn't really "scan" in that state, I started back to body scanning.  And then I thought about how equanimous I was in that state.  So I moved my attention to a spot on my body with some kind of pain or blankness, and then descend into equanimity, and then observe the spot and, with a couple of exceptions, after kicking back, they'd dissolve after maybe 30 seconds or a minute.  I cleared out my entire chest in an hour.  Of course new stuff came back, but it felt like I cleared out decades of crap that had been laying around, leaving space for other things to come up.  The hour of clearing blew a circuit in my brain, and couldn't meditate for a couple hours.  Oh well.  Then I was fine.

Experience 3:
Before the equanimity, I had spent a couple of days in incredible rage--an issue I have with OCD in my head.  And I couldn't meditate, and the teacher was useless.  So I broke the rules and did a Tich Nhat Hahn.  I figured out where the rage was coming from (a spot about the size of an eraser) and just went and welcomingly sat there and made friends with it let it pour out all it's crap.  And I was able to tune the rage down over a day or so so that I could go back to meditating, although there's so much crap down there (whatever that means) that I don't think it's going to go away for a long time.  Thanks traumatic childhood.

I actually spent some time during that trip after the equanimity experience just sitting equanimously on especially heinous spots, observing and letting them pour out their crap.  But I think I did it too much, and when I finished the course it seemed like I'd opened them up, and they kept pouring out crap and it took me a week of meditation to finally get things to settle down.  So I think I'm going to be careful about doing that,.  Although, approached with equanimity and not aversion, I don't think there's anything wrong with it.

Note that my descriptions, above, are just about how I experience this.  I'm assuming that the metaphorics of the Goenka retreats has a lot to do with how it "feels" and that different techniques open things up differently.

So if anyone has any helpful thoughts or comments, I'd love to hear them.

I am not sure how Goenka's stuff fits with Daniel's maps.  Seems like you get into the "dark night of the soul" pretty damn quickly with that technique.  Long before you're experiencing anything like A&P (I'm nowhere close).  

I would like to try a noting retreat, but like I said, I'm a little concerned about doing a whiplash switch to a different technique when my body is used to doing this other stuff.  Not that I'm worried about Goenka's warnings about mixing techniques.  That's just stupid, at least in an abstract sense. 

(Although I understand why the assistant teachers don't want to mess around.  They are teaching an incredibly powerful technique that most really don't understand--a few are more sophisticated and flexible, but that's rare--that can send people off the deep end.  So I think they are legitimately worried about changing anything and creating a disaster because they just did something they didn't understand.  Yes, it's also a bit cultish.  And they often seem to actually believe what Goenka's saying, even though half of it is clearly just a story he made up that has nothing to do with actual texts to justify his rigidity and the fantasy of his direct connection to the Buddha.  But there is also a legitimate fear, there.  Feels like some science fiction story where they are worshiping a machine that has gone a bit wanky, but because the technology is beyond them, they can't do anything but keep worshiping with a watchful eye, lest they turn the wrong screw, which might lead to an explosion, make even more people have psychic breaks, and might destroy the benefits they had been getting and giving.)

​​​​​​​Thanks for listening emoticon
shargrol, modified 1 Year ago at 12/16/21 1:45 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/16/21 6:35 AM

RE: Falling Into Equanimity?

Posts: 1965 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Yeah, that hard state of equanimity is pretty cool. Only slow movements are possible. Thoughts are mostly gone. Unshakable... and the mind is bright and clear. It's like being a diamond. It's like being a mountain with eyes. emoticon

The progress of insight stages can happen fairly quickly for an experienced meditator on retreat. I wouldn't rule out calling that state Equanimity -- it has all the hallmarks of it. 


The big mistake that people make with the progress of insight model is that they think it is like a one-way ratchet like mechanism where each stage is achieved and locked in with no backsliding, so progress goes click, click, click... But nothing could be further from the truth. Metaphorically, it's more like a spring-loaded dial - the knob can twist freely in both directions, but there is a spring that tends to tug us back down. Many people can get momentary experiences of higher stages, but they don't last very long. They still have a lot of baggage that "pulls them back down". 

This is especially true when someone is hitting Equanimity regularly. What seems to happen is they reach EQ and their mind becomes very clear and wise. Then all of their baggage comes out of nowhere and they can now use their clear and wise mind to actually have insight into all those holdings and resistances. Perhaps the baggage drags them down, but they have also refined away some of the baggage too. This becomes somewhat paradoxical where the meditator feels like they are both making progress and backsliding at the same time. emoticon  But it's progress, it's how progress really happens. 

My little theory is that EQ creates a kind of psycholigical "safe space" which allows our neuroses and repressions to be brave enough to show themselves more clearly. All these little worries and fears want, ultimately, is to be seen and heard. So when it is safe they come out and when they are heard and seen (fully and attentively and respectfully, without shame, judgement, etc.) then their work is done and they go away.

Obviously the language I'm using make it sound mechanical -- it's really a big mess when it is happening -- but that's they way I would generalize the description of what happens.

For what it's worth, it sounds like good practice you're doing. I have a hunch that all of your "locating and going into knots" is essentially the same as what happens with noting/noticing!

Sounds like you need to trust your natural intelligence a bit more. There can be some fear when we move away from what other's have described as CORRECT PRACTICE, but if you look at every teacher out there... they all have personalized their practices and teaching. It can be funny to compare the writings/lectures of a few generations of teachers in the same lineage --- you can really see that THE ONE RIGHT WAY doesn't really exist. At a certain point, we have to own and customize our practice to match our own interests and curiousities and learn to trust the growing wisdom of your own mind. We practice not to become dependent on our teacher, but rather to become more and more independent and personally wise and clear minded.

Hope this helps in some way! 

shargrol, modified 1 Year ago at 12/16/21 6:50 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/16/21 6:50 AM

RE: Falling Into Equanimity?

Posts: 1965 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
By the way, now might be a good time to read Daniel's book, perhaps focused on the part with the stages of insight. I actually think you'll enjoy it and it will give you another angle to look at your personal experience.


mirage Samana, modified 1 Year ago at 12/16/21 2:59 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/16/21 2:59 PM

RE: Falling Into Equanimity?

Posts: 5 Join Date: 8/19/19 Recent Posts
Just want to say thank you for these posts.
shargrol, modified 1 Year ago at 12/16/21 5:23 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/16/21 5:23 PM

RE: Falling Into Equanimity?

Posts: 1965 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
thank you for the thank you emoticon
Stefan Stefan, modified 1 Year ago at 12/16/21 5:42 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/16/21 5:40 PM

RE: Falling Into Equanimity?

Posts: 238 Join Date: 3/28/21 Recent Posts
Equanimity is a skill. It's something we're learning to do. Basically, the path of insight describes how the mind tries to find how to get equanimity. It looks for shortcuts and looks for bypasses. The skill is essentially learning how to free up tension in the body and the mind. Experience 1 sounds like EQ to me for sure. 

If you actually look at the path of insight and see how it tracks against the progression of skill acquisition, you'll see very strong similarities. 
  • There's the initial application of the ideas in theory to achieve some success = first 3 nanas
  • There's the surge of skill that comes from being able to relatively effortlessly apply the ideas, but in a very constricted and non-open way = A&P
  • There's the realisation that the application of the skill is not just doing it in this controlled constricted and non-open away, so we get sad realising we weren't actually that good as we initially thought, our journey is not done yet = "dark night"
  • There's the realisation that this skill we're learning is so good, but there's so much crap in our way to realising the fruits of our work, we just wanna get away from all the bullcrap we've accumulated through our conditioning and just be at peace in the execution of this sublime skill = D4D
  • There's the "so close yet so far" realisation, we can choose to get this skill going if we let things go such as doubt, worry, fear, etc., which is roughly the re-observation period, we're going back through the lessons we've learned before and integrated them into one contiguous whole experience of the skill being executed, producing intrinsic peace = Re-obs
  • Now we've practised the skill enough that it is ingrained, it's unconscious to a degree, effortless, we can bend it, play with it, the skill is just another movement, an extension of this mind-body in action, we know where the pitfalls are and we're willing to explore them in a gentle nonjudgmental and non-tension-producing way = EQ
So yeah, you've found a way to get EQ, it sounds like EQ, so why question it? Everyone learns to get deeper and wider EQ with every sit and with every path. Taking the room as a reference is a really really strong technique to help get the mind into a very relaxed open and expansive state, you're applying the skill of mindfulness not in that constricted way, but being totally open with it, which is how the skill of EQ develops to become fully mature. A&P is a very immature version of EQ, because it isn't this open. it's so guarded and very prone to blindspots (this is why the A&P comes with the warning of the 10 corruptions of insight in the Buddhist manuals). We think we're so good, but we're just really advanced novices; we haven't learned to apply our skills to a vast array of contexts, situations, and internal states. I think you're definitely in some EQ for sure, because the A&P makes us think this surge of skill is the end. But EQ calls us on to try and play more with the skill in various contexts and with new sensations. That's how EQ builds. A&P is very stagnant, it has one mode, which is releasing tension, but ignoring a whole bunch of other stuff. It's very guarded and not very welcoming to unexpected sensations of tension arising. It can crash very easily. EQ is far more open and welcoming.

Analogously to another skill, it'd be like driving. Imagine you're an advanced novice, hell yeah! You can turn, signal, do U-turns all quite easily. But all of a sudden, there's a naughty driver up ahead of you that's swerving and driving a little erratically. Well, this panics you. It makes you tense. Everything was so good before this hooligan arrived on the scene. How do you handle it? Oh dear, turns out you're not the perfect driver you imagined. This is like A&P. It's very immature, it hasn't seen everything, only a few things from a very specific angle. And this is a major flaw. But EQ driving is like "hey there's this crazy driver, I'll slow down because driving safely is important. Or maybe I'll beep at him. Or maybe I'll take the next turn at the intersection and avoid him altogether". Because a skilled driver isn't phased by a loony on the road they -- don't get tense because they've seen it before, they know better than to get tense, they know getting tense only makes you a worse driver. They also know that they're not a perfect driver either, so they're not so arrogant to want to take over the driver. 

Once mindfulness is a part of the entire process, and the process is mindfulness, EQ is well and truly established. It sounds to me like you're well and truly on the way to building up the EQ skill. One thing I'd really suggest is now getting yourself back into the EQ and using new objects for your meditations, things like doubt (which you exhibit a little of here), anxiety, fear, aversion, desire, and what your self truly is.

Let the sinking keep happening, let everything sink into itself, let mindfulness pervade all sensations while all sensations pervade through mindfulness. Let them intermingle and play. And once play is done, relax further into the gentle inquiry. And so on... Until it happens. 

Keep going and have fun, this is a truly magical time
Aaron Schutz Schutz, modified 1 Year ago at 12/19/21 9:06 AM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/19/21 9:06 AM

RE: Falling Into Equanimity?

Posts: 2 Join Date: 12/12/21 Recent Posts
Thank you so much for these responses.  They are extremely helpful and certainly fit with what I've been thinking and push me in useful ways.  They represent very sophisticated ways of understanding the "maps," far beyond my understanding, and so the comments are really helpful.  I went back into MCTB in the last couple of days, and these comments made more sense of things--to me, at least.

This idea of using different objects is really intersting.  I'll try it.  

The description of A&P is really helpful to me.  I guess I've felt like A&P is so far away that I just don't even think about it (which is basically the way it should be) so this ability to drop into (some probably low level of) equanimity while still having anxiety a lot of the time otherwise seemed very bizarre to me.  And I couldn't fit it back into what MCTB was saying.  

By the way, I think that Daniel's "mind hack" of being in the "room" is an extremely powerful tool.  I started playing around with it after I heard his story of not being able to go into the "default network" mode in the MRI machine before I heard he'd made it into a "hack."  I think it's key to what allowed me to make a shift.  I think this is a talk where he describes it: https://youtu.be/qsyP80BydV4
shargrol, modified 1 Year ago at 12/19/21 5:01 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/19/21 5:01 PM

RE: Falling Into Equanimity?

Posts: 1965 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Wow, I hadn't seen that Daniel video. Excellent!
shargrol, modified 1 Year ago at 12/19/21 5:06 PM
Created 1 Year ago at 12/19/21 5:06 PM

RE: Falling Into Equanimity?

Posts: 1965 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Youtube also linked to this, also excellent!