Tunnels, lights, figures in meditation during first retreat

Ashley Stewart, modified 7 Months ago at 4/29/22 11:41 AM
Created 7 Months ago at 4/29/22 11:41 AM

Tunnels, lights, figures in meditation during first retreat

Posts: 8 Join Date: 2/17/22 Recent Posts
I went on my first 10-day Goenka sponsored retreat last month after starting breath focused meditation 2 years ago. I have been attempting to attain Jhana with only modest results. on a good day I can maybe get into low first Jhana I think. During the retreat I learned the vipassana via the body scanning method and had strong insight resulting in stream entry. this is not what I am curious about however. a day or two later I decided to try out concentration practices just to see what I could do since my focus was ramped up to such a high level that I was getting flashing light nimmita even outside of meditation. I briefly focused on a black Pebble set on a white cushion to gain quicker concentration, a no no for the center, but I felt it would help. during the session I saw what look like a light at the end of a tunnel with rings of light telescoping down towards it as if I were backing into a hillside tunnel. then the focus ring of light and eventually the entire tunnel became moving kaleidoscopic colors and patterns while maintaining the same form. eventually the kaleidoscopic tunnel resolved back into a central white circle with a seated figure and meditation. the figure looked a bit like glass in front of a bright light as it was entirely translucent. the tunnel remained kaleidoscopic leading down to that focal point. during this experience I was the most equanimous I have ever been in my life, none of it seem to matter whatsoever though it is a feat I would dearly like to replicate now. in fact eventually the ache in my backside caused me to abandon the concentration and wander outside to practice vipassana in the strong Sun and cold wind. So....What was That? did I manage to send myself far into the Jhanas? I think the equanimity stressed on the Goenka retreats had something to do with assisting the Jhana even though I was told flatly to stay away from them as they were dangerous. Please help, I am practicing alone and often founder on simple missteps a teacher would know to avoid. I sit daily for at least 45 minutes usually focused on breath sometimes on a circular Kasina. Thanks in advance.
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 7 Months ago at 4/29/22 12:32 PM
Created 7 Months ago at 4/29/22 12:32 PM

RE: Tunnels, lights, figures in meditation during first retreat

Posts: 6857 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
Hi Ashley, and welcome to this forum! I hope you will like it here.

It does sound like jhanic territory, and a very cool experience at that. It doesn't sound dangerous to me. 

Vision seems to be a strong doorway for you. From where I stand, it sounds like something you might want to experiment with more. It probably wouldn't be a good idea to be open about that to the Goenka organization, though, if you wish to go for more retreats there, as they reserve continuous teachings for practicioners solely devoted to their methods. 

Personally, I think that discarding jhanas as dangerous is nonsense. Sure, eventually practicioners need to let go of attachment to jhanas, just like other attachments, but the most of us aren't there yet. Jhanas can be very helpful for getting there. Some even say that you can't get there without them. I wouldn't go that far. I think it makes sense to lead with one's strength. You seem to have knack for concentration. I see no reason to restrain yourself for practicing something that comes naturally to you and that doesn't harm anyone. 

​​​​​​​If you do worry about harm for some reason, you could always start your sessions with the Brahmaviharas and end with dedicating the benefit to the liberation and wellbeing of all beings. 

Best wishes for your practice and wellbeing! 
Ashley Stewart, modified 7 Months ago at 4/29/22 2:00 PM
Created 7 Months ago at 4/29/22 2:00 PM

RE: Tunnels, lights, figures in meditation during first retreat

Posts: 8 Join Date: 2/17/22 Recent Posts
Thanks for the support. I have noticed that visual meditation objects like my painted Kasina are much more active and engaging as compared for waiting on the motion of breath , perhaps it's just my ADD. I am not terribly concerned about their fear of concentration states. I would like to learn how to replicate those very strong results during my daily practice and I'm looking for good advice there. I've read Leigh Brasington and other works on Jhana but I struggle with it during daily practice. when I get tingling bursts of what I identify as Piti. I am unable to shift my concentration to them as they fade away rapidly. if I ignore them they seem to just go away and not come back. I don't know what I am doing wrong other than perhaps wanting it too much there seems to be a fine line to walk for equanimity that is engaged. 
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Linda ”Polly Ester” Ö, modified 7 Months ago at 4/29/22 2:48 PM
Created 7 Months ago at 4/29/22 2:48 PM

RE: Tunnels, lights, figures in meditation during first retreat

Posts: 6857 Join Date: 12/8/18 Recent Posts
Try staying with your meditation object as your main focus while also keeping the joy and pleasantness of the tinglings in your awareness. Eventually the figure and ground will probably shift as the jhanic factors grow stronger. When that happens, let them. 
Ashley Stewart, modified 4 Months ago at 7/28/22 3:17 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/28/22 11:37 AM

RE: Tunnels, lights, figures in meditation during first retreat

Posts: 8 Join Date: 2/17/22 Recent Posts
Thanks for the advice, in the last weeks I have gone back to basics and am doubling down on focusing on the tip of my nose and not letting my mind wander or getting excited which of course causes the collapse of any refined mental states. I am slowly improving my daily life circumstances to assist this concentration, cutting out alcohol and regularly observing my internal desires for pleasure and aversion. on a good day I start to notice a little bit of the nimitta but I do not have the stillness to generate the flashing lights that seem to link up with the breath and resolve into a large circular glowing object that seems stable and entirely real as I did during retreat. I still don't really know exactly the territory I encountered on retreat but aspects of it definitely seem to line up with at least the first jhana. thanks for your assistance. 
shargrol, modified 4 Months ago at 7/28/22 1:15 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/28/22 1:15 PM

RE: Tunnels, lights, figures in meditation during first retreat

Posts: 1878 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Ashley, it can be good to know that there are phases of practice that are fairly predictable (if someone has a consistent daily practice and goes on occassional retreats). This is called the "progress of insight". Unfortunately, it's also one of those topics, like jhanas, where there are a lot of different opinions about what is right/wrong, good to know/too much information, etc. 

The best approach is to have a group and experience meditator to talk to. Then you don't need to know where you are on a map, you can trust your peers/teacher.  But if you are doing this alone, I think it's important to know about the progress of insight.

Basically, it's very common to have peak experience and then have difficulty "getting back" to it. Often the peak experience creates a new sensitivity to challenging psychological stuff, so it feels like things are getting worse even though the mind is getting more refined. 

I'll just leave it there for now, but I wanted to make sure you had the opportunity to hear about the idea of "progress of insight". 

​​​​​​​Best wishes for your practice!!
Ashley Stewart, modified 4 Months ago at 7/28/22 3:15 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/28/22 3:15 PM

RE: Tunnels, lights, figures in meditation during first retreat

Posts: 8 Join Date: 2/17/22 Recent Posts
Thanks shargrol, I appreciate the advice. I am a lone practitioner I don't think there is a meditation group within a hundred miles of here so this community is a very helpful resource. since my first retreat and a whole series of back-to-back intense experiences of differing natures I have definitely noticed a subtle  "leveling up" of my awareness both on and off the cushion as well as the manner in which I react to it. I am currently working on being comfortable where I am in progress rather than having a constant mental striving for a goal that is out of reach often as a result of that srtiving. the thing that stands out about my experience is that I didn't do anything, it happened on its own. all of these techniques concerning refocusing attention and shifting from breath to pleasure etc seem to actually get in the way. I can't really pinpoint where I went from focusing on my breath with the occasional flashing light in the background to full on absorbed into a circular white light with shrinking rings which I am fairly certain were timed with my breathing. it's that murky transition point for which I have been searching my memory and can find virtually nothing which is why I'm certain it happened all on its own. it seems that after a while I just happened to notice that things were different but I was so equanimous that none of it seemed to matter. I suspect the building could have caught on fire and I would not have been greatly concerned, LOL. 
pieva, modified 4 Months ago at 7/28/22 3:23 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/28/22 3:20 PM

RE: Tunnels, lights, figures in meditation during first retreat

Posts: 35 Join Date: 3/15/19 Recent Posts
As shargrol said, after getting high you are likely to get low. That's the cyclicity. When low, you might feel that you are failing. But the progress of meditation is not measured in strength of experiences. Your task is to stay equanimous, accept the difficult states of mind and whatever concentration you have. Stop yourself from craving for... guess what?
Ashley Stewart, modified 4 Months ago at 7/28/22 4:36 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 7/28/22 4:36 PM

RE: Tunnels, lights, figures in meditation during first retreat

Posts: 8 Join Date: 2/17/22 Recent Posts
Yes, I have noticed the rotating up and down nature of this process as well as my reaction to that experience. I am working my way through Mahasi Sayadaw's Manual of Insight, which gave a pretty good treatment to the subject, and I have read Daniel Ingram's book as well which goes into a good bit of detail. I will say that none of my reading really prepared me for the emotional roller coaster I went on during the retreat, the experience of something is often much more than any written description can convey. 
​​​​​​​thanks for your concern and best of luck

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