Thoughts on Vipassana: a practise log?

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Kevin Andrew, modified 14 Days ago at 6/13/22 8:35 PM
Created 14 Days ago at 6/13/22 8:33 PM

Thoughts on Vipassana: a practise log?

Posts: 15 Join Date: 5/6/10 Recent Posts
A place to record what I think about before, during or after a sit. 
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Kevin Andrew, modified 12 Days ago at 6/15/22 10:12 PM
Created 12 Days ago at 6/15/22 10:12 PM

RE: Thoughts on Vipassana: a practise log?

Posts: 15 Join Date: 5/6/10 Recent Posts
I practise Goenka-style Vipassana. 6 years, last 2 years seriously. I've struggled with expressing my thoughts to my family so I thought this would be a good place to organize my thoughts before compiling them and 'laying it on them' so to speak.

Part of why I'm doing this is for anyone who is looking for a personal account of a Goenka student. I see a lot of new-age-y stuff from dilettantes and hostility from others who think it's too doctrinaire or severe. Not necessarily here but around. I found the first 10-day tough; I tell others it's the toughest thing I've ever done besides dealing with the death of my parents. Your mileage may vary. There will be more about this over time I think...

The first observation I want to make is the most valuable thing I got from the first course. I paraphrase "If there is anything you've heard here that you have trouble with, leave it aside and remember the technique". I am a firm believer that Buddhism has a ton of cultural accretion obscuring what Gotama was about. I spent years reading about Buddhism and not practising because I was raised Irish-Catholic (if you don't get what that means read 'Trinity' by Leon Uris) and had a very hard time putting down a lot of my core suppositions. It made me suspicious. I wasn't about to take on new ones in the guise of eastern mysticism.

Finally the day came when it became clear that I had to take the leap, because death by a thousand cuts still gets you dead it just takes longer than you'd like. I think I was lucky because the technique appears to have been made for me. Almost everything I experienced on my first course I was familiar with, in a range of different contexts. More on that later...

My understanding of the Path comes from some suttas, the Dhammapada and 3 or 4 books on neuroscience, all the other reading being a bit of a waste of time (ahem... Allan Watts...). I found MCTB a dozen years ago on-line and read it 3 times, back to back. It also has a lot to do with my views. However, I am not a big fan of the maps other than knowing they exist and as for claiming attainments... well... I believe whole-heartedly that scripting experiences is a thing, is hard to avoid and leads to much disputation etc. Not generally conducive to practise.

Having said that, at one point I finally realized that all that I thought I knew about Buddhism was wrong. The only good way to describe it is as if metaphor, or the ability to be metaphorical, had been deleted from the world. I believe I had not been putting enough concreteness in the words written by those who were describing the Path. I now think that what was being described was very very simple but the writers only had their personal internal experiences and an ancient vernacular with which describe them, a vernacular which tended to the mystical. Again, more on that later...

As for practise; 2 hours a day, morning and evening for the last year. I struggled getting up and running the first year with 1 hour a day but got that down by the 3rd course. It was hard. After serving a course I found the motivation to make room for 2 hours and now I only miss a sit for a specific good reason. Life sometimes trumps Path. No truck with laziness!!

Rapid progress (or change) began with the added hour. The morning sit usually introduces new territory and the evening sit develops on that base. Or not, but definitely there are fewer sticking points with a 2 hour per day regimen.

What I describe here will sound clinical. I try to avoid religious/spiritual/nebulous phraseology. If things change and the touchy-feely becomes necessary then I guess I'll adapt but until then I will be trying to avoid the words I see in various translated texts from days gone by. No-self will be a challenge. I'm not saying I'm special just that if I were to describe my experience right now it would be 'pressure in the temples, radiating over and behind the eyes, with waves of tingling through-out the body into the extremities', 'random thoughts about sexual urges manifesting physically in places other than the genitals' 'nerve nexus in the centre of the chest snapping' etc. I may refer to sankhara as short-hand for... more on that later.

Feel free to comment or ask questions, I will read them. I may not respond other than 'Hi. Thanks', don't be offended. If I see something that makes me go 'hmmm...' I'll acknowledge it. I'm not really here to discuss or argue, I get enough of that irl. I'm just thinking out loud.
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Smiling Stone, modified 9 Days ago at 6/18/22 2:24 AM
Created 10 Days ago at 6/17/22 4:17 AM

RE: Thoughts on Vipassana: a practise log?

Posts: 262 Join Date: 5/10/16 Recent Posts
Hi Kevin,
Welcome on the forum! (edit : I see that you were active on Dho more than ten years ago, on  a thread with a few ex-Goenkaites, so pardon me for assuming you were new here ...)
Looking forward to reading your log.
Coming from this tradition as well ...
with metta
smiling stone
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Kevin Andrew, modified 7 Days ago at 6/20/22 8:12 PM
Created 7 Days ago at 6/20/22 1:08 PM

RE: Thoughts on Vipassana: a practise log?

Posts: 15 Join Date: 5/6/10 Recent Posts
So the format will be, for now, Practise update, History, Random Thoughts. I expect it will change, as all things do.

Practise: General deepening of concentration as has been the norm for about the last 2 - 2 1/2 years. Accompanied by ongoing exploration of my crop of sankhara. The bodily split is getting slightly less pronounced in the last 2 months. The 'thing on the side of my head' as I like to call it is still changing. Awareness of sensations is pretty continuous. Unless I am concentrating on a task requiring high precision or one that presents some amount of hazard I am aware of sensations on almost the entire body. Surface and a significant volume of the interior as well. Strangely this experience of sensations becomes quite intense when I am driving, an activity you would think requires significant concentration. Hmmm...
I have a sibling on the same path. I stopped giving them updates because the updates became pretty repetitive 'deepening concentration... intensifying sensations'. Today (20th) is a fine example. Sweeping is becoming more refined, sensations more intense. Based on this mornings activities I don't think they will be fading into the background at all going forward. Annica...
​​​​​​​
History: My first course was hard. The first sit in the morning is 2 hours and generally optional at the centre I attend. I sat in a chair due to a knee injury that makes cross-legged sitting impossible. After less than an hour I would be crippled for days. As it turned out the chair almost had the same effect. My entire body was screaming for relief by the time the chanting started. It was a unique experience of pain I have never encountered before nor care to again. Not the greatest start to day 1! I adapted by using cushions which I believe helped me, over the course, to achieve a deeper state of concentration than I otherwise could have. Learning to balance on a pillar of pillows while keeping your back straight is hard. While learning anapana as well is hard, on stilts.
A very definite moment occurred on day 2 when I knew I could complete the course. During the post-breakfast sit, just before the chant began, a voice in my head (more on that later...) said quite loudly and firmly "Loser! Loser!! LOSER!!!" It was very upsetting. For a few moments all I felt was defeat. Then I thought to myself 'fuck that...' and started over, concentrating on the feeling of breath on my upper lip. The chanting began. I left the dhamma hall still quite upset. I quickly calmed myself down and upon returning for the next sit I found that I could in fact focus my attention if I tried.

​​​​​​​Random Thoughts: The first course is indeed difficult. You are told this in the information provided and on my first course they took the trouble to actually ask 'Are you ready to do 100 hours of meditation, in silence?' On one course I attended, a new student quit on the afternoon of day 9, straight off the cushion and out to their room. I heard part of the discussion between them and the AT a bit later. The student was distraught, who knows why. Literally hours before Noble Silence ended, they left. My advice to anyone reading this who may consider doing a course: Be ready to face questions you never knew you had. Don't expect answers. If you are under care for personal issues this is probably not for you. Even if you are not under care for personal issues, you will face challenges you never knew you had. If you do go, follow the instructions, do not ad-lib. Also consider that by being accepted for the course someone else may not have been. Honor the opportunity.
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Chris M, modified 7 Days ago at 6/20/22 1:31 PM
Created 7 Days ago at 6/20/22 1:31 PM

RE: Thoughts on Vipassana: a practise log?

Posts: 4417 Join Date: 1/26/13 Recent Posts
Hello, Kevin. I'm looking forward to reading your comments!
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Kevin Andrew, modified 7 Days ago at 6/20/22 7:10 PM
Created 7 Days ago at 6/20/22 7:10 PM

RE: Thoughts on Vipassana: a practise log?

Posts: 15 Join Date: 5/6/10 Recent Posts
Hi Smiling Stone
​​​​​​​Thanks!
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Kevin Andrew, modified 7 Days ago at 6/20/22 7:10 PM
Created 7 Days ago at 6/20/22 7:10 PM

RE: Thoughts on Vipassana: a practise log?

Posts: 15 Join Date: 5/6/10 Recent Posts
Hi Chris
Thanks!
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Kevin Andrew, modified 7 Days ago at 6/20/22 8:04 PM
Created 7 Days ago at 6/20/22 7:55 PM

RE: Thoughts on Vipassana: a practise log?

Posts: 15 Join Date: 5/6/10 Recent Posts
So, start a log and things happen that beg to be recorded. Who knew? Well then, to work...

Practise: Same as ever, deeper concentration...deeper sensation... however this afternoon's sit again went much deeper, such that at the moment my awareness of sensations is about where it would have been on the cushion a few months ago. My head is a balloon, I feel I am radiating heat like a light-bulb and as I type I feel the 'pressure' in my head slowly moving down my body. Trunk, arms, legs. On course they talk about vibrations but I describe them as pressure, tingling, heat or a few other things. Anyway, it continues. A side effect of progress like this is I sometimes pause what I'm doing and just spend a few moments being equanimous, wherever I am. It must seem strange to bystanders seeing my best imitation of a pylon. Practise never stops!

History: Day 3 of the first course we left anapana and began vipassana. Marathon sit of 2 hours while we followed the instruction. Not knowing what to expect I was surprised when I immediately recognized the sensations that came up during this sit. Finding that I could control the focus of my attention to such a fine degree was a small revelation. There were some blank areas and I struggled to flow smoothly but by the end of the instruction I was eager to return to the hall and begin again, butt complaints notwithstanding. This is where the real work began, anapana being merely a preliminary tool to get to the main event.

​​​​​​​Random Thoughts: Over the years I have wondered about various strange experiences that hinted at bodily processes that were opaque to my everyday attention. When one of my parents died I experienced grief, of course. Unfortunately I got the news from a several hour old answering machine message after a night out with some friends. In an almost out-of-body experience I simultaneously slumped to my knees, began weeping and watched myself react in a very detached frame of mind. It occurred to me that my reaction was not due to remembrance of things past or of a feeling of great loss; I was not particularly close to my parent. It seemed that my reaction was a program response, one that happens quite normally at times like this, one that will proceed according to plan and then resolve. This feeling stayed with me until after the funeral. The experience of being somewhat disconnected from my reactions did not seem at all abnormal.  My reactions did not seem at all abnormal. Another time, long after and unrelated, I was out in my new minimalist sandals. It had rained earlier and I was walking by a park where they had not yet cut the grass, so it was almost up to my knees. I decided to walk through the grass just to see how it would feel on my legs. I shuffled into the field with the wet grass brushing my legs and by the time I had taken a dozen broad steps I broke down and began weeping uncontrollably. To this day I have no idea why. We embody our entire lives and are only aware of a tiny fraction of the experiences that go into making us what we are. Thinking this is one thing, feeling it is another.
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Kevin Andrew, modified 6 Days ago at 6/21/22 9:21 PM
Created 6 Days ago at 6/21/22 9:00 PM

RE: Thoughts on Vipassana: a practise log?

Posts: 15 Join Date: 5/6/10 Recent Posts
Of course things change, of course...

Practise: Both sits today were quite intense. Free flowing attention and major reactions throughout the body. The pressure is climbing up the back of my head, into the center and settling there for a moment then pushing out into the body. It generally follows the sweeping. Concentration is increasing as well. A 'big one' is coming somewhere down the road. The 'thing on the side of my head' is getting really intense, even when not sitting. I'm beginning to wonder if this will be a gentle release or a major explosion. The map of sankharas is getting a bit more refined but still follows the pattern of injuries. My right leg tingles at random constantly (oxymoron?) as does the orbit of my right eye and my right wrist, these occasionally.

History: Day 4 and 5 of the first course were uneventful. Practising sweeping and trying to eliminate blank areas, trying to figure out how to get through stickiness, struggling with up vs. down. From the beginning down was much harder than up! It was slow and stalled frequently. I also struggled with extending the sweep out the arms to the fingertips. In general slow progress was being made. Then came Day 6.
The morning of Day 6 was unremarkable. The afternoon sit was something else. I was doing my best, content that I had made progress with my arms when I took a break, just sitting without any effort. I noticed a tingle on the top of my left thigh and began to pay attention to it. It began to grow of it's own volition and I remember thinking 'ok, take me there...' and in a flash the tingle covered my entire body, pushed up into my head and ka-BAM! Everything changed. It was like a breaker blew and I vanished, the world vanished, experience became a null. It still puzzles me. I've been knocked unconscious, had my bell rung as well. This was unique. There was a pulse in my head, then there was nothing, then there was me again. Then there was sorrow. I doubled over and wept for about 10 minutes, barely managing to keep from balling and disturbing those around me. At one point I remember one AT whispered to the other '...a big one'. When I regained my composure I started practising again and in a short while the sit ended. I went to my room and let out what was left of the event. After this, I learned to carry tissue in my pockets to keep myself from leaking all over myself as emotion would swell up again and again over the remainder of the course. There was a similar reaction on the morning of Day 10 just before Noble Silence ended that began as I was walking around outside. No blankness this time just a rush of sensation then emotion. For weeks after this course I felt good. Not amazing, not joyful, nothing very intense but a deep 'good'-ness. It eventually faded, as did the proficiency with the technique that I had developed. Big mistake not following the recommended 2 hours per day. It wasn't until the 3rd course I got my groove back on the cushion. Hindsight is 20/20.

Random Thoughts: In 2010 I found a book by Thomas Metzinger titled 'The Ego Tunnel: The science of the mind and the myth of the self'. He is a philosopher. The book talks about advances in our understanding of how the brain works and how our minds manifest. The book is very interesting, outlining the history of neuroscience through stories of medical investigations and experiments carried out by researchers. The two things about this book that stayed with me most were his mentioning Antonio Damasio and his works and the implications of creating artificial consciousness. The 3 latest works by Damasio are well worth reading for anyone who wonders what consciousness is from a scientific viewpoint, and the question raised by artificial consciousness is one of morality:
"...The phenomenal property of selfhood will be exemplified in the artifical system, and it will appear to itself not only as being someone but also as being there. It will believe in itself.
   Note that this transition turns the artificial system into an object of moral concern. It is now potentially able to suffer. Pain, negative emotions , and other internal states portraying parts of reality as undesirable can act as causes of suffering only if they are consciously owned..." The italics are the author's.
George S, modified 6 Days ago at 6/21/22 9:51 PM
Created 6 Days ago at 6/21/22 9:40 PM

RE: Thoughts on Vipassana: a practise log?

Posts: 2458 Join Date: 2/26/19 Recent Posts
Maybe walking in the long grass subconsciously reminded you of being a child?
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Kevin Andrew, modified 4 Days ago at 6/23/22 7:00 PM
Created 4 Days ago at 6/23/22 7:00 PM

RE: Thoughts on Vipassana: a practise log?

Posts: 15 Join Date: 5/6/10 Recent Posts
Well, that was interesting...

Practise: Using the adjectives 'intense' and 'deeper' would be redundant, true but redundant. I'm loathe to use metaphor but there is one I think is apt. We have all at one time or another slept wrong and put our arm or leg 'to sleep'. We also have experienced the discomfort occurring as it 'wakes up', so to speak. That is what this feels like, on a more or less global scale. (Note: next time your arm goes to sleep on you try raising it as it comes back. The discomfort will be greatly reduced or eliminated. Same goes for your leg, but that looks strange in a public place.) Also accompanying these sensations is a definite buzz (vibration??) at times and a lot of heat. Twice, an area behind my eyes snapped with a not quite sharpness, violent enough to make me start. The 'thing on the side of my head' is now a constant companion.

History: Near the end of the course you are instructed to go inside with your attention. I was lucky. Almost immediately I was able to pass throught my body in any direction. At least for a while. As I said I got out of practise pretty quickly once I returned home. I asked the AT two questions on the first course. I paraphrase: 'Is this really what I am feeling?' and 'What the hell was that?!'. The first answer was basically 'You are not imagining this, if it feels like something it is. Keep practising' and the second answer was 'That was sankhara. Sometimes there is emotional content, sometimes not. Keep practising'. I have found that the ATs tend toward concision. This was a bit frustrating for me at first but now I think I understand why and find I appreciate it.

Random Thoughts: Oobleck is a thing, a very strange thing. It is the colloquial name for a certain colloidal solution made from cornstarch and water that demonstrates the properties of a non-newtonian fluid. Google it. Slowly push your fist into a bucket of the stuff and your fist sinks. Punch into it quickly and it stops on the surface. That is what attention feels like when sweeping. Try forcing what you feel and the 'feels' push back. Be gentle and you go deeper. Easy to say, hard to do. Like consoling a distraught child...
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Kevin Andrew, modified 4 Days ago at 6/23/22 7:03 PM
Created 4 Days ago at 6/23/22 7:03 PM

RE: Thoughts on Vipassana: a practise log?

Posts: 15 Join Date: 5/6/10 Recent Posts
Hi George

The 'why' is unimportant
​​​​​​​Thanks

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