Post-retreat advice

Ram Subramanian, modified 4 Months ago at 11/13/22 11:13 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 11/13/22 10:44 AM

Post-retreat advice

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/13/15 Recent Posts
I've just gotten back from a two-week Mahasi retreat where I got into some very interesting territory, and I was hoping to get a bit of guidance about what I might have experienced and where I should be going next. I'm going to get into the whole context of my experiences over the two weeks, so this might get long, but the short version is that I am wondering if what I got into was low EQ, and if a certain state that keeps coming up in meditation is the EQ state that will get me to stream entry.

So here's the story of the retreat: before going, I had never had any kind of exceptional experience. I was and remain a member in good standing of the No Big Wow Club. I didn't even know if I had passed the A&P. When I got to the retreat, I kept up moment-to-moment awareness as best I could every second and did all the sitting and walking exactly by the book. I had some A&P-ish insights the first couple of days about how thoughts and intentions just kind of aren't there and then they are, but I was waiting for the big show that I'd always been hearing about. I was still waiting for it on day six when, with no fanfare, I went into textbook Dissolution (everything I wanted to note was already gone by the time my mind got to it) which launched me straight into an absolutely hellish dark night. From days seven through ten I was in the midst of a brutal Re-observation. Wednesday morning I woke up with a good idea: I went back to basics and just watched the breath, naming and accepting each feeling, pain, etc. as it came up. This seemed to do the trick, and I slipped into a weird state that I'll describe below. Since then, I've gone into this state basically every time I've sat, and the dark night is unquestionably over; I've had relapses of bad feelings and pains, but it's never been as horrible as that original time and I've been able to observe the feelings without identifying with them.

So the state is like this: I'm sitting and I'm noting, and I suddenly notice that the notes have gotten quieter. The best way I can describe it is as though the notes go from the main experience of what "I" am doing to suddenly seeming like they're behind a glass wall, while the rest of reality is immediate. I also noticed that my mouth stops making the subtle movements of forming the words of the notes and completely relaxes. The state is kind of drifty and dreamlike, and there's a sort of very slow motion of the field of vision or attention. Songs often pop into my head and stay there, but that doesn't seem to affect concentration. I can sometimes get pulled off into thought chains, but when I notice and detach from them I'm still in the drifty state. It seems, though, that if I just apply a tiny bit of effort, I can easily keep up mindfulness and watch whatever is going on in attention and awareness without getting sucked into thoughts or fantasies. The first time I fell into this state, I effortlessly kept meditating this way for two and a half hours, something I've never done before (I had been struggling to stay focused for an hour at this point in the retreat). Since then, I haven't had the same fixation, and I usually feel like getting up, as I usually would, after a reasonable amount of time. If I hunt for this state, it doesn't show up, but if I just sit and calmly note as I normally would, it shows up in pretty much every sit. I've had it for a few minutes or for almost the whole hour, but it does always seem to make an appearance. I did my first home sit this morning and it showed up again.

I think it might be EQ because: from the first time I've had it, it seemed to basically end my Re-observation; it makes it much easier to bear the pain, itching, and boredom of long sits; it can make it easier to stay mindful of a lot of phenomena; I felt like sitting in it for a long time that one time; I was once able to see the vibrations in an itch while I was sitting in it; it just feels good and nice.

I think it might not be EQ because: since that first time, I haven't felt able to sit for "two or three hours" with stable posture, as Mahasi Sayadaw describes in PIM; it doesn't seem to make sensations particularly clearer; it takes effort to maintain; it feels quite dreamlike and drifty, rather than stable and focused.

So, with all that understood, I have three questions for anyone who has an idea:
1. Does this sound like the EQ state that will develop into High EQ and eventually bring me to a cessation?
2. If not, is it a state worth cultivating anyway, or is it a distraction?
3. If it is, how do I cultivate it into stable High EQ, assuming that is something "I" do rather than something that happens on its own?
shargrol, modified 4 Months ago at 11/13/22 11:06 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 11/13/22 11:06 AM

RE: Post-retreat advice

Posts: 1925 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Yes, this is a taste of EQ and now you have the classic question/desire: how to make it turn into SE?

But you already have the answer, too: "If I hunt for this state, it doesn't show up, but if I just sit and calmly note as I normally would, it shows up in pretty much every sit."

So the trick to get to SE is basically no trick at all. Continue to sit, continue to calmly note. You never know what will happen in the next minute of practice. Could be another round of hellish reobservation -- if so, calmly note. Could be really solid EQ where you can sit for hours -- if so, calmly note. Could be the kind of vague and drifty state -- if so, calmly note. High EQ can feel very normal and a bit drifty, so you might be getting close, what should you do to get to make a little more progress and get SE? -- calmly note. What if you feel like you are falling away from SE? -- calmly note. What if you realize that "trying for SE" makes no sense because SE is beyond your control? -- calmly note.

The nice thing about classic experiences of higher stages (like your 2 1/2 hour sit) is that it should give you confidence that the stages on these maps are real so that means stream entry is real! You've been practicing, you went on retreat, you went through stages... so if you keep a consistent practice going SE is eventually going to happen, too.

But the bad thing about experiencing higher stages is that our ego wants to claim it as an accomplishment and something that is in the ego's control. But it isn't. We can't >make< anything happen in practice, we can just maintain our basic practice and get good at balancing relaxation and attention. When we can calmly note, relaxation and attention is balanced. And when relaxation and attention is balanced we pick up on subtle ways to become even more relaxed while also becoming even more aware. We can even let the mind get drifty while the knowing mind knows that it is drifting -- wow. It's a little bit of paradox, but that's how it goes...

So keep a consistent daily practice going and calmly note.

Hope this helps!
Ben Sulsky, modified 4 Months ago at 11/14/22 10:15 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 11/14/22 10:15 AM

RE: Post-retreat advice

Posts: 158 Join Date: 11/5/19 Recent Posts
You seem pretty into analysis, good technique and effort.  Confusingly, this generally useful stuff can work against you at this point.  Chill out and do whatever more than seems comfortable imo.
Ram Subramanian, modified 4 Months ago at 11/16/22 1:04 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 11/16/22 1:04 PM

RE: Post-retreat advice

Posts: 15 Join Date: 8/13/15 Recent Posts
Thank you both. This is very reassuring and useful. I was thinking of this question as though I were a weightlifter checking that my form is correct. Now that I know it is, I can have faith that the method will work.

"Balancing relaxation and attention" is a good summary of my whole practice right now. It's easier than it's ever been to just sit down and be with what's happening now. The notes basically make themselves. So if that's all I have to do, that's something I can do.

"Chill out and do what seems comfortable" also makes a lot more sense now than it would have a few stages ago. I finally understand what Shargrol means in all those posts where they talk about the mind knowing what to do to get to enlightenment. My job is really just to stop outside forces from sabotaging the natural process.

See you all on the other side!
shargrol, modified 4 Months ago at 11/16/22 4:36 PM
Created 4 Months ago at 11/16/22 4:36 PM

RE: Post-retreat advice

Posts: 1925 Join Date: 2/8/16 Recent Posts
Nice! As the Zen guys and gals say: straight ahead! emoticon
Ben Sulsky, modified 4 Months ago at 11/17/22 8:19 AM
Created 4 Months ago at 11/17/22 8:19 AM

RE: Post-retreat advice

Posts: 158 Join Date: 11/5/19 Recent Posts
Ram Subramanian
Thank you both. This is very reassuring and useful. I was thinking of this question as though I were a weightlifter checking that my form is correct. Now that I know it is, I can have faith that the method will work.

"Balancing relaxation and attention" is a good summary of my whole practice right now. It's easier than it's ever been to just sit down and be with what's happening now. The notes basically make themselves. So if that's all I have to do, that's something I can do.

"Chill out and do what seems comfortable" also makes a lot more sense now than it would have a few stages ago. I finally understand what Shargrol means in all those posts where they talk about the mind knowing what to do to get to enlightenment. My job is really just to stop outside forces from sabotaging the natural process.

See you all on the other side!
Yea lol, I can't tell you how much time I spent trying really hard to visualize Ingram's twisting swords, thinking that was proper technique for "getting through" equanimity.  Some hundreds of hours later after I gave up and just started sitting on my patio in the afternoons not doing much in particular, it clicked for me.