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Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

New here, used to meditate, questions about experiences

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So I read MCTB, watched a few videos of Ingram and have been lurking on this forum, but I have some unanswered questions, mostly surrounding concentration vs. insight and how the effects of these practices manifest in life off the cushion.

Several years ago when I was a teenager, from about 16-18, I started meditating with no idea what I was doing. I pieced some things together from unhelpful, vague books and some early Internet sites and gave it a go.

I picked a mantra ("hamsa") and repeated that to myself in sync with my breathing, and tried to focus on only the mantra and breath. For a half-hour a day I sat on my floor and did this.

I started easily getting into altered states of consciousness. I had no idea what it was, I just thought it was "meditation." Looking back I'm sure I was at least in the first samadhi jhana. "Absorption" seems like a great way to describe it.

Off the cushion, things started happening too. I would sometimes have what I guess I'd call "realizations" about people and their behavior, and my own. This almost seemed like clairvoyance. I would see someone and just "get" something in a way. This knowledge always seemed profound and absolutely true but mundane, as if how I came to know this was the most natural thing in the world.

Once I was driving on icy roads when a chaotic car accident erupted around me. I found I could instantly turn off unhelpful emotions and focus single-mindedly on navigating the chaos.

I sensed this stuff was coming from meditation, but I didn't understand why or what it meant, if anything.

My main question: Do you think these things were early insight-wisdom or something stemming from strong concentration practice, or both? I would love to cultivate these abilities again. They were very helpful.

This continued for awhile and then late one night I changed the way I practiced and had a Great Big Experience. I had long been able to shut off "verbal" thought but sometimes I would see visual stuff in my mind, so I figured I'd trick my brain. I made the room dark, went into my meditative state, then opened my eyes and tried to "see" the darkness. I stared and stared into the dark trying to "see" it. Then things shifted very dramatically.

I experienced Kundalini rising (no idea what it was at the time). I felt like someone plugged the base of my spine into an electrical outlet and energy snaked up to my brain. Then it felt like my consciousness exploded into space and I heard a sound like a loud, deep, electronic hum.

Now, in all my practice, I never noticed flickering or vibrations or the sense of reality broken up into discrete moments. I thought I was doing samadhi exercises until I saw a video of Ingram say kundalini and energy vortexes are usually the A&P.

At the time, I had no idea what happened, panicked, and ditched meditation until I could learn what the heck I was toying with. Sixteen years later, here I am, thinking about getting back into practice.

So, question two: Does this mean I've been a dark-night yogi for half my life?

Thanks for reading all this and sharing your thoughts.

RE: New here, used to meditate, questions about experiences
Answer
12/7/11 3:10 PM as a reply to dave g.
I tend not to like to label things personally. I find simply knowledge of the map is beneficial, but too much focus on it, can have negative side effects, you can easily trick yourself to think you are doing insight when you are doing concentration, you're here when you think you are there, etc.

I found when I started Vipassana, insights were strongest when I got off the cushion, even days later, this is a natural consequence of meditation. The way I see it is you tape into parts you normally don't use.

I naturally found myself practicing without formal instruction as well... One more than one occasion there's been a close call with something, when that happens, my mind is completely still, there's no fear, recently I almost got hit by a car, but everything just stopped and I knew I was going to be fine... I was.... no fear pervaded things.

Ajahn Chah said concentration leads to insight and insight leads to concentration, I wouldn't say you are in a dark night based on what you said... I had a dark night one and it lasted month and it was exceptionally existential... I would however continue to practice and see things that come up and be tranquil about them as you can.

RE: New here, used to meditate, questions about experiences
Answer
12/7/11 4:02 PM as a reply to dave g.
Hi Dave, welcome!

This almost seemed like clairvoyance. I would see someone and just "get" something in a way. This knowledge always seemed profound and absolutely true but mundane, as if how I came to know this was the most natural thing in the world.


More important than this is the knowledge that this knowledge is subject to the 3 characteristics, seeing clearly leads to "unbinding" or "disembedding" from these phenomena. No longer thinking it is "you" and thus the sense of profundity/absolute truth/mundaneness/easefulness/clairvoyance is impermanent (comes and goes) and not worth investing in self or I. How is the knowledge "known"? Rather than focusing on the specifics of the knowledge itself. Since this is in the past, focus on how the memory or mental phenomena of it is known...

Sometimes knowledge can seem "absolutely true" in one moment, but thinking back on it makes it seem ludicrous or "absolutely false" or "what the hell was I thinking?" This is particularly the case where a sense of "psychic powers" may have been involved, since you mentioned clairvoyance. This makes a lot of the psychic powers, altered states, and extraordinary experiences something "unreliable" or perhaps more accurately, delusion and suffering. Delusion being more focused on phenomena that causes suffering rather than focusing on its truth value, which can vary from moment to moment (or at least the sense of its truth can vary).

Once I was driving on icy roads when a chaotic car accident erupted around me. I found I could instantly turn off unhelpful emotions and focus single-mindedly on navigating the chaos. My main question: Do you think these things were early insight-wisdom or something stemming from strong concentration practice, or both? I would love to cultivate these abilities again. They were very helpful.


Yes, these were likely from both insight wisdom and concentration practice. Though perhaps more from concentration. Either way, this event was in the past and is not now. Whatever the "cause" of it is far less important than the specifics of what's going on now. The ability to have super-human reflexes is impermanent, and does not grow in direct proportion (linearly) with spiritual progress and may have had more to do with the specifics of that day and time and place than anything in the months preceding it.

So, question two: Does this mean I've been a dark-night yogi for half my life?


Dark-night yogi is a self-proclaimed label. It is entirely possible that you have been oscillating among the early stages these past 16 years, mind and body, cause and effect, A&P, but it is also entirely possible for this to happen and for it to go unnoticed. More important is what do you think? if your gut is that you have been experiencing pervasive disgust, misery, frustration, possibly depression for a good portion of the time, then probably yes. If not, then no. If yes, then that is all the more incentive to start up a practice again.

The fact that you are here and posting about this suggests the somewhat involuntary impulse to make progress. Usually manifesting as a sense of incompleteness, wanting to find something or get something done that is unfinished. For me, this is present, but can increase in intensity at certain times without obvious stimulus.